Friday, January 17, 2014

Short Posts, 1/17/2014: Plastic Surgery Apps For Children, Whooping Cough And What Some Texas Charter Schools Teach.

1.  What's the app that nine-year-old children (girls?) really, really might need?  The wizards at Apple and Google thought that it might be an app where the child can play being a plastic surgeon.  The patient, to be operated on, is either Barbie or Barbara, depending on the app, and the surgery is to make the patient thinner or cuter!

Both the apps have already been withdrawn due to protests.  But as this article points out, that they were ever created tells us something unsavory about the world we live in:  You are never too young to start learning about the importance of being thin and cute.  For people named Barbie or Barbara.

2. Whooping cough is back.  In some parts of the US, adults likely to be in contact with infants (who are too young to get the vaccination themselves) are told to get booster shots against whooping cough (pertussis).

This was not the case in the fairly recent past, because childhood vaccinations against this infectious disease  were almost universal.  When most children are vaccinated, the few who cannot get vaccinated for health reasons or whose parents are opposed to the idea of vaccinations can avoid the disease through herd immunity:

Herd immunity (or community immunity) describes a form of immunity that occurs when the vaccination of a significant portion of a population (or herd) provides a measure of protection for individuals who have not developed immunity.[1] Herd immunity theory proposes that, in contagious diseases that are transmitted from individual to individual, chains of infection are likely to be disrupted when large numbers of a population are immune or less susceptible to the disease. The greater the proportion of individuals who are resistant, the smaller the probability that a susceptible individual will come into contact with an infectious individual.

Herd immunity stops working when those who don't get vaccinated become too large a proportion of the total population.  This is what seems to be happening in the US:  Whooping cough is back.  This is not good:

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a highly contagious bacterial disease that attacks the respiratory system. Last year, the United States had the highest number of whooping cough cases since 1955, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During 2012, the CDC received reports of 48,000 cases and 18 deaths, with most of the deaths occurring in infants.
Note that a (private) decision not to have a child vaccinated has different consequences depending on how many others nearby make the same private decision.  If those others are few, the odds are that the children who didn't get the shots will do just fine.  If, however, those others are many, the disease will be back and some non-vaccinated individuals will die of it. Including, in this case, infants too young to get the shots.

Put into economic terms, some of the benefits from getting vaccinated or from having one's child vaccinated fall on the wider community as an increase in herd immunity, but these benefits do not usually enter the private calculations individuals and parents make.  Because those external benefits are ignored, the number of children vaccinated against whooping cough, say, is too low from the overall social point of view. 

Was that boring enough for you?  The deeper economic point is that vaccination is an example of an act where the costs fall on the individual or family getting vaccinated, including any negative-side-effects the vaccination causes or is believed to cause, whereas some of the benefits fall outside that private sphere.  This means that the negative aspects of vaccination get more weight in the decision-making than the positive aspects.

3.  Some charter school programs in Texas, funded from public sources, seem to teach the students interesting versions of biology and history For example:

On the feminist movement, Founders Classical Academy students are taught that feminism “created an entirely new class of females who lacked male financial support and who had to turn to the state as a surrogate husband.”

You can add that to the list of all the evil deeds attributable to feminism (a very long list which includes the total destruction of Western civilization).  Isn't it interesting, by the way, how the use of the terms "females" and "males" often signals a manosphere approach to a gender topic.  What's wrong with using "women" and "men?"

More seriously, feminism has not been powerful enough to be the culprit in so much evil, and that above quote makes no sense if we take it as written.  The author probably means financial support for children.  Women, on their own, and without any children, very rarely qualify as surrogate wives of the state.  That's as often as men in the same situation would qualify as surrogate husbands of the state. 

The distinction may sound trivial but it's one that is often ignored in certain types of writing about gender, where the assumption seems to be that children are created through parthenogenesis and that child maintenance payments or welfare payments for children are to be counted as money women get.  Because of that parthenogenesis thingy and because custodial parents are more often mothers than fathers.