Thursday, August 30, 2007

iPhone monkeys

Here is an amusing cartoon. The reference is to the movie 2001, where apes are inspired to fight with weapons by discovering a monolith.

As far as I can tell, the Apple iPhone only offers one novel feature -- the ability to listen to voicemail message out of order. Everything else has been available from other vendors for years. Some phones offer fancier features like GPS, much better cameras, keyboards, Java, Flash, 3rd-party apps, extra memory, etc. And of course the iPhone is crippled, like other Apple products.

There is someone claiming to have figured out how to unlock the iPhone so that it can be used with T-Mobile's network, and he wants to sell unlocked iPhones. But even if you could get such a phone, you would not be able to listen to your voicemail messages out of order, so I doubt that it would interest the typical Apple customer.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Mathematician makes a billion dollars

Here is the world's highest paid mathematician:
What could anyone conceivably do to earn $1.5 billion in a year?

That's how much James Simons, founder of New York hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, took home last year, according to a study released today on the growing compensation gap between business leaders and everyone else.
Simons ranks No. 214 on the Forbes list of billionaires. He first got famous for some brilliant work in differential geometry.

The article says that the highest paid real CEO was Terry Semel of Yahoo, who made $90M in 2006. He was then fired after stockholders complained about poor performance.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

New Blink book

Gerd Gigerenzer, a German social psychologist, has written a new book justifying making decisions by gut feeling. Here is a sample of his research:
In the 1990s, I was living in Chicago, where there are high dropout rates from the high schools. People often asked, "Is there a way to know which school has the lowest dropout rate?" There existed data measuring different cues of school performance: the pay of teachers, the number of English-speaking students in a class, things like that.

I wondered: could one feed these into a computer, analyze them and obtain a prediction on which high school produced the fewest dropouts? We did that. And we were astonished to find that computer-based versions of Franklin’s bookkeeping method -- a program that weighed 18 different cues -- proved less accurate than going with the rule of thumb of "get one good reason and ignore the rest of the information."

Q: What was the "one good reason" that got you the right answer?

A: Knowing which school had high daily attendance rates. If two schools had the same attendance levels, you needed one more cue -- good writing scores -- and then you could ignore the rest.
No, this is an example of the superiority of computer analysis. Simple regressions often show that one or two factors are dominant, but it takes a statistical analysis to prove it. Those who rely on gut feelings often get fooled into thinking things like teacher pay are more significant.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Monkeys accused of sexual harassment

BBC reports:
A troop of vervet monkeys is giving Kenyan villagers long days and sleepless nights, destroying crops and causing a food crisis. ...

They say the monkeys are more afraid of young men than women and children, and the bolder ones throw stones and chase the women from their farms.

Nachu's women have tried wearing their husbands' clothes in an attempt to trick the monkeys into thinking they are men - but this has failed, they say.

"When we come to chase the monkeys away, we are dressed in trousers and hats, so that we look like men," resident Lucy Njeri told the BBC News website

"But the monkeys can tell the difference and they don't run away from us and point at our breasts. They just ignore us and continue to steal the crops."

In addition to stealing their crops, the monkeys also make sexually explicit gestures at the women, they claim.

"The monkeys grab their breasts, and gesture at us while pointing at their private parts. We are afraid that they will sexually harass us," said Mrs Njeri.
Even the monkeys recognize behavioral differences between men and women.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Psychotherapy can be harmful

Two recent NY Times articles admit that psychotherapy may be harmful. This says that treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) ineffective at best, and this psychiatrist admits:
It’s not just patients who have a hard time knowing if their treatments are helping them; sometimes the therapists themselves can’t tell.

In a study published last month in the journal Psychotherapy Research, Michael J. Lambert and Cory Harmon, psychologists at Brigham Young University, gave psychotherapy patients a questionnaire about how they were feeling and functioning. ...

The clear implication is that therapists are not always the best judge of how their patients are doing, perhaps because they are blinded by their own optimism and determination to succeed.

Some therapists might even view worsening during treatment as a sign of progress — a misguided "no pain, no gain" view of psychotherapy.
I would think that it should be obvious that some psychotherapy can be harmful. Maybe even most of it is. There are many studies reporting harm to psychotherapy, and the professional psychotherapy organizations acknowledge that it can be harmful.

Nevertheless, I have found many people who persist in believing that psychotherapy is always beneficial. If you point to failures, they will often assert that the problem was with the therapist, and claim that a good one will always help. But there is no psychotherapist anywhere who can report uniformly positive results.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Kolata further confuses means and medians

I attack Gina Kolata's column below, and now she has published a defense in the NY Times to all the criticism. She still defends Prof. Gale, and writes:
For the unconvinced, Dr. Gale’s response:

What I did was to get a copy of the C.D.C. report and use the data in its tables. The C.D.C. groups people into four groups and gives percentage of men and women in each group

From these figures you can estimate the total partners claimed by each sex. I got between 40 percent and 75 percent more male than female partners depending on how you guess the average on each interval. Thus, the raw data is inconsistent (so it doesn’t matter whether you take averages or medians or any other statistic).
Yes, it does matter. If you assume that the men in these groups have 1, 3, 8, and 15 partners, while the women have 1, 5, 13, and 21 partners, then the women have slightly more partners than the men. The CDC data, as reported in the above table, is consistent. The men and women can have the same number of total partners, and yet the men have a median of 7 partners and the women have a median of 4 partners.

Prof. Gale is a very smart guy, and Kolata is one of the better science writers around, but this explanation is nonsense. It will only generate more email.

You can find additional comments on Slate and on this blog.

Here is more on why Kolata and the NY Times don't like to explain math properly.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Feminists gripe about double standards

The feministing blog has a long list of gripes about sexist double-standards. Here are a few:
My personal favorite is when people say the phrase, "you guys." It's just infuriating that many describe it as a gender-neutral phrase, when "you all" or "y'all" work just as well.

I'm an amateur weightlifter. The general philosophy at the gym is "no pain, no gain." As most of us know, pain is not pretty. I've had a few people comment on how I never smile, that I look too aggressive/angry when I lift.

The avowed feminist career woman and single mother who turns into a stay-at-home mom upon marriage, and, when divorced, demands alimony to maintain her lifestyle while only working part time. This has happened to three friends. For some reason, these women, all in their mid to late forties, can demand equal rights without assuming equal economic responsibility.

One of the double standards that I hate the most is the distressing difference in the clothing that is marketed towards girl infants when compared with boy infants.

How about engagement rings? Two people decide to get married, but only one of them is marked as "taken"?

However, the young, female clergywoman is NOT considered generally a catch, especially if she's trying to do something not involving child-care or youth groups. If she's trying to actually be the preacher, to represent the church, etc. dating is extremely hard.

1) double standards that I internalize and make me unhappy every day. ..., the absolute worst is the gender and appearance double standard. I totally have a type of people that I think are attractive, and they really are not anything like the convential beauty standard. But I continue to judge myself by that convential standard! Which sucks. And then on top of that, when guys are not considered conventially attractive, they have full permission to ask out whoever they want!

It seems like only white women who are capable and career-driven are being asked to stay home and be mothers, while single, poor, uneducated minority women living on government assistance are being asked to actually leave the home and their children (God forbid!) to pursue a career. I ...just ...don't ...get it.
The blogger writing a book.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Richardson says it is a choice, or not

At the Democrat debate:
Perhaps the most surprising moment of the night came when Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, causing a visible stir in the audience, replied to a questions about whether he believed being gay was a biological fact or a personal choice.

"It’s a choice," Mr. Richardson said, a view that is contrary to the position of many gay rights advocates. He added, "I don’t like to answer definitions like that that are perhaps grounded in science or something else that I don’t understand."
Richardson had to backtrack:
"Let me be clear — I do not believe that sexual orientation or gender identity happen by choice," Mr. Richardson said in the statement. "But I’m not a scientist, and the point I was trying to make is that no matter how it happens, we are all equal and should be treated that way under the law."
Richardson does appear far too inept politically to be President, but his comments here are not totally stupid. It is entirely possible that homosexuality is a choice, that sexual orientation is not a choice, and that the questions are properly answered by choosing some definitions and doing a scientific study. The term homosexuality usually refers to behavior, and there is certainly some choice about it. The term "sexual orientation" was concocted to reflect a part of human nature that is not a choice.

It is the gay rights advocates who want their personal views to supersede science. If there were some scientific proof that homosexuality is not a choice, then they could just cite the scientific papers.

The is a similar controversy over whether obesity is a choice. Just in the last week, NewScientist reported that kids can get fat because a leptin deficiency gives them a food addiction. A New England Journal of Medicine article claims that obesity is contagious. This latter paper is so goofy that it has to have a glossary of its own jargon:
Ego: The person whose behavior is being analyzed.
Alter: A person connected to the ego who may influence the behavior of the ego....
Induction: The spread of a behavior or trait from one person to another.
I wonder what these politicians would say if asked whether being fat is a choice.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Needing a wife

The NY Times reports:
Married men and women, on average, earn more than those who are unmarried, with part of that possibly attributed to career and wage advancement as workers mature (and are more likely to be married). But the gap is significantly larger for men than for women. Married women make an average 17 percent more than unmarried women, according to 2005 B.L.S. data on the median earnings of full-time workers, while married men make 42 percent more than unmarried men.

A more statistically rigorous analysis published in 2004, using the Minnesota Twins Registry, tried to isolate the effect of marriage on earnings. It found that holding education and genetics constant, married male twins made 26 percent more than their unmarried brothers.

It is not as clear what effect marriage has on women's careers and earnings, but having children is, over all, an impediment. "There's a well-documented motherhood penalty: women with children are paid less than women without children," controlling for other factors, said Mary Blair-Loy, a sociologist and author of "Competing Devotions," a study of executive women who kept working versus ones who discontinued their careers.

Fathers, however, are not similarly disadvantaged and might even benefit at the workplace from being parents, according to more than one study, including one published in March in The American Journal of Sociology.
No, these studies don't control for the other factors. (And no, the "Minnesota Twins" are not baseball players.) Maybe married men make more than single women because women would rather marry a man with a high earnings potential. Or the men work harder to support their families. Or the wives nag their husbands to earn more.

The article suggests that married men get more domestic support from their wives, than working women get from their husbands. But the studies don't distinguish housework that wives to support their husbands, from housework the wives do for their own purposes. The article quotes a husband saying, "I assume most bachelors don’t worry about how clean their houses are." If so, then those men aren't getting much benefit from housecleaning. The wives are doing it for their own satisfaction.

Kolata disputes sex studies

Noted NY Times science reporter Gina Kolata writes:
Everyone knows men are promiscuous by nature. ...

Surveys bear this out. In study after study and in country after country, men report more, often many more, sexual partners than women.

One survey, recently reported by the federal government, concluded that men had a median of seven female sex partners. Women had a median of four male sex partners. ...

But there is just one problem, mathematicians say. It is logically impossible for heterosexual men to have more partners on average than heterosexual women. Those survey results cannot be correct.

It is about time for mathematicians to set the record straight, said David Gale, an emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley.
No, there is no logical contradiction. It is quite plausible that men have a higher median number of sex partners, as I've discussed here. It can be explained by a small number of women having a lot of sex partner. That is, most men have more sex partners than most women, but a few slut outdo everyone by a wide margin. That's the way it is with the people I know, anyway.

Kolata gives the explanation that men exaggerate while women minimize their misbehavior. But she ignores other possible explanations, such as men having a different definition from women. These surveys don't usually define a sex act or sex partner, and people really do have different definitions.

Update: A reader cites this:
Women are more likely than men to lie about their sex lives, reveals a new study. ...

Women change their answers depending on whether or not they believe they will be caught out not telling the truth, the researchers found. The number of sexual partners a woman reported nearly doubled when women thought they were hooked up to a lie detector machine.
The reader also gives an example where the median can be different from the mean. A small number of sluts can increase the averages, and increase the median for men, but not affect the measured median for women. But Kolata says:
Dr. Gale added that he is not just being querulous when he raises the question of logical impossibility. The problem, he said, is that when such data are published, with no asterisk next to them saying they can’t be true, they just "reinforce the stereotypes of promiscuous males and chaste females."
The suggestion here is that the study authors are publishing inconsistent data, and failing to even notice that the problem. But that is just not true about the govt study cited above. Here is the USA CDC study. This AP story on it even has a correction:
(This version CORRECTS that figures for lifetime sexual partners were median figures, not averages.)
Now Kolata and Gale should issue a correction because the CDC study measured the median, and it probably is true that men have a higher median number of sex partners than women.

I mentioned this CDC study before here. Justoneminute makes a similar point, and gives a nice explanation as why median and mean are different in this case.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Germinal movement to abolish the Electoral College

The NY Times reports:
Further, there is a germinal movement to effectively abolish the Electoral College, awarding the White House instead to the winner of the national popular vote. Maryland recently became the first state to have such legislation passed and then signed into law, although legislatures in several other states have passed similar measures.
No, that is not correct. The proposal is not to award the White House to the winner of the national popular vote, but to whoever gains a plurality of the popular vote. If the proposal is adopted, it will make it less likely that the President will have won the popular vote.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Baby videos may hinder infant language development

Univ of Wash. research:
Despite marketing claims, parents who want to give their infants a boost in learning language probably should limit the amount of time they expose their children to DVDs and videos such as "Baby Einstein" and "Brainy Baby."

Rather than helping babies, the over-use of such productions actually may slow down infants eight to 16 months of age when it comes to acquiring vocabulary, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Washington and Seattle Children's Hospital Research Institute.

The scientists found that for every hour per day spent watching baby DVDs and videos, infants understood an average of six to eight fewer words than infants who did not watch them. Baby DVDs and videos had no positive or negative effect on the vocabularies on toddlers 17 to 24 months of age. The study was published today in the Journal of Pediatrics.

"The most important fact to come from this study is there is no clear evidence of a benefit coming from baby DVDs and videos and there is some suggestion of harm," said Frederick Zimmerman, lead author of the study and a UW associate professor of health services. "The bottom line is the more a child watches baby DVDs and videos the bigger the effect. The amount of viewing does matter."

Co-authors of the study are Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrics researcher at Seattle Children's Hospital Research Institute and a UW professor of pediatrics, and Andrew Meltzoff, co-director of the UW's Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences.

The paper is part of a larger project looking at the trajectory of media viewing in the first two years of life and examining the content of what is being watched and its effects on young children. A paper published last spring by the same researchers showed that by 3 months of age 40 percent of infants are regular viewers of television, DVDs or videos and by the age of 2 this number jumps to 90 percent.

For both papers, the researchers conducted random telephone interviews with more than 1,000 families in Minnesota and Washington with a child born in the previous two years. Television, DVD and video viewing were divided into four categories: baby DVDs and videos; educational TV programs, DVDs and videos such as "Sesame Street, "Arthur" and "Blue's Clues"; children's non-educational television shows and movies such as "Sponge Bob Square Pants," "Bob the Builder" and "Toy Story," and adult television such as "The Simpsons," "Oprah," and sports programming.

The researchers found no positive or negative effects on infants of either age group from viewing educational and non-educational media or adult television programs.
I never used the Baby Einstein stuff. I am not surprised that studies would show them to be worthless. But I don't think that it follows that all TV is harmful at this age. My guess is that an hour or so of the right TV shows could be beneficial to one-year-olds.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Kids like McDonalds food

NewScientist reports:
Dina Borzekowski at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health in Baltimore, Maryland, US, and her colleagues asked 63 preschoolers, aged three to five, to sample two meals, each consisting of a chicken nugget, a quarter of a hamburger, french fries, two baby carrots and a small cup of milk.

Although both meals came from a local McDonalds, only one of them appeared in its original packaging. Researchers presented items from the other meal in plain wrappers, which lacked the company's distinctive logo.

In most cases children said they tasted a difference between the two meals, and they overwhelmingly preferred the McDonalds-branded foods.
So little kids can be manipulated. I'd like to see this studied with adults.

Grownups seem more irrational about food branding than kids, to me. People will think that food is good just because it is expensive, or was served in a fancy restaurant, or is marketed to those with sophisticated tastes.

Other claims that Barry Bonds cheated

Michael Witte adds to the claims that Barry Bonds cheated:
Beyond his alleged steroid use, Barry Bonds is guilty of the use of something that confers extraordinarily unfair mechanical advantage: the "armor" that he wears on his right elbow. Amid the press frenzy over Bonds’ unnatural bulk, the true role of the object on his right arm has simply gone unnoticed.

This is unfortunate, because by my estimate, Bonds' front arm "armor" may have contributed no fewer than 75 to 100 home runs to his already steroid-questionable total.
Others complain that Bonds uses a black maple bat, while baseball players have traditionally used ash bats.

All this is supposed to help explain the seemingly improbably fact that Bonds had his best hitting year at age 37. But is that even so improbable? By one well-regarded measure, Ted Williams had the 9th best year anyone that anyone ever had at age 38, and Hank Aaron had his best year at age 37.

I think that Bonds just outsmarted everyone. When he was younger, he was a golden glove fielder and a base-stealing champ. As he slowed down, he decided to concentrate on power hitting. He lifted weights in the gym for four hours every day. He gained about 50 pounds. He stopped trying to hit to the opposite field. He used the BALCO drugs (the cream and the clear) at a time when they were not banned. He testified that he didn't know that they were steroids, and that ought to be defensible because no one else knew that they were steroids either. He used a maple bat and a bulky elbow guard.

Bonds is the greatest home run hitter ever. He is far greater than Aaron. He is breaking the career record in the face of more adverse public pressure than any athlete I can think of. If his performance was helped by his own ingenuity, so much the better for him.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Mandatory arrest is killing people

The NY Times reports:
TWO decades ago, in an effort to curb domestic violence, states began passing “mandatory arrest” laws. Police officers responding to a call for help would no longer need to determine whether one person was truly violent or out of control; every time someone reported abuse, the police would simply be required to make an arrest. ...

But 20 years later, it seems the mandatory arrest laws are having an unintended, deadly side effect. The number of murders committed by intimate partners is now significantly higher in states with mandatory arrest laws than it is in other states.
I don't think that this should be called an "unintended" consequence. The law essentially says that you cannot call the cops to just break up a fight and not arrest anyone. Every time these laws get debated, someone always points out that if it is impossible to call the cops to just break up a fight, then it is a predictable consequence that the law will deter some people
from calling the cops.

The law should be obviously foolish anyway. 22 states must have legislatures that think that cops should spend their time going around busting up marriages.

Anti-nuclear paranoia

Paul Josephson writes:
Since the 1950s, the nuclear industry has promised energy "too cheap to meter," inherently safe reactors and immediate cleanup and storage of hazardous waste. ... Thankfully, after public protests, the federal government did not approve Consolidated Edison's 1962 request to build a reactor in Queens, N.Y., three miles from the United Nations.
Maybe some of those protesters didn't want the UN to get any more power!

Nuclear energy never got too cheap to meter, but it did become the safest and cheapest source of huge amounts of electricity. The only thing more efficient is the gas electricity/heat cogeneration plants, in areas that can use them. Unfortunately, nuclear power is made more expensive by excessive costly regulation, and the fossil fuel plants get subsidies and avoid paying carbon and pollution externalities.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Why physicians make more money

This NY Times article:
Doctors in the United States earn two to three times as much as they do in other industrialized countries. Surveys by medical-practice management groups show that American doctors make an average of $200,000 to $300,000 a year. Primary care doctors and pediatricians make less, between $125,000 and $200,000, but in specialties like radiology, physicians can take home $400,000 or more.

In Europe, however, doctors made $60,000 to $120,000 in 2002, according to a survey sponsored by the British government in 2004.
prompted some letters, including this:
American doctors make more, in part, to offset the astronomical cost of medical school. Medical students now graduate with an average of $130,000 in academic debt from undergraduate and professional school.
No, American physicians do not make one extra dime to offset their debts. Once they get out of school, they are subject to market forces. Those with debt compete against those without debt. Their employers pay them market rates, whether they have debt or not. Radiologists manage to make a lot more than pediatricians, but debt has nothing to do with it.

The causality is the other way. Medical students are willing to incur large debts because they know that they can easily pay them off later.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Obesity is contagious

Fumento explains:
The basic premise of obesity as contagion is simple: The more something becomes prevalent, the more it becomes acceptable and the more of it you get. In a vicious cycle, more divorces begat more divorces, more unwed pregnancies begat more unwed pregnancies, more tattoos and piercings begat more self-mutilation (er, "body art") and so on. Obesity isn't just a physiological problem of too many calories in and too few out; it's a long-term social problem.
I am wondering if stupidity is contagious.

Study attacks abstinence education

The UK BBC reports:
Sex abstinence programmes do not stop risky sexual behaviour or help in the prevention of unwanted pregnancy, a research team has concluded.

The Oxford University team reviewed 13 US trials involving over 15,000 people aged 10 to 21.

They found abstinence programmes had no negative or positive impact on the rates of sex infections or unprotected sex, the British Medical Journal said. ...

The latest study, which included trials comparing young people attending abstinence-only programmes against those receiving no sex education, raises questions over whether they work in developed countries.

Researchers found none of the abstinence-only programmes had an impact on the age at which individuals lost their virginity, whether they had unprotected sex, the number of sexual partners, the rates of sexually transmitted diseases or the number of pregnancies.
Actually the study also compared against regular sex eduction programs, and even "safer sex" programs, and found no difference in effectiveness. While this study will be used as evidence against abstinence sex education, it does not give any evidence in favor of safer sex education. Maybe they are all a big waste of money.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Smarter people have less sex

The study on the 237 reasons people have sexual relations has gotten a lot of publicity, but it missed a few reasons, such as low IQ. GNXP has theories for why smarter people have less sex:
One reason we might guess that smarter people in high school, or in more challenging colleges or majors, delay their sexual debuts is because they are delaying gratification in expectation of future reward. Sexual behavior (or at least the investment needed to procure a partner or sustain one) may compete with time/resources required for other goals, and intelligent people may have more demanding goals. ...

Another idea is that smarter people are more risk averse, and delaying these activities is a byproduct of enhanced concerns about unwanted pregnancy and disease. While not avoiding sexual behaviors, per se, they are just less likely to seek it out or consent to it for fear of the potential consequences.

Another idea is that smarter people are more religious or more ethically conservative, and are trying harder to wait for marriage to have sex.

Another idea, consistent with popular media portrayals of geeks and nerds (males at least), is that intelligent people actually want to have sex, but are simply less likely or unable to obtain willing partners because they are disproportionately viewed as unattractive or undesirable as partners.

Another idea is that intelligent people have lower general sex drives. This shouldn't be confused with the first theory, where their sex drives would be normal and they have greater self-restraint.
Apparently more research is needed.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Who’s Minding the Mind?

The NY Science Times reports:
More fundamentally, the new studies reveal a subconscious brain that is far more active, purposeful and independent than previously known. Goals, whether to eat, mate or devour an iced latte, are like neural software programs that can only be run one at a time, and the unconscious is perfectly capable of running the program it chooses.

The give and take between these unconscious choices and our rational, conscious aims can help explain some of the more mystifying realities of behavior, like how we can be generous one moment and petty the next, or act rudely at a dinner party when convinced we are emanating charm. ...

In another experiment, published in 2005, Dutch psychologists had undergraduates sit in a cubicle and fill out a questionnaire. Hidden in the room was a bucket of water with a splash of citrus-scented cleaning fluid, giving off a faint odor. After completing the questionnaire, the young men and women had a snack, a crumbly biscuit provided by laboratory staff members.

The researchers covertly filmed the snack time and found that these students cleared away crumbs three times more often than a comparison group, who had taken the same questionnaire in a room with no cleaning scent.
More than previously known? Conventional wisdom favors unconscious and subconscious explanations for all sorts of things that have never been scientifically shown. The evidence in the article is rather meager, and I'm not sure any of it has been replicated.