Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Lois's Progress*

Lois graduates high school in a couple weeks. Today was senior awards day. Top girl in her class; overall 5th out of 210. One of nine to graduate summa cum laude. Outstanding senior in science.

Yeah, I know pride is one of the seven deadly sins. Tough.

*h/t Brit

Sunday, April 17, 2011

No Effect, No Cause III — The Sequel Returns

Over the last couple years (here and here), I have banged on about studies purporting to show some greatly elevated crash risk from cell phone usage despite seemingly contradictory reality:
At the time, my main beef was that The Studies [asserting a 400% increase in crash risk due to cell phone usage] had assumed their conclusion before so much as getting their analytical key into the ignition. The fact of a declining accident rate in the face of skyrocketing cell phone usage would seem worth something more than deep silence: by assessing risk without regard to actual consequences, they were trafficking in crimes against statistics.

Secondarily, and to some very well mannered derision, I surmised that cell phone usage simply does not cause enough accidents to be statistically noticeable.

As it happens, my original surmise might have been close to the mark was right on the money.
A recent study by Vikram Pathania of the London School of Economics and Saurabh Vikram of the University of Chicago substantiates my original assertion: If risk does not reflect in rate, then risk becomes a cause without an effect.
The link between cell phone use while driving and crash risk has in recent years become an area of active research. The most notable of the over 125 studies has concluded that cell phones produce a four-fold increase in relative crash risk comparable to that produced by illicit levels of alcohol. In response, policy makers in fourteen states have either partially or fully restricted driver cell phone use. We investigate the causal link between cellular usage and crash rates by exploiting a natural experiment induced by a popular feature of cell phone plans in recent years'the discontinuity in marginal pricing at 9 pm on weekdays when plans transition from 'peak' to 'off-peak' pricing. We first document a jump in call volume of about 20-30% at 'peak' to 'off-peak' switching times for two large samples of callers from 2000-2001 and 2005. Using a double difference estimator which uses the era prior to price switching as a control (as well as weekends as a second control), we find no evidence for a rise in crashes after 9 pm on weekdays from 2002-2005. The 95% CI of the estimates rules out any increase in all crashes larger than .9% and any increase larger than 2.4% for fatal crashes. These estimates are at odds with the crash risks implied by the existing research. We confirm our results with three additional empirical approaches: we compare trends in cell phone ownership and crashes across areas of contiguous economic activity over time, investigate whether differences in urban versus rural crash rates mirror identified gaps in urban-rural cellular ownership, and finally estimate the impact of legislation banning driver cell phone use on crash rates. None of the additional analyses produces evidence for a positive link between cellular use and vehicle crashes.
Emphasis added.

There are at least several lessons here. First, for true believers, no amount of contradictory evidence will budge their belief. Which, in turn, ensures that pointless laws criminalizing behavior without notable harm will endlessly fester on the books. Most importantly, though, is the corollary with warmenism, which really amounts to a cause unashamedly adamant, despite being suspiciously disconnected from meaningful effects.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Holier Than Thou

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- An Indonesian lawmaker who helped pass a tough anti-pornography law resigned Monday after he got caught watching sexually explicit videos on his computer during a parliamentary debate.

The scandal has transfixed this predominantly Muslim nation since a local photojournalist filmed Arifinto, a member of the staunchly Islamic Prosperous Justice Party, gazing at the downloaded porn sites Friday.


The anti-porn law was used in January to sentence Nazril "Ariel" Irham, lead singer of the country's most popular band Peterpan, to 3 1/2 years in jail after two homemade sex tapes found their way to the Internet.

Last year, the editor in chief of Playboy Indonesia was given two years behind bars.

Hypocrisy, like irony, is a tough concept to get right. But unless this censorious Quran bothering prig tosses himself behind bars for several years, he has bemerded himself in its stench.