• Today’s Secret Code Phrase

    Who is John Galt?

  • Can Someone Please Direct Me to the Nearest Black Hole?

    Metzel Mikhail/TASS via ZUMA

    I’ve spent the weekend watching a little football, catching up on some Netflix, playing frisbee golf, and not really keeping tabs on the news very much. Apparently, while I was failing to pay attention, I was transported through a warp in the space-time continuum where, it turns out:

    We are no longer talking about whether Donald Trump likes Vladimir Putin a little more than you’d expect.

    We are no longer talking about whether Trump’s campaign received dirt on Hillary Clinton from Russian sources.

    We are no longer talking about whether Trump has obstructed justice during the Mueller probe of Russia.

    Instead, we are talking—seriously, mind you—about whether the president of the United States is an asset of Russian intelligence.

    Perhaps this is normal here on Earth-457-ℵ? I’m not sure. But I’d like to get back to my own earth, and I’m wondering if anyone can point me to a local nano-black-hole centrifuge or whatever it is you folks use to travel between dimensions. Any help would be much appreciated.

  • Hoaxsters Hit With Human Studies Charge

    This is allegedly the IRB at Duke University, but they seem awfully young and good looking, don't they? I have my doubts.

    Last year, a trio of hoaxsters produced a series of Onion-worthy papers in the fields of gender studies, critical race theory, masculinity studies, etc. and got many of them accepted and published in peer-reviewed journals. Now one of them, Peter Boghossian of Portland State University, is under investigation for failing to get this research pre-approved by his university’s Institutional Review Board.

    If you’ve never heard of an IRB, count yourself lucky. It’s one of those bits of bureaucracy that began with the best of intentions and then turned into a monster.

    Originally, IRBs were set up in response to a Wild West atmosphere at universities and medical centers in which the human subjects of research could genuinely be harmed. Medical research was one obvious area, as was psychological research of various kinds (the Milgram shock experiment, for example). But then it expanded. Were you doing econ experiments with the students in your class? Better get IRB approval. Were you doing telephone surveys? There are humans on the other end of the line. Better get IRB approval. Are you just mailing surveys to people? You’ll still need IRB approval. Over time, the roadblocks to research multiplied, and as near as I can tell, IRBs today are widely considered less to be genuine safeguards against abuse than they are mini-empires dedicated primarily to demonstrating their own power over the research community.

    Still, there’s not much question that Boghossian and his colleagues failed to get IRB approval even though they should have. After all, their research was chock full of human subjects. There were the journal editors they were duping. There were the peer reviewers whose time they were wasting. And in the case of the published articles, there were the readers who were being misled. It’s an open-and-shut case.

    But here’s my question: if the hoaxsters had submitted their plans to an IRB, what are the odds it would have been approved? And even more to the point: if it had been approved, what are the odds it would have stayed secret—which was, after all, critical to the whole enterprise? If there were a gender theorist on the IRB, would they have respected the value of the research, or would they have put their field first and quietly alerted a few key people to spread the word that they needed to be on the lookout for possible hoax submissions?

    I have my doubts about this. And as long as we’re going there, what if you wanted to do some research that involved hoaxing an IRB? Who would you get permission from? And who could you trust to keep it under wraps?

    Has anyone ever done field research comparing IRBs at different universities? That would be kind of interesting, wouldn’t it?

  • The Mystery of the Figaro Is Solved!

    Back when Marian and I were vacationing in Britain, I saw a surprising number of these cars:

    It’s a Figaro, which looks like one of those cute postwar British cars that were manufactured in the gazillions—but obviously isn’t. For one thing, it’s made by Nissan. For another, it has a third brake light up in the rear window, which pegs it as a relatively recent make. So what is it?

    I never found out, but today the New York Times reveals all. It turns out it’s an oddball car that, for some reason, Nissan manufactured only in 1991:

    Nissan built the Figaro in pale shades of aqua, green, gray and taupe — one of a few idiosyncratic, limited-edition models the company made in that era.

    The company originally planned to build just 8,000 Figaros, priced at about $8,300, and strictly for the Japanese market. Even before sales began, it was clear that demand would far exceed that figure, so Nissan held a lottery to choose its buyers. Celebrities were among those in the running, generating still more interest. Nissan expanded production to 20,000, but even so, most would-be buyers were turned away. Despite the unmet demand, the company stuck to its plan to make the car for just one year.

    From early on, a very few appeared in Britain, as people visiting Japan — including Eric Clapton — bought Figaros and had them shipped home. The car required only minor modification to be street legal in Britain, and drivers here, as in Japan, sit on the right side of the car.

    ….More than 3,000 of the cars are registered as being in active use in Britain, but numbers are no longer rising, and the pipeline has slowed to a trickle. “There’s only so many, and they’ve been around awhile,” said Peter Pattemore, who drives a Figaro (named Jimmy), as does his wife, Sandra (hers is Sally). “But we’re going to keep them as long we can.”

    The Figaro is now more than 25 years old, so it’s finally street legal if you want to buy one for use in the United States. Just don’t expect anyone to fit in the back seat.

  • North Carolina Pre-K Shows Benefits All the Way Through Age 14

    Two years ago a team of researchers at Duke University published a study of North Carolina’s “More at Four” pre-K program, a state-funded program for “high-risk 4-year-old children, with risk defined as annual family income at or below 75 percent of the state median, limited English proficiency, disability, chronic illness, or developmental need.” Here are the results:

    The authors concluded that all the way up to grade 5, children continued to show benefits from the program (which has since been renamed “NC Pre-K”). Today, the lead researcher, Kenneth Dodge, reports that the benefits continue at least through middle school:

    Our new analyses, about to be released as a working paper, show that the positive impacts of NC Pre-K … continue through grades 6, 7, and 8. There is no fadeout. In fact, the impact grows. By eighth grade, for children in counties with average funding, NC Pre-K has reduced the likelihood of placements into special education by over one third. We find positive impacts for every group of children we studied, including economically disadvantaged as well as advantaged children; African American, Hispanic, and white non-Hispanic children; and children whose mothers are well-educated as well as those whose mothers are less well-educated.

    The findings are clear: The more funding that North Carolina invests for NC Pre-K, the better children will fare as they get older. The benefits from that investment will not fade out but will grow over the lives of these children.

    A second program, “Smart Start,” which is targeted at providing services to children ages 0-4, also showed benefits, but they were much smaller. If these results hold up, it means that pre-K programs have yet another good program to model themselves after.

    The real hurdle, of course, is high school, which is where the benefits of programs like this typically fade out. In another three or four years, we’ll have data on that too.

  • The Evil Dex Is Better Than a Swiss Watch

    The Evil Dex is amazing stuff.¹ I swear, it has an atomic clock built in. I take it on Monday at about 8 am, and a whole series of side effects then starts to kick off on a very precise schedule. How precise? Well, the last side effect is a withdrawal crash, which happens at about 11 am on Thursday, give or take an hour.

    Think about this. That’s 75 hours later, and it happens within an hour of the same time every week. For three consecutive days the dex churns through its side effects with an error rate of no more than 1 percent. That’s really impressive.

    ¹Dexamethasone, for those of you who haven’t been following along. I take it once a week to help control my multiple myeloma.

  • Here’s Some Math to Explain the Woes of the Oscars Telecast

    Alissa Wilkinson asks today why no one wants to host the Oscars these days. I’m here to help. Everyone loves Venn diagrams, so here’s the answer in the form of a Venn diagram:

    It’s an impossible job. Half the country wants PG-13, the other half wants R. Half the country wants it to be all about diversity and inclusiveness, the other half just wants to see movie stars. Half the country wants Bob Hope, the other half wants Lenny Bruce.

    You’re going to get hammered no matter what you do. It won’t help your career, it doesn’t pay much money, and it’s a pain in the ass to do it. The real question isn’t why no one wants to do it, it’s why it took so long for comedians to finally give up on the whole thing.

  • Hooray! ISIS Defeated!

    Hollandse-Hoogte via ZUMA

    A few days ago National Security Advisor John Bolton said we wouldn’t be withdrawing from Syria until ISIS was defeated. Today we get this:

    The U.S. military said Friday that it has begun withdrawing troops from Syria, initiating a drawdown that has blindsided allies and sparked a scramble for control of the areas that American troops will leave. U.S. forces have “begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria,” read a statement from the U.S.-led coalition. “Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troop movements.

    I guess that’s, uh, good news, right? It means we’ve defeated ISIS. Or something?