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Are the “Best” Airlines Environmentally Friendly?

March 31, 2015 1 comment

Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal recently released its 2014 rankings of major airlines, as determined by evaluating the carriers according to seven different factors, including on-time arrivals, cancelled flights, mishandled baggage, and complaints. Environmental-impact factors were not included in the Journal’s analysis. Here are the Journal’s results:

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FiveThirtyEight also recently released a ranking of major airlines, but their analysis focused exclusively on environmental impact. More specifically, FiveThirtyEight ranked carriers based on fuel efficiency:

The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), an independent nonprofit funded by private foundations and entities such as the UE and World Bank, has been tracking airline fuel efficiency since 2010. Its latest report found no overall net gain in fuel efficiency from 2012 to 2013, and a 27 percent gap between the three most efficient carriers — Alaska, Spirit and Frontier Airlines— and the least efficient one, American Airlines.

The report’s “fuel efficiency score” is a unitless measure calculated using an airline’s revenue passenger miles, the number of airports it serves and its flight frequency per unit of fuel burned. A score of 1.00 is the industry average. The greater the number, the better the efficiency.

Here are their results:

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As the following crude chart indicates, setting aside outliers like Alaska and American, there generally appears to be an inverse relationship between consumer satisfaction and fuel efficiency:

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This chart plots the eight airlines appearing in both reports according to their ranks for consumer satisfaction (WSJ) and fuel efficiency (FiveThirtyEight), a larger number being “better” (i.e., greater consumer satisfaction or greater fuel efficiency). As plotted, Frontier, Southwest, JetBlue, Delta, and Virgin American illustrate an unmistakable inverse relationship between consumer satisfaction and fuel efficiency: as the former increases, the latter decreases. The two extreme outliers are Alaska, which earned top marks for both consumer satisfaction and fuel efficiency, and American, which was ranked second-worst in consumer satisfaction and worst in fuel efficiency.   Read more…

Getting a Better Grip on Guns in Airports

February 27, 2015 1 comment

Last month, the digitally minded folks at FiveThirtyEight set out to answer a simple question: How many guns has the United States Transportation Administration confiscated at each U.S. airport? The TSA gave them the answer, in terms of both loaded and unloaded guns confiscated per airport. FiveThirtyEight presented this data as a list of airports, ranked in descending order by total guns confiscated. They then drew some general conclusions from the data, as presented (e.g., “Airports in Texas and Florida dominate the list” and “Do a quick gun-check the next time you’re about to head to the airport, it’ll save us all a lot of time”).

The brief critique of FiveThirtyEight’s post is that the site has added nothing to the understanding of this subject, beyond doing what, presumably, anyone else could do– request the data from TSA and list it in a simple chart– and no more. (Indeed, numerous news sites posted similar reports around the same time.)

Upon almost immediate reflection, it should be of negligible surprise that the airports that appear atop the list– Atlanta, Dallas/Fort Worth, Phoenix, both Houston airports, and Denver– are among the most heavily utilized airports in the country. Keeping in mind that, in general, the passengers from whom TSA is confiscating guns at a given airport are on flights originating from that airport, the painfully obvious question of actual value to this conversation is, at which airports did TSA confiscate a disproportionate number of guns relative to the number of passengers at that particular airport? With more than a little help from some friends, including readers Mitch and Rusty, the answer to that question follows.   Read more…

Categories: Discourse, Information

The Wall Street Journal Journal for January 16, 2015

January 16, 2015 Leave a comment

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Stock spiked up out of the gate this morning, reacting to overnight news of a legal détente between two liquidity trading firms. The sharp upswing stalled and eventually vanished as the market digested new uncertainty in the mammalian employment and licensure sectors. Traders soon erased the losses of the morning, and nearly the week, however, mounting a breathless climb in fitting tribute to a fallen brand, ending the day up over two-hundred points.

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Stocks end 5-day losing streak: Dow gains about 200

Categories: Current, Discourse, Information

The Wall Street Journal Journal for January 15, 2015

January 15, 2015 Leave a comment

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Morning trading reflected the market’s equivocation over reports of a global currency crash. By midday, stocks had fallen and remained down through the closing bell in response to increased racial tensions on the West Coast.

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S&P 500 under 2000 for first time since Dec. 16

Categories: Current, Discourse, Information

The Wall Street Journal Journal for January 14, 2015

January 14, 2015 3 comments

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Stocks fell precipitously today as a result of sweeping fears that the planet is growing larger. Already four-hundred points off yesterday‘s low, the market ticked up slightly in midmorning trading as it attempted to interpret mixed news from the Italian commodities market. However, the announcement of a widespread pork shortage crushed any hope for a sustainable gain, and the market continued to tumble closed.

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 Stock plunge deepens: Dow closes down fourth-straight session

Categories: Current, Discourse, Information

The Wall Street Journal Journal for January 13, 2015

January 14, 2015 Leave a comment

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At the opening bell, stocks spiked up on overnight news of the award of a large public-works contract to a state agency in the rust belt, but the rally stalled and, by early afternoon, reversed course after it was revealed that the cover of targeted French magazine Charlie Hebdo’s first post-attack issue would feature a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad.

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Stock gains evaporate: Benchmarks end in red

 

Categories: Current, Discourse, Information

The Value of Anonymity

September 30, 2014 Leave a comment

Two of the results of the widespread availability of the virtual printing press that is the internet are an increase in published criticism and, in reaction to that increase in criticism, an increased demand for people to publish their material, and particularly their critical material, under their own names. Part of this second result is borne out of a demand for authenticity: we want to know that the things we see and read online are real. Another comes from a voiced desire of the criticized to know their critics. The foundational concept is a belief that people are unlikely to publish false, baseless, or mean-spirited commentary under their own name, because they likely would suffer adverse consequences. In essence, anonymity is harmful to public discourse because it allows people to participate in public discourse without consequences.

Anonymity is not all bad, however. As evidenced by the success of increasingly openly partisan cable news networks, people prefer to receive information and discuss issues with others they already know they agree with. It seems likely that people decide what they think about an article, or even whether they are going to read it at all, simply by referencing source identification material. Republicans disregard MSNBC and the New York Times, to which Democrats flock while disregarding Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, to which Republicans flock. The point is not that these are necessarily insightful, intelligent, or worthwhile information sources, but that context matters in deciding how– or whether– people approach offered ideas, content, information, or potential conversations.

Anonymity can make discourse more robust because it necessarily emphasizes content over source-information context. Readers and listeners must engage with the idea or ideas presented because there is nothing else. Without preconceived expectations, people are more likely to consider an opinion they otherwise would ignore or find a new way of understanding an idea with which they already generally agreed, all of which can lead to more meaningful exchanges of ideas and reassessments of one’s own views.

The Internet’s Thin Veil

June 29, 2014 Leave a comment

Setting aside the net neutrality policy debate, the internet’s level publishing platform does not seem to have allowed for a multitude of dislocated voices so much as a partial reorganization of collective publishing entities in a way that is not so different from the newspapers and magazines that controlled periodical publication during the wholly print era. For those writers coming of age today, the internet’s vastness actually may make it even more difficult to catch the eye of those in control of the most well-attended publishing outlets.

What may be different today, though, is the relative ease with which readers may examine an individual’s writings, musings, exercises, and even drafts posted online before the individual accepted an invitation to join a popular publishing platform. Sometimes, as in the case of Clay Travis, who posted multiple unfavorable comments of Fox Sports not long before accepting an offer to join the network, it is quite easy to find this content. Other times, a small mistake can unlock a trove of old material.    Read more…

Why Are We Conducting Obviously Flawed Science?

October 16, 2013 6 comments

A study making headlines today purports to conclude that Oreo cookies are “just as addictive as cocaine.” If a scientific study showed that a popular snack food had the addictive properties of a narcotic substance, popular press headlines would be appropriate. The study in question plainly does not support that conclusion, however.

The researchers conducted the study as follows:

On one side of a maze, they would give hungry rats Oreos and on the other, they would give them a control – in this case, rice cakes. . . . Then, they would give the rats the option of spending time on either side of the maze and measure how long they would spend on the side where they were typically fed Oreos.
. . .

They compared the results of the Oreo and rice cake test with results from rats that were given an injection of cocaine or morphine, known addictive substances, on one side of the maze and a shot of saline on the other. Professor Schroeder is licensed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to purchase and use controlled substances for research.

The research showed the rats conditioned with Oreos spent as much time on the “drug” side of the maze as the rats conditioned with cocaine or morphine.

From these two independent tests, it only seems possible to draw two independent conclusions: 1) rats like Oreos more than rice cakes, and 2) rats like cocaine or morphine more than saline. Plainly, because the testing did not directly compare Oreos and cocaine, it would be inappropriate to draw a conclusion that directly compares Oreos and cocaine.

From these two, independent tests, we do not know whether rats prefer Oreos in equal measure, for example, to cocaine. One seemingly easy way to find out would have been to ask them directly to choose between Oreos and cocaine, and it is strange that the researchers did not conduct such a test.

The testing conducted also appears to conflate preferentiality with addictiveness. Establishing that “hungry rats” consistently prefer one type of food over another does not necessarily mean that they are addicted to the preferred food option. The addictive force in a person would seem to be stronger than and fundamentally different from a mere preferential force; indeed, the power of addiction is that it can compel a being to act against its preferences in order to serve the addiction.

All we know from this research is that hungry rats would rather eat Oreos than rice cakes, not that the Oreos were “addicting” in a non-colloquial sense. A behavioral test for Oreos’ addictive properties might be whether rats choose Oreos over other, equally or more desirable food, or whether they eat Oreos even when they are not hungry, or otherwise consume Oreos to their detriment.

Addiction surely has a neurological component as well, but again, the difference between preference (or pleasure) and addiction (or need) would seem to be important. In follow-up research, one of the student-researchers conducted some neurological testing:

They used immunohistochemistry to measure the expression of a protein called c-Fos, a marker of neuronal activation, in the nucleus accumbens, or the brain’s “pleasure center.”

“It basically tells us how many cells were turned on in a specific region of the brain in response to the drugs or Oreos,” said Schroeder.

They found that the Oreos activated significantly more neurons than cocaine or morphine.

“This correlated well with our behavioral results and lends support to the hypothesis that high-fat/ high-sugar foods are addictive,” said Schroeder.

That we derive more pleasure from consuming Oreos than from consuming cocaine or morphine is interesting, but it does not necessarily mean that consuming Oreos creates the pervasive neurological shift that constitutes addiction. (This is probably why the researchers only describe a “correlat[ion]” on this point.)

As someone without formal neuroscience training, my assessment of this study and the conclusions drawn from it certainly may be incorrect, but my criticism seems obvious, appropriate, and easily addressed (and remedied, if necessary). I do not mean to suggest that this Connecticut College group is the only scientific research team susceptible to this critique, as the popular science news contains plenty of examples. Maybe something that seems obvious– Why not compare Oreos and cocaine directly?– to a lay reader like me would never occur to the trained researchers because it is not a scientifically relevant inquiry. If the scientific community wants to present its work to a popular audience, however, it should shed the thin veneer of social justice concerns, which the Connecticut College group attempted to apply, and focus on addressing that audience’s natural curiosities, which are particularly likely to arise in response to sensational headlines like “Oreos as ‘addictive as cocaine.’

Supreme Court Justice Takes a Micro View of Microbiology

June 14, 2013 6 comments

As the Supreme Court’s term winds down, the Court has begun releasing its opinions in some of the term’s more controversial cases. Yesterday, it issued its unanimous opinion, authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, in Assoc. for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., 569 U.S. ___ (2013), in which it held that naturally occurring DNA is a product of nature and cannot be patented, but that synthetic DNA is patent eligible.

While the Court’s decision was unanimous, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote separately, concurring in part and concurring in the judgment of the Court’s opinion, to add the following:

I join the judgment of the Court, and all of its opinion except Part I-A and some portions of the rest of the opinion going into fine details of molecular biology. I am unable to affirm those details on my own knowledge or even my own belief. It suffices for me to affirm, having studied the opinions below and the expert briefs presented here, that the portion of DNA isolated from its natural state sought to be patented is identical to that portion of the DNA in its natural state; and that complimentary DNA (cDNA) is a synthetic creation not normally present in nature.

Myriad Genetics, 569 U.S. at ___ (Scalia, J., concurring).

Part I-A of the Court’s opinion, which Scalia would not join, is an introductory section, which begins, “Genes form the basis for hereditary traits in living organisms.” Id. From there, it sets out, over the course of four paragraphs, some background facts about DNA and genetic science.

Many might consider Part I-A to be “high-school-level stuff,” leading to the Gawker headline, “Antonin Scalia Does Not Believe In Molecular Biology.” After all, he did write that he was “unable to affirm those details [contained in Part I-A] on my own knowledge or even my own belief.” But is that what he really meant?

The next sentence is telling: “It suffices for me to affirm, having studied the opinions below and the expert briefs presented here, that . . . .” The first clause, “It suffices for me to affirm,” evidences Scalia’s view that Part I-A is superfluous. “High-school-level stuff.” Not necessary to be included in the Court’s conclusion. Pointing out that the majority opinion contains some fluff does not seem like a reason to file a separate concurrence, however brief, though.

The second clause is more interesting: “. . . having studied the opinions below and the expert briefs presented here . . . .” It is that clause, I think, that illustrates the purpose of Scalia’s separate concurrence. His mission appears to be one of resisting the Court’s engaging in its own fact finding.

The general rule is that the determination of facts in a case is something that happens at trial; once a case goes up on appeal, there is no opportunity to introduce additional evidence. Further, and subject only to narrow exception, neither trial courts nor appellate courts should be conducting their own factual investigations or presenting evidence of their own determination in a case. What Scalia appears to be doing with his concurrence in Myriad Genetics is reminding the Court, sitting as an appellate court, that the material that it may consider in rendering its opinion generally is limited to “the opinions below and the expert briefs presented here.” The factual information contained in Part I-A of the majority opinion, however elementary, had not been previously introduced in the case (we can assume).

Scalia has made this same point as recently as the City of Arlington v. FCC case earlier this term. There, Scalia wrote the majority opinion. In the first footnote, after he introduced one of the parties, he wrote:

This is not a typographical error. CTIA–The Wireless Association was the name of the petitioner. CTIA is presumably an (unpronounceable) acronym, but even the organization’s website does not say what it stands for. That secret, known only to wireless-service-provider insiders, we will not disclose here.

City of Arlington, 569 U.S. ___, n. 1 (2013). Some called this footnote “really dumb” and “silly.” I think it is petty, but I also think it is getting at the same point he was pressing in his Myriad Genetics concurrence: the Court’s review of factual information pertinent to a case before it generally is limited to the information the parties present to it. The converse provides a basic lesson for litigants: be sure to present a court with all of the information it needs to reach a ruling.

Granted, neither Myriad Genetics nor City of Arlington raised an issue of judicial factfinding that affected the merits of those cases. Perhaps Scalia simply saw a safe opportunity to make a point of technical judicial minutiae. Perhaps he simply was being a stick in the mud. Both possibilities seem equally likely. A third possibility, suggested by a comment on the Gawker post, is that Scalia’s Myriad Genetics concurrence was an exercise in humility, “a confession that there are some things ol’ Antonin just doesn’t know.” To say the least, such a confession would seem out of character for Scalia.

Categories: Current, Information, Legal