How Birth Year Influences Political Views

How Cuts to Public Universities Have Driven Students Out of State

Obamacare Appears to Be Making People Healthier

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A few recent studies suggest that people have become less likely to have medical debt or to postpone care because of cost. They are also more likely to have a regular doctor and to be getting preventive health services like vaccines and cancer screenings. A new study, published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, offers another way of looking at the issue. Low-income people in Arkansas and Kentucky, which expanded Medicaid insurance to everyone below a certain income threshold, appear to be healthier than their peers in Texas, which did not expand.

Margot Sanger-Katz, New York Times, August 9, 2016

Heads or tails? Are you smarter than your MP?

Are you clever enough to be an MP? To find out, simply answer the following question: if you toss a coin twice, what is the probability of getting two heads? (I know we’re talking about MPs here, but you can assume that no skulduggery is afoot and both coin tosses are fair.)

A 2012 study conducted by the Royal Statistical Society found that just 40% of MPs surveyed gave the correct answer. Worryingly, 45% of MPs thought that the correct answer was 0.5 (ie 50% or evens) – ie the same as the probability of getting heads on a single toss.

Finally, if you did get the question right, then perhaps you would feel more at home in the Conservative rather than the Labour party. Caution is needed here, of course, as the survey was small and not necessarily representative; but of the 41 Tory MPs surveyed, 22 (53%) got the correct answer, as opposed to just 10 out of 44 Labour MPs (23%).

Answer The probability of getting two heads is 0.25 (ie 25% – or 1 in 4). Since you have a 0.5 chance of getting heads on a single toss, the probability of getting two heads is 0.5 x 0.5.

Ben Ambridge, The Guardian, April 24, 2016

As the climate changes, risks to human health will accelerate, White House warns

More deaths from extreme heat. Longer allergy seasons. Increasingly polluted air and water. Diseases transmitted by mosquitoes and ticks spreading farther and faster. Those are among the health risks that could be exacerbated by global warming coming decades, the Obama administration warned in a new report Monday.

Brady Dennis, Washington Post, April 4, 2016

Website Seeks to Make Government Data Easier to Sift Through

For years, the federal government, states and some cities have enthusiastically made vast troves of data open to the public. Acres of paper records on demographics, public health, traffic patterns, energy consumption, family incomes and many other topics have been digitized and posted on the web.

This abundance of data can be a gold mine for discovery and insights, but finding the nuggets can be arduous, requiring special skills.

A project coming out of the M.I.T. Media Lab on Monday seeks to ease that challenge and to make the value of government data available to a wider audience. The project, called Data USA, bills itself as “the most comprehensive visualization of U.S. public data.” It is free, and its software code is open source, meaning that developers can build custom applications by adding other data.

Steve Lohr, New York Times, April 4, 2016

$20 Billion in Tax Credits Fails to Increase College Attendance

Taxpayers will file for $20 billion in tax credits for college expenses they paid in 2015, but while those who get them will no doubt be happy, new evidence shows they have no effect on encouraging people to attend college.

The tax benefits were created to get more people into and through college. But researchers at Stanford and the University of California, Santa Cruz, have now shown that the largest tax benefit, the tax credits, have no effect on increasing education.

Susan Dynarsky, New York Times, April 19, 2016

Denmark Ranks as Happiest Country; Burundi, Not So Much

Denmark has reclaimed its place as the world’s happiest country, while Burundi ranks as the least happy nation, according to the fourth World Happiness Report, released on Wednesday.

The report found that inequality was strongly associated with unhappiness — a stark finding for rich countries like the United States, where rising disparities in income, wealth, health and well-being have fueled political discontent.

Denmark topped the list in the first report, in 2012, and again in 2013, but it was displaced by Switzerland last year. In this year’s ranking, Denmark was back at No. 1, followed by Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden. Most are fairly homogeneous nations with strong social safety nets.

Sewell Chan, New York Times, March 17, 2016

How Small Changes Can Yield Big Results For The Government

Probability in Politics, Government – 

What kind of messages get ignored? What kind prompt you to do something?

Those are questions that a small group of behavioral scientists at the White House has been working on since early last year.

The Social and Behavioral Sciences Team is seeking ways to improve government efficiency and access to government programs through easy, low-cost interventions.

The team issued its first annual report Tuesday, and Maya Shankar, chairwoman of the team, spoke with Robert Siegel about the findings.

NPR, September 15, 2015