Boston’s Lake Wobegon restaurant ratings

 

We’re living in the age of data and metrics. Baseball now runs on them. Political campaigns have mastered the art of microtargeting voters based on preferences scraped from various consumer databases.

Government is getting in on the act, too, making what are largely admirable efforts to measure and make available data that can inform decision-making by citizens, whether on schools, crime hot spots — and now even where to grab a burger and a beer.

Following the lead of New York and several other cities, Boston has begun grading restaurants on their food-safety practices. The results are either highly reassuring, or skewed to the point of being meaningless.

The Globe reports that the first round of grades was posted online last month. Nearly 94 percent of the more than 1,100 restaurants that have been visited earned A grades based on an initial inspection. Just 3.4 percent, or 38 restaurants, got a B, and 2.8 percent, or 31 restaurants, were awarded a C, the lowest grade.

The Globe reports that almost every restaurant was able to up its grade to an A after one or two follow-up visits. Last year, the paper analyzed grades from a 2015 trial run of the system, and reported that more than one third of restaurants inspected then would have earned the equivalent of a C on an initial visit.

The city’s inspectional services chief, William Christopher, says he’s not surprised at the big jump in grades, which he says is the result of restaurants improving their practices after city inspectors worked to educate them about the new system.

But it is reasonable to think that virtually every restaurant in Boston is a paragon of purity when it comes to food safety practices?

When New York City rolled out its rating system for restaurants in 2010, there was evidence pointing toward grade inflation — and that was based on a distribution of scores that had just 56 percent of restaurants earning an A. Thirty-one percent earned a B, and 12 percent got a C.

An analysis at the time showed that an inordinate number of restaurants were earning scores that put them just over the line that earned an A rather than a B. “Closer inspection of underlying data reveals a suspicious distribution of restaurants near the cut-off point between an A and a B,” reported FiveThirtyEight, then based at The New York Times.

This 2014 analysis plotted the same problem with New York’s grades.

If there is reason to be skeptical of New York’s grades, where just over half of restaurants earned an A, perhaps a further scrub of Boston’s system, where nearly every restaurant earns the top mark, is in order.

We may have bragging rights over New York when it comes to sports championships in recent years. But are our eateries really fantastically cleaner than theirs?  Food for thought.

–MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

Eversource Energy faces a big lobbying challenge on Beacon Hill in trying to convince lawmakers to pass legislation allowing the utility and its partners to tap electric ratepayers to finance a natural gas pipeline. Most of the lawmakers, including the entire Senate, opposed a so-called pipeline tariff in the last session. (CommonWealth)

A Herald editorial offers cautious support for criminal justice legislation unveiled on Tuesday, saying policies allowing inmates to win early release through “good time” credits have been abused in the past, while slamming those advocating repeal of mandatory minimum sentences.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell has reached agreement with a group to site a medical marijuana dispensary on the city’s outskirts while at the same time submitting a proposal to the City Council for a moratorium on retail pot operations. (Standard-Times)

Easton officials reached an agreement worth $600,000 with the town administrator for him to leave his job. (The Enterprise)

With no federal aid available, Boston is looking to private developers to rehab a portion of a dilapidated public housing complex in Jamaica Plain. (Boston Globe)

Northampton’s “high-five” reversal isn’t sensitive, it’s shameful, says an editorial on MassLive.

MassDevelopment is cleaning out and renovating the former Skyplex nightclub in Springfield and looking for new tenants. (MassLive)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL/GALACTIC

President Trump rescinded transgender student protections that were put in place by former President Barack Obama. (New York Times) Despite reports that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos opposed Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the issue, the White House said “there’s no daylight” between anyone in the administration. (U.S. News & World Report) A Herald editorial says the earlier Obama administration order overreached, while also urging more states to follow Massachusetts in adopting transgender student protections. Telegram & Gazette columnist Dianne Williamson taps into local, negative reaction to the change in policy. Massachusetts may largely be unaffected by the federal move, thanks to legislation Gov. Charlie Baker signed last year (after a drawn-out period of Hamlet-like uncertainty). (Boston Globe)

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine says she is open to issuing subpoenas for President Trump’s tax returns in connection with an investigation of his Russia connections. (NBC4)

Scientists discovered seven Earth-sized planets with potential to sustain life orbiting a dwarf star a relatively close 40 light years away. (New York Times)

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu signs into law legislation making it possible to carry a concealed weapon without a license. (Portland Press Herald)

Arizona, once a boxing ring where establishment Republicans and Tea Party activists squared off, is no longer open for fights. The GOP establishment has won, and the state may highlight  what’s to come for the Tea Party. (Governing)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The nation’s big banks collect billions in ATM and overdraft fees. (Time)

EDUCATION

The average pay for a Boston public school teacher is $90,467, among the highest in the country, reports the Herald.

The Hudson School Committee voted to remain part of the state’s school choice program but limited open seats to grades 5 through 11. (MetroWest Daily News)

The Alfond Foundation will pay up to half the student loan debt for Maine residents — either natives or those who move there — who are college graduates in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics who commit to working in the state for at least five years. (Portland Press Herald)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Michael Widmer, the former president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, slams the Baker administration proposal to rein in Medicaid costs by capping commercial payments to high-cost health care providers. (Boston Globe) He also argued against the Baker plan in an earlier op-ed in CommonWealth.

UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester wants to cut in half the size of its psychiatric unit, prompting protests from mental health advocates who says psychiatric beds are already in short supply. (Telegram & Gazette)

Ewart Brown, physician and former premier of Bermuda, offers a wide-ranging defense of the partnership he struck with Burlington-based Lahey Clinic, which is now at the center of lawsuit filed by the island’s current government. (Boston Globe)

Boston University researchers using data from a Framingham study finds that older adults who sleep more than nine hours a night after getting less sleep when younger are at double the risk of developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. (New York Times)

TRANSPORTATION

Users trying to delete their Uber app receive a message about Susan Fowler, the former Uber employee whose blog post described a sexist, chaotic atmosphere at the tech giant. (Mashable)

Charles Chieppo of the Pioneer Institute says the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board is on track and should keep pushing ahead for a full five years. (CommonWealth)

Hull and Milton residents, in a meeting with Massport officials, made suggestions for changes in flight paths at Logan Airport to reduce the noise over their communities. (Patriot Ledger)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A top official at Eversource Energy says Massachusetts is in danger of not meeting its 2020 goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. (CommonWealth)

Fishermen on Nantucket are petitioning state officials to ban fish draggers and scallopers from towing nets along the bottom to protect squid, which is a key food source for striped bass, whose population is down because of the reduced supply. (Cape Cod Times)

CASINOS

MGM unveils problem-gambling prevention efforts inspired by regulations governing its Springfield casino, which is under construction. (MassLive)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Two men were wounded in Boston last night in a shooting near Roxbury’s Dudley Square. (Boston Herald) A 19-year-old who was fatally shot on a Roxbury street corner on Tuesday night is the city’s fifth homicide victim this year. (Boston Globe)

Years ago former San Francisco city supervisor Dan White was said to have tried to invoke the Twinkie defense in his murder trial (even if that wasn’t exactly what he did). Former Patriots player Aaron Hernandez may go for the pot defense. (Boston Herald) Bill Belichick is on the defense witness list as a potential witness. (Boston Herald)

MEDIA

Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times avoided Donald Trump news for a week and found there was almost nothing left to read. “Coverage of Mr. Trump may eclipse that of any single human being ever,” he writes.