Thursday, August 30, 2012


Harvard College’s disciplinary board is investigating nearly half of the 279 students who enrolled in Government 1310: "Introduction to Congress" last spring for allegedly plagiarizing answers or inappropriately collaborating on the class’ final take-home exam.

Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris said the magnitude of the case was “unprecedented in anyone’s living memory.” ...

The professor of the course brought the case to the Administrative Board in May after noticing similarities in 10 to 20 exams, Harris said. During the summer, the Ad Board conducted a review of all final exams submitted for the course and found about 125 of them to be suspicious.

If found guilty of academic dishonesty, students could be required to withdraw from the College for a year, among other possible sanctions.
--Rebecca Robbins, Crimson, on shoplifting after winning the lottery

Sunday, August 26, 2012

An unforeseen risk of arranged marriage

My [Indian] father saw my mother once before they got married. He loves to shock Americans by recounting how he lost sight of her at a bazaar the day after their wedding and lamented to himself that he would never find her again, as he’d forgotten what she looked like.

The post-Moonwalk letdown

None of [the Apollo astronauts] found celebrity easy, least of all the crew of Apollo 11, for whom there were no predecessors to show them how it was done. Caught between a celestial rock and a hard place, it was clear that there was little future for them as astronauts and they possessed no other obvious marketable skills, save their celebrity, for the management of which they had no training at all. They were world famous but they were on the same basic pay rates as other US military officers: most were captains, making about $17,000 a year. (On their missions to the Moon, they were entitled only to the standard $8 per diem for being away from base, with deductions for ‘accommodation’ provided in the spaceship.)

And so, at the most mundane level, all were faced with problems of re-entry into the civilian economy. Only Young was still working for Nasa when the interviews for Moondust were done. He retired at the end of 2004... Others cashed in any way they could. Some sold real estate; some went into business (beer distribution, insurance, cable TV, small airlines, tugboats, a minor oil company); some consulted for TV shows and movies dealing with space travel; one or two took on the role of salesmen for the commercial potential of further lunar exploration... Armstrong held a university position in aerospace engineering during the 1970s, and Schmitt served one term as a Republican senator from New Mexico. Many were sought after as corporate front men, doing nothing more specific than lending their names to whatever business it was whose customers might want to meet a Moon Man. ...

There was, of course, a series of ‘as told to’ books, and there was public speaking, though none of the Moon Men seems to have enjoyed it or was much good at it, and Armstrong and Young are Mogadon Men of the highest order. There are fees for appearances at Star Trek conventions, where the TV actors tend to draw bigger crowds than the real thing. Autographs bring in a reliable stream of revenue for the majority of astronauts willing to meet the demand. Armstrong stopped signing about ten years ago, so his are scarce and expensive. Personal autograph fees range from about $20 to much more than that for signatures on rare documents or autographs that complete an Apollo set. An ‘authenticated’ signed Neil Armstrong photograph retails online at $2495, while bidding for either a Charlie Duke or an Al Bean autographed postcard on eBay starts as low as $19.99. There is a sad-making account in Moondust of Gordon sitting practically alone at his signing-table at a Trekkie convention in Las Vegas. ...

After their missions were over, there was depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, wife and child abuse. Divorce was the norm. Some divorces followed hard on return from the Moon; Young’s occurred before his flight. Rock-star celebrity brought the usual number of groupies and some of the wives were already on the edge because of what they had to put up with during their husbands’ extended training and the mission itself.
--Steven Shapin, London Review of Books, on the cost of unmatchable early-life glory. HT: Marginal Revolution

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Heart reaction to first moon landing

Men have landed and walked on the moon. ...

Although Mr. Armstrong is known as a man of few words, his heartbeats told of his excitement upon leading man's first landing on the moon.

At the time of the descent rocket ignition, his heartbeat rate registered 110 a minute -- 77 is normal for him -- and it shot up to 156 at touchdown.
--John Noble Wilford, NYT, July 21, 1969

Friday, August 10, 2012

Medical student bullying

And early studies found that abuse of medical students was most pronounced in the third year of medical school, when students began working one on one or in small teams with senior physicians and residents in the hospital. The first surveys found that as many as 85 percent of students felt they had been abused during their third year. They described mistreatment that ranged from being yelled at and told they were “worthless” or “the stupidest medical student,” to being threatened with bad grades or a ruined career and even getting hit, pushed or made the target of a thrown medical tool. ...

Starting in 1995, educators at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, began instituting a series of schoolwide reforms. They adopted policies to reduce abuse and promote prevention; established a Gender and Power Abuse Committee, mandated lectures, workshops and training sessions for students, residents and faculty members; and created an office to accept confidential reports, investigate and then address allegations of mistreatment.

To gauge the effectiveness of these initiatives, the school also began asking all students at the end of their third year to complete a five-question survey on whether they felt they had been mistreated over the course of the year.

The school has just published the sobering results of the surveys over the last 13 years. While there appears to have been a slight drop in the numbers of students who report experiencing mistreatment, more than half of all medical students still said that they had been intimidated or physically or verbally harassed.

Students described being yelled at, pushed and threatened. One student recounted being slapped on the hand by a more senior doctor who said, “If teaching doesn’t help you learn, then pain will.” Some students wrote about racial insults, with senior staff members making noises to mimic a foreign language; others reported being grabbed, asked out on a date or passed over because of their sex.

U.C.L.A.’s experience is not isolated. In fact, national medical education surveys that include questions about mistreatment indicate that the environment at that school is about average.
--Pauline Chen, NYT, on why your doctor might not be so nice

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Anti-conservative discrimination in academic social psychology

Just over 37 percent of [social psychologists] surveyed said that, given equally qualified candidates for a job, they would support the hiring of a liberal candidate over a conservative candidate. Smaller percentages agreed that a "conservative perspective" would negatively influence their odds of supporting a paper for inclusion in a journal or a proposal for a grant. (The final version of the paper is not yet available, but an early version may be found on the website of the Social Science Research Network.) ...

"The questions were pretty blatant. We didn't expect people would give those answers," said Yoel Inbar, a co-author, who is a visiting assistant professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and an assistant professor of social psychology at Tilburg University, in the Netherlands. ...

Members of a social psychologists' e-mail list were surveyed twice. (The group is not limited to American social scientists or faculty members, but about 90 percent are academics, including grad students, and more than 80 percent are Americans.) Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of those surveyed identified as liberal on social, foreign and economic policy, with the strongest conservative presence on economic policy. Only 6 percent described themselves as conservative over all.

The questions on willingness to discriminate against conservatives were asked in two ways: what the respondents thought they would do, and what they thought their colleagues would do. The pool included conservatives (who presumably aren't discriminating against conservatives) so the liberal response rates may be a bit higher, Inbar said.

The percentages below reflect those who gave a score of 4 or higher on a 7-point scale on how likely they would be to do something (with 4 being "somewhat" likely).

Percentages of Social Psychologists Who Would Be Biased in Various Ways
A "politically conservative perspective" by author would have a negative influence on evaluation of a paper18.6%34.2%
A "politically conservative perspective" by author would have a negative influence on evaluation of a grant proposal23.8%36.9%
Would be reluctant to extend symposium invitation to a colleague who is "politically quite conservative"14.0%29.6%
Would vote for liberal over conservative job candidate if they were equally qualified37.5%44.1%

The more liberal the survey respondents identified as being, the more likely they were to say that they would discriminate. ...

If you are wondering about the political leanings of the social psychologists who conducted the study, they are on the left. Inbar said he describes himself as "a pretty doctrinaire liberal," who volunteered for the Obama campaign in 2008 and who votes Democrat. His co-author, Joris Lammers of Tilburg, is to Inbar's left, he said.
--Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, on maintaining ideological purity. HT: Marginal Revolution

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The secret to looking good on TV

At one point, I asked [Kelsey Grammer] what is it about certain people that make their faces appealing on the screen while other people, who might be better-looking or more attractive in some other way, just don’t have that appeal? He answered immediately: “Head size. Most successful actors have really big heads.” Physiologically, he meant.
--Stephen Dubner, Freakonomics, on bobble heads

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Hiring somebody else to serve your prison sentence

In May 2009, a wealthy 20-year-old [Hu Bin] was drag racing through the city streets of Hangzhou, China, when his Mitsubishi struck and killed a pedestrian in a crosswalk. ...

But the most stunning allegation was that the man appearing in court and serving the three-year sentence wasn’t Hu at all, but a hired body double.

The charge isn’t as far-fetched as it may sound. The practice of hiring “body doubles” or “stand-ins” is well-documented by official Chinese media. ... In another case, after hitting and killing a motorcyclist, a man driving without a license hired a substitute for roughly $8,000. The owner of a demolition company that illegally demolished a home earlier this year hired a destitute man, who made his living scavenging in the rubble of razed homes, and promised him $31 for each day the “body double” spent in jail. In China, the practice is so common that there is even a term for it: ding zui. Ding means “substitute,” and zui means “crime”; in other words, “substitute criminal.” ...

“Replacement convicts” are not new. For centuries, the use of criminal substitutes was among the first things Westerners would mention when discussing China’s legal system. Missionary and traveler Karl Gützlaff in 1834, French legal scholar Édouard Louis Joseph Bonnier in 1862, and American scholar Owen Lattimore in the 1930s wrote about the practice. ...

Incredibly, substitutes could be hired even for executions. Nineteenth-century traveler Julius Berncastle, the Qing Dynasty author De Fu, and the legal scholar John Bruce Norton each described substitute executions as regular events. ...

Some imperial Chinese officials who admitted to the use of substitute criminals justified its effectiveness. After all, the real criminal was punished by paying out the market value of his crime, while the stand-in’s punishment intimidated other criminals, keeping the overall crime rate low. In other words, a “cap-and-trade” policy for crime.
--Geoffrey Sant, Slate, on substitutionary atonement