Archive for the ‘school’Category

Name that quote

I’m reading Evolving Economics, a highly-regarded history of economic thought by Agnar Sandmo. I thought one tidbit early on was quite interesting: it comes in the course of a discussion of a once-common method of charging tolls based on the weight of carriages. Sandmo quotes an economist who recommended different rates for luxury versus other transport.

Thus, “…the indolence and vanity of the rich is made to contribute in a very easy manner to the relief of the poor, by rendering cheaper the transportation of heavy goods to all the different parts of the country.”

Who said that? Answer below the fold…

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20

04 2012

Monday Miscellany

  • Erin Fletcher reviews Matt Yglesias’ new book, The Rent is Too Damn High, and summarizes it nicely along the way.
  • What does transportation legislation have to do with public health? More than you might think: which systems our government chooses to subsidize have a huge though indirect impact on decisions we make on where to live and how to get around, which in turn impact exercise and obesity. The Pump Handle – a public health blog – talks about the current transportation bill here.
  • A fascinating controversy is unfolding in experimental psychology (specifically on priming effects) after researchers attempted to replicate a seminal finding and came up short. Discussion here.
  • Andrew Gelman’s blog is read by social scientists of many stripes — from statisticians to political scientists and economists — so when he titles a post “Economics now = Freudian psychology in the 1950s…” you know the comments will be good.
  • “How sure are you that your models are correct?” asks Observational Epidemiology: “This is not to say that we should be reckless. But policies like austerity in a time of high unemployment have immediate and real costs.” Read the rest here.

19

03 2012

Fluoride in New Jersey

I saw this poster at a bus stop on campus a couple weeks ago:

If you can’t read it, the title reads: “Stop the New Jersey Public Water Supply Fluoridation Act” and it goes on to say “Fluoride is a toxic chemical even in the smallest doses and when pumped into our water supply it is impossible to control the level of consumption.” (emphasis added)

I took a picture but didn’t think about it again until I saw this article on Friday: “In New Jersey, a Battle Over a Fluoridation Bill, and the Facts” (NYT) by Kate Zernike. I appreciate that she calls the fearmongering what it is — a conspiracy theory:

While 72 percent of Americans get their water from public systems that add fluoride, just 14 percent of New Jersey residents do, placing the state next to last… A bill in the Legislature would change that, requiring all public water systems in New Jersey to add fluoride to the supply. But while the proposal has won support from a host of medical groups, it has proved unusually politically charged.

Similar bills have failed in the state since 2005, under pressure from the public utilities lobby and municipalities that argue that fluoridation costs too much, environmentalists who say it pollutes the water supply, and antifluoride activists who argue that it causes cancer, lowers I.Q. and amounts to government-forced medicine.

Public health officials argue that the evidence does not support any of those arguments — and to the contrary, that fluoridating the water is the single best weapon in fighting tooth decay, the most prevalent disease among children.

But they also say they are fighting a proliferation of misleading information. While conspiracy theories about fluoride in public water supplies have circulated since the early days of the John Birch Society, they now thrive online, where anyone, with a little help from Google, can suddenly become a medical authority.

The whole article is worth a read. I think it’s a pretty good journalistic take on a charged issue that is a political controversy but not a scientific one. It gives some context as to why people are against it — a few misleading studies amplified by word of mouth and the Internet — but also emphasizes which side the evidence base (overwhelmingly) backs up.

Further, there are some echoes here of the anti-vaccine movement,  in that a move to reduce the threshold of acceptable fluoride levels  by HHS was taken to be an acknowledgment that the worst fears of the fluoridation foes were vindicated. That parallels how any mention of efforts to improve vaccine safety (a good thing) is misshapen by antivaccine activists into an acknowledgment that their theories have been vindicated. In short, I’m looking forward to Seth Mnookin‘s take on all this.

06

03 2012

Princeton epidemiology: norovirus edition

Princeton is in the midst of an outbreak of norovirus! What’s norovirus, you ask? Well, it looks like this:

Not helpful? Here’s the CDC fact sheet:

Noroviruses (genus Norovirus, family Caliciviridae) are a group of related, single-stranded RNA, non-enveloped viruses that cause acute gastroenteritis in humans. The most common symptoms of acute gastroenteritis are diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. Norovirus is the official genus name for the group of viruses previously described as “Norwalk-like viruses” (NLV).

Noroviruses spread from person to person, through contaminated food or water, and by touching contaminated surfaces. Norovirus is recognized as the leading cause of foodborne-disease outbreaks in the United States. Outbreaks can happen to people of all ages and in a variety of settings. Read more about it using the following links.

My shorter translation: “Got an epidemic of nasty stomach problems in an institutional setting (like a nursing home or university)? It’s probably norovirus. Wash your hands a lot.”

The all-campus email I received earlier today is included below. Think of this as a real-time, less-sexy version of the CDC’s MMWR. Emphasis added:

To: Princeton University community

Date: Feb. 6, 2012

From: University Health Services and Environmental Health and Safety

Re: Update: Campus Hygiene Advisory

In light of continuing cases of gastroenteritis on campus, University Health Services and the Office of Environmental Health and Safety want to remind faculty, staff and students about increased attentiveness to personal hygienic practices.

A few of the recent cases have tested positive for norovirus, which is a common virus that causes gastroenteritis.  While it is usually not serious and most people recover in a few days, gastroenteritis can cause periods of severe sickness and can be highly contagious. You can prevent the spread of illness by practicing good hygiene, such as frequent hand washing, and limiting contact with others if sick.

Gastroenteritis includes symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal cramps. Please take the following steps if you are experiencing symptoms:

–Ill students should refrain from close contact with others and contact University Health Services at 609-258-3129 or visit McCosh Health Center on Washington Road. Ill employees are encouraged to stay home and contact their personal physicians for medical assistance.

–Wash your hands frequently and carefully with soap and warm water, and always after using the bathroom.

–Refrain from close contact with others until symptoms have subsided, or as advised by medical staff.

–Do not handle or prepare food for others while experiencing symptoms and for two-to-three days after symptoms subside.

–Increase your intake of fluids, such as tea, water, sports drinks and soup broth, to prevent dehydration.

–Avoid sharing towels, beverage bottles, food, and eating utensils and containers.

–Clean and disinfect soiled surfaces with bleach-based cleaning products. Students and others on campus who need assistance with cleaning and disinfecting soiled surfaces may call Building Services at 609-258-8000. Building Services also will be increasing disinfection of frequent touch points, such as doorknobs and restroom fixtures.

–Clean all soiled clothes and linen. Soiled linen should be washed and dried in the hottest temperature recommended by the linen manufacturer.

In the past week, University Health Services has seen more than the usual number of students experiencing symptoms of acute gastroenteritis. The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services tested samples from a few of the cases, which were later found positive for norovirus. Because norovirus has been identified as the chief cause of gastroenteritis currently on campus, further testing is not planned at this time, but the University is urging community members to take steps to prevent the further spread of illness.

Noroviruses are the most common causes of gastroenteritis in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Anyone can become infected with gastroenteritis and presence of the illness may sometimes increase during winter months. While most people get better in a few days, gastroenteritis can be serious in young children, the elderly and people with other health conditions. Frequent hand washing with soap and warm water is your best defense against most communicable disease.

I bolded a few passages because I think the very last sentence (wash your hands) is actually the most important single part of the message and is much clearer than encouraging someone to increase “attentiveness to personal hygienic practices.” But still a good message overall. At least one friend has come down with this and it sounds unpleasant…

06

02 2012

Halfway!

I’ve been remiss in blogging lately, but my excuses are excellent for once. Princeton has an odd academic schedule with finals after the winter / Christmas holidays. So after spending a couple weeks in Arkansas visiting family it was back to cold (but not as cold as usual) New Jersey to study for finals, write papers, and take exams, all in the middle of January.

For normal students — i.e., those who are used to finishing final exams before Christmas and actually having a mental break over the holidays — this schedule is unpleasant. But it has one upside: last week was intersession, a one-week break where the fall semester is completely done and the spring semester and its obligations have yet to begin, and Woodrow Wilson students (in the vernacular, “Woos”) traditionally plan group vacations.

One group went to Colombia for the week, another to the Dominican Republic, and various individuals and small groups jaunted off to exotic locales like Paris and Florida. I opted for the low-cost, low-energy Puerto Rico group. Sixteen of us rented a condo and this house (which I highly recommended) in Luquillo Beach and enjoyed this for a week:

Life is hard...

Needless to say the stress of finals was washed away and we Woos are both more tanned and less loathe to start the spring semester. Today was our first day of classes so I’m still figuring out which classes I’ll be taking, but this seems like a good moment to pause and celebrate:

I’m officially halfway through grad school! 1.5 years down, 1.5 to go. So far I’ve done:

  • 4 quarters of coursework at Hopkins (9 months)
  • a summer interning with the NYC Dept of Health (3 months)
  • and the fall semester at Princeton (6 months)

Still to go:

  • this spring semester at Princeton (4 months)
  • June through January: a yet-to-be-determined internship abroad to fulfill internship requirements for Princeton and practicum and remaining degree requirements for Hopkins (8 months)
  • and a final semester at Princeton in the spring of 2013 (4 months)

I’m happy with my course of study so far, and have largely concentrated on the comparative advantage of each school and program: epidemiology, infectious disease, and other public health courses at Hopkins and economics and more general public policy courses at Princeton. For more details on the two programs (for instance, if you’re considering programs like these) click below the fold…

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06

02 2012

Overhead at WWS

Last week a classmate of mine at the Woodrow Wilson School shared this story, which I in turn share with permission.

Today G and I were doing our impossible econ problem set in Schultz Café. It was about consumer surplus so there were some nice geometric properties, and it was fun finding the areas of the triangles and trapezoids. I said out loud, “I don’t how to do it the econ way, G. I only know how to do it the 9th-grade-math way.”

Guess who was sitting right behind us?

Christopher Sims.

For background, search this article for the paragraph on Sims and the SAT. Maybe this is why economics folks might think we public policy students aren’t so great at math? Related: how to fight impostor syndrome.

18

01 2012

Monday Miscellany

16

01 2012

Generalized linear models resource

The lectures are over, the problem sets are submitted — all that’s left for the fall semester are finals in a couple weeks. One of the courses I’m taking is Germán Rodríguez’s “Generalized Linear Statistical Models” and it occurred to me that I should highlight the course website for blog readers.

Princeton does not have a school of public health (nor a medical school, business school, or law school, amongst other things) but it does have a program in demography and population research, and Professor Rodríguez teaches in that program.

The course website includes Stata logs, exams, datasets, and problem sets based on those data sets. The lectures have closely followed the lecture notes on the website, covering the following models: linear models (continuous data), logit models (binary data), Poisson models (count data), overdispersed count data, log-linear models (contingency tables), multinomial responses, survival analysis, and panel data, along with some appendices on likelihood and GLM theory. Enjoy.

11

01 2012

Does grad school make you liberal?

In short, no, liberals are just more likely to select themselves into grad school attendance (PDF). The abstract:

This paper analyzes longitudinal data to evaluate three claims that are key to a recently developed theory of professorial politics. The theory explains the liberalism of the American professoriate as a function of reputation-based self-selection: because academia has a reputation for liberalism, liberals are more likely to pursue graduate degrees and academic careers. We examine whether in fact young Americans who identify as liberal are more likely to enroll in graduate programs with the intention of completing a doctorate; the proposition that such a tendency cannot be explained away by variables unrelated to occupational reputation; and the claim, also made by the theory, that exposure to many years of higher education is not a major cause of the liberalism of graduate students. We find support for all three claims, with ambiguity only on the question of whether the greater propensity of those on the left to attend graduate school results from personality differences.

Within the particular fields I’m studying this is even more true. For public policy — speaking very broadly — if you’re conservative and mostly want to cut government then why study how to do government better? Why not study business or law instead? And public health has traditionally been a field that  favors a lot of government intervention too.

05

01 2012

Testing treatments in policy

The students at the Woodrow Wilson School have a group blog on public policy called 14 Points. I’ve been helping promote the blog for a while but just got around to writing my first submission this week. It’s titled “Testing Treatments: Building a culture of evidence in public policy”. Here’s an excerpt:

Similar lessons can be gleaned from the history of surgical response to breast cancer. In The Emperor of All Maladies (2010), a new history of cancer, oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee chronicles the history of such failed interventions as the radical mastectomy. Over a period of decades this brutal procedure – removing the breasts, lymph nodes, and much of the chest muscles – became the tool of choice for surgeons treating breast cancer. In the 1970s rigorous trials comparing radical mastectomy to more limited procedures showed that this terribly disfiguring procedure did not in fact help patients live longer at all. Some surgeons refused to believe the evidence – to believe it would have required them to acknowledge the harm they had done. But eventually the radical mastectomy fell from favor; today it is quite rare. Many similar stories are included in a free e-book titled Testing Treatments (2011).

As a society we’ve come to accept that medical devices should be tested by the most rigorous and neutral means possible, because the stakes are life and death for all of us. Thousands of people faced with deadly illnesses volunteer for clinical trials every year. Some of them survive while others do not, but as a society we are better off when we know what actually works. For every downside, like the delay of a promising treatment until evidence is gathered properly, there is an upside – something we otherwise would have thought is a good idea is revealed not to be helpful at all.

Under normal circumstances most new drugs are weeded out as they face a gauntlet of tests for safety and efficacy required before FDA licensure. The stories of the humanitarian-exemption stent and the radical mastectomy are different because these procedures became more widely used before there was rigorous evidence that they helped, though in both cases there were plenty of anecdotes, case studies, and small or non-controlled studies that made it look like they did. This haphazard, post-hoc testing is analogous to how policy in many other fields, from welfare to education, is developed. Many public policy decisions have considerable impacts on our livelihoods, education, and health. Why are we not similarly outraged by poor standards of evidence that leads to poor outcomes in other fields?

Read the rest at 14 Points, and check out the posts by my classmates.

16

12 2011