Search This Blog

Monday, August 29, 2016


While researching the previous post about the University of Chicago, I came across this testimony to the bankruptcy of the social sciences, from, of all places, the UoC: Behavioral economics helps boost fuel and carbon efficiency of airline captains

The large-scale study, which incorporated data from more than 40,000 unique flights, found significant savings in carbon emissions and monetary costs when airline captains were provided with tailored monthly information on fuel efficiency, along with targets and individualized feedback. The behavioral effects of such interventions are currently estimated as the most cost-effective way to prevent a metric ton of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

This is what the study (hidden behind a paywall) had to say for itself:

Understanding motivations in the workplace remains of utmost import as economies around the world rely on increases in labor productivity to foster sustainable economic growth. This study makes use of a unique opportunity to “look under the hood” of an organization that critically relies on worker effort and performance. By partnering with Virgin Atlantic Airways on a field experiment that includes over 40,000 unique flights covering an eight-month period, we explore how information and incentives affect captains’ performance. Making use of more than 110,000 captain-level observations, we find that our set of treatments—which include performance information, personal targets, and prosocial incentives—induces captains to improve efficiency in all three key flight areas: pre-flight, in-flight, and post-flight. We estimate that our treatments saved between 266,000-704,000 kg of fuel for the airline over the eight-month experimental period.

Unless Virgin Atlantic Flight Operations is hopelessly negligent, this cannot possibly be true.

At my airline, flight plans specify the most economical available altitude and airspeed. Flight Management Systems are exquisitely tuned to use the best power setting for takeoff and climb, and are equally focused on attaining the best descent profile.

The Flight Operations Manual sets out criteria for Auxiliary Power Unit usage, single engine taxi, speeds and configurations on departure, and energy management on arrival.

All of this is backed up by frequent line checks, quality assurance observations, and continuous data downlinks.

The requirements and guidance are clear; the only variable is pilots' skill in achieving them within the context of the operational environment.

Spoiler alert: performance information, personal targets and prosocial incentives — uhh, oh never mind — have nothing to do with that.

Which is why I'm quite certain this is the last anyone will hear of this seminal! study!

Restating the Seemingly Obvious

The NYT ran a story last week about the University of Chicago's unambiguous refusal to coddle its students, or allow the heckler's veto:

Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own,” John Ellison, dean of students, wrote to members of the class of 2020, who will arrive next month.

So what. A restatement of, particularly in the university setting, should be the glaringly obvious.

Except, as any mild familiarity with that clown car we charmingly refer to us a liberal arts education, it is instead a pointed reminder to any potential students to look elsewhere for cosseting and indoctrination.

Except for the reflexive nod in the direction of journalistic bias — in what regard is The Federalist conservative? — the story is pretty well balanced. Along the way, they quoted Kevin Gannon — aka The Tattooed Professor — who teaches history at Grand View University in Des Moines. Trigger Warning: Elitism, Gatekeeping and Other Academic Crap certainly let me know what to expect, and I was not disappointed.

There are several paras of bloviation and cant, and the assumption that the University of Chicago's letter was an effect without cause.

Then, and I'm sure you, too, saw this coming from a semester away:

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the backlash against so-called “political correctness” in higher education has intensified in direct variation with the diversification of the academy, areas of scholarship, and-most significantly-the student population.

Because racism and sexism.

Then he provides the rationale for trigger warnings:

For every ginned-up hypothetical scenario of spoiled brats having a sit-in to protest too many white guys in the lit course, there are very real cases where trigger warnings or safe spaces aren’t absurdities, but pedagogical imperatives. If I’m teaching historical material that describes war crimes like mass rape, shouldn’t I disclose to my students what awaits them in these texts? If I have a student suffering from trauma due to a prior sexual assault, isn’t a timely caution the empathetic and humane thing for me to do?

Aside from the obligatory nod in the direction of racism — progressives must have a quota to fill — he calls into question either his professional competence, or his students' intelligence. Could be both How so? If Prof Tats is competent then his syllabi will describe the course and associated materials in sufficient detail to let students know what they are getting in for. Syllabi are themselves trigger warning.

Competently prepared that is.

Meaning students don't need trigger warnings. If they exercise sufficient due diligence, that is.

And that is before getting to the information problem: how are professors to know their students' sensitivities?

But wait, there's more. Just as coercion follows socialism, so censorship follow progressive academics:

To move from the hypothetical to the real, the Virginia Tech students who protested their university’s invitation to Charles Murray to deliver a lecture weren’t some sort of intellectual gestapo, they were members of a community calling out other members’ violation of the community’s ethos. Murray is a racist charlatan who’s made a career out of pseudoscientific social darwinist assertions that certain “races” are inherently inferior to others.To bring him to campus is to tell segments of your student community that, according to the ideas the university is endorsing by inviting Murray, they don’t belong there. This isn’t a violation of academic freedom. It’s an upholding of scientific standards and the norms of educated discourse-you know, the type of stuff that colleges and universities are supposed to stand for, right?

Translated: disagreement is verboten.

Prof Tat has no qualms about stopping other people hearing about something with which he clearly has no knowledge.

Not that has ever been a barrier to progressives; after all, every idea they have is true because they have it.

Perhaps the UoC was really just engaged in trolling, as both the story and various comments charge. Alternatively, the UoC may have perceived a coming collapse of universities as a concept, and wants to distance the UoC brand as much as possible.

Oh, and providing fair warning that students whose SJW zealotry inclines them towards thought policing, to either restrain that zealotry, face expulsion, or go elsewhere.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

What's that Saying about Having and Eating Cake?

Near as I can tell, the NYT has decided to emulate that young adult amateur webzine, Slate.

Clearly, it is time for a fisking.

In other words, journalism, to the extent it ever existed at the Paper of Record, has now descended to clickbait. To wit: When the Pilot is a Mom: Accommodating New Motherhood at 30,000 Feet.

Boarding a flight can feel like stepping into a time capsule — men typically fly the plane, while most flight attendants are still women. [And the rest are gay. Just saying.] Which is why a female pilot from Delta Air Lines did something dramatic at a union meeting recently.

I think there is a term for this antecedent — men fly the plane, women are flight attendants — and the consequent is, uh, ummm …

Standing before her male colleagues, the captain unbuttoned her uniform, strapped a breast pump over the white undershirt she wore underneath, and began to demonstrate the apparatus. As the machine made its typical “chug, chug, chug” noise, attendees squirmed in their seats, looked at their feet and shuffled papers.

… just on the tip of my tongue … savor it, and there it is! Yes, the famous non sequitur, right up there in the annals of journalistic foolishness with the Fox Butterfield Effect.

It was the latest episode in what has proved to be a difficult workplace issue to solve: how to accommodate commercial airline pilots who are balancing new motherhood.

With? Enquiring minds want to know about the unmentioned counter poise. Balancing with what? Melons? Cantaloupes? Peaches? How is it the author didn't write, nor the editor insist upon "how to balance new motherhood with being a commercial airline pilot"?

This is a sure sign of clickbait. Superficial attention seeking is rarely overly bothered with silly details like syntax and reason.

But the flight deck of a jumbo jet isn’t a typical workplace. Pilots are exempt from a provision in the Affordable Care Act requiring employers to accommodate new mothers. At 30,000 feet, the issue touches not only on pilot privacy, but also aircraft safety.

Indeed, it isn't. Not merely because it isn't in all regards, but also because most flight decks aren't jumbo jets, and that non-jumbo flight decks are just as atypical as the jumbo kind. Never mind that at 30,000 feet, when it comes to balancing safety and privacy (Annalyn, did you see what I did there?), precisely no one should give even a tinker's damn about privacy.

“The airlines have maternity policies that are archaic,” said Kathy McCullough, 61, a retired captain for Northwest Airlines, which merged with Delta in 2008, who has advocated on behalf of the pilots to Delta management. “I am so glad that they’re stepping forward and taking a stand.”

One reason for the lack of rules is that women make up only about 4 percent of the nation’s 159,000 certified airline pilots — a number that has been slow to rise over the past decade or so.

Reality: thanks to patriarchal attitudes — and I'm being serious here — women were excluded from professional flying simply because they chose their plumbing poorly. In the early 1970s, overt discrimination started waning to the point where now poorly chosen plumbing has become brilliantly chosen plumbing: any woman with even the minimum qualifications will get an interview. And, absent glaring disorders on the order of uncontrollable drooling, will get hired. Consequently, the percentage of female airline pilots has skyrocketed from zero all the way to four. And stayed there. (Trigger warning: contains specious reasoning and sexist assumptions as means to avoid the readily apparent.)

(Fun facts: 96% of airline pilots are male; roughly 0% are gay. In contrast, of flight attendants, 78% are female, the rest gay. Because patriarchy.)

At Delta, a group of women pilots have banded together through a private Facebook page and have approached their union with formal proposals for paid maternity leave — unheard-of at the major airlines — because they say they would like to stay home to breast-feed their babies. At Frontier Airlines, four female pilots are suing the company for discrimination, seeking the option of temporary assignments on the ground while pregnant or nursing.

Oh noes, the dreaded private Facebook page.

There are reasons that paid maternity leave is unheard of at major airlines. Chief among them is that all pilots are treated the same, regardless of plumbing choice. My airline is typical. Pilots get one month sick pay per year. Unused sick pay accrues in a "disability bank". Pilots requiring more than a month sick time in a year can draw from their disability bank until it is zero. After that, they don't get paid.

Male, female, doesn't matter.

Just as with temporary ground assignments. No medically distressed pilots get them, male or female. Why? They don't exist. In yet another symptom of going full click-bait, the "journalist" never bothers to ascertain what these mythical beasts might be, instead taking as given that they roam airline rosters in large, slow, easily caught herds.

More than 40 years later, the major carriers still haven’t resolved this issue. They set their policies for pilots based on the collective bargaining agreements negotiated by the unions. But women of childbearing age account for just a sliver of union membership, so maternity leave and breast-feeding policies have not been at the top of union agendas.

Plus, some members oppose the proposals, citing the costs. One local union leader told several women in an email: “Having a child is a personal choice and asking the rest of us to fund your choice will be a difficult sell to the pilot group.”

I'm not sure why, but just as nearly all pilots are male, almost all are conservatives, and about the only ones who don't own guns live in places that don't allow them. Yours truly, for instance.

So it shouldn't come as a stunner that this is a group particularly inclined towards seeing compulsory payment for others' choices as socialism in a C-cup.

Female pilots can begin to lose wages months before a baby is born. Most contracts at major airlines force pregnant pilots to stop flying eight to 14 weeks before a baby’s due date.

I'm not at all certain from which data dumpster that comes, since the citation is glaringly absent. But it is decidedly whiffy. My airline allows pregnant pilots to use vacation whenever they choose. From the 21st week through a month after delivery, they may use available sick leave, then accrued long term disability, and unpaid leave of absence. And $200 for a maternity uniform.

My airline has nothing to say about when pregnant pilots stop flying. That is a fitness-for-flight issue. So long as a pregnant pilot is able to fulfill the requirements of the job, some of which are inherently not pregnancy friendly (E.g., being able to move the flight controls through their full travel, a particular issue for shorter women. It's amazing what the patriarchy can do.)

While their proposals differ, all say they aim for one thing: to avoid situations in which pilots have been leaving the cockpit in mid-flight for as long as 20 minutes, the amount of time often required to pump breast milk.

Hey, I have an idea. Let's introduce that evergreen journalistic trope, the person in the seat. Except let's make it the mother with her newborn in 17D: "The First Officer has a baby. How happy are you that she is taking a twenty minute break from the cockpit*?"

I'm guessing not happy at all. Obviously, in the new NYT clickbait world, some new mothers' opinions are worth more than others.

Consider what it took for First Officer Brandy Beck, a 41-year-old Frontier Airlines pilot, to pump breast milk. Once the plane was at cruising altitude and in autopilot mode, she would seek the agreement of her captain to take a break. In keeping with Frontier policy, the remaining pilot was required to put on an oxygen mask.

Next a flight attendant — to prevent passengers from approaching the lavatory — would barricade the aisle with a beverage cart. Then the attendant would join the captain in the cockpit, in keeping with rules that require at least two people in an airline cockpit at all times.

Odd. The NYT doesn't seem particularly inclined to wonder why it is OK for women to have a condition requiring absence from the flight deck for 20 mins at a whack, whereas a man similarly indisposed would lose his medical stat.

And what to do about the patriarchal Capt that says "Not only no, but capital NO"? (If I was that Capt, I would have agreed, and told the FO that if she didn't call in sick before the next leg, I'd remove her from the trip.)

Frontier’s management has argued that extended breaks from the cockpit raise safety issues. The company has not offered an in-flight alternative for breast pumping …

Gee. Ya think? And what alternative might there be that doesn't involve flying over fantasy land at a million feet?

Ms. Beck said that after nearly 20 years in the aviation industry, she assumed she could keep her job and nurse her baby. “I guess it never came to light in my mind that I couldn’t do both,” she said.

That would be a fool's conclusion, the kind that would shame even a village idiot. But, for the impressionable, the consequence of feminism: women can have as much as they want of what they want. Choices are for chumps.

The Federal Aviation Administration has issued no official rules for pilots who pump in-flight. But Alison Duquette, a spokeswoman for the agency, said that “leaving the flight deck for 20 minutes would not be acceptable” under most circumstances.

What the FAA really meant to say, and which it would if women were held as accountable for their actions as men is that for FO Beck to fly knowing she had a condition requiring her absence from the flight deck for 20 minutes is a knowing violation of FAR 117.5, Fitness for Duty.

Oh, and that most circumstances include all of them not involving a divert worthy medical emergency.

And the Delta and Frontier pilots know they are pressing an issue that still plagues a group long dominated by women: flight attendants.

This year, a flight attendant for Endeavor Air, a regional airline owned by Delta, filed a discrimination complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights, claiming the airline failed to provide reasonable breaks or private places to pump breast milk in her workplace. The commission is investigating.

Have any of these people ever been in an airplane? Even once?

“This is part of breaking down the cockpit door — that’s the glass ceiling here,” said Ms. Grossman, a professor at the Dedman School of Law at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “How do you make a job work when it was designed without you in mind?”

Here's a lifestyle pro-tip. Reality wasn't designed with any of us in mind. Not only are doors not ceilings, but life, even for women, really does involve choices.

One would think that actually having a choice would be a good thing, compared to having none at all. Men, if they want to live happily with a woman have two choices: wage slave, or wage slave. But a woman can do pretty much whatever she pleases, and the zeitgeist insists that pleasing herself has no costs. She should be paid as much as those who did not take leaves of absence, her needs should be accommodated, no matter how impractical, foolish, or unfair those accommodations might be.

I have an idea. When presented with a fork in the road, take it. And accept the consequences.

* When I was at Northwest, there was a massive disappearing of every instance of "cockpit" from all flight manuals, to be replaced with "flight deck". On account of the obvious phallocentric connotations. Except that it derived directly from nautical term from the days of sail referring to a well deck where the tiller was located, and, because of the inherent confines, was also where cock fights were held.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Counter Intuitive?

When I see the terms "research" and "counter intuitive" in an article, it's amazing to me how often the supposedly counter intuitive results of the research I find perfectly intuitive. This seems to be especially true in the social sciences.

The latest such article to catch my attention states:
Dr Brinkman said the research was counter intuitive to popular thinking about exposing young people to babies...
And just what was so counter intuitive?
Digital baby dolls that wake up crying in the middle of the night and need feeding, rocking and nappy changes are supposed to deter teenagers from falling pregnant.
But in an ironic twist, researchers have found they have the opposite effect. [...]
“The most alarming figure is girls are 1.36 times more likely to have pregnancies if they were exposed to the babies,” Dr Brinkman said.
Well, personally, I think the most alarming figure was the cost of the study:
The findings of a 10-year program and study involving more than 1250 girls and costing more than $1.5 million has found the dolls are actually more likely to encourage motherhood.
That was a waste of $1.5 million. Has nobody other than me observed women cooing over someone else's baby? Looking at said baby with clear desire? Especially when there's a gaggle of such women? Perhaps I'm the only one who notices this because I once had a woman say to me, "when I see a young baby it hurts to not be pregnant." Oh wait, hold on, I'm not the only one who's been exposed to the concept of "baby fever":
Maybe it’s the tiny mews coming from a stranger’s passing stroller, the sweet smell of a friend’s new baby’s head or a glimpse of a onesie so cute it makes your ovaries hurt… whatever sets it off for you, most moms know the warning signs of baby fever. But while your mom and girlfriends might tease you about it, researchers from Kansas State University found that people—both men and women—actually do experience baby fever.
So I just don't see how it could possibly be a surprise that giving young fertile women a very realistic and somewhat cute doll might actually entice them to have a real baby.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Karl's Still Going Strong

Here's an interesting tidbit: Karl Marx is the most assigned economist in U.S. college classes:
More than 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the onset of market-economy practices in China, “The Communist Manifesto” still ranks among the three most frequently assigned texts at American universities. 
That’s according to data from Open Syllabus Project, which tracks books and other works assigned to students in more than 1 million syllabi.
That's pretty good staying power!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Go Forth and Multiply

A couple of paragraphs in an article titled How Anti-Discrimination Became a Religion, and What It Means for Judaism caught my eye (don't ask me how I happened upon that article - I have absolutely no idea!):
As for those who remain active members of the Jewish community, they will be divided among a large but shrinking cohort of mostly Reform and other religiously liberal Jews; a smaller but vigorous group of modern and centrist Orthodox Jews joined by remnants of the rapidly declining Conservative movement; and a large and rapidly growing group of Ḽaredi or “ultra-Orthodox” Jews. 
At some point, indeed, this last-named group, whose current rate of per-year population growth stands at an astonishing 5.5-percent, will form a significant element of the public “face” of American Jewry.
Before I get to my main point, I first have to point out that even though I'm jewish through ancestry (though non-practicing), ultra-orthodox Jews are as strange and exotic to me as the Amish or Tibetan monks or something like that. For example, if, for some reason, I suddenly decided that I needed to go to some sort of religious service, while my first choice would be a Reform Jewish service, I'd much rather go to, oh, I dunno, let's say a Methodist service or something like that, rather than an ultra-Orthodox Jewish service.

As far as I can tell, the ultra-Orthodox could never really be the "face" or in any way representative of all American Jews. Or, at least, I rather hope not.

But there is that population growth thing to consider. 5.5 percent per year really is astonishing (basically more than doubling every generation and amounts to over 6 children per woman on average) and if maintained, would indeed eclipse the rest of the shrinking American Jewish population in just a handful of generations.

What really caught my attention, though, was how well this real-life scenario potentially fits the population simulations I did a while back:
The simulation is fairly simple. Start with a population of 1,000,000,000 people. There are two types of "genes" in this population. The most common and also dominant gene is the "barren gene" and compels its individual to produce one child on average. Given that it takes two parents to produce a child, if this were the only "gene," the population would halve every generation and mankind would indeed go extinct in only a few hundred years.

The second "gene" is the "fruitful gene" and potentially compels its individual to have three children on average. However, since this "gene" is recessive, the individual is only compelled to have three children if he or she has two of these "genes." At the start of the simulation, only five-percent of the genes are of this type. So not only is it recessive, it's also rare. If a double "fruitful" mates with a someone with at least one "barren gene", they split the difference and have two children.
This very pessimistic simulation shows the population dropping fairly precipitously for 15 to 20 generations until the "fruitfuls" finally become common enough to overwhelm the "barrens" and then the population comes roaring back in 20 to 30 generations.

Here, in real life, the non-ultra-Orthodox American Jews pretty much follow the "barren" pattern (somewhat more than one child per couple) and the ultra-Orthodox Jews are more than "fruitful" (more than 6 children per couple), at least at the moment. In addition, unlike the simulation where all mating is random making it unlikely for the rare "fruitfuls" to mate with each other until enough "barrens" have died out, the ultra-Orthodox clearly seek each other out at a far greater rate than would occur in random mating.

That's why when some folks get to hand-wringing about falling birthrates, I'm far from concerned. Some group will always be happy to go forth and multiply and be there to inherit the earth.