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random ramblings from a geek doctor



Published: 2008-11-21T15:26:39-05:00

 



Fun with bad science: Stroller Edition

2008-11-21T15:26:39-05:00

Shannon was kind enough to forward me a link to Jezebel's post highlighting a recent study done in Scotland that purports to show a benefit for kids who face their parents in their strollers. I'm not one to care a whole hell of a lot about things like this, but for some reason, this piqued my interest enough to go looking for the original study, bu a Dr. Suzanne Zeedyk, and I have to say, I managed to stumble upon one huge, steaming pile of meconium (that's newborn baby shit for those of you who haven't had the pleasure). (It's here I'll reveal that my alarm bells first went off when I was only able to find the research on the National Literacy Trust website and not in a peer-reviewed journal; that sort of thing is usually the initial sign that the research couldn't pass peer-review muster.) One of the biggest reported findings of this research is that kids who are facing their parents are far more likely to be sleeping (which Zeedyk reports has "tentatively been interpreted as an indicator of stress levels"). The problem is that Zeedyk doesn't look at that number in light of the ages of the kids she observed, and realities about behaviors of children at those ages. So let's do that, starting with the numbers. In her second research results table, Zeedyk reported 386 total children who were observed to be sleeping. In the same table, she reported 828 total children who they estimated to be under a year of age, 35% of whom were sleeping, for a total of 290 children under the age of one and sleeping. That means that 75% of the sleeping children were under the age of one. A reasonable researcher might stop here and ask herself: is there anything about children less than one year of age that might explain increased sleep other than stroller choice? Apparently, Zeedyk didn't think so and plowed onward, not considering the simple fact that infants sleep more than toddlers no matter what the variable. (Seriously, it's one of the cardinal three behaviors of an infant: eat, poop, and sleep -- I say this both as a parent and a pediatrician. A quick persual of tables of sleep duration by age, in anything from Ferber's book to childhood neuroscience texts, shows that infants sleep on the order of a few hours more a day than toddlers, who sleep more than school-age kids.) Now let's go onward with Zeedyk, looking at her eighth research results table, the one in which she "shows" that stroller direction affected rates of sleeping in the youngest age group. I literally cannot explain her results in this table; the numbers just don't make any sense. In it, she claims to have 392 total observations of whether or not a child was sleeping (287 sleeping, 195 awake) -- but she has 766 observations of stroller direction (492 facing away from the parent, 274 towards). How the hell does this make any sense? There's no possible way for those numbers to be unequal without you throwing away those 374 missing observations of whether the kid was sleeping; this is literally crap science, something that would be laughed out of the most basic clinical research class. (Nevermind that in her prior table 2, Zeedyk recorded 828 observations of children under 1, out of whom roughly 538 were not sleeping -- but in this table, she only shows 105 children in this age group not sleeping. Again, I can make absolutely no sense out of this.) Another thing: Zeedyk openly admits that she has no clue if the adult in an observed child/adult paring was a parent (versus a grandparent, a nanny, an aunt, or whomever), but then dismisses this with, "Because there is no way of making such distinctions, for the purposes of this study we have treated all adults in the sample as parents. The conclusions that will be drawn from this study, regarding the extent to which infants are experiencing interactions with adults during outdoor journeys, are in no way compromised by this decision." Ummm, huh?!? Does she try to justify this immense logic leap at all? Nope. I could go on and on with this -- it's actually sort of fun, a way to use all my critical-res[...]



Hope he didn't need that left shoulder...

2008-11-21T09:43:31-05:00

Paging through a few themes in the newly-online Life photo archives this morning, I came across what has to be one of my favorite parenting photos ever...




The U.S. Senate, now with one less convicted felon

2008-11-18T20:57:15-05:00

Hooray -- AP has called the Alaska Senate seat for Mark Begich, confirming that Ted Stevens now trails Begich by more votes (3,724) than can be made up by the remainder of uncounted ballots (2,500). That's certainly great news; that being said, I'd love to have seen if the GOP had the balls to kick him out of the Senate. (Hell, the Dems didn't even have the balls to kick Lieberman's sallow corpse to the curb, something he so richly deserved after his behavior this election season.)

(And the factoid of the day: Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington DC's Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, received nearly 80,000 more votes than Stevens, and over 76,000 more than Begich. It's a stark reminder of the size of the voting population in Alaska, a state that's been at the center of this year's election for many more reasons than normal.)




How big IS Will?

2008-11-17T14:19:27-05:00

Seriously, tell me that you don't get a huge smile when you watch this:

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How damn cute.




Losing a limb for the Presidency

2008-11-16T08:31:05-05:00

While completely practical (and probably wise), there's something a bit sad about the fact that Barack Obama will more or less be forced to give up e-mail access upon his ascension to the Presidency. E-mail communication has, in many ways, completely supplanted telephone communication in the 21st century; to me, this would be like telling any of the 20th century Presidents that they had to give up the phones on their desks. It seems like there must be a way to figure this one out...




Back when the Mall was very different

2008-11-14T21:22:28-05:00

Photos like this wig me out:

For those of you who aren't familiar with Washington, DC, that's a view from the top of the Washington Monument looking westward, along the Reflecting Pool. towards the Lincoln Memorial; the photo was taken in 1943. There's also this photo, showing even more buildings in the foreground, buildings that are actually sitting on the grounds of the Washington Monument. Today, none of those buildings you see along the sides of the Reflecting Pool are there, nor are the two bridges that actually cross the Reflecting Pool -- the area is now taken up by the Constitution Gardens.

The story of those buildings is a cool one -- they were the home of the Department of the Navy (and a bunch of other Department of War offices) during the massive military expansion of World War II. All of those buildings were considered temporary construction with the mind that the occupants would move as soon as the war was over and suitable space could be found for permanent Navy digs, something that happened in 1943 with the completion of the Pentagon. Of course, they lived far beyond their original intended lives, but thankfully they were also built as temporary construction, meaning that after a while they started to surrender to the ages. When the mid-1960s brought crumbling foundations and bowing walls, President Nixon had the good sense to order them demolished and the land given back to the National Mall, returning to Pierre L'Enfant's original vision for Washington, DC's public space.




iBabyMonitor

2008-11-14T14:44:09-05:00

I've probably told Shannon a half-dozen times that there was an untapped iPhone app niche for impromptu baby monitor apps; it looks like that niche is now starting to get populated.




The Cheney version of the Office of the Veep, ensconsed in the Plum Book

2008-11-12T15:38:27-05:00

Today heralded the release of the Plum Book, which is the listing of all the 7,000-plus political appointment positions available in the U.S. Government; it's a publication I never knew existed until I saw mention of it on the Presidential Transition website (which I, in turn, found out about via the Obama Administration's Change.gov website). It's mostly mind-numbing, but paging through the PDF of it today, I was pretty shocked to see the existence of Appendix 5, entitled "Office of the Vice Presidency". I'm not sure I've ever seen the meaning of this appendix mentioned before: the Bush Administration someone appears to be using the Plum Book to push the mostly-ridiculed idea that the Office of the Vice Presidency is part-Executive, part-Legislative. Here's the first paragraph of the appendix: The Vice Presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch, but is attached by the Constitution to the latter. The Vice Presidency performs functions in both the legislative branch (see article I, section 3 of the Constitution) and in the executive branch (see article II, and amendments XII and XXV, of the Constitution, and section 106 of title 3 of the United States Code). Looking at the historical Plum Books, this appendix appears to have materialized in the 2004 edition, well before Vice President Cheney made his claim to the National Archives that his office straddled the two branches of government (that certainly makes it seem like Cheney had that lie planned for quite a while before he found a need to invoke it, doesn't it?). It's all the more curious because the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is responsible for the contents of the 2008 Plum Book -- this is the very same committee currently chaired by Joe Lieberman and the subject of much news this past week as Lieberman's fate is being debated. Does the Committee really agree with this interpretation of the Office of the Vice Presidency's position in the government, or did they just unknowingly carry the appendix over from the 2004 Plum Book (which was published by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, then chaired by Republican Tom Davis)? This seems like a good question to ask the current membership of the Committee... (which, incidentally, includes Senator Barack Obama until January 20th, when he takes another job). (Incidentally, this interpretation of the Office of the Vice Presidency didn't make it into the official U.S. Government Manual, which has the Veep's office squarely in the Executive Branch in multiple places, and has as far back as one is able to browse.) (with comments) [...]



Yes, we did!

2008-11-05T11:47:45-05:00

Obama's victory last night was literally one of the most amazing events of my thirty-five-year lifetime; I sat there with Shannon, among a group of close friends and new friends, and soaked in the history of the moment. (Annabelle, alas, was asleep upstairs, totally oblivious to the raucous cheering, singing, and joy just ten feet below her.) As a friend said to me this morning, our generation hasn't yet had a leader this inspirational -- Barack Obama motivated more than 135 million Americans to get out of their homes and vote, and as of this moment, 52 percent of them declared that an African-American with a message of hope is the best choice to lead the nation. I've been smiling at random strangers all morning, noticed heads held high and spirits soaring everywhere I've been, and couldn't be prouder to be an American. All that being said, I'm also a bit disappointed in a few results from yesterday's voting, each of which stands a bit in contrast to the monumental achievement of President-Elect Barack Obama. First, Don Young (definitely) and Ted Stevens (probably) are returning to Washington, DC to represent the Great State of Alaska as its Congressman and Senator. Don Young has been Alaska's sole Congressman since before I was born, and is almost certainly going to be tried and convicted of taking bribes; he's also the one that faces Justice Department investigation for violating the Constitution by changing the text of a bill after it had passed Congress but before it reached the President's desk for signing. Ted Stevens is a convicted felon, the fifth sitting Senator to ever be convicted of charges, and is almost certainly going to be evicted from Congress. If these are the people that Alaskans feel are their best representatives to the federal government, then perhaps Sarah Palin really isn't out of the norm up there... and the state is being openly mocked by the lower 49 this morning. Second, it looks like California's Proposition 8, amending the state constitution to ban gay marriage, is going to pass -- this, in addition to Florida and Arizona also voting for similar amendments to their state constitutions -- is a reminder that while Obama's shattering of a racial divide is notable, it's all the more so because of the persistence of other divides that are equally shameful. For people to cast their votes to deny a class of fellow citizens the right to enter into legal relationships with the people they love is as abhorrent as it would be to tell those same people they can only love those of their same race, something that was certainly prevalent a few generations ago but now is obviously and mockingly bigoted and wrong. I can only hope that we continue our inexorable march towards greater tolerance, and we can wipe this period out of existence in the next generation. Finally, in a similar move, Arkansas citizens approved a ban on adoptions by unmarried couples, in an end-run attempt to remove yet another privilege from gay couples by grouping them into the less-offensive category of people who live together but don't have a certificate of marriage to validate their relationship. For some reason, these voters really feel that the nine thousand-plus Arkansas children in foster care are better served there or in group homes than with loving families; that's just as bigoted and wrong as banning gay marriage, but it carries with it a real harm to the least-fortunate youth of Arkansas. What a shameful statement to be making. [...]



Even GOP operatives think she's unprepared

2008-10-31T09:42:02-05:00




Put the baby down and step away!

2008-10-30T13:57:32-05:00

I'm pretty sure I figured out a nearly-failsafe test for whether or not someone is a parent: get them to sit down in front of this video, and see if he or she can get through the end of it.

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In the utterly non-scientific survey of people in my office, the non-parents were able to watch it, whereas the parents got excruciatingly uncomfortable by about 30 seconds in and had to stop it. Of course, when I extended that survey to some friends online, I found an outlier (a friend without kids who got squirmy and had to stop it around the same time)...

Update: the YouTube vid was killed, so I updated the embedded video above with the copy from LiveLeak (and downloaded a copy of it just in case this happens again!).

(with comments)




Fundamental differences

2008-10-29T21:32:41-05:00

There's a huge part of me that wonders if there's anyone at all who's as positively passionate about John McCain's candidacy as Charles Alexander is about Barack Obama's.

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I'm not being facetious -- I'm totally serious. The past month or two certainly has made it seem that the Obama campaign brings out the most positive, optimistic, and heartfelt emotions in people, whereas the McCain campaign brings out feelings of division and outright hatred ("Muslim terrorist", "Elect McCain, not Barack Hussein", etc.); maybe that perception is a function of the sources from which I get my news, but I'm not terribly inclined to think so.

In any event, Charles Alexander embodies the emotion that I'm hopeful will elect the first African-American president next week.




Fun with Nate Silver's statistics

2008-10-29T15:03:53-05:00

Like thousands of others, I'm a huge fan of the things that Nate Silver is doing over at FiveThirtyEight.com -- bringing serious statistics to the forefront of this year's political analysis makes for much more interesting thought and perspective, and he's certainly achieving that. (For good bio pieces on Silver, wander over to read this and this.) The sheer data he presents is like candy to me, and while Silver does a great job of finding the true gems in his statistical analyses and shedding light on them, I've found myself mining into his data to try to find other interesting tidbits. Take the 10,000 election simulations that Silver runs every day, using the incredibly complicated model he's developed to reflect historical outcomes, current polling data, and inter-state trends. Each day, he presents a chart with analyses of the scenarios that come out of those 10,000 simulations (it's the chart on the right of the page, titled "Scenario Analysis"), and as interesting as each line item is, more fascinating to me is the information lurking just below the surface. For example, yesterday's run resulted in 9,497 instances of Obama winning the popular vote, and 503 instances of McCain doing the same, both of which are interesting given how the race is shaping up. But below that, we learn that 199 simulation runs resulted in Obama losing the popular vote but winning the Electoral Vote (a la Bush in 2000), as opposed to 76 runs in which McCain pulled this off -- numbers that by themselves aren't that meaningful, but when combined with the winning-the-popular-vote numbers, show a stark reality. How? Again, in 503 of the 10,000 simulation runs, or 5.03% of the time, Silver's model predicts McCain winning the popular vote -- but we now know that in 199 of those runs, Obama still wins the Electoral Vote (and thus the election), and in another 76, Obama wins the popular vote but McCain wins the election. So the reality is that McCain only wins in (503 – 199 + 76 =) 380 simulation runs, or 3.8% of them, a 1.2% decline from the apparent number. Conversely, Obama wins the popular vote in 9,497 simulation runs (94.97%), but he loses the Electoral Vote in 76 of those, and he wins the election while losing the popular vote in another 199; that translates into winning the election in (9,497 – 76 + 199 =) 9,620 simulation runs, which is an increase to 96.2%. That's pretty amazing, and if Silver's model is correct, it's a testament to the well-known Obama campaign strategy of concentrating on electoral vote numbers as closely as it does those of the popular vote (a strategy that carries over from the campaign's intricate understanding of delegate counts during the primary). Similarly, take the "McCain loses OH/FL/PA, wins election" stat, which occurs in none of the 7,137 runs. Here, that numerator is certainly interesting, but for me the denominator is far more so. Trying to figure out why that number -- 7,137 -- is different than the 10,000 simulation runs we've been talking about up until now led me to the answer that sheds light on a really eye-popping fact: Silver's model has McCain losing three of the biggest battleground states in 7,137 of its 10,000 runs, or 71.37% of the time. That's fascinating, and a piece of information that's not discernible from any of the more traditional polling numbers that you see on the web. (Of course, that's not to say it's necessarily correct, just that Silver's model predicts that to be the likelihood of McCain losing Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania.) If you're not spending quality time on FiveThirtyEight.com every day, you're really missing out on a chance to view this year's election in an entirely different light. (And I haven't even begun to l[...]



Joe the Plumber, meet Sarah the Socialist

2008-10-29T12:55:46-05:00

Given the GOP's turn to calling Obama a socialist these days, I've been focused on explaining to folks how McCain's own off-the-cuff mortgage crisis solution is more "socialist" than anything proffered by the Democratic Party. Others, though, are keenly noting that for all her talk of "Barack the Redistributionist," Sarah Palin's own way of collecting and doling out oil dollars in Alaska is one of the best examples of wealth redistribution you can find in America. In this vein, Hendrik Hertzberg has a great Comment in the latest New Yorker, summarizing thusly:

For her part, Sarah Palin, who has lately taken to calling Obama “Barack the Wealth Spreader,” seems to be something of a suspect character herself. She is, at the very least, a fellow-traveller of what might be called socialism with an Alaskan face. The state that she governs has no income or sales tax. Instead, it imposes huge levies on the oil companies that lease its oil fields. The proceeds finance the government’s activities and enable it to issue a four-figure annual check to every man, woman, and child in the state. One of the reasons Palin has been a popular governor is that she added an extra twelve hundred dollars to this year’s check, bringing the per-person total to $3,269. A few weeks before she was nominated for Vice-President, she told a visiting journalist—Philip Gourevitch, of this magazine—that “we’re set up, unlike other states in the union, where it’s collectively Alaskans own the resources. So we share in the wealth when the development of these resources occurs.” Perhaps there is some meaningful distinction between spreading the wealth and sharing it (“collectively,” no less), but finding it would require the analytic skills of Karl the Marxist.

(Note that I, like many in this nation, don't find anything intrinsically wrong with wealth redistribution; that's one of the core principles of taxation as it's been implemented for years and years across the United States. I just think the hypocrisy of the GOP, the throw-any-label-hoping-it-sticks behavior, is at the same time both repugnant and hysterical, and I love seeing them get hoisted on their own petards.)




The danger of Palin's choice of words

2008-10-28T14:11:07-05:00

Not that Anil needs any link love from the low-rent likes of me, but I'd be remiss in not pointing out the sheer awsomeness of his post this morning on Sarah Palin's choice of language. As always, Anil has an amazing way of articulating something that's difficult to parse; his view of Palin's language as her hook into her intended audience is uniquely insightful, to say the least.