What I’m Reading: September 2018

The news about the fire at the National Museum of Brazil was rather shocking, and I feel even worse about it now that I’ve read this roundup of some of the pieces that were lost in the flames.

Hat tip to Jonathan for sending me this great NPR piece on the school shootings that weren’t. Their reporting found that out of the 238 school shootings that got reported last year, 227 were due to errors filling out the form and 11 were actual shootings. A cautionary tale about what happens when you rely on people filling out online forms to report things like school shootings, and a good example of base rate issues in action.

As a proud member of the Oregon Trail Generation, I really liked this history of the game and why it became so ubiquitous for a certain age group.

In an interesting point/counter-point this week, we have a Vox article that explains how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is getting unfair amounts of criticism for her errors because she’s a young female, and this Washington Examiner piece points out that much of their criticism of the criticism is just wrong. For example, the Vox piece points to several incorrect statements Paul Ryan has made, then says “No one saw these statements and said Ryan is unfit to serve in Congress. No one told him to go put training wheels back on. No one told him he wasn’t ready for primetime.” The Washington Examiner piece points out that there’s an anti-Ryan super PAC named “Unfit to Serve“,  2 years ago Nancy Pelosi actually released a long fact check of Ryan that started with the phrase “time to take the training wheels off!“, and in 2012 Obama’s re-election campaign released a statement saying Ryan was “not ready for prime time“. Oops. Now regardless of your opinion of Ocasio-Cortez or Paul Ryan, this is a good moment to remember the Tim Tebow Effect. Paul Ryan’s approval rating has never been above 48%, and the last numbers I can find suggest it’s closer to 34% or so now, with 46% of the population viewing him unfavorably. He was also popular enough to be named speaker of the house. Neither liking him nor disliking him is an underrepresented viewpoint. Ocasio-Cortez has been called “the future of the Democratic Party” by the DNC chair, and roundly criticized by many others, as the original Vox article points out. She has no approval rating polls I can find (likely since she currently holds no office). In other words, if you’re going to claim “no one is criticizing” either of these people, you may want to Google a bit first. Otherwise you’ll be wandering in to premature expostulation territory pretty quickly.

Somewhat related: a new paper on tipping points in social conventions. Apparently once around 25% of people feel a certain way about a particular issue, the majority viewpoint begins to sway. Interesting to consider in light of political parties, which tend to be about a third of the country at baseline. How much of a party base needs to be on the same page before the party starts to sway?

Also related: a new study highlights the paradox of viral outrage. People view one person scolding a bad online post positively, but they view 10 people scolding that person negatively. Interesting research, with NeuroSkeptic raising some good counter questions.

John Ioannidis is back with a good piece on the challenge of reforming Nutritional Epidemiology. I’ll probably due a summary post of this sometime soon.

Another one I want to review soon: Many Analysts, One Data Set. A paper exploring how different choices during the analysis phase can lead to very different results.

Not a thing I’m reading, but I got in to a conversation this weekend about the most worthwhile eco-friendly trade offs people had made. Mine was buying these microfiber cleaning cloths and using them instead of paper towels. They clean better (both for scrubbing and dusting), can be thrown in with any load of laundry to get them clean, and last for a long time. At around $12 a pack for 24, I am guessing we got our money back pretty quickly in what we saved on paper towels.  I got so weirdly passionate about these that I apparently inspired others to buy them, so I figured I’d pass the link along.

3 thoughts on “What I’m Reading: September 2018

  1. Am I getting the tipping points right? When 25% of a group want to change something they eventually prevail over the 75% who don’t want to change? It seems odd, but plausible, as the minority is likely more motivated. Or is 25% merely the percentage that has to be reached to have a shot at changing things?

    We use both microfiber and paper towels, BTW.

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    • It seems to be the first one, but you are correct that it’s on topics where the majority probably doesn’t care but has inertia.

      The actual topic was naming conventions. It was one of those game theory setups, where two people within a larger group have to try to name something and are rewarded if they agree. Group norms were quickly established, and they then introduced a “motivated minority” to get the group to change. 25% was the magic number for the motivated minority…less than that and very few people shifted, more than that and the whole group flipped pretty quickly.

      I’d imagine it wouldn’t quite scale with something people cared about, but it’s interesting to consider.

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  2. Pingback: Chicago Boyz » Blog Archive » 25%

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