5.08.2016

Captain America: Civil War

I am trying really, really hard to not outgrow superhero movies. Problem is, I'm not sure it's working....

Ok, the Marvel blend of comedy and seriousness is great. Continues to be great. Whoever paid attention to the way Whedon handled the dialogue deserves several brownies. I was also pleasantly surprised by the shades of grey when it came to the central conflict, which granted isn't saying a lot, but the fact that there's actual room for discussion in a genre notable for its cut and dry good and bad guys is worth something.

That said, there's a lot of small details that have been nibbling at the edges of my enjoyment, but I'm not going to point them out because I'd rather not spread them, and I think you'll notice a few yourselves. The big problem I had with this movie, though, was the pacing - the order of the scenes was fine, but it dragged at points. Yes, I enjoy funny dialogue and yes, it is probably going to make a bigger return because no watcher is going to spend too much time being sad, but all of it ended up being a bit much. Especially considering how much continuity it also fed into.

Rating: $8, which is something in between regular matinee (yes, there's an early matinee) and full price.

4.13.2016

The myth of the smarter liberal: adventures in data

The 2015-2016 election season has been notable for its vitriol. I think we all have seen enough remarks by a certain Republican frontrunner to skip discussing him (although it is important to note that Ted Cruz's voting record is aggressively anti-science and anti-reproductive health), but on the Democratic side the attacks have become increasingly blatant, starting with allegations of rigged coin tosses to "bro" voters and then on to questions surrounding qualification.

Why should we care, though? We can't determine if this is a consquence of the Internet allowing like-minded people to radicalize each other, or the Internet allowing more people to voice their opinions in the first place, or something that has nothing to do with the Internet whatsoever.

I've been marathoning Brooklyn Nine-Nine and have two monitors, so this is going to get long and full of graphs. Feeling lazy but want to have a nice debate? Here's a quick link to my conclusions.


A recent study—which ironically grew out of the debunking of falsified data—shows that having conversations can change minds. But you can't have a conversation with someone you have already dismissed as inherently wrong, because a) you will not be tackling the underlying cause of their objections to something—you might even be entrenching their beliefs—and b) those opinions can, in fact, be supported by facts. Nothing that depends on opinion can be wholly true or false.

Anyway, one of the things that's been tossed around is the idea that liberals are, overall, smarter than conservatives. Like any good scientist, the first thing I'm doing is examining the null hypothesis—that neither group is smarter than the other—and like any person who spent five whole weeks in Real Math before dropping down to the easy level, here's a list of assumptions I'm making:
  1. Education level can serve as a partial proxy for intelligence. (Aside from the fact that gaining expertise in one field doesn't mean overall expertise—cf. Ben Carson trying to have a tax plan—this article is worth rereading, as a reminder that most colleges aren't bastions of a well-rounded liberal education.)
  2. Income can serve as a partial proxy for intelligence. Obviously, this is problematic on many levels, but so is the above assumption. You need money to afford full-time college in the first place.
  3. Presidential candidate choice is indicative of liberal vs conservative views.
  4. Most importantly, "liberal" and "conservative" are valid labels. This Vox article gets into why the opposite may be true.
So, on to the data!

I started with 2012 exit polls data, collected by Edison Research and collated by CNN and NBC. I did make my own graphs, which should explain why the number formatting is all over the damn place. (Everything is percentages.)


Interestingly, liberals appear to hit the further extremes of education level (also compare this to the 2012 Gallup exit polls, which show a more favorable picture of liberals' education). That said, they're smaller portions of the population, so here's a graph of the percent of the vote both candidates received multiplied by the percent of total population:


The largest populations, some college and college graduate, swing very slightly liberal or openly conservative. Since I don't have raw numbers (or an advanced background in statistics), it's impossible to tell if these results are significant. The postgraduate one appears to be, and it's at least a noticeable portion of the population, so maybe there is something to the smarter liberals hypothesis, which is supported by these data from Pew. Except, of course, liberals are also doing slightly better with the less educated group.

Let's try income:


As you can see from the third graph (and also reality), the top earners are a pretty small portion of voters. So, adjusted for % of population:


When you take this into account as well, showing that college graduates' salaries start in the upper $40K range—and presumably increase from there—it looks like a noticeable portion of "intelligent" voters (again, using a half-assed proxy) lean Republican.

But, of course, these are both proxies. Transitioning away from the less exciting null hypothesis—which, from the data above, is winning—let's look at a positive statement. We know that liberals are more in tune with modern scientific findings than conservatives...right?

Luckily, the Pew Research Center, and some data from the CDC, comes to the rescue.

Let's start with a couple obvious points of contention: evolution and climate change. It should be no surprise that more liberals than conservatives support both these theories. You can take a look at the nicely laid out tables in the link above; what I've done here is display values as the absolute value of the percentage of scientists who believe a thing minus the percentage of the target population, in order to show the difference between scientists—whom we are taking for granted are the gold standard of "smart" on these issues—and voter groups.


Democrats do legitimately come closer to believing the things that scientists believe, although a 50% difference from the scientific view on natural evolution is not something to brag about. (About 12% from each group isn't represented at all on this graph.)

It's worth noting that a greater percentage of atheists vote liberal, so the disparity between Democrats and scientists could be explained by more liberals disbelieving a divine alternative to evolution than conservatives.

On to climate change....


Okay, this isn't too surprising—but there's a near-equal % difference in center-liberals' and center-conservatives' perception of the role of natural causes of warming. It looks like the greater percentage of center-liberals who believe that global warming is caused by humans stems at least in part from fewer center-liberals who believe warming is inconclusive. Given that this myth has been spread by oil and gas companies in a manner similar to Big Tobacco's obfuscation of the link between cigarettes and cancer, I've got to wonder how much of this is a result of conservative influences like the Koch brothers. Specifically, liberals aren't necessarily extensive students of the literature (rocks are boring, I said it), but there isn't a powerful liberal denier out there.

Excel is crap and I'm not going to bother graphing support for embryonic stem cell (eSC) research, but especially considering the divide on abortion—which is fueled by different views on whether or not an embryo should have rights—it's not surprising. (Fun fact though, iPSCs seem to be more promising these days. Latest finding: low risk of mutation in vitro.)

Let's talk about the use of animals in scientific research. To be clear, if you've ever taken medicine or had certain types of medical procedures, you've benefited from animal research; to be transparent, I once worked in a mouse lab.


Given that "animal rights activists" tend to be liberal, this also shouldn't be surprising. But it should explain why I've been offering explanations for the above graphs which have nothing to do with being more informed: because this graph immediately calls that conclusion into doubt. As far as I can tell, this isn't a matter of different sample populations.

Are the respondents who, above, seemed better-informed, actually falling on the scientific side for other reasons? As a corollary, are the conservatives who doubt anthropogenic climate change, oppose eSC research, and doubt evolution better informed about basic research and nuclear power?

While Pew results show no difference in requiring vaccination between parties, CDC data on vaccine exemptions correlates with states which favored Obama in 2012. People do sometimes lie—or at least say one thing and do another—on surveys, although the linked map doesn't prove that the same people voting liberal are the same people contributing to a public health crisis.

Finally, let's talk about genetically modified foods. While "genetic modification" is a technology and "Monsanto" is a corporation, there's more than enough environmental/organic/anti-GMO groups in existence conflating the two to offer a reason to assume that liberals will be the anti-science scaremongers here. (As far as I'm aware, the only candidate to declare a stance on GMOs is Sanders, who supports enforcing labelling, which is not favored by the AAAS or any editorial I've ever read in Nature.) In all fairness, I will mention that the EU study which found no significant health effects from GMOs vs non-GMO foods recommended further research. However, I will reinforce that the scientific consensus does not support GMO labelling, especially considering food security issues exacerbated by population size/global warming. Also, I saw glow-in-the-dark fish at Meijer and they are so cool.

'

Surprise: there's not a significant difference in the perception of whether or not GMO foods are safe to eat...although this ABC poll skews differently, more in line with what I've seen from attending eco-oriented events.


Liberals appear to come down on the side of science—at least as far as the most contentious issues like abortion and climate change go—but aside from that, there's no strong evidence to indicate that liberals are, as a group, any smarter than conservatives. Nor does it appear that the reason for supporting science is necessarily because of better education, so much as those views lining up with other liberal values.

While certain values are praiseworthy, we need to make sure that we are praising the specific holding of those values and not any faulty methodology which led to those values—else we run the risk of encouraging anti-science, anti-factual values alongside the right stuff.

If you drive to the end of a marathon, you've reached the same goal as the runners, but that doesn't mean you deserve their accolades. The flip side of automatically assuming the other side is wrong is assuming you're right, and this doesn't foster real change. At best, we'll end up doing the right things eventually, skipping out on solutions that aren't as ideologically appealing; at worst, we'll regress because of a) reactionary voting to failed/perceived-as-failed policy or b) fucking up. And, with issues like climate change, we don't have the time to regress.
That said, why are the parties' voters so apparently different? My argument, which I've admittedly had in mind since 2000 and is therefore more entrenched than it should be, is that it's all about priorities: specifically, which priorities one is willing to compromise. Granted, there's a budding radicalization of both sides, but its etiology is murky, too.
Anyway, you know I love arguing, so post away (although I respond about three months behind here because I keep forgetting it exists).


2.22.2016

'Deadpool'

is a refreshing vindication that there's an audience for the filthy-minded/crass/what have you out there.

It's like seeing a live-action version of the comic—down to fourth-wall breaking—minus, thankfully, the cheesy layer of emo Marvel keeps slapping on top its otherwise meritorious properties. 5/5 tempted to go see in the IMAX but won't because I'm lazy and cheap.

I continue to ensure my mother doesn't find out this movie exists, because I don't want to explain to her why she shouldn't watch it.