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More comedy stylings from Prof. Steve Diamond

[ 17 ] January 19, 2013 |

Updated below

Compare this with this.

Steve Diamond links to a 2010 employment report (describing outcomes for the class of 2008 as of February 2009) that any ordinary reader would understand to be reporting a 99% employment rate for graduates of the law school at which he teaches, in order to argue that Santa Clara wasn’t posting misleading 90%+ employment figures even before the law school transparency movement started demanding a little transparency.

His rationale for this amazing rhetorical feat is this:

Here is what SCU posted in the Fall of 2008 about employment. If one compares it with what we now post, in response to the new ABA guidelines, it seems to me there is not a dramatic difference. The much vaunted “bi-modal” distribution is clearly visible as is the fact that only about half the class reported salaries (from which any rational individual could conclude that that only half had employment at that point).

This is so nonsensical it’s hard to know where to begin. The first linked set of statistics gives no indication that it isn’t a comprehensive account of what the class of 2008 is doing nine months after graduation. There’s no category for unemployed graduates; indeed there’s no way to tell from this data how many SCU graduates are unemployed, how many are in short-term or part-time jobs, or how many are in jobs that require bar admission.

By contrast the second linked set of stats, which SCU was reluctantly forced to cough up by the equally reluctant Section of Legal Education of the ABA in the wake of pressure from the transparency movement, reveals that 24% of the 2011 SCU class is completely unemployed, although supposedly two-thirds of these people– 47 graduates out of 296! — aren’t actually seeking jobs (the latter purported “fact” is the kind of thing that ought to be of intense interest to potential plaintiffs’ attorneys).

Update: SCU’s reported number of 47 graduates not seeking employment was by far the highest of any law school for the class of 2011. For all schools, the mean number of graduates purportedly not seeking employment was five, and only two other schools had even half as many graduates listed as unemployed not seeking as SCU. Last year US News started counting graduates listed as unemployed not seeking as simply unemployed, because of widespread suspicions that a few schools were manipulating the category to produce a better putative employment rate for their graduates).

Update II: SCU’s extremely suspicious practice of categorizing a huge percentage of its graduates as unemployed not seeking was not a one-year thing, as it listed 55 members of the class of 2010 in this category. Again, as in 2011, this was by far the highest number of any law school (Second place went to Thomas M. Cooley, with 32. Cooley’s graduating class was three times larger than SCU’s however). All this suggests that perhaps Prof. Diamond could find a better example of law school transparency than his own institution.

Even more incredibly, Diamond’s rationalization for SCU failing to reveal any unemployment data for the class of 2008 as of February 2009 is that “only about half the class reported salaries (from which any rational individual could conclude that that only half had employment at that point).” Apparently “any rational individual” is a term of art for “someone who has no idea what he’s talking about,” i.e., the author, who hasn’t noticed that the percentage of the SCU class of 2008 which SCU reported to the ABA and NALP as being “employed” in February 2009 is readily available. That percentage is 92.6%.

In sum, despite Diamond’s assertion that he can’t find any evidence that SCU was publishing claims of 90+% employment rates for its graduates, the very evidence he cites for this assertion shows that in 2010 SCU appeared to claim a 99% employment rate on its web site. The school also reported a 92.6% “employment” rate to the regulatory authorities, which was then reprinted in US News. Lest we forget, even the marginally lower latter figure was almost wholly fictitious, as it:

(a) Excluded from the denominator graduates the school characterized as “unemployed not seeking” (a category which includes 16% of the 2011 class!);

(b) Excluded people pursuing further education; and, most crucially,

(c) Included every possible form of employment, from working at Latham & Watkins to working ten hours per week at Starbucks.


The long con

[ 50 ] January 17, 2013 |

Thoughts on the nonsense of the moment.

Update: Journamalism from Pete Thamel, author of the now-infamous Sports Illustrated cover story. Short version: Te’o gave Thamel an enormous amount of information about his imaginary girlfriend and her family, none of which he was able to verify. So I guess the moral of the story is that fact-checking at SI only requires checking into purported facts, as opposed to actually verifying any of them, at least if the story is good enough.

I don’t think this is what Socrates had in mind

[ 22 ] January 15, 2013 |

Everyone who writes knows that being misunderstood is inevitable. For example a couple of days ago, Bernie Burke, whose work on the law school crisis I generally admire, produced what seems to me an obvious misinterpretation of a quote from a magazine article, as evidence for the claim that I argue law degrees are worthless.

But there is an equally corrosive rhetoric at the other extreme in this discussion, and it is just as pernicious and misleading. For example, this recent quote from Paul Campos in Fortune: “[I]t’s like the subprime mortgage scandal without securitization. When people realize it’s a worthless degree, the system is going to collapse.”

Taken out of context (a context which includes this preceding sentence: “This isn’t sustainable,” warns Campos. “There is a zealous faith in American culture that higher education always pays for itself[.]”), and read as literally as possible, this could be read as a claim that a “law degree” is worthless. Now of course Burke knows, since he has read a lot of what I’ve written on this topic, that I don’t make such a wildly implausible claim anywhere (For instance in an academic article I just published on the topic, I estimate that 92.1% of the 2011 class of Stanford law school had positive outcomes relative to the costs of attending the school. More on Stanford shortly). I suppose Burke might claim sincerely that a casual reader, coming across this single quote, might misread it in this way. Still, all this smacks very much of tactical high Broderism (“Some say law school is a great investment in one’s future. Others say law degrees are worthless. The truth no doubt lies somewhere in the middle.”).

Burke’s rather perverse literal-mindedness in this context is merely mildly annoying, however (and in any case his head and his heart both appear to be in the right place on the more general issue). Steve Diamond’s libelous musings are another matter altogether:

After all we could very easily solve the so-called “oversupply” problem by returning to the days of The Paper Chase (“Loudly, Mr. Hart!”), where women, blacks and Hispanics were a “discrete and insular minority” among law students. Professor Campos of the University of Colorado, who maintains a website called Inside the Law School Scam, seemed to go so far as to endorse such an approach, at least with respect to women.

Diamond is referring to this post. I’ll leave it to readers to decide for themselves whether I’m suggesting that law schools ought to discriminate against women applicants, so that law can return to the genteel days of almost all-male classrooms, or indeed whether anyone could in good faith conclude the post is saying such a thing.

Since as Scott points out below Diamond also argues that a student accepted at both Stanford and Santa Clara “would most likely have very similar opportunities once [he or she] graduated,” it’s difficult to say exactly how preposterous an argument would have to get before Diamond wouldn’t make it.

This claim is plausible only if one assumes that someone who graduated in the middle of the class at Stanford would “most likely” finish at the very top — as in the top half dozen people — of his or her SCU class. Given that the correlation between combined admissions numbers (GPA/LSAT) and first year law school grades averages only .48, this is not exactly a plausible hypothesis. In addition, anyone who gets into Stanford can go to Berkeley with a big scholarship, or UCLA or USC for free, which is to say there’s almost no even theoretically conceivable circumstance in which it would make sense for someone who is admitted to Stanford Law School to enroll at Prof. Diamond’s institution instead.

Bust out

[ 45 ] January 14, 2013 |


Following up on yesterday’s Boston Globe story regarding the situation at New England School of Law, here are some hard figures regarding exactly how this confidence scheme institution of higher learning is an almost completely taxpayer subsidized operation, on both the front end, in the form of federal loans, and the back end, in the form of what will surely be a very high rate of soft default and quasi-bankruptcy via Income Based Repayment:

Revenue, expenses and federal loan funding at New England School of Law, July 2010-June 2011

Nominal Tuition Collected: $41,546,619

Actual Tuition Collected (i.e., tuition minus “scholarships,” i.e, discounted tuition): $32,841,264

Total Nominal Revenue: $43,423,500

Total Real Revenue: $34,718,145 (Revenue minus tuition discounts)

Total Nominal Expenses: $33,945,288

Total Real Expenses: $25,239,933 (Tuition discounts are listed as expenses)

Net Real Revenue Over Real Expenses: 37.6%

Legally speaking, NESL is a “non-profit” institution, which means among other things that this surplus is not subject to federal or state taxes.

Federal Loans Disbursed to NESL Students, July 2010-June 2011

First Quarter:

Subsidized Staffords: $3,944,156

Unsubsidized Stafford: $5,515,978

GRADPLUS: $9,716,434

Second Quarter:

SS: $68,137

USS: $103,697

GRAD: $386,136

Third Quarter:

SS: $3,957,473

USS: $5,471,922

GRAD: Unreported, but since GRADPLUS originated $19,276,698 in loans during the first quarter destined for distribution to NESL students, and almost exactly half of that sum was distributed in that quarter, we can assume the remaining sum was distributed in the third quarter, i.e, $9,560,264

Fourth Quarter:

SS: $145,510

USS: $44,192

GRAD: $1,139,055 (The GRADPLUS loans distributed in the fourth quarter were used by students enrolled at least half time in summer school, or NESL’s summer abroad law program, which I’ll have more to say about soon).

Total federal loans distributed to NESL students in FY 2010-11: $40,052,965

A few additional points:

94.6% of NESL’s revenue comes from tuition.

NESL students took out 22% more in federal loans than NESL collected in tuition. Slightly more than half of those loans were GRADPLUS, which feature an interest rate of 7.9% and an origination fee of 4%.

NESL produced 308 graduates in 2011, of which 17 had jobs with law firms of more than ten attorneys nine months after graduation. Four of these people had jobs with law firms of more than 50 attorneys. 34% of the class was reported to have a full-time long-term job requiring bar admission. 14.2% of these positions were graduates who listed themselves as having begun a solo practice.

NESL tuition in 2004: $22,475

NESL tuition in 2012: $42,490

From Merriman-Webster:

Definition of BUSTOUT
: a confidence scheme in which an established business is taken over, a large stock of merchandise is purchased on credit and quickly sold, and the business is then abandoned or bankruptcy is declared

She’s just not that into you

[ 20 ] January 12, 2013 |


From TLS (h/t manofjustice):

So a certain TTT that I’ve never even considered applying to or shown any interest in CALLED me today. On my phone. Just to ask if I’d be interested in applying to their law school. Fee wavers over email and whatnot are nice, but I can’t imagine if all 203 ABA accredited law schools actually called me and awkwardly tried to talk me into considering them for five minutes. On the other hand, I certainly wasn’t considering them before and am now mildly intrigued, if only because of annoyance.

Did this happen to anyone else today?

OK I know what you’re thinking . . . it’s probably Cooley. Or maybe New England Law. Yes, they’re getting desperate down in Hamsterdam . . . but out here in the suburbs, things are still OK, sort of. Well . . .

I got one from Michigan State in Nov.

Uh oh.

Then we hear from Hawkeye Girl:

I got a call, voicemail and follow-up email from some girl at Indiana today… I was realllly glad I missed that call. Talk about awk.

Edit: Other weird part was that she emailed me from her gmail not from her school email….

Indiana is the 26th-ranked law school in the USN hierarchy.

Another poster reports that a random school left a 75% off tuition “scholarship” offer on his voice mail (Remember, none of these people have even applied to any of these places. Does LSAC ask for your cellphone number these days? And why would you give it to them? So you don’t miss Bob Post’s call, personally offering you admission?)

Pretty soon kids are going to have to start getting restraining orders

Speaking of which, yesterday I went through the process of getting kicked off a jury that was going to hear what seemed to be, from the questions asked by the lawyers during the voir dire, the trial of a misdemeanor DV harassment charge.

It was in city court. The defendant was a 35ish woman whose lawyer was about ten years younger, and who by the level of his apparent nervousness may well have been handling the first trial of his life.

The prosecutor was a sad-eyed middle-aged man in an ill-fitting diversity suit, who had a cartoon thought bubble over his head that said, “What am I doing trying misdemeanor harassment cases in city court at 8:30 AM for $53,000 a year?” This being Colorado, he probably went to law school to study environmental law, so he could write Brandeis briefs about polar bears for the Sierra Club.

At least they actually had jobs.

This is the bottom, right?

[ 77 ] January 10, 2013 |



General practice attorney with more than twenty years of experience is willing to train a small number of recently admitted attorneys, or those awaiting bar results. For a monthly fee, you will be able to shadow the experienced attorney, and learn by watching the day to day practice of law. Observe the following types of proceedings, as they occur; Civil Short Calender motion arguments, foreclosure mediation’s, pre-trial conferences, Workers Compensation and Social Security hearings, real estate closings, discovery proceedings and compliance, research and general office operations. Once admitted to the bar, the goal is to have you handling matters with and eventually without supervision. We reserve the right to limit participation in any or all activities, and all appearances are subject to the client and presiding judges approval. Admitted attorneys will be paid referral fees, if your referred case settles.

Please submit resumes by responding to this ad.

A view from the bench

[ 29 ] January 10, 2013 |

A federal judge has asked me to post the following comment on the state of legal academia and the legal profession:


It is no secret that many lawyers are dissatisfied with their profession. Of the million or so lawyers in the United States (more per capita by far than any other country) over half are said to be unhappy and giving serious consideration to leaving the practice of law. A burgeoning industry of coaching, counseling, and career change assistance has developed to guide such people to new opportunities. Facing declining applicant pools, law schools advertise that a legal education is worth its steep price irrespective of whether the graduate intends to practice law or engage in some other pursuit. But a number of recent law graduates have sued their schools, alleging that the law schools misrepresent post-graduate employment opportunities, that few jobs as lawyers are available, and those jobs that are available pay substantially less than law schools have represented. Indeed many law graduates are saddled with large student loan debts that place them in indentured servitude for years. The average debt for recent graduates exceeds $100,000.00.

Law professors are among the highest paid academics, and enjoy the newest buildings on ever-enlarging campuses. Law schools employ many part-time adjuncts who teach large enrollment classes for meager fees, generating even more profits for the law school budget, and less teaching time for the tenured faculty. Overhead costs for laboratories, equipment and floor space are nearly non-existent. Yet the law schools are engaged in fierce competition for increased enrollment and that most elusive of goals: academic prestige. The annual ranking of law schools by U.S. News and World Report becomes the coveted benchmark. Because law schools are profit centers for the universities, there is little external oversight of their operations. The litany of ensuing dubious practices includes puffing up of enrollees’ Law School Aptitude test scores and undergraduate GPAs, misleading and rigged graduate placement reports, and some not-so-subtle innovations such as paying stipends to recent graduates to work for free in courts, prosecutors’ offices and private firms during the sampling period.

A few brave and talented legal academics such as Paul Campos of the University of Colorado and Brian Tamanaha of Washington University St. Louis have risked becoming pariahs among their colleagues by exposing the failures and shortcomings of the law school institution. Accused of failing to prepare graduates to enter the profession, the law schools attempt to address the issues through economic arguments. Their students, they claim, are “practice ready,” meaning law firms can shift their most basic investment in young associates from the corporate clients who are no longer willing to foot the bill back to the very institutions responsible for creating the glutted market. In turn, graduates are forced to work long hours with less supervision on stultifying tasks at pay levels making service of their acquired debt nearly impossible, all for the promise of a partnership that has become a vanishing hope.

Recent accounts, such as Running From The Law by Deborah Arron assert that more than half of young lawyers leave the law knowing they have been lied to. They have sought the law as a means of earning a comfortable and secure living. They have been taught that academic standing in class increases one’s job prospects. The law schools have abandoned teaching that the most fundamental aspect of the profession is one of service. When the primary purpose of service is ignored, the practice of law is condemned to drudgery, to the pure hell of endless hours of performing rote work for a fee.

Plato knew that people learn by example, and from demonstrations illustrating the lessons to be learned. It is all well and good for law schools to offer courses in the substantive subjects of the law, but more fundamental to acquiring knowledge and forming character is the conduct of teachers and the institution they attend. (Indeed the word “attend” literally means “to pay attention to.”) Just as bad parenting produces bad children who grow up to become bad parents, what the student sees and feels counts more than routines of “practice ready” performance.

No wonder law students are learning to be materialistic and cynical, to consider the profession of law as gamesmanship, and merely a way to earn more money than the next person. When law schools misrepresent LSAT scores and job opportunities, offer third year courses with little or no pedagogic purpose or value, engage in grade inflation and charge ever-increasing tuition and fees, students learn that fraud, dissimulation and ethical corner-cutting are acceptable standards of behavior. When they learn of the gross separation in salaries and status and the relatively soft work schedules of the doctrinal faculty compared with clinical instructors with whom they have much closer personal contact, when they learn that adjunct faculty are paid pittances and used and abused as profit centers, when they see that school administrators outnumber scholars and that tenure is becoming obsolete, how can they not be expected to accept that this status quo is the criterion for the professional life?

Law schools claim that pragmatism is the only way to address fierce competition. To what end? Making graduates “practice ready” is an illusion, which is not only impossible to achieve, but in fact detrimental to the life and career of the student. The goal should be to produce young lawyers who, as Thomas Wolfe described writers attending workshops, are “ready to commence to begin to start” to learn, through a lifetime of practice, the art and craft of guiding others to safe passage through the extremities of experience, to achieve socially appropriate goals, and to insist on leading ethical lives. It is not to produce yet another cadre of cynical shysters grasping for more fees or a legion of those who flee the profession in despair.

Cultural knowledge and personal responsibility

[ 150 ] January 9, 2013 |

Somebody — I think it may have been the most overrated philosopher of all time, J.S. Mill — said that truth goes through three stages. First it’s mocked as absurd. Then it’s declared to be against religion. Finally, it’s said to be what everyone has believed all along.

I think we’re getting to stage three in regard to the proposition that law school has turned out to be somewhere between a very risky proposition and a flat-out ripoff for the vast majority of people who are attending today, and who have graduated in recent years.

This statement, which as little as three years ago would have been treated as either “crazy” or at the least a gross exaggeration by almost everybody in legal academia, is rapidly heading toward the status of conventional wisdom. One sign of this is that a National Jurist poll of the most influential people in legal academia, which was conducted by surveying a group made up in large part of law school deans, has selected Brian Tamanaha as #1 on this list, with Bill Henderson as the first runner-up, should Brian for any reason not be able to fulfill his duties at some point during his reign. (Modesty forbids me from pointing out that I won Mr. Congeniality).

Think about that: law school deans — probably the single most status-quo regarding group within legal academia — selected somebody who wrote a book arguing that the current model of legal education in America simply doesn’t work any more, and is in need of radical reform, as the most influential person in the business.

In other words, the conventional wisdom about law school, both within higher education and in the culture at large, has been changing with lightening speed. This is important to remember when people start reflexively victim-blaming recent grads and even current law students for not being more reasonably prudent rational maximizers of their own utility when they signed up for this thing of ours.

Consider, for example, the class that will be graduating this spring. The class of 2013 applied to law school in the fall of 2009, which means that it is mostly made up of people who got serious about going to law school no later than 2008 or so, if not much earlier (it takes most people awhile to study for the LSAT, pull together letters of recommendation, etc.).

Think about what information was available to prospective law students five years ago about immediate outcomes for law graduates, let alone the long term career trajectories of aspiring lawyers. Compared to today, there were almost no warnings about the fact that, because of the rising cost of law degrees and long-term trends in the market for attorneys, the net present value of a legal education had been declining for at least two decades, and was likely to continue to do so. Bill Henderson made his very first public observations about the bimodal salary distribution around this time. (This Tamanaha post at Balkinization, which is barely two and a half years old, indicates implicitly how little these trends had been recognized outside the still very underground world of scamblogging).

All of which is to say the extent to which responsibility for acting on what has suddenly become the “obvious” truth that law school is a high risk enterprise can be imputed to law graduates and even current law students is very limited. Indeed the cultural lag time involved pushes me, at least, toward the conclusion that only people who enrolled in law school this year can be reasonably held responsible for having some realistic sense of what they are getting themselves into.

Back to basics

[ 210 ] January 4, 2013 |

Since there seems to be some interest in it, I’d like to clarify a few things about what exactly my position is on various weight and health-related matters.

(1) Obesity does correlate with some increased health risks, and to a largely unknown extent, has a causal role in some of those increased risks. However:

(a) The extent of the correlations is greatly exaggerated.

(b) The extent to which the correlations are causal is also greatly exaggerated, since the baseline assumption tends to be that correlation simply equals causation in this context.

(c) Obesity does not appear to even correlate with increased mortality risk until weight levels that are higher than those of most people in America defined as obese.

(2) Overweight (BMI 25-29.9) does not correlate with increased overall health risk in any meaningful way, and correlates with lower mortality risk than so-called “normal” weight. Most people who are categorized as weighing too much by public health authorities are in the overweight category.

(3) Obesity also correlates with decreased health risk in certain contexts. For example, among people who have cardiovascular disease (the single biggest cause of death in America) “obese” people have better survival rates than non-obese people. This is the so-called “obesity paradox,” which is only a paradox if you take it as axiomatic that obesity is unambiguously a bad thing from a health perspective.

(4) Individual attempts to achieve significant long-term weight loss fail in the the overwhelming majority of cases. Public health interventions designed to produce weight loss fail uniformly. Dieting doesn’t work; furthermore the difference between “dieting” and eating disordered behavior is merely one of degree. Eating disorders are common consequences of dieting.

(5) It is not known if significant long-term weight loss is beneficial to health. Attempts to answer this question have been stymied by (4).

(6) Being moderately physically active appears to eliminate most or all of what increased health risk is observed among “obese” people.

(7) The Health at Every Size movement advocates healthy lifestyles for people of all sizes, including children of all sizes. I strongly support such advocacy. Examples of the HAES approach to these issues, broadly speaking, can be found here, here, here, and here, among many other places.

(8) The official government definition of a a “normal healthy weight” of BMI 18.5 to 24.9, besides being without any scientific foundation, is inherently stigmatizing to people who are not “normal” or “healthy” in these misused senses of the words normal and healthy. (This BMI range isn’t statistically normal, nor does it correlate with the lowest health risk). Stigmatization is, among other things, bad for peoples’ health.

(9) This issue is strongly gendered. Weight oppression is, among other things, a form of sexism, as body surveillance is far more intense toward the bodies of women and girls than toward those of men and boys.

(10) Telling fat people, and especially fat children, that it’s bad to be fat, and that they wouldn’t be fat if they had healthy lifestyles, is both false and destructive.

Does Let’s Move stigmatize fat children?

[ 330 ] January 4, 2013 |

Michelle Malia Sasha

Lindsey Beyerstein writes:

If I recall correctly, Paul was very critical of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” program for supposedly being fat stigmatizing. Which is odd because “Let’s Move” is about the warmest fuzziest, least fat-shaming initiative in public health history. It’s all about how great it is for everyone to run and play and add eat veggies.

Yes it is about that. But what it’s mainly about are the following claims, which have been front and center of the campaign from Day One:

(1) There are way too many fat kids in America — so many that it’s a full-blown social crisis.

(2) Being a fat kid is bad, because you are going to have lots of health problems and probably die several years earlier than thin kids.

(3) If we get kids to run and play and eat more veggies then we can reduce the percentage of fat kids in America by two thirds, back to the levels of fatness observed among children in America in the 1970s. This will save enormous sums of money in health care costs, because thin kids will end up costing much less to society than fat kids.

From the Let’s Move web site:

Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity Within a Generation

Let’s Move! is a comprehensive initiative, launched by the First Lady, dedicated to solving the problem of obesity within a generation so that kids born today will grow up healthier and able to pursue their dreams.

As part of this effort, President Barack Obama established the first-ever Task Force on Childhood Obesity to develop and implement an inter-agency plan that details a coordinated strategy, identifies key benchmarks, and outlines an action plan to end the problem of childhood obesity within a generation. The goal of the action plan is to reduce the childhood obesity rate to just five percent by 2030 – the same rate before childhood obesity first began to rise in the late 1970s.

What inspired the First Lady to pursue this goal? It turns out the personal really is political:

WASHINGTON — Her daughters were 6 and 9, and Michelle Obama was like any other working mom — struggling to juggle office hours, school pick-ups and mealtimes. By the end of the day, she was often too tired to make dinner, so she did what was easy: She ordered takeout or went to the drive-through.

She thought the girls were eating reasonably well — until her pediatrician in Chicago told her he didn’t like the weight fluctuations he was seeing.

I was shocked because my kids looked perfectly fine to me,” Obama says. “But I had a wake-up call.” Like many parents, however, “I didn’t know what to do.”

Today, the self-described “mom in chief” is launching Let’s Move, a campaign to help other parents deal with a national health crisis she describes in epic terms.

The goal: to eliminate childhood obesity in a generation.

“It’s an ambitious goal, but we don’t have time to wait,” the first lady said in an interview with USA TODAY in her spacious office in the East Wing of the White House. “We’ve got to stop citing statistics and wringing our hands and feeling guilty, and get going on this issue.”

She says she intends to “sound the alarm” about the epidemic.

Once upon a time — a time known as the 1970s — America wasn’t like this. Again, the Let’s Move web site:

Thirty years ago, most people led lives that kept them at a healthy weight. Kids walked to and from school every day, ran around at recess, participated in gym class, and played for hours after school before dinner. Meals were home-cooked with reasonable portion sizes and there was always a vegetable on the plate. Eating fast food was rare and snacking between meals was an occasional treat.

Now call me paranoid, but some people might find just a hint of a fairly reactionary social agenda lurking amid that idyllic picture of the way we were. (It should be unnecessary to add that there’s practically no evidence for this portrait of a bygone age. We don’t actually know if kids or for that matter adults are less physically active than they were a generation ago, or if they consume more calories).

In all seriousness, note how this is being framed: It’s Mom’s job to solve this “crisis,” by making sure the kids have a magically obesity-repelling home cooked meal every night. (It would also help if there were somebody home to make sure the kids are safe when they bike or walk home from school, and that they don’t spend all afternoon with the X-Box).

Let’s Move is about creating an America with as few fat kids in it as possible — with “fat” here being defined in such a way as to put kids like Malia and Sasha Obama in a problematic weight category. (BTW the reason that five percent of American kids were “obese” in the 1970s is that the definition of childhood obesity invented ten years ago by a CDC task force simply took the 95th percentile of childhood BMI in the 1970s as the cut point for their definition of childhood obesity. Science in action!).

The campaign is defined by its very name as a campaign against fat kids. Its description of the “crisis,” and its explicit goals in terms of measuring effectiveness and ultimate success in the fight against that supposed crisis, are defined exclusively in terms of creating an America with as few fat kids as possible. And it does so within the context of a not so latent reactionary social frame, in which the problem is in significant part that Mom works outside the home and isn’t “there” for her kids to whip up a delicious and nutritious home-cooked meal that would win Alice Waters’ seal of approval.

How this isn’t supposed to be stigmatizing of fat children is beyond me. How it reflects anything that could be described as a progressive social agenda is if anything even more mysterious.

The obesity myth revisited

[ 167 ] January 3, 2013 |


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 |


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 . . .

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