Yes, liberal activism is so dangerous to your academic career!

This is a joke, right?

Chronicle of Higher Education:
Academics who champion causes may be gambling with their careers. But for some dedicated activists, the choice is clear.
Mr. Hansford, an assistant professor of law at Saint Louis University, [...] When he joined the law faculty at the university, in 2011, it never occurred to him to cast his causes aside: "I was an activist before I was a scholar, you could say."

In the months since the unrest in Ferguson, Mr. Hansford has become a well-known face in the Black Lives Matter movement. He has served as a legal observer during protests, was once arrested and jailed overnight, and was a key organizer of #FergusonToGeneva, a delegation that frames police violence in the United States as a human-rights issue worthy of global attention. [...]

"There’s a tradition of black scholar-activists who fought for justice," says Mr. Hansford, who studies human rights, legal ethics, legal history, and critical race theory. "This particular activism is almost like a calling for me." But he knows it could hinder his academic career.

With issues of social justice dominating the national conversation, some academics identify as scholar-activists, a term typically used by those deeply involved in progressive causes. They take to the streets as part of protest movements, work alongside community organizers, and push for policy changes, applying their research to underserved communities. Yet balancing activism and scholarship can be risky, especially while on the tenure track.

"I was an activist before I was a scholar, you could say."
Yes, I'm sure it's soooooo hard to get tenure after making a name for yourself in the Black Lives Matter movement. The school is probably breaking open the champagne and getting ready to give him a big fat tenure package. This is exactly the kind of professor schools are looking for.

Or, how about this one:
Rajani Bhatia saw a Ph.D. as a way to enhance her work in the reproductive-rights movement, including a job at an advocacy group. But once in a women’s-studies program [...], she found that staying on top of her courses, teaching undergraduates, and pursuing a research agenda stripped her of spare time.

"I realized the very first year that I was going have to give up certain aspects of my life," says Ms. Bhatia, who is now an assistant professor of women’s studies at the University at Albany. "For me, it was my activism."

With her tenure clock ticking, Ms. Bhatia still keeps her activist work at a minimum. She maintains connections to groups she used to collaborate with and tries to attend some academic conferences that draw scholar-activists, but that’s about all she can manage, she says. "My clear priority is getting tenure."
In other words, when she gets tenure, she can finally ditch those pesky little things like doing work, teaching classes, publishing, etc. and get back to her activism! And people wonder why the cost of college is skyrocketing. Pre-professors do all the work, knowing once they get tenure, they can go off and do the things they really want to do and leave all the work to the next round of indentured servants, that is to say, graduate students.


Now, how about the activist who dedicates their time to working for conservative causes? How would a Tea Partier, the gun rights advocate, the anti-abortion campaigner, the campaign worker for Jeb, be able to juggle their graduate school commitments or their pre-tenure professorship with their activism? The question, of course, is moot, since they would never have received the offer for a place at the school in the first place.

Annals of Bad Math (with update)

This popped up on my facebook feed today, posted by OccupyDemocrats (of course,) and is an incredibly fabulous example of bad math.

Here's the WaPo link.

What WaPo says:
The finding comes from a government study considered a gold standard to measure public-health trends. Researchers found that just over 8 percent of children 2 to 5 were obese in 2011-2012, down from nearly 14 percent in 2003-2004. Although the drop was significant, federal health officials noted that obesity rates for the broader population remain unchanged, and for women older than 60, obesity rates rose about 21 percent during that period.
And here's the JAMA article link.

What JAMA says:
There was a significant decrease in obesity among 2- to 5-year-old children (from 13.9% to 8.4%; P = .03) 
So, did you see what Occupy did there? They took the rounded up 14% and the rounded down 8.4% and did this: (14 - 8)/(14) = 0.4285. Then claimed that was a decrease in obesity of 43%!!! It's: 13.9% - 8.4% =  5.5% drop in obesity among 2-5 year olds, not 43%.

However, here's another problem. Obama's big push has been to change the composition of school lunches, but the drop in obesity has been among pre-school aged kids. How exactly can she take credit for that?

Update: Apparently, this began with bad math from the New York Times back in February of 2014 in an article written by Sabrina Tavernise:
Federal health authorities on Tuesday reported a 43 percent drop in the obesity rate among 2- to 5-year-old children over the past decade, the first broad decline in an epidemic that often leads to lifelong struggles with weight and higher risks for cancer, heart disease and stroke.
[...] But the figures on Tuesday showed a sharp fall in obesity rates among all 2- to 5-year-olds, offering the first clear evidence that America’s youngest children have turned a corner in the obesity epidemic. About 8 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds were obese in 2012, down from 14 percent in 2004.
The article remains on their website, uncorrected, with the wording above (as of 7/6/15.)

Salon blasted the NYTimes piece back when it came out:
A far bigger issue is that studies like these, and the headlines that result, drive the discussion about public health and policy in this country. The media seizes on sexy results, amplifies them without due skepticism, and the public is misled. This can impact billions of dollars allocated to campaigns meant to capitalize on the supposed implications of scientific studies. It's hardly an academic footnote in this case. Commentators are already attempting to adduce the reasons for the decline in obesity in this age, pointing to the dietary changes in preschool menus, awareness campaigns, and exercise programs that specifically target tots.

Repost - Seculars

I first posted this the day after Obama won his second term. Much of the talk was about how Republicans needed to make inroads with Hispanic voter. While true, I looked at the numbers of non-religious who also were needed.

The day after the SCOTUS same sex marriage decision, this might be something to think about again. So much of what Republicans have said in the last day has been turning off an important group of voters:


Republicans have been focusing today on the need to get Hispanic votes. While that is true, there is another chunk which we should also aim at. Look at these two numbers from the exit polls:

Are you?
               Total   Obama   Romney     
Hispanic        10%     71%     27%

How often do you attend religious services?
               Total   Obama   Romney     
Never           17%     62%     34%

So, Romney got 27% of the 10% of people who are Hispanic, but didn't do much better among the non-religious at 34% of the larger 17% group. If Romney had gotten 5% more of the secular vote he would have added 0.85% to his vote total. Getting 5% more of Hispanics only nets 0.5% more.

Every time Republicans talk values, every time they talk about god, even every time they end a speech with "God bless America," they are turning off a large chunk of population. If we are to go after the Hispanic vote, can we also make an effort to go after the secular vote?

Update: I worked it through with the numbers. Bottom line, a 5% shift of Hispanics would lower Obama's victory margin from 2.8 million to 1.6 million. A shift of 5% of Seculars would lower the margin from 2.8 to 0.8 mil. Doing both would have put Romney in the White House:

(Updated again to add the estimated results if both shift--assuming they are independent groups.)

Can's only *

Here are three articles I've come across about recycling which kind of boil down to the same central points:

1) Can recycling is good
2) Glass recycling is generally bad
3) Paper is iffy (especially since newsprint has diminished as part of the waste stream)

Here's the newest:

American recycling is stalling, and the big blue bin is one reason why
From the start, it was hard to argue that glass should have been allowed in the curbside mix. It’s the heaviest of recyclables but has always been of marginal value as a commodity. In the rough-and-tumble sorting facilities, a large share of it breaks and contaminates valuable bales of paper, plastic and other materials.

Today, more than a third of all glass sent to recycling facilities ends up crushed. It is trucked to landfills as daily cover to bury the smell and trap gases. The rest has almost no value to recyclers and can often cost them to haul away.

Here's another one:

Recycle Smarter than a Third Grader!

As Professor Benjamin explains, making an unused tissue out of a used one wastes resources and hardly benefits the environment. Melting and casting aluminum cans, though, both saves resources and benefits the environment. But you don’t need to exhort the aluminum company to save those resources: saving scraps is in its own interest.

Penn and Teller: Recycling is Bullshit!

And the always entertaining Penn and Teller. The best is the multiple bins scene, where they add 6 bins to the usual three, including red for biohazardous waste like diapers and feminine products, and a brown bin for "lightly soiled toilet paper" which tested really well in Japan last year! The suckers they presented these bins to blithely said that they could follow that regime and that it made sense.

* The title comes from the stencil used at my college on all the aluminum-can recycling bins. A whole campus of misused apostrophes.
As Professor Benjamin explains, making an unused tissue out of a used one wastes resources and hardly benefits the environment. Melting and casting aluminum cans, though, both saves resources and benefits the environment. But you don’t need to exhort the aluminum company to save those resources: saving scraps is in its own interest. - See more at:

Nasty piece on Ryan...from the right

Joanne Butler in an opinion piece at the Daily Caller writes:
For those conservatives who are shocked by Ryan favoring Obama’s secret trade deal, I say: you must have selective and short memories.

[...] Many conservatives cheered when Dave Brat beat Cantor, but in a way both men won. Brat is in the House, while Cantor resigned soon after the primary and took a $3.4 million job at an investment bank. If Cantor’s punishment is a $3.4 million paycheck, they can punish me for half the price.

Back to Paul Ryan:  you’d have to be very naïve not to believe that he sees a huge payday ahead the moment he leaves Congress. And being a numbers guy (unlike Cantor) he would add value to any hedge fund or investment bank.
Isn’t this what being an American is all about? Work hard, acquire knowledge and skills, and the marketplace will reward you?
She's straight-up accusing Ryan of determining his positions on things like trade with an eye to goosing up his value when he leaves the Congress and gets a cushy lobbyist job.


Once again, it's all about the marginals. Can Walmart absorb higher wages? Apparently they think they can. Yippee, great for their employees. Does that carry over throughout the entire economy? Nope. Nope. Nope.

Watching Robert Reich’s new video in which he endorses raising the minimum wage by $7.75 per hour – to $15 per hour – is painful.  It hurts to encounter such rapid-fire economic ignorance, even if the barrage lasts for only two minutes.

By completely ignoring elasticity, Reich assumes his conclusion.  That is, he simply assumes that raising the minimum wage raises the total pay of unskilled workers (and, thereby, raises the total spending of such workers).  Yet whether or not raising the minimum wage has this effect is among the core issues in the debate over the merits of minimum-wage legislation.  Even if (contrary to fact) increased spending by unskilled workers were sufficient to bootstrap up the employment of such workers, raising the minimum wage might well reduce the total amount of money paid to unskilled workers and, thus, lower their spending.

So is employers’ demand for unskilled workers more likely to be elastic or inelastic?  The answer depends on how much the minimum wage is raised.  If it were raised by, say, only five percent, it might be inelastic, causing only a relatively few worker to lose their jobs and, thus, the total take-home pay of unskilled workers as a group to rise.  But Reich calls for an increase in the minimum wage of 107 percent!  It’s impossible to believe that more than doubling the minimum wage would not cause a huge negative response by employers.  Such an assumption – if it described reality – would mean that unskilled workers are today so underpaid (relative to their productivity) that their employers are reaping gigantic windfall profits off of such workers.  But the fact that we see increasing automation of low-skilled tasks, as well as continuing high rates of unemployment of teenagers and other unskilled workers, is solid evidence that the typical low-wage worker is not such a bountiful source of profit for his or her employer.
I usually have pretty good success (at least temporarily) with my liberal friends when I attack their love of things like living wage laws by introducing the idea of the marginal. The marginals are 1) the companies waiting to be born and looking hard at whether the numbers add up. 2) The companies on the cusp of failure and closing who are looking at how to make the numbers add up. 3) The companies looking to expand or hire one more employee and are looking at whether their labor will be worth the cost. And 4) companies looking to contract or lay off one employee and are looking at whether their labor is worth the cost.

It is among these companies that growth and contraction happens. These are often small, single location family businesses that have great hopes and tight budgets.

When I put it that way, sometimes the scales fall away from the eyes of my friends, and they admit that maybe the price of the law is greater than its benefits.

The problem is, as soon as our conversation is over, they tend to revert right back to their old thinking. The knowledge never seems to stick.

Demon coal

Another silly post I got fed on face book:

Wow! 30%! Attributed to getting rid of old-style coal plants.

Of course, the US did it better:

However, the US is stupid about its coal plants. Our government wants any improvements to power plants to trigger massive overhauls of the generators. Instead of allowing power manufacturers to make their plants incrementally less polluting, Uncle Sam will only except perfection. As a result, our coal burning technology is outdated and stuck in the past. PowerLine had this up last week:

Showing how much Chinese plants have improved tremendously in the last decade, while US plants remain inefficient, polluting and stagnant.