Friday, December 13, 2019

Outdated... On How Snopes Judged The Verity Of A Case About The Steubenville Rape.

The case was this one:

In late 2019, a years-old story about a hacker sentenced to prison in a case stemming from the infamous Steubenville High School rape in Ohio circulated on social media, even though the subject of the story had already been released from prison.
The story in question originated on the Russian government-funded network RT with the headline, “Hacker who helped expose Ohio rape case pleads guilty, faces more prison time than rapists.” It was published on Nov. 25, 2016, and reported on the indictment of Deric Lostutter.
Here are the facts: When Lostutter was indicted in July 2016, the then-29-year-old faced up to 16 years in prison. And when Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16, both of whom were Steubenville High School football players, were convicted of raping a girl and distributing images of the assault on social media in 2013, Mays was sentenced to two years in juvenile detention while Richmond received a one-year sentence.

To complete that summary, note that Deric Lostutter's hacking was reported earlier by the Rolling Stone magazine in November of 2013:

On November 25th, the most notorious rape case in recent memory took yet another shocking twist. In Steubenville, Ohio, where a 16-year-old girl was raped by two high school football players in August 2012, a grand jury indicted the city’s School Superintendent, Michael McVey, on felony charges of tampering with evidence and obstructing justice. An elementary school principal and two coaches in the district were indicted as well, facing misdemeanor charges including failure to report child abuse and making false statements.
Shortly after the news hit that morning, Deric Lostutter, a skinny, scruffy 26-year-old programmer in Lexington, Kentucky, whipped out his cell phone and texted me a message. “We were called liars and more,” he wrote, but “we were right about it.” He had reason to feel vindicated. As one of the most notorious members of the hacker collective, Anonymous, Lostutter battled to bring justice to Steubenville, exposing secrets of a town that’s still reeling from the fallout today. He just never expected that he’d get raided by the FBI, and face more prison time than the rapists in the end.

Thus, it is not true that the original story came from RT, the Russian government-funded network, because it had already been reported in US media, though RT re-ignited the conversation.

Snopes' final assessment of the truth of all this is "outdated!"  The author of the Snopes post makes good comments about the difficulty of comparing federal and state sentences with each other and about the different age categories of the Steubenville rapists and the hacker (the latter was an adult in 2013, the former were not).  But "outdated?"

Here's the justification for that Snopes decision:

Because this story is years old at the time of this writing, and every person incarcerated has now served time and been released, we are rating this claim “Outdated.” We further note that because of the varying factors in each case, they make poor comparisons. Also, Lostutter did not serve more time in prison than one of the Steubenville rape defendants served in juvenile detention.

I disagree with that take on the story as outdated.   

Snopes tells us that they use "outdated" when "[the] rating applies to items for which subsequent events have rendered their original truth rating irrelevant (e.g., a condition that was the subject of protest has been rectified, or the passage of a controversial law has since been repealed)".

That the incarcerated have since been released does not make the original study irrelevant, because it never was about the individuals involved in the Steubenville horrors.   It was about the way culture often privileges accused rapists over their alleged victims and even over those who want to rectify that problematic situation.  To actually find this case "outdated" would require, for me at last, that the legal treatment of rape victims and those accused of rapes was made fairer so  that another Steubenville could not happen.

And sure, I understand that the RT had different goals in re-publicizing this case.  And I also get the other differences which affected the sentencing of Lostutter and the two convicted rapists.  But the issues raised by this debate are certainly not outdated.

The Brookings Study On Low-Wage Jobs. What To Know Before Interpreting The Numbers.

About a week ago I  read a summary of a new Brookings Institute study on the prevalence of low-wage jobs in the US.  The study looked interesting, so now that I have more time I dug into it a little. 

If you wish to do the same, please take careful note of what I say below about this quote concerning the study findings:

Even as the U.S. economy hums along at a favorable pace, there is a vast segment of workers today earning wages low enough to leave their livelihood and families extremely vulnerable. That’s one of the main takeaways from our new analysis, in which we found that 53 million Americans between the ages of 18 to 64—accounting for 44% of all workers—qualify as “low-wage.” Their median hourly wages are $10.22, and median annual earnings are about $18,000.

The bolds are mine.

To correctly interpret the figures of 44% of all workers and the median annual earnings of $18,000, note that the authors of this particular study made two choices which are not terribly common in the kinds of studies which end up reporting some measure of average (such as median) annual earnings:

1.  They chose to include in their study young people (from the age eighteen up) who have not yet completed their education (who are still in college, say).  Very few of these individuals would be regarded as full-time workers.

2.  They also chose to include all part-time or seasonal workers in the study.  This is the crucial point to keep in mind when considering that $18,000 annual median earnings figure*.  It is NOT a measure of what the annual average earnings of full-time workers (those who work forty hours per week year around) are.  The authors state:

Fifty-seven percent of low-wage workers work full time year-round, considerably lower than the share of mid/high-wage workers (81%). Among those working less than full time year-round, it is not clear if this is voluntary or involuntary, or if it reflects part-time work throughout the year or full-time work for part of the year. For some low-wage workers, such as students and caretakers, part-time work is probably desirable. But given the disproportionately high rates of churn in the low-wage labor market, it is likely that spells of involuntary non-employment play a significant role, suggesting a more tenuous connection to the labor force.
 Once you adjust your economic spectacles to that fact, the rest of the report makes for useful reading.

* Data on the median annual earnings of full-time workers can be found here.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Nearly $2 Million In Corporate Consultation Earnings. Or The Hillarization Of Elizabeth Warren.

The Washington Post article on Elizabeth Warren's earnings from consulting for corporations has a great headline:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren earned nearly $2 million consulting for corporations and financial firms, records show
Many readers just scan headlines without actually reading the article.  If you had done that you might think that ohmygod Warren is a handmaiden for the capitalists, humongously rich, and altogether someone who deserves instant Hillarization by the upright media.*

The article is vague on the exact time span to which these earnings figures apply, only stating that most of the income was earned from 1995 onward. 

But let's assume that Warren made that money from 1995 to 2009. A person who earned $30,000 per year over that same time period would have earned a total of $720,000 from working, possibly for a rich capitalist!  Yet that latter person is clearly not at all wealthy,** which helps to put those "nearly two million dollars" into some perspective.

This particular article isn't good at explaining the meaning of numerical data about earnings which have accrued over a long period of time. 

But even if it had been, Warren's earnings (and her corporate clients) should be judged by comparing them to the earnings (and clients) of other lawyers with similar education and experience levels and living in the same geographic area.  If the point was to argue that she made unusually vast amounts of money from work which — as the WaPo article says — "doesn’t fit neatly with her current presidential campaign brand as a crusader against corporate interests," then that would be the relevant comparison group. 

*  "Hillarization" is my term for the treatment Hillary Clinton got from the media over the last three decades.  This consisted of throwing everything at her, all the time, hoping that lots of stuff would stick.  And it did stick.

I believe that this process is used mainly against female politicians, especially in the sense that even extremely minor or nonexistent flaws are viewed through a magnifying glass and the magnified picture is then compared to the actual flaws of rival male politicians.  That's the way "Hillary's emails" somehow came to equal all Trump's misdeeds.

The roots of hillarization lie partly in unacknowledged sexism, i.e., the belief that women should be nicer, gentler, more submissive and more nurturing than men, and if they are not, then they are overly ambitious selfish monsters.  Also, women shouldn't earn lots, even if the amount they earn is less than the earnings of men doing similar work. 

But some of the roots also come from the media's desire to be seen as objective.  If one political candidate clearly has done truly terrible things (Trump), then false equivalence requires that journalists try to dig up lots of terrible things about the other candidate(s), even if those things aren't as terrible at all.  Not to do that opens the journalists to accusations of bias, but to do that opens them to accusations of erecting false equivalency.

** This doesn't mean that Warren isn't wealthy, of course, and these earnings from consultation are not all her earnings over that time period.  But then most politicians in the US Congress are very wealthy, because the financing of political campaigns is rigged so that wealth has become one of the necessities for running.

And this shouldn't have to be said, but I say it anyway:  Criticizing Warren consulting for corporate interests is a perfectly fair thing for journalists to do.  I just want the rules of such criticisms to be equally fair, so that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for instance, is not criticized for owning nice suits when no other politicians are.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

A Blast From The Past: The Extreme Male Brain

I recently came across that old argument that the existence of an "extreme male brain" is the real explanation for autism.  Given this, it might be worth my while to review here some of the results from research I did earlier on the work of Simon Baron-Cohen, the creator of that concept.  In particular, I want to explain how he tested the existence of supposed male and female brains and what is veryvery wrong with those tests: