21 August 2017

There Will Always Be A Socioeconomic Test Score Gap

There is a stark gap in standardize test scores between more affluent and poor students in Colorado this year, as there is every year, in every single state and territory of the United States, in every significant sized city in the United States.

If there is any perfectly consistent result from educational psychology it is that socioeconomic test score gaps are always present and always large.

If a district, like Denver, shows rising test scores, it is almost always more likely that the socioeconomic demographics of the student body is changing, in Denver's case because it lured many middle class kids who left in the wake of desegregation back into the district from suburban and private schools. Improvements in educational outcomes are always always a second order effect.

It isn't impossible to secure high educational achievement (by any reasonable measure) from children with low socioeconomic backgrounds, but it is very hard. Maybe 5% of schools accomplish that and almost all of them require far more time in school than an ordinary public school and an emphasis on deeply changing the culture of their students to act like middle class kids. 

These schools are also typically selective and can pick out higher IQ poor children. They also take advantage of the fact that poverty routinely causes children to not achieve their genetic potential in IQ. IQ is strongly hereditary, but it is more strongly hereditary in the middle class and up, when there are no significant environmental impediments to achieving peak IQ, than among the poor where environmental factors including exposure to lead and other pollutants, lack of parental stimulation, and other economic stressors prevent children from developing their natural cognitive abilities to the fullest.

14 August 2017

Mueller v. Swift Part IV

A federal jury on Monday found that a former radio show host groped singer Taylor Swift before a 2013 concert in Denver and awarded her $1 in damages. 
The jury also found that neither Swift’s mother nor her radio promotions manager interfered with David Mueller’s employment contract when they reported the assault.
From the Denver Post.

The outcome is unsurprising and well supported by the evidence. The end effect for Mueller is to leave him even worse off than he would have been had he not brought the suit at all in reputation (massively calling attention to his sexual misconduct) and economically. He will be responsible for Taylor Swift's out of pocket litigation costs (but not attorneys' fees) in addition to $1. The ruling also effectively precludes litigation by Mueller against anyone else.

The ruling in favor of Taylor Swift also makes an appeal exceedingly difficult for Mueller to prevail in since there were no real objections to the process related to the counterclaim and that determination is inconsistent with a ruling in his favor.

It is also worth observing that this trial took six full days (and was scheduled for nine, just in case). If it had been a bench trial, it most likely would have take three days, or, at most four days. The time spent on jury selection, preparing jury instructions, instructing the jury and having the jury deliberate would have been absent, and breaks in the trial would have been shorter.

What Origins Do Asian Americans Have?


From here.

Mueller v. Swift Part III

Closing arguments were held in the Mueller v. Swift trial this morning before the case was sent to the jury to deliberate.
“He lost his job because he grabbed her butt and he got caught,” said [Taylor Swift's] attorney 
Douglas Baldridge, referring to Taylor Swift’s claim that former KYGO radio host David Mueller groped her before a concert at the Pepsi Center. “Now he’s trying to save his butt.” 
But Gabe McFarland, an attorney for Mueller, told jurors that Taylor Swift falsely accused him of assaulting her and that accusation destroyed his career. 
“Why would Ms. Swift lie? I don’t know,” said McFarland. “I’m sure she thinks it’s true, but the photograph says otherwise.” 
McFarland told eight jurors that Swift’s mother Andrea Swift, and her radio promotions manager, Frank Bell, used their influence to pressure KYGO into firing Mueller. 
McFarland asked the jury to award Mueller $257,500. Baldridge asked the jurors to reject Mueller’s case and award $1 to Swift in her counterclaim.
From The Denver Post (emphasis added).

A $3 million damages request has been deflated to $257,500 in closing arguments.

Furthermore, the emphasized language by Mueller's attorney, while sufficient to defend against an assault and battery claim if the jury believed it, would not be sufficient to support a claim for intentional interference with contract. If Taylor Swift believed she was wrongfully groped and her mother and her manager believed her, there cannot be liability on Mueller's intentional interference with contract claim, which requires wrongful intent. This is a concession that Mueller's attorney should not have made in closing argument that puts any verdict that might be obtained at risk.

Of course, in all likelihood, the jury is not going to believe Mueller's unlikely tale, will dismiss his two remaining claims, and will find in favor of Taylor Swift on her counterclaims, quite possibly before this afternoon ends.

Jury instructions in the case that were used to charge the jury today are here.

11 August 2017

Mueller v. Swift Part II

In a previous post, I reviewed the claims at issue in the Mueller v. Swift case in which a trial was being held in U.S. District Court in the District of Colorado this week.

This week, a jury was selected and all of the evidence was presented. Then, a motions hearing to see which claims were supported by enough evidence to go to a jury remained. On Monday, closing arguments will be presented to a jury.

It was a bad day for Mueller's case.

At the start of the trial, the claims were as follows:
(1) intentional interference with contract (related to the firing of Mueller) and (2) tortious interference with business relations (related to his loss of an option in his contract), against Taylor Swift, her manager and her mother. Both of Mueller's claims are against all three of them personally, and also against Taylor Swift without regard to fault on the grounds that she is responsible for any conduct of her manager. Counterclaims for assault and battery brought by Taylor Swift against Mueller are also pending.
The judge didn't even let the jury consider, because there was no evidence to support the claims:

* tortious interference with business relations against all parties.

* intentional interference with contract as to Taylor Swift because (1) contracting her mom and manager was a privileged communication to her own employer of a suspected incident of sexual assault, and (2) because her mom and her manager work for her production company, not for her personally, so she has no vicarious liability and the production company isn't a party to the action.

This leaves for the jury:

* intentional interference with contract against her mom
* intentional interference with contract against her manager
* counterclaims for assault and battery

Moreover, the jury cannot find for Mueller if the jury finds that there was assault and battery.

And, the jury has to find that either mom or the manager believed that Taylor Swift was lying when the manager, with the emphatic support of the mom, contacted KYGO, Mueller's employer about the incident.

There are now fewer logically possible outcomes:

* Intentional interference with contract against mom but not the manager. Mueller gets $$ and costs.
* Intentional interference with contract against the manager but not mom. Mueller gets $$ and costs.
* Intentional interference with contract against the manager and mom. Mueller gets $$ and costs.
* All claims are dismissed. Neither party gets costs.
* Assault and battery against Meuller. Taylor Swift gets $1 plus costs.

Both parties will pay their own attorneys' fees unless the court makes a groundless or vexatious claim determination, which is highly unlikely given that the claims above survived a motion for summary judgment and a Rule 50 motion at the close of evidence.

Given the evidence presented at trial, one of the last two possibilities is most likely, and the last is by far the most likely, so it isn't even really worth trying to do a damages analysis in the very unlikely event that Meuller prevails.

An assault and battery finding would also prevent Meuller from asserting a claim against KYGO or Swift's management company, or anyone else. Fortunately for him, he will, at least, escape a sex offender conviction as a result of this trial, because it is a civil lawsuit and not a criminal one.

10 August 2017

Positive Alternatives For North Korea

What can we use besides weapons of war to change North Korea?

One of the most important of a variety of non-military options could be to finds ways to encourage foreign media to reach people there and change the masses with the power of ideas.

This mirrors a long standing view of mine that rather than trying to get treaties that strengthen the enforcement of copyrights in countries with oppressive regimes, we should encourage copyright piracy in these places as a means of enhancing our long term national security.

Does Our Society Drive People To Crime?

An interesting new law review article addresses the question of why some poor people become criminals:
The disadvantaged have incentives to commit crime, and to develop criminogenic dispositions, that limit the extent to which their co-citizens can blame them for breaking the law. This is true regardless of whether the causes of criminality are mainly “structural” or “cultural.” We need not assume that society as a whole is unjust in order to accept this conclusion. And doing so would neither stigmatize nor otherwise disrespect the disadvantaged.
Christopher Lewis, Inequality, Incentives, Criminality, and Blame 22(2) Legal Theory (2016).

Hat Tip: Legal Theory Blog.

What Are The Claims In Mueller v. Swift?

The trial in the big Mueller v. Taylor Swift case is being held right now in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, just down the road from my office. 

While I am vaguely aware that the case involved allegations that Mueller, a Denver DJ groped Taylor Swift, a national popular music star who is one of the most successful cases of an artist transitioning from country music to pop music, I didn't know much else. And, as a lawyer, the news stories that I did glance at, frustratingly did not make clear what was at issue in the case.

The Claims and Counterclaims

Fortunately, original public court records that can clarify the matter are now easily available on the Internet. A May 31, 2017 ruling on a Motion for Summary Judgment in the case by the federal trial court judge presiding over this jury trial was particularly informative.

This is a diversity case pending in federal court. The Plaintiff, David Mueller, brought claims for intentional interference with contract (pertaining to him being fired from a two year contract with KYGO), tortious interference with prospective business relations (pertaining to his loss of potential income from a one year option of the radio station to renew his contract), slander per se, and slander per quod against Taylor Swift, Frank Bell (Taylor Swift's manager who was present at the venue where the incident happened) and Andrea Swift (Taylor Swift's mother who was on tour with her when the incident happened). Taylor Swift brought a counterclaim for the torts of assault and battery.

David Mueller was a country music DJ at Country Music radio station KYGO and the case concerns a backstage meet and greet at Pepsi Center in Denver on June 2, 2013 where Mueller allegedly grabbed Taylor Swift's butt during a photo shoot (partially corroborated by an ambiguous photo), what was said about it afterwards, and what happened as a result. She told her mom, they told her manager, her manager complained and called the DJ's boss the next day and his boss investigated the claims. The day after that DJ was fired for cause (he had a two year employment contract with a one year option to renew on the radio station's part). He sued on May 29, 2015 in state court and the case was removed to federal court by the Defendants who are not Colorado residents.

Mueller's claims for slander per se and slander per quod were added to the case after he filed suit on February 25, 2016 and then dismissed on a motion for summary judgment because they were filed after the one year statute of limitations and not revived by the filing of counterclaims because the slander claims were not counterclaims. (The assault and battery claims also have a one year statute of limitations but were timely due to a revival statute in Colorado law that permits the filing of counterclaims related to the claims in the complaint even if they are otherwise barred by the statute of limitations.) 

The Bottom Line: The Pending Claims

Thus, the claims that have gone to a jury trial in this case (which is set for nine days) are (1) intentional interference with contract (related to the firing of Mueller) and (2) tortious interference with business relations (related to his loss of an option in his contract), against Taylor Swift, her manager and her mother.  Both of Mueller's claims are against all three of them personally, and also against Taylor Swift without regard to fault on the grounds that she is responsible for any conduct of her manager. Counterclaims for assault and battery brought by Taylor Swift against Mueller are also pending. 

The radio station is not being sued for wrongful termination.

Facts Pertinent To Liability

It is rather surprising that this case is set for a nine day trial, although some of that no doubt reflects the fact that jury selection was expected to, and did, take a long time, because not many facts are really at issue.

All of the facts pertinent to liability on the claims and the counterclaims happened over a period of three days, starting on the evening of June 2 and continuing until the late afternoon of June 4. Taylor Swift and her mom's acts allegedly giving rise to liability and Mueller's acts allegedly giving rise to counterclaim liability, all took place on the evening of June 2. Her manager's actions allegedly giving rise to liability allegedly continued from that evening until the following morning when he made a phone call. Mueller's actions in response to the accusations took place later on the following day, but on June 4, it appears that the undisputed facts are Mueller was informed that he was fired and that people were informed of that fact, but nothing else happened relating to the liability of any of the parties.

All of the facts giving rise to liability probably took place over a couple of hours at most.

Other Issues

The Court imposed a sanction on Mueller for spoliation of evidence, but only a mild one, allowing the Defendants to cross-examine Mueller on his doctoring and later destruction of tape recorded evidence of his meeting with his employers on June 3.

Plausible Outcomes

In the end analysis, it turns out that this is actually a very simple case with interrelated claims that reduce the number of possible outcomes.

The eight realistic possibilities in light of the facts and the pending claims on the issue of liability are:

* Mueller wins on both claims against all Defendants. Taylor Swift's counterclaims are dismissed.

* Mueller wins on both claims against Taylor Swift and her manager, but not her mother. Taylor Swift's counterclaims are dismissed.

* Mueller wins on both claims against Taylor Swift, but not her manager or her mother. Taylor Swift's counterclaims are dismissed.

* Mueller wins on only his intentional interference with contract claim against all Defendants. Taylor Swift's counterclaims are dismissed.

* Mueller wins on only his intentional interference with contract claim against Taylor Swift and her manager, but not her mother. Taylor Swift's counterclaims are dismissed.

* Mueller wins on only his intentional interference with contract claim against Taylor Swift, but not her manager or her mother. Taylor Swift's counterclaims are dismissed.

* All of Mueller's claims and all of Taylor Swift's claims are dismissed.

* Mueller's claims are dismissed and Taylor Swift wins on her counterclaims against Mueller.

Damages

Each side may also need to show damages arising from the liability claims. Presumably, Taylor Swift's counterclaim includes few if any economic damage award amounts. Presumably, the core of Mueller's claim would be for almost three years of lost DJ wages possibly reduced by amounts he could have earned in other employment mitigating his damages. The Denver Post, quoted below, says he's seeking $3 million in damages.

There would be pre-judgment and post-judgment interest in both cases at the statutory rate of 8% per annum. Neither claim entitles a prevailing party to attorneys' fees, but a prevailing party would be entitled to out of pocket costs like filing fees and expert witness fees.

Non-economic damages are also limited by statute (if I recall correctly, to $250,000 plus an inflation adjustment, maybe twice that depending on the facts), and it isn't clear to me if non-economic damages are available on Mueller's claims although they are clearly available on Taylor Swift's counterclaim. But, according to the Denver Post, she is only seeking nominal damages, which means that she doesn't need to present any evidence on damages.
Mueller sued Swift and others on her team, claiming they cost him his job and is seeking up to $3 million in damages. Swift countersued, alleging sexual assault, and is asking for a symbolic $1 judgment.
It appears that an exemplary damages award could be made on any of the remaining claims, damages are limited to up to two times the combined economic and non-economic damages awarded in the case (one times that amount in some circumstances, double in other circumstances). 

My Assessment Of The Case

Mueller's odds of winning this case are low. Indeed, after reviewing some news accounts of the evidence offered at trial so far, they are very low.

He has to convince a jury that he didn't grope Taylor Swift contrary to her testimony, that Taylor Swift didn't sincerely believe that he groped her even if he didn't contrary to her testimony, and that Taylor Swift then wrongfully accused him of groping her even though she'd never met him before in her life and knew nothing about him (and didn't even know his name until after the incident) before having a conservation with him for a few minutes and posing for a photograph with him, available as evidence, in which it is appears possible that he could have been groping her. 

Mueller must do so in light of testimony that could suggest that he destroyed evidence that would have been harmful to his case. He must also show in the face of contrary testimony from his former employers that it was more likely than not that his contract would have been renewed.

As to her mother, Mueller has to show that her mother thought Taylor Swift was making a false accusation and went along with urging her manager to take action anyway. As to her manager's personal liability, Mueller likewise has to show that the manager didn't believe Taylor Swift's accusations. A jury is very unlikely to believe either of these allegations.

Taylor Swift has a powerful personality and will testify effectively. She will be a credible witness. Her testimony is corroborated by a photographer and a guard. She immediately mentions it to at least three different people right after the photo shoot.

Mueller will come before the jury as a possibly lech ex-DJ and while glib as a DJ, not a star and not particularly more effective than Taylor Swift's mother or her manager. No one on the scene will be able to testify in a way the convincingly confirms his claims.

Mueller admits having some bodily contact with her in the incident. So, even if a jury believed him would provide a basis for Taylor Swift to believe that he was trying to sexually assault her even if that wasn't his intent. If a jury found that she believed that he intended to assault her, she has no legal liability even if they believe his testimony. They don't have to believe Taylor Swift about what actually happened, they simply have to believe Taylor Swift about what she subjectively believed happened. This is pretty much an impossible hurdle for Mueller's case to overcome.

There is some indications in the pleadings that a third party may have been actually groping Taylor Swift and that Mueller was wrongfully accused, but that Taylor Swift didn't know that fact. But, it appears that this is not the argument that Mueller is making at trial. If the jury believed that this was the case, Mueller's claims would be dismissed, but Taylor Swift's counterclaims would also be dismissed.

The mostly likely outcome is that Taylor Swift cleanly wins and that Mueller cleanly loses.

09 August 2017

Thinking Out Loud

I have added Lorenzo from Australia's blog "Thinking Out Loud" to the sidebar, because his sidebar aggregates content from most of the blogs I read and more (plus Dispatches From Turtle Island, this blog's sister blog about science), and also from many, many other blogs of similar quality and character. 

His posts are also thoughtful and well reasoned for the most part.

Gangs In Colorado Prisons

My friend Joel Warner, writing for Westword, explores some positive programs organized by inmates to deal positively with the problem of gangs in Colorado prisons, and it is a big problem. 
As in many other states, Colorado prisons are now home to a dizzying patchwork of gangs, often but not always delineated by ethnicity. African-American prisoners have the Bloods and Crips, plus other, less extensive gangs like the Gangster Disciples and Almighty Vice Lord Nation. Among white prisoners, there is the Aryan Circle, the 211 Crew and other white-supremacist gangs. And Mexican-Americans and other Latino-Americans often join Norteños, Sureños, Los Primeros Padres and Los Aztecas. The volatile mix has led to tense prison environments where looking at the wrong guy, saying the wrong thing or even just singing the wrong song can trigger a riot. While the DOC’s parole and inmate population dropped nearly 10 percent between 2011 and 2015, prison fights, inmate assaults and other markers of violence are on the rise.

According to the DOC, there are now more than 8,000 gang-affiliated inmates and parolees in Colorado divided between at least 135 gangs. That means that roughly one out of every four people in the state prison system is labeled as being in a gang. And there are now more gang members in prison than there are total DOC employees. 
Gangs have become so widespread that research suggests they have evolved into a major and vital part of the prison ecosystem.
As usual, Warner's fact rich narrative provides context and puts a human face on the issue, while leaving you with some hope that maybe this problem isn't as insurmountable as it seems. Gangs, like black markets, arise from simple supply and demand in the context of how American prisons are managed:
“Suppression strategies that isolate gang leaders or gang members have failed to stop gang activity because it ignores the fact that prisoners have a demand for gangs,” says [college lecturer David] Skarbek. “Prisoners want to be safer, so they turn to gangs. Prisoners want drugs and order in the underground economy, so they turn to gangs. There are demand-and-profit opportunities for people to provide these services, so when you remove one ‘entrepreneur’ and the demand remains, new people will step into those profitable roles.” . . .
[Inmate] Watkins wrote up an alternative on a piece of notebook paper, one he called the “Gang Awareness Program,” or GAP. The idea was to teach inmates that there were things in their lives — their family, their community, their religion and their career goals — that were more important than gang affiliation, that would help them shift from a culture of blame and retaliation to one of responsibility and hope. The most crucial, and most groundbreaking, part of the proposal was that participants would be selected from the existing prison gang leadership, and they wouldn’t have to renounce their gang ties in order to join the program. Watkins wanted to have participants focus on productivity and creative endeavors rather than destructive habits and violence.
Critically, after years of working with the Department of Corrections to implement the program it worked:
Soon GAP’s impact was being felt throughout the facility. In the chow hall, Bloods and Crips and 211 Crew members started breaking bread together. GAP’s co-creators even persuaded prison administrators to transfer several of the state’s top prison gang leaders, including 211 Crew founder Benjamin Davis, to AVCF so they could be part of the effort. 
“All the Mexicans, blacks and whites were kicking it. There were no fights, and we were learning,” says Dotson. “Nobody has ever been able to do that.” According to [Inmate Dotson, Watkins and several outside experts who communicated with AVCF staff about the program, the number of gang-related incidents at the facility dropped to nearly zero.
In time, early successes eroded, but it worked. And, a program called iLIVE designed for facilitate re-entry into society also made progress. 

Urban Rail In Denver As Of 1917


From here.

08 August 2017

Ethnicity, Social Class and Nationality

One of the shocking things about reading contemporary literature from places like England, South Korea and Japan, which have huge swaths of population that are extremely mono-ethnic is how intense and bitter the class divisions can be people people who look the same, dress the same, and speak the same dialects. Indeed, if anything, these societies are known for the prominence of their social hierarchies in day to day life.

Conversely, people who have very disparate physical appearances can be undivided socially.

Ethnicity and social class divisions in the U.S. so frequently coincide that one forgets that the latter can exist and be just as cruel and intense without the former.

Another interesting recent study along the same lines noted that a strong sense of national identity increases trust between co-nationals and decreases the extent to which people have greater trust in co-ethnics when a national identity is also shared:
In diverse societies, individuals tend to trust coethnics more than non-coethnics. I argue that identification with a territorially-defined nation, common to all ethnic groups, reduces the degree to which trust is ethnically bounded. I conduct a “lab-in-the-field” experiment at the intersection of national and ethnic boundaries in Malawi, which measures strength of national identification, experimentally manipulates national identity salience, and measures trust behaviorally. I find that shared nationality is a robust predictor of trust, equal in magnitude to the impact of shared ethnicity. Furthermore, national identification moderates the degree to which trust is limited to coethnics: while weak national identifiers trust coethnics more than non-coethnics, strong national identifiers are blind to ethnicity. Experimentally increasing national identity salience also eliminates the co-ethnic trust advantage among weak nationalists. These results offer micro-level evidence that a strong and salient national identity can diminish ethnic barriers to trust in diverse societies.

Drugs and Parenting In The 21st Century



From SMBC.

Generation X has a more nuanced view of drugs.

07 August 2017

7500 Published Posts

This is the 7500th published post on the Washington Park Prophet blog since its inception on July 3, 2005.

Artificial Light Has Gotten Cheaper Over 700 Years In England

In 1302 CE in England, it cost 40,820 British pounds for a million lumen-hours of artificial light. This has declined steadily over time. As of 2006, it was 2.89 pounds. (All prices are adjusted for inflation to 2000 CE British pounds.)

It was 10,000 times as much as it was in 2006 in the year 1388. In 1839, the price of a million lumen-hours was 1000 times more than it is today in the U.K. and it was 100 times more in 1890. It was 10 times as much in 1945.

At the rate it has been getting cheaper since the early 1800s, in about 2060 CE it will be about 0.29 British pounds for a million lumen-hours.

The Rise Of Musical Collaborations

I've remarked a few times lately that every top hit on the radio seems to be a collaboration these days. My intuition isn't wrong.
In the 1960s, an average hit song on the Billboard Top 10 had an average of 1.87 writers and 1.68 publishers each year. Songwriting duos were common, and creativity a simpler endeavor… 
During the LP era (60s-80s), the number of songwriters and publishers on hit songs didn’t rise as dramatically. Based on the Songdex analysis, in the 70s, hit songs on the Billboard Top 10 had an average of 1.95 writers and 2.04 publishers each. During the 80s, the number of average publishers in top 10 songs slightly rose to 2.06. The number of writers remained the same. 
In the 90s, the number spiked to an average of 3.13 writers and 3.49 publishers per top 10 song. Incidentally, the change coincides with the rise of digital music formats, such as the MP3. Napster also launched in 1999. All of which ushered in an era of massive data overload (and that’s before streaming took hold). 
Consumers quickly adopted digital music formats, resulting in a “market need for registration, licensing and reporting systems,” says Music Reports. In the 2000s, Billboard Top 10 hits had an average of 3.50 writers and 4.96 publishers each year. 
This past decade, streaming has emerged as a major source of revenue for record labels. Using its Songdex catalog registry, Music Reports noted that Billboard Top 10 hits saw an average of 4.07 writers and six publishers.
It isn't entirely clear what is driving this trend, although the "winner take all" character of the current markets for creative works may play a part in it.

Quote of the Day

[T]he very Evangelicals who’ve spent that last 50 years in this country demonizing those who reject Jesus—are the single most compelling reason for them to do so. They are giving people who suspect that all Christians are self-righteous, hateful hypocrites, all the evidence they need. The Church is confirming the outside world’s most dire suspicions about itself.
- John Pavlovitch, "The Christians Making Atheists" (June 4, 2017).

The author thinks that those lost to Christianity can be won back to a faith that is more in line with the compassion of Jesus of the Gospels. But, I'm more skeptical. 

The case to remain a Christian in a faith that hues to a compassionate creed is much easier to make than the case to join such a Christianity from the outside. Problems with Christianity other than a lack of compassion, that are less obvious to those born to Christianity (e.g. one of the primary missions of Jesus of the Gospels in addition to teaching morality was as an exorcist, and the fundamental sacrament of Christianity is the symbolic cannibalism of a human scapegoat), are problematic to outsiders who don't have the demon haunted worldview that the early Christians did.

A Bogus Patent On Podcasting Has Been Struck Down

Another blow for freedom.
A year after taking up the case, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has ruled in favor of the Electronic Frontier Foundation in its challenge against podcasting patent troll, Personal Audio. The decision is a massive relief for the vibrant and ever-growing medium, which has been operated under the threat of lawsuit for a number of years. 
It’s also part of the EFF’s larger on-going fight against overly broad tech patents. And the organization doesn’t mince words. Daniel Nazer, who has been working closely on the case, is the EFF’s “Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents.” 
The case involves Personal Audio’s broad patent for a “System for Disseminating Media Content Representing Episodes in a Serialized Sequence,” which the company used to levy suits against a number of podcast providers, including Adam Corolla, HowStuffWorks, CBS, and NBC. The EFF filed a petition challenging the patent in 2013, urging the US Patent and Trademark Office to take another look at the broad ruling.
From here.

03 August 2017

Medical School Affirmative Action

In U.S. medical school admissions, controlling for undergraduate grades and MCAT scores, the big losers from affirmative action are Asian Americans, and the winners are black and Hispanic applicants, with black applicants benefitting more. 

The impact of affirmative action on white medical school applicants is very modest. The raw numbers of black and Hispanic affirmative action beneficiaries relative to total enrollments aren't huge. The number of white and Asians who suffer from it are smaller, proportionately, since those groups in the student body have larger base numbers.

The same is true at most selective undergraduate colleges and universities.

Personally, I'm ambivalent about affirmative action.

1. Affirmative action primarily involves allocation of scarce places in high prestige institutions. Almost no one is denied access to an undergraduate or law school education by affirmative action, although there are probably a meaningful number of Asian and white medical school applicants who are denied access.

2. The prestige benefits conferred on black and Hispanic applicants are very substantial and those benefits to those students almost surely outweigh any harms caused to those students by "mismatch" situations. "Mismatch" probably does have an impact on the amount of within institution informal racial segregation that occurs, however.

3. The prestige costs to white students as a whole are modest in numbers and magnitude, but those impacts are concentrated in a subset of marginal white students who tend to have less than upper middle class socioeconomic status, are disproportionately first generation college students, and tend to be cultural outsiders relative to the rest of the white student body.

4. Inadequate financial aid has negative effects on all less affluent students, and especially first generation students, that probably greatly exceed the positive benefits to those students associated with affirmative action. Less affluent white and Asian students face both financial aid and affirmative action barriers.

5. The impact on Asian Americans is quite significant in numbers and magnitude compared to white students. It rivals the negative impact on Jews a couple of generations ago.

6. Diversity is a legitimate goal and high education admissions, in general, are less meritocratic than they are perceived to be, and standard measures of academic merit are less predictive of academic and socioeconomic success in most fields than they are commonly perceived to be (this is less true in the mathematics intensive STEM fields).

7. Most people don't understand how different student bodies at highly selective higher educational institutions would look if admissions were purely made on grades and test scores.

UPDATE: A NYT Piece mentions that: "Harvard’s class of 2021 is 14.6 percent African-American, 22.2 percent Asian-American, 11.6 percent Hispanic and 2.5 percent Native American or Pacific Islander[.]" There are estimates that in an academics only regime, elite schools would be 30%-35% Asian-American, that the percentage of whites would be similar but that they would be different whites (few legacies 10-15%, fewer athletes 10% including academically weak rich kids) and that black and Hispanic admissions would fall significantly. In a pending lawsuit: "A Princeton study found that students who identify as Asian need to score 140 points higher on the SAT than whites to have the same chance of admission to private colleges . . . Harvard’s Asian-American enrollment at 18 percent in 2013, and notes very similar numbers ranging from 14 to 18 percent at other Ivy League colleges, like Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Princeton and Yale" suggest a quota. "In contrast, [the lawsuit] says, in the same year, Asian-Americans made up 34.8 percent of the student body at the University of California, Los Angeles, 32.4 percent at Berkeley and 42.5 percent at Caltech. It attributes the higher numbers in the state university system to the fact that California banned racial preferences by popular referendum in 1996, though California also has a large number of Asian-Americans."

01 August 2017

Who Has Astronomy As A Hobby In China?

Citizen science refers to scientific research conducted or participated by non-professional scientists (such as hobbyists or members from the general public). Citizen astronomy is a classic example of citizen science. Citizen astronomers has benefited from technological advancements in the recent decades as they fill the scientific gaps left by professional astronomers, in the areas such as time domain observations, visual classification and data mining. 
Chinese citizen astronomers have made a visible contribution in the discoveries of new objects; however, comparing to their counterparts in the western world, they appear to be less interested in researches that do not involve making new discovery, such as visual classification, long-term monitoring of objects, and data mining. 
From a questionnaire survey that aimed to investigate the motivation of Chinese citizen astronomers, we find that this population is predominantly male (92%) who mostly reside in economically developed provinces. A large fraction (69%) of the respondents are students and young professionals younger than the age of 25, which differs significantly from the occupation and age distribution of typical Chinese Internet users as well as the user distribution of large international citizen science projects such as the Galaxy Zoo. 
This suggests that youth generation in China is more willing to participate citizen astronomy research than average generation. Additionally, we find that interests in astronomy, desire to learn new knowledges, have a fun experience and meet new friends in the community are all important driving factors for Chinese citizen astronomers to participate research. This also differs from their counterparts in western countries.
 Quan-Zhi Ye, "Citizen Astronomy in China: Present and Future" (August 1, 2017).

Happy Colorado Day!

Colorado is 141 years old today.

How Has ISIS Impacted The Zeitgeist Of The Islamic World?

Just about everyone who has paid even a passing familiarity with current events in the United States has some awareness of ISIS, the extremists Islamic State formed by Sunni Arabs in Northern Iraq and Eastern Syria about three years ago rapidly gaining control of vast amounts of territory in a brief time using ruthlessly brutal tactics. Its atrocities are well known.

But, however much ISIS has been part of the U.S. consciousness (enough that a totally unrelated store in Denver named after the eponymous Egyptian goddess was regularly vandalized until it took down its sign), it has been ever present in the consciousness of people in neighboring Iraq, Turkey and Syria, and has more generally shared center stage with other developments on the international stage in much of the Islamic world since its very earliest days.

I have a pretty good idea about what kind of impact ISIS has had on public opinion and intellectual and political thinking in "the West" in the past few years. Maybe that is worthy of a post on another day. But, I really have no idea what intellectual, cultural and political impact ISIS has had in the Islamic world.

Certainly, some people have been inspired by ISIS, especially in the early days with it secured lots of foreign fighters and foreign funds to support it.

But, surely that has not been the only response. Surely, many people potentially in its path of expansion of feared that it will bring war, restrict their freedom, and destroy their economy, however much they do not love the regime they are currently under. Surely, many people see this expression of Islam as heretical and corrupt and an ill omen for the larger Islamic world where it or similar movements might spread - even Wahhabi Saudi Arabia has condemned it publicly and offered limited military assistance to opposing it.

On the whole, who has it tended to encourage more ISIS-like views of Islam and who has it tended to push in the other direction as a counter-reaction? Which has been the more common reaction? 

Has it brought other divisions within Islam, or at least Sunni Islam, closer together allied against it? Or has it driven wedges between Islamic factions?

What impact has it had on groups like the Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, loyalist theocratic forces in Iran, the ruling party in Turkey, and the political factions that insisted on giving Sharia law constitutional force in the new constitutions of Afghanistan and Iraq in their views about incorporating Islam in political life? Less specifically, how has it influenced political theory in the Islamic world?

Has it had an impact on how Muslims in Pakistan and Afghanistan view the Taliban?

As an outsider, it is very hard to find reliably information on any of these things, even though it is something that hundreds of millions of people around the world in many different countries are living on a daily basis. Questions like these remind me just how incomplete my sources of data about the world really are even in an age when information has never been more easily available.