Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Should People Be Able to Choose The Manner In Which They Prefer to Die? Americans Are Divided

A new report ("Dying in America: Improving Quality and Honoring Individual 
Preferences Near the End of Life") from the Institute of Medicine's Committee on Approaching Death calls for broad changes in the way this country handles end-of-life care.  The 21-member nonpartisan panel composed of doctors, nurses, insurers, religious leaders, lawyers and experts on aging calls for a "major reorientation and restructuring of Medicare, Medicaid and other health care delivery programs" and the elimination of "perverse financial incentives that encourage expensive hospital procedures when growing numbers of very sick and very old patients want low-tech services like home health care and pain management" (quoted in this New York Times article).

Americans seem to agree: two thirds of respondents to a Pew Research Center survey believe that there are circumstances in which doctors should not do everything possible to save a patient's life and the patient should be allowed to die.  But the minority who say that medical professionals always should do everything possible to save a patient’s life is growing (from 15 percent in 1990, to 31 percent in 2013).  A deeper look at the data reveals that views about euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide are influenced by race/ethnicity, religion, political ideology, as well as by the circumstances (does the person suffer from an incurable disease?  Is she suffering?  Is she a burden to her loved ones?).

When it comes to doctor-assisted suicide, the public is evenly divided according to the Pew survey: 47% approve and 49% disapprove of laws that would allow a physician to prescribe lethal doses of drugs that a terminally ill patient could use to commit suicide.

Dr. Victor J. Dzau, the Institute of Medicine’s president, said that "patients don't die in the manner they prefer."  But the Pew survey results indicate that attitudes about end-of-life care and decisions are complicated.  If this country is to develop a "modernized end-of-life care system," the law may need to accommodate the wide range of end-of-life choices that an increasingly diverse American population wants.

Euthanasia can be classified as either active or passive and as either voluntary or involuntary. In active euthanasia, specific steps are taken to cause the patient's death, such as injecting her with poison, or giving her an overdose of pain-killers. In contrast passive euthanasia refers to the withdrawal of medical treatment or the withholding of food and fluids with the deliberate intention of causing the patient's death. Voluntary euthanasia is when the patient requests that action be taken to end her life, or that life-saving treatment be stopped. Involuntary euthanasia is when a patient's life is ended without the patient's knowledge and consent, usually because she is unconscious, or too weak to communicate. Euthanasia differs from assisted suicide, where a physician provides lethal medications but the patient decides whether and when to ingest them.

Read more:

TeachingwithData.org resources:
Euthanasia: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3365)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Teaching Integrity in Empirical Research (Project TIER)

Are you looking for ways to teach students how to conduct rigorous and responsible empirical research?  Richard Ball and Norm Medeiros of Haverford College have created a protocol (Project TIER) to teach students how to assemble comprehensive documentation of the data management and analysis they do in the course of writing an original empirical research paper.  

In a recent interview with Chelcie Rowell (Digital Initiatives Librarian, Wake Forest University), Ball and Medeiros describe how Project TIER got started and discuss the benefits of teaching students responsible methods of documenting their empirical research:
"Even for students who do not go on to professional research careers, the exercise of carefully documenting the work they do with their data has important pedagogical benefits. When students know from the outset that they will be required to turn in documentation showing how they arrive at the results they report in their papers, they approach their projects in a much more organized way and keep much better track of their work at every phase of the research. Their understanding of what they are doing is therefore substantially enhanced, and I in turn am able to offer much more effective guidance when they come to me for help. 
Despite these benefits, methods of responsible research documentation are virtually, if not entirely, absent from the curricula of all the social sciences. Through Project TIER, we are engaging in a variety of activities that we hope will help change that situation."

For more information on Project TIER, including detailed instructions for using the protocol with your students and examples of completed student research projects, please visit http://www.haverford.edu/TIER/

Read more:

Other helpful resources:
Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research: http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/landing.jsp
openICPSR: http://www.openicpsr.org/
Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences (BITSS): http://bitss.org/
Center for Open Science: http://centerforopenscience.org/

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Have The Engines Of Upward Mobility Stalled in the U.S.?

Although the American Dream still exerts a strong hold on our collective imagination, there is mounting evidence that the United States actually has low rates of relative income mobility compared to other countries.  In a paper presented at the 2014 Federal Reserve Bank of Boston conference, Richard Reeves and Isabel Sawhill examine the gap between children born into disadvantaged and advantaged circumstances, some of the factors that may affect each group's pathways, and the impact of targeted policy interventions on closing the gap between them.

As Reeves and Sawhill note, there are many ways to measure mobility: should we focus on equality of opportunity or outcomes? "Is the main concern with absolute mobility (how people fare compared to their parents)--or with relative mobility (how people fare with regard to their peers)? Is the right metric for mobility earnings, income, education, or wellbeing, or some other yardstick?  Is the primary concern with upward mobility from the bottom or with mobility across the spectrum?"  For the purpose of this paper, Reeves and Sawhill are primarily interested in relative intergenerational income mobility (RIIM).

Evidence from the research literature indicates that the U.S. has fairly low rates of RIIM, and that there are strong geographical, racial, educational, and to a lesser extent, gender, patterns to RIIM.  Reeves and Sawhill's findings confirm these results.  The social mobility transition matrices they constructed based on their data show that "the U.S. suffers from a high degree of intergenerational income 'stickiness,' especially at the top and bottom of the income distribution."

Ideally, in a society with "perfect" mobility, children born to disadvantaged parents (in the lowest quintile of the parent income distribution) would be as likely to end up in the lowest quintile of the child income distribution as they are to end up in any other quintile.  In reality, Reeves and Sawhill show:

  • "children born to families at the bottom of the income distribution (i.e. whose parents' income falls in the bottom quintile) have a 36 percent probability of remaining stuck there in adulthood [...] and children on the opposite end of the spectrum have a 30 percent chance of remaining in the highest income quintile."
  • "Black children face pervasive downward pressure towards the bottom of the income distribution, regardless of parent income [...] Half the black children born into the bottom quintile remain there in adulthood [...] Only 3 percent join the top income quintile. Moreover black children with middle-class roots are more likely to fall than to rise."
  • All children receive a boost in RIIM from getting a college degree, even top income children.  The reverse is not true, however, of failing to receive a high school diploma: dropping out damages mobility rates for bottom- and middle-income quintiles, but not for children born to top-income quintile parents.  In this group, almost as many remain on the top rung as fall to the bottom.  In other words, as Matt O'Brien of the Washington Post's Wonkblog put it: "poor kids who do everything right don't do much better than rich kids who do everything wrong."
  • Success begets further success: the "head start" that children get from being born advantaged propulses them through all stages of life.

These patterns, Reeves and Sawhill argue, are alarming in light of the fact that income inequality has been rising in recent decades: "when the rungs of the ladder are far apart, it becomes more difficult to climb the ladder ... Inequality in one generation may mean less opportunity for the next generation to get ahead and thus still more inequality in the future."  They continue: "There is a moral justification for a society with high inequality offset by high mobility, grounded in liberal ideas of freedom and fairness, and a moral justification for a society with low mobility, softened by low inequality, based on left-of-center egalitarian ideals.  But there is little justification for a society with a large gap between rich and poor, and little movement between the two."

More encouraging findings from their analyses suggest that targeted interventions, such as preschool programs, could do a great deal to close the gap in the lifetime incomes between children born into lower and higher income families.

Read more:

TeachingwithData.org resources:
Income Inequality in the US (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3182)
An Analysis of Earnings (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3159)
NYT Interactive: What Percent Are You? (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3913)
Social Class and Attitudes about Inequality: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3459)
Income Differences (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3113)

Monday, October 20, 2014

New Survey Shows Concerns Over Spread of Ebola in the U.S. But Also Widespread Trust In Health Authorities

A new survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation examines Americans' attention to the Ebola crisis in Africa, the Ebola cases in the U.S., and people's views of the U.S. role in addressing Ebola in Africa and at home. The survey, fielded October 8-14, 2014, is based on a nationally representative sample of 1,503 adults.

The KFF survey found that:

  • A majority of respondents say they have followed news about the diagnosis of the first Ebola case in the U.S. and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa closely.
  • Nearly all those surveyed know that direct contact with the blood or body fluids of a person who is sick with Ebola and showing symptoms is a major infection vector, but a substantial proportion (1 in 4 and 1 in 3) believe, inaccurately, that a person could become infected through the air or by shaking hands with someone who has been exposed to Ebola but does not have symptoms.  Most (6 in 10) are unaware that a person with Ebola can only transmit the disease after symptoms begin.
  • Those with lower levels of education appear less likely to have an accurate understanding of the methods of Ebola transmission.
  • A majority of the public says they are at least “somewhat” worried that the U.S. will see a large number of Ebola cases in the next 12 months (63 percent), and a robust, albeit smaller, share is worried that they or someone in their family will get sick from Ebola (45 percent). Personal worry about oneself or a family member becoming infected is higher among women (50 percent), African Americans (56 percent), Hispanics (65 percent), and those with a high school education or less (57 percent).
  • However, only 22 percent of respondents believe that there will be a widespread Ebola outbreak in the U.S.
  • Overall, a large majority of the American public trusts local, state, and federal health authorities to contain any potential Ebola cases. About three-quarters (73 percent) say that if there were an Ebola case in their area, they would have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of confidence in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to contain Ebola and prevent it from spreading. Somewhat smaller shares – but still over six in ten  – say they have at least a fair amount of confidence in their local hospitals (64 percent) and in their state or local health department (62 percent) to prevent the spread of Ebola.
  • Confidence in health authorities is similar across Republicans, Democrats, and independents.
  • A majority of Americans think that the Ebola outbreak in Africa in not under control, and that the U.S. should play a large or leading role in addressing it, by providing medical supplies, investing money in Ebola research, sending medical personnel to train and assist doctors, and providing financial assistance.  Opinion that the U.S. should take a leading or  major role in addressing the outbreak in Africa is similar across Republicans (67 percent), independents (63 percent), and Democrats (71 percent) alike.
  • However, the public is divided on whether the U.S. government is doing enough to fight Ebola abroad and at home. Republicans (56 percent), women (49 percent), and those with less than a college degree (47 percent) are more likely to say that the U.S. government is NOT doing enough to protect Americans from Ebola.

Read more:

TeachingwithData.org resources:
Geographic Diffusion of Disease: The Flu Pandemic of 1918-19 (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3306)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Proceed With Caution: An Analysis Of Killings By Police Shows Outsize Risk For Young Black Males But Also Highlights The Limitations Of Official Statistics

In their article "Deadly Force, In Black And White," ProPublica's Ryan Gabrielson, Ryann Grochowski Jones, and Eric Sagara examine federally collected data on fatal police shootings.  Their analysis focuses on the more than 12,000 police homicides stretching from 1980 to 2012 contained in the FBI's Supplementary Homicide Reports.  Within this time frame, Gabrielson, Grochowski, and Sagara paid particular attention to reports filed for the years 2010 to 2012, the three most recent years for which FBI numbers are available.

The Supplementary Homicide Reports indicate that there were 1,217 deadly police shootings between 2010 and 2012, and that young black males (ages 15-19) "were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police."  These figures were obtained by "dividing the number of people of each race killed by police by the number of people of that race living in the country at the time, to produce two different rates: the risk of getting killed by police if you are white and if you are black."

They also found that:

  • 44 percent of all those killed by police across the 33 years (1980-2012) were white, suggesting that a disproportionately high percentage of deadly police shootings victims were minorities: in 2012, Whites made up about 72.5 percent of the U.S. population; Blacks, 12.5 percent.
  • The average age of Blacks killed by police was 30. The average age of Whites was 35.
  • Black officers account for a little more than 10 percent of all fatal police shootings. Of those they killed, though, 78 percent were Black.
  • White officers killed 91 percent of the Whites who died at the hands of police and were responsible for 68 percent of the people of color killed. Those people of color represented 46 percent of all those killed by White officers.
  • There were 151 instances in which police noted that teens they had shot dead had been fleeing or resisting arrest at the time of the encounter. 67 percent of those killed in such circumstances were Black. That disparity was even starker in the last couple of years: of the 15 teens shot fleeing arrest from 2010 to 2012, 14 were Black.
  • From 1980 to 1984, "officer under attack" was listed as the cause for 33 percent of the deadly shootings. Twenty years later, looking at data from 2005 to 2009, "officer under attack" was cited in 62 percent of police killings.

"No question, there are all kinds of racial disparities across our criminal justice system," Colin Loftin, University at Albany professor and co-director of the Violence Research Group, said. "This is one example."

These statistics points to important trends, but they should be used with great caution.  As Gabrielson, Grochowski, and Sagara explain in the article, the FBI's reports suffer from serious shortcomings.

  1.  They provide only a minimum count of homicides by police because large numbers of police departments don't file fatal police shooting reports at all, or do so inconsistently (Florida departments haven't filed reports since 1997 and New York City last reported in 2007), yielding a high likelihood of measurement error and making any attempt to generalize findings or analyze trends problematic.  
  2. In addition, police do not always provide information about the circumstances of the shootings when they do report them to the FBI.  This makes it difficult to measure precisely what puts people at risk of homicide by police.  
  3. Another potential issue is that the quality of self-reported data, such as these, is dependent on the honesty of the respondents and we know that respondents are less likely to be honest about sensitive issues (such as measures relating to sexual behavior or drug use), than they are about something more benign like caffeine consumption.  In the particular case of police shootings, police departments may have little incentive to bring attention to themselves by reporting detailed information about the killings, or any information at all.

The authors conclude that "there is value in what the data can show while accepting, and accounting for, its limitations. Indeed, while the absolute numbers are problematic, a comparison between white and black victims shows important trends. [The data] confirms some assumptions, runs counter to others, and adds nuance to a wide range of questions about the use of deadly police force."

Read more:

TeachingwithData.org resources:
Gun Violence in America (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3864)
Fear of Crime (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3155)
Crime Victimization in the US: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3437)
Generational Trends in Attitudes about Gun Ownership: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3448)
Crime and Victims Statistics (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3261)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Domestic Violence in the U.S.

Using data from the Violence Policy Center, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, and the Center for American Progress, Melissa Jeltsen and Alissa Shlesser of the Huffington Post compiled some facts about domestic violence in the U.S. in their article "At Least A Third Of All Women Murdered in the U.S. Are Killed By Male Partners."

The data show that, between 2003 and 2012, one third (34 percent) of female homicide victims were killed by intimate male partners.  In contrast, only 2.5 percent of male homicide victims were killed by an intimate female partner.  The data also show that women are more likely to experience intimate partner violence, but it's important to note that men are less likely to report being victims of domestic violence, so official figures may underestimate the extent of male domestic violence victimization.

Over 50 percent of the women who were killed by male intimate partners were shot.  Rates of domestic homicide are highest in Nevada, Alaska, and in Southern states.

For more information about domestic violence, check out the slide presentation from Michael Planty's (chief of Victimization Statistics with the Bureau of Justice Statistics) appearance on C-SPAN's America by the Numbers segment of “Washington Journal,” a television interview program that allows the public to call in or email their views. The program highlighted trends in domestic violence in America from 1994 to 2013, including data on who commits domestic violence, characteristics of the victims, why victims do not report domestic violence to police, the offender's use of a weapon, who receives assistance from victim services organizations, and who sought medical treatment. For comparison, the show included estimates of violence committed by strangers or known acquaintances of the victims.

The BJS slide presentation is available at http://www.bjs.gov, where you can also access full BJS reports on domestic violence, such as:

  • Nonfatal Domestic Violence, 2003–2012 (NCJ 244697, April 2014)
  • Intimate Partner Violence: Attributes of Victimization, 1993–2011 (NCJ 243300, November 2013)
  • Intimate Partner Violence, 1993–2010(NCJ 239203, November 2012). 

These, and other crime and justice data, are available from the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data (http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/NACJD/).

Read more:

TeachingwithData.org resources:
Gun Violence in America (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3864)
Intimate Partner Violence in the U.S. (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3317)
Fear of Crime (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3155)
Crime Victimization in the US: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3437)
Generational Trends in Attitudes about Gun Ownership: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3448)
Crime and Victims Statistics (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3261)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

60 Percent Of Americans Will Soon Live In States With Marriage Equality

As the Huffington Post recently reported, with the US Supreme Court's decision not to hear appeals from five states that were challenging lower-court rulings legalizing same-sex marriage, 60 percent of Americans will soon live in states with marriage equality: same-sex marriage will be legal in 30 states and the District of Columbia.

This latest decision by the Supreme Court reflects the country's changing attitude on gay marriage.  As Pew Research polls have shown, whereas Americans opposed same-sex marriage by a 57 percent to 35 percent margin in 2001, a majority (52%) now supports it.  Support for gay marriage has grown, albeit unevenly, across all socio-demographic groups.

Read more:

TeachingwithData.org resources:
Age and Attitudes about the Rights of Homosexuals: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3237)
Trends in Marriage Behavior (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3130)
Family Change 1950-1990 (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3112)
Marital Trends (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3116)