Archive for December, 2014


Roundup – Inconceivable!

Best of the Best:

Practice Does Not Make Perfect [David Z. Hambrick, Fernanda Ferreira, and John M. Henderson on Slate] (9/28/14)

The experts-are-made view has dominated the discussion in recent decades. In a pivotal 1993 article published in Psychological Review—psychology’s most prestigious journal—the Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues proposed that performance differences across people in domains such as music and chess largely reflect differences in the amount of time people have spent engaging in “deliberate practice,” or training exercises specifically designed to improve performance. To test this idea, Ericsson and colleagues recruited violinists from an elite Berlin music academy and asked them to estimate the amount of time per week they had devoted to deliberate practice for each year of their musical careers. The major finding of the study was that the most accomplished musicians had accumulated the most hours of deliberate practice. For example, the average for elite violinists was about 10,000 hours, compared with only about 5,000 hours for the least accomplished group. In a second study, the difference for pianists was even greater—an average of more than 10,000 hours for experts compared with only about 2,000 hours for amateurs. Based on these findings, Ericsson and colleagues argued that prolonged effort, not innate talent, explained differences between experts and novices. These findings filtered their way into pop culture. They were the inspiration for what Malcolm Gladwell termed the “10,000 Hour Rule” in his book Outliers, which in turn was the inspiration for the song “Ten Thousand Hours” by the hip-hop duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, the opening track on their Grammy-award winning album The Heist. However, recent research has demonstrated that deliberate practice, while undeniably important, is only one piece of the expertise puzzle—and not necessarily the biggest piece. In the first study to convincingly make this point, the cognitive psychologists Fernand Gobet and Guillermo Campitelli found that chess players differed greatly in the amount of deliberate practice they needed to reach a given skill level in chess. For example, the number of hours of deliberate practice to first reach “master” status (a very high level of skill) ranged from 728 hours to 16,120 hours. This means that one player needed 22 times more deliberate practice than another player to become a master. A recent meta-analysis by Case Western Reserve University psychologist Brooke Macnamara and her colleagues (including the first author of this article for Slate) came to the same conclusion. We searched through more than 9,000 potentially relevant publications and ultimately identified 88 studies that collected measures of activities interpretable as deliberate practice and reported their relationships to corresponding measures of skill. (Analyzing a set of studies can reveal an average correlation between two variables that is statistically more precise than the result of any individual study.) With very few exceptions, deliberate practice correlated positively with skill. In other words, people who reported practicing a lot tended to perform better than those who reported practicing less. But the correlations were far from perfect: Deliberate practice left more of the variation in skill unexplained than it explained.

Methods: Falsification tests [The Incidental Economist] (10/1/14)

[A]nalyses in large data sets are not necessarily correct simply because they are larger. Control groups might not eliminate potential confounders, or many varying definitions of exposure to the agent may be tested (alternative thresholds for dose or duration of a drug)—a form of multiple- hypothesis testing. Just as small, true signals can be identified by these analyses, so too can small, erroneous associations…[F]alsification analysis is not a perfect tool for validating the associations in observational studies, nor is it intended to be. The absence of implausible falsification hypotheses does not imply that the primary association of interest is causal, nor does their presence guarantee that real relations do not exist. However, when many false relationships are present, caution is warranted in the interpretation of study findings.

Forget Ebola. This is the viral epidemic that should really terrify Americans [Gweyn Guilford on Quartz] (10/1/14)

Yes, measles—the same virus that was eliminated from the US in 2000. Spread through the air, measles—which causes respiratory system infections, rash, and in some cases, encephalitis—is many, many times more contagious than Ebola. The US was able to eliminate native strains of the measles virus thanks to several nationwide childhood vaccination campaigns. But the disease still strikes Americans because, like the unfortunate Dallas patient, people bring viral strains into the US all the time. And those foreign strains can infect people who are unvaccinated. Typically, that’s meant those who are too young for the vaccination or those with an allergy or another illness that has compromised their immune system. But in the three biggest outbreaks in 2014, the virus was transmitted when someone introduced a measles strain from outside the US into communities where pockets of people had refused vaccination because of philosophical, religious, or personal beliefs, according to the CDC. Of the 195 US residents who contracted measles and were unvaccinated as of May 23, 85% had declined immunization on those grounds, versus 68% from 2004 to 2008.

Neuroscientist Carl Hart: Everything you think you know about drugs and addiction is wrong [April M. Short on Alternet via Raw Story] (9/24/14)

Hart said growing up as he did, he came to believe the prevailing assertion that crack cocaine and other drugs were the villains behind crime and poverty. If he could only solve the addiction problem, he thought, he’d be tackling the root of the problem. As Hart came to learn, that is not the reality. Poverty and crime were around long before crack and other drugs appeared on the scene, and the forces at play that keep poor communities poor are insidious and systemic…One of the biggest factors is the war on drugs and its racist law enforcment policies, which target impoverished, black populations despite the fact that whites and blacks use drugs at similar rates…Hart said he first began questioning his thinking when he discovered that drugs like crack and meth are not nearly as addictive as he had been told. He points out in his talk that 80 to 90 percent of people who use illegal drugs are not addicted…Hart’s work has revealed some striking truths about drug use and addiction. His research on both crack and meth users have shown that even drug users with serious addictions tend to make surprisingly rational decisions. When given the choice between drugs and money—even a small amount of money such as $5—they will choose the money over the drugs at least half the time. When the sum offered is higher, like $20 to $50, they will almost always choose the money. As Hart told AlterNet last June, his studies have shown that the pharmacological effects of drugs rarely lead to crime, “but the public conflates these issues regardless.”

Schoolgirl jihadis: the female Islamists leaving home to join Isis fighters [ Harriet Sherwood, Sandra Laville, Kim Willsher in Paris, Ben Knight in Berlin, Maddy French in Vienna and Lauren Gambino in New York on The Guardian] (9/29/14)

Girls as young as 14 or 15 are travelling mainly to Syria to marry jihadis, bear their children and join communities of fighters, with a small number taking up arms. Many are recruited via social media. Women and girls appear to make up about 10% of those leaving Europe, North America and Australia to link up with jihadi groups, including Islamic State (Isis). France has the highest number of female jihadi recruits, with 63 in the region – about 25% of the total – and at least another 60 believed to be considering the move.

Subway Stabbing Victim Can’t Sue NYPD For Failing To Save Him [Rebecca Fishbein on The Gothamist] (7/26/14)

Gelman stabbed Joseph Lozito in the face, neck, hands and head on an uptown 3 train in February 2011, after fatally stabbing four people and injuring three others in a 28-hour period. Lozito, a father of two and an avid martial arts fan, was able to tackle Gelman and hold him down, and Gelman was eventually arrested by the transit officers. Lozito sued the city, arguing that the police officers had locked themselves in the conductor’s car and failed to come to his aid in time. The city, meanwhile, claimed that the NYPD had no “special duty” to intervene at the time, and that they were in the motorman’s car because they believed Gelman had a gun. And Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Margaret Chan has sided with the city, noting that there was no evidence the cops were aware Lozito was in danger at the time.

Rating attractiveness: study finds consensus among men, not women [Dustin Wood on Wake Forest University] (6/25/09)

More than 4,000 participants in the study rated photographs of men and women (ages 18-25) for attractiveness on a 10-point scale ranging from “not at all” to “very.”   In exchange for their participation, raters were told what characteristics they found attractive compared with the average person.   The raters ranged in age from 18 to more than 70. Before the participants judged the photographs for attractiveness, the members of the research team rated the images for how seductive, confident, thin, sensitive, stylish, curvaceous (women), muscular (men), traditional, masculine/feminine, classy, well-groomed, or upbeat the people looked. Breaking out these factors helped the researchers figure out what common characteristics appealed most to women and men Men’s judgments of women’s attractiveness were based primarily around physical features and they rated highly those who looked thin and seductive.  Most of the men in the study also rated photographs of women who looked confident as more attractive. As a group, the women rating men showed some preference for thin, muscular subjects, but disagreed on how attractive many men in the study were.   Some women gave high attractiveness ratings to the men other women said were not attractive at all…women may encounter less competition from other women for the men they find attractive, he says.  Men may need to invest more time and energy in attracting and then guarding their mates from other potential suitors, given that the mates they judge attractive are likely to be found attractive by many other men. Wood says the study results have implications for eating disorders and how expectations regarding attractiveness affect behavior. “The study helps explain why women experience stronger norms than men to obtain or maintain certain physical characteristics,” he says…

MIMAL [Wikipedia]

MIMAL is a geographical acronym referring to five states in the United States: Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana. The term is used as reference to the fictional person of Mimal the Elf or Chef, the area composed of the five states found on the west bank of the Mississippi River.

14 Things Women Think When They’re Trying to Orgasm [Lane Moore on Cosmopolitan] (9/23/14)

5. “I kinda want him to leave.” Not forever but even if he went to the bathroom or something, I could just get myself off and I wouldn’t have to keep sitting through this. Or he could leave and I could go watch New Girl. I think new episodes started this week. Oh and pie. I could also eat pie.

A Record for Ireland’s Steady Robbie Keane [Gabrielle Marcotti on The Wall Street Journal] (10/12/14)

On Saturday, Republic of Ireland striker Robbie Keane scored a hat-trick against Gibraltar. In so doing, he became the all-time leading goal scorer in the history of European Championship qualifying…Soccer isn’t exactly known for meticulous record-keeping, but by most generally accepted accounts his 65 international goals put him in 14th place on the all-time list. Some of the names ranked ahead of him—Pele (77 goals), Ferenc Puskás (84), Gerd Müller (68)—are soccer immortals. Others—Thailand’s Kiatisuk Senamuang (70), Trinidad’s Stern John (70), and Kuwait’s Bashar Abdullah (75)—somewhat less so. And still others, such as Iran’s Ali Daei, the all-time leader with a seemingly unassailable 109, were great players for regional powers that regularly steamrolled much weaker opposition. Sift through Daei’s numbers game by game and the prevalence of blowouts is evident: five goals against Sri Lanka, four each against Laos, Nepal and Guam (in a 19-0 win), three against the Maldives. The massive disparity in the standard of opposition across the globe is what makes these records a touch dubious. It’s a bit like the NCAA Division I basketball all-time scoring list. In the top 20, you’ll find Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson and Pete Maravich sharing space with Keydren Clark, Alfredrick Hughes and Harry Kelly —prolific scorers who feasted on opposition lower down the food chain. The curious thing about Keane is that, unlike most of the others on the list, he didn’t play for a dominant national side. The Republic of Ireland have only qualified for two of eight major tournaments during his international career.

A Young Striker’s Death Haunts American Soccer [David Marino-Nachison and Leos Rousek on The Wall Street Journal] (10/9/14)

After Miro’s death, America ended its four-decade absence from the World Cup and became a nation of soccer-loving youth. But it has yet to produce a world-class soccer player, and there are those who believe that Miro might have accelerated America’s rise in soccer. One of the youngest Americans ever to play in a World Cup qualifier, he scored in his debut.

Triads See Underworld Business Hurt by Hong Kong Protests [David Tweed and Dominic Lau on Bloomberg] (10/9/14)

As thousands of pro-democracy protesters thronged Hong Kong’s major retail and business districts, blocking roads and forcing shops to close, it wasn’t just legal establishments feeling the pain. Business for Hong Kong’s gangsters fell “about 40 percent” in the days after the occupation started on Sept. 28, according to a man who gave his name only as Ah Lik and said he was a district head of the 14K, one of Hong Kong’s three largest organized crime outfits, known as triads. He referred to the takings of various triad-related rackets across the city and declined to give further details.

Red or Blue, Politics Doesn’t Predict Where Women Win [Louis Jacobson on Governing Magazine] (10/9/14)

Using raw data from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, we analyzed which states have had women as governors and found some interesting patterns: Exactly half of the 50 states have had a woman governor at some point in history.  About 60 percent of the women who have served as governors have been Democrats, and 40 percent have been Republicans. It’s not as if all the blue states have had women governors and all the red states haven’t. Among blue states — that is, the most reliably Democratic states in recent presidential elections — nine have had a woman governor and six haven’t. Among red states, 13 have had a woman governor and 10 haven’t. Those are pretty similar ratios. (We’ve excluded the competitive “purple” states from our calculations.)  Of the 25 states that have had a woman governor, slightly over half are red states…Today’s blue states are about as likely to elect a Republican woman as a Democratic woman…The mix of states that have never had a woman governor is equally diverse. While many of these states are red, a bunch of solidly blue states have never had a woman governor, including California, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York and Rhode Island. How to interpret this data? Many of the experts we checked with said it’s hard to draw any conclusions. It’s almost impossible to discern a pattern for which states have a history of electing women governors and which states don’t.

Taken [Sarah Stillman on The New Yorker] (8/12/13)

In general, you needn’t be found guilty to have your assets claimed by law enforcement; in some states, suspicion on a par with “probable cause” is sufficient. Nor must you be charged with a crime, or even be accused of one. Unlike criminal forfeiture, which requires that a person be convicted of an offense before his or her property is confiscated, civil forfeiture amounts to a lawsuit filed directly against a possession, regardless of its owner’s guilt or innocence. One result is the rise of improbable case names such as United States v. One Pearl Necklace and United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins. (Jennifer Boatright and Ron Henderson’s forfeiture was slugged State of Texas v. $6,037.) “The protections our Constitution usually affords are out the window,” Louis Rulli, a clinical law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a leading forfeiture expert, observes. A piece of property does not share the rights of a person. There’s no right to an attorney and, in most states, no presumption of innocence. Owners who wish to contest often find that the cost of hiring a lawyer far exceeds the value of their seized goods. Washington, D.C., charges up to twenty-five hundred dollars simply for the right to challenge a police seizure in court, which can take months or even years to resolve.

Bogus Congressman Said to Get Backstage at Obama Event [Jonathan Allen on Bloomberg] (10/2/14)

An unidentified man posing as a member of Congress made it into a secure area backstage at President Barack Obama’s appearance at a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation awards dinner in Washington Sept. 27, according to a White House official.

South Beats North in All-Korea Soccer Final as Kim Unseen [Sam Kim on Bloomberg] (10/2/14)

South Korea’s soccer team added to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s “discomfort,” beating their rivals 1-0 in the Asian Games final late yesterday. The game — won by the South Koreans with a goal in the second period of extra time — was the first time the countries had met in the final of the competition since 1978. That game ended in a 0-0 draw and both teams shared the gold medal. Some North and South Korean players kneeled with their heads buried in the field after the referee blew the final whistle to end the 120-minute-long match. North Korean coach Yun Jung Su protested the goal while some of his players wept alongside South Koreans jumping up and down in a circle, live footage from South Korean broadcaster KBS showed.

Where Is North Korea’s 31-Year-Old Leader? [Dexter Roberts on Bloomberg Businessweek] (10/7/14)

The Bulletproof Classroom: Armored Whiteboards Defend Against School Shootings [John Cloud on Bloomberg Businessweek] (10/2/14)

Tunis came up with the idea of lining the handheld, portable whiteboards commonly used in schools with panels made from Dyneema, a polyethylene fiber strong enough to stop a shotgun blast from a foot away and light enough to wear all day. Emily Heinauer, director of special projects for Hardwire, says the company has sold its 20-by-18-inch whiteboards in all 50 states—some to school districts and some to individual teachers who find them online. In addition to the bulletproof whiteboards, Tunis makes a 10-by-13-inch clipboard weighing 1.3 pounds intended for kids to use if a gunman comes into the room. Hardwire recently sold 61 clipboards, which retail for $129, at half price to Worcester County, Md., where the company is based. Many of the first orders came from nearby clients—the University of Maryland Eastern Shore spent $60,000 on whiteboards last year. And after the Today show featured them on the 12th anniversary of Sept. 11, orders began pouring in from all over the country.

Moon’s magnetic heart still a mystery [Stuart Gary on ABC Science] (12/5/14)

Billions of years ago the Moon had a magnetic field much stronger than the Earth does now, according to a new review of scientific data. Today, the Moon has no global magnetic field. The review, published in the journal Science, answers some long standing questions about the Moon’s origins and its internal structure, but it also raises new questions about how planetary magnetism works.

Monkeys aren’t fooled by luxury prices [Bianca Nogrady on ABC Science] (12/3/14)

The capuchin monkeys in the study had been previously trained in a ‘token market’, so they knew how to use tokens to purchase flavoured ice blocks from the experimenter. They also knew that some flavours were more expensive than others, in that a single token would buy them less of one particular flavour than of another flavour. After this training, the researchers placed the monkeys in the situation where the flavoured ice blocks were freely available, without any need for tokens, and the monkeys were allowed to choose whichever flavours they liked. “Learning which kind of ice was more expensive in the price learning phase did not seem to affect monkeys’ preferences in the preference assessment phase,” the authors wrote. “This result suggests that learning that a food is expensive doesn’t seem to make monkeys like it more.” Santos says this is in direct contrast to human behaviour…”It means that we’re more irrational than monkeys, and it also raises this question of where these price effects come from.” One theory is that we use our understanding of supply and demand to use price as a proxy indicator of quality. “We know if a wine was really awful, no one would buy it if it cost a ton of money, and so we get a sense that maybe there is this connection between price and value,” Santos says. Another possibility is that we are simply following the herd, using price as an indicator of popularity.

Scarecrows outnumber people in dying Japan town [Elaine Kurtenbach on The Associated Press] (12/8/14)

This village deep in the rugged mountains of southern Japan once was home to hundreds of families. Now, only 35 people remain, outnumbered three-to-one by scarecrows that Tsukimi Ayano crafted to help fill the days and replace neighbors who died or moved away. At 65, Ayano is one of the younger residents of Nagoro. She moved back from Osaka to look after her 85-year-old father after decades away. “They bring back memories,” Ayano said of the life-sized dolls crowded into corners of her farmhouse home, perched on fences and trees, huddled side-by-side at a produce stall, the bus stop, anywhere a living person might stop to take a rest. “That old lady used to come and chat and drink tea. That old man used to love to drink sake and tell stories. It reminds me of the old times, when they were still alive and well,” she said…When she returned to her hometown 13 years ago, Ayano tried farming. Thinking her radish seeds may have been eaten by crows, she decided to make some scarecrows. By now there are more 100 scattered around Nagoro and other towns in Shikoku.

Why the CIA Won’t Be Punished for Torture [Noah Feldman, professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard University, via Bloomberg Views] (12/9/14)

In short, then, the memos worked: The Department of Justice gave the CIA a free pass to torture without being punished. The legal analysis may have been wrong or morally monstrous, and the CIA appears to have lied to the Department of Justice. But even discounting the political factors that make it unlikely a president would prosecute the CIA, the legal ground for proceeding would be very rocky. Serious crimes were committed. They’re going to go unpunished.

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