The NRA vs. The CDC

While strolling through the local library on my lunch break today, I couldn’t help but see the cover story on the New York Daily News. “Killed by the NRA”, it screamed. In their typical sensational tabloid fashion, this referred to the fact that while the Centers for Disease Control spend millions of dollars annually studying how to reduce deaths from things like Lyme disease (22,000 deaths in 2012, CDC budget for prevention programs: $10.6M), they are forbidden by law to spend any significant amount of money studying anything that could even remotely be connected to “gun control”.

Back in 1993, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study led by Arthur Kellerman and funded by the CDC that found a strong link between having a gun in the home and an increased risk of homicide. The NRA, through its lobbyists, screamed bloody murder. They wanted to completely wipe out the division of the CDC that funded the study, but instead wound up having an amendment inserted into a 1997 budget package which stated that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” While it didn’t specifically ban research on gun control, the intent was made very clear when that same budget took the exact amount that the CDC spent on firearm safety research the previous year and earmarked it specifically for brain trauma research.

With the writing on the wall, the CDC has not funded any real gun safety research since then.

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Book Review: Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré s Maps

Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré s Maps: Empires of Time
Peter Galison
W.W. Norton, 2003

Albert Einstein has become the poster boy for scientific genius. His image is on t-shirts, coffee mugs, and posters. Anytime someone wants a visual symbol for genius, they go with his face. The Theory of Relativity is used as a standard representation of a complex scientific theory, and his equation for the equivalence of mass and energy is bandied about by people who have no real idea what it means.

This mythologizing of Einstein has even crept in to the origin story for the Theory of Relativity. The legend has Einstein sitting idly at the Bern Patent Office, daydreaming away. Suddenly his daydreams coalesce into a complete Theory (and his hair instantaneously turns into an unkempt white mess), and the world changes.

While a pleasant image, especially to the many who aren’t conversant in the language of physics, it gives short shrift to the many other scientists who were working on the same problems at the same time.

One of those who came really close was the French physicist and mathematician Henri Poincaré. Continue reading

On Pitcher’s Wins

You really have to feel for Cubs’ pitcher Jeff Samardzija. He’s been pitching great so far this season, with an ERA (as of this writing) of 1.62 and 51 strikeouts in 61 innings pitched over 9 starts. But thanks to essentially no offensive support and crappy defense behind him, he’s stuck with an 0-4 record.

This, along with a few other unusual situations (e.g. Chris Sale in 2013 (who, by the way, was ROBBED of the All-Star Game MVP that year), Felix Hernandez in 2010), has led a number of fans and writers to argue that the “pitcher’s wins” stat is irrelevant, or at least vastly overrated. First, they argue, it is too dependent on factors outside the pitcher’s control – like run support and defense. Secondly, they note that the assignment of a Win is often arbitrary, as it can depend on the whim of the official scorer. Other stats, such as WHIP (Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched) and ERA+ are far better at showing the quality of a pitcher.

That might be true. But those stats, being derived from odd and occasionally arcane formulae, can have similar problems. If we accept that these new, advanced metrics can accurately describe the “quality” of a pitcher, how does the “old school” stat of Wins compare?

Fortunately, there’s a way to tell. But you have to step away baseball stats for a while, and dive in to the mathematical field of Statistics….

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Thoughts on Eurovision 2014

Well, I went and did it. I watched every single one of the official videos for the entrants, watched the first Semi-Final online a little while after it was broadcast, watched the second Semi-Final live online (at work – don’t tell anyone!), and the Grand Final live online at home.

It didn’t *quite* live up to my exepctations – because from what I’ve read, there was a lot more kitschiness to be expected.

Nonetheless, I was still entertained.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Ginger Snaps (Canada, 2000)

It’s rather odd that among all the many werewolf movies over the decades, there are very, very few that make the connection between lycanthropy and a certain biological situation.

Think about it for a minute. You suddenly find yourself undergoing unwilling changes. Your body alters, and so does your personality. Every month, like clockwork, you lose control of your body and it practically rebels against you and your will. On top of the physical changes, your personality may undergo radical changes.

If this sounds like puberty and menstruation to you, give yourself a cookie.

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