Blog Ipsa Loquitur

From my favorite newsletter, NextDraft:

Attention ridiculous parents: The creator of the Your Baby Can Read program has “reached a deal to settle charges that he and his company made baseless pronouncements about the effectiveness of the program and that they misrepresented scientific studies to prove these bogus statements.”

The program has pulled in more than $185 million over the years. Dr. Robert Titzer is required to pay $300,000 in penalties. Your baby can’t read, but they can certainly count well enough to figure out who came out ahead in that deal.

In a complete and utter coincidence, I’m pleased to announce the launch of my new product, Your Baby Can Appellate Brief. Available for the low low price of “The Balance of My Student Loans.” Call today!

Published on under Not The Onion

From Scientific American comes this feel-bad story. Remember how your plastic water bottle had a “BPA-free” sticker on it? That’s good. BPA is harmful and is thought to cause cancer. Surprise twist ending, the thing they replaced it with is just as bad!

“[Manufacturers] put ‘BPA-free’ on the label, which is true. The thing they neglected to tell you is that what they’ve substituted for BPA has not been tested for the same kinds of problems that BPA has been shown to cause. That’s a little bit sneaky.”

How could this happen?

Currently, no federal agency tests the toxicity of new materials before they are allowed on the market. “We’re paying a premium for a ‘safer’ product that isn’t even safer,” [University of Calgary scientist Deborah] Kurrasch says. There are many types of bisphenols out there, so part of the public’s responsibility “is making sure [manufacturers] don’t just go from BPA to BPS to BPF or whatever the next one is.”

Published on under Well They Sound Harmless

A woman is suing because someone photoshopped her face onto nude photos of someone else. As she should. From Ars Technica:

Photographs “that depict the true face of plaintiff” were altered with Photoshop and “attached to false, phony, naked body shots, and at least one pose where there is plaintiff in a graphic pornographic-like photo,” states the complaint, which was filed on July 25 in Harris County.

“These phony photos falsely and maliciously depicted plaintiff in a clearly derogatory and false light … as some overly bold and overly aggressive sexual person, which plaintiff in fact and truth is not,” writes Ali’s lawyer.

The complaint has kind of a clumsy sound to it, but like all pleadings, it reads a little funny because it has to cover lots of legal bases. If you’re going to seek damages for harm to your reputation, you don’t want to lose when the defendant says “you forgot to argue that your client isn’t actually aggressively sexual!” That’d be embarrassing. And weird.

Published on under Legal Theory

Via Priceonomics, How Dodgeball Became America’s Most Demonized Sport:

…the game was brought to the United States by an observant (but non-participating) missionary in the late 1800s. Rocks were supposedly substituted for “broken house-bricks,” and the game became known as “deathbrick.” During the game’s “golden age” from 1910 to the late 1920s, it was adapted as a sport at Princeton and Yale, and a “National Deathbrick League” was instituted. According to the questionable source, deathbrick is “alive and well today:”

BRB; selling my worldly possessions to journey across the country, apprentice myself to a master deathbrick player, and rise through the ranks to become the best ‘bricker the world has ever seen.

Published on under It’s Nerf or Neck Brace

Elizabeth Green writes for the New York Times, asking Why Do Americans Stink at Math?

One of the most vivid arithmetic failings displayed by Americans occurred in the early 1980s, when the A&W restaurant chain released a new hamburger to rival the McDonald’s Quarter Pounder. With a third-pound of beef, the A&W burger had more meat than the Quarter Pounder; in taste tests, customers preferred A&W’s burger. And it was less expensive. A lavish A&W television and radio marketing campaign cited these benefits. Yet instead of leaping at the great value, customers snubbed it.

Only when the company held customer focus groups did it become clear why. The Third Pounder presented the American public with a test in fractions. And we failed. Misunderstanding the value of one-third, customers believed they were being overcharged. Why, they asked the researchers, should they pay the same amount for a third of a pound of meat as they did for a quarter-pound of meat at McDonald’s. The “4” in “¼,” larger than the “3” in “⅓,” led them astray.

The only thing America likes more than overeating is being bad at math, apparently.

The rest of the article largely focuses on math standardized test scores in Japan (and China and Korea), which handily beat American students’ scores. That’s not news.

What is news? Japan and China and Korea are teaching their kids math with methods developed in America in the 1980s. We didn’t adopt the thing we invented, and they did. And it works way better than the instructional model we cling to. There have been numerous (heh) attempts at updating our math curriculum in America, but they’ve all been abandoned shortly after adoption.

Published on under This Doesn’t Add Up

You know, I make fun of industries and institutions which predate the Internet a lot. They were built for an era when it cost money to infinitely copy and/or instantaneously move information around the world. (The horror!)

But sometimes they show a surprising digital savvy, and you wonder if they really have been paying attention all these years. Or if greed is just the best teacher.

From Grantland, a story about Weird Al Yankovic. He’s tired of making albums with parody songs of last summer’s hits, when he could just record single parodies and upload them in 48 hours. Record companies want records, though, and those take time. And then there’s that whole digital illiteracy thing:

“White & Nerdy,” Yankovic’s first top-10 hit in 2006, [came] 23 years after the release of his first album. That song was released right when YouTube was taking off […] Yankovic suspected he was doing better online than his balance sheet suggested. Sure enough, an audit discovered that Yankovic was owed royalties from YouTube clicks and iTunes downloads.

Two years after approaching Sony with the discrepancies in 2010, Yankovic sued his record company for $5 million. (The two parties settled in December.) If Yankovic was looking for extra motivation to rethink his future association with record labels, this surely didn’t hurt.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure these folks know exactly what they’re doing online. Bravo, Sony. It seems like just yesterday you were screwing with artists in Old Media, and now you’re doing it in New Media. Sniff. They grow up so fast.

Published on under The Digital Age