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Jeffrey Yasskin
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Yonatan's posts are nearly always great:
 
The "broken windows" theory of crime prevention – that by cracking down on the visible symptoms of poverty and neglect, like broken windows or loitering, community norms would shift and other crime would decrease – has been popular for over 30 years. It comes chock-full of advantages, like requiring police departments to do things that are straightforward to achieve and measure, [1] but it has the basic problem that it doesn't seem to work.

New research is shedding deeper light on the underlying social processes which do work, however, and that's why this is a "Today I Learned" article instead of a "Politics, Society, and the Law" article. This team did a large-scale data analysis of Boston between 2011 and 2012, and found that the events (from arrest, 911, and 311 records) fell into a few natural categories: private neglect, like rats in buildings or parking on lawns; public denigration, like graffiti and broken windows; private conflict, like domestic and landlord-tenant disputes; public disorder, like reports of panhandlers and drunks; and public violence. They broke public violence down further into "basic" violence, violence involving guns, and homicides.

They compared how these different kinds of issue cropped up over space and time. While it wasn't possible to test if one thing caused another, it was possible to do what's called "cross-time correlation:" does having a lot of public denigration in a place, for example, correlate with having more public disorder or violence there later?

The answers were quite interesting. Unsurprisingly, the strongest correlations are between private conflict and public disorder and violence. Those, in turn, tend to feed back on themselves, sometimes escalating to guns, which are (by far) the main predictor of homicides. Perhaps more surprisingly, public denigration – the classic "broken windows" – showed no predictive power at all.

If we think about how conflicts tend to escalate, this makes a certain sense; if nobody had ever told you about "broken windows" theories, you would say that most fights (and murders) are between people who know each other, most fights start small and grow larger, fights between people can last a long time and spread to include other people, happen in private and in public, and so on, and probably more fights have their first origins in private than in public, but not by much.

The statements above probably seem pretty obvious, which is what made the broken windows idea seem so radical: it was upending all of this, suggesting that maybe the reason people thought it was OK to get into ever-escalating fights was the sense of decay around them, and if we just made everything look nicer, people would stop doing that.

It was a radical, but not crazy, idea; people do react to their surroundings and take cues from it. But the data increasingly seems to suggest that it's interesting, but wrong.

If this particular study has captured the real mechanisms – and as it's a study of just one city over one time window, it's far too small to give us real certainty of that – then it suggests that a more effective role for police would be to act as moderators of disputes, helping resolve and stop fights before they escalate. That's obviously a much harder job than ticketing panhandlers.

Of course, that answer may itself suffer from the blinders of asking "what can the police do?," when it's not obvious that the police are even the right mechanism. If there's one reliable pattern in sociological studies, it's that people don't become drug dealers, armed robbers, or junkies because they're stupid, inherently evil, or have some kind of cross-generational proclivity to do it; they do these things as fairly rational choices given an extremely limited set of options. [2]

That means that even murder is a symptom, rather than a cause, and actually fixing these problems will require answering deeper questions, like "why are people resolving their disputes by murder, rather than (say) talking it out, suing each other, or just moving away from each other?" In general, what we discover is that those alternatives aren't useful options to the people involved for various reasons which aren't always obvious to outsiders – and it's understanding that sort of thing which is the key to actually fixing things.


[1] And perhaps more importantly, it provides neat political narratives, as well as a good rationalization for policies that the public may want but not wish to admit to, such as forcibly removing the homeless or policing racial groups. The sad fact is that the politics of criminal law almost invariably boil down to something sordid.

[2] Even, perhaps especially, taking drugs. The key result is the famous "Rat Park" experiment (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rat_Park), which found the flaw in all those experiments that showed that rats will instantly become addicted to cocaine or heroin and take it until they die: the cages were confusing the experiment. When rats had an option of doing normal rat things or taking drugs, they had very little interest in drugs; they became addicted when it was a choice of that or being locked in a featureless white cage without drugs for months on end. This result has since been generalized beyond rats, but the key idea is there.
Why community policing should focus on helping to resolve personal and domestic disputes, not signs of physical decay.
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Jeffrey Yasskin

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This is my project at Google. If you're interested in Bluetooth access from web pages, please try it out and send us feedback on the API.
 
The Chrome Team is actively looking for enthusiastic developers² to try out the Web Bluetooth API¹ that allows web apps to interact with Bluetooth Low Energy devices starting in Chrome OS M45.
Learn more about it at  https://developers.google.com/web/updates/2015/07/interact-with-ble-devices-on-the-web.

¹ https://webbluetoothcg.github.io/web-bluetooth/
² you
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New research shows the city's congestion pricing reduces accidents by 40 percent.
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We should adopt it in NYC, if only the state would let us.
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Looks like the Chrome PDF viewer is finally going to get tables of contents: https://crbug.com/110020.
An open-source project to help move the web forward.
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When you hear something like "82% of people support labeling food containing GMOs", its easy to read too much into it. This poll found that 80% of respondents would support mandatory labels on foods containing DNA...
The latest edition of the Food Demand Survey (FooDS) is now out. We saw falls in consumer willingness-to-pay (WTP) for beef and pork products this month, and a slight uptick in WTP for chicken.  Expected prices and spending patterns remained similar to last month. Concern for all food issues rose, notably for bird flu and swine flu.  Consumers noticed fewer stories about GMOs in the news this month compared to last. We also added...
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We have all failed. We sciency folk have failed to communicate basic science to the public, and have let hysteria reign supreme.
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The Henry brothers, Asheem and Jelani, were born exactly one year apart to the day, in the warm Junes of 1991 and ‘92. "I always felt there was something special about that," says their mother...
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Jeffrey Yasskin

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It should be fairly obvious that discrimination imposes costs on the people being discriminated against. But if you think about it for a moment, it should also be fairly obvious that discrimination -- be it explicit or implicit -- also imposes costs on the economy as a whole.

The reason is fairly simple: if a market were truly "free" (with all the subtleties that that phrase entails), people would be doing what they're best at, in the way that rewards them the most. Discrimination is, by its nature, something that keeps people from doing what they want to. And general principles of economics tell us that, when resources are allocated inefficiently, the economy as a whole slows down.

More concretely, if there's someone who would have been a great doctor, but is instead forced by circumstance -- be it being the wrong race or growing up poor -- to be a janitor instead, then not only does she lose out on everything she would have gained as a doctor, but everyone else loses out on everything she would have done as a doctor.

This brings us to this rather interesting paper from four researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research, who wanted to put some numbers to this. (http://klenow.com/HHJK.pdf) For example, in 1960, 94% of doctors and lawyers were white men; in 2008, 62% were. Since there's no reason to believe that white men are intrinsically better at being doctors than anyone else, that gives us a way to estimate how many people would have been doctors who weren't. By building a mathematical model out of this, they estimate the real economic impact of discrimination -- and it turns out that somewhere between 15-20% of our total economic growth during that period comes from that.

For a sense of scale, during this time the inflation-adjusted GDP grew from $3.95T (in 2008 dollars) to $14.7T. That means that at the lower end of the estimate, the discrimination that went away between 1960 and 2008 was costing the US about $33 billion (in 2008 dollars, again) per year.

Note that this is just the aggregate cost to society as a whole, summed up between rich and poor. Obviously some people gained from this as well -- e.g., the people who became doctors who wouldn't have been able to, had the full pool of people who could have been doctors been allowed to participate. (And there's your next unsettling thought for the day: if you take the people who want to be doctors and line them up in order of how good a doctor they would be, and cut it off after you have enough doctors, you've got the best possible pool of doctors. If you take any one of them out of eligibility for some reason, then his replacement is mathematically guaranteed to be a worse doctor. You have just promoted some undeserving schmuck to perform surgery on you. Congratulations.) 

But leaving aside the question of how different people fared under this, consider as well: this difference accounts for all of the discrimination that went away between 1960 and 2008.

We have not, by any stretch of the imagination, gotten rid of all the discrimination. The girl growing up in the Appalachian back country, the boy growing up in Baltimore, the child of migrant farm workers, these people are not likely to be able to go to college, get a BA or MD, work in the job of their choice. 

When we talk about the economic costs of inequality, this is the sort of thing that really matters: not just the costs to those at the bottom, but the fact that inequality of opportunity has huge costs for society as a whole. Since in our society in particular, opportunity is greatly tied to existing resources -- consider anything from access to out-of-school enrichment, to having a good suit to wear to an interview, to knowing how to interview for a job in the first place (you learned that; it wasn't innate. You learned it from other people, and access to those people is a resource) -- resource inequality leads in turn to opportunity inequality, and that drags everyone down, even as it enriches the incompetent few.

Macroeconomics says: Trade makes everyone wealthier. You can't impoverish some people without that screwing everyone else over, as well. Trying to flout those laws tends to work about as well as trying to flout gravity: it might work really well, briefly. There's just that sudden stop at the end.


(Illustration via Paul Townsend: https://flic.kr/p/dVva6h. What goes up tends to come down somewhat rapidly, at times.)
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This is pretty cool:
 
Why Do We Age? A 46-Species Comparison Many species show bizarrely different patterns of aging. "Some organisms are the opposite of humans, becoming more likely to reproduce and less likely to die with each passing year. Others show a spike in both fertility and mortality in old age. Still others show no change in fertility or mortality over their entire lifespan."

SOURCES:

Nature: Diversity of ageing across the tree of life

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v505/n7482/full/nature12789.html

Full PDF: 

https://wolfr.am/4mDGDnzU

Businessinsider:

http://www.businessinsider.com.au/charts-will-change-how-you-think-about-aging-2015-3

Nationalgeographic:

http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/12/08/why-do-we-age-a-46-species-comparison

"Why we age is a tricky evolutionary question. A full set of DNA resides in each of our cells, after all, allowing most of them to replicate again and again and again. Why don’t all tissues regenerate forever? Wouldn’t that be evolutionarily advantageous?

Since the early 1950s, evolutionary biologists have come up with a few explanations, all of which boil down to this: As we get older, our fertility declines and our probability of dying — by bus collision, sword fight, disease, whatever — increases. That combination means that the genetic underpinnings of aging, whatever they are, don’t reveal themselves until after we reproduce. To use the lingo of evolutionary biology, they’re not subject to selective pressure. And that means that senescence, as W.D. Hamilton wrote in 1966, “is an inevitable outcome of evolution.”

Except when it’s not.

Today in Nature, evolutionary biologist Owen Jones and his colleagues have published a first-of-its-kind comparison of the aging patterns of humans and 45 other species. For folks (myself included) who tend to have a people-centric view of biology, the paper is a crazy, fun ride. Sure, some species are like us, with fertility waning and mortality skyrocketing over time. But lots of species show different patterns — bizarrely different. Some organisms are the opposite of humans, becoming more likely to reproduce and less likely to die with each passing year. Others show a spike in both fertility and mortality in old age. Still others show no change in fertility or mortality over their entire lifespan.

That diversity will be surprising to most people who work on human demography. “We’re a bit myopic. We think everything must behave in the same way that we do,” says Jones, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Southern Denmark. “But if you go and speak to someone who works on fish or crocodiles, you’d find that they probably wouldn’t be that surprised.”

What’s most interesting to Jones is not only the great diversity across the tree of life, but the patterns hidden within it. His study found, for example, that most vertebrates show similar patterns, whereas plants are far more variable. “You have to then begin to ask yourself, why are these patterns like they are?” he says. “This article is probably asking more questions than it’s answering.”

This sweeping comparison didn’t require particularly high-tech equipment; it could probably have been done a decade ago, if not before. But nobody had done it. One challenge is that it required a deep dive into the published literature to a) find the raw data on all of these species, and to b) get in touch with the researchers who conducted the field work to see if they’d be willing to share it.

After rounding up all of that data there was then the problem of standardizing it. Mortality and fertility rates of various organisms can differ by orders of magnitude. What’s more, for some species — like the white mangrove, red-legged frog, and hermit crab — this data comes from defined stages of development rather than across the entire lifespan. Jones got around these obstacles by defining “relative mortality” and “relative fertility” numbers for each species, calculated by dividing fertility or mortality rate at a particular age by the average rate across the organism’s entire lifespan. This allows for easy comparison across species, just by looking at the shapes of the curves.

“That’s what’s so disarming about it,” says David Reznick, a distinguished professor of biology at the University of California, Riverside, who was not involved in the new study. “They’ve come up with a way of putting everything on the same scale, so you can perceive patterns that have never been looked at before.”

The study shows, for example, that most mammals and, importantly, the species that scientists tend to use in the laboratory, such as C. elegans and Drosophila, have shapes like ours. But others are weird, at least from a human-centric view. Here’s a sampling:

“Some patterns have emerged in this paper that none of us knew were there,” says Reznick, who has studied aging patterns among different populations of guppies. “It’s crazy to think that we’ve been working on aging for so long and something as fundamental as this hasn’t been seen before.”

What the new study didn’t find, notably, is an association between lifespan and aging. It turns out that some species with pronounced aging (meaning those with mortality rates that increase sharply over time) live a long time, whereas others don’t. Same goes for the species that don’t age at all. Oarweed, for example, has a near-constant level of mortality over its life and lives about eight years. In contrast, Hydra, a microscopic freshwater animal, has constant mortality and lives a whopping 1,400 years.

This is a problem for the classical theories of aging that assume that mortality increases with age, notes Alan Cohen, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec.

“The traditional idea is that this is what most things do, and that there were a few weird creatures out there that were exceptions,” he says. “But there are actually a lot of exceptions.”

The question that the classical theories try to answer — How could aging evolve? — is no longer the most interesting question, Cohen adds. “What we really need to explain is why some things age and some don’t.”

Cohen is currently collaborating with Jones’s team to formulate a new theory that answers that question. (Stay tuned for more on this! I’ll be digging into all of the various theories over the next couple of months, as I work on a feature story for Mosaic, a new digital publication.)

Given my obsession with people, I asked some of these researchers what the new findings might mean for our understanding of human aging, which most of us would like to avoid. Will studying species that age like we do — or those that live 1,400 years, for that matter — help us defy age-related decline? Would these studies lead to treatments that might, say, double our lifespan?

Cohen politely reminded me that we have already figured out how to extend our lives. The new study, in addition to comparing 46 species, compared trajectories of three groups of humans: hunter-gatherers, those who were born in Sweden in 1881, and modern Japanese women. The differences are stark:

“In industrial societies, we continue on average to add about a year of lifespan every five years,” Cohen says, thanks to advances in public health, nutrition, and medical care. That’s pretty impressive, and likely to continue if we all eat well, exercise, and avoid stress and smoking, he says. “That’s not going to get us living to 200, but it might eventually get us to 110."

 #age #aging #biology #diversity #life #lifespan 
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Obama wants a public debate about encryption. Because we all know public debates by non-experts are so useful.

Let's simplify things.

You can have privacy (and so will some of the crooks).
Or you can trust the government with the keys to everything in your life.

And by "trust the government" I mean "trust that the 'good guys' won't misuse them, even though they already have", "trust that someone rogue in the government won't misuse them, even though they already have", and "trust that government security will keep the crooks (and foreign governments) from accessing them, even though they already have."

You can't have both. There's no happy compromise. There's no backdoor that can be opened only when law enforcement needs it. There's no debate to have here.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — President Barack Obama said Friday that he probably leans more toward strong computer data encryption than many in law enforcement, but added that he understands investigators’ concerns over the matter because…
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Woah, a comparison that BART does well on.
 
"""
Antenna set out to create an interface that mirrored the experience you might have buying an item in a corner store. Once you know what to look for, the resulting design is almost poetic in its ‘90s approach to imitating a bodega with a little R2D2 ticket kiosk. As I scroll through the MTA interface now, the corner store-ness shines through.
"""
Writer and illustrator Aaron Reiss investigates how to design a cleaner commute.
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Clipper is so much better when I visit!
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This sentence makes sense all the way up to the last word: "Roboto has been refined extensively to work across the wider set of supported platforms. It is slightly wider and rounder, giving it greater clarity and making it more optimistic."
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+Daniel Egnor Technically, "more optimistic" could refer to merely an iota of increase in optimism.  It doesn't specify how much :)
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