Blog Ipsa Loquitur

Published on under Eyeballs For Hire

Advertising Age is the home of this eyebrow-raising story of what viruses are doing these days:

…the bad guys have grown far more sophisticated. Malware was once primarily used for banking fraud, but two-factor authentication (for example, when a bank asks you for a code from your cellphone before you can sign in on a new computer, or asks whether you really meant to send money to Uruguay) severely reduced its profitability. Then, the hackers moved to credit-card fraud, but the security on that front is now so good that you can buy thousands of active credit-card records for a few dollars, because they’re essentially worthless. Next up was Bitcoin mining, where hacked machines were used to unearth the crypto currency.

But that too became less profitable, leaving ad fraud as the most lucrative endeavor a cybercriminal can undertake today. “We’re at a point now where malware is being used principally for ad fraud,” Mr. de Jager said. Scary words for an advertising industry only starting to grasp the problem.

A few things here.

Firstly, I didn’t realize I could buy thousands of credit card numbers for “a few dollars.” I’ve been guarding mine like some kind of moron from the 20th century. Secondly, even the criminals running botnets can’t make money on Bitcoin. That seems odd.

Thirdly, there’s actually an economy of hackers who’ve decided that the best way to make money is to infect computers, open invisible web browser windows, and get paid to surreptitiously click ads on sites.

Published on under We Can't Have Nice Things

Aaron Carroll, writing for the New York Times’s Upshot Blog, on some interesting aspects of medical malpractice. Studies and surveys have shown for decades that there are certain specific things some doctors do which gets them sued for malpractice. Carroll runs through the literature and, in a departure for “old media,” actually links to the studies in question. Basically, doctors get sued for malpractice when they don’t spend enough time talking to their patients, not when they practice medicine poorly.

This isn’t new, we all learned that in law school, and I think we also learned that legal malpractice lawsuits happen the same way. Talk to your clients, make them feel like you’re listening to them, and you’ll do okay. No kidding, right?

Here’s the great part:

Physicians and patients don’t communicate well even about malpractice. A study published in 1989 surveyed patients who sued physicians as well as physicians who had or had not been sued. Almost all (97 percent) of the patients reported negligence as the reason for their malpractice action. Fewer, about half, of non-sued physicians thought negligence was the cause of malpractice suits in general.

Only 10 percent of sued physicians, however, thought negligence was the reason for claims against them. While only a fifth of patients reported financial compensation as their motive for suing, more than 80 percent of all physicians thought this was the reason patients filed suits.

Virtually every patient who files a malpractice suit thinks they’ve been neglected. Doctors who haven’t been sued think malpractice suits are caused by doctors’ negligence half the time. But 90% of the physicians who have been sued come up with some reason besides their own negligence. They think that medical malpractice suits are a shameless cash grab.

The fact that there’s some cognitive dissonance at play here isn’t surprising. It’s the depths to which this misunderstanding goes: we’re approaching questions of epistemological possibilities here. Is it possible for physicians and plaintiffs to understand one another? And, like, what if what I see when I’m looking at the color orange isn’t what you see at all, man? Whoa.

Actually, the one thing that most everyone agrees on, whether they be plaintiff or defendant, is that communication is key to preventing these kinds of problems in the first place. Why is why, in one recent study about people visiting emergency rooms for relatively harmless chest pains:

The median estimate of whether a patient might die at home of a heart attack was 80 percent in patients and 10 percent in physicians.


Published on under Educated Guesses

Hey, so, uh, this thing happened in McKinney, Texas. It’s pretty ugly. Really, really pretty ugly.

Ugly things like this don’t have to involve guns. One of my friends pointed me to this story in New York Magazine from a few years back. People can be pretty awful to one another:

Jenny Tsai, a student who was elected president of her class at the equally competitive New York public school Hunter College High School, remembers frequently hearing that “the school was becoming too Asian, that they would be the downfall of our school.” A couple of years ago, she revisited this issue in her senior thesis at Harvard, where she interviewed graduates of elite public schools and found that the white students regarded the Asians students with wariness. (She quotes a music teacher at Stuyvesant describing the dominance of Asians: “They were mediocre kids, but they got in because they were coached.”)

Real nice, guys.

I think the short version is “we’re all striving for these accomplishments, but when people who aren’t white achieve them, it’s a bad thing.” Got it.

Ah, but there’s more from the New York Magazine piece:

In 2005, The Wall Street Journal reported on “white flight” from a high school in Cupertino, California, that began soon after the children of Asian software engineers had made the place so brutally competitive that a B average could place you in the bottom third of the class.

See? Look! Downfall of the school, just like the racists warned us would happen! It’s a damn shame.

Here’s the worst part:

Colleges have a way of correcting for this imbalance: The Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade has calculated that an Asian applicant must, in practice, score 140 points higher on the SAT than a comparable white applicant to have the same chance of admission. This is obviously unfair to the many qualified Asian individuals who are punished for the success of others with similar faces. Upper-middle-class white kids, after all, have their own elite private schools, and their own private tutors, far more expensive than the cram schools, to help them game the education system.”

I mean, this whole thing is pretty awful, but the real tragedy here is obviously that I didn’t get into Harvard even with a 140-point White Dude Bonus.

Published on under The Digital Age

In the grim darkness of the future, in the distant year 20XX, unironic intellectualism is looked down upon. Only comedians can do the thing where they think about things and then say the things about those things that are good but also bad things. I believe they call it intellectualism.

I actually really enjoy this new age of comedians as public intellectuals. Although maybe “new” is a bit of a stretch. There was that George Carlin guy, and that Mark Twain guy, and probably like a bunch of other famous guys whose names I would know if intellectualism hadn’t been positively ruined.

This Vanity Fair interview with Aziz Ansari isn’t about his status as Socratic gadfly to the status quo, but it does touch on online dating:

We’ve become souls divided, he maintains, between the real self and the cell-phone self. And we get ourselves wrong! When Aziz was writing stand-up about online dating, he experimented with filling out the forms of dummy accounts on several dating sites. The person he truthfully described he wanted to find “was a little younger than me, small, with dark hair.” But the woman he’s been dating for the past two years and is now happily living with in Los Angeles is a little older, taller, and blonde.’s own research algorithm confirms the surprising discovery that the partner people say they want online often doesn’t match up to the one they’re actually interested in. “Who knows who you’re eliminating?” said Aziz. His current love wouldn’t have made it through the filters he placed on his own online dating profile.

Same for me. It’s a bit baffling, but Aziz, myself, and researchers have all found this to be true. Honestly, online dating is probably the first time in history that people have had the opportunity to articulate and apply these sorts of preferences en masse, so we’re not exactly overturning centuries of conventional wisdom here. The whole concept is weird, from start to finish.

It’s just fascinating to realize you can be wrong about what you think you’re looking for in a romantic relationship. It’s the one thing almost everyone wants, and when we talk about what we want, we’re wrong. Kinda makes a guy wonder what else we could be wrong about.

When was the last time you tried a new food? When was the last time you listened to a new album by a band you don’t love? When was the last time you read some poetry, or wore that shirt you haven’t worn in forever because it doesn’t go with anything?

Here’s to something new this summer.

Published on under You've Got Time

From this essay by Federal Judge Jed Rakoff on the sociological destructiveness of mass incarceration, a brief detour into the statistics of crime prevention:

There are some who claim that they do know whether our increased rate of incarceration is the primary cause of the decline in crime. These are the sociologists, the economists, the statisticians, and others who assert that they have “scientifically” determined the answer. But their answers are all over the place.

Thus, for example, a 2002 study by the sociologist Thomas Arvanites and the economist Robert DeFina claimed that, while increased incarceration accounted for 21 percent of the large decline in property crime during the 1990s, it had no effect on the similarly large decline in violent crime. But two years later, in 2004, the economist Steven Levitt – of Freakonomics fame – claimed that incarceration accounted for no less than 32 percent of the decline in crime during that period.

Okay, so everyone agrees that crime has been declining since about the late 1980s or early 1990s. But nobody’s really sure why. There are some economists who think that mass incarceration is responsible for about 20-30% of that drop. Not a majority at all, but a signifcant amount for sure. Heck, 30% might even be a plurality, or near to it.

It’s also probably not accurate:

Levitt’s conclusions, in turn, were questioned in 2006, when the sociologist Bruce Western reexamined the data and claimed that only about 10 percent of the crime drop in the 1990s could be attributed to increased incarceration.

Wait, so the same “crime is lower” data either supports a 30% attribution or a 10% attribution to mass incarceration? That’s eyebrow-raising. What if the SATs were graded with a 20% margin of error? What if your car’s speedometer was 20% off?

But two years after that, in 2008, the criminologist Eric Baumer took still another look at the same data and found that it could support claims that increased incarceration accounted for anywhere between 10 percent and 35 percent of the decrease in crime in the 1990s.”

A group of researchers at New York University Law School also came up with numbers as low as “less than one percent” for the amount of the drop in crime which could be attributed to mass incarceration. So, you know. It might have nothing to do with putting tons of people in jail.

Here’s a helpful hint: countries like Germany and the Netherlands, which do not imprison young men nearly as much as America does, have seen roughly the same rate of decline in crime as America has. That’s not completely dispositive, but that’s pretty damning.

Published on under The Digital Age

Dan Moren wrote about the most useful aspects of using an Apple Watch while abroad in Portugal. Perhaps not surprisingly, he loved having a map on his wrist:

Makes sense, right? You’re in a foreign country, you’re going to need to find your way around a lot. But, along the same lines as my earlier concerns, pulling out an iPhone and looking around in befuddlement is a pretty easy way to get tagged as a tourist. Simply glancing at your watch, however? Far less conspicuous—even if it sometimes looks (accurately) like you’re an idiot who’s having trouble deciphering analog time.

In particular, I really like that if I load up directions on my iPhone, but don’t start navigation, it preloads them on my Watch, where I can then tap Start at my leisure.

I did find myself from time to time retreating to the Maps app on the phone, largely to get an actual map overview of where I was. Plus, using the phone also gave me the option of using Google Maps, which on occasion disagreed with Apple Maps over the locations of certain things. Not to mention Apple Maps’s terrible and egregious lack of public transit information.

I like that the thing holding back the usefulness of the maps on the magical computer on your wrist is Apple’s map data, and not the computer itself. Like, Apple can put a magical computer on your wrist. It can see your heart beat, let you dictate an email to someone across the planet, and check your Instagram feed.

But whoa, drawing a map? Of like, a city? Where people live? Dude, you’re blowing my mind!