Friday, October 19, 2012

October Tabs

I spent another evening this week talking to Minnesotans by phone about the voter ID amendment, and this time I came away with the impression that there are a lot of people who don't pay much attention to voting.

Just after I got home from doing my civic duty, I came across a link to this story about what makes undecided voters tick. It's by my new crush Chris Hayes (now of MSNBC), written back in 2004 during Bush vs. Kerry. Hayes spent a month going door-to-door (for Kerry) in the suburbs around Madison, Wis., and came up with a bunch of interesting thoughts, such as "Issues? What are those?" and a neat analogy about doing your laundry.


From Scientific American:

In 2005 Belinda Board and Katarina Fritzon, then at the University of Surrey in England, conducted a survey to find out precisely what it was that made business leaders tick. What, they wanted to know, were the key facets of personality that separated those who turn left when boarding an airplane from those who turn right?

Board and Fritzon took three groups—business managers, psychiatric patients and hospitalized criminals (those who were psychopathic and those suffering from other psychiatric illnesses)—and compared how they fared on a psychological profiling test.

Their analysis revealed that a number of psychopathic attributes were actually more common in business leaders than in so-called disturbed criminals—attributes such as superficial charm, egocentricity, persuasiveness, lack of empathy, independence, and focus. The main difference between the groups was in the more “antisocial” aspects of the syndrome: the criminals' lawbreaking, physical aggression and impulsivity dials (to return to our analogy of earlier) were cranked up higher.

Big shock, but researchers recently reported that preschoolers learn best by experimenting on their own, rather than being taught a set of facts.
In one study, for example, an experimenter performed five sequences of three actions each, as a 4-year-old looked on. The sequences would either activate a toy or fail to activate it.

When the children were given the toy, they often performed only the actions required to activate it. They were able to eliminate the unnecessary actions by observation....

In another study, an experimenter held a toy that had four tubes. Each tube did something different -- for instance, one lit up and one made a squeaking sound.

In one case, the experimenter accidentally made the toy squeak by bumping into it and then left the room. The children experimented with the toy and figured out the three other features.

But when the experimenter made the toy squeak on purpose and then handed it to a child, he or she simply repeated what the experimenter did and never explored the toy's other features.
This contradicts the current trend of increasing the "academic" content of preschool and kindergarten, of course. And how would you do a standardized test for curiosity and self-motivated learning? If you can't test for it, it doesn't matter, right?

The recent news of the long-term multivitamin study has been reported in an odd way, I thought. Jason Kottke, for instance, headlined it Study: multivitamins reduce cancer risk, which implied to me that there were notable, meaningful effects in cancer prevention.

Well, no. While the results were statistically significant, the trumpeted 8 percent lower chance of contracting cancer among the treatment group breaks down like this, according to the AP story: Of the 15,000 male doctors who were followed for 11 years, "there were 2,669 new cancers, and some people had cancer more than once. For every 1,000 men per year in the study, there were 17 cancers among multivitamin users and more than 18 among those taking the placebo." This type of absolute risk information is important in understanding what the study means. My only argument with the story was that this information should have been near the lead, not more than half way down the column.

And get this: "Multivitamins made no difference in the risk of developing prostate cancer, which was the most common cancer diagnosed. They lowered the risk of other cancers by about 12 percent. There also were fewer cancer deaths among multivitamin users, but the difference was so small it could have occurred by chance."

So -- no fewer cases of prostate cancer, no statistical significance in the death rate, and 17 vs. 18 cancers per thousand overall. Health News Review, by the way, gave the AP story five stars for including all of these details, unlike the Reuters story on the same topic.

Doesn't sound like big news to me, except in exploding the myth that multivitamins are essential to health.


I don't know if I would have come up with the same name for it, and I probably would have left out the poker, but I found a lot to like in the Hustler's MBA, one guy's proposed alternative to going to college. (via BoingBoing)


Ed Lotterman uses cabbage from his yard to explain some economic realities. I love this man.

I'm not usually big on looking for videos online, but I recently found out about a series of short videos called Awkward Black Girl and I really like them. Funny, self-deprecating slices of life from someone much younger than me (not to mention black) but equally awkward.


David Gorski of Science Based Medicine recently stuck his toe into the waters of health care reform with a post called Mortality and Lack of Health Insurance. I thought it was a good mix of scientific fact and human-level storytelling. (Probably best to ignore the comments, which is not usually something I need to say about the stories on SBM.)

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