Courtesy Mark RyanOkay. It’s 2012! The beginning of a brand new year. A time for making resolutions, a time for change. That special new era that began with a magical tick past midnight on December 31st when you suddenly emerged from a decades-long thick-skinned cocoon of self-destructive behavior, and miraculously transformed into a brand new person of action, rebirth, and eventual six-pack abs.
Okay, maybe not suddenly, but let’s say 12 to 15 hours after midnight when you finally came out of the bacchanalian stupor you’d plunged yourself into the night before.
But the point is you can now become that perfect human being you (and mainly your mother) always suspected was hiding beneath that sweatpants ensemble. Imagine what you can do now when you replace your mantra of instant gratification with one of self-control. Nicotine’s mastery over your soul will dissipate like a smoke-ring in the breeze. Inappropriate outbursts at dinner parties will be a thing of the past as you’re transformed into the designated driver instead of driving the host’s porcelain bus. Oatmeal will substitute for Twinkies for breakfast, and broccoli will become your new BFF.
The possibilities for improvement seem limitless, don’t they? It just takes a little effort.
You know, with obesity plaguing the US, this would be a perfect time to let go of the game controller, drag your ample hinderbutt off the couch, and get some of that exercise you’ve been promising to do since 1988. It doesn’t mean you have to join a high-priced health club, or spend hours contorted into a pretzel at a local yoga class. The easiest thing to do is just head outside for a good old fashion walk, a nice long stroll in the bracing winter air. It’s not going to cost you a cent to do it (unless you live here in Minnesota and the legislature decides to tax it to help pay for a brand new stadium for the Vikings).
What’s that you say? You’d like to lose those extra 65 lbs but you just can’t seem to get motivated? What? You think it sounds like a nice idea but it’s only 25° above zero? Yes, yes, I know. Getting all bundled up in long underwear, winter coat, and boots to face the elements is a real drag.
Well, poooooooooooor you. WAH, WAH, WAH, WAH, WAH! You are unbelievable. What a sniveling crybaby! Is that all you can do is whine? You think it’s too cold? You crave motivation?! Well, here’s some motivation for you: Starting next weekend, have your mommy drive you to the Science Museum of Minnesota and buy you a ticket for the Omni Theater so you can watch the magnificent Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure, one of five large format films that are part of the museum’s annual OmniFest 2012.
Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure is an amazing - no! – an astounding story of man against nature. It details the struggles of the fearless and eternally optimistic Ernest Shackleton and his crew of 27 men who set sail on the ship Endurance headed for Antarctica. I don’t want to give away the story but let’s just say after you see what these courageous guys endured over a period of seventeen months, I guarantee you’ll feel deeply ashamed for driving to work in your heated car and living inside four walls.
OmniFest 2012 runs from January 6 – February 17, 2012 at the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Omni Theater, and features five big-screen films: Amazing Caves, Amazon, Wolves, Search for the Great Sharks, and of course Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure. The films rotate throughout the day, so check the OmniFest 2012 website to make sure you have the correct times for the shows you want to see. Of course, if you were anything like Shackleton, you'd just show up after a 20 mile trek in the blinding snow and expect things to work out your way. Wimp!
Philosopher Denis Dutton presents a very convincing and entertaining Darwinian perspective on why humans perceive something as beautiful, and why we make art. It's evolutionary! Beauty and art convey unspoken ideas and emotions, aid in sexual selection, and ultimately promote the continuation of the species. This could explain all the hoopla today about Apple Computer finally including the Beatles music catalog on iTunes. "You say you want an evolution..." (cheesy pun added to impress females).
I should add that Dutton's Ted.com talk is greatly enhanced by animator Andrew Park's clever illustrations.
Have scientists finally found a Rock n' Roll gene? Not really, but researchers have made some interesting discoveries about the genetic basis of birdsongs, which are passed down from generation to generation through social interaction much in the same way that you or I learn to talk, sing, dance, cook or create. When the authors of a new study on the transmission of birdsong behaviors in zebra finches isolated and raised birds in silence, they expected them to sing off-key. While the mating songs of these 'untrained' birds were much less appealing to the opposite sex, after several generations the untrained lineage produced offspring that were able to sing just like those in the wild. You can listen to the experiment here. This news has left researchers wondering where birdsongs originally began, and to what extent cultural behaviors are hard wired. While zebra finches and humans are only very distant relatives, researchers think we may be able to learn about human culture and genetics from studies like these. After all, as the authors point out, our human cultures (including language, music and a whole host of other things) are very different, but they all share common elements across the globe. In the end, these cultural underpinnings may turn out to be part of our biology.
So, I open up my web browser this weekend to check the news, and I see the following three polls, all on the same page:
These can’t all be right, can they?
Actually, they can. Or, at least, they can all be properly conducted, and just lead to wildly different results.
The only way to get a perfect result is to interview everyone in the country. (In fact, that’s exactly what we do on Election Day.) But that takes so much time and money that no individual pollster can do it. Instead, they interview several hundred people, maybe a couple thousand, and from there extrapolate what the country as a whole will do.
Now, mathematically, you can do this. You just can’t be sure of your answer. Here are a few of the reasons why.
Margin of error
Most opinion polls will state the margin of error. For example, they may say that that Candidate X is ahead by, say, 5 points, with a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3 points. Meaning, the real answer could be as high as 8 points or as low as 2 points.
(Sometimes, the margin of error is actually larger than the result. The poll shows Candidate X leading by 2 points, but with a margin of error of 4 points. Meaning, he could be ahead by 6, or he could actually be behind by 2! This seems to have happened a lot this year.)
A range of a few percentage points, when applied to a country with over 100 million voters, can lead to some pretty huge differences.
In addition to reporting a margin of error, polls also report a confidence interval, usually 90% or 95%. This means that, according to the laws of mathematics, there is a 95% probability that the real result is the same as the poll result, within the margin of error.
But what about the other 5% or 10% of the time? Well, the folks reporting the numbers don’t like to tell you this, but, mathematically speaking, the poll can do everything right, and still be completely wrong, as much as 10% of the time.
There have been over 700 polls released this election season, and over 200 just in October. No doubt, many of the polls you have heard about fall into this category.
In most elections, more women vote than men. If you conduct a survey and talk to 100 men and 100 women, you are going to have to give the women’s answers more weight to accurately reflect the Election Day results.
How much more weight? That depends. Do you think this election will be pretty much the same as previous years? Is there something happening this year that will make a lot more women come out to vote? Or, perhaps, something that will attract a lot more men?
The fact is, nobody knows. Weighting is just educated guesswork. And this year, it is more complicated than usual:
The different weighting factors used by the different polls probably accounts for most of the variability we see in the results.
Let’s face it – humans are complicated and sometimes uncooperative beings. There are lots of ways they can foul up a perfectly good poll.
So, with all these problems, how can we figure out who is going to win the election? Well, never fear – there is one sure-fire way to find out the winner:
Read the newspaper Wednesday morning.
And don’t forget to vote!
Courtesy echovein.comRemember how you said that grapes are good in pasta salad, and I said, no, they’re not, it’s like eating soggy little cat eyeballs?
I was right about that. You were wrong. Grapes in pasta salad are gross. You just like pasta salad so much that you can’t tell that you’re eating something like cold, swollen lymph nodes and bloated, dead wood ticks. Deal with it.
And you know how you’re all about Natalie Portman? Well you’re wrong about her too. You saw her in Star Wars, and you’ve got a weird space fetish thing brewing, and that’s cool, but don’t be telling me that this passably attractive actress is Venus on Earth (or whatever planet). No, I’m right, and you’re wrong on this one buddy.
Oh, also, the rest of the world and I had a talk, and we think you should shut up about Dane Cook. And we don’t want to see the superfinger anymore. It’s clear that you like him, yes, but you’re the only one now, and if you put that album on in the car again, I’m afraid that the citizens of earth and I will have to throw you into a volcano. We’re very sorry, it’s not that we don’t like you (you’re great!), it’s just that he isn’t funny at all.
How can I be so sure of all this? Why is it that I’m so frighteningly accurate here, while you’re shredding your fingernails as you scramble for a grip on reality? Simple—because I don’t like these things, I’m able to use a little power I like to call objectivity. Because you’re all about this garbage, you are unable to recognize the many inherent flaws in the things you like. Not only that, but you think that we should like them too.
Oh? Home Improvement reruns are on? Sure, we can watch that. Do you have any liquor?
Remember the time your dog chewed up one of my mittens? You said she was just playing, and that it was cute. As it happens, it wasn’t cute, and you have an awful dog. An awful, bad dog. I needed two mittens. Two hands, two mittens. Easy. Even a dog should be able to figure that out—well, a good dog should.
At the time, I was surprised that you didn’t realize that about your dog (what a horrible, horrible creature she is). But that was my fault. Thankfully, science—as it tends to do—has done me a favor by removing the surprise from such situations. A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research has shown that when a person likes a thing, even just some small part of it, they are unable to recognize its faults, and are likely to think most other people will like it as well. On the other hand, when a person dislikes something, they are able to look at the thing more objectively, and predict much more accurately both who might like or dislike said thing.
Now this might all seem a little obvious—anecdotal evidence has suggested as much for as long as there have been both people and things people might like. But, then again, if it’s so obvious, why did you keep wearing that Hooters shirt. What? No, actually, it’s not ironic. It’s obnoxious.
Some Poindexter at the University of California, Davis, has recently decided that it’s all right for him to go around slandering people with older brothers. Professor Nerdlinger claims that older brothers fuel aggression in siblings.
According to his study, “Having a brother or a highly aggressive sibling of either gender can lead to greater increases in aggression over time.” These results were obtained through the cast of Revenge of the Nerds observing the behavior of 451 sibling pairs, and by having the subjects rate their own aggressive behavior. Nice facts, I say, but does Dr. Milquetoast have anything more forceful to back them up with?
As it happens, I’m proposing my own “study,” and I’m looking for test subjects. I’m hypothesizing that getting smacked in the back of the head can lead to certain scientists being a little more courteous around younger siblings, and that fat lips can help prevent boldfaced lies from escaping mouths.
What do you think of that? Huh?
It used to be that yawning while engaged in conversation with someone was considered a boorish act of total indifference or boredom. However, a new psychological study says it may actually be a compliment; a subconscious expression of your deep commitment to stay awake for every bit of the riveting conversation.
Conventional thinking has held that yawning is triggered by your brain’s desire for more oxygen, or an indication that you were tired or simply bored. But Andrew Gallup, a professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Albany, thinks yawning is your body’s way to cool your brain and keep it functioning better.
Gallup’s study involved volunteers being shown videos of people yawning (mixed in with other behaviors such as laughing) in hopes that the yawning, as it often is, would be contagious. Some of the volunteers were asked to only breath through their noses (the blood vessels of which cools the air), while others were given a hot or cold pack to hold against their foreheads. Still others were just told to watch.
Researchers observing through a one-way mirror tabulated how many times the volunteers yawned.
Surprisingly, the volunteers who had cooled their brains either with the cold pack or nasal breathing, didn’t yawn much at all.
"The two conditions thought to promote brain cooling practically eliminated contagious yawning," the researchers wrote in the May issue of Evolutionary Psychology.
A cooler brain is a more alert brain, so yawning may just be your body’s way of keeping you more vigilant. That might also explain why it’s so contagious (in both humans and chimps). In prehistoric times, the reflex may have evolved to help groups of our ancestors stay more on their toes against intruding foes or predators.
Links to More (Y-A-W-N!!) Exciting Info
Story at NewScientist.com
More on yawning
Sexy yawning research (now you're paying attention)
Another explanation for yawning
Celebrities yawning (obvious ploy to boost blog readership) (CAUTION: some harsh language in text)
Wikipedia explanation of yawning
An explanation of why yawning is contagious
A researcher in Chicago is making novel use of the Internet, according to this article in the Tribune. (Registration may be required, but it's free.) Emily Noelle Ignacio, a professor at Loyola University, studies the way people interact and form communities on-line. She focused her attention on the Filipino-American community.
Over 21 months, while working on her doctoral dissertation, Ignacio printed out and analyzed about 2,000 of the best postings from about 20,000 members of that Internet newsgroup, a forum of interest to Filipinos with a yearning for news and talk of their homeland.
"People really wanted to make it a virtual home, to go online, to hear what's going on, to talk with other Filipinos around the world," she said.
Unlike others in her trade who have gone to Samoa or the forests of Borneo to glean insights from those they were studying, Ignacio turned to her computer to show how Filipinos "have used subtle, cyber, but very real social connections to construct and reinforce a sense of ... identity with distant others."
Here we go again. There's another report claiming to find a link between human behavior and the environment — in this case, lead supposedly makes you violent.
The problem with studies like these is that human behavior is incredibly complex. It's an interplay of both nature (something in our genes or our environment that favors a particular behavior) and nurture (something in our culture or our upbringing that favors a behavior). It's almost never a clear-cut cause-and-effect type of thing.