Proxies

Two contrasting topics this week have had me thinking about measuring change, which reminded me of the eloquent arguments given by Ben Goldacre* about the use of proxies in medical research, and have led me to think about their use in other areas.

Firstly, I saw a talk given about the inherent complexity in development activities and research. At a fundamental level, we really do not know what policies and activities work best to alleviate poverty, but institutions are so set in how they function, that it is hard to do things in new ways. So we identify problems that we can solve (e.g. the lack of bed nets for keeping out mosquitos) rather than face up to the ones that are more complicated (how to eradicate malaria). By focusing on targeted issues, we can feel that we are making progress, even though our ultimate goal (improved health and wellbeing) is too amorphous to measure.

Then I read this blog post about Rape Crisis Scotland promoting their Reclaim the Night march with banners saying “Women are not for sale”**. That post linked to this blog about the new model in Sweden which is aiming to eventually stigmatise the purchase of sex to the point of eradicating the sex industry. When I look around (the internet, mostly) it seems that many younger feminists (3rd/4th wave) are calling for less prohibition around sex-work, which is in direct opposition to the tide of policy. It occurred to me, again, that perhaps what we have here is an issue of proxies. All feminists want to end violence against women, but there is no known way to do that unilaterally. Women who are sex workers are at greater risk of violence, so prohibition seems like a way to reduce that violence. But really, the thing that we actually want to reduce is patriarchy (well, kyriarchy, but this is a very gendered issue), and violence against women is just one indicator of that. The prevalence of sex-work is a proxy indicator, used because of the correlation between sex-work and violence against women.

The use of proxy indicators is easy, and in some cases essential, when we cannot directly measure the thing that we want to change. But there is a real danger of actually changing our actions, in order to fit within the framework of what can be measured. The ONLY way to really know how to bring about change that we want is to come up with a bunch of ideas, randomise the end-points, try out the ideas, and see what works. This is much harder in social science than medicine of course, but it’s still the only way.


*We want to know about morbidity and mortality, but this takes too long to measure and is affected by too many things, so we measure proxy indicators like blood pressure. But drugs which affect those proxy measures still may not affect the thing we really want, in the way that we want.

**Not all sex-workers are women, obviously. But most violence in sex-work is against women, by men.

Drum hat

A drum hat is mostly just a large flat circle, to keep the skin of a drum warm and dry. I had this beautiful wool with a gradually changing colour which I wanted to use. I started by crocheting a very simple spiral, which can be seen at the bottom of this post. But I decided I didn’t like the way some of the colours sat beside each other, and that I wanted a pattern which changed colour radially. I searched all over the internets and couldn’t find anything, so designed my own. The pattern is very dependent on the weight of the wool you are using (since the height of the stitch needed at each distance from the centre is related to the imaginary circumference at that distance, and the stitch needed for that height is determined by the weight of the wool and hook you are using). Details of how I calculated the stitches needed are in the PDF, and if you’re really keen (read: geeky) I will be happy to share the spreadsheet of calculations if you contact me.

Top-down view of crocheted drum hat, with radial pattern of gradually changing colour wool

Top-down view of crocheted drum hat, with radial pattern of gradually changing colour wool

Side-on view of crocheted drum hat, with radial pattern of gradually changing colour wool

Side-on view of crocheted drum hat, with radial pattern of gradually changing colour wool

Drum hat pattern – crocheting radially
Worsted weight wool, 4.5mm hook.
Full pattern (see PDF for more information)
Row 1: ch 29, ss in 6th ch from hook to form circle (23 ch remaining)
Row 2: ch 1, sc in 2nd ch from circle, ch 1, sc in 4th ch from circle, 3 hdc in next 3 ch, 3 dc in 3 ch, 3 htc in 3 ch, 3 tc in 3 ch, 3 hqc in 3 ch, 3 qc in 3 ch, 1 h5c in final ch.
Row 3: ch 4, skip st at base of chain, qc in next st, 2 qc in next 2, 3 hqc in next 3, 3 tc in 3, 3 htc in 3, 3 dc in 3, 3 hdc in 3, ch 1 in 3, sc, ch 1, sc, sc into circle.
Row 4: ch 1, sc in 1st ch from circle, ch 1, sc in 2nd ch from circle, 3 hdc in 3 hdc, 3 dc in 3 dc, 3 htc in 3 htc, 3 tc in 3 tc, 3 hqc in 3 hqc, 3 qc in 3 qc, 1 h5c in h5c.
Rows 5 – 42: Repeat rounds 3 and 4. Sew together or ss along join. (You may need more/less rows to make a flat circle, it’s a judgement call).

Drum hat pattern (PDF)

Spiral drum hat with gradually changing colour wool

Spiral drum hat with gradually changing colour wool