Thursday, May 23, 2013

Liars, Damn Liars... and People Who Even Lie About Statistics

So, courtesy of a friend this morning, I was linked to this little gem: Tattoos and Other Easy Ways to Ruin Your Body.

Where to begin? The mainsplaining lead-off?

Women, let me tell you something that your friends and many guys will not.

What follows is a lengthy tirade that manages to hit every square in misogynist twit bingo. The purity myth (in several iterations!). "Universal anecdotal evidence" (I kid you not). Generalizing for all men as if he speaks for his entire gender. Appealing to a book from 1933 as conclusive evidence that tattoos have "always" been the mark of prostitution (many, many cultural histories say otherwise, but when has that ever stopped someone strapped for evidence?). The appeal to conservatism as "the new hip", right down to using the terms "hip", and "with it". The use of the terms "alpha" and "beta", despite the fact that the purported roles are based on junk science.

This, however, was just the appetizer. The main course of ignorance came in the "purely statistical analysis" he posted later: Tattoos 2: Electric Boogaloo.

So, he leads off:

Those that apparently didn’t care for my “opinionating” will be happy to note this one is pure statistics. Here is graph one

Now, notwithstanding that the first included item is a chart, not a graph, there's nothing wrong with it. It's drawn from the Annals of Epidemiology, a respectable journal with an impact factor of 3.215. However. The caption in the journal for the chart in question contained the following:

... 3% of women who reported one sex partner or none reported being tattooed compared to 30% of women with 11 or more lifetime partners.
But our twit author follows that up with a caption of his own:
Statistic 1: Less than 3.3% of women with tattoos have had under 1 lifetime partner or less. On the other end of the spectrum a solid 33% have had over 11. This doesn’t look like an even distribution.

That 3% of women with 1 or fewer sex partners have tattoos does not mean that only 3% of women with tattoos have one or fewer sex partners! For the purposes of illustration, imagine a population where every woman has had one or fewer sex partners (probably not a very happy population!). 3% of these women have tattoos. In that situation, 3% of women with 1 or fewer sex partners have tattoos, but 100% of women with tattoos have 1 or fewer sex partners! This is not the case in the study cited, but should amply illustrate why the author's statement is a glaring statistical error. The same is true for his statement regarding the 11+ crowd.

There's a comparison chart posted for men and a false assumption that the reading audience shares his opinion of what deviancy is, but we'll skip over that in pursuit of the promised "pure statistics".

... well? Where are they?

Turns out, all the remaining "statistics" are drawn from graphs which, in turn, are drawn from these two blogposts.

The first post suggests that the graph has been included from a 1991 study, but given that the graph includes a misspelling, I am inclined to think it is of the blogger's own creation. I will track down the citation later (at least this one was well-cited), but while the language of the blog post is couched to suggest that the graph was drawn from the study, it is never explicitly stated to be. Somewhat suspect.

The other graphs, however, are extremely suspect - a guest post by a blogger known only as "INTREPID", who indicates that his data is drawn from the 2002 and 2006 US National Surveys of Family Growth, but not which datasets are being graphed, or any proper citation.

In both cases, our twit includes the graphics with a sense of "so there!", without any concrete citations to work from. These are the "pure statistics" from which he's developed his considered opinion.

(As an aside, I find it interesting that the twit doesn't include Chart 3 from the second blog post, which indicates that past a certain threshold, women with more premarital partners have _more_ stable marriages - I can only speculate that it wasn't included as part of his oh-so-careful statistical analysis because it didn't match his predetermined conclusion.)

After restating the statistical error I indicated above, our twit concludes (emphasis mine, for the sake of hilarity):

Any and all anecdotal objections are made in the face of these statistics and facts, all of which were gathered professionally in double-blinded and rigorously peer-reviewed studies. Ignore this work at your own peril.

I leave Mr. Karamazov with the words of the inestimable Terry McGinnis:

You make me laugh. But only 'cause I think you're kinda pathetic.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Galt's Gulch Rides Again: Fairness

So this was prompted by a facebook conversation. First, someone posted this:

Good stuff, right? Vaguely reminiscent of certain other American statesmen. And then, of course, someone had to wade in:
Nobody wants their mom and dad to suffer, that is a fallacy the liberals put out there to play on people's emotions to get what they want. The recession was caused by greed of EVERYONE, including the government, not just wall street. Frannie Mae and Freddie Mac did what? ACORN did what? Very liberal groups, what was their involvement?
I'll grant that there was greed involved in other realms than strictly wall street, but ACORN? An agency with $25M of funding a year which dealt with the lowest-income groups in the country? How, precisely, was it culpable in the recession? I asked this very question, and got an oh-so-informative response:
ACORN blows government money and do some really croaked[sic] and corrupt business.
Note that he didn't address the paltry amounts of government money that ACORN spent, but made a general statement without any sort of evidence backing it up. I shouldn't be surprised, but here we are. Then, of course, came the suggestion that fans of both Herman Cain and Ron Paul love to chant:
As I see it, he is saying that this can't be fixed by taking more from the middle class. We have done enough and pay more then we should. We need a flat tax across the board 10% for everyone and every company 7% for fed and 3% for state, done.
That'd be all well and good, except it doesn't make fiscal sense. Even if you slashed defense spending altogether, social security and medicare/medicaid cost more than 3% of the GDP of the US each. And interest payments on existing debt (let alone paying it down) consumed 1% of GDP in 2011. There's your 7%, gone, without spending anything on the military. Or the government itself. Or roads, interstate policing, education... So, a different voice was raised:
I think EVERYONE should pay something. 54% of American's don't pay, but still get public service. Even if it is something, it doesn't have to be a lot, but something, then it would make others more comfortable paying in their amount. I think a flat tax is the right answer, not sure of the number, but EVERYONE pays.

Ah, there's the chestnut. "Why should I pay for people's services that they don't pay for?" Well, let's see. Public services improve people's lives, making it easier for them to be more productive, more innovative, and (important to the US economy) better consumers. They also, in some measure, provide or facilitate employment. So let's assume a flat tax of 25%, since that might barely be enough to let the US get a handle on their debt.

Exhibit A: A family of 3, two parents and two children, living just above the poverty line in the US. Say they're earning $22 500. A 25% flat tax would leave them well below the poverty line, at $16 875, and likely having to choose between fuel for their car to get to work, and food. So either a support structure (which would likely cost substantially more than the tax would garner) would have to be put in place for families like these, or they could be left to gradually starve to death.

Exhibit B: One of the top 1% of earners is taxed at a 25% rate. Now, the average earner in the top 1% earned approximately $380 000 in 2010. A twenty-five percent tax would leave him at $285 000. So he pays about ninety thousand dollars in taxes, but is left with nearly seventeen times the income of Exhibit A. Moreover, their tax contributions, $5625, represent only 1.5% of Exhibit B's before-tax income. So if we adjust B's tax rate to, say, 31%, then four families in Exhibit A's situation can be forgiven their taxes, and be more productive, healthier, and generally a greater contribution to society.

When we continue... why no one is taxed in isolation.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Streisand Amplifier: Stanislaw Rajmund Burzynski

So, through of Pharyngula, I found out about Dr. Burzynski. Really, in many ways, I wish I hadn't. A quick sum-up of what, precisely, is wrong with Burzynski, courtesy of a 17-year-old who is far more erudite than I:
Burzynski’s published research has been criticised by oncologists and scientists alike. Dr Howard Ozer, director of the Allegheny Cancer Center in Philadelphia, called the research “scientific nonsense”. Independent studies failed to replicate Burzynski’s results, suggesting there may be a strong bias in Burzynski’s research. The FDA have not approved the treatment for any diseases. A 2004 analysis of evidence for a number of alternative treatments for cancer, including Burzynski’s own antineoplaston therapy, said that “The label “unproven” is inappropriate for such therapies; it is time to assert that many alternative cancer therapies have been “disproven.”” In short, it’s quackery – ineffective treatment promoted as effective and sold for a very high price.
To sum up - for thirty-plus years, Burzynski has been giving people with terminal cancer (or their relatives) false hope with his "antineoplaston" (polypeptides extracted from, among other things, urine) therapy. There is no proof that it does anything worthwhile. Despite his claims of its lack of side effects, it has been documented to cause hypernatremia and other negative electrolytic effects. He charges an exorbitant amount of money to enroll his victims in clinical trials - trials only, because he's been barred by the FDA and the courts from selling his therapy as actual treatment. And now he's bilking a family, and a huge number of well-meaning people, out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is reprehensible. This all would be bad enough, but his overzealous PR director has also attempted to employ bullying and threats of legal action to convince bloggers who've written about his questionable practices to take down their articles. What do you suppose that did? Here's a few examples of the heavy handed attempts at legal thuggery: My thoughts:

If Dr. Burzynski had actual, clinically-persuasive evidence to present, he would have done so years ago. If his treatments truly worked to cure otherwise inoperable cancers, I'm certain he could persuade the patients gratefully writing testimonials for him to open their medical records and post them to the 'net, even if there were some concerted conspiracy by oncologists, the FDA, and "Big Pharma" trying to keep his treatment down. He hasn't, so he doesn't. I am open to being proven wrong, but extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and a panacea cure for the many and variegated forms of cancer is an extraordinary claim among extraordinary claims.

With his PR manager's latest antics, Burzynski has invited the Streisand effect to come crashing down on both himself and his abhorrent practice. Tell your friends, repost information about him - sunlight is a lovely disinfectant for this particular strain of bacteria.

It is my considered opinion, after reading a reasonable amount of research on the topic and my own education in the biological sciences, that Dr. Burzynski is at best, delusional, and at worst (and far more likely, given his responses to criticism) a quack and a fraud who earns his money by bilking those whose loved ones (or themselves) are dying of cancer. If the latter, he is scum, and should be prosecuted criminally, rather than simply shut down and allowed to enjoy his ill-gotten gains.

Additional: A Blag Hag takedown. Bravo!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Indigestion Tracts

So, someone near my workplace is in the habit of stapling religious tracts to things. Telephone poles, trees... slow moving people... They're all in approximately the same style - two folds, about greeting card size; they're all printed by a company in Edmonton. The front often asks a question, or presents a statement, with a picture meant to be vaguely disquieting, whether through despair, uncertainty, or fear. The back invariably features a prayer by which the reader can use to "come to God":
Dear Heavenly Father. I come to You, confessing that I have sinned and broken Your laws. I am sorry for my sin, and believe that Jesus Christ came to earth to die for me and my sins and rose again from the dead that I too might have eternal life.

Please forgive me. I invite You into my life, and give Jesus Christ the right to take control of my life. Please help me to be what You want me to be.. I thank you for saving me and accepting me and I pray this in Jesus' name

Emphasis mine, because it's horrifying. No self-actualization, no personal responsibility. Anyone fervently reading this incantation honestly believes that the have transgressed against the selfish rules of an invisible voyeur, and in penance wants to hand over control of their life. This is sick.

Worse, the tracts themselves give short shrift to good works, kindness, pride in one's accomplishments, or personal motivation; those don't keep the donations rolling in, after all! Instead, faith alone is necessary and sufficient to keep you out of hell.

The bible is the only source for the statements presented as fact, but that's nothing new. These are, however, not publications intended to lift the heart or illuminate the mind. Instead, they are meant to frighten or confuse a credulous individual into swearing fealty to a virulent ideology. They are meant to inspire guilt, fear, or horror. They are an excellent example of the tactics (and morals) of faith.

On the other hand, gathering them up and putting them where they belong, that they might be reborn as something useful like toilet paper, is kind of like a scavenger hunt, so at least that much enjoyment can be derived from them.

Monday, April 11, 2011

On Elections, Voter Apathy, and the Youth Vote

So up here in Canada, there is a federal election upon us, with the attack ads and smear campaigns in full swing parallel to the normal campaigns. You'll hear about the votes that are being targeted, such as the women's vote, the ethnic vote, the seniors vote. Unfortunately, the folks who come in at 18-25 years old, and even 18-34 years old, end up getting the short shrift. Why? Because they consistently have the worst voter turnout of any group in any election, pretty much ever.

And now, here come the numbers.

In the 2008 election, the 18-24 bracket came in with a paltry 37.4% voter turnout. The 25-34 bracket came in at a slightly better, but still rather weak, 48%. However, the senior vote was far stronger as a percentage, with the 65-74 checking in at 68.4%, and the 75+ at 67.3% [1]. In Ontario, the disparity gets steadily worse: 18-24 year olds come out at a turnout below the national average for the age bracket, at a rate of just 34.1%. Seniors come in at higher than the national average in Ontario, with 65-74 year olds at 68.9%, and 75+ at 71.7%. [2] More galling to me, however, is the voter apathy that's seem to have hit the entire country. Only 58.8% of registered electors - 56.5% of the voting-age population - came out to vote in the 2008 federal election, the worst turnout in history, and the first time ever that the registered-elector turnout dropped below 60%. [3] (The voting-age turnout dropped below 60% in the 2006 federal election, but registered voters still came out at 60.9%.)

So what's the deal? Is the overall apathy caused by the youth apathy? Could be that's the case, could be the other way around, and effects on voting population are pretty complex beasts. But if we focus on youth, there are more reasons. Lack on interest, don't identify with candidates, don't think the candidates care about the youth vote, the feeling that their vote doesn't matter because the candidate they want has the riding locked up, or that the candidate they want has no hope in hell of winning, and more. As much a chicken-and-egg problem that is, just as much of one is how to increase the youth turnout. Do the candidates need to build their platforms with planks to help the student age population? Or does the student-age population need to make their voices heard to get candidates to adjust to them? I'm not sure which, but largely, this is going to be a plea for the latter. If they aren't listening to you, it might be because you aren't speaking, and you speak to a politician with a ballot.

So here's the central point of my piece, and I apologize for it being not nearly as eloquent or comical as Rick Mercer's take, but here I go anyway. There are somewhere around 2-3 million voters in the 18-24 age bracket, and likely equally as many in the 25-34. Based on the numbers above, I'd suggest that there are probably about three million votes or so that aren't coming out in those brackets right now. You, the youth of Canada, have an opportunity to completely BREAK this election, and make your voices heard. So in the next three weeks, take 10-20 minutes out of your day, read CBC, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, or whatever Canadian news outlet you like, and get informed. They're all on the internet, so no excuses. Find out about the party platforms. Decide what works best for you, or what you think will work best for the country. And then, on May 2nd, after having gotten informed, get out, and get loud. As long as you vote, you count, whether or not your candidate of choice has a chance to win or not. And the more people you convince to vote, the better your chance of being heard.

Vote. Because never has doing something so important been so easy.


1. Elections Canada, Estimation of Voter Turnout by Age Group at the 2008 Federal Election, figure 2, page 6.
2. Elections Canada, Estimation of Voter Turnout by Age Group at the 2008 Federal Election, Table 1, page 68.
3. Elections Canada, Estimation of Voter Turnout by Age Group at the 2008 Federal Election, figure 1, page 5.

Conservative Party of Canada Platform - Detailed .pdf file at bottom of page
Green Party of Canada Platform - Section links at left, link to full .pdf at right
Liberal Party of Canada Platform - Detailed .pdf file at right of page, with section links
New Democratic Party of Canada Platform - Table of contents with links at right; full detailed platform to come

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Asshat of the Day - April 6th, 2011

Well, it's election time here in the Great White North, and so the campaigns, smear and otherwise, are in full swing. Expect more than a few AotDs in the coming weeks leading up to Canada's 41st General Election on the 2nd of May. But in the meantime, without further ado, today's Asshat of the Day is...

Quelle surprise! Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada!

The Conservative Party have had a reputation for not being friendly to people not connected to the CPC in some way. Over this election campaign however, this has started coming to a head:

On April 4th in Guelph, during a CPC rally, students from the University of Guelph organized a flash mob to let Mr. Harper and the Conservatives know, very simply and positively, "we're voting." The message was positive and non-partisan, and indeed, many of the attendees of the flash mob were planning to attend the event to hear Harper speak. However, those same students were barred entry to the rally, some simply told they weren't on the attendee list or even simply told to leave, despite having pre-registered and even producing the forms saying they had done so. Izzy Hirji was one of those students, and described the events of the day in a facebook post that can be found in the link.

Other incidents include a veteran's advocate in Halifax being ejected, two other members at the Guelph rally being barred entry for having engaged in environmental activism (something that has been anathema to Harper's politics, based on his behaviour at the Copenhagen and Cancun summits), and a man barred from the April 3rd event in London, Ontario for having a bumper sticker that read 'Don't blame me; I voted NDP.'

Perhaps most galling, however, is another ejection from that London event, that of Awish Aslam, a second-year political science student at the University of Western Ontario. Aslam was fortunate enough to have been able to see both NDP leader Jack Layton and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff in person to speak, and was eagerly looking forward to hearing Mr. Harper as well, before voting in her first federal election. However, during the event, she was approached by an RCMP officer and asked to leave, being told that '[they knew] you have ties to the Liberal party through Facebook'.

If you're going by her Facebook likes, then she has ties to all three of the major parties, Liberal, Conservative, and NDP. Her father, according to articles written on both CBC and the Globe and Mail, state that her father is even a registered Conservative supporter. However, it seems that the key culprit may have been a photo from a Liberal event taken with Mr. Ignatieff.

So why is this such an outrage to me? Well, there are a few reasons. First is that in the last federal election in 2008, voter turnout hit an all-time low of 59.1%. Second is that the youth bracket, ages 18-24, had a turnout of only 37.4%. Third is that the Conservatives have shown contempt for dissenting or opposing ideas (see the Copenhagen fiasco, or the no-confidence vote in the Commons a couple weeks back precipitated by the government being held in contempt of parliament).

More than anything though, is that this was a young voter planning to do her civic duty on May 2nd and voting, and being punished for making a concerted and genuine effort to hear every leader out and cast an informed vote. And this is very likely a large part of the problem; the youth in Canada either don't relate to any of the candidates, or are being actively marginalized by them, and Harper in particular.

So in the weeks leading up to May 2nd, all the youth in Canada need to take ten minutes every day, read a little bit of the news about the election, do some research, and then on election day, get out and vote. There are somewhere between two and three million people between the ages of 18 and 24 that are eligible to vote, and if they all get up and get loud, those two to three million voters have the potential to break this election wide open and their voices can finally be heard. So get up and get loud.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Asshat of the Day - February 16th, 2011

We're back! For long? Who knows?

Anyway. Today's candidate, with a hat-tip to Samson Effect for the tipoff: Bev Oda and the Conservatives.
Oda is on the hot seat after finally admitting Monday that she directed an already-signed document to be crudely altered by adding a single handwritten word – “not.” The change killed $7 million in funding to the multi-faith foreign-aid group KAIROS.

"Not". Really. Are we in third grade? "I'll give you my favourite marble... not!"

This is, of course, notwithstanding the fact that it's forgery of a political document by an MP (or at least by her staffers). This wasn't a mea culpa - by now, I don't expect those from our fearless leaders. It was a grudging admission of further deception and obstructionism by the party which has exhibited this in spades.

So, Bev Oda, unless you want to point the finger at exactly who's responsible, you're the Asshat of the Day.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Asshat of the Day - November 4th, 2010

Today's winner/loser - Mitch McConnel and his whole stupid party.

So, what's the first announcement upon winning back the House? Cooperation and compromise? Seeking to work with their Democratic colleagues in an effort to ride out the recession and improve America's ailing economy, infrastructure, and bloated department of defense?

BAAAA-haa-haa-haa-haa*gasp*-haahaahaa... hee.

No, no. They want to undo everything Obama's done. Despite the fact that he can veto any unreasonable motions. Despite the fact that many of the initiatives enjoy broad public support. Despite the fact that most of their goals (cut taxes and balance the budget without reducing services!) are mutually exclusive and fly in the face of logic.

So, Obama will veto any attempts to hamstring or remove his health care reform. Does this stop them?
In addition to proposing and voting on repeals "repeatedly" despite expectations that the President will not sign them, "we'll also have to work in the House on denying funds for implementation and in the Senate on votes against its most egregious provisions," he said.

No, of course it doesn't. They're willing to spin Congress' wheels for two years, wasting billions of dollars of taxpayer money.


(Incidentally, when you're spending twice as much on healthcare as one of your neighbours, and yet sit thirty-third on the list of lowest infant mortalities in the world, your health care system needs reform.)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Asshat of the Day - September 8th, 2010

Today's titlist - one Terry Jones.

Despite sharing a name with a generally awesome individual, this Mr. Jones is quite clearly an idiot.
Despite denunciations from religious leaders, angry Muslim protests, the pleas of top U.S. generals and White House disapproval, a fiery, unrepentant Christian minister vows to burn stacks of Korans to mark the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Terry Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Centre, a tiny, controversial church with only 50 followers in Florida, says he won’t bow to threats or entreaties but might listen to divine guidance.

“We have firmly made up our mind, but at the same time, we are definitely praying about it,” said Mr. Jones, who wears a pistol on his hip and says he has received more than 100 death threats related to his plans for an “International Burn a Koran Day.”

Now, I'm in favour of mocking religion at every turn, and condemning its evil acts. But this isn't a statement of protest, it's an attempt at constitutionally-shielded retaliation in a petty and vindictive fashion against people who, on the whole, had nothing to do with the events of 9/11.

And, beyond that, it's burning books. Not that various nutty Christian sects don't have a penchant for that particular act of depravity, but I find myself paraphrasing Sir Sean Connery: Mr. Jones, Bible-thumping morons like yourself should try reading books instead of burning them.