Software developer, cyclist, photographer, hiker, reader.I work for the Library of Congress but all opinions are my own.Email: chris@improbable.org
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Uber Misled Public About Its Self-Driving Car That Was Caught Running a Red Light

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Mike Isaac and Daisuke Wakabayashi, reporting for The New York Times:

The experiment quickly ran into problems. In one case, an autonomous Volvo zoomed through a red light on a busy street in front of the city’s Museum of Modern Art.

Uber, a ride-hailing service, said the incident was because of human error. “This is why we believe so much in making the roads safer by building self-driving Ubers,” Chelsea Kohler, a company spokeswoman, said in December.

But even though Uber said it had suspended an employee riding in the Volvo, the self-driving car was, in fact, driving itself when it barreled through the red light, according to two Uber employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they signed nondisclosure agreements with the company, and internal Uber documents viewed by The New York Times. All told, the mapping programs used by Uber’s cars failed to recognize six traffic lights in the San Francisco area. “In this case, the car went through a red light,” the documents said.

I called this correctly back in December: their PR statement was carefully worded to mislead:

At first read, it sounds like Uber is saying there was a human driving the car. But if you parse it closely, it could also be the case that the car was in autonomous mode, and the “human error” was that the human behind the wheel didn’t notice the car was going to sail through a red light, and failed to manually activate the brake. I think that’s what happened — otherwise the statement wouldn’t be ambiguous.

Another case where lying has made a situation much worse. Everyone now knows the truth — their self-driving car was caught running a red light in downtown San Francisco — and the company’s (already questionable) credibility is shot. No one will believe a word the company says about future incidents with its autonomous cars.

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satadru
22 hours ago
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New York, NY
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acdha
1 hour ago
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Now there's the Uber you expected!

How long until they realize their rote dishonesty is driving the regulatory backlash?
Washington, DC

The child abuse scandal of the British children sent abroad

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For several decades, the UK sent children across the world to new lives where many were abused.
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In the Trump era, the fringe takes over conservative movement

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The CPAC conference showed how conservative movement has shifted to fall in line behind President Donald Trump.
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Same-sex marriage linked to decline in teen suicides

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A recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics suggests that the legalization of same-sex marriage is associated with a reduction in the proportion of high school students who reported making a suicide attempt. This study indicates that governmental policies regarding non-normative sexuality may have an influence on mental health outcomes for adolescents.

The study used data from the state-level Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, which tracks dangerous and risky behaviors exhibited by teenagers. Its authors used data from forty-seven states, including thirty-two states that implemented same-sex marriage policies between 2004-2015. They looked at suicide behaviors in the full population of high school students and then did a secondary analysis using the subset of students who self-identified as belonging to a sexual minority (gay, lesbian, bisexual, or unsure about their sexual identity).

One limitation of using this type of data is that it depends on self-reporting of suicide attempts, which is tricky because suicide attempts are typically under-reported. This approach also means that the researchers did not include any information about teens who died from their suicide attempts; it only captures teens who attempted suicide but survived. This methodological limitation may seem like a big one, but the proportion of suicide attempts that result in teen deaths is very small, so suicide attempts are a reasonable proxy for overall teen mental health.

The researchers used a “differences-in-differences” approach to analyze this data. This analysis allows researchers to use observational data about an intervention to approximate the effects that would be seen in a randomized controlled trial for the same intervention. In other words, this approach treats observational data as though that data came from a “natural experiment,” one with an intervention group (states that implemented same-sex marriage) and a control group (states that did not). This method looks at the difference in pre-intervention suicide attempts data and post-intervention suicide attempts data for these two groups, hence the name “difference-in-difference.”

The researchers quantified the difference in number of attempted suicides in states that passed laws legalizing same-sex marriage and states that did not pass those laws. Finally, they compared the difference in suicide attempts for the same two groups of states before same-sex-marriage legalization and after.

The comparison of these differences is important to ensure that changes in rates of suicide attempts are not associated with large-scale cultural changes. By tracking individual states, the researchers could identify local attitudes regarding sexual orientation. Still, the authors couldn’t control for individual-level differences, such as economic status or religious affiliation. These demographic characteristics could play an important role in determining the likelihood of a suicide attempt. Future studies that look more closely at individuals and their personal social context are needed.

Using differences-in-difference, the researchers saw that legalization of same-sex marriage was associated with a statistically significant decline in suicide attempts for all teens—a seven percent relative reduction in suicide attempts for adolescents of all sexual orientations. The association between same-sex marriage legalization and reduction in suicide attempts was also significant for teens who identified as sexual minorities. For this subgroup, there was a 14-percent relative reduction in suicide attempts after the passage of same-sex marriage laws.

Looking at the longitudinal suicide-attempt data, the authors saw that these reductions in suicide attempts persisted for up to two years after legalization of same-sex marriage. The persistence of this drop suggests that any backlash regarding same-sex marriage didn’t make things any harder on teens.

JAMA Pediatrics, 2017. DOI: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.4529 (About DOIs)

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acdha
1 day ago
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Oddly enough, the alleged “pro-life” people should be all over this…
Washington, DC

Trump is upset the media is not reporting a meaningless statistic about the national debt

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People use mobile devices to record President Trump as he speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland on Feb. 24. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

On "Fox & Friends" Saturday morning, former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain credited President Trump with reducing the national debt, after just one month in office.

“And here’s another statistic that I haven’t heard anybody talk about. Did you know that the national debt in President Trump’s first month went down $12 billion?” Cain asked the hosts.

Less than an hour later, the statistic appeared on another highly visible platform. “The media has not reported that the National Debt in my first month went down by $12 billion vs a $200 billion increase in Obama first mo,” Trump tweeted.

Trump quickly followed the tweet with another: “Great optimism for future of U.S. business, AND JOBS, with the DOW having an 11th straight record close. Big tax & regulation cuts coming!”

The debt statistics Trump and Cain cited appeared earlier this week in an article on the conservative blog Gateway Pundit, which compared the change in the U.S. debt load during Trump’s first month in office with what happened for former president Barack Obama. Looking closer at these figures, they hardly add up to the success that Trump and Cain are claiming.

The Gateway Pundit article says that the change in debt under Trump translates to a 0.1 percent reduction in the U.S. debt burden. However, that may be because they had their Excel spreadsheet set to display only one decimal point. Re-crunching their numbers, the change in the total debt outstanding between Jan. 20 and Feb. 21 is -0.0006 percent — pretty much nada.

The dollar figures, which come from the Treasury Department, are accurate, but they deserve a lot more context.

For one, Trump is citing such a narrow window of time that the statistics he’s pointing to don’t mean very much. The level of debt fluctuates day to day and week to week, depending on seasonal changes in growth and when the government makes payments, collects tax revenues, issues new debt and other debt matures — making the data very susceptible to cherry-picking.

Using the same logic, for example, you could claim that after four days in office Trump increased outstanding public debt by more than $10 billion, and that Obama had reduced it by $6 billion.

On Thursday, the public debt outstanding was $19.9 trillion — or, to be more exact, $19,913,903,120,188.10. And while that is less than it was on inauguration day, it's $29.2 billion more than it was on Feb. 8. All that goes to say you can't pay attention to infinitesimal movements in the debt week-to-week.

It’s impossible to know if  Trump’s election has really had time to filter through to concretely affect the economy. Congress has not passed any of his policies yet. The stock market has certainly continued to boom, but it was also booming before the election.

While it's possible anticipation of tax cuts or regulatory relief is heating up the economy and leading to increased government receipts, investors might also be choosing not to sell assets to avoid current capital gains tax rates and waiting to see if the Republican-dominated cuts successfully slashes rates.

As for the comparison to Trump's predecessor, Obama took office amid the depths of a historic recession that had started over a year before he took office. The U.S. economy was shedding more than 700,000 jobs a month and the unemployment rate was more than double its current level.

Dire economic conditions like these naturally inflate the debt level. As people lose work, take out unemployment insurance and draw on food stamps, the government both doles out far more in supportive payments and takes in less revenue in the form of taxes.


Partly as a result of these factors, debt increased significantly over the beginning of the Obama administration. It's important to note that while Trump and the figures refer to total public debt outstanding, this is not the most commonly used number by budget experts. That's because a little less than a third of the total public debt outstanding is money the government owes itself in the form of expected Social Security payments and the like. Most experts focus on the debt owned by the public -- banks, ordinary people, foreign countries, etc. That was $14.4 trillion on Thursday.

In 2009, the debt as a percentage of gross domestic product, a common measure, went to 52.3 percent from 39.3 percent the year before. That was the result of the massive shortfall in tax revenue due to the Great Recession and substantial new fiscal spending to support the economy. Today the debt-to-GDP ratio stands at 77 percent, and it's expected to rise slowly to 88.9 percent over the next decade under current policies.

The question is whether under Trump, the debt will decline, continue to rise gradually or explode. While Republicans in the Obama years pushed for a balanced budget, Trump's brand of populist economics doesn't seem as focused on containing the debt. His agenda involves massive tax cuts and large increases in spending on defense and infrastructure, which independent budget experts suggest will explode the debt.

For example, the non partisan Tax Policy Center estimates his tax plans would cut federal tax revenue over the next 10 years by at least $6.2 trillion. And that's before taking into account Trump's spending plans. Republicans say tax cuts will pay for themselves by speeding up economic growth, but most independent experts—even those who favor tax reform—doubt the GOP's rosy predictions. And Republicans also tend to favor big cuts to entitlement programs, although Trump has said he opposes such cuts.

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The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, an anti-debt group, meanwhile, says the government would need to cut the deficit by $3.3 trillion over the next decade simply to maintain the current GDP-to-debt ratio. We will learn more about Trump's plan when he releases his budget next month.

See also: 

A contradiction at the heart of President Trump’s economic policy

A simple explanation of why Trump is wrong on trade, according to a top expert

The unanswered question in Trump’s announcement of a $7 billion Intel investment

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zippy72
1 day ago
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"after four days in office Trump increased outstanding public debt by more than $10 billion, and Obama reduced it by $6 billion."
FourSquare, qv
acdha
1 day ago
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The real story remains that there's no filter between some random person on a Fox talk show and official statements by the President of the United States.
Washington, DC

Same-sex marriage linked to decline in teen suicides

1 Share

A recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics suggests that the legalization of same-sex marriage is associated with a reduction in the proportion of high school students who reported making a suicide attempt. This study indicates that governmental policies regarding non-normative sexuality may have an influence on mental health outcomes for adolescents.

The study used data from the state-level Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, which tracks dangerous and risky behaviors exhibited by teenagers. Its authors used data from forty-seven states, including thirty-two states that implemented same-sex marriage policies between 2004-2015. They looked at suicide behaviors in the full population of high school students and then did a secondary analysis using the subset of students who self-identified as belonging to a sexual minority (gay, lesbian, bisexual, or unsure about their sexual identity).

One limitation of using this type of data is that it depends on self-reporting of suicide attempts, which is tricky because suicide attempts are typically under-reported. This approach also means that the researchers did not include any information about teens who died from their suicide attempts; it only captures teens who attempted suicide but survived. This methodological limitation may seem like a big one, but the proportion of suicide attempts that result in teen deaths is very small, so suicide attempts are reasonable proxy for overall teen mental health.

The researchers used a “differences-in-differences” approach to analyze this data. This analysis allows researchers to use observational data about an intervention to approximate the effects that would be seen in a randomized controlled trial for the same intervention. In other words, this approach treats observational data as though that data came from a "natural experiment," one with an intervention group (states that implemented same-sex marriage) and a control group (states that did not). This method looks at the difference in pre-intervention suicide attempts data and post-intervention suicide attempts data for these two groups, hence the name “difference-in-difference.”

The researchers quantified the difference in number of attempted suicides in states that passed laws legalizing same-sex marriage and states that did not pass those laws. Finally, they compared the difference in suicide attempts for the same two groups of states before same-sex-marriage legalization and after.

The comparison of these differences is important to ensure that changes in rates of suicide attempts are not associated with large-scale cultural changes. By tracking individual states, the researchers could identify local attitudes regarding sexual orientation. Still, the authors couldn’t control for individual-level differences, such as economic status or religious affiliation. These demographic characteristics could play an important role in determining the likelihood of a suicide attempt. Future studies that look more closely at individuals and their personal social context are needed.

Using differences-in-difference, the researchers saw that legalization of same-sex marriage was associated with a statistically significant decline in suicide attempts for all teens—a seven percent relative reduction in suicide attempts for adolescents of all sexual orientations. The association between same-sex marriage legalization and reduction in suicide attempts was also significant for teens who identified as sexual minorities. For this subgroup, there was a 14 percent relative reduction in suicide attempts after the passage of same-sex marriage laws.

Looking at the longitudinal suicide-attempt data, the authors saw that these reductions in suicide attempts persisted for up to two years after legalization of same-sex marriage. The persistence of this drop suggests that any backlash regarding same-sex marriage didn’t make things any harder on teens.

JAMA Pediatrics, 2017. DOI: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.4529 (About DOIs)

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