Blog Ipsa Loquitur

What, already? Didn’t we just see this episode? College guy writes some very ignorant rape apology piece in his school newspaper:

Only 6.6 percent of women who smoke will develop lung cancer. A woman who smokes is more than three times as likely to be sexually assaulted than she is to develop lung cancer. We turn our noses up at smokers and just made our campus tobacco-free. Yet, nothing is done about sexual assault, short of blaming the “attacker,” a guy who was likely as drunk as his “victim.” We do everything we can to mitigate the small risk of lung cancer, but nothing at all to mitigate the much greater risk of sexual assault.

We all make mistakes, and we all want to be understood, consoled and forgiven, but there’s a double standard here, and it needs to be addressed.

If drunk women who have sex are able to claim “rape,” why aren’t drunk men alleviated of responsibility for the poor decisions they make?

Yeah, why do women get to be sexually assaulted when they get drunk, and why do men get to be responsible for sexually assaulting women when they get drunk? What’s up with that? Well, that’s a fantastically stupid question I’m happy to overexplain, Robert Monteleone of the University of Arizona! (Seen here telling people to stop “trying” to be offended.)

Well, let’s start small.

Published on under Dear Future Employers

People create corporations to encourage investment by shielding their personal assets from the business venture. Ordinarily, when you go into business (with a couple of partners, for example), if your business racks up $300,000 in debt, the business is liable for the $300,000, but so is each partner. With a corporation, debtors can only collect the assets of the corporation; so if you, Mister Partner, only invested $100,000, that’s all your debtors get from you. Limiting your risk like makes you more likely to invest; at least, that’s the idea.

Here’s a fun fact: government agencies create corporations, too. As they’re not investing or trading any stock, you have to wonder what exactly the purpose is. Sometimes, they’re created because a state constitution regulates borrowing by agencies. But corporations aren’t agencies – they’re people! – so the government, through agencies, can just keep borrowing money. That’s lousy, but that’s not what this post is about.

Via the Washington Post, the American Civil Liberties Union’s new report on police SWAT teams is a little eyebrow-raising. What they’ve found is almost as interesting as what they can’t find. Take Massachusetts:

Published on under gov 2.0

Seriously, the white-on-white crime in this country is out of control:

Back in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available, a staggering 83 percent of white murder victims were killed by fellow Caucasians. […] To understand the level of cultural pathology at work here, it’s important to understand that 36 percent of those killed by whites are women — a far higher share than you see with black murderers.

A superb look into an epidemic. I hope someone can help those poor people.

Published on under Jest, Mostly

The Internet has had, for some time, plenty of places to find photos of naked women uploaded without their consent. The term we’ve settled on as a society is somehow “revenge porn,” which is absurd. Uploading photos of someone else is not revenge unless she uploaded photos of you first. (If you can find a single instance of that happening, I’ll eat a unicorn.) It’s also not pornography because pornography requires consent and participation and all those other considerations human beings (i.e. not A Woman On Internet) are afforded.

In my ignorance, I assumed that these kinds of photos were published by resentful exes, not organized rings of perverts. But, the Internet is always finding ways to surprise you and let you down.

Surprise!

Over the weekend, some celebrities had their private photos published online by creeps. This wasn’t accomplished by a small army of cranky ex-boyfriends, just your run of the mill script kiddies. Most of the coordination for this effort was apparently done on a small handful of public message boards. If you’re looking for a retelling of how it happened, the Official Lookout Blog has you covered:

This weekend close to 700 highly personal photos of more than 25 celebrities were leaked publicly. We looked into the origins of this dump and the files inside it to shed some light into how they got there, particularly to understand how best to protect users against this sort of crime in the future.

Published on under The Digital Age

I’m catching up on my Marginal Revolution backlog. Tyler Cowen highlights a study on the effectiveness of public schools compared to private schools in Korea. The abstract:

We show that private high school students outperform public high school students in Seoul, South Korea, where secondary school students are randomly assigned into schools within school districts.

That’s a bold claim. I mean, there are lots of secondary factors that co-

Both private and public schools in Seoul must admit students randomly assigned to them, charge the same fees, and use the same curricula under the so-called ‘equalization policy’.

All right. You reeled me in with a three-hit combo. Bring it on home, study co-authors Youjin Hahn, Liang Choon Wang, and Hee-Seung Yang. Why do private schools outperform their virtually identical public school counterparts?

[…] Private schools enjoy greater autonomy in hiring and other staffing decisions and their principals and teachers face stronger incentives to deliver good students’ performance. Our findings suggest that providing schools greater autonomy in their personnel and resource allocation decisions while keeping school principals accountable can be effective in improving students’ outcomes.

Caveat

Now, these performance results are based on standardized tests, which I touched on a bit last week. I’m not sure to what extent “resource allocation” is code for “can afford to buy textbooks from the standardized test companies” or if that’s just not a concept they really have in Korea.

But still. This is fascinating, if there’s really a statistically meaningful difference in student performance when principals have autonomy in personnel matters. I can’t help but draw parallels with how difficult it is to fire teachers in America, and how there’s basically no meaningful way to tell if a teacher is bad and needs firing.

The double secret caveat is that the performance improvements from the study were on a series of standardized tests. And from where I’m sitting (read: the peanut gallery), evaluations on standardized test scores alone don’t seem super useful. At least not on this side of the Other Pond.

Vaguely Meaningless

For example, this 2012 report from the Annenberg Institute studied teacher evaluation data in New York. The results were inconclusive, to say the least:

[F]or all teachers of math, and using all years of available data, which provides the most precise measures possible, the average confidence interval width is about 34 points (i.e., from the 46th to 80th percentile). When looking at only one year of math results, the average width increases to 61 percentile points.

That is to say, the average teacher had a range of value-added estimates that might extend from, for example, the 30th to the 91st percentile. The average level of uncertainty is higher still in ELA. For all teachers and years, the average confidence interval width is 44 points. With one year of data, this rises to 66 points.

For reference, a 66-point spread on the SAT is the difference between scoring a 700 and a 430 on the math section. If the SAT folks couldn’t determine your performance any more precisely than that, I don’t think many colleges would use it for admissions.

Hopefully, someone devises (devised?) a better way to evaluate teachers than that.

Published on under Gee Gee Baby Baby

By way of James Grimmelmann comes this yarn of how far one company will go to keep people from leaving negative reviews for its products online. Matt Haughey, the founder of MetaFilter (think: Reddit for people with graduate degrees) has had an odd back and forth with the people at Sundance Vacations:

In January of 2013, I was contacted by Sundance Vacations over this 2010 question at Ask MetaFilter. The company appears to be a time-share vacation company and it seemed they were trying to chase down every negative mention of their company online.

The question at Ask MetaFilter doesn’t necessarily tarnish their company, as someone asks if a vacation sales pitch they have to attend to win a free trip is worth the trouble. Most of the answers mention general stories of having to sit through strong-arm timeshare sales pitches and how to get out of them quickly.

tl;dr: this company wants to lawyer up on bad internet press.

Now, most companies have figured out that 47 USC §230, better known as the Communications Decency Act, makes it pretty damned hard to go after sites like MetaFilter for the things their users say. From the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

The Bloggers’ FAQ on Section 230 Protections discusses a powerful federal law that gives you, as a web host, protection against legal claims arising from hosting information written by third parties.

Occasionally, some companies will go after the individual reviewers. (Or, if you believe the rumor mill, some sites monetize their §230 immunity.) Sundance Vacations is apparently one of those companies. But they need a little help to find users sometimes. They enlisted Matt to help locate his user, and then it got … dumb.

Published on under Motion to Point and Laugh