Sunday, February 19, 2006

European businesswomen: killed with kindness?

Interesting article in Newsweek about the dearth of women in senior leadership positions in Europe:

For all the myths of equality that Europe tells itself, the Continent is by and large a woeful place for a woman who aspires to lead. According to a paper published by the International Labor Organization this past June, women account for 45 percent of high-level decision makers in America, including legislators, senior officials and managers across all types of businesses. In the U.K., women hold 33 percent of those jobs. In Sweden—supposedly the very model of global gender equality—they hold 29 percent....

Simply put, Europe is killing its women with kindness—enshrined, ironically, in cushy welfare policies that were created to help them. By offering women extremely long work leaves after children, then pushing them to take the full complement via tax policies that discourage a second income, coupled with subsidies that serve to keep them at home, Europe is essentially squandering its female talent. Not only do women get off track for long periods, many simply never get back on. Nor have European corporations adapted to changing times. Few offer the flextime that makes it easier for women to both work and manage their families. Instead, women tend to get shuffled into part-time work, which is less respected and poorly paid. Those who want to fight discrimination find themselves hamstrung by laws favoring employers.

See the full article:

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Women's Health Initiative strikes again

Two more health bombs were dropped this week from the Women's Health Initiative, this time calling into question the value of calcium supplements and low-fat diets. Here's the summary from the NYT:

The studies were part of the health initiative, which started in the 1990's. The one on the low-fat diet, which included nearly 49,000 women ages 50 to 79, found that overall, after 8 years, the diet had no effect on the rates of breast cancer, strokes, heart attacks or colon cancer.

Similarly, the calcium and vitamin D study, which included more than 36,000 women, found that taking supplements for 7 years did not prevent broken bones or colorectal cancer, even though it did produce a 1 percent increase in bone density in the hip.

However, both the low-fat diet and calcium studies have some interesting twists:
- The low-fat diet study showed a 9% reduction in breast cancer risk; right below the 10% threshold required to show statistical significance.
- In the calcium study, "The ones who took most of their calcium, 80 percent of the pills, had a 29 percent reduction in hip fractures. Women over 60 also had a reduction, 21 percent."

It's generally considered bad study design to create sub-groups after the study has been conducted and "fish out" interesting results:

The temptation, statisticians say, is to pick the subgroup analyses that support a favored hypothesis and disregard ones that do not. And the more subgroups that are examined, the greater the chance that some will support that hypothesis.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Put down that Diet Coke

Today the New York Times reported on a recent study that throws new concerns on the safety of artifical sweetener aspartame. Key excerpts:

"...The research found that the sweetener was associated with unusually high rates of lymphomas, leukemias and other cancers in rats that had been given doses of it starting at what would be equivalent to four to five 20-ounce bottles of diet soda a day for a 150-pound person. The study, which involved 1,900 laboratory rats and cost $1 million, was conducted at the European Ramazzini Foundation of Oncology and Environmental Sciences, a nonprofit organization that studies cancer-causing substances..."

...Dr. Soffritti said he was inspired to look at aspartame because of what he calls "inadequacies" in the cancer studies done by Searle in the 1970's. He said that those studies did not involve large-enough numbers of rats and did not allow them to live long enough to develop cancer.

The Ramazzini study was conducted with 1,900 rats, as opposed to the 280 to 688 rodents used in Searle's studies, and the rats lived for up to three years instead of being sacrificed after two, which is the human equivalent of age 53. "Cancer is a disease of the third part of life," Dr. Soffritti said. "You have 75 percent of cancer diagnoses for people who are 55 years old or older. So if you truncate the experiments at 110 weeks and the rats are supposed to survive until 150 to 160 weeks, it means you avoid the development of cancer at the time when cancer would be starting to arise."

Others have also challenged Searle's studies. Documents from the F.D.A. and records from the Federal Register indicate that, in the years before the F.D.A. approved aspartame, the agency had serious concerns about the accuracy and credibility of Searle's aspartame studies. From 1977 to 1985 — during much of the approval process — Searle was headed by Donald H. Rumsfeld, who is now the secretary of defense...."

"...In an analysis of 166 articles published in medical journals from 1980 to 1985, Dr. Ralph G. Walton, a professor of psychiatry at Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine found that all 74 studies that were financed by the industry attested to sweetener's safety...Of the 92 independently funded articles, 84 identified adverse health effects.

When are we going to learn that industry-funded safety studies (never mind those done by a company headed by Donald Rumsefeld) generally aren't worth squat?

So put down that Diet Coke.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Fathers of girls vote more liberally

Caught this tidbit today in the Seattle Times:

Fathers of girls vote more liberally on women's issues
"...[The] ultimate insiders are the daughters of lawmakers, says Ebonya Washington of Yale University. She found that members of the House who have a daughter voted more liberally on a range of women's issues, notably abortion, than those who did not. Moreover, the more daughters a congressman had, the more likely he was to vote for reproductive rights. ..."

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Kosmix is a DEMO God

The 2006 DEMO God Awards were announced...and you guessed it, Kosmix was a winner!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Wal-Mart & Healthcare

Another bad rap on Wal-Mart from today's Seattle Times: "More than 3,100 Wal-Mart employees in Washington [state] were benefiting from state-subsidized health coverage throughout 2004 — nearly double the total for any other company, according to two confidential state reports."

Last week Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat had an interesting perspective on the Wal-Mart healthcare situation: "Whose job is it to insure American workers, anyway? We can't make up our minds. We don't trust government to do it. And we don't want to force businesses to do it, even huge ones with multibillion-dollar profits." (Click here for full story.)

Don't get me wrong - I'm no Wal-Mart fan, but is anyone really surprised by this? This is exactly what we should expect if we leave health care to be "managed" by private sector employers. Companies are formed in order to generate profits, not to run social programs; last I checked, that falls under the government. Oh wait, I guess government is in the business of managing health care -- at least for people that work at Wal-Mart. :-)

Also see Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker article The Moral Hazard Myth for an excellent discussion of what Gladwell calls "the bad idea behind our failed health care system."

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Fun WSJ snippet on vacations

From today's edition:

"The idea that leisure is pleasing and work is not is patently false," says Geoffrey Godbey, a professor of leisure studies at Penn State University. For one thing, "the idea of shared family leisure is largely mythical," he says, noting that families often split apart during such activities as visiting amusement parks. In addition, in his studies of time diaries, Prof. Godbey found that once a couple has a child, men start to spend more time at work. That may be because the man wants to get ahead in his job to better provide for his child. But it also is possible "it's preferable for him to be at work than to go home and do the very hard work of taking care of children," the professor says.

See the full article (account required).