January 4th, 2017

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Why do some of us talk to ourselves? A good article.

This article provides an over-view of the latets science around one of the oldest questions since human beings started asking questions. Why do some people talk to themselves? It's not necessarily a better or worse thinking style, but it is clearly a different thinking style from the people who don't have long running internal conversaions.
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Would Removing Online Anonymity Make People Politer? New Study says no.


Turns out that the theory that online behavior turns negative because of anonymity was based on some 1980s experiemnts that were (surprise!) simplified in the popular retelling. Recent research does not support the theory. To the contrary, there is now a body of research that indicates that revealing true identities increases harassment of target groups, even when the harasser is not anonymous.

Or, put another way:

Some people are jerks.

It is often factors such as fear of punishment/penalty that moderate behaivor, as well as acclimation to and sensitivity around social norms.

Anonymity does not appear to meanginfully contribute to these factors to the point where removing the cloak of anonymity by itself alters behavior.
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Gilded Rage: Interviews With Trump Supporters

This is actually a very interesting interview with Alexander Zaitchik, author of a new book called Gilded Rage.

Zaitchick spent 2016 going to Trump rallies, getting to know Trump supporters, and interviewing them for his book. He did not describe himself as a reporter, but as a writer doing a book on why people seemed excited about Trump as a candidate. He discuses the proces of people getting to know him and being willing to talk to him and what he came away with.

Surprise, it's complicated!
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Watching the Train Crash

I am a wealthy white guy in a major urban area. Even so, I will probably be screwed over by the "repeal and replace" Obamacare strategy Republicans just agreed to.

Why? Well, start here: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/im-a-former-health-insurance-ceo-and-this-is-what-obamacare-repeal-will-do-2017-01-02

Well before Congress passed the ACA, pretty much everyone agreed that our health care delivery system, and the way we paid for it, had severe market failures. So it woukld be bad enough is we just teleported back the state of things in 2007. But proposed repeal and delay promises to strip away everything, eventually, but hopefully before that we will come up with something wonderful.

Asking insurance companies to participate in the exchanges and offer coverage in poor areas, with no assurance that they will get compensation, with almost certain reduction in the medicaid expansion, and with Republicans promising that they will prohibit bans based on lifetime conditions, is crazy.

Which means in 2017, we can expect a lot more exchanges to simply collapse as insurers rush out.

That has huge impacts on everyone. For one thing, insurers have no way to predict their market in the interim period. The non-exclusion and the "keep you kid until age 25" provisions will still be in place for national coverage -- based on Trump and Congressional Rs. That means everyone's premiums will go up.

Why, because that is how insurance works. It's one of the major reasons the cost of insurance was in a death spiral in the '00s that prompted Dems to push for universal health isurance (based on expanding CHIP in 2007 and Romneycare back in MA). The cost of coverage is allocated over the entire pool. Health care *costs* have continued to rise as a function of lots of things unrelated to the insurance market (well, kinda related, but then we need to get into 3rd party payer issues, which makes this even more complicated).

At any rate, if you read the article linked to above from a former insurance industry big-wig turned Case Western professor, you will get a glimpse at the Dirk Gently Hollistic Insurance problem. Crash a major piece, and the ripples go everywhere. Pull out the exchanges, and the overall insurance pool drops. While that helps the insurer in the short term, it drives up costs/down profits to the drug companies, hospitals, pharmacies, etc. who were getting paid for the sicker patients. They all have to raise their prices to meet ther profit incentives or see their stock prices drop. So they raise their prices. This makes it worse for hospitals and other caregivers who are not able to turn away uncomepnsated care, or whose reimbursement rates are fixed by contract with insurers or Medicare/Medicaid. Hospitals have to either fail financially (which happens with alarming frequency), cut back on care, or increase the cost to the comepnsated care patients. The later, of course, drives up insurance for the remaining people who can afford it.

Rinse, lather, repeat.
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The Older I Get The Less I respect Political Scientists

Increasingly, as I read political science studies and political science articles, I lose respect for political science as a field. Why? Because it is increasingly divorced from actual politics. It has become a beaching ground for behavioral theorists and economists who apparently found those departments at their university of choice full.

I will grant, my big bugaboo on this at the moment is various statistical studies that are similar to what I see in economics and the worst kind of behavioral theorists. Now I am not opposed to statistical studies per se. But i became deeply suspicious of them when I got into designing them and debunking them starting with the national broadband plan in 2009. While it is totally possible to do a good statistical study on user preferences, user exerience or other things, it is just much much easier to do a really bad study and then dramatically over emphasize its meaning.

Sometimes this is deliberate. "Tell me the outcome you want and I will design the study" is a fairly well known industry trick. But a lot of time it proceeds from a rather simplistic idea about express preferences, implied preferences, and P values. And then discounting anything else that disagrees with your conclusion.

In fairness, however, much of the distortion also goes to press reports who find "nuance" too newsie.

Now lets stipulate that human beings are a tricky bunch, and not super good at self-reflection. People who proudly think of themselves as not racist or sexist are often a bundle of absolutely racist and sexist assumptions. What is less understood is how powerful these may be in any indiividual and what other connections may or may not counteract them. Additionally, we understand that exposure to different groups tends to reduce negative assocaitions -- but not always. People can, and do, make exceptions in their mind.

Importantly, as all these caveats indicate, it's a complicated phenomena. What I find more frustrtaing is the contradiction between discussion of racism and sexism (and even race and gender) as a social construct, while simultaneously treating them as immutable charatceristics.

Which brings me to the point of this rant. Vox's coverage of this study on Trump voters (again):
Racism and Sexism Predict Support For Trump Much More Than Economic Disatisfaction

Part of my issue here is a long-standing debate about the general maleability of people. I saw with my own eyes people say things in 2016 that they found offensive in 2015 without even realizing they had changed their mind. Why? Because racisim and sexism are indeed learned behaviors. If you hook up with Trump for one reason, and stay for others, you will start speaking the language and internalizing the culture.

It's also annoying because no one is saying that racism and sexism weren't involved. Of course they were. So this study finding that more racist or sexist you were the more likely you were to vote for Trump, whereas the "economic distress" category is less good as a predictor, should not be terribly interesting. (I also have problems with the measure of economic distress, which is all over the map on the post-mortem. There are lots of people who are employed at jobs with decent wages who voted Trump not because they are currently in distress, but because they fear the trends of offshoring and automation and believe that "they" are getting advantages "they" don't deserve.) As a political organizer, I don't find this information terribly useful or interesting because it fails to get at what's important to me -- how many people do I have to flip to win next time, and how do I flip them conssitent with my actual morals and goals. If the answer were "get them to be less racist or sexist," I'd be happier. But no one who focuses on race or gender in the political race seems to have an answer to the "how do you make them less racist or sexist" question other than "keep telling them what racists and sexists they are." As the author of the Vox article linked to above wrote in an earlier article, there is good scientifc evidence that while you can work to diminish racism and sexism, telling people how racist and sexist they are is not one of them.

All of which gets me back to "political scientists seem to know less and less about how politics works." The study is, at best, confirmatory that if you were racist and/or sexist, you gravitated toward Donald Trump, and being racist or sexist was a stronger indicator than mere conomic distress. But it doesn't tell us anything useful about combination, change over time, or why voters who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 suddenly became more racist.

I want more complex studies and better reporting, dammit.