Warning orders for Sunday morning

There are three important things to come of this.

1) I am staying up past my bed time
2) SNL is aiming for monster ratings
3) We’ll see an exacerbation of the rolling constitutional crisis on Sunday morning

I wish I was being hysterical.

Open Thread



The Great Vote Fraud Data Mistake…A Cautionary Tale

Just in time for the latest, greatest Shitgibbon pursuit of all those not-good-people who got to vote for his opponent, Maggie Koerth-Baker brings the hammer down.  She’s written an excellent long-read over at Five Thirty Eight on what went wrong in the ur-paper that has fed the right wing fantasy that a gazillion undocumented brown people threw the election to the popular-vote winner, but somehow failed to actually turn the result.

The nub of the problem lies with a common error in data-driven research, a failure to come to grips with the statistical properties — the weaknesses — of the underlying sample or set.  As Koerth-Baker emphasizes this is both hardly unusual, and usually not quite as consequential as it was when and undergraduate, working with her professor, used  found that, apparently, large numbers of non-citizens 14% of them — were registered to vote.

There was nothing wrong the calculations they used on the raw numbers in their data set — drawn from a large survey of voters called the Cooperative Congressional Election Study. The problem, though, was that they failed fully to handle the implications of the fact that the people they were interested in, non-citizens, were too small a fraction of the total sample to eliminate the impact of what are called measurement errors. Koerth-Baker writes:

Non-citizens who vote represent a tiny subpopulation of both non-citizens in general and of the larger community of American voters. Studying them means zeroing in on a very small percentage of a much larger sample. That massive imbalance in sample size makes it easier for something called measurement error to contaminate the data. Measurement error is simple: It’s what happens when people answer a survey or a poll incorrectly.1 If you’ve ever checked the wrong box on a form, you know how easy it can be to screw this stuff up. Scientists are certainly aware this happens. And they know that, most of the time, those errors aren’t big enough to have much impact on the outcome of a study. But what constitutes “big enough” will change when you’re focusing on a small segment of a bigger group. Suddenly, a few wrongly placed check marks that would otherwise be no big deal can matter a lot.

This is what critics of the original paper say happened to the claim that non-citizens are voting in election-shaping numbers:

Of the 32,800 people surveyed by CCES in 2008 and the 55,400 surveyed in 2010, 339 people and 489 people, respectively, identified themselves as non-citizens.2 Of those, Chattha found 38 people in 2008 who either reported voting or who could be verified through other sources as having voted. In 2010, there were just 13 of these people, all self-reported. It was a very small sample within a much, much larger one. If some of those people were misclassified, the results would run into trouble fast. Chattha and Richman tried to account for the measurement error on its own, but, like the rest of their field, they weren’t prepared for the way imbalanced sample ratios could make those errors more powerful. Stephen Ansolabehere and Brian Schaffner, the Harvard and University of Massachusetts Amherst professors who manage the CCES, would later say Chattha and Richman underestimated the importance of measurement error — and that mistake would challenge the validity of the paper.

Koerth-Baker argues that Chatta (the undergraduate) and Richman, the authors of the original paper are not really to blame for what came next — the appropriation of this result as a partisan weapon in the voter-suppression wars.  She writes, likely correctly in my view, that political science and related fields are more prone to problems of methodology, and especially in handling the relatively  new (to these disciplines) pitfalls of big, or even medium-data research. The piece goes on to look at how and why this kind of not-great research can have such potent political impact, long after professionals within the field have recognized problems and moved on.  A sample of that analysis:

This isn’t the only time a single problematic research paper has had this kind of public afterlife, shambling about the internet and political talk shows long after its authors have tried to correct a public misinterpretation and its critics would have preferred it peacefully buried altogether. Even retracted papers — research effectively unpublished because of egregious mistakes, misconduct or major inaccuracies — sometimes continue to spread through the public consciousness, creating believers who use them to influence others and drive political discussion, said Daren Brabham, a professor of journalism at the University of Southern California who studies the interactions between online communities, media and policymaking. “It’s something scientists know,” he said, “but we don’t really talk about.”

These papers — I think of them as “zombie research” — can lead people to believe things that aren’t true, or, at least, that don’t line up with the preponderance of scientific evidence. When that happens — either because someone stumbled across a paper that felt deeply true and created a belief, or because someone went looking for a paper that would back up beliefs they already had — the undead are hard to kill.

There’s lots more at the link.  Highly recommended.  At the least, it will arm you for battle w. Facebook natterers screaming about non-existent voter fraud “emergency.”

Image: William Hogarth, The Humours of an Election: The Polling, 1754-55



Managing the information fire hose

How do we manage the information fire hose when critical public news breaks in an area with significant technical jargon, precedents and folk ways breaks through the barrier of interesting to vital. How do we, people who want to be reasonably well informed, differentiate between the spectrum between expertise to bullshit to active noisemaking to drown out the signal?

For health insurance and health finance, I have an advantage. At this point, I can filter information streams where some people say very little but are extremely information and value dense, to daily reads with something interesting to say where I can trust that I am not going to chase references to people with interesting things to say but have to be approached with care to active bullshit artists. Those categories are independent of political affiliation. I have liberal and conservative high density information providers, I have liberal and conservative bullshit artists that I just don’t read. This filtering was developed over years of participation in the conversation.

National security law, money laundering, counter-intelligence are all areas that I know exist and I know some people are worth tracking. David Ignatius at the Washington Post is a pipeline to the three letter agency world. Bradly Moss is an acknowledged expert on clearances. The Brookings Lawfare blog is a collection of experts who are trying very hard to write for both a professional audience and an informed lay audience. There are others, but I don’t know who they folks are.

As this issue increases in salience people emerge from the woodwork. Some of them know what they are talking about (much like some anonymous guy at an almost top-10,000 blog proved that he knew what he was talking about on health insurance) and some don’t. Yet they offer nuggets that could be very tempting to chase for confirmation bias reasons.

How do we manage the information fire hose to at least flag the actively negative contributors to net knowledge and hopefully filter out or at least minimize the noise from the occasionally interesting but often non-contributory voices.

We’re lucky here at Balloon Juice. We have two domain area experts, Adam and Cheryl, sharing with us. But as issues outside of our normal experiences dominate the political discussion, how do we find people who know what the hell they are talking about without wading through a river of nonsense?



Trust Issues

Here is the United Airlines video of them dragging a paying passenger off the plane as they did not want to spend more than $800 to correct for their own mistake in overbooking the flight:

And here is the police statement:

And people wonder why there is a trust issue with police.



End of the Weekend Open Thread: What Are You Doing with Your Soros Checks?

Best comment, so far: “Ideal buyer would be a wealthy fourteen-year-old.”

Or then, there’s this genuinely lovely Washington Post story — “Can a remote island in Canada become a safe harbor for those who want to flee Donald Trump?”

CAPE BRETON ISLAND, Canada —The first sign of what Rob Calabrese would come to think of as America’s unmooring began last year, just after Donald Trump won his first presidential primary and Calabrese published a $28 website that he’d designed in 30 minutes. “Hi Americans!” it began, and what followed was a sales pitch for an island where Muslims could “roam freely,” and where the only walls were those “holding up the roofs” of “extremely affordable houses.”

“Let’s get the word out!” Calabrese wrote, adding a photo of an empty coastline along the Atlantic Ocean. “Move to Cape Breton if Donald Trump Wins!”

It was meant as a joke — but seven hours after Calabrese linked the site to the Facebook page of the pop radio station where he works as a DJ, in came an email from America. “Not sure if this is real but I’ll bite.” And then another: “It pains me to think of leaving, but this country is beyond repair.”…

The emails kept coming, so many that soon the island’s tourism association brought on four seasonal workers to help respond to the inquiries, which were arriving from every state and hundreds of towns, until it seemed to Calabrese that America was filled with people who wanted to get away…

There were emails from a molecular biologist, a University of Oregon professor, a granite construction worker, a contractor for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a woman who said her home town was “Unfortunately, Alabama.” There were declarations and confessions about incomes, sexual orientations, goals for their children. Several included résumés. “I am so sick of what has happened to my beautiful country,” one letter began…

People passed around a five-page research paper that said the island needed to attract 2,000 people annually to remain viable. There’d been decades of failed attempts to rebuild.

The island had one new thing going for it — the website. More people knew about Cape Breton now. “We’re receiving thousands of emails,” one person said at the meeting. But that wasn’t the same as thousands of people moving there. Canada had strict immigration laws. People couldn’t just come because they wanted to. Applicants were scored based on age and skills and their ability to help the economy. Anybody who emailed Cape Breton was told they still had to apply through Canada’s immigration agency. They were sent a link to begin a process that could take more than a year.

So maybe some Americans would arrive someday, but they hadn’t yet. As the responses rolled in, Calabrese had revised the site’s text to make it less political — and less directed at Americans specifically…

True, the weather’s kind of inhospitable right now, but GCC will fix that soon enough. Read the whole thing — not least for the photos.



The individual market under AHCA V2

This is going to be a wonky, speculative post as to what the individual insurance market could look like under the AHCA as rumored to be as of 0030, March 23, 2017. I want to speculate about how insurers would do their plan designs.

The major policy planks that would influence plan design are the following:

  • Guarantee issue at a universal price (community rating)
  • No Essential Health Benefits
  • No actuarial value requirements
  • 5:1 premium rating
  • Risk adjustment is either ineffective/easy to game or gone
  • Fixed, age based subsidies
  • No ability to transfer surplus subsidies to HSA

Smart insurers will bifurcate their product design.  They can’t underwrite their way to a healthy risk pool so they will use benefit design to segment it instead.

The first stream of product design will be aimed to cover very little.  The primary objective of these plans are to be priced at the subsidy point.  They will be very narrow networks with no major academic medical centers involved; their benefits will be designed to drive away sick people with chronic conditions.  For instance, asthma inhalers or insulin or Epi-Pens might not be covered.  Hep-C drugs would not be covered.  Maternity care would not be covered except after a $15,000 stand-alone deductible. They will use donut benefit designed principles where the first couple of PCP visits are no cost sharing but everything else comes with $300 co-pays and $20,000 deductibles.  Utilization is designed to be very low and the population that will choose these policies will have to be very healthy.

The selling point for this plan is that it is free out of pocket after the subsidy AND it is sufficient to not incur the continuous coverage 30% premium penalty.

For the 50% of the population that drives 3% of the spend, this will be sufficient for most people as long as they don’t get hit by a bus nor come down with cancer during the policy year.

The other path of coverage is a full service insurance for the sick.  It is a privatized and non-inclusive high cost risk pool.  It will offer a network with top tier hospitals, it will cover chemotherapy.  It will cover the cost of chronic disease management.  It will look a lot like the insurance people get from their jobs.  It will be massively out of reach for most people with chronic conditions as the subsidies will be grossly inadequate and the cost of care for some conditions are more than half the median income of an American family.  But “access” to a good policy will be there.

There are a lot of moving parts so this is purely speculation but if I was working for an insurer, that is the strategic choice that is clear given the rules of the AHCA.



Late Night Comic Relief Open Thread: To… the Moon, and Beyond!