Don’t Expect Tech to Care About Your Problems

I ranted against Silicon Valley “entrepreneurs” in my latest Bloomberg View column:

Don’t Expect Tech to Care About Your Problems:

Interplanetary travel is way more fun than accountability.


See all my Bloomberg View columns here.

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What If Robots Did the Hiring at Fox News?

My newest Bloomberg View column is out:

What If Robots Did the Hiring at Fox News?


See all my Bloomberg View columns here.

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Period Equity (tampon) Hat!

I’ve gone and done it, folks: I’ve designed a “Period Equity (tampon) Hat” for my friend Laura Strausfeld, who is speaking later today at a cool rally in D.C.:

Rally for Safe Feminine Care Products in Washington, DC!


Anyway, here’s the hat, tell me what you think:




I had to learn a new technique called “intarsia in the round” in order to knit this hat. Also, I plan to put the design up on ravelry soon, so look for me there if you’re interested in knitting your own Period Equity (tampon) Hat! My Ravelry username is cathyoneil.

Also, if you’re wondering why I’m interested in this particular issue, and why Laura is speaking there, please read this post, as well as this one, about how I was a plaintiff on the New York State tampon tax case, which we won, and Laura was the legal brain behind it.

Laura has recently started an organization called Period Equity to further the cause. And if you look at their site, you’ll see my hat design was pretty much a total rip-off of their website design.

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Eugene Stern: How Value Added Models are Like Turds

This is a guest post by Eugene Stern, originally posted on his blog


“Why am I surrounded by statistical illiterates?” — Roger Mexico in Gravity’s Rainbow

Oops, they did it again. This weekend, the New York Times put out this profile of William Sanders, the originator of evaluating teachers using value-added models based on student standardized test results. It is statistically illiterate, uses math to mislead and intimidate, and is utterly infuriating.

Here’s the worst part:

When he began calculating value-added scores en masse, he immediately saw that the ratings fell into a “normal” distribution, or bell curve. A small number of teachers had unusually bad results, a small number had unusually good results, and most were somewhere in the middle.

And later:

Up until his death, Mr. Sanders never tired of pointing out that none of the critiques refuted the central insight of the value-added bell curve: Some teachers are much better than others, for reasons that conventional measures can’t explain.

The implication here is that value added models have scientific credibility because they look like math — they give you a bell curve, you know. That sounds sort of impressive until you remember that the bell curve is also the world’s most common model of random noise. Which is what value added models happen to be.

Just to replace the Times’s name dropping with some actual math, bell curves are ubiquitous because of the Central Limit Theorem, which says that any variable that depends on many similar-looking but independent factors looks like a bell curve, no matter what the unrelated factors are. For example, the number of heads you get in 100 coin flips. Each single flip is binary, but when you flip a coin over and over, one flip doesn’t affect the next, and out comes a bell curve. Or how about height? It depends on lots of factors: heredity, diet, environment, and so on, and you get a bell curve again. The central limit theorem is wonderful because it helps explain the world: it tells you why you see bell curves everywhere. It also tells you that random fluctuations that don’t mean anything tend to look like bell curves too.

So, just to take another example, if I decided to rate teachers by the size of the turds that come out of their ass, I could wave around a lovely bell-shaped distribution of teacher ratings, sit back, and wait for the Times article about how statistically insightful this is. Because back in the bad old days, we didn’t know how to distinguish between good and bad teachers, but the Turd Size Model™ produces a shiny, mathy-looking distribution — so it must be correct! — and shows us that teacher quality varies for reasons that conventional measures can’t explain.

Or maybe we should just rate news articles based on turd size, so this one could get a Pulitzer.

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Trump’s Path-Independent Theory of Mind

My newest Bloomberg View Column:

Donald Trump’s Path-Independent Theory of Mind: How the U.S. president is like a Google ad test

You can see all of my Bloomberg View columns here.

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Unreliable Data Can Threaten Democracy

My newest Bloomberg Column about politically driven data finagling:

Unreliable Data Can Threaten Democracy

Also, you can see all my Bloomberg columns here.

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100 Day Blanket

I’m a bit behind with posting my latest gargantuan knitting project. I call it the 100 Day Blanket because I bought the yarn on the day after the election in an effort to counterbalance my wildly unbalanced thoughts and emotions, and I finished it 100 days after the inauguration. It was a very successful coping mechanism for anxiety.

Given that it has 144 squares in it, and that there were about 10 weeks in between the election and inauguration, that means I knitted nearly one square on average. Actually it took me a couple of weeks to gather the courage to put it all together so I’d say I really did just continuously knit for a while there.

Because, dude, that’s a lot of nervous energy. I should also mention that I knitted numerous pussy hats and other smaller projects during that same period. Serious question, what do non-knitters do to deal with their anxiety?

Without further ado, the 100 Day Blanket:


Please don’t look too carefully at our messy side tables.

Here’s a glamour shot:


And a couple of shots of putting it together:


This took place at our friends’ ‘Happy House’ upstate.

IMG_0389 (1)

One quarter at a time!


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