University of Washington teaching a course on bullshit

❝ Two University of Washington professors are teaching a course to help students “think critically about the data and models that constitute evidence in the social and natural sciences,” according to the introduction to the course.

The 160-seat seminar, titled “Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data,” begins in late March and continues for roughly 10 weeks. Members of the general public can follow the course syllabus, including readings and recordings of lectures, at the course’s website.

❝ At the end of the course, students should be able to “provide your crystals-and-homeopathy aunt or casually racist uncle with an accessible and persuasive explanation of why a claim is bullshit,” according to the syllabus.

❝ The syllabus went viral after it was posted last month…the instructors’ email inboxes were overflowing, and some book offers were even made. The course reportedly filled all open seats within the first minute of online registration at UW.

❝ Jevin West told Recode that he and Bergstrom started to notice a trend in the last few years: More bullshit in the articles they were reviewing…One area of big problems: Big data…He said he noticed methods of statistics meant for smaller data sets being applied to “big” data sets with millions or billions of examples, where it’s easy to force a correlation that isn’t necessarily accurate.

He also observed situations where machine learning algorithms were “overfitting” data. Basically, you can have an algorithm that so specifically matches a particular data set, meaning it reflects even errors or noise, it fails when applied to another data set where you would otherwise expect it to work. You would normally want an algorithm that is sufficiently general to fit more than one data set.

In addition to big data and machine learning issues, the course addresses fake news.

Just in case you worried that our so-called president was left out.

Thanks, Helen

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One-Third of Americans Don’t Know Obamacare and Affordable Care Act Are the Same

❝ A sizable minority of Americans don’t understand that Obamacare is just another name for the Affordable Care Act.

This finding, from a poll by Morning Consult, illustrates the extent of public confusion over a health law that President Trump and Republicans in Congress hope to repeal.

❝ In the survey, 35 percent of respondents said either they thought Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act were different policies (17 percent) or didn’t know if they were the same or different (18 percent). This confusion was more pronounced among people 18 to 29 and those who earn less than $50,000 — two groups that could be significantly affected by repeal…

When respondents were asked what would happen if Obamacare were repealed, even more people were stumped. Approximately 45 percent did not know that the A.C.A. would be repealed. Twelve percent of Americans said the A.C.A. would not be repealed, and 32 percent said they didn’t know.

The ever-present question: Are Americans stupid or just plain ignorant?

Our politicians, the Congressional clown show, the so-called president occupying the White House – with a few exceptions, none of these really care what the answer is. Their only concern is how to make political hay from a field sown in superstition and grandpa’s advice that was out-of-date a half-century ago.

The death rate gap widens between urban and rural America


Sometimes you actually get what you voted for

❝ If you live in a city or a suburb, chances are you’ve seen the health of people around you improve over time — fewer deaths from cardiovascular disease, better cancer treatments, and fewer premature deaths.

But if you’re one of the 46 million Americans who live in a rural area, odds are you’ve watched the health of your neighbors stagnate and worsen.

❝ New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that rates of the five leading causes of death — heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory disease, and stroke — are higher among rural Americans. In other words, mortality rates in rural areas for these preventable deaths, which were going down, are now plateauing and even increasing…

❝ …More than income, more than the frequency with which you exercise, the simple fact of where you live can have a huge impact on your health…

…the most pronounced rural-urban gaps are deaths from unintentional injuries — like suicide or drug overdose — and deaths from chronic lower respiratory disease…

❝ …According to the CDC, part of it is that people in rural areas often don’t have access to health care facilities that can quickly treat severe trauma. The opioid epidemic is also overwhelmingly concentrated in rural pockets of the US, as are the related overdose deaths.

But it’s not just deaths from unintentional injuries that disproportionately affect rural Americans. Rural Americans are also far more likely to die from CLRD, which encompasses a wide range of lung diseases from occupational lung diseases to pulmonary hypertension. The CDC believes this discrepancy is largely due to cigarette smoking being far more prevalent among adults living in rural counties…

❝ Additionally, a higher percentage of rural Americans are in poorer health. Generally speaking, rural Americans report higher incidences of preventable conditions like obesity, diabetes, cancer, and injury. They also face higher uninsured rates in addition to fewer health services.

Yes, these folks represent one of the significant communities that voted for Trumponomics, Republican plans to repeal Obamacare, just about any government program predicated on mandating better healthcare and preventive medicine.

The operative question remains – stupid or ignorant? You might throw in gullible if you look at folks who rely on “good enough for Grandpa”.

Pay gap between college graduates and everyone else reaches a record


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❝ Americans with no more than a high school diploma have fallen so far behind college graduates in their economic lives that the earnings gap between college grads and everyone else has reached its widest point on record…

College graduates, on average, earned 56 percent more than high school grads in 2015, according to data compiled by the Economic Policy Institute. That was up from 51 percent in 1999 and is the largest such gap in EPI’s figures dating to 1973.

❝ Since the Great Recession ended in 2009, college-educated workers have captured most of the new jobs and enjoyed pay gains. Non-college grads, by contrast, have faced dwindling job opportunities and an overall 3 percent decline in income, EPI’s data shows…

College grads have long enjoyed economic advantages over Americans with less education. But as the disparity widens, it is doing so in ways that go beyond income, from homeownership to marriage to retirement. Education has become a dividing line that affects how Americans vote, the likelihood that they will own a home and their geographic mobility.

❝ The dominance of college graduates in the economy is, if anything, accelerating. Last year, for the first time, a larger proportion of workers were college grads – 36 percent – than high school-only grads – 34 percent, Carnevale’s research found. The number of employed college grads has risen 21 percent since the recession began in December 2007, while the number of employed people with only a high school degree has dropped nearly 8 percent…

The split is especially stark among white men. For middle-age white men with only high school degrees — the core of President-elect Donald Trump’s support — inflation-adjusted income fell 9 percent from 1996 through 2014, according to Sentier Research, an analytics firm. By contrast, income for white men in the same age bracket who are college graduates jumped 23 percent.

The AP is starting to fill the gap in journalistic choice formerly led by reporting from Reuters and the NY TIMES. Not that the AP has raised standards. Just maintained what they always had while the competition oozes downhill. Especially Reuters since their purchase by Thomson.

RTFA, please. Many more topics of interest needing discussion and thoughtful reflection. As an example: “…Women with college diplomas enjoy an 8-in-10 chance of their first marriage lasting 20 years…That’s double the odds for women with just high school degrees.”

Who’da thunk it?

Will America learn anything from smart schools in other countries?

❝ Every three years, half a million 15-year-olds in 69 countries take a two-hour test designed to gauge their ability to think. Unlike other exams, the PISA, as it is known, does not assess what teenagers have memorized. Instead, it asks them to solve problems they haven’t seen before, to identify patterns that are not obvious and to make compelling written arguments. It tests the skills, in other words, that machines have not yet mastered.

The latest results…reveal the United States to be treading water in the middle of the pool. In math, American teenagers performed slightly worse than they usually do on the PISA — below average for the developed world, which means they scored worse than nearly three dozen countries. They did about the same as always in science and reading, which is to say average for the developed world.

❝ …That scoreboard is the least interesting part of the findings. More intriguing is what the PISA has revealed about which conditions seem to make smart countries smart. In that realm, the news was not all bad for American teenagers…

❝ Here’s what the models show: Generally speaking, the smartest countries tend to be those that have acted to make teaching more prestigious and selective; directed more resources to their neediest children; enrolled most children in high-quality preschools; helped schools establish cultures of constant improvement; and applied rigorous, consistent standards across all classrooms.

❝ eOf all those lessons learned, the United States has employed only one at scale: A majority of states recently adopted more consistent and challenging learning goals, known as the Common Core State Standards, for reading and math. These standards were in place for only a year in many states, so Mr. Schleicher did not expect them to boost America’s PISA scores just yet. (In addition, America’s PISA sample included students living in states that have declined to adopt the new standards altogether.)

But Andreas Schleicher urges Americans to work on the other lessons learned — and to keep the faith in their new standards. “I’m confident the Common Core is going to have a long-term impact,” he said. “Patience may be the biggest challenge.”

❝ President-elect Donald J. Trump and Betsy DeVos, his nominee for education secretary, have called for the repeal of the Common Core. But since the federal government did not create or mandate the standards, it cannot easily repeal them. Standards like the Common Core exist in almost every high-performing education nation, from Poland to South Korea…

❝ For now, the PISA reveals brutal truths about America’s education system: Math, a subject that reliably predicts children’s future earnings, continues to be the United States’ weakest area at every income level. Nearly a third of American 15-year-olds are not meeting a baseline level of ability — the lowest level the O.E.C.D. believes children must reach in order to thrive as adults in the modern world.

❝ As we drift toward a world in which more good jobs will require Americans to think critically — and to repeatedly prove their abilities before and after they are hired — it is hard to imagine a more pressing national problem. “Your president-elect has promised to make America great again,” Mr. Schleicher said. But he warned, “He won’t be able to do that without fixing education.”

A number of nations, from Canada to Estonia, have proven themselves able to learn from the data stream of PISA testing. Results have improved. Education levels and the ability to utilize education in life and work has improved.

I won’t spend time criticizing the critics. They do a fair enough job of that – on their own. Though I have strong opinions [voiced here in the past]. What I will offer is the hope that our readers and anyone else who cares for the future of America’s children will fight for broadly democratic solutions that enable and equip all our children instead of just the privileged few. Public education – if you haven’t noticed – is in danger of death by $tarvation.

Playing musical instruments accelerates brain development

❝ Learning to play an instrument boosts a child’s creativity, but new research shows it may also help grow the brain itself.

At a time when many elementary schools have cut or reduced their music programs, neuroscientists at USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute found that music instruction may be important for brain development in young children, particularly in the areas of the brain that process sound, language and speech.

❝ For five years, USC neuroscientists followed nearly three dozen children from low-income neighborhoods in Los Angeles to see how children’s behavior and brains changed over time. One group of children learned to play the violin or other instruments starting at age 6 or 7, while a second group played soccer. A third didn’t participate in any specific afterschool programs.

When the scientists compared the groups two years into the study, they found that the budding musicians had more developed auditory pathways, which connect the ear to the brain…

A more-developed auditory system can accelerate a child’s brain development beyond musical ability. “This system is also engaged in general sound processing that is fundamental to language development, reading skills and successful communication,” Habibi says.

He and his team plan to explore whether music instruction could accelerate development of language, reading and other abilities in young children.

Praiseworthy.

In addition, a study in Mexico determined that “Experiencing music at an early age can contribute to better brain development, optimizing the creation and establishment of neural networks, and stimulating the existing brain tracts,”

I’ll second that emotion. I’ve long felt that direct involvement in music as a performer made significant difference to my childhood and overall learning. Just saying.

Brits who want an end-run around the Brexit nonsense can opt-in to remain EU citizens

❝ EU negotiators will offer British people the chance to individually opt-in and remain EU citizens as a proposal in Brexit negotiations, the European Parliament’s chief negotiator has confirmed.

The plan, first revealed in its early stages by The Independent last month, was being considered as a long-term aim by the European Parliament – but has now been fast-tracked to the negotiating table by Guy Verhofstadt, who is in charge of thrashing out a post-Brexit deal.

Mr Verhofstadt said the “very important” proposal had “captured the imagination and hopes” of many British people who wished to retain their rights as EU citizens and would be in his negotiating mandate.

Capturing the imagination and hopes is putting it mildly. Verhofstadt and his peers have been swamped with requests. Folks want those EU passports NOW – not at some later date when the Tories in charge of Parliament have figured out some way to screw it up.

❝ The plan would see Brits offered individual “associate citizenship”, letting them keep free movement to live and work across the EU, as well as a vote in European Parliament elections.

The proposal could potentially give Brits who live and work across borders a workaround to the disruption caused by the Leave vote – and young people looking to flee an increasingly isolated UK greater choice over where to move to.

Yes. I imagine there are beaucoup Americans taking a second look, right now.

RTFA for the gory details.

Graduate from college – going home, staying or moving on?

net-migration

❝ This year’s election has forced Americans to take notice of class divisions between workers. And while these divisions may at first ring of lazy stereotypes — the rural Rust Belt worker without a college degree and the coastal urban college-educated worker — they’re rooted in a real dynamic. Many of the most skilled workers — young people with college degrees — are leaving struggling regions of America for cities, specifically for cities in Southern and coastal states.

There are clear economic reasons for their choice. Dense metro areas tend to produce more jobs and make workers more productive. Wages, for all kinds of workers, are also higher.

❝ In theory, these incentives should prompt workers of all levels of education to move to metro areas. But moving outside one’s region is relatively rare these days, and even more rare for someone without a college degree

❝ For America’s first century, internal migration was largely driven by farming — moving west to new land. But toward the end of the 19th and in the early 20th century, migration began to be driven by people moving to American cities — small and large.

This pattern added a twist after World War II, when more people began moving outside their local region, particularly to the Sunbelt. Before the 1940s, roughly 15 percent of Americans lived outside a census division in which they were born, and by 1970 that had jumped to 25 percent.

❝ But in the 1980s, people started moving less. Internal migration has been in gradual decline ever since across all demographic groups…In the regional competition for the most skilled and most mobile workers in America, noncoastal states are at a disadvantage. Although they have some large cities, they tend to be farther from other large cities than is the case in the coastal areas…This advantage provided by clusters of cities is helpful for coastal states, which tend to contain many big metro areas, like San Diego, Los Angeles, San Jose and San Francisco in California, or the so-called Acela corridor stretching from Washington to Boston. But it can be bad news for inland areas with one or two large cities that are farther apart…

Folks in the article make the best point – for me – and that is the jobs also have to be someplace you want to live. Otherwise, it’s just a stop along the way…

American students unable to differentiate between fake news and real

❝ Stanford researchers assessed students from middle school to college and found they struggled to distinguish ads from articles, neutral sources from biased ones and fake accounts from real ones.

❝ If the children are the future, the future might be very ill-informed.

That’s one implication of a new study from Stanford researchers that evaluated students’ ability to assess information sources and described the results as “dismaying,” “bleak” and “a threat to democracy.”…

❝ Middle school, high school and college students in 12 states were asked to evaluate the information presented in tweets, comments and articles. More than 7,800 student responses were collected.

In exercise after exercise, the researchers were “shocked” — their word, not ours — by how many students failed to effectively evaluate the credibility of that information.

The students displayed a “stunning and dismaying consistency” in their responses, the researchers wrote, getting duped again and again. They weren’t looking for high-level analysis of data but just a “reasonable bar” of, for instance, telling fake accounts from real ones, activist groups from neutral sources and ads from articles.

More than 80 percent of middle schoolers believed that ‘sponsored content’ was a real news story…

RTFA and spoil your weekend. Or not. Maybe you’re not surprised. The details are kind of overwhelming.