young dog stuck with old media

Poor Teddy.  His human friend wants him to fetch an old-fashioned newspaper.  You can see the forlorn look on his face.  Old media is for old dogs.  Teddy probably would prefer to fetch a newfangled digital tablet.

complex-currency economies

While residents of high-income countries today are accustomed to a single national currency, much more complex currency systems have existed in other economies and in other times.  The early nineteenth-century U.S. had a highly complex currency system.   During the Free Banking Era from 1837 to 1866, states, cities, counties, private banks, and private merchants all issued currencies.  An estimated 8,000 banks were issuing currencies in 1860 (see images of various bills).

Less commonly recognized is that businesses in the U.S. seemed to have continued to use colonial currency systems well into the nineteenth century.  For example, in upstate New York State in 1834, commodities such as eyeglasses, wood, thread, and sand were being priced in shillings, despite the colonial New York pound being retired in 1793.[1]  A business arithmetic text published in 1849 included a section on “reduction of currencies.”  Some practice questions from the text:

Change 74£. 1s. 6d. of the old currency of New York to United States money.
Change 129£. of the old currency of Pennsylvania to United States money.[2]

These are odd questions to be asking if those “old currencies” had actually been retired a half-century earlier.  At least some price evidence indicates that such currencies were still relevant for transactions.

Europe may soon demonstrate how modern, high-income economies work with complex-currency systems.  Modern information and communications technologies allow much faster transaction search and execution.  They also support much more complicated transactions.  On the other hand, key human factors such as trust, personal relations, and behavioral inertia have changed much less than technologies.  Multiple or parallel currencies might not be a complete disaster.  Let’s hope that a complex currency system works as well now as it did in the United States early in the nineteenth century.

*  *  *  *  *


[1] See, e.g., Report of the Inspectors of the State Prison at Auburn, 1834.

[2] Greenleaf, Benjamin (1849) Introduction to The national arithmetic: on the inductive system combining… (Boston: Robert S. Davis) p. 195.

disinvesting in public data is bad economics

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed an appropriations bill that cuts major U.S. Census Bureau data programs.  Public data is crucial public infrastructure for informed democracy and a vibrant economy in the twenty-first century.  Even assuming that budget cuts are good policy in the current macroeconomic circumstances, cutting public investment in data is a bad budgetary choice.

The proposed data cuts would eliminate the U.S. Economic Census.  The first U.S. Economic Census took place in 1810.  That census has continued since then on intervals of ten years or less.  In 1998, a Census Bureau historian wrote:

Over the past 187 years, the information in the economic censuses has increased in direct proportion to the growing complexity of the nation’s economy. At one time, this meant continually escalating demands on respondents; more recently, several efforts have eased their burden: reporting by mail, redesigned questionnaires, and increased use of administrative records. Nevertheless, data users in the administration, in Congress, and in the private sector often have pressed for even more statistics and detail. The advent of electronic data processing made filling users’ requests potentially easier, but budgetary constraints just as often forced compromise—cutbacks in detail here, entire programs canceled there. Yet, the published reports from the economic censuses continue to provide an unequaled panorama of the country’s economy from early 19th century to the present. The structure and practices of the nation’s business and industry continue to evolve; the censuses will evolve with them, just as they have since 1810. [*]

The Economic Census provides a important long-run perspective on key changes in the economy, such as the changes in the revenue structure of newspapers and periodicals.  Big data is emerging as a key driver of new businesses and services.  Our economic situation is getting more complex.   We need increased support for public data, not the complete elimination of fundamental data programs.

Trade-offs in resource use are an economic reality.  Recently the Census Bureau discontinued the venerable U.S. Statistical Abstract.  The Census Bureau stated:

In preparation for the Fiscal Year 2012 (FY 2012) budget, the Census Bureau did a comprehensive review of a number of programs and had to make difficult proposals to terminate and reduce a number of existing programs in order to acquire funds for higher priority programs. The decision to propose the elimination of this program was not made lightly.

Not having the U.S. Statistical Abstract makes accessing standard, basic data more difficult.   But at least that cut didn’t reduce the underlying public factual base.

To demonstrate my appreciation for economic reality, I’ll propose alternative budget cuts.  Rather than cutting investment in public data, I propose cutting public spending on healthcare.  The public should be informed that, due to lack of funds, the government suggests that they ride bikes and eat vegetables as a substitute for some medical care.  That’s a trade-off worth making.  If that’s not cutting close enough to home to seem honest to you, here’s another proposal: cut public support for research on economic theory.  We have enough economic theory.  We need to spend more time looking at economic data.

*  *  *  *  *

[*] From p. 375 in Micarelli, William F. (1998), “Evolution of the United States Economic Censuses: The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries,” Government Information Quarterly, v. 15, n. 3, pp. 335-377.


graffiti out of the time stream

This graffiti exists on an out-of-the-way wall in Washington, DC.  It projects a sense of surveillance.  Graffiti is illegal.  Cameras hidden everywhere and cameras that all unnoticefully deploy make continual surveillance a reality.  A young man recent spent nearly two years in jail in Virginia for making graffiti.

Graffiti was once an insistence on space for anyone to write for everyone.  The Internet now provides unlimited, unnoticed public space.  Graffiti on an out-of-the-way wall is as strange today as a print newspaper.

deadly sex discrimination in Titanic chivalry myth reporting

April 15, 2012, was the centennial of the sinking of the Titanic.  Coincidentally, five days before that centennial, two authors posted online a working paper, “Every man for himself: Gender, Norms and Survival in Maritime Disasters.”  The next day their employer described that working paper in a press release entitled “Titanic is an Exception among Disasters at Sea.” By the next day, the Associated Press (AP) was distributing this news under the title “Researchers: Titanic was an exception, male {sic} chivalry on sinking ships is ‘a myth’.”  The Washington Post, the NY Daily News, the Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada), and other leading news sources ran the AP article on that same day.  By the centennial of the Titanic’s sinking, about 300 online news sources from Malta to India to Australia were running this news.

In reporting this news, major news organizations mislead their readers, presented absurd statements, and furthered grotesque sexism.  The news stories reported that “two Swedish researchers … economists Mikael Elinder and Oscar Erixon of Uppsala University” did an “82-page study.”  That “study” was the working paper posted online five days before the Titanic’s centennial.  The main text of the working paper spans six pages.  The news reports described the working paper as if it were objective, authoritative scholarly research.   To encourage readers to remain ignorant of its credibility, none of the news stories linked to the working paper.  News reports thus presented as scholarly research what would be better understood as a tendentious media gambit.

Recognizing grave weaknesses in the story of the working paper / press release should not have been beyond the capabilities of a professional journalist.  For example, the press release states:

It is expected that the crew should rescue passengers, but our results show that captains and crew are more likely to survive than passengers.

That’s a non sequitur.  Consider the relationship between the two independent clauses.  Is it necessary for the captain and crew to be more likely to die in order for them to work to rescue passengers?  Try to think of any other factors besides helping passengers that would be relevant to the differential survival of the captain and crew (hint: experience at sea and swimming ability).  The bottom of the news report includes a quote from a ship captain making this obvious point.   The news story presents the captain’s statement merely as another viewpoint, rather than as reasoning that seriously undermines the value of paying any attention to the working-paper’s “findings.”

The news article presented statistics to impress and factually dominate the reader, but not statistics that usefully and accurately inform.  See if you notice a problem with these two statistical statements from the news article:

  • Out of the 15,000 people who died in the 18 accidents, only 17.8 percent of the women survived compared with 34.5 percent of the men.
  • Of the 1,496 people that perished with the Titanic, 73.3 percent of the women and 50.4 percent of the children survived compared to only 20.7 percent of the men.

These statistics make no sense.  How could a share of the persons who died have survived?  The above first sentence of statistical gibberish apparently is based on these sentences in the working paper:

Table 2 reports tests of each of the 6 hypotheses conducted in separate regressions, as well as together in one regression. We find that the survival rate of women is 16.7 percentage points lower than, or about half of (17.8% vs. 34.5%), that of men.[1]

Here a survival rate is described as a percentage apparently related to hypotheses tested in regressions.  The meaningfulness of those numbers depend on a vast array of other assumptions and specifications in the working paper’s analysis.  Most of those assumptions were not statistically supported.  In short, the working paper is also filled with statistical gibberish.[2]

full set of sinking ships
sinking ships authoritatively discriminating against men
persons on ships
persons perished
% perished
persons on ships
persons perished
% perished

Those interested in the truth start with understanding simple facts.  While the working paper failed to provide a summary table of deaths by sex, such a table can be constructed from the working paper with some additional work.   In the working paper’s set of sinking ships, 60% of the males and 68% of the females on the sinking ships died.  To what extent does that death-share difference reflect differences in seafaring experience and relevant physical skills?  The working paper didn’t evaluate that issue.  Even if men did privilege women on sinking ships, a higher share of men could still survive if they had more sea experience and better swimming ability.

Nearly twice as many males died on the sinking ships as did females. That fact points to sex-differentiated exposure to risk.  Women have been shielded from significant risks to which men are subject.  For example, in contrast to wide-ranging efforts to promote gender equity in the workplace, men still predominate in the most dangerous jobs.  In the U.S. in 2006, the dead person in 92% of workplace fatalities was a man.  Among U.S. soldiers on active duty in 2008, men outnumbered women by about six to one.  Among U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, men outnumbered women about forty-two to one.

Authoritative discrimination against men on sinking ships is associated with a higher share of men perishing and a lower share of women perishing.   For those sinking ships in which the captain ordered that women and children go first into the lifeboats, 71% of the males perished, while 51% of the females perished.  On sinking ships in which the captain is known not to have ordered sex discrimination for the evacuation, the shares perishing were nearly the reverse: 50% of males and 70% of females.  Thus an accurate and meaningful finding can be uncovered: on sinking ships, authoritative sex discrimination against men has deadly effects on men.[3]

The working paper and the press release presented these facts much differently.  Following a similar statement in the working paper, the press release declared:

On the ships where the captain gave the order ‘women and children first’, the difference in survival rates between men and women is lower. But women survived to a higher extent than men only when this order was enforced by the threat of violence.

This indicates an important role of leaders in the face of disasters. It is, however, unusual for captains to give such an order. [4]

The European Union was explicitly founded as a society in which “non-discrimination … and equality between women and men prevail.”[5]  Uppsala University in Sweden seems to support leaders threatening violence against men to uphold sex discrimination against men on sinking ships.  Underscoring its commitment to sexism and anti-male bigotry, the working paper’s title describes not privileging women and children as “every man for himself.”

In a disaster, many ordinary men may have a gut sense of their equal worth as human beings.  They may act accordingly.  That doesn’t mean that men would not or do not help some others deserving of help.  But, in extraordinary circumstances, many ordinary men may reject their categorical disposability.

In ordinary circumstances, men tend to accept their disposibility without protest.  That’s modern chivalry.  The communicative success of the Uppsala University working paper testifies to the enduring significance of such chivalry.

Universities and major media can help to guide societies to the secure shores of justice and truth.  Many today, especially in Europe, are now far out at sea.  Don’t follow an inhumane and untruthful order into the blue void.  Seek your own saving way!

Women's Titanic Memorial, Washington DC

Data: set of sinking ships, with characteristics and sex-differentiated death totals (Excel version)

Related posts:


[1] Elinder & Erixson (2012) p. 6.

[2] The quality of the statistical work in Elinder & Erixson (2012) appears to me to be so low as to not merit attention. Its hypothesis are laughably ill-formed, its framework of hypothesis testing is not credible (do you really believe that those hypotheses were formulated independent of the data? What does that imply for the interpretation of statistical tests?), the results are incompletely reported, the data have not been posted, the model forms chosen are not well justified and tested, etc.  The main value of Elinder & Erixson (2012) is to intimidate untrained readers and obscure simple facts.  While Elinder & Erixson (2012) has not undergone peer review, many peer-review publications present false results.  The institutional problems that Begley & Ellis (2012) identify in preclinical cancer research are even worse in economic research.

[3] The data in Elinder & Erixson (2012) do not consistently distinguish adults and children.  Because the number of young children is probably relatively small, males and females are reasonable proxies for men and women.

[4] In their concluding main section entitled “Discussion,” Elinder & Erixson (2012), p. 8, states:

Most notably, we find that it seems as if {sic} it is the policy of the captain, rather than the moral sentiments of men, that determines if women are given preferential treatment in shipwrecks. This suggests an important role for leaders in disasters.

[5] See Treaty of the European Union, Article 2.


Begley, C. Glenn, and Lee M. Ellis. 2012. “Drug development: Raise standards for preclinical cancer research.” Nature. 483 (7391): 531-533.

Elinder, Mikael and Oscar Erixson. 2012.  “Every man for himself: Gender, Norms and Survival in Maritime Disasters.” Uppsala Universitet, Department of Economics, Working Paper 2012:8.

Update:  The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) received the paper for review on May 2, 2012, approved it on June 29, 2012, and published it on July 30, 2012.  It was published as Elinder, Mikael and Oscar Erixson. 2012. “Gender, social norms, and survival in maritime disasters.”  doi:10.1073/pnas.1207156109  The publication in PNAS generated another round of coverage in major news sources.  While the second round of press reporting seems to have avoided obvious statistical blunders, the reporting provided no critical perspective on the article’s claims.

The peer review of the paper did little to improve it.  The criticisms above still apply.  PNAS published online a supporting dataset with the article.  The organization of the dataset, which shows no regard for informative data structure, is further reason to doubt the article’s tendentious statistical analysis.

Here’s an example of the article’s scientific veneer:

A small survival disadvantage for women is difficult to interpret, as it can either indicate that the WCF norm has helped women from a potentially larger disadvantage or that the norm has not been upheld. However, if we observe a substantial survival disadvantage of women we regard it as evidence that compliance with the WCF norm is exceptional in maritime disasters. (p. 1)

Note the technical-normative babble “compliance with the WCF norm” and “the norm has not been upheld.”  The actual issue is whether passengers and crew valued women’s lives and children’s lives above men’s lives.  This paper strives to make that gender inequality into a norm for which society demands compliance.  In the historical shipwreck sample, men are likely to differ significantly from women in sea-survival skills and physical capabilities.  With regard to isolating the quantitative extent to which men helping women affects men’s and women’s differential survival, the article offers little actual quantitative evidence.  Instead, the article states: “if we observe a substantial survival disadvantage of women we regard it as evidence…”  The observed facts aren’t actually evidence of the authors’ claim; the authors merely “regard it as evidence.” I regard this article as evidence that junk statistical work, if appropriately tendentious, gets published quickly in PNAS.


Costa Concordia disaster’s sexist barrage from commanding heights

With the passenger-laden cruise ship Costa Concordia sinking, Captain Gregorio De Falco of the Italian coastguard telephoned the ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino.  Captain Schettino and the ship’s second-in-command had already arrived safely on shore.  Captain De Falco angrily told Captain Schettino:

listen, there are people that are coming down the pilot ladder of the prow {of the sinking cruise ship}.  You go up that pilot ladder, get on that ship and tell me how many people are still on board. And what they need. Is that clear? You need to tell me if there are children, women or people in need of assistance. And tell me the exact number of each of these categories. Is that clear? Listen Schettino, that you saved yourself from the sea, but I am going to … really do something bad to you … I am going to make you pay for this. Go on board, damnit! [1]

Captain De Falco, an Italian official acting in his official capacity, issued an order using the categories “children, women, or people in need of assistance.”  Captain De Falco thus explicitly mentioned women, but not men.  Given the omission of men, the informal criteria for determining “people in need of assistance” probably discriminate against men.  Captain De Falco’s order provides well-founded grounds for bringing a claim of gender discrimination.

Under the Treaty of the European Union, gender discrimination is not permitted.  Article 2 of the Treaty of the European Union states that the European Union is founded on the value of equality and exists as a society in which “non-discrimination … and equality between women and men prevail.”  Moreover, Article 3 of the Treaty of the European Union states that the Union “shall promote … equality between women and men.”  Cruise ships sinking under European Union jurisdiction cannot categorically favor women in evacuating persons from the sinking ship.

The Treaty of the European Union and other political and economic changes have failed to improve men’s social disposability.  The sinking Titanic made clear men’s social disposability in an explicit authoritative order and in the actual results:

When the Titanic went down in April 1912, the Captain’s orders were: ‘Women and children first!’

Although this legendary edict was never part of maritime law, it was adhered to so strictly on the Titanic that men were actually stopped from boarding lifeboats, many of which went to sea only three-quarters full.

There were only a few exceptions to the unvarying tales of heroism: three men in steerage who disobeyed the rule — Italians, coincidentally — were shot.

The chivalry was reflected in survival rates: 74 per cent of the women were saved; 52 per cent of the children; and just 20 per cent of the men.

Authoritative institutions have done nothing to make men less disposable.  In response to the Costa Concordia disaster, a major U.K. newspaper ran a column that simultaneously praised gender equality, shamed men who don’t privilege women, and naturalized men’s privileging of women:

But in our day, with the advent of feminism and the professional woman, chivalry and manners are considered stuffy and old-fashioned.

As the father of three daughters, I do not, with a single fibre of my being, wish to go back to a time when women could not have the vote or get a university degree. Nor do I, surrounded by extremely strong-charactered and intelligent women in my family and among my friends, feel tempted to regard women as the frail sex.

But the fact remains that there is a longing among most men to protect women and children, and chivalry is simply a manifestation of that longing.

And whatever transpires about the reason for the Costa Concordia disaster, the disappearance of a chivalric code is a sorry reflection on society today. [2]

The death of public reason, which best accounts for the above combination of statements, is important news.  In contrast, the passing of knightly combat isn’t news for anyone living in society today.  The presence today of yearning for the chivalric code is astonishing, especially coming from public discourse’s movers and shapers.

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, artist of the Titanic Memorial sculpture

The sinking of public reason has occurred from its most respected, most commanding heights.  Within a week and a half after the Costa Concordia tragedy, Cambridge University issued a press release featuring topical analysis from Cambridge University scholar and teacher, Dr. Lucy Delap, Fellow and Director of Studies in History at St Catharine’s College.  This press release did not contain analysis on how to better implement the Treaty of the European Union’s commitment to non-discrimination and equality between men and women on sinking boats.  Instead, the press release had the title “Shipwrecked: women and children first?”  Well-educated persons in the European Union today should be able to answer that question quickly, cheaply, and simply: “no.”  Instead, this center of educational excellence offers a lengthy and self-consciously complex essay.  Its intellectual quality and apparent pointlessness is well-summarized in its featured pull quote: “‘Women and children first’ was much more contested in the past than today’s news coverage would have us believe.”

Upon careful study of the Cambridge University press release, a critical reader might discern its intellectual intent: to lessen concern for discrimination against men.  The opening paragraph of Dr. Delap’s essay states:

With tragic stories of loss, chaos and fear, shipwrecks have always fascinated onlookers, and been used to convey moral lessons. The Costa Concordia has reignited the potent debates over how one should behave in an emergency shipwreck situation.  It is clear from the media response that the old question of whether ‘women and children’ should go first remains just as significant in 2012 as it seemed in 1912.

Here purple prose (“tragic stories of loss, chaos, and fear,” “fascinated onlookers,” “reignited the potent debates,” “emergency [sic] shipwreck situation”) leads to a remarkably impotent sentence.  It begins with “It is clear from the media response….”  That intellectual leadership leads into the following insight: “the old question of whether ‘women and children’ should go first remains just as significant in 2012 as it seemed in 1912.”  Can you think of anything that has changed over the past century in regard to seeking equality between women and men?  If you can’t think of anything, see the text of the Treaty of the European Union quoted above.

While the press release’s opening paragraph suggests authorial obtuseness, further in the essay Dr. DeLap appears appears to be a highly sophisticated teacher.  The second paragraph opens:

The world’s press has dwelt on the lack of precedence of women and children aboard the 21st century sinking ship, with particular emphasis on the failures of professionalism and chivalry shown by the Italian captain, and his crew. Tales are circulating of burly crew members pushing pregnant women and children out of the way, and the failure of captain and crew to ensure that all were rescued before departing from the ship themselves.

The first sentence above obscures the sexism inherent in “women and children first.”  The obscuring tactic is to conflate “failures of professionalism” and “chivalry.”  Professionalism is related to chivalry only for knights.  Other European Union professionals should do their jobs, even in difficult circumstances.  Moreover, they are expected to do their jobs in accordance with European Union law forbidding gender discrimination.  Put differently, every man’s job description does not include putting all women first in life-threatening circumstances.  Public pressure on men to put women first is oppressive sexism that intellectual leaders should robustly denounce.  The second paragraph’s second sentence is also highly sophisticated.  It seems to be informed by press reports such as these:

Fights broke out to get into the lifeboats, men refused to prioritise women, expectant mothers and children as they pushed themselves forward to escape. Crew ignored their passengers – leaving ‘chefs and waiters’ to help out. …

As she waited for a flight home from Rome, grandmother Sandra Rogers, 62, told the Daily Mail: ‘There was no “women and children first” policy. There were big men, crew members, pushing their way past us to get into the lifeboats. It was disgusting.’ …

{Ms Rogers said,}  ‘I was standing by the lifeboats and men, big men, were banging into me and knocking the girls. It was awful. There was a total lack of organisation. There was no one telling people where to go.’

‘And when we finally got into a lifeboat, people, grown men, were trying to jump into the boat. I thought, if they land in here we are going to capsize.’ (Daily Mail)

Dr. DeLap apparently condensed such reports to “burly crew members pushing pregnant women and children out of the way.”  Privileging women (who are not always pregnant) relative to men (many of whom are not burly and most of whom aren’t crew members) is gender discrimination.  DeLap presents such discrimination in the most emotionally appealing form.

Dr. DeLap’s essay moves on to discuss historical examples of women wanting to stay on sinking boats.  Of course!  “Women and children first” is another example of the oppression of women:

In many famous shipwrecks, women had to be removed by force. Their own choices were often to remain with their male relatives, or in the perceived safety of the ship. In some cases they were simply locked up in their cabins, as their hysteria was perceived to be dangerous. … Victorian women, then, were to be contained; the rule giving them precedence was partly for the relief and safety of the men on board ship. As it was practiced, ‘women and children first’ often resulted in women being treated as objects rather than being given special protection.

That’s incredible intellectual work.  It’s also quite tiresome.  I can’t motivate myself to read any more of it.

For better quality thinking than Dr. DeLap’s Cambridge University press release, look at the comments on the Daily Mail‘s article reporting on the experiences of the Costa Concordia’s passengers.  The top-rated comment, from Patricia Dolan, reasons:

Children first, sure, but in our age of equality, why women first? A bit victorian isnt it? When women can sue (and get millions) for the most trivially perceived inequality – why should women then get a free ticket to be saved at men’s expense? Seems a bit unfair. For instance, who is more likely to be able save themselves in such circumstances? A man of 60 who can’t swim, or a young fit woman of 25 who can swim? Surely it should be the weakest saved first. Women can’t have it both ways. They can’t want to be seen as equal to men when it comes to the nice stuff. But return to helpless little women when its the nasty stuff. To paraphrase, ‘equality is not just for Christmas.’

Ms. Dolan’s response has generated thus far 4683 “up” marks.  Social elites’ contempt for men’s welfare generates justified anger among ordinary men.  Such anger doesn’t bode well for public support for higher education.

The Titanic Memorial in Washington, DC,  provides true insight into what has changed from 1912 to 2012.  The Titanic Memorial has inscribed on its front:

APRIL 15 1912

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, a prominent figure in high society, designed the sculpture.  Noted architect Henry Bacon, who designed the Lincoln Memorial, also designed the base structure (exedra) for the Titanic Memorial.  Helen Herron Taft, the widow of William Howard Taft, who was the U.S. President at the time of the Titanic’s sinking and who died in 1930 while serving as Chief Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, formally unveiled the sculpture in 1931.  The sculpture was located in a central, waterfront position in Washington, DC.  The sentiment that the Titanic Memorial represented was thus publicly prominent.

By 1969, the public position of the Titanic Memorial had changed greatly.  The Great Lakes Titanic Society’s website explains that the Titanic Memorial was removed from its central location in Washington, DC:

The memorial was re-erected without ceremony in 1968 on the south Washington waterfront outside Fort McNair in Washington Channel Park at Fourth and P Streets, SW.

That was, and remains, an obscure, poor neighborhood.

The social disposibility of men has changed little from 1912 to 2012.   Tendentious and mind-numbing recitations of class and gender history, contempt for men’s welfare, and misandry have increased greatly.

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Read more:


[1] From the Guardian’s translation of the call transcript.  Above I’ve replaced “(expletive)” with the expletive reported in another news account.

[2] Wilson, A. N.  “Whatever happened to women and children first?“, Daily Mail Online, last updated 18 Jan. 2012.  In considering the Costa Concordia disaster and response, major newspapers didn’t debate the question, “Whatever happened to the text and values of the Treaty of the European Union?”  That latter question may prompt much anguish in the near future.


sexism and gender inequality in family courts

While hardly mentioned in high-profile discussions of sexism and gender inequality, family law and family courts support enormous and oppressive gender inequalities.  In the U.S. as of 2005, about fourteen times more mothers than fathers have received physical custody of their children.[*]  About eleven times more men than women are subject to legally enforced child-support payments.  In short, through institutionalized sexism and sex discrimination, women are given physical custody of children, and men are given legal responsibility to provide money to them.

Sex discrimination in child custody and child support urgently merits close examination.  The lack of public discussion of this important issue reveals fundamental sex differences in social communication.

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Related posts:

Statistics: child-custody and child-support statistics, by type of custody and type of child-support agreement, by sex (Excel version)

[*] The legal fiction of legal custody is no substitute for gender equity.  The two most common custody arrangements are joint legal custody with the mother having physical custody, and the mother having sole legal and physical custody.  Legal custody means relatively little compared to physical custody.  A parent is never given physical custody without legal custody.  The practical significance of having legal custody, but not physical custody, is relatively small.

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social reality of scholarly peer review

Peer-reviewed publications are currently the main currency for academic advancement.  Like fiat currencies  in general economic use, the value of editorial peer review appears to be largely in its value for economic transactions.  Consider, for example, a scholarly study published in 1982.  The authors created fictitious authors for twelve articles published in twelve highly regarded psychology journals eighteen to thirty-two months earlier.  These articles were then resubmitted for publication to the same journals that had published them previously.  The outcome:

Of the sample of thirty-eight editors and reviewers, only three (8 percent) detected the resubmissions.  This result allowed nine of the twelve articles to continue through the review process to receive an actual evaluation: eight of the nine were rejected.  Sixteen of the eighteen referees (89 percent) recommended against publication and the editors concurred.  The grounds for rejection were in many cases described as “serious methodological flaws.”[1]

A critical article on peer review recently noted:

At the British Medical Journal we took a 600 word study that we were about to publish and inserted eight errors.  We then sent the paper to about 300 reviewers.  The median number of errors spotted was two, and 20% of the reviewers did not spot any.  We did further studies of deliberately inserting errors, some very major, and came up with similar results.[2]

Methodological and statistical analysis of published empirical research has concluded that most published research findings are false.[3]  Another review of empirical evidence on peer review concluded:

At present, little empirical evidence is available to support the use of editorial peer review as a mechanism to ensure quality of biomedical research. However, the methodological problems in studying peer review are many and complex. At present, the absence of evidence on efficacy and effectiveness cannot be interpreted as evidence of their absence.[4]

Surely a central aspect of the methodological problems is that peer-reviewed articles are the primary scholarly assets of scholars today.  If persons were to recognize that editorial peer review has no fundamental value, the scholarly economy might collapse.

In the communicative circumstances of the Internet, publish everything is a good fundamental principle. Classical peer review tends to be understood as a value-creating quality filter for publication.  It is associated with competition to get as many peer-reviewed publications as possible.  An alternative to peer review is open-access competition for attention and approval: “publish everything and then let the world decide what is important.”[5]  The Internet allows a huge amount of information to be made available to a huge number of persons at much lower cost than would be possible with print publications.  That technological transformation fundamentally favors making any symbolic work available to everyone.

However, making any symbolic work available to everyone is not sufficient for a secure, well-functioning scholarly economy.  The effect of social influence on symbolic choices isn’t well understood.  Yet one can reasonably believe that fashions and celebrities are not manifestations of a good process for seeking truth, although they may be an inevitable aspect of any real social process.  “Let the world decide what is important” ignores the reality and importance of human social nature and human institutions.  A good social structures for symbolic competition in truth-seeking is a key challenge for the new Internet world.

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Update: more on reforming peer review


[1]  Douglas P. Peters and Stephen J. Ceci (1982). Peer-review practices of psychological journals: The fate of published articles, submitted again. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 5, pp 187-195 doi:10.1017/S0140525X00011183

[2] Richard Smith (2010). Classical peer review: an empty gun. Breast Cancer Research, 12(Suppl 4):S13 doi:10.1186/bcr2742

[3] John P. A. Ioannidis (2005).  Why Most Published Research Findings Are FalsePLoS Med 2(8): e124. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124

[4] Jefferson T, Rudin M, Brodney Folse S, Davidoff F.  Editorial peer review for improving the quality of reports of biomedical studies. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 2. Art. No.: MR000016. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.MR000016.pub3

[5] Smith (2010), cited above, p. 3.


motherhood and sexism in Turner v. Rogers

The parties’ briefs in the currently pending U.S. Supreme Court case Turner v. Rogers contrast sharply in motherhood statements and fatherhood statements.  The petitioner’s brief includes only one instance of a word beginning with mother, and only two instances of a word beginning with father.  The respondents’ brief, in contrast, includes twenty-two instances of words beginning with mother, and twenty-seven instances of words beginning with father.[*]  What explains this stark contrast?

The parties’ respective presentations of the questions before the U.S. Supreme Court point to reasons for the contrasting use of motherhood and fatherhood statements.  The petitioner declares the substantial question in Turner v. Rogers to be this:

Whether the Supreme Court of South Carolina erred in holding—in conflict with twenty-two federal courts of appeals and state courts of last resort—that an indigent defendant has no constitutional right to appointed counsel at a civil contempt proceeding that results in his incarceration.

That question is obviously tendentiously phrased with respect to the relevant law.  Advocates commonly present tendentious questions to highly intelligent judges.  Highly intelligent judges, like any other living person, feel sentiment and have emotions that cannot be separated biologically from logic and reason.  Hence advocates seek to prompt favorable sentiments and emotions.

The respondents pursued a much different sentimental strategy.  The respondents declare the substantial question in Turner v. Rogers to be this:

In a mother’s pro se action to enforce a child-support order, does the father have a categorical Sixth or Fourteenth Amendment right to appointed counsel before he can be confined for a limited time for civil contempt?

The respondents present the question as a battle between mother and father.   The respondents’ strategy is reasonable because sentiment favors motherhood.

The U.S. financial child-support system formally serves custodial parents, both mothers and fathers.  The respondents’ sentimental strategy reveals the underlying reality.  The respondents’ brief describes in a heading one aspect of the financial child-support system:

Mothers’, Children’s, and the Government’s Interests in Fair, Effective Child-Support Enforcement Would Be Disserved by Appointing Counsel for All Nonpaying Fathers

The child-support system in reality serves narrow financial interests of mothers, children, and the government.  It shows little regard for men’s interests.  Even just with respect to men’s obvious interest in not being incarcerated, the child-support system can’t even be bothered to collect systematic, accurate statistics on the number of persons (mainly men) it keeps in jails or prisons.  The respondents’ brief pairs with the above heading a heading about fathers’ interests, alone and narrowly confined:

Fathers’ Interests Are Adequately Protected by Straightforward Family Court Procedures

Sex inequalities in child custody and child support are about an order of magnitude larger than widely discussed sex inequalities in the labor force.   Straightforward family court procedures pass as adequate only because the former sex inequalities have generated relatively little public discussion and policy concern.

The respondents’ brief exploits to an extraordinary extent the child-support system’s firmly rooted, stereotype-based beliefs about the allocation of family responsibilities.  For example, the respondents’ brief declares:

A mother has a “commanding” interest in the custody and care of her child. Lassiter, 452 U.S. at 27.

Here’s what the Supreme Court’s decision in Lassiter states at the cited point:

A parent’s interest in the accuracy and justice of the decision to terminate his or her parental status is, therefore, a commanding one.

The respondents’ brief rephrased the Court’s statement in Lassiter to make it into a motherhood statement.  The respondents’ citation also excised the context of terminating a person’s parental status.  Incarcerating a person in effect terminates a person’s acting parental status for the period of incarceration.  When the parent is a father, the commanding interest in parental status isn’t even served with legal counsel.  That shows the power of motherhood statements.

mom, we love you!


[*] These counts exclude instances in the appendices to the respondents’ brief.   The respondents’ motherhood and fatherhood totals include two and seven instances, respectively, where the relevant word is in the title of a cited work or in a quotation from a cited work. One instance of mother and no instance of father is similarly situated in the petitioner’s brief.  Because the brief writer chooses articles to cite and text to quote, the total number best reflects use of motherhood and fatherhood statements.  Under either accounting, the respondents’ brief includes an order of magnitude more motherhood and fatherhood statements than does the petitioner’s brief.

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differences between having sex and fathering a child

In opposing the Cert Petition to the U.S. Supreme Court in Turner v. Rogers, the respondents stated as facts:

Petitioner Michael Turner fathered B.L.P., the daughter of respondent Rebecca L. Rogers (née Price), in 1995, when petitioner was 18 and Rogers was 16. The pair drifted apart soon after B.L.P.’s birth in 1996.[1]

These statements equate “fathered” to having sex of reproductive type, where retrospectively a particular chain of contingent events allegedly followed from that sex act.  While sex and procreation must be linked according to authoritative doctrinal statements of Catholic Church leaders, most persons don’t believe that such doctrine should be binding on everyone under U.S. law.  Most persons consider sexual intercourse to be private conduct that they have liberty to choose without state-imposed burdens, obstacles, or punishments.   Nonetheless, differences between having sex and fathering a child are not recognized in important legal actions, including in legal proceedings that keep on any given day about 45,000 men like Michael Turner in jails and prisons for sex-payment arrears.[2]

Having sex is much more prevalent among teenagers than is fathering a child.  In the U.S. today, the share of males ages 18 and 19 who have ever had oral, vaginal, or anal sex with a female are 70%, 66%, and 17%, respectively.  The share of males ages 18 and 19 who have ever engaged in oral or anal sex with a male is 4%.[3]  Only sex of reproductive type — heterosexual vaginal intercourse — is sex that, with a particular ensuing chain of contingent events, can lead to fathering a child.

Unlike females, males are subject to uncertainty about whether their sex act of reproductive type contributed sperm to a specific pregnancy.  DNA testing can establish beyond a reasonable doubt whether a particular male contributed sperm to a specific pregnancy. However, public policies and procedures discourages males from acquiring highly certain knowledge about their biological relation to a particular pregnancy.  Teen males are particularly unlikely to surmount obstacles, including lack of knowledge, shaming, and intimidation, that constrain males from acquiring this knowledge.  In the U.S. as a whole, men falsely believe themselves to be the biological father for roughly 5% of children. Among females ages 15 to 17 who had sex in the past year, 43% had sex with more than one male.[4]  The facts that a male had sex of reproductive type with a female and the female gave birth to a child approximately nine months later is not sufficient to establish a biological connection.   Turner may not in fact be the biological father of B.L.P., even though he ignorantly acknowledged paternity in response to official misrepresentation of facts.

Many teenage males have sex of reproductive type without wanting to father a child and without actually fathering a child.  Not only have 66% of males ages 18 and 19 had sex of reproductive type, 43% had such sex in the past three months, and 19% had such sex four or more times in the past four weeks.[6]   In the U.S. today, a male who does not want to be a father can legally use contraceptives to lessen the probability that he will fertilize an embryo.  Among the 29% of males ages 15-19 who had sex of reproductive type in the past three months, 93% had sex with some form of contraception.[7]  The share of males who state that they have a biological child is 1.9% for males ages 15-19 and less than 4.7% for males ages 18 and 19.[8]  Many teenage males have sex of reproductive type, in addition to sex of other types, many times.  Few teenage males father a child.

After decades of bitter, extensive public disputes about abortion, everyone should understand that contraceptives alone do not eliminate the problem of unwanted pregnancies and unplanned parenthood.  A male who fertilizes an embryo does not father a child when the relevant female chooses to have an abortion.  Among 16-year-old females in the U.S. in 2007, abortions amounted to 43% of live births.[9]  Price, as a 16-year-old female, chose not to have an abortion.  If Price had chosen to have an abortion, South Carolina would not have imposed weekly sex-payment obligations on Turner.  In that sense of legal fatherhood, Turner would not have fathered a child.

To most persons, fathering a child has no relation to being subject to weekly, state-imposed payments.  Fathers wake their children, dress their children, feed their children, play with their children, comfort their children, put their children to sleep, and wake them up.  Fathers change their childrens’ diapers, they wipe their running noses, and they teach their children and discipline their children.  These important acts of love and care are much different from having the resources and the disposition to comply with weekly, state-imposed payments.   They are also much different from having sex.

Michael Turner and Rebecca Price had sex of reproductive type.  That act is not the same as fathering a child.  In the U.S. today, having sex of reproductive type is the basis for men being incarcerated, without even the benefit of counsel.  In a state that did not legally impose Catholic sexual morality on men, having sex of reproductive type would not be labeled fathering in a legal document before the Supreme Court.


Related posts:


[1] Turner v. Rogers, Respondents’ Brief in Opposition to Petition for Writ of Certiorari, p. 6.  Emphasis added.

[2] The figure of 45,000 men is based on an estimated 50,000 persons in jail or prison for child-support arrears, and assumes that the sex ratio of persons incarcerated for child-support arrears is the same as the sex ratio for child-support awards, which is eight women receiving a child-support award per man receiving one.

[3] Chandra et al. (2011) Table 6 (data from 2006-8).

[4] Calculated from data in Chandra et al. (2011) Table 1 (data from 2006-8).

[6] Abma, Martinez, and Copen (2010) Tables 4, 5 (data from 2006-8)

[7] Abma, Martinez, and Copen (2010) Tables 4, 15 (data from 2006-8).

[8] Martinez et al. (2006) Table 1 (data from 2002; no more recent figures available).  The ceiling for males ages 18-19 is calculated from the figure for males ages 15-19 under the assumption that all the men that had a biological child had their first child at ages 18 or 19.

[9] Pazol (2011) Table 5.


Abma, Joyce C., Martinez, Gladys, Copen, Casey E. Teenagers in the United States: Sexual activity, contraceptive use, and childbearing, National Survey of Family Growth 2006–2008. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 23(30). 2010.

Chandra, Anjani, Mosher, William D, Copen, Casey, and Sionean Catlainn. Sexual behavior, sexual attraction, and sexual identity in the United States: Data from the 2006–2008 National Survey of Family Growth. National health statistics reports; no 36. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2011.

Martinez, Gladys M., Chandra, Anjani, Abma, Joyce C., Jones, Jo, and Mosher, William D. Fertility, contraception, and fatherhood: Data on men and women from Cycle 6 (2002) of the National Survey of Family Growth. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 23(26). 2006.

Pazol, Karen et. al. Abortion Surveillance — United States, 2007. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), February 25, 2011 / 60(ss01);1-39.

Turner v. Rogers, U.S. Supreme Court, Docket 10-10, argued Mar. 23, 2011.

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