Saturday, January 19, 2013

What The Daily Beast’s Absurd Vaccine Truther Screed Tells Us About Journalism

What The Daily Beast’s Absurd Vaccine Truther Screed Tells Us About Journalism: pI’m not going to link to the execrable anti-vaccine screed published on The Daily Beast today. I’m not even going to link to the thoughtful, well-written counterpoint they published by a infectious disease specialist. To do either would reward a transparent attempt to gin up a pageview-inducing “controversy.” Moreover, it would treat the two pieces [...]/p

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Happy 2013! Children born during recessions more likely to exhibit problem behaviors? More scaremongering for all those parents of children born in 2008, 2009, AND those children were unwanted and cared for by unavailable working parents or Spot the Lousy Logic (a fun and interactive game)

WARNING - This made me angry so it may read like a rant...
The article, "Do Recession Babies Grow Up to Be Troubled Teens?"  suggests that children born during the recessionary period in the early 1980s had higher rates of substance abuse, theft and other behaviors. All of the children? No. It was only those children from areas with higher levels of unemployment. So was it higher than other areas or compared to another time period? Not clear. Were the children still living in higher than normal unemployment areas at the time the study tracked them? Also not clear if anyone controlled for that.
“The risk for being arrested, joining a gang, smoking pot, stealing, drinking, and smoking were all slightly higher (by 6 to 17 percent) for kids who were born in or spent their first few years in areas with high unemployment rates, even if their families were wealthy or not unemployed -- and even though the U.S. economy was well on the way to recovery by 1997, when the teens surveyed were exhibiting their less-than-stellar behavior”
"It basically went across all socioeconomic strata," Ramanathan said. Since the increase in risky behavior wasn't limited to one area of the country or one socioeconomic class, "From a national level, it seems like everyone is affected," she added.
Anyone spot the two logical inconsistencies here?
1.The risky behavior occurred where the birth was in an area of high unemployment, but because there were pockets of high unemployment in various metro areas, “it seems like everyone is affected?” Sorry, no.  That’s a contradiction. The speaker mentions a specific population among whom the behavior was observed and in the enxt breath says, “everyone.”  My mother says, “never say never.” I say “never say EVERYONE!” Once you say that, you subject yourself to the now  famous White Swan counterfactual.
You can’t get there from those data. It’s a problem in specific areas where unemployment is high – so that means focusing on those high unemployment areas for public policy not lining up kids by age cohort and saying, “Born in 1980? Uh-oh. You’re in trouble.”
2.  The conclusion does not follow from the evidence. They are using inductive reasoning (poorly) to arrive at a conclusion not supported by the data. It’s also referred to in statistics as making claims, “outside the range of observation.” Think about water.  Imagine we observe water while we heat it from 33 degrees Farenheit to 37 degrees Fahrenheit. Water was a liquid. Can we then conclude that if we continue to heat the water to, say, 300 degrees Fahrenheit the water will still be a liquid? Obviously not. However, without observing water boil assuming that water remains a liquid would be what a researcher might hypothesize, but that would be pure conjecture and obviously wrong.
3. And The Kicker – It MAY assign the wrong DIMENSION to the problem (of course this is my opinion here but it’s just as likely to be true as anything else)
“For every 1 percentage point below the mean regional unemployment rate, kids in affected areas had a 9 percent higher chance of using marijuana, a 7 percent higher chance of smoking tobacco, and a 6 percent higher chance of drinking when they were teenagers. Also higher: Gang affiliation (9 percent), petty theft (6 percent), major theft (11 percent), and the chance of getting arrested (17 percent). More serious problems -- like gun violence, assault, destroying property, and abusing hard drugs -- were not affected by higher unemployment rates.”
“1 percentage point below the regional average.” So that means areas that were the bottom of the region? Aren’t those areas always likely to have the problems associated with high unemployment? Aren’t those also going to have the problem of a lower level of educational attainment among the populace? Higher dropout rates, etc. Greater drug use among parents? If you’re born in the inner city in the US, it’s not about when, it’s about WHERE. The public policy implication is not based on birth cohort, it’s based on whether you are more likely to be born into poverty! Since people more likely to be in poverty or in high unemployment areas tend to more vulnerable economically, maybe those areas get hit even harder than the rest of the areas.
Did they correlate high unemployment at other times? Is the leading variable actually unemployment? Not sure. Think about places which experienced a temporary increase in unemployment and then improved vs. certain US cities that have never recovered from factories closing, etc.

So the best part? Here comes insult to the children and the guilt trip for the working parents.
The insult and guilt trip come from the journalist and other studies looped together in a haphazard and simplistic manner suggesting the writer used Google only as her primary reference tool. Therefore, it’s pure bs editorializing. For example, she assumes the children born during those times were more likely to be unwanted pregnancies! How dare she.  Speculating that a child is unplanned (and therefore unwanted – which on its own is a huge leap) is a severe and horrible thing to do. So children born in 2009, during a recession, during a dip in births, should assume that they were unplanned?
The guilt trip then assumes that parents forced into the workplace aren’t available “during children’s early years” is a contradiction (these were areas of HIGHER unemployment – so that makes no sense). The lack of affordable childcare in this country is a social issue (and a major factor in the US’s ability to compete in a global marketplace, but I digress) that does not support the findings of this study. The author places a judgment that children from working parents do not fare as well as other children. Not so. In fact, data show that children in quality childcare fare no different form children who were cared for at home and were more school ready to boot.
What a load of horse manure…

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Happy Mother's Day - Time Magazine Can See Me In A Hot Place

It's been over a year since I've managed to write anything here. This morning as I woke up around four am because I was worrying about something at work that is entirely out of my control (as I am oft to do), I followed some of the coverage of the Time magazine cover of a mother with her breast in the mouth of her three-year-old son. Is he actually feeding? Is she neurotic for breastfeeding a three-year-old? I have no idea. More importantly, I don't CARE.

People are up in arms - all camps (e.g. "eww, gross vs. totally natural", "Dr. Sears is nut vs. Dr. Sears is a hero", "Boy will be messed up vs. Boy will be well-adjusted"). It's not that I don't fall into some of these camps, it's just that it's irrelevant to most other people. I can only speak for myself but I think it's hard enough just getting through the day, trying the best I can, within the confines of who I am and who my child is. I can figure out what good parenting is or isn't without some editorial team telling me. "Are you mom enough?" You bet, Time. Mom enough to shout, I'm NOT BUYING.

Turns out, Time is just causing a stir to get us to buy magazines. However, something more insidious is afoot. The media is fueling a much more hostile tenor in our cultural dialogue and forcing people into extreme camps. Enough already. It's bad enough that we do this with political discourse, but for heaven's sake parenting is hard enough what without all this chatter.

This Mother's Day, my gift to all mothers everywhere it to tell Time et. al. to "Drink a Nice Warm Cup of Shut the Hell Up!" Join me. Don't buy the magazine. When someone asks you your opinion say, "All parents love their children and do the best they can as they believe it to be." Then, practice your greatest mom skill, the well-developed raised eyebrow look of death that says, "Don't even think about it..."

Monday, September 12, 2011

Yet Again...Educated otherwise smart people are immune to logic!

Vaccine refusal parents, "Please stop! You're hurting me." That's what we tell out two-year-old to say when another child comes after her so she doesn't bite them. Of course, nobody likes a biter and the behavior is unacceptable but who knows what icky things the bitee may be carrying. See, here in Northern California, we are home to a specific breed of moron who is out to harm everyone else's children. In Forbes, we see another article showing how people refuse to vaccinate their children. The statistics by county make me want to vomit. I understand the counties with a lower population of English speakers who may have difficulty accessing vaccines, but then we have places that are basically where "rich white people" live.

They commit crimes against logic and science everyday that they send their unimmunized petri-dish spawn to schools where children with compromised immune systems and newborn siblings attend. For shame.

Now Forbes is reminding us that there is more evidence showing that the MMR shot does not cause autism. Period. Yet this stupidity persists. Next time someone at your playground tells you they are using the Sears vaccine schedule ask them why they decided that arbitrary is better than scientific rigor. They are not really your friends, they are putting your children in danger.

Happy Moron Monday everyone!

Monday, August 15, 2011

7.1 Percent Of Marin Parents Refuse To Inoculate Their Children - News Story - KTVU San Francisco

7.1 Percent Of Marin Parents Refuse To Inoculate Their Children - News Story - KTVU San Francisco

Irrational, stupid or lazy? It doesn't matter but it goes to show how the anti-expert mindset has taken hold. Guess what? Wiping down the swings with purell is futile if your child gets measles. Grrrrrr!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Statgrrl Features - Books ALL Working Moms Must Read

I must apologize for being completely off of the grid for over a month. My day job has been in peak season and I have been flitting about the country and missing StatBaby quite more than I expected to. Also, StatDog is on chemo (Yes, you read that right. I made the choice with the full knowledge that I am completely irrational when it comes to the ones I love.) At any rate there has been the usual onslaught of BS stats but I haven't even had time to deal with them other than to write myself notes that say things like, "BS on page A4 of the Journal", only to find the post-it five days later buried at the bottom of my laptop bag. As in all things, context is everything.

I thought about some things that might be fun for everyone. So, I have assembled the StatGrrl reading list. The list is called, "Working Mommy Must Reads." It comes in no particular order:

When you think that it's just you...
Just Let Me Lie Down: Necessary Terms for the Half-Insane Working Mom by: Kristen van Ogtrop.
"Sisterhood of the black, lightweight wool pants: The tribe of working mothers who are united in their reliance upon the just-right pair of pants that can be worn for three seasons, at least once a week, year in and year out."

When you are this close to giving up all those years of education, promotions, late nights working on presentations and give in to some bizarre thing called "guilt"...
Getting to 50/50 by: Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober
Dual career couples have pretty strong marriages and can eventually retire! Plus, there is NO data to show that kids in daycare perform differently than kids who aren't.

When you are comparing yourself to "Perfect Mommy" (as if you don't know what I mean)...
The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women by: Susan Douglas
"...when our kids say, "but all the other kids are doing it," we laugh in their faces. But when the magazines suggest, "All the other moms are doing this, are you?" we see ourselves being judged by the toughest critics out there..."

When in search of perfect devastating pithy prose...
Gut Symmetries by: Jeanette Winterson
"Matter: A witticism. At a sub-atomic level, that which has a tendency to exist."
"It remains that a woman with an incomplete emotional life has herself to blame, while a man with no time for his heart just needs a wife." 

When what someone said in a meeting is absurd, but you can't pinpoint why...
Crimes Against Logic by: Jamie Whyte
" purpose here is to stop you from believing in another right that you really do not have, namely, the right to your own opinions."

The list goes on and on. For me, I know that the statistical reporting of journalists is only enough to make me irrational some of the time. So for that, I thank the above authors and my daughter. She shows me everyday that it's not about me and my performance as a mother. She is unique; a person already unto herself, with goals, talents, a sense of humor and a sense of justice and fairness. She is not yet two. This isn't my "work". This is who she is. No study can ever begin to explain the definition of children, "unexploded potential".

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Oh boy! Stat Baby is going to be a a fatty! Healthday and Babycenter are AT IT AGAIN!!!

Thanks to all of you for your understanding during a rather long absence since my last posting. I've been devoting time to my employment outside of the home (there, no one feels badly about that term I hope).

Monday morning, bright and early - my weekly "Scare the mother and make her feel guilty" email from my friends at Babycenter arrives right on schedule.  The news to smack me down as I try to prepare for meetings with my biggest and most important client was,
"The more moms work, the heavier their kids get, says study."

Part I: The headline and the article

Any mother who works (I am assuming they mean paid employment in or outside the home) should assume that the more she does, the heavier her child will be. Taken to it's logical conclusion, Stat Baby should be the size of a house by now.

Now, let's see what the article says the study says. This is, of course, likely to be different from what the study ACTUALLY says. Ah the perils of allowing undereducated writers report on things that they can't understand because their reading comprehension and awareness of the scientific method are non-existent.

The study didn't say much because a study author has to use OTHER data to justify her "conclusion."
Surprisingly, there was no evidence that the increase in BMI was linked to more TV viewing, a decrease in physical activity, or more time spent unsupervised.The researchers concluded that it may be changes in children's eating and sleeping patterns (factors that were not included in the data) that account for the BMI changes. "While we weren't able to identify any specific environmental factors, it's clear from other research that nutrition and sleep are important," she said. "So, one possible policy implication is to do more to help working parents find quick and easy ways to prepare healthy foods."
Eating and sleeping patterns were not included in the dataset but the conclusion it that eating and sleeping patterns account for the change. Shut the front door. These people are a classic case of a hypothesis desperately trying to find data (not the other way around).

The quote from the article says that the data showed no relationship between the time spent viewing tv or decreased activity. Yet the researcher says in the interview,
The effect was even greater among children in fifth and sixth grades. "It is possible that because fifth and sixth graders generally have more independence and less adult supervision over their time use and food choices than third graders, maternal employment precipitates poorer food choices and more sedentary activity," the authors wrote.
You can't have it both ways. The data showed no evidence surrounding decreased activity (is that not what sedentary means?), yet the researcher insists on using this to explain the difference. How about spurious correlation?

Mommy works. Mommy wants to do the best for her child. Mommy sees headline that says she's making her child fatter by the minute each time she takes a conference call.  Mommy CLICKS.  Babycenter has a unique pageview and traffic to click on the ads on their site. But in the back of her head, Mommy doubts. Mommy worries. Mommy is one step closer to giving it all up.

Not me. I say, "This author is full of it. I have work to do."

Part II: What other factors WERE NOT examined?

  1. Did Daddy work? If so, what were his hours like? Nope.
  2. What was the income level of the family? Nope.
  3. What was the mother's highest level of education attained? Nope.
  4. What type of food was being served? Nope
This all happens "below the fold." Hide the reason for skepticism and increase the guilt quotient. Try accessing this sheer and utter nonsense on a mobile device. You see the headline, scan first paragraph and move on with your day.

Part III: Where I get to indulge my fascination with the concept of "average" child.

About the danger of averages:

The study says for the AVERAGE child at grade three there is in increase in weight of about 1.5 lbs over what is "expected" at that age. DING, DING, DING...BS alarm bell.
What is an average child, anyway? What is the distribution surrounding the mean in this case? Do boys and girls vary in the timing of growth cycles at this age? The average is a dangerous concept. The MEDIAN height of a child of 8 years is 129 centimeters according to the growth chart provided here. The 5th percentile is 119 centimeters. The 95th percentile is 149 centimeters. So the vast majority of 8 year-old-girls are between 45 and 54 inches tall. That's 9 inches or 2/3 of a ft. That's not really a narrow window and many children are not at average.  However, if my population has 100 children in it and 75 of them weigh 60 lbs and 25 weigh 15 lbs, the average child weighs 48.75 lbs and looks nothing like ANY child in the population.

I have an acquaintance who wanted to live in a city, her husband wanted to live on a rural farm. They live in a McMansion, in a suburb. They are both miserable. Good compromise are rarely rarely found dead center  of two extremes.