Blog Ipsa Loquitur

Plenty of people are bad at science. I mean, I’m not particularly great at it, but I’m not terrible, either. This one scientist at MIT is pretty good at some sciences and pretty bad at some other ones. Actually, more like really bad. She recently gave a speech claiming that half of all children will be autistic by 2025, on account of chemicals in genetically modified foods.

David Gorski debunked this laughable (and irresponsible) claim wonderfully. All he really does is point out that correlation does not equal causation and cite a whole bunch of studies debunking every element of the bogus autism claim. It’s great:

What the increase in autism prevalence corresponds to is really the expansion of diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorders that occurred in the early 1990s as well as increased screening for the condition, which, as I’ve pointed out, will always increase the prevalence of any condition.

One thing I like to do to demonstrate how correlation usually does not equal causation, particularly for looking at things like vaccines and autism, is to point out other things that have increased dramatically since the early 1990s or before.

Cell phones, the internet, and organic food all correlate to the rise in autism at least as well as genetically modified foods do. It’s pretty glorious.

So I’ve extrapolated the MIT scientist’s figures, and by my calculations, at this rate, in 2071, 200% of all children will be autistic.

Published on under This Doesn't Add Up

Time Magazine has some pretty amazing hand-wringing about the hand-wringing going on in the Midwest over a potential source of lawsuits. The article is called: Some Cities to Limit Sledding Over Liability Concerns, and there’s no two ways about it. This is going to be one of those face-palm articles. Let’s take a peek:

Faced with the potential bill from sledding injuries, some cities have opted to close hills rather than risk large liability claims. No one tracks how many cities have banned or limited sledding, but the list grows every year. One of the latest is in Dubuque, Iowa, where the City Council is moving ahead with a plan to ban sledding in all but two of its 50 parks.

“We have all kinds of parks that have hills on them,” said Marie Ware, Dubuque’s leisure services manager. “We can’t manage the risk at all of those places.”

Look, if you live in a town where there are so many idiots that juries give out judgments for this stuff, you have bigger problems. Your neighbors probably call 911 when Burger King screws up their order. You may consider wearing a helmet when crossing the street, as it’s unlikely that other drivers can discern which is the “gas” and “brake” pedal, or even what either of those words mean.

Published on under Trees Full of Lemons

At the risk of sounding pithy, you know the maxim: ignorance of the law is no defense. Whether or not you know the law, you are responsible for following it. This might seem a little unfair, but the other option is roving gangs of untouchable illiterate super-criminals who don’t know a single law. Cops would have to read the law aloud through fantastically large megaphones as they engage in breathtaking chases with criminals.

…That actually sounds kind of cool. Remind me to come back to this during NaNoWriMo.

Okay, so ignorance of the law is no excuse. Kinda unfair. More unfair when you understand that getting your hands on a copy of the law is expensive.

For example, some states claim a copyright interest over their laws. They make you pay to get a copy. Or, more accurately, some publishing company has paid the state for the exclusive right to sell people a copy of the law. That’s bad enough, but the law isn’t “just” the laws passed by Congress and state legislatures and so on. The law is actually those laws plus a bunch of court cases about what those laws mean. There’s a $6.5 billion industry built up around selling access to court cases. The law is simply not freely accessible.

Even if we made all of that free today, laws are really complicated and the cases that modify them are even more complicated. I always joke that “I have no practical skills; I’m an attorney,” but the fact is that the one skill lawyers do have is ‘can read laws and cases and figure out what the heck.’ Normal people aren’t as good at that as lawyers are. Probably because they actually have practical skills.

Published on under Legal Theory

Hey, you. You see those ads on every site on the internet? You know how they got there, right? I always thought internet ads were a lot like billboards: Company A pays Company B to show ads in a space on a page. And it may have been this way in the internet’s bronze age, in 1997, but no longer.

Today, a robots-only auction takes place in literally the blink of an eye:

A small technological marvel occurs on almost every visit to a web page. In the seconds that elapse between the user’s click and the display of the page, an ad auction takes place in which hundreds of bidders gather whatever information they can get on the user, determine which ads are likely to be of interest, place bids, and transmit the winning ad to be placed in the page.

Oh, man. The first sentient robots aren’t going to try to kill us; they’re going to try to show us ads, aren’t they?

Published on under Eyeballs For Hire

It’s 2015. You’ve heard of Instagram, and you might have heard of medical Instagram, but pilot Instagram is probably new to you. You can learn about it in David Yanofsky’s horriyfing piece on commercial pilots who take photos from their cockpits while they’re (ostensibly) flying the plane.

After his initial report, Yanofsky has enjoyed quite a bit of harassment from pilots who feel he was out of line, which is documented here:

Much of the backlash seems to have been coordinated on message boards and the Facebook page Shit Pilots Say. Yanofsky’s phone number was posted there several times, with instructions to harass him. One of the people who has posted his number appears to be a pilot for Spirit Airlines, the low-cost carrier based in Miramar, Florida.

The pilot, Glen Carpenter, spoke to Yanofsky before the piece was published, arguing that all sorts of FAA regulations are violated during a typical flight and that it would be impractical to enforce them.

You have to at least admire Glen Carpenter’s idealism. He’s so sure that the FAA’s regulations on flying millions of pounds of metal and jet fuel are really just suggestions that he’ll participate in a harassment campaign using his real name. You don’t always see that kind of commitment to internet harassment these days.

I mean, take a look at what Glen Carpenter writes under his real name on Facebook:

“I talked to this Fucktard [Yanofsky] for half hour yesterday… He’s truly an idiot,” Carpenter wrote on Facebook under the pseudonym Glen Christopher, though the account’s username is glen.carpenter.129.

…whoops. Well, I’m sure no one else noticed.

That account has been posting Yanofsky’s cell phone number and encouraging people to call it or text him photos taken in the cockpit.

Spirit spokesman Paul Berry confirmed the airline employs someone named Glen Carpenter and said, “We are taking this allegation seriously.” In a brief phone call, Carpenter denied that he works for Spirit and said he wasn’t the person going by Glen Christopher on Facebook.

Oh, honey.

Published on under Questionable Pilot Programs

David Roberts has an entertaining read on the tunnel construction project in Seattle. The city needs to replace its outdated and crumbling elevated highway, called the Viaduct.

It’s remarkable how disastrous virtually every step of the tunnel has been, including the decision to build a tunnel to replace the Viaduct in the first place. As Roberts writes, Seattle has essentially three options for the Viaduct:

  1. Replace it with a new elevated highway.

  2. Replace it — at least the part of it that goes through the downtown core — with a giant tunnel that would be covered over to allow downtown to connect with the waterfront.

  3. Don’t replace it with a highway at all. In its place, create a walkable waterfront with a modest four-lane street. To accommodate traffic overflow, add transit upgrades and street improvements in the surrounding area.

The third, “surface/transit” option was the cheapest and most in line with smart green urbanism. Naturally, Seattle VSPs ignored it entirely.

The whole thing is beyond flabbergasting. It gets worse and worse the longer you read. But Roberts had even more to add yesterday about the poorly planned and executed tunnel project. He writes:

[Seattle hired an expert on tunnels who] warned that the project was “beyond precedent,” with the largest single-bore dig ever taking place in “the worst geologic environment I’ve ever seen,” beneath the water table, under considerable water pressure, through highly varied soil conditions.

It’s good to know that it’s not just IT procurement in this country that’s broken. The bit that surprises me the most about Seattle’s problem: there seems to have been a lot of research and really smart writing done before the project. For every item in the parade of horribles that Roberts writes about, some expert warned Seattle that it was going to happen. I hope that some day these experts are the ones making decisions instead of the ones being ignored.

Published on under Procurement Hell