FLINT AND FICTITION: To what extent were Flint's kids harmed?

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2019

Or should we just type up a novel?:
To what extent were Flint's children harmed by the Flint water crisis, or perhaps by the Flint water problem?

We'd like to see a serious discussion of that important question. But then, there are other discussions we'd like to see. A few would go something like this:

Health care spending: As you may know, we'd like to see a serious discussion of the source of these astounding statistics:
Per capita spending, health care, 2018
United States: $10,586
Canada: $4974
France: $4965
Japan: $4766
United Kingdom: $4070
What explains all the "missing money" within our stumblebum "health care system?" Where does all that extra money go?

We'd love to see a discussion of that extremely important question, but no such discussion is allowed within our stumblebum "press corps."

Presumably, Ukrainian-style "corruption" is involved in this systemwide code of silence. We hate corruption over there, practice it widely at home.

Generational rise in Naep scores: We'd like to see a serious discussion of the rise in public school test scores over the past fifty years. For today, we'll restrict ourselves to the past few decades and to the performance of black kids on the so-called "Main Naep," as opposed to the Long-Term Trend Assessment:
Average scores, Grade 8 math, Naep
Black students, U.S. public schools

2019: 259.21
1993: 239.28
According to a very rough but widely-used rule of thumb, today's black eighth-graders are outperforming their counterparts from 1993 by roughly two academic years, even after a drop-off of several points from the high point of their performance in 2013.

We'd like to see a serious discussion of this (apparently) very large score gain. That said, by common agreement, the very fact of this score gain is almost never reported in "newspapers" like the New York Times and the Washington Post. Readers aren't told that these gains have occurred, let alone offered a discussion of their possible cause.

Over the bulk of the past twenty years, entities like the Post and the Times have been steeped in an "education reform" fictitions according to which "nothing has worked in our public schools." Possibly for that reason, but also of course because "statistics are boring and hard," readers haven't even been told about these, and other, large gains.

Generational drop in homicide rates: We'd like to see a serious discussion of the large drop, across the nation, in violent crime, including homicides. Sticking with 1993 as an arbitrary point of comparison, the violent crime rate had essentially been cut in half by 2016.

Just a guess: Most people have never seen a report of any such fact, let alone seen a serious discussion of the reasons for this major decline. For data from the leading authority on the subject, you can just click here, scroll to "Crime over time."

Public school achievement gaps: We'd like to see a serious discussion of our (apparently very large) public school "achievement gaps." Below, you see one such set of gaps:
Average scores, Grade 8 math, Naep
U.S. public schools, 2019

White students: 291.46
Black students: 259.21
Hispanic students: 267.96
Asian-American students: 309.39
Based on that very rough rule of thumb which we mentioned above, those are enormous gaps. Based on that rule of thumb, white kids outperformed their black counterparts by something resembling three academic years!

We'd like to see a serious discussion of the actual size of those gaps; of the possible causes of those gaps; and of the implications for classroom instruction. Instead, the New York Times hires legacy children to hand you the silly novelized treatments of which Hamptons-based swells are currently very fond.

(The thinking: Mommy was our gender editor. So "Sally"—not real name—surely knows all about schools!)

The data which detail those very large gaps never appear in our major "newspapers." Presumably, the size of the gaps is too embarrassing to permit disclosure or discussion. Instead, we're offered silly, childish attempts to pretend that the gaps are more illusory than real.

Those are just a few of the serious discussions we'd like to see. Unfortunately, as Flint's own Michael Moore once said, "We live in fictitious times."

Our "news reporting" is constantly built around silly, novelized story lines. These story lines satisfy an array of tribal longings and/or industry or interest group imperatives.

All too often, our "news" is fiction all the way down. In his best-selling book, Sapiens, Professor Harari has glumly suggested that this is the best our stumblebum species can sensibly hope to achieve!

It was against this background that we encountered last Thursday's front-page report in the New York Times. It tickled our longing for a serious discussion of the following questions:
To what extent were the children of Flint harmed by the Flint water crisis? Was the typical child actually harmed at all?

If the typical child in Flint was harmed, was he or she harmed to an extent that anyone would be likely to notice? To what extent have the kids of Flint had their life prospects affected?
These questions popped into our head because we'd already spent six years reading Kevin Drum's work on the effects of exposure to lead.

Drum's reporting started with this "cover story" in the January 2013 Mother Jones. That detailed cover report preceded the Flint water problem by several years.

As the Flint water crisis went center stage, Drum discussed it again and again at his Mother Jones blog. He offered fascinating data about the levels of exposure to lead which prevailed, across the nation and in Flint, before leaded gasoline was removed from the market.

In yesterday's report, we linked you to the post Drum authored after The New Yorker reported that children in Flint had begun to believe that they'd been deeply, irreparably damaged.

This belief, in itself, was a tragedy, Drum wrote. He offered this general assessment that day, as he had done before:
DRUM (1/26/17): Children in Flint had mildly elevated levels of lead in their bloodstream for about a year or two. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, but the effects of this are fairly modest. To put it in terms most people will recognize, it means that some children in Flint will lose about one IQ point. Maybe two. That’s a tragedy, but it’s an even bigger tragedy if kids and their parents respond to this by thinking their lives are permanently ruined. The truth is that in nearly all children, the effects will be only barely noticeable.
Drum is not the lord god Zeus, nor has he claimed to be. We'd like to see a serious discussion of the various data-driven assessments he has offered over the years, starting with that detailed cover report in January 2013.

Drum is not the oracle at Delphi. As with any writer on any topic, his assessments could be wrong in some manner or to some extent—or not.

That said, he also isn't some local observer being quoted by the New York Times on a subject where she presumably has no expertise at all, with her sweeping statement being culled for use in a damaging front-page headline.

Tomorrow, we'll link you to some of Drum's reports about lead exposure and its historical discontents. This will include his reports about what blood lead levels were like, around the country and in Flint, in the decades before the 2015 crisis.

Why have national crime rates dropped? Why have national test scores risen? The legacy children at the Times won't even report that such things have occurred, but both effects may be connected to lead exposure and lead abatement.

We'd like to see a serious discussion of that possibility. But especially at the New York Times, our national discourse is largely fictitious. Our news is children's fairy tales, pretty much all the way down.

Tomorrow: Links and a scary word—"poisoned"

20 comments:

  1. "Drum is not the lord god Zeus, nor has he claimed to be."

    He's a dembot hack. A dembot hack talking about 'losing IQ points', as if it meant something.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
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  2. Any media member who doesn't point out the Republican Party is a criminal enterprise, may or may not be a dembot, but they are definitely a hack.

    ReplyDelete
  3. "Presumably, Ukrainian-style "corruption" is involved in this systemwide code of silence. We hate corruption over there, practice it widely at home."

    WE don't practice corruption. I personally haven't given a thought to Ukrainian corruption until Trump decided to tarnish Biden by attacking his son.

    But Somerby's choice of words here and his focus on the so-called hypocrisy of an American public that supposedly hates corruption in the Ukraine while pursuing it here, is very odd.

    Has Somerby actually decided that capitalism is corrupt? Has he decided that high health care costs (among many other high costs in the USA) signify corruption without any evidence beyond the costs themselves? If there were such opportunities for corruption in health care, wouldn't a Trump appointee be pursuing them? But I see Trump cabinet members ripping off schools and ripping off housing and engaging in defense profiteering, and there was one who manipulated the stock market to profit off of pharmaceutical stocks, but I don't see anyone getting rich off of health care. I see people trying to prevent people from getting needed care and I see efforts to avoid paying for health care and trying to undermine Obamacare, but I don't see the same Trumpian scams as in other fields.

    Or does Somerby think Obamacare is a scam, a profiteering boondoggle? If so, that would put him solidly on the right, once again repeating conservative memes while trying to undo health care without any replacement in sight.

    But Somerby only says the press should discuss these outrages, ignoring that they have done so already, and that there have been numerous stories also about the the reforms intended by various Democratic candidates.

    Then Somerby ignorantly claims that test scores have risen because of lead abatement, and not because of advances in best practices in the classroom, rising literacy rates among adults who can then help their kids, better nutrition, and a bunch of other influences on children's development. Lead was most a factor in the problems of inner city kids, not all kids generally (whose scores have also risen).

    Somerby is also behind the curve. Most recenty NAEP scores show a decrease in reading. Somerby should be discussing whether this is related to increased screen time among children and the fact that no one reads lengthy books requiring concentration any more. Kids are spending hours playing games and doing social media. Not reading. This matters too but Somerby thinks it is only about lead.

    And then there is the fact that Kevin Drum didn't originate the theory about lead. Once again, although Drum gives due credit to those who did propose the theory, Somerby does not.

    ReplyDelete
  4. “Over the bulk of the past twenty years, entities like the Post and the Times have been steeped in an "education reform" fictitions according to which "nothing has worked in our public schools." Possibly for that reason, but also of course because "statistics are boring and hard," readers haven't even been told about these, and other, large gains.”

    “Why have national test scores risen? The legacy children at the Times won't even report that such things have occurred, but both effects may be connected to lead exposure and lead abatement.”

    “To what extent were the children of Flint harmed by the Flint water crisis? Was the typical child actually harmed at all?”

    If lead abatement is the reason for the increase in NAEP test scores, then that has nothing to do with anything the schools did. The increase is simply the natural result of lead abatement. This would complicate if not negate the hypothesis that whatever our schools teaching- or curriculum-wise did actually had any effect on test scores.

    And if lead exposure causes lower test scores, then wouldn’t the re-introduction of lead in Flint be a cause for concern?

    And again, Somerby is horrified to think that Flint children have to be subjected to hearing unpleasant things about themselves in the Times. But he wants the Times to talk about the achievement gaps, which stigmatize not just the black children in Flint, but across the entire country. How should black kids feel being told every day how poorly they compare with whites, and how they can’t and won’t get into good schools because they don’t deserve it?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 'But he wants the Times to talk about the achievement gaps,'

      Actually, it seems Somerby wants the Times to do what he does -- namely attack liberals and defend Roy Moore, DJT, Ron Johnson and Brock Turner

      Delete
  5. So Somerby apparently believes the high cost of US healthcare is due to widespread corruption. Interesting idea that he could flesh out.

    And yet, when Elizabeth Warren proposes a Medicare for All-type solution to the systemic problems in our healthcare system, mainstream media scolds like Tim Egan accuse her of being a virtue-signaling liberal know-it-all who is condescending to voters and is trying to force things like Medicare for All down their throats. Because she is a militant progressive. No mention of the possibility that Warren is trying to persuade voters that the system needs changing and her ideas have merit.

    And Somerby approvingly links to Egan.

    If the system is so corrupt and so exorbitantly expensive, then that would suggest a need for radical change a la Warren. But Somerby continues to offer up the same tired media criticisms of her as if he agrees with them, which calls into question his actual concern with fixing the healthcare system.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Somerby's sole concern is attacking liberals. Oh, and defending the likes of DJT, Roy Moore, Ron Johnson and Brock Turner.

    ReplyDelete
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