spin + technology + lazy = bad idea

Religious right group, American Family Association, was embarrassed–or at least they should be embarrassed–by their practice of running Associated Press stories through an auto-correction program that edits articles to suit their preferred framing of issues. For example, they change Democratic Party to Democrat Party and gay to homosexual. Oops!

Continue reading “spin + technology + lazy = bad idea”

zomba, 5

IMG_3230
(Sal and I, having lunch right now at Tasty Bites)

Tasty Bites, where we’ve had lunch every day while teaching, appears to have a couple of mix CDs that they rotate back and forth. They are 80s music, heavy on Lionel Richie, Richard Marx, and other performers from the era who got their record contracts by sounding like Lionel Richie or Richard Marx. I have this fantasy that they are actually mix CDs that somebody in America made for somebody traveling to Zomba and were left here. Continue reading “zomba, 5”

wired pronounces: google trumps science

Over on Gelman’s blog there’s an interesting discussion of a silly Wired article proclaiming that the “petabyte age” makes theory and hypotheses obsolete:

Peter Norvig, Google’s research director, offered an update to George Box’s maxim: “All models are wrong, and increasingly you can succeed without them.”

This is a world where massive amounts of data and applied mathematics replace every other tool that might be brought to bear. Out with every theory of human behavior, from linguistics to sociology. Forget taxonomy, ontology, and psychology. Who knows why people do what they do? The point is they do it, and we can track and measure it with unprecedented fidelity. With enough data, the numbers speak for themselves.

I assume all Scattertrons are on-board with thinking this is an incredibly naive position. At the moment I’m particularly impressed with Pat Sullivan’s “Spurious Genetic Associations” piece, which demonstrates precisely why numbers don’t speak for themselves. More data means… more plausible causal pathways. Moreover, the number of plausible causal pathways increases exponentially (or something like that) with the increase in the amount of data.

Here’s my concern, though: the google mania (demonstrated by Conley’s piece, which we’ve been bashing, as well as elsewhere in pop culture) does seem like a potent anti-intellectual trend: why think when you can count high? I found this to be the case, too, in the popular book The Wisdom of Crowds, for which Google is an important example. What that book finds exciting about Google is its apparent asystematicity; but this “works” only for particular, web-ish definitions of “works.” So… in the popular mind, how do we make this case?

should i review that paper?

So I’m being hounded–begged, really–to review a paper for a journal. I review a lot (or it seems like a lot to me – probably 2 papers a month, all told), including for the journal that’s asking. But in this case, I know the paper and commented on it at an ASA panel a few years ago. I thought the paper was lousy then, and I suspect I would think similarly this time around. More importantly, it seems wrong for me to agree to review a paper I’ve already commented on in a previous draft. What do y’all think?

zomba, 4

Malawi - Monkeys Out The Hotel Room
(immediate outside my hotel room, first morning in Malawi)

The plurality of our waking time so far in Malawi has been in the classroom. Most of the rest of our time has been sitting in one of the three places we eat waiting for food. Most of the rest of the rest of the time has been me being up in the middle of the night, not asleep. I’m having a good time, but the more exciting part of our trip will commence on Saturday after our class ends. How exciting? Suffice it to say that we are renting a car and Sal will be driving.

Someone asked how the Internet works here (w/ special bonus Hard Candy SPOILER!): Continue reading “zomba, 4”

if you wear lipstick, who knows what will happen to you?

Government officials in Kota Bharu, a northern Malaysian city, have issued guidelines to women on how to dress in order to preserve their dignity and avoid rape:

Azman Mohamad Daham, a spokesman for Kota Bharu municipality, said the latest suggestion contained in leaflets was part of a two-year old campaign.

“We just distribute pamphlets,” he said. “Our minimum guideline is [women] must wear headscarves. The rest is up to them. If they want to follow the 100% Islamic way, it’s up to them.”

The goal of the modesty drive was to prevent rape and safeguard the women’s dignity, he said.

Why is it that whenever men issue advice on how to avoid rape, it comes out sounding like a threat? Weird.

all masculinity

Being in Paris, one can’t help but think of fashion. Especially where I’m staying (Saint-Germain-des-Pres) where there are small boutiques. I thought of buying new shoes (my fancy ones tore my feet apart, my sneakers, though comfortable, are not really “for work”) and as I wandered into a local place that caught my eye, the prices (around 750 euros for a pair of shoes) stopped my heart. And speaking of fashion, it’s fashion week in Milan. I got a kick out the NYTime’s covering of this, primarily because of the title, “in Milan, All Masculinity, No Pretense“. Why? Well, look at these clothes! (pictures below). Continue reading “all masculinity”