Sunday, September 7, 2014

Single Payer Petition

I have been busy with teaching and working so it's been harder to find time to blog but I have been using examples from the blog to teach with.  My organization, Healthcare for all PA is circulating an online petition.  You can sign it here.

Signing closes on Tuesday 9/9.  

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Testing Fairness, Outliers, and Racism

Oftentimes the importance of an issue isn't realized until it hits home.  The film Stand and Deliver tells the story of math teacher Jaime Escalante who's students (20 in total) all passed the advanced placement (AP) Calculus test in the 1980s.  The education testing service (ETS) (which administers the AP test as well as the SAT and a host of other standardized tests) thought the results were an outlier and launched an investigation into whether or not the students cheated on the exam.  In the clip above, Escalante (played by Edward James Olmos) confronts the investigators (one of them is played by Andy Garcia) from ETS and questions the motives behind the investigation.  He argues that the results would not be questioned if the students were from Beverly Hills.  The investigation later proved that the students passed the test legitimately as the students had to retake the test and all passed with a score of three or more.  The ETS investigators were just doing their job and anomalies have to be investigated but the way in which they are investigated can show bias.

Bias in testing is a universal problem and how the results are interpreted is certainly an inflammatory issue with a lot of time and energy spent to correct and quantify it.  As the prevalence of high stakes testing has increased, authentic cases of cheating have occurred as school funding is now tied to the results of those tests under the No Child Left Behind Act.  Recent cases of cheating on standardized tests have involved the principals and teachers supplying the answers to the students in hopes of improving school funding.  The photo below is of an art installation of an education student's opinion of high stakes testing.

The issues have changed little since Escalante's passed the AP test.  Policy makers often use the results of tests to demonstrate With the new ways tests are now administered the potential for cheating and questioning of results should increase exponentially. 

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Friday, August 8, 2014

Single-payer health care would better control costs (Letter to the Editor in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

I have a letter to the editor published in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette in response to an editorial there on the closing of hospitals since 2000.  The image below is from the paper and is a $100 bill being used as a tongue depressor.

The Frayed Safety Net editorial does raise some important issues in the availability of medical services in Allegheny, Beaver, Fayette, and Westmoreland counties since 2000. It cites the ‘decade’s long decline’ in the population of the four counties as the reason for 11 out of the 39 hospitals being closed since 2000. While it is true that the population in these four counties has decreased 13.9% since 1980 to 2012 (the most recent year estimates are available from the Census Bureau) it has only decreased 4.2% since the year 2000. The closure of hospitals since 2000 has resulted in a 28.2% decrease (11 divided by 39) in the number of hospitals which is disproportionate to population decline even if you consider the change since 1980. It seems that cost is a much bigger factor driving hospital closures than population. 

The editorial was right to commend The Cleveland Clinic for building clinics in places where they had to close hospitals. The Clinic is a true non profit organization dedicated to serving their populations. UPMC and Highmark, while technically also non profits, often behave as Fortune 500 companies as has been shown in the current battles these organizations are involved. A for profit healthcare system cannot adequately serve their populations whether it be under the Affordable Care Act or not. A single payer system is far more efficient in providing care and controlling costs.

Paul Ricci
Stanton Heights
Healthcare For All PA 

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The National Review Takes on Neil Degrasse Tyson and Nerd (God I hate that word) Culture

This month The National Review published an article by Charles C. W. Cooke skewering Neil DeGrasse Tyson and what he calls the new "Nerd (God I hate that word) Culture' where individuals adopt characteristics of a culture to look cool.  Cooke begins with a discussion of the clip below from the TV show Portlandia where a beautiful blonde states that she wants to give up modeling because she saw The Avengers 2 which makes her a nerd (did I mention I hate that word I'm calling it my N word from here on out this link will tell you why).  The video below shows what happens next.

On Real Time with Bill Maher, Tyson responded to the article as can be seen in the clip below.  Maher stated that conservatives hate Tyson.  Tyson responded by saying that N words (at comic con) tend to vote democratic and the right wishes that more N words would vote with their side.

The article doesn't denounce Tyson so much as N word culture.  It does say that just because you attend comic con doesn't make you a bonafide intellectual.   I don't read comic books or go to comic-con conventions.  They hate the 60's Batman TV series, I think it's hilarious. Cooke correctly criticizes those argue in favor of climate change while not really understanding the theory.  This he claims is a result of the wedding of Hollywood, science, and politics.

The article did not mention climate change or evolution but it did talk about how N word culture shuns researchers Cooke admires such as Charles Murray (author of the Bell Curve which argues for a racial hierarchy of intelligence) and anti transsexual Paul McHugh.  Cooke also claimed that there was conclusive evidence that the government programs Medicaid and Head Start do not work (I've read considerable evidence to the contrary).  

With all of this complaining about the supposed snobbery of those who engage in intellectual pursuits, I'm reminded of the founder of The National Review, William F. Buckley who debated Noam Chomsky in this clip about US foreign policy,  Both men engage in high sounding words but Chomsky speaks in opposition to US power while Buckley is in favor of the war in Vietnam.  Snobbery is only a problem when you're on the short end.

Understanding of complex phenomenon is aided by presenting scientific principles in novel ways as the series Cosmos did in 1980 and in 2014.  The science was sound but it did not jive with what the right wanted to hear at least with the 2014 version.  I don't know if the National Review criticized Carl Sagan and the original Cosmos but SCTV did a pretty good spoof of both of them in The Battle of the PBS stars.

**Related Posts**

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Trends in the Uninsured are Flat by Race and Gender for Pennsylvania

The Small Area Health Insurance Estimates (SAHIE) for Pennsylvania can be broken down by gender at the state and county level and by ethnicity at the state level only.
For race the trends can be seen in the table below. The trends for the three groups were similar with Hispanics having rates more than double that of whites with African Americans being in between.
State Uninsured % by Race
All Races-PA10.611.712.112.011.7
African American15.
The breakdown by gender for the state and Allegheny County (as an example) are presented below. The rates were lower for Allegheny County than the state as a whole. The rates form men were consistently higher than for women in both PA and Allegheny County. The trends for men and women were different with male rates increasing in 2009 and then leveling off. For women the rate increased steadily from 2008-2010 and then leveled off. The numbers for 2013 should be out later this year to give an idea of the impact of full implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
State and Allegheny Co. % Uninsured by Gender

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Patriotic Projections and Calculations

I know I've been away for awhile between my last post and the one before that.  Hope you had a good time on the 4th.  There has been some podcasts in conjunction with the holiday.  The first was on NPR's science Friday where Dr. Edward Frenkel discusses how understanding math enables citizens to better question authority which is their patriotic duty.  He gives examples of how the consumer price index was manipulated to reduce the deficit and many in Congress did not think critically about what was being done.  It did reduce the deficit but it cut the cost of living adjustments to social security benefits hurting millions of elderly, the disabled, and children who've lost parents.  

Another recent podcast on Inquiring Minds discusses how math is taught and how it can also be used as a way of separating fact from fiction.  Of course this site also uses math and statistics so I'm in complete agreement with what they say.for a change.  Here are other patriotic math games for kids. Questioning is patriotic but so are facts.


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