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The obesity myth revisited

[ 167 ] January 3, 2013 |

Football

I have an op-ed on the new JAMA meta-analysis which concludes that a BMI between 25 and 35 correlates with a lower mortality risk than that observed among so-called normal weight people. (In America, the former group includes nearly 80% of everyone who public health authorities claim weigh too much).

I’m not under the illusion that a three-million person study authored by five distinguished senior scientists and published in the nation’s leading medical journal is going to actually cause anyone in a position of authority to reconsider anything — for reasons that I allude to in the piece, the actual data still have almost no effect on public policy in this area.

Still, it’s an encouraging sign that the obesity racket continues to be exposed as a product of an invidious combination of cultural obsession, and the economic interests that obsession generates.

A brief note on hazard ratios: Something that ought to tip off the skeptically-minded about the degree to which the focus on weight has nothing to do with mortality risk per se is just how minor the correlations observed in this area are. For example, it’s true that the fattest people in this study — those with a BMI of 35 and above — had a 29% higher mortality risk than the “normal weight” (sic) reference group. But what people tend not to take into account about these sorts of statistics is that, for most demographic groups, baseline mortality rates are extremely low, which means a few extra deaths will produce an impressive-sounding spike in relative risk.

For example, if you compare the risk that a 50-year-old man will die within the next five years to that of a 50-year-old woman, you’ll find that the man’s mortality risk is 71% higher. That sounds pretty bad, especially if you happen to be a 50-year-old man, but what this actually means is that the man has a 2.51% chance of dying over that five-year span, rather than a 1.47% chance. And note that this hazard ratio is nearly two and half times higher than that found among the very fattest people. So among the middle-aged, gender correlates far more powerfully with mortality risk than even the highest levels of “obesity.” (No word yet on what the government plans to do about the masculinity epidemic).

And of course we shouldn’t lose sight of the even more significant fact that we’re talking about correlations in observational studies, rather than any clinical demonstration of real causality. But when you can’t even demonstrate a correlation in the data for your thesis, you should probably reconsider it.

Barry Alvarez pays himself $118,000 for three weeks of temp work

[ 59 ] January 1, 2013 |

greed

Barry Alvarez probably isn’t hurting for cash, seeing as he gets paid a cool million per year to be the University of Wisconsin’s athletic director, which doesn’t actually sound like that demanding of a job, but whatever.

In the first week of December UW’s football coach Bret Bielema signed a contract to coach Arkansas next year, and it was decided that he shouldn’t coach the Badgers in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day. So the team needed an interim head coach for the game. The normal procedure in this situation is to name one of the assistant coaches to take over the top job for the team’s bowl game, but Alvarez, who had been UW’s football coach for many years before ascending/retiring into the AD position back in 2006, decided he’d coach the team instead.

As a reward for taking on these extra duties (which consisted of overseeing ten days of practice and coming up with a game plan, which turned out to feature running a total of three different offensive plays and punting a lot) he also decided he should be paid $118,000 on top of his regular salary. In addition, he also decided he should get a $50,000 if the team won.

They didn’t.

There’s a lesson in here somewhere about the Market and Meritocracy and how much money ends up being available for rewarding management when you don’t actually have to pay your labor force . . .

New Year’s Eve & the Aesthetics of Trying Too Hard

[ 148 ] December 31, 2012 |

New Year’s Eve is the most overrated of holidays. Nothing squelches a potential good time faster than the sense that one is obligated to have a good time, which is what New Year’s Eve feels like. This is an example of a more general phenomenon, which could be called Trying Too Hard, or TTH.

TTH can be fatal to the success of many otherwise worthwhile projects, and although I don’t have the inclination at the moment to develop a general theory of TTH, I’d like to throw out a few illustrative examples:

Finnegans Wake

Born To Run (song, not the album)

Reds

Weddings

The Super Bowl

Compare Eric Clapton’s version of Little Wing to Jimi Hendrix’s.

Etc.

Ask the experts

[ 89 ] December 27, 2012 |

Which NFL team had the worst draft last spring? The consensus among draft experts was: the Seattle Seahawks.

I’ve only seen the Seahawks a couple of times this year, but a friend breaks it down like this:

Seahawks 2012 draft:

-1/15: Bruce Irvin (DE, WVU)
-2/47: Bobby Wagner (LB, Utah State)
-3/75: Russell Wilson (QB, Wisco)
-4/106: Robert Turbin (RB, Utah State)
-4/114: Jaye Howard (DT Florida)
-5/154: Korey Toomer (LB, Idaho)
-6/172: Jeremy Lane (CB, Northwestern State)
-6/181: Winston Guy (S, Kentucky)
-7/225: J. R. Sweezy (DE, NC State)
-7/232: Greg Scruggs (DE, Louisville)

Outcomes of the guys who have played:

-Bruce Irvin: 2nd on the team with 8 sacks. Limited to being a rush end only, but pretty solid at that for a rookie.

-Bobby Wagner: Star starting MLB: 3 INT, 80 tackles, 2 sacks.

-Russell Wilson: Star starting QB as a rookie. 2868 pss yds, 63%, 7.7 YPA, 25 TD/10 INT; 431 rsh yds/3 TDs.

-Robert Turbin: Second string tailback. 78 rsh att, 359 rsh yds (4.6 YPC); 18 rec, 169 rec yds.

-Jeremy Lane: 2nd string LCB; 2 starts, 9 tackles.

-Greg Scruggs: 2nd string DE. 9 games, 2 sacks, 5 tackles.

Grades:

-ESPN (Kiper): Value: D-, Overall: C-, lowest rated draft.

-Sportingnews (Iyer): D, lowest rated draft (“They went for head-scratchers when more reliable prospects were on the board.”)

-Yahoo!Sports (Cole): D- (“You don’t spend a third-round pick on a guy who’ll be lucky to be Seneca Wallace.”)

-SBNation (Thorman): C, 6th worst draft

-CBSSports (Prisco): C+

-SBNation (Van Bibber): B

-Sports Illustrated: C

-Fox Sports: B (“Their entire draft was one shocker after another”)

-NFL.com: C+

-Rotoworld (Silva): B-

-Tampa Tribune (Ira Kauffman): D, lowest rated draft.

-USAToday (Davis): 26th best of 32 drafts

My favorite quote is the Yahoo scribe’s take on Russell Wilson, which could be translated “I don’t actually watch college football, so I’ll randomly compare this player to another black guy who played QB for Seattle.”

Russell Wilson’s passing stats in college:

11,720 yards, 109 TDs, 30 INTs, 7.9 YPA, 8.4 AYA

Seneca Wallace’s passing stats in college:

5,289 yards, 26 TDs, 27 INTs, 7.4 YPA, 6.5 AYA

Next you’ll be telling me the widow of that Nigerian general isn’t really going to wire me two million dollars

[ 24 ] December 27, 2012 |

Here’s a nifty variation on the law school scam, parasitical internet predator division:

Firstlawjob.com provides the following services to its clients:

How The Process Works

I. Fill out the application.

II. Submit payment [$89. An $110 savings from the regular price of $199]

III. A career counselor will contact you via email to discuss career opportunities.

IV. We begin searching and applying for jobs on your behalf through a real-time database of hiring firms, as well as relationships with law firms and legal recruiters.

V. You will be contacted directly by those firms that are interested in you.

Don’t bother to contact the site to try to figure out where, if anywhere, your resume has been submitted though, because:

Since we work with outside recruiters, they do not provide us the name of the Firms
that are considering our candidates for employment. We inform the Firms who we are and that they may receive duplicate resumes directly from our clients. We’ve found that in those rare instances where we duplicate our efforts with our clients, it can’t hurt for a potential employer to see your resume twice.

So Firstlawjob.com doesn’t even purport to contact any employers! It merely claims to send your resume along to “outside recruiters,” whoever those might be.

Of course all of this is immaterial, since the chances of anyone ever getting any legal job via second-hand resume spamming can be safely calculated as zero.

My favorite detail in all this is that the image used on the web site is the first image that’s pulled up if you Google “stock legal image.” Way to go the extra mile guys.

h/t JDU.

Things on the internet

[ 82 ] December 26, 2012 |

[Edit: Potentially disturbing photo moved below the fold out of deference to the delicate sensibilities of the LGM readership. Note the effect is, to quote Woolsey, J., more likely to be an emetic than an aphrodisiac, NTTAWWT]

(1) I’m tempted to ask SEK for a semiotic analysis of this: Read more…

Forced gift giving, employee edition

[ 48 ] December 21, 2012 |

scrooge

The law school that employs me as a tenure-track faculty member has what I hope is a fairly unusual practice: Each year faculty members — I’m unclear whether this includes the non-tenure-track faculty, who are full-time employees but paid quite a bit less than the tenure-track people — are asked to contribute to a holiday gift for the law school’s staff. I understand the ratio of faculty to staff has become roughly 1:1 (this helps explain skyrocketing tuition among other things) so in effect it’s as if each faculty member is buying a holiday gift for a staff member.

Of course this ends up turning into pretty much a straight cash transfer, in the form of a “Christmas bonus” from the faculty to the staff.

I find this practice distasteful, since:

(a) The faculty are employees not employers. If the powers that be want to take some of the money currently being paid to the faculty and pay it to the staff in the form of higher salaries this should be done directly, not through informal social pressure.

(b) The whole thing has an unpleasant and rather absurd air of noblesse oblige, especially since every year the faculty ends up getting a bunch of cap-doffing thank you emails from the staff, which staff members no doubt feel pressured to send because the social dynamics of the situation.

I suspect a bunch of other people on both sides of this awkward transaction feel the same way, but nobody wants to be that guy (or gal) who says so.

Scalia, law school etc

[ 24 ] December 20, 2012 |

What if Napoleon had had a B-17 at the battle of Waterloo? What if Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia had been on the Supreme Court at the same time for the last 25 years?

I’ll be discussing the future of law school(s) here between 1 and 1:30 eastern today.

Crime scene

[ 41 ] December 19, 2012 |

Knoxville police announced this afternoon that a badly beaten rhetorical device, believed to be that of Irony, was found in a dumpster behind the University of Tennessee Law School. Police Commissioner Eric Blair described the scene as “one of the worst cases of its kind I’ve ever seen,” and promised that “heads would roll” once the responsible parties were identified.

Members of the public with any relevant information are encouraged to call a special tip line set up by authorities.

Bork

[ 8 ] December 19, 2012 |

My thoughts are similar to Scott’s (now includes Warren Zevon content).

Men and violence

[ 78 ] December 17, 2012 |

Games
Mass murderers are almost invariably men, which is merely the end point of a statistical pattern that dictates the more violent an act is, the more likely it is that a man committed it.

This is one of those facts that paradoxically tend to become invisible to us because they’re so obvious. And because the fact that violence is gendered male is obvious and in a sense invisible, it tends to get thought of as part of the order of “nature” — which is always a dangerous word when thinking about social policy, or anything else for that matter.

Law school applications are collapsing

[ 63 ] December 13, 2012 |

In 2010 87,900 people applied to ABA law schools. This number was down 12.6% from the all-time high of 100,600 six years earlier — a fact that ought to have served as an early warning signal to law schools. After all, in 2008 and 2009 the economy was in the deepest recession since the 1930s, which should have have driven applications to professional school in general and law school in particular to new highs.

In 2011 David Segal published a series of critical articles in the New York Times regarding the economics of legal education, which provoked mostly cries of outrage from inside legal academia. Kyle McEntee and Patrick Lynch at the Law School Transparency project continued to run into a stone wall when they asked law schools to disclose something resembling actual employment and salary statistics for recent graduates. In short, denial remained the order of the day.

Meanwhile applications fell by 10.7% — yet law schools admitted almost exactly the same number of students (55,800 v. 55,900 in 2004) as they had seven years earlier, when they had had 22,100 more applicants to choose from.

By the fall of 2011, serious cracks began to appear in legal academia’s complacent facade. A year’s worth of bad publicity, capped by the imminent publication of Brian Tamanaha’s measured but all the more devastating indictment Failing Law Schools, had enabled LST and others to help convince a couple of US senators to write letters to the ABA Section of Legal Education, suggesting that this august body might want to consider being a little more forthcoming with employment data. Suggestions from senators have a way of getting the attention of bureaucrats, and lo and behold by next spring the ABA was for the first time publishing some useful school-specific graduate employment numbers.

Applications, not coincidentally, continued a sharp downward trend. By January of this year it became clear they would fall even more sharply from the previous year than they had between 2010 and 2011. In the end they were down another 13.7%. With the publication of the class of 2011′s fairly catastrophic employment figures, denial began to give way to serious concern.

Now comes word that applications in this admissions cycle appear to be in something like free fall. As of December 7th, they are down 24.6% from the same time last year, while the total number of applicants has declined by 22.4% year over year. These numbers suggest that law schools will have a total of somewhere between 52,000 and 53,000 applicants to choose from in this cycle, i.e., slightly more than half as many as in 2004, when there were 188 ABA accredited law schools (there are 201 at the moment, with an emphasis on “at the moment”).

To put that number in perspective, law schools admitted 60,400 first year JD students two years ago. Since a significant percentage of applicants are unwilling to consider enrolling at any school below a certain hierarchical level, and/or will decline to enroll at certain other schools without receiving massive discounts on the advertised tuition price, these numbers portend fiscal calamity for more than a few schools. But out of that calamity will come the beginnings of a more rational and just system of legal education for the next generation of lawyers.