Happiness and the Television

I found this article entitled “Down the Tube: the Sad Stats On Happiness, Money, and TV” a good read. Read it soon for free, or WSJ will make you pay exorbitant rates to read it.

Best quote:

There’s been a significant increase in the hours devoted to what the authors call “neutral downtime,” which is mostly watching television. Women now spend 15% of their waking hours staring at the tube, while men devote 17%.

“Behind the Bling”

It sure has been a while! Sorry about the month between posts, people. I’ll try to not let that happen again.

A former Professor of mine, Erik Hurst, co-published an interesting paper concluding that:

  1. Blacks and Hispanics spend 30 percent more than whites on clothing, cars, and jewelry—an amount that averages out to around $2,000 per year per household.
  2. Blacks and Hispanics are spending less on education and health care and saving less money.

Signaling: Showing off this bling, in the form of nice clothes, nice cars, and so on shows that you have money and a job, something many members of these socioeconomic groups do not have.

Read the summary of the paper here.

Executive Order 13422

Executive Order 13422 goes into effect today. This EO mandates that science-based federal agency regulations must be reviewed by political appointees prior to approval. This allows the President to override conclusions derived from federal scientists, to push his political agenda.

From the EO (noting that OIRA is a political appointee):

Each agency shall submit to OIRA a program… under which the agency will periodically review its existing significant regulations to determine whether any such regulations should be modified or eliminated so as to make the agency’s regulatory program more effective in achieving the regulatory objectives, less burdensome, or in greater alignment with the President’s priorities and the principles…

This formalizes a tool that Bush has been using, despite a loud scientific and media outcry, since the start of his presidency, as denoted in this AP article:

Michael Halpern, a member of the influential Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group, said scientists believe the Bush administration is the “worst” ever in terms of political interference and censure.

Where else has he or his appointees stifled scientific publication or regulation?

  • In 2006, Dr. James Hansen, NASA’s top climate expert, accused the administration via the New York Times of pressuring him to censure his global warming research. Fallout: George Deutsch, a Texas A&M dropout appointed by Bush as NASA’s PR director, resigned, presumably for claiming he had a journalism degree. Among other pressure, Deutsch had enforced a revision to scientific copy on NASA’s website to include the word “theory” after every occurrence of “Big Bang”.
  • In early July, Dr. Richard Carmona, Surgeon General from 2002 to 2006, told a House committee of the rampant censure he endured during his tenure. “Anything that doesn’t fit into the political appointees’ ideological, theological or political agenda is ignored, marginalized or simply buried.” He was prevented from speaking publicly about embryonic stem cells, contraceptives, and his misgivings about the administration’s “abstinence only” policy during his years as Surgeon General.

Ten Politically Incorrect Truths About Human Nature

I found this article in Psychology Today to be a really interesting set of conclusions from specific behavioral studies. The ten truths listed are:

  1. Men like blond bombshells (and women want to look like them)
  2. Humans are naturally polygamous
  3. Most women benefit from polygyny, while most men benefit from monogamy
  4. Most suicide bombers are Muslim
  5. Having sons reduces the likelihood of divorce
  6. Beautiful people have more daughters
  7. What Bill Gates and Paul McCartney have in common with criminals
  8. The midlife crisis is a myth – sort of
  9. It’s natural for politicians to risk everything for an affair (but only if they’re male)
  10. Men sexually harass women because they are not sexist

If you are pressed for time, read #1, #3 and #4 (they are related), and #8.
If you are really pressed for time, just read #1.

The Eldest Child Benefit

From the annals of Stupid Genetics, here’s a new one.

The child raised as the eldest in a family has a slightly higher intelligence quotient, on average, than younger siblings.

Found here (it’s all over the Internet, so your sources may vary).

10 items or less Cheaters

I read an article about a study of cheaters in the “10 items or less” lane in supermarkets. The study was done by John Trinkaus at the Zicklin School of Business in CUNY, who covertly monitored these lanes over a span of nine years. Emphasis is my own.

As many of us may have seen for ourselves, Trinkaus found that some shoppers using this lane had more than 10 items. Some cunningly placed their items in groups of 10 and paid for each group separately. Trinkaus found that about 80 per cent of all the supermarket lane cheats were female van drivers.

More details about these female van drivers:

Trinkaus has also shown that 96 per cent of women van drivers break the speed limit, compared with 86 per cent of male ones, and in one study, a staggering 99 per cent of female van drivers failed to come to a complete stop at a T-junction with a stop sign, compared with 94 per cent of the total.


White officials call more fouls on black players

From a study by Justin Wolfers and Joseph Price.

An academic study of NBA officiating found that white referees called fouls at a greater rate against black players than against white players, The New York Times reported in Wednesday’s editions.

The NBA is violently objecting to this study, citing internal research on better, more robust data.

Looking at each study’s data set makes this story more interesting.

  • The Wolfers and Price study uses publicly available box score data, with calls by referee “teams”.
  • The NBA study uses internal data that lists calls made by individual referees

A request by Wolfers and Price to obtain the NBA’s data set was rejected.

The NBA needs to stop this hard and fast. How can they do so? Either hope it blows over or make their data set publicly available. Citing their private data set will not do enough to convince skeptics.

I wonder if, they did decide to release their data set, they would try to “massage” it to remove racial biases. If they did that, I wonder if it would be possible to identify if massaging occurred, similar to the Freakonomics story about the Chicago Public Schools teachers…

The wonder drug for cancer is Vitamin D

Recent research is showing that Vitamin D may help drastically reduce cancer among women (and men?).

A four-year clinical trial involving 1,200 women found those taking the vitamin had about a 60-per-cent reduction in cancer incidence, compared with those who didn’t take it, a drop so large — twice the impact on cancer attributed to smoking — it almost looks like a typographical error.

And more.

The sun advice [of avoiding the sun or using heavy sunscreen] has been misguided information “of just breathtaking proportions,” said John Cannell, head of the Vitamin D Council, a non-profit, California-based organization.

“Fifteen hundred Americans die every year from [skin cancers]. Fifteen hundred Americans die every day from the serious cancers.”

The Death of PowerPoint (or at least, text slides)

From University of New South Wales, research that shows you should stop creating text slides in PowerPoint. Bold=my emphasis added.

If you have ever wondered why your eyes start glazing over as you read those dot points on the screen, as the same words are being spoken, take heart in knowing there is a scientific explanation.

It is more difficult to process information if it is coming at you in the written and spoken form at the same time.

The Australian researchers who made the findings may have pronounced the death of the PowerPoint presentation.

They have also challenged popular teaching methods, suggesting that teachers should focus more on giving students the answers, instead of asking them to solve problems on their own.

Pioneered at the University of NSW, the research shows the human brain processes and retains more information if it is digested in either its verbal or written form, but not both at the same time.

It also questions the wisdom of centuries-old habits, such as reading along with Bible passages, at the same time they are being read aloud in church. More of the passages would be understood and retained, the researchers suggest, if heard or read separately.

The findings show there are limits on the brain’s capacity to process and retain information in short-term memory.

John Sweller, from the university’s faculty of education, developed the “cognitive load theory”.

“The use of the PowerPoint presentation has been a disaster,” Professor Sweller said. “It should be ditched.”

“It is effective to speak to a diagram, because it presents information in a different form. But it is not effective to speak the same words that are written, because it is putting too much load on the mind and decreases your ability to understand what is being presented.

The findings that challenge common teaching methods suggest that instead of asking students to solve problems on their own, teachers helped students more if they presented already solved problems.

“Looking at an already solved problem reduces the working memory load and allows you to learn. It means the next time you come across a problem like that, you have a better chance at solving it,” Professor Sweller said.

The working memory was only effective in juggling two or three tasks at the same time, retaining them for a few seconds. When too many mental tasks were taken on some things were forgotten.

I don’t agree with the statement, “the use of the PowerPoint presentation has been a disaster. It should be ditched.” This implies, 1.) all PowerPoint is text slides, and 2.) one will never use a PowerPoint presentation as a stand-alone document. As it were, if you are building your presentation correctly with the right mix of text charts and graphics, this shouldn’t be an issue at all.