Older Fathers

I don’t trust science anymore. Especially not when it’s presented by the New York Times.

Here’s an article about The Risks to Babies of Older Fathers, and I instantly thought of my Bloomberg Opinion colleague Ariel Procaccia’s recent post about the need to teach statistics to scientists. See, anyone who has observed the slightest amount of animal husbandry knows that this NYTimes article is bullshit. Stud animals are bred until they can’t get it up anymore; in fact breeders prefer older males so they can avoid propagating animals that develop health problems later on.

I feel like a lot of our misconceptions regarding genetics and the heritability of traits could be totally avoided if more journalists had participated in 4-H.

Anyway, back to this research regarding the Association of Paternal age with Perinatal Outcomes in the United States. It’s published in the BMJ, a reputable British medical journal. The authors are physicians and professors at Stanford, an institution more infallible than the Pope. The study claims a sample size of 40.5 million births — that’s a lot!

Of the 40.5 million births, only 1.2 million (about 3%) had fathers over the age of 45. Out of that 3%, 61% of the babies had mothers over the age of 30. Of the 97% of babies with fathers under the age of 45, only 14.5% had mothers over the age of 30. So this is in fact a relatively small population with a skewed maternal age distribution.

The study claims to adjust for maternal age. The “adjustment” is a stratification of mothers into three groups: <25, 25-34, and >34. The <25 bucket has wide error bars, because there are very few babies born with young mothers and old fathers. The 25-34 and >34 buckets do show an association between adverse births and paternal age, but the buckets themselves are ridiculous. There’s a huge difference between a 25-year-old and a 34-year-old mother, and a massive difference between a 34-year-old and a 54-year-old (the oldest mother used in this study!). Older fathers are more likely to pair with older mates, so by lumping the mothers into such wide groups, the study does the exact opposite of adjusting for maternal age.

In conclusion, The Risk To Babies of Older Fathers is that their mothers tend to be old too. #FakeScience

The thing is, I would love for the NYTimes article to be true. Biological differences are the root cause of so much gender inequality in the workplace, and I honestly think the world would be a better place if men succumbed to the same biological clock as women. Of course by “better place” I mean, A Better Place For Me. Isn’t that what equality is all about?

Cuckolded by Cats

Signing up for a NextDoor account should be a prerequisite to moving into any new neighborhood. People need to learn what insufferable shits their future neighbors are before throwing down a deposit.


The local cat lady coalition is building a new homeless shelter. For cats.

My mother often complains about stray cats on her property. She says that back in her day, any critter that wasn’t tied down or locked up would be summarily thrown in a stewpot. Then again, she grew up during Chairman Mao’s Famine. No need for feral cat shelters back then, I bet.

The only thing cats have going for them is their supernormal resemblance to human infants. Their innocent wide eyes, their mewling cries, their unrelenting selfishness. By acting like human babies, cats trick childless women into adopting them as their own.

This is exactly what a cuckoo bird does. A cuckoo is known as a brood parasite; it relies on other species to raise its young. The female cuckoo lays eggs that mimic the host’s eggs, and when they hatch, the baby cuckoos grow faster and cry louder than the host’s babies.

FEED ME

In the wild, only 30% of baby songbirds survive to adulthood, so parents are motivated to feed the strongest birdlings first. The baby cuckoo quickly outgrows its adoptive siblings and pushes them out to die.

So it is with cats. I’m not ready to settle down yet, you think. I’ll adopt a kitten for companionship. Just one won’t hurt. Before you know it, you’re spending the next two decades paying for Fluffy’s food and heartworm meds, attending to her every meow. Maybe cat ownership isn’t the result of declining birthrates, but the cause of it.

Source: UK pet food manufacturer’s association and Office for National statistics (couldn’t find any US data)

The data checks out.

This is What Meritocracy Looks Like

As a Stanford alum, I feel obliged to defend my alma mater in light of the recent college admissions scandal. Yesterday, 50 people were charged in a racketeering conspiracy where wealthy parents paid million-dollar bribes to get their kids into fancy schools.

People are pissed because the revelation squashes any notion of college meritocracy. But…does it really? These backdoor students are, quite arguably, the very embodiment of what it means to be an Ivy League admit. Not only did the parents bribe their way around the admissions process, they deducted the bribes as charitable contributions. In doing so, these kids demonstrated the most important life skill of all: The ability to work the system.

Exploiting the system is what American meritocracy is all about! Examples abound on Wall Street and in DC, and this is even true in Silicon Valley. The Y-Combinator application specifically asks founders to describe a non-computer system they have successfully hacked. One notable YC founder wrote about his adventures in shoplifting, and his company went on to receive $72 million in funding. Incidentally, this guy is a graduate of both Yale and Stanford Law School.

So here’s what’s gonna happen to the parents accused of exchanging bribes for admissions. They’ll hire some white-shoe law firm, settle without admission of wrongdoing, and the students will go on to graduate with inflated GPAs and privilege intact. The best measure of merit is money.

(Don’t tell the plebes though. We need to keep them busy fighting for scholastic aptitude scraps so they won’t notice while the privileged elite pillage the world.)

Edit (14-March 2019): Here are some fun Ivy League admission stats. Between 10 and 15% of admitted students are recruited athletes, and up to 25% are legacy admits. I don’t see what all the bribery brouhaha is about — undeserving rich kids stealing spots from other undeserving rich kids.

Marital Torts

I’m late (as usual) to the Amazon affair, but I enjoyed Paul Krugman’s celebration of Jeff Bezos as “a hero of democracy, a profile in moral courage.” This is a guy who just cheated on his wife.

Compare Bezos to Intel ex-CEO Brian Krzanich, who was ousted after a consensual relationship with an employee. It reminds me of an old Robin Hanson post that asks why the law punishes rape (even “gentle silent rape”) far more than it punishes cuckoldry. Prof. Hanson was run through the wringer for this question, mostly because the ambiguity of “gentle silent rape” invites a lot of willful misinterpretation.

A relationship between a CEO and a subordinate may be the closest approximation I can think of to “gentle silent rape.” Gentle, because there is no physical force; silent, because it is kept secret; rape, because after #MeToo we no longer consider women to be capable of consent — particularly if there’s a power imbalance.

Many of the #MeToo accusations involved this sort of inappropriate-but-nonviolent affair, and the accused parties were invariably deposed. On the other hand, Jeff Bezos cuckolded one of his company’s largest shareholders (Washington is a community property state, so what’s his is hers) and faces no job risk at all.

Prof. Hanson is correct in stating that *criminal* law, and society in general, allow adultery to go unpunished, but the same is not true of civil law. There are countless media articles enumerating all of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged victims, and they all neglect the biggest victim of all — his wife. While most of Weinstein’s accusers sold their silence for less than a million (or a movie salary worth less than such), the woman formerly known as Mrs. Weinstein will walk away with $15-20 million and custody of the kids.

Wall Street now has something known as the “Weinstein clause”, where M&A targets have to disclose any allegations of inappropriate behavior — If misconduct is discovered later, it could hurt shareholder value. It’s dumb because the definition of “misconduct” changes every year.

Cuckoldry used to be considered misconduct. Until last century, most states recognized the torts of alienation of affection and criminal conversation. In theory, a wife has some property interest in her husband’s fidelity and vice versa. Therefore a mistress that steals the husband’s affection is violating the wife’s property rights. In 1998, Bill Clinton’s accusers were trailer trash and gold diggers, and Hillary the victim. Today, those same women are survivors, and Hillary the evil enabler.

In theory, Mackenzie Bezos could file a claim against Lauren Sanchez for being a homewrecker, and Sanchez’s husband could sue Jeff Bezos for diddling his wife. More likely, we’ll realize that Lauren Sanchez is the real victim here — poor thing was coerced into the affair, by the prospect of billions and billions of dollars.

Victim.

See Also:
H. Hunter Bruton. The Questionable Constitutionality of Curtailing Cuckolding: Alienation-of-Affection and Criminal-Conversation Torts. Duke Law Journal, 2016.

Spin

Last week there was yet another Theranos piece in Vanity Fair, and it amounts to little more than silly gossip. Apparently Elizabeth Holmes got a Siberian Husky named Balto. All dogs have some wolf lineage, so Holmes tells people her dog is a wolf — akin to the way a child might call a bagel a big cheerio, or Elizabeth Warren might call herself a Cherokee. The goal here is to portray Holmes as an imaginative idiot or pathological fraud.

Here’s more:

She wore a black turtleneck, drank strange green juices, traveled with armed guards, and spoke in a near baritone. In an industry full of oddballs, Holmes — a blonde WASP from the D.C. area — seemed hell-bent on cultivating a reputation as an iconoclastic weirdo. Having Balto seemed to help fortify the image.

OMG what a freak! That the media is still milking this story for clicks is not surprising, but stands in stark contrast to the adulation Holmes received just a few years ago. Here’s New Yorker, circa 2014:

Her home is a two-bedroom condo in Palo Alto, and she lives an austere life. Although she can quote Jane Austen by heart, she no longer devotes time to novels or friends, doesn’t date, doesn’t own a television, and hasn’t taken a vacation in ten years. Her refrigerator is all but empty, as she eats most of her meals at the office. She is a vegan, and several times a day she drinks a pulverized concoction of cucumber, parsley, kale, spinach, romaine lettuce, and celery.

Wow, a modern-day stoic! A CEO with such a spartan lifestyle will certainly be a responsible custodian for investor funds!

Here’s NYTimes, circa 2015:

She applied for her first patent at 19, a wearable patch to help administer drugs and monitor variables in one’s blood while adjusting the dosage as needed. (She currently has 27 U.S. patents in her name.) Since dropping out of Stanford’s School of Engineering during her sophomore year in 2004, she has spent nearly every waking moment working on bio-engineering breakthroughs in diagnostic testing and persuading lawmakers that every person has a basic right to information about his or her own health. (She only pauses in her work to run — seven miles a day.)

This year she helped draft and pass a law in Arizona that will act as a national model for allowing more people to take charge of their health through the ability to obtain and directly pay for any test without first being required to get a health care provider’s order or work through insurance eligibility. 

A veritable saint! We just know her company will succeed, because this woman is driven. Anyone who runs seven miles a day must have immense grit and willpower and discipline! Just reading this passage makes me want to give her all my money.

That’s what we call spin. Computers may have mastered factual reporting, but journalists still own the market when it comes to propaganda. Here’s how Nick Bilton, in the first article, describes Silicon Valley:

Steve Jobs wore the same black turtleneck every day and tended to only park in handicap spots. Mark Zuckerberg went through a phase during which he would only eat the meat of animals he had personally killed. Shigeru Miyamoto, the Nintendo video-game legend, is so obsessed with estimating the size of things that he carries around a tape measure. It can get even weirder. Peter Thiel has expressed an interest in the restorative properties of blood transfusions from young people. Jack Dorsey drinks a strange lemon-water concoction every morning, and goes on 10-day silent retreats while wearing designer clothing and an Apple Watch.

Allow me to translate:

Steve Jobs liked to park near the building entrance and was often inconsiderate in doing so. Zuck makes an annual resolution, and in 2011 he became vegetarian by enforcing a rule that he could only eat what he killed. Jack Dorsey drinks lemon tea and went on a meditation retreat for his birthday while wearing his normal clothes. A Thiel Capital associate once looked into a parabiosis startup, and people have been calling Peter Thiel a vampire ever since. Oh and here’s a random fact about some dude in Japan, and hopefully you won’t notice that Kyoto is nowhere near Silicon Valley.

The intention here is to portray tech founders as uncanny Others, dehumanize them to encourage popular resentment. The United States Information Agency used to do this exact thing to build support for going to war. Here’s a WWII documentary about Japanese people. They’re a bunch of funnylooking midgets who eat nothing but rice! Yuck, let’s nuke ‘em!

Anyone can do this, see:

Journalism is an industry full of iconoclastic weirdos. Nick Bilton, for example, drinks a dark liquid infused with exotic plant seeds harvested by South American slaves. It can get even weirder. He often likes to add the bodily secretions of female ungulates to his beverage.

Ew.