Archive for The New York Times

Les Enfants Rouges

Posted in Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on February 4, 2018 by xi'an

An happenstance reservation at Les Enfants Rouges led to a great and unique meal. The restaurant is located in Le Marais, north of Paris City Hall, and the chef Daï Shinozuka brings a precision in the cooking and presentation of traditional French food that makes each dish a masterpiece. Above the “neo bistro-fare” lauded by The New York Times. But definitely part of the new and exciting food scene in Paris!


algorithm for predicting when kids are in danger [guest post]

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 23, 2018 by xi'an

[Last week, I read this article in The New York Times about child abuse prediction software and approached Kristian Lum, of HRDAG, for her opinion on the approach, possibly for a guest post which she kindly and quickly provided!]

A week or so ago, an article about the use of statistical models to predict child abuse was published in the New York Times. The article recounts a heart-breaking story of two young boys who died in a fire due to parental neglect. Despite the fact that social services had received “numerous calls” to report the family, human screeners had not regarded the reports as meeting the criteria to warrant a full investigation. Offered as a solution to imperfect and potentially biased human screeners is the use of computer models that compile data from a variety of sources (jails, alcohol and drug treatment centers, etc.) to output a predicted risk score. The implication here is that had the human screeners had access to such technology, the software might issued a warning that the case was high risk and, based on this warning, the screener might have sent out investigators to intervene, thus saving the children.

These types of models bring up all sorts of interesting questions regarding fairness, equity, transparency, and accountability (which, by the way, are an exciting area of statistical research that I hope some readers here will take up!). For example, most risk assessment models that I have seen are just logistic regressions of [characteristics] on [indicator of undesirable outcome]. In this case, the outcome is likely an indicator of whether child abuse had been determined to take place in the home or not. This raises the issue of whether past determinations of abuse– which make up  the training data that is used to make the risk assessment tool–  are objective, or whether they encode systemic bias against certain groups that will be passed through the tool to result in systematically biased predictions. To quote the article, “All of the data on which the algorithm is based is biased. Black children are, relatively speaking, over-surveilled in our systems, and white children are under-surveilled.” And one need not look further than the same news outlet to find cases in which there have been egregiously unfair determinations of abuse, which disproportionately impact poor and minority communities.  Child abuse isn’t my immediate area of expertise, and so I can’t responsibly comment on whether these types of cases are prevalent enough that the bias they introduce will swamp the utility of the tool.

At the end of the day, we obviously want to prevent all instances of child abuse, and this tool seems to get a lot of things right in terms of transparency and responsible use. And according to the original article, it (at least on the surface) seems to be effective at more efficiently allocating scarce resources to investigate reports of child abuse. As these types of models become used more and more for a wider variety of prediction types, we need to be cognizant that (to quote my brilliant colleague, Josh Norkin) we don’t “lose sight of the fact that because this system is so broken all we are doing is finding new ways to sort our country’s poorest citizens. What we should be finding are new ways to lift people out of poverty.”

and it only gets worse…

Posted in Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2017 by xi'an

“You know, the saddest thing is that because I’m the president of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department,” Mr. Trump said in a radio interview on Thursday on the “Larry O’Connor Show.” “I am not supposed to be involved with the F.B.I. I’m not supposed to be doing the kind of things that I would love to be doing. And I’m very frustrated by it.” NYT, Nov 03, 2017

“Two former US intelligence chiefs have said Donald Trump poses “a peril” to the US because he is vulnerable to being “played” by Russia, after the president said on Saturday he believed Vladimir Putin’s denials of Russian interference in the 2016 election.” The Guardian, Nov 12, 2017

“As a result [of the 44% of vacant seats in the appeal courts], Mr. Trump is poised to bring the conservative legal movement, which took shape in the 1980s in reaction to decades of liberal rulings on issues like the rights of criminal suspects and of women who want abortions, to a new peak of influence over American law and society.” NYT, Nov 11, 2017

“Hunting interests have scored a major victory with the Trump administration’s decision to allow Americans to bring home body parts of elephants shot for sport in Africa. Another totemic species now looks set to follow suit – lions.”  The Guardian, Nov 16, 2017

“Like everything else Trump touches, he hijacks it with his chronic dishonesty and childishness,” said Mark Salter, a longtime adviser to Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona. “The intense, angry and largely ignorant tribalism afflicting our politics predates Trump’s arrival on the scene. But he has infused it with a psychopath’s inability to accept that social norms apply to him.” NYT, November  18, 2017

“We represent a much larger number of concerned mental health professionals who have come forward to warn against the president’s psychological instability and the dangers it poses. We now number in the thousands.” NYT, November 31, 2017

long journey to reproducible results [or not]

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 17, 2017 by xi'an

A rather fascinating article in Nature of last August [hidden under a pile of newspapers at home!]. By Gordon J. Lithgow, Monica Driscoll and Patrick Phillips. About their endeavours to explain for divergent outcomes in the replications [or lack thereof] of an earlier experiment on anti-aging drugs tested on roundworms. Rather than dismissing the failures or blaming the other teams, the above researchers engaged for four years (!) into the titanic and grubby task of understanding the reason(s) for such discrepancies.

Finding that once most causes for discrepancies (like gentle versus rough lab technicians!) were eliminated, there were still two “types” of worms, those short-lived and those long-lived, for reasons yet unclear. “We need to repeat more experiments than we realized” is a welcome conclusion to this dedicated endeavour, worth repeating in different circles. And apparently missing in the NYT coverage by Susan Dominus of the story of Amy Cuddy, a psychologist at the origin of the “power pose” theory that got later disputed for lack of reproducibility. Article which main ideological theme is that Cuddy got singled-out in the replication crisis because she is a woman and because her “power pose” theory is towards empowering women and minorities. Rather than because she keeps delivering the same message, mostly outside academia, despite the lack of evidence and statistical backup. (Dominus’ criticisms of psychologists with “an unusual interest in statistics” and of Andrew’s repeated comments on the methodological flaws of the 2010 paper that started all are thus particularly unfair. A Slate article published after the NYT coverage presents an alternative analysis of this affair. Andrew also posted on Dominus paper, with a subsequent humongous trail of comments!)

and it only gets worse…

Posted in Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2017 by xi'an

“An internal Interior Department memo has proposed lifting restrictions on exploratory seismic studies in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a possible first step toward opening the pristine wilderness area to oil and gas drilling.” NYT, Sept 17, 2017

“The Trump administration opened the door to allowing more firearms on federal lands. It scrubbed references to “L.G.B.T.Q. youth” from the description of a federal program for victims of sex trafficking. And, on the advice of religious leaders, it eliminated funding to international groups that provide abortion.” NYT, Sept 11, 2017

“On Aug. 18, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine received an order from the Interior Department that it stop work on what seemed a useful and overdue study of the health risks of mountaintop-removal coal mining.” NYT, Sept 9, 2017

“Last month the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration dissolved its 15-member climate science advisory committee, a panel set up to help translate the findings of the National Climate Assessment into concrete guidance for businesses, governments and the public.” NYT, Sept 9, 2017

Climate contrarians, like Trump’s EPA administrator Scott Pruitt and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, don’t understand how scientific research works. They are basically asking for a government handout to scientists to do what scientists are should already be doing. They are also requesting handouts for scientists who have been less successful in research and publications – a move antithetical to the survival of the fitness approach that has formed the scientific community for decades. ” The Guardian, Aug 31, 2017

Monty Hall closes the door

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 1, 2017 by xi'an

Among much more dramatic news today, I learned about Monty Hall passing away, who achieved long lasting fame among probabilists for his TV game show leading to the Monty Hall problem, a simple conditional probability derivation often leading to arguments because of the loose wording of the conditioning event. By virtue of Stigler’s Law, the Monty Hall game was actually invented earlier, apparently by the French probabilist Joseph Bertrand, in his Calcul des probabilités. The New York Times article linked with the image points out the role of outfits with the game participants, towards being selected by the host, Monty Hall. And that one show had a live elephant behind a door, instead of a goat, elephant which freaked out..!

and it only gets worse…

Posted in Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2017 by xi'an

“Medicaid pays for most of the 1.4 million people in nursing homes (…) With more than 70 million people enrolled in Medicaid, the program certainly faces long-term financial challenges. Certainly, nursing homes would be part of those cuts, not only in reimbursement rates but in reductions in eligibility for nursing home care.” NYT, June 14, 2017

“…the architects of the Trump contraceptive reversal, Ms. Talento, a White House domestic policy aide, and Mr. Bowman, a top lawyer at the Department of Health and Human Services, have the experience and know-how that others in the administration lack. As a lawyer at the Alliance Defending Freedom, Mr. Bowman assailed the contraceptive coverage mandate on behalf of colleges, universities and nonprofit groups that had religious objections to the rule. Ms. Talento, a former aide to Senator Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, spent years warning about the health risks of birth control pills.” NYT, July 11, 2017

“Mr. Trump’s revised executive order, issued in March, limited travel from six mostly Muslim countries for 90 days and suspended the nation’s refugee program for 120 days. The time was needed, the order said, to address gaps in the government’s screening and vetting procedures. Two federal appeals courts have blocked critical parts of the order. The administration had asked that the the lower-court ruling be stayed while the case moves forward. The court granted part of that request in its unsigned opinion. NYT, June 24, 2017

The proposed legislation, which Planned Parenthood labels “the worst bill for women’s health in a generation,” would strip the organization of federal funding for one year and bar any federal tax credits from being used to help buy private health plans that cover abortions.” NYT, June 23, 2017