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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Some Notes on Vaccines and Autism




By Professor Doom

     There seems to be a scandal brewing at the CDC about a study that may have shown a devastating link between a vaccine and autism, especially in African-American children. Depending on who you read, it’s either a huge deal, or it “may” have “altered” an “interpretation” of the data “in some instances” leading to an “implication” that “maybe” there’s a link “in some cases.”

     In short, either it’s bad, or it’s a minor statistical quirk that should be ignored. Naturally, “conspiracy” themed sites lean towards bad, while official government/mainstream news lean towards the “nothing to see here, move along” interpretation.

     Before discussing vaccines, I want to talk about tobacco.


--Freud knew smoking and cancer were related in 1923. That’s over 40 years before surgeon general’s warnings appeared on cigarette packages. You really think Freud was the only one to know?

     See, everyone knew smoking was bad for you, long, long, before the government managed to overcome the tobacco lobby long enough to admit, that, yeah, there’s a problem with tobacco products.

     Taking decades to figure out the obvious is really a problem with modern science, especially when it’s government-controlled. Pre-colonial American Indians also knew tobacco was bad, but they still smoked. American Indians, despite not having advanced scientists or a government to protect them, figured out that smoking can take decades to kill you; thus only the elders of the tribe were allowed to smoke, generally on special occasions—if you’re unlikely to live more than a few more years, the potential harm from smoking drops off sharply. For most of America’s history, if you wanted honest advice about smoking, you were better off asking American Indians (“in moderation, the old can do it, the young should not”) than government scientists (“smoke all you want, start young!”).

      In regard to vaccines, the government is saying “vaccinate as much as possible, start young!”   On the other hand, the natives are starting to whisper there’s a problem here.

      People would like honest advice about what to do. “Everyone knows” something’s wrong with our children’s health, and the finger is getting pointed at vaccines. Now, just because “everyone knows” it, doesn’t mean it’s true. That’s why we use statistical and scientific tests to get a better approximation of the truth than just what “everyone” says.

--there’s a huge conflict of interest between the people selling the vaccines and the government. It’s reasonable not to trust the government saying the vaccines are safe, just as it was reasonable not to trust the tobacco industry when it said smoking was safe.


      Unfortunately, statistical tests can prove nothing. All they can do is give a probability that one assumption or the other is true, and ultimately, it’s going to be a personal decision as to whether the test shows there’s a link, or shows nothing. With enough money on the line, a personal decision can be anything, which is why tobacco executives, for years, saw no problem with selling their wares…conflicts of interest can cloud judgment.

     And now back to vaccines. There are two camps, with lots of people in between:

     The pro-vaccine camp claims, vociferously: “all vaccines are always safe for all people under all circumstances.” These people get annoyed when anyone questions this claim. I exaggerate, but not as much as I could hope; lots of folks really hate the idea that vaccines aren’t perfectly safe for everyone.

” I've talked to a health care worker at a nursing home and they call flu shot day, "culling day."
--Just because nursing home workers see it with their own eyes, doesn’t make it true. I guess.


     So, the claim is vaccines are perfectly safe. This is an extraordinary claim, and thus requires extraordinary evidence. None has ever been given, although the simple fact that tens of millions of vaccines are given every year, and we “only” have tens of thousands of deaths/serious injuries that “might, maybe” be related to vaccinations, means that vaccines aren’t particularly deadly—vehicles kill far more people, after all.

      The pro-vaccine camp also points out that many diseases have disappeared after vaccination, most especially smallpox. This is quite true, although horsepox has also disappeared, and this related (but different!) disease never was targeted by a vaccination campaign; horsepox may even be extinct now...but there never even was a vaccine for it, much less an eradication campaign. Obviously, just because a disease isn’t as common as it once was, doesn’t mean there must have been a vaccination program that got rid of it. And, even if the smallpox vaccine is safe, that doesn’t automatically make all other vaccines safe.

     The anti-vaccine camp claims “there’s something wrong with the vaccines, at least sometimes,” and, for my next essay or two, I’ll append, “especially when it comes to autism” although vaccines have also been claimed to be linked to other ailments.

     This strikes me at not nearly so extraordinary a claim, but I’ll present arguments against it. Diseases come and go, which is what one could say about horsepox…but autism isn’t a viral disease (as far as we can tell), and parents really seem to notice that their children “turns” autistic shortly after vaccination—much like American Indians noticed it took years of smoking before someone died of a hacking cough. Of course, anecdotal evidence, even when it numbers in the thousands, still doesn’t count for much in a world of science. 

      It’s the modern world, a world of science, and that’s what we should use to make our scientific decisions about the scientific practice of vaccination.

      Autism rates have been shooting up dramatically, up over 1,000% percent in the last 40 years. Yes, 1,000% (A quick warning about the many links: often the autism rates are different in each link; autism rates are up 30% in the last 2 years, so “old” links from wayyyy back in 2012 are obsolete in this regard). A 10-fold increase in my lifetime.

     Vaccination rates have also been shooting up, a child today receives about 70 vaccine doses before he’s 18…compared to the half dozen or so doses I received as a child, this is also an over a 10-fold increase. 

     This still proves absolutely nothing. Let me just go over a few reasonable counter-arguments:

     We eat more microwaved food than 40 years ago, and are surrounded by far more electronics as well (I’m looking at you, cell phones!). We don’t exercise as much as we used to. We wear more synthetic clothing, our food is more heavily processed…the list of changes in how we live over the last 40 years is extensive. It’s very natural to blame a new, bad thing on something else that is new.

     In addition, autism was so rare decades ago that it probably was misdiagnosed as mentally disabled in some other way. And, it’s quite possibly being over-diagnosed today (much like the hideously over-diagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder, which many of my students claim to have, but only one had any symptoms that I could discern…over the course of 25 years of dealing with ADD students). It’s possible, maybe, that autism has always been far more common than we thought…or that it’s not as common today as we’ve been told.

      All that said, mainstream media continues to say things that are flat out wrong, and to overlook real, scientific, evidence that very strongly suggests that, indeed, not all vaccines are always safe for all people at all times.

     A recent CNN article, with some seriously misleading reporting, prompted me to write about this. Above, I’ve presented the best case I reasonably can for the pro-vaccine crowd, by way of Devil’s advocacy: people tend to believe what they’ve read first.

     Obviously, you must follow your heart when it comes time to vaccinate you or your children. Next time, however, I’m going to look at that CNN article, make some corrections, and present some unarguable facts of the matter.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Known For Profit Ripoff College Still Gets $1.4 Billion A Year in Loans




By Professor Doom

     Despite the fact that much of higher education, (barely) especially for-profit, is a fraud, I still eagerly await mainstream news to finally connect the dots regarding how the scam works.

      A recent title from a CNN article raised my hopes that, at last, people would have a better way of learning about the scam than my obscure blog:

How for-profit colleges rip off students


     That’s a great title for an article, but, alas, it’s just an opinion piece (heavily disclaimered by CNN). Still, I could hope that the author will detail how accreditation and institutions of higher education are both controlled by the same avaricious administrators, eager to plunder the system in exchange for phenomenal amounts of loot.

      Like most every mainstream media article, it disappoints, deeply. It says nothing of the sort, although there are a few things worth repeating:

“…The devious practices of one of the country's largest for-profit colleges finally caught up with it in June after years of accusations of inflated job placement rates, abysmally low graduation rates, high loan default rates and more when Corinthian Colleges reached a deal with the Department of Education to shut down its operations… Corinthian…agreed to sell off or close its more than 100 campuses across the country, while at the same time denying the allegations.”

      The basic protocol for for-profit colleges (and many public institutions) is alluded to in the above paragraphs. Suckers are lured in via a sales pitch of “our degree will get you a job, don’t worry about the tuition, we’ll help you with the loans, we won’t even check your credit!”  The suckers take the classes, but the sad fact is many of them are only there for the checks, and so graduation rates are minimal. Naturally, the people that are willing to take checks and not ask questions about it are poor credit risks, and tend to default. Because the school caters to suckers, what few graduates there are, are merely “the best suckers we could find”, and thus the degrees are worthless in the real world, leading to poor job placement.

Despite taking $1.4 billion from the federal government in 2012 alone, Corinthian can't keep its doors open.


     Isn’t it neat that the for-profit can rake in that kind of money, and yet can’t be bothered to do some decent work with it? I promise you, the executive officers and higher administrators were paid very, very well. The taxpayer, of course, is screwed. What of the students?

     The 72,000 students trapped on Corinthian's sinking ship are some of our nation's neediest. Like many for-profit schools, Corinthian targeted students who are overwhelmingly minority, female and low income. They are veterans back from Iraq and Afghanistan -- Corinthian received $186 million in post-9/11 GI bill funds in 2012 -- blue-collar workers seeking to improve their skill sets, and single mothers who hope more education will help them provide for their children.


     Alas, there is no plan to help the students. Hmm, taxpayers screwed, administration gets a fortune, and the students are on the hook for massive loans. This problem is hardly restricted to for profit institutions, any number of public institutions work the same way…student loan debt is over 1.2 trillion dollars now, it’s not just this Corinthian.

     Hey, remember last year, when I said student loan debt was “only” a trillion dollars? Honest, the problem isn’t getting smaller.

On average, tuition at for-profit colleges is four to six times higher than at a comparable public school. A two-year Senate investigation found a medical assistant diploma cost $22,275 at Corinthian's Heald College in Fresno, California, while the same program at Fresno City College costs $1,650. An undergraduate certificate in paralegal studies at the Anaheim campus of Everest Colleges costs more than $43,000. At the Anaheim area community college, an associate's degree in paralegal studies costs less than $3,000.


     For profits charge more, because they’re in a better position to charge whatever they feel like, and get first dibs on the money. Many public institutions can’t raise tuition without first appealing to the local government…it’s a slower process in public institutions, but “raise tuition to capture all the loan money” (and yes, “capture” is the word they use for this sort of plunder) is still the goal.

     And students at for-profit colleges generally cannot transfer credits because the schools lack the accreditation recognized by traditional community and four-year colleges. Without a job or the ability to transfer credits, students at for-profit colleges all too often find themselves unable to repay their loans.

     The author is a bit off here. Yes, those transfer credits will be lost…but it’s the same way at other schools. Outside of special situations, students can only transfer a year or so (24 hours) of credits, and many schools only allow 12 hours. Seriously, inability to transfer credits is a real problem, because so many schools sell so much crap that even fake schools won’t accept it.

     Again, this problem isn’t restricted to for-profit institutions, lots of schools are ripoffs in this regard.

      The whole point of accreditation, when it started over a century ago, was to create standards to facilitate transfer students. Accreditation today is simply a fraud, and happily accredits schools (for a hefty fee) that offer huge amounts of utterly worthless coursework.

      This would have been a great time for the author to point out that, if accreditation weren’t a fraud, it would have stopped Corinthian long before it started ripping off students.


     This is certainly true. It’s quite damning of for-profit schools that 50% of loan defaulters are from for-profits.

     Um, the quoted statement implies 50% of loan defaulters are from non-profits, the vast majority of which are publicly supported schools. Yes, for-profits are over-represented, but it’s still extremely damning that public schools are indebting people for coursework that is so worthless that people can’t possibly pay for it.
     Again, the problems cited here are hardly restricted to for-profits.

Most unbelievably, the Department of Education continues to allow some Corinthian college locations to enroll students—without meaningfully disclosing that the school is in the process of being sold off.


     This is pretty amazing, the school is a scam, the Federal Government knows it’s a scam, they’re shutting it down because it’s a scam, Corinthian is going along with a shutdown because they agree they’re a scam…and they’re not even going to bother telling the students still trapped in the system, who will pay a fortune for coursework known to be bogus. I. Can’t. Make. This. Up.

     Maybe there’s a chance that the school is only a little bit of a scam? Doesn’t seem like it:

     Corinthian has a long record as one of the worst players in the for-profit education industry. In 2012, when the Department of Education released the first metrics to determine the success of career college programs, 44 of Corinthian's programs failed outright. In fact, Corinthian Colleges performed worse than any other for-profit chain. But because a lawsuit prevented those metrics from being enforced, Corinthian's practices and programs continued unabated.
 

      When it comes to for-profit, being “one of the worst” is an impressive achievement…it’s like being “one of the worst” child molesters, you have to sink pretty low to be that notable. Even though the school is this horrifically bad, it STILL managed to rake in 1.4 effin’ BILLION dollars in federal loan money in 2012. 
 
    Yowza. You think the students will be off the hook for that money? Heck no.
 
     Again, this would have been a great time for the author to point out that only accredited schools can get that money; legitimate accreditation would have stopped this years ago.

     Corinthian and other similar colleges have made a profit for decades off the backs of students. As a nation, we must say "enough."
 
 
     I certainly agree, enough is enough…but it’s not just the for-profits, and really if the author of this essay had spent just a bit more time satisfying the title of her article, How for-profit colleges rip off students, the general public could learn what’s really going on in higher education: bogus accreditation legitimizes bogus schools, which then suck up huge amounts of money in the student loan scheme. There’s not even a comments section so that readers of CNN (are there any left?) can add some useful information. Oh well, maybe someday CNN will ask me about it. 
  
     Har.
 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Another rerun: Accreditation in the early 20th century as opposed to the joke of today.

Another blast from the past, but it's well worth considering as I deal with another bizarro accreditation request at my school that has nothing to do with education. A new article in a few days.


Accreditation in the Early 20th Century as Opposed to the Joke of Today

By Professor Doom


     I was checking some sources while I was following the money in higher education in my last essay, and came upon a few tidbits worth sharing.

     Most awesome was an article that listed requirements for accreditation over 100 years ago. Much as it’s fascinating to see tests from the 19th and early 20th century to see how much schools have changed, I find this list of accreditation requirements from North Central accrediting (there are numerous accrediting bodies, but they are all fairly similar) to be amazing:

1. follow respectable entrance requirements

2. offer courses selected from the classics

3. ensure a minimum of eight departments headed by full-time

instructors, each possessing at least a master’s degree

4. provide a good library

5. properly prepare students for post-graduate study

6. have a maximum class size of 30

7. have a productive endowment of at least $200,000.


     Let’s go over this line by line, comparing with the institutions I’m directly and personally familiar with, to see how much has changed in a century. For the bureaucracy wonks, I have a line by line analysis of what accreditation is today…dozens of pages of pure bureaucracy with very little relating to education, unlike the above, which is brief and mostly about education.

1. follow respectable entrance requirements


     It’s hard to believe that there was a time when an accredited school had to have entrance requirements. Now, the vast majority of schools have no entrance requirements, and it’s quite common to have coursework appropriate for an 8 year old, as I’ve discussed elsewhere.

     I hate to sound elitist, but entrance exams need to come back. Too many ruthless administrators are taking way too much advantage of people that have no interest in education, and have no understanding of what it means to take on student debt. Too many dubious fields like Education have blossomed, and thrive primarily by scooping up the suckers that are taken in by administrators.

     Imagine if instead people that wanted to learn something, wanted to work hard, and could show that they could study and learn, were the only ones on campus. Bogus courses would be laughed off campus, bogus departments wouldn’t exist, and sniveling sycophant faculty that were created by such might be in smaller quantity. Perhaps I’m wrong…but has the open system of today really created a much more educated populace, or a much more indebted populace?

     What of those that can’t pass the exams? Well, this is just accreditation, there was a time not that long ago that a non-accredited school could still be a good school, and a school that focuses on high school and lower material probably shouldn’t claim to be “higher education” anyway. I imagine with the fat government loan checks out of the picture, such schools would actually be cheaper…and a serious student can always just go the many (thousands?) free sites on the internet that have such information.


2. offer courses selected from the classics


     I had to laugh reading this, since institutions no longer practice these ideas. This is from such a bygone era. It used to be, students had to learn Latin in higher education (heck, they used to need to learn it in school). I grant that Latin isn’t nearly as critical to the modern world as a few centuries ago, and so it didn’t bother me when students were instead forced to learn any foreign language in lieu of Latin. That’s been removed, too, replaced by a Mickey Mouse “computer skills” course where students “learn” the skills they already know from using a cell phone…that’s been removed, too (computers being so expensive), and now students don’t have to learn anything about any other culture or language.

     There are a few holdout courses, though “classic” math has been reduced to 10th grade math, and most “classic” courses in other departments have similarly minimal requirements, like “Western Civilization”, a course that’s gone from “read a few books” in a semester to “read a few chapters.” The problem, of course, is educators no longer decide what is “classic.” Instead, administrators make such decisions. So, now it’s “classic” to have “Gender Studies” courses and “White People are Evil” courses, and “Home Economics” courses.

     Is it really so elitist to think that scholars should determine what is scholarly, instead of administrators?


3. ensure a minimum of eight departments headed by full-time

instructors, each possessing at least a master’s degree


     This one is another big laugh for me, as an institution I was at for a decade never did have any departments at all, instead an administrator with no scholarly skills determined what the “departments” did. Those days are gone, at least for newer institutions.

     The first advantage to having departments is it’s much harder for an incoming faculty to be completely bogus, to know nothing, to be a fraud, and operate in a department with legitimate scholars. Administrators honestly seem to prefer frauds, and I would often have to work with ignorant “scholars” that clearly did not know what they were supposedly teaching.

     The second advantage is a department won’t have bogus courses; in that institution with the non-scholar admin, the students got their accredited 2 year degrees…but when they went to a four year school, they learned that it would take another 4 years to get a 4 year degree—nothing in the 2 year degree was of sufficient scholarly merit to apply. A department run by people that are expert in their field (instead of filled with cherry-picked educationists by admin) can stop that from happening.

     The reference to a master’s degree, as opposed to a doctorate, is again from the olden days, where you didn’t have to have a research degree to teach. Nowadays, there are way too many doctorates, in every field, so it’s no surprise that now it’s common to require a doctorate. I totally respect research degrees, but for jobs-based degrees, the requirements should probably allow for people with actual industry experience as well as (if not superior to) pure research.


4. provide a good library


     This, too, is funny, but only because my school was forced to buy a bunch of books to satisfy the “good library” clause that’s still in accreditation. In days of yore, absolutely, a big collection of books was rather important for learning.

     Nowadays? Not so much. You’re reading this, so you know about the internet, and you can buy a book and have it cheaply delivered to your door in a few days, tops (except for stupid-expensive textbooks, but that’s a scam for another day)…it was a very different world a century ago, and having a big library on campus made much sense back then. It’s hysterical that the only clause that could have been removed from accreditation hasn’t been removed, even as so many of the others are gone now.

     Halfway through the list, and it’s all howlers from the perspective of an educator in the 21st century—alas, not howlers because the ideas from a century ago were so stupid and ignorant, but because they’re generally good ideas that have been abandoned in favor of the stupid and ignorant system of today.

     I’ll address the others next time. Until then, consider that the American higher education system was the envy of the world in the 20th century…are we sure that getting rid of these simple rules and replacing them with massive bureaucratic requirements is such a good idea?

---

Addendum: You can find Part 2 here.  And you can find Part 3 here.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Tuition From $0 to $19,000 A Year…In One Year




By Professor Doom

      It really is amazing how cheap “education” can be. If every one of my students paid $200 for my course (i.e., about 10% of the usual price today, a bit over a buck an hour of my time), that would cover my salary and benefits, with plenty left over for upkeep and maintenance of the tax-free properties where I teach. Granted, I have large classes, but many institutions have large classes nowadays. It’s curious nobody has whipped out a calculator before and wondered where all that tuition money goes.



     Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, established 1859, is a small arts/engineering college that was founded to offer free education to any who would attend its classes. You read that right, it’s been offering free classes for over 150 years.

“…the chairman of Cooper Union's board of trustees, Mark Epstein, announced the school would begin charging more than $19,000 a year to avoid financial insolvency, calling the change "necessary."


      I acknowledge all good things must come to an end, but starting this year, tuition will go from a very affordable $0 (for those that got accepted) to $19,000.

     Talk about a price increase! The increase at this institution alone would cause the CPI to jump a bit, assuming it were calculated honestly. I exaggerate, but the fact remains, this institution used to be free, and virtually overnight, it’s going to charge $19,000 a year.

     It’s so funny, whenever an institution comes up with a new way to screw over students by charging them more (say, by offering some new bogus course that doesn’t do any good), other institutions study and copy the new method of screwing students.

     And yet Cooper Union has managed to offer free education for over a century, and no institution, anywhere, ever, thought to ask “hmm, how are they doing that, and how can we copy that model?” It’s not like the founder, Peter Cooper, was a fabulously wealthy capitalist or something, at least compared to JP Morgan or the like (he was a very amazing person, however, with a very inspirational life story). 

      It turns out, raising the price (or charging anything at all) violates the school’s charter, written by Peter Cooper, specifying his school was to offer free education.

     As is so often the case, the plundering caste of administrators that have destroyed so many institutions of higher education came to Cooper Union, and saw much opportunity for lucre. As is also so often the case, the administrative caste is shameless about it.

    In 2006, administration at this school argued they should keep their tax-free status on their building, because of their lofty goal of offering free education.

     In 2014, administration now argues that they need to raise tuition to extreme levels. You want to bet they’re keeping quiet about their tax free status?

"If you're dealing with a trust that's 100 years old, it's generally understood [by judges] that whatever it took to run a school back then is drastically different than today," he added.

     I have to admit that much can change in a century. But, if the administration is being intellectually honest here, then they should simply say “we can no longer honor the benefactor’s wishes, so we’re going to close up shop, taking pride in over a century of honorable service.” No, that’s not going to happen. Cooper’s original vision will be perverted into “We’re just going to screw over young people as brutally as possible for as long as we can get away with it.”

     "…judge will also want to get into questions about how did we end up here? Who's been managing this?"


     Yes, this is a question that needs to be asked loudly, and pointedly. If you need to squeeze $19,000 a year from students just to get by today, how is it that you were doing fine last year when you charged $0 a year? It sure sounds to me like the coffers have been looted, recently.

     At the very least, the judge should see to it that the entire administrative staff should be fired, with additional prejudice that they not be employed anywhere else in higher education. It’s positively sickening to me how many times I’ve seen scamming administrators plunder an institution, get fired, only to be re-hired at another institution, where the plundering begins anew. The only time they don’t get re-hired is when they’re given such billowing golden parachutes that they don’t try to fall into another job.

     Imagine if the CEO of Kleenex said “we need to start charging $20,000 for a box of Kleenex, right now, or else we’ll be insolvent.” It just doesn’t work that way, a private institution doesn’t suddenly need that kind of money without massive mismanagement (i.e., plundering) of funds.

      It’s obvious something is very wrong here.

      Meanwhile, the students that got accepted to this school, and have already invested 2 years of their lives, now realize that they’ll need to come up with $40,000 (you can bet tuition will be raised next year!) if they want to finish out their degree.

     “At the handful of other schools that still offer free tuition, faculty is paying close attention to the case…”


      I bet they are. If plundering administration can wipe out a school’s finances--in a year!--with no repercussions, faculty at those schools should be a little worried. Faculty need to simply remove all administrators that aren’t also actually teachers and faculty at the school…too bad they don’t have that power, otherwise they’d see how the legions of deanlings that crowd higher education are completely unnecessary.

     Because institutions of higher education are ruled by administrators with no skin in the schools they run, their only motivation is to plunder the school and sacrifice all integrity in the name of growth and personal profit. Then they move on, little different than locusts. I’ve written of this many times in my blog, and documented it at pretty much every school I’ve examined.

     If tuition going from $0 to $19,000 in a single year isn’t a sign that something is terribly wrong in higher education, what would be?