Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Revolving doors and energy efficiency

How big a difference can using a revolving door make? In 2006, a team of graduate students at MIT conducted an analysis of door use in one building on campus, E25, where they found just 23 percent of visitors used the revolving doors. According to their calculations, the swinging door allowed as much as eight times more air to pass through the building than the revolving door. Applying average Boston weather to their equations, the MIT team found that if everyone used the revolving doors, it would save more than 75,000 kilowatt-hours of energy—about 74 percent of the total required to heat and cool the building—and prevent 14.6 tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted. (By way of comparison, the EPA says an average American vehicle emits about six tons of carbon dioxide over a year.)
--Jacob Leibenluft, Slate, on why you should use revolving doors

Monday, July 28, 2008

Never talk to the police!

The most eye-opening, educational videos I've seen in a while. Professor James Duane of Regent University School of Law tells you why you should never talk to the police, even if you're innocent. Police officer George Bruch speaks immediately afterwards and says that Duane is exactly right!

50 minutes long in total, but well worth it. And I usually have a pretty low tolerance for any YouTube video that extends beyond 2 minutes.

Larry Summers and the case of the gender variance ratio

For the past week or so the newspapers have been trumpeting a new study showing no difference in average math ability between males and females. Few people who have looked at the data thought that there were big differences in average ability but many media reports also said that the study showed no differences in high ability.

The LA Times, for example, wrote:
The study also undermined the assumption -- infamously espoused by former Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers in 2005 -- that boys are more likely than girls to be math geniuses.

All of these reports and many more like them are false. In fact, consistent with many earlier studies (JSTOR), what this study found was that the ratio of male to female variance in ability was positive and significant, in other words we can expect that there will be more math geniuses and more dullards, among males than among females. I quote from the study (VR is variance ratio):
Greater male variance is indicated by VR > 1.0. All VRs, by state and grade, are >1.0 [range 1.11 to 1.21].
Notice that the greater male variance is observable in the earliest data, grade 2. (In addition, higher male VRS have been noted for over a century). ...

Does this mean that discrimination is not a problem? Certainly not but we need the media and academia to accurately present the data on ability if we are to understand how large a role other issues may play.
--Alex Tabarrok, Marginal Revolution, on what the latest study really says about differences in within-gender ability variance

Monday, July 21, 2008

The scholar queen

The mayor of Chicago once asked the president of the [University of Chicago] to give the visiting queen of England an honorary degree. "We're happy to consider it," was the reputed reply. "Please send copies of her scholarly work."
--L. Gordon Crovitz, Wall Street Journal, on Chicago's honorary degree policy

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

An officially approved Obama joke

Saying he is "sympathetic to late night comedians' struggle to find jokes to make about me," Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill) today issued a list of official campaign-approved Barack Obama jokes.


A Christian, a Jew and Barack Obama are in a rowboat in the middle of the ocean. Barack Obama says, "This joke isn't going to work because there's no Muslim in this boat."
--Borowitz Report on Obama jokes

Sunday, July 6, 2008


• From the marquee outside the Emmanuel Church in Wimbledon Village: "Jesus served better than Andy and attracted more people than Maria."

• Still love that the British call Jay-Z, Jay-zed.
--Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated, on random Wimbledon observations


When a distinguished American military commander accuses the United States of committing war crimes in its handling of detainees, you know that we need a new way forward.

“There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes,” Antonio Taguba, the retired major general who investigated abuses in Iraq, declares in a powerful new report on American torture from Physicians for Human Rights. “The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.”
--Nicholas Kristof, NYT, on the need for a U.S. Truth Commission

Men, friends, and marriage

Never marry a man who has no friends. This usually means that he will be incapable of the intimacy that marriage demands. I am always amazed at the number of men I have counseled who have no friends.
--Father Pat Connor on what a man's friends say about him

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Wordsmithing by committee

USHistory.org is the best site for tracking the changes made by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin and for comparing the language of the various versions. Who says you can't edit by committee? "That all Men are created equal and independent; that from that equal Creation they derive Rights inherent and unalienable"—that was reasonably well said. "That they are endowed by their creator with inherent & inalienable rights" is slightly more elegant. "That they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights"—now that really nails it.
--Jacob Weisberg, Slate, on the refining of the Declaration of Independence

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Neuro-competitive advantage

Are people in your office using performance-enhancing drugs?

I'm not talking about steroids. I'm talking about brain enhancers, such as Ritalin for concentration and Provigil for sleep reduction. ...

[The] really interesting comment comes from Zack Lynch, the executive director of the Neurotechnology Industry Organization:

If you're GE Capital and you have offices in 154 financial centers around the planet, and these [brain-drug] tools are available in Dubai, and your workers there are trading more effectively, 5 to 10 percent better—they'll have a neuro-competitive advantage over workers where these tools are not legalized.

Neuro-competitive advantage. There's the leverage point for pushing brain boosters into the workplace. The good news is, these pills might make you more productive. The bad news is, if you don't take them, some guy in Dubai will, and he'll eat your job.
--William Saletan, Slate, on the pressures of "everybody else is doing it"

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The bright side of hookworms

While carrying out field work in Papua New Guinea in the late 1980s, he noticed that Papuans infected with the Necator americanus hookworm, a parasite that lives in the human gut, did not suffer much from an assortment of autoimmune-related illnesses, including hay fever and asthma. Over the years, Dr. Pritchard has developed a theory to explain the phenomenon.

“The allergic response evolved to help expel parasites, and we think the worms have found a way of switching off the immune system in order to survive,” he said. “That’s why infected people have fewer allergic symptoms.” ...

[The] National Health Services ethics committee let him conduct a study in 2006 with 30 participants, 15 of whom received 10 hookworms each. Tests showed that after six weeks, the T-cells of the 15 worm recipients began to produce lower levels of chemicals associated with inflammatory response, indicating that their immune systems were more suppressed than those of the 15 placebo recipients. Despite playing host to small numbers of parasites, worm recipients reported little discomfort.

Trial participants raved about their allergy symptoms disappearing. Word about the study soon appeared online among chronic allergy sufferers, and a Yahoo group on “helminthic therapy” sprung up.
--Elizabeth Svoboda, NYT, on an old-school antihistamine