The Second U.S. Presidential Debate

A week of sexual-assault-themed events have led to tonight's second debate. Trump was caught on tape bragging about having sexually assaulted women, and then in the firestorm that followed dredged up decades-old unverified sexual assault claims against not Hillary. but Bill Clinton. What a night it will be.
A week of sexual-assault-themed events have led to tonight’s second debate. Trump was caught on tape bragging about having sexually assaulted women, and then in the firestorm that followed dredged up decades-old unverified sexual assault claims against not Hillary. but Bill Clinton. What a night it will be.

It has been a remarkable week for U.S. Presidential politics. The Republican candidate, Donald Trump, found himself abandoned by many supporters in his own party when videotape surfaced of him talking about having sexually assaulted women, using the pretense of his wealth and celebrity to then take advantage of them. He made those remarks when he was 59 years old. The Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, would have had to deal with allegedly leaked excerpts from paid speeches (in which she described a vision of a western hemisphere free to open trade… not a huge surprise for center-left Democrat) except that Trump stole all the headlines… and not in a way that he would have liked. Tonight, just 90 minutes before the second debate, Trump hosted a panel of women alleging sexual assault against Bill Clinton, women whose accusations were dismissed by earlier prosecutors due to their unreliability under interview by investigators (changing stories, etc). Trump has been using this to cast shadows on Hillary Clinton, alleging she threatened these women to keep quiet. The goal here is to use the shadow already on Bill and hope to cast an equal shadow on Hillary… an interesting strategy for a man who admitted on tape to sexually assaulting women and planning further such assaults.

So here we are. It’s less than 1 hour before the second debate starts. It’s a town hall debate. This Presidential election cycle has broken all the rules of all past such campaigns… I refuse to even predict what could happen tonight. I’ll post fact-checks as they roll in from various news agencies, and maybe add some of my own reaction to this mess.

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Presidential Candidates and Verbal Honesty

Verbal Honesty Score and the raw data that were used to compute the score. Data is from PolitiFact.com.
Verbal Honesty Score and the raw data that were used to compute the score. Data is from PolitiFact.com as of 3/12/2016.

As a physicist, I am fascinated by trying to quantify the world – to find the numbers that can represent what is going on in nature. People are hard to quantify most of the time, but trying to do so can be informative. Organizations like PolitiFact [1] offer a set of data about people – specifically, about politicians – that can allow us to create numbers to represent and understand those people. In this post, I discuss my own recent attempt to quantify the data collected by PolitiFact by constructing an “Verbal Honesty Score” for the remaining Democrat and Republican Presidential Candidates. I find that Donald Trump is, by far, the most verbally dishonest candidate… by a long shot, and by two measures of the same data. I find that Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and John Kasich are the most verbally honest of the group, though who is more verbally honest differs by which of the two measures you want to use. For now, I assign no errors to the numbers though errors of a statistical nature are possible. I comment on errors of a systematic nature.

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Memes vs. Facts: What the President Said

The reality distortion field is strong with this meme. This circulated hours after the President gave a speech about executive power and how it might be applied to the issue of gun safety laws. What did the President actually say, and does it comport with memes like this?
The reality distortion field is strong with this meme. This circulated hours after the President gave a speech about executive power and how it might be applied to the issue of gun safety laws. What did the President actually say, and does it comport with memes like this?

On January 5 (yesterday), the President spoke to the nation about possible executive actions to address gun sales and safety. Memes began circulating immediately (see right), likely dusted off and reshared from previous second amendment “debates” but recycled for this moment. Do they accurately reflect the content and intent of the speech? Or, are these just ad hominem attacks and red herrings meant to distract the public or reinforce the echo chamber around certain rhetorical claims? The short answer is that they are the latter. But what did the President actually say, and how does this compare to the memes? If memes are an application of the first amendment being used to address issues of the second amendment, let’s see how the two have played together.

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Vetoing a vaccine that saves women’s lives

“It’s based on what I lived and what I know. Women don’t care about contraception. They care about jobs and the economy and raising their families and all of those things . . . ” (from an interview on the April 3, 2012 airing of “The View”). Apparently, Gov. Haley also thinks they don’t care about having access to a vaccine that prevents more illness and deaths than polio ever caused.

I am saddened by the news that South Carolina’s governor has chosen a path of scientific and medical ignorance and vetoed a bill that would have provided young girls free access to the HPV vaccine, which is recommended for girls as young as 12 to head off the possible transmission of HPV (which causes the majority of cervical cancers) before they are most likely to become fully sexually active [1].

I have written about the scientific issues related to this vaccination before and merely link to my comments. I have nothing new to add. A vote against HPV vaccination is an abandonment the sound science that says that the HPV Vaccine improves the quality of life for the majority of women.

“Anecdont”: http://steve.cooleysekula.net/blog/2011/09/17/anecdont/

I merely quote from myself:

“We see that due to the nature [diseases like polio and pertussis (whooping cough)], we have acted as a people to develop and distribute vaccination for diseases that kill far fewer people than are killed by cervical cancer.

Primary evidence gathered in randomized, double-blind trials shows that one of the two approved vaccines for HPV, Gardasil, is not only efficacious (90% success rate in preventing infection by HPV) but safe (no significant difference between placebo and the vaccine in studies of side effects). There is no additional data that clearly links rarer complications to the specific vaccine. The risk associated with taking the vaccine  is small (35 million vaccinations given with no evidence of serious side effects, suggesting a life-altering complication probability of  <0.000003%) compared to the fact that death from cervical cancer results in 0.001% of the population.

The recommendation about the age of vaccination stems from a couple of pieces of data: how many vaccinations are needed to receive complete protection and when a young woman typically becomes sexually active. The CDC has statistics on sexual activity [17]. For instance, by age 15 about 8% of women engage in oral intercourse and 26% of women engage in vaginal intercourse; rates are similar for young men. At age 14, 5.7% of young women claim to have had sex. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation [18], the median age at which first experience with sexual intercourse occurs is about age 16; that means 50% of young girls have their first sexual intercourse BEFORE age 16. If prevention is the goal, the vaccine has to be administered at an age before which the majority of sexual activity occurs.
[Texas Governor] Perry’s executive order followed the recommendations of the CDC: begin the vaccination process at age 12 because it takes about 1 year to receive all three recommended vaccinations. That means full protection from HPV occurs at around age 13. That assures that young girls are protected against HPV by the time they become sexually active.
That’s the science that informs the policy discussion.”

[1] http://tfninsider.org/2012/06/20/south-carolina-governor-vetoes-hpv-vaccine-bill/

[17] (Ref. 17 from the post I linked to above is the CDC statistics on women and the frequency of sexual activity at different ages. This is the science that informs the decision about when to vaccinate for HPV) http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/ad/ad362.pdf and “Teenagers in the United States: Sexual Activity, Contraceptive Use, and Childbearing, 2002″ (PDF). Vital and Health Statistics. National Center for Health Statistics. 2002. Retrieved 2008-04-29.

[18] Again, this is a reference from my previous essay on this subject, “Anecdont.” http://www.kff.org/youthhivstds/upload/U-S-Teen-Sexual-Activity-Fact-Sheet.pdf