Yeah science!

Great Tom Tomorrow (bigger version here).

What do “health conscious consumers” have against science?

A recent Slate post about Wal-mart trying to hone in on the organic foods market had this throw-away bit:

In any case, there’s a certain irony in Walmart’s new organic food interest. The company has historically stocked its shelves with foods full of substances that are the bane of health-conscious customers—aspartame, MSG, and high fructose corn syrup, among others. 

Now there’s plenty of stuff in food that we have a reasonable amount of evidence that we know is “bad for you,” but it’s not these.   There’s no evidence that aspartame causes cancer or any of the other maladies people like to impute to it (nice summary here).  MSG is just awesome and makes your food taste better and that’s it (great summary here).   When I learned of this myth years ago (a Gladwell article, I think) I bought some Accent and started using it on various foods.  Mmmm.  Also, I totally avoid Chinese restaurants that advertise “no MSG.”  Just like I’d avoid a restaurant that advertised “no salt!”  And, lastly, I’ll admit that HCFS isn’t good for you, but there’s absolutely no evidence that it is any worse for you than sugar.  And, yes, all these myths are probably more evidence that (certainly at times) liberals can be just as ideologically ignorant of science as conservatives.

Quick hits

1) I loved seeing “Sue” the T. Rex in Chicago a few years ago.  Here’s the story of how Smithsonian was blindsided on how expensive she would be and was massively outbid.

2) Here’s a school system that thinks making a fellow student “uncomfortable” (in this case by twirling a pencil) should lead to a suspension and psychiatric evaluation.

3) I was prepared to think Jezebel was over-reacting, but these ads are truly horrible.

4) The reason that acceptance rates at top colleges are down is because too many kids are applying to way too many schools.  And you get this:

Bruce Poch, a former admissions dean at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., said he saw “the opposite of a virtuous cycle at work” in admissions. “Kids see that the admit rates are brutal and dropping, and it looks more like a crapshoot,” he said. “So they send more apps, which forces the colleges to lower their admit rates, which spurs the kids next year to send even more apps.”

5) The marijuana legalization opponents predicted a major crime way if marijuana became legal.  Not at all surprisingly, they are wrong.

6) Not just unemployment, but labor force participation rate is a real problem these days.

7) All those constant Lumosity pitches are not based on a lot of actual science, but here’s some evidence that brain-training really works.  Time to start playing the N-back game?  (I’ve actually been thinking this might really benefit my son with ADHD).

8) The best evidence Obamacare is working.  Drum on how you’ll never actually hear even a modest admission of that from conservative sources.

9) I love looking at American health care in a comparative perspective.  A really good article on how the German system works and what we can learn from them.

10) Tell white people they will be a minority and they become more conservative.  Yikes.  Jamelle Bouie on how this means the whole country could end up like Mississippi (double-yikes!)

11) American’s are hopelessly resigned to the fact that we can’t make meaningful changes in campaign finance.  And I’m one of them.  Larry Lessig says we need to get past this.  He’s right, of course.  But I’m just too skeptical of real change.

12) Vox explains the oil curse.  Simple but compelling.

13) I started reading this column about the recent Ebola outbreak and thinking about the book I read last summer by David Quammen about zoonotic diseases.  Then I noticed the column was by Quammen.

14) Listened to a fascinating Fresh Air interview about a new book detailing how Michael Rockefeller (of those Rockefellers) was likely killed and eaten by cannibals.  And here’s a Slate piece on the book.  Pretty amazing and compelling stuff.

15) Been reading for a while about how caffeine can improve your athletic performance.  Here’s a nice how-to guide from Vox.  (Before our 5-mile doughnut run, I actually gave my 14-year old son some caffeine– something he otherwise never has).

16) Totally deserves it’s own post, but since I haven’t gotten around to it yet… Here’s how a recent study find tens of thousands “suspicious votes” in NC.  But history very strongly suggests that when they are examined more closely, only a very small handful will be the result of malfeasance.  Not surprisingly, Republicans are simply pretending otherwise.

17) I’ve long known Jim Demint is a moron.  He argued this week that “big government” had nothing to do with ending slavery.  Jamelle Bouie’s takedown.  Adam Gopnik’s is even better:

This is, in plain English, so ignorant that, as I say, there has been no shortage of corrections. A debate about whether big government freed the slaves is pretty much the only debate that a liberal is guaranteed to win. The Civil War was the original big-government overreach: it came from Washington, D.C.; it involved raising new taxes (in fact, it is the origin of a number of taxes); it confiscated rifles from rebels; it did special favors for minorities (in this case, the special favor of recognizing them as human beings and setting them free from lifelong bondage); and, in the end, it imposed a bureaucracy on an unwilling population (that is, it imposed the Union Army on the South). Many things can be said about the Civil War, but not that it was done with the benign neglect of the federales. The moral point was argued for decades, as it is with most issues in a democracy. But that big government freed the slaves is as sure a fact as any in history.

 

Map of the day

Via Vox… apparently it’s not only American honeybees that are dying off at disturbing rates:

Bee_deaths_europe

Why?  Probably lots of different reasons all working in concert.  See the link for more.

Video of the day (geocentrism!)

So, I had seen some vague reference to this on Facebook, but now I’ve followed through.  Pretty amazing/dumbfounding that somebody is so blinded by their biblical literalism that they have made a “serious” documentary to argue that the earth is the center of the universe.  And they have apparently (quite skillfully) weaved in commentary from physicists, etc., to make it look that they have the support of actual scientists.  Pretty amazing.  More here.

Quick hits

Got quite busy with a Political Science conference this week (gone Thursday through late last night), but better late than never:

1) Thought this was a really interesting analysis of why Manchester United is performing so much worse without Alex Ferguson.

2) Great essay by Mike Konzal on the conservative myth of building a safety net on charity.  Just doesn’t get the job done.

But this conservative vision of social insurance is wrong. It’s incorrect as a matter of history; it ignores the complex interaction between public and private social insurance that has always existed in the United States. It completely misses why the old system collapsed and why a new one was put in its place.

3) Is American democracy on its way to extinction.  I think not, but I do wonder sometimes.  Interesting essay.

4) Not so easy to work your way through college at today’s tuition prices.

5) How the extreme right has had hugely disproportionate influence in Arizona government.

6) Latest research suggests that Black Death was not spread by fleas on rats.

7) The NCAA cracks down on cat mugs.

8) How a long span of a particularly wet climate may have been the key go Ghengis Khan’s conquests.  On a related note, I also learned that roughly .5% of the world population is a descendant of Genghis Khan.

9) John Dickerson on how Obama learned the value of panic when confronted by the ACA website failure.

10) Nice piece on the Honeymaid “wholesome families” campaign.

11) Found this Post article on the difficulty of filling jobs in an egg-processing plant a really interesting read.

12) A student sent me an email about the government saving millions of dollars just by switching fonts in official publications.  As I expected, it was a pretty faulty analysis.  I am fascinated by fonts, though.

13) The child-less Reihan Salam argues that we should raise taxes on the child-less.

 

Quick hits

On time this week.  Enjoy.

1) Are you really so busy?  Probably not (okay, DJC is pretty busy– though not too busy to read this blog).

2) How phthalates may be affecting male fertility.

3) Right-wing columnist says Republicans should just stop worrying about non-white people.

4) I love this study that clearly demonstrates causality (an actual experiment) on how money buys access in DC.

5) This one takes a while, but totally worth it.  How malaria keeps developing resistance to whatever we throw at it and the desperate (and very important) fight to prevent the latest resistant strain from spreading.

6) Republicans in NC continue to make it harder for college students to vote.  Just a coincidence.  They probably didn’t even know that young people are more Democratic these days.

7) Quality and profit in higher education are inversely related.

8) Body language really isn’t so great for detecting lying.  Also, a fun little test you can take yourself with it.

9) Fortunately my kids have never had lice.  But if they do, it’s good to learn that schools are becoming more rational about it.  Lice are basically harmless, it’s just that we’re grossed out by them:

Lice are not particularly contagious, they hurt basically no one, and they’re not a public health risk. Lice don’t actually matter. It’s high time that squeamish parents and school administrators stop acting like they do.

10) Probably not a good idea to get a degree in art or education from a lower-tier public university (at least economically speaking).

11) Hooray.  Now thanks to the success of the gun nuts, we’ve got a “knife rights” movement.

12) Nice Kristof column on the “takers” that conservatives never complain about.

13) I grew up right near Mclean, VA and I totally get that way too many parents are way too obsessed with their kids going to the most elite colleges and doing everything in their power to make that happen.  Personally, I went to Duke, Kim went to Duke, but we’ll be quite happy to have the kids go to NC State (or any other fine NC public institution).

14) How about a pill that increases the plasticity of your brain so you can learn things like you could when you were a kid.  It’s coming.  Brave new world.

 

How free refills, my small bladder, and my kids keep me healthy

Very nice piece on Quirks and Quarks this week that takes a comprehensive look at the research on sitting and your health.  There’s a significant body of research now that shows that doing a lot of sitting is bad for you– even if you also get plenty of exercise.  Hello, me!  What seems to be particularly harmful, is sitting for long periods of time, though.  I almost never do that.  My long stretches of work are typically in the afternoons after a lunch of (usually pizza and) bottomless Diet Coke (or Diet Pepsi, if forced) refills.  Throw in my small bladder and during the afternoon I am actually stretching my legs and getting a walk down the hall every 20-30 minutes.  It gets old, but, hey, now I know it is good for me.  The upshot of the research seems to be to make sure you are changing positions at least every 30 minutes and that it is change that is good.  You don’t want too much standing or too much sitting.

And suffice it to say, that when I’m home with four whiny and demanding kids you can be pretty much guaranteed that there’s no way I’m ever sitting still for more than 15 minutes (or sometimes, 2 minutes).  I’ll remind myself how healthy I’m being next time when Sarah sends me back into the kitchen to get her more water 30 seconds after I was just up to find her missing pony.

Photo of the day

Via Wired’s Space Photo of the day:

In celebration of the 24th anniversary of the launch of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope (on April 24, 1990) astronomers have taken an infrared-light portrait of a roiling region of starbirth located 6,400 light-years away. The Hubble mosaic unveils a collection of carved knots of gas and dust in a small portion of the Monkey Head Nebula (also known as NGC 2174 and Sharpless Sh2-252). The nebula is a star-forming region that hosts dusky dust clouds silhouetted against glowing gas.

Massive, newly formed stars near the center of the nebula (and toward the right in this image) are blasting away at dust within the nebula. Ultraviolet light from these bright stars helps carve the dust into giant pillars. The nebula is mostly composed of hydrogen gas, which becomes ionized by the ultraviolet radiation. As the interstellar dust particles are warmed from the radiation from the stars in the center of the nebula, they heat up and begin to glow at infrared wavelengths. The image demonstrates Hubble’s powerful infrared vision and offers a tantalizing hint of what scientists can expect from the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. Observations of NGC 2174 were taken in February 2014.

Quick hits (part 2)

1) I didn’t realize quite what a success story Poland is.  A model for Ukraine to emulate?

2) The art of the TV series finale.

3) Does Barbie affect girls career ambitions?  Yes, says one interesting experiment.

4) A medical case for Dr. House.  Particularly interesting when the mother is a physician.  She had to pretend she’s just another doctor and not a concerned mom to get taken seriously.

5) Dune is one of my favorite books ever.  The movie is kind of crazy, but I’ve always liked it (especially the Toto soundtrack.  seriously).  Here’s a nice essay on it.

6) Connor Friedersdorf says we don’t have a drug problem, but a black market problem.

7) Really enjoyed this Douthat column on individualism.

8) Nice Economist story that summarizes Radley Balko’s work on the over-militarization of our police forces.

9) J Lo subverts music video stereotypes.  This Atlantic piece unpacks it.

10) Water bears are the craziest form of life.  No, seriously.

 Also known as the water bear (because it looks like an adorable little many-legged bear), this exceedingly tiny critter has an incredible resistance to just about everything. Go ahead and boil it, freeze it, irradiate it, and toss it into the vacuum of space — it won’t die. If it were big enough to eat a glass sandwich, it probably could survive that too.

The water bear’s trick is something called cryptobiosis, in which it brings its metabolic processes nearly to a halt.

11) I never knew anything about My Little Pony till I had a daughter.  She loves them.  We certainly shouldn’t be bullying boys for liking them:

Do you know about My Little Pony? It’s great. The show has its own mythology and the central tenet is the six Elements of Harmony. These are six characteristics that, when combined, can change the world for the better. Kindness, generosity, honesty, laughter, loyalty, and magic—these are the tools that the heroines of My Little Pony use to get out of every mess.

We can all agree on that list, right? It’s a good one. What you don’t find is ambition, or aggression, or force of will.

12) I’m a sucker for dystopias so I’ve read more than my fair share of YA dystopias (most are not actually that good).  Nice review of the Divergent movie explains their appeal:

The word dystopia comes from a Greek root that roughly translates as “bad place,” and what place could be worse than high school? Adolescence is not for the faint of heart. The to-do list for the decade between ages 10 and 20 includes separating from your parents, finding your place among your peers at school, beginning to make decisions about your own future, and—oh yes—figuring out how to relate to the world, and yourself, as a suddenly and mystifyingly sexual being.

 

 

 

Two monitors?

Yesterday in the office was one of those rare days I felt like I would have actually liked to have two monitors.  One to get work done on; one to to function as a TV to watch the NCAA tournament.  I was explaining to my wife how there was extra technology money a few years ago (separate budgets!) and a whole lot of people got a 2nd monitor whether they really needed/wanted it or not.  I declined.  Anyway, nice column by Farhad Manjoo calling into question the idea that two monitors leads to an increase in productivity.  He strikes me as spot on:

The research supports this. One study commissioned by NEC and conducted by researchers at the University of Utah showed that people using a dual-display machine to do a text-editing task were 44 percent more productive than those who used a single monitor.

But for most people, the time spent juggling two windows or scrolling across large documents isn’t the biggest bottleneck in getting work done. Instead, there’s a more basic, pernicious reason you feel constantly behind — you’re getting distracted…

Ms. Mark’s research, based on observations and digital tracking of office workers, has found that our workplaces are bombarded with distractions. Studies show that office workers are interrupted every four to 11 minutes by external distractions including phone calls, email and people who stop by your desk to chat about the weekend.

All such disruptions are costly. It can take workers as much as 25 minutes to regain focus after being interrupted. And constant interruptions create a stressful workplace.

“The second screen can also be an inviting entry-way for self-distraction,” Ms. Mark said. That’s because it’s an ever-present, available canvas calling out for you to fire up a web window and find solace in the latest thrills on YouTube.

Sounds about right to me.  I get distracted enough on one monitor (hmmm, wonder if anybody commented on my blog lately?) that two monitors would probably only exacerbate this.  Now I can convince myself that I’m productive due to only one monitor.  Now, if I could just stop checking email and facebook every two minutes.  (But, maybe it would be every one minute with two monitors).

Quick hits (part 1)

Never posted a quick hits last week.  Friday night (when I usually work on them) at the ACC Tournament and busy weekend of soccer, etc., plus a busy week.  Anyway, I’ve got two weeks worth of hits now.  My goal is part 1 for Saturday morning with part 2 to follow on Sunday.  Enjoy.

1) Totally intrigued by this speed reading app.  It really does work.  Though, I have a hard time imaging myself using this for more than a few minutes at a time.  The Atlantic throws some cold water on things.

2) Really enjoyed this story about the SAT overhaul.  Seems like this will generally be a more meaningful test.  Glad this will take effect in time for my oldest son in a few years.

3) The physics of the new World Cup soccer ball.  Probably better than the last ball.

4) There really is just too much good television these days.  David Carr.

5) Federal judge rules that college faculty don’t have the right to proselytize while teaching.  Damn, there goes next week’s lecture on lobbying.

6) Really amazing first-person account from one of the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre (shared on FB by a VT professor friend who had some friends/colleagues among the victims).

7) Maybe buy local isn’t so great when it comes to meat.

8) It ain’t easy going from being a political reporter to working as a wage slave in a Sporting Goods store.  Nice essay.

9) If the moon were only 1 pixel.

10) Can a rubber hand make you less racist?  Yes.

11) I didn’t actually know about the “thigh gap” till I read this.  Interesting.  And awesome in the “photoshop fail” sense.

12) Robert Reich on America’s “great U turn.”  Good stuff.

13) More evidence that we are just stupid to expect our teenagers to start high school so early in the day.

14) Love this gallery of awkward photos of cats and dogs with furniture.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 464 other followers

%d bloggers like this: