Category Archives: Social Studies

Louisville, KY Is Sorta The Epicenter of Unhappiness In America

The map below shows people’s happiness levels in the United States: red means most unhappy, yellow is neutral, blue is most happy. As you can see, the biggest area of unhappiness is in Indiana and Kentucky, right around where Louisville is. But more so, there’s a kind of concentric pattern to the entire map.

City and Rural Area Happiness Controlling for Characteristics

Around Indiana and Kentucky, there’s a circle of mostly orange in which lie Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, West Virginia and Ohio: level two of the inferno. Around that, there’s another circle that’s on average happier — mostly oranges and yellows, some greens, but also some reds: Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New England.

Finally, there’s the happy outer rim, the thick fourth level which is mostly blues and greens: the entire Rockies from the Dakotas and Montana down through Colorado and New Mexico to Texas and rest of the South. If you kept going, you could imagine the ring continuing in the Atlantic, looping around through Canada — upper Quebec and Ontario — before meeting itself at the US border again.

Things go downhill again on the west coast, but there’s too little data there to say what’s going on. Perhaps that’s a small part of a larger ring that goes through Mexico and the Caribbean, the mid-Atlantic and the Northwest Passage. Or perhaps that ring is mostly yellow because happiness levels, having reached a peak in the fourth circle of (un)happiness started to go down again. Or maybe, we’re looking at the third ring of a different epicenter of unhappiness, colliding with the American one. Reading tea leaves is not easy.

wave interference


The happiness data comes from a survey conducted by the CDC between 2005 and 2009. The researchers that created the map are from Harvard and the University of British Columbia.

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From Unhappy Cities (PDF), via Lifehacker

Surprisingly, Most Panhandlers Are Not Homeless

In most people’s minds, panhandling obviously implies homelessness because if you have a home, why would you beg on the street corner? But according to both the Homeless Alliance in Oklahoma, and the Northeast Ohio Coallition for the Homeless, research shows that most panhandlers really are just trying to get extra cash, which they generally use to feed substance addictions. And conversely, most homeless people do not panhandle. Which makes sense, considering the availability of welfare programs for the impoverished.

Need cash for alcohol research

Probably the worst example you’re likely to see of a panhandler taking advantage of the misconception that panhandlers are destitute, is this elderly woman that drives a brand new car, who was caught by one of her benefactors:

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From YouTube, via Happy Place

Some Things Are Only For Symbolic Reasons

The universe is a simple place


Also, why a rib and not, say, a hair or a pound of flesh? Or even a tooth.

Via FAIL Blog

Multitaskers Are Impulsive Risk-Takers… Who Are Also Bad At Multitasking

That’s the conclusion of a study at the University of Utah, that measured four of their subjects’ traits: how good at multitasking they thought they were, how good they actually were, how impulsive they were and how much they liked seeking thrills. First finding: the ones that thought they were good at multitasking were actually worse at it. (Scientists tested multitasking ability by asking their guinea pigs to do math while remembering words.) In other words, if you’re proud to be a multitasker, you probably fall in this group.

Scott May daredevil stunt show. Photo by John Wright.

Scott May daredevil stunt show. Photo by John Wright.


Secondly, the people who thought they were good at multitasking were impulsive and sought out risks just for the thrills. Why? Because they can’t help “multitasking”: impulsivity and risk-taking also indicate lower self-control, which means that this group is not as much made up of multitaskers as A.D.D-ers. Not the real disorder, but the 21st century word for being scatterbrained: when they see a shiny new toy, they can’t help but play with the new toy too — due to the lack of self control. After that happens a few times, they find themselves spinning seven plates at once and call it multitasking — even though they suck at it.

Now, the study was done on college kids, and since everyone can get better at anything with enough practice, maybe by the time they’re middle-aged, the impulsive people are actually great at multitasking, and probably even less impulsive simply because they’re older. This logic is supported by a previous study that showed bilingual people are a lot better at multitasking while driving, because they have more experience jugging multiple pieces of information, via thinking in two languages.

Speaking of multitasking while driving, it’s worth mentioning that the study had a no-texting-while-driving slant to it. The NPR article covering the matter repeated the fact that texting while driving is more distracting than being drunk while driving. They also mentioned how everyone is texting and driving now, which would make you think there are all kinds of texting-related accidents, since half of us are basically driving around drunk. Unfortunately for the fear-based media, the insurance industry’s own data shows that accident rates have actually dropped since everyone started texting. Which really makes you think about the worth of these studies.

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From Plos One, via NPR

Divorce And Drinking

Scientists had a lot of data on some 20,000 people in a Norwegian county, so they did a study looking at how alcohol consumption affected their marriages. The percentage of subjects that got divorced:

  • 5.8% of couples in which both people were light drinkers
  • 13.1% of couples in which the husband was a heavy drinker, but the wife wasn’t
  • 17.2% of couples in which both people were heavy drinkers
  • 26.8% of couples in the wife was a heavy drinker, but the husband wasn’t

Moral of the story: don’t drink that much, but however much you drink, make sure your spouse is on the same page. Ditto goes for smoking. Also, be generous, committed, and good in bed. And it wouldn’t hurt to live in Utah.

Photo by Tetra Pak

Photo by Tetra Pak


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From Alcoholism, via LA Times and Neatorama

Nate Silver Predicted Most Of The Oscar Winners, Too

Nate Silver is now a famous statistician, after correctly calling the presidential election in every state for 2012, and all but one state for 2008. For his next trick, he’s applied his calculus on the movies: on the Friday morning before the Oscars, he published predictions for the main categories and got four of the six right:

  • Best picture: correctly called Argo, with Zero Dark Thirty being a distant second
  • Best director: incorrectly called Spielberg (Lincoln) as a narrow favorite over the actual winner, Ang Lee (Life of Pi). In the write-up, he explains that this was a shaky prediction to make, because his top two choices — Ben Affleck for Argo and Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty — were actually not even nominated.
  • Best actor: correctly called Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln), with Bradley Cooper being a distant second (Silver Linings Playbook)
  • Best actress: correctly called Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), with Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) not being far behind
  • Best supporting actor: this was a pretty big mistake, as he predicted the winner would be Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln), with Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master) as a second possibility not that far behind. But he forecast that the actual winner, Cristoph Waltz (Django Unchained), was third most likely to win — though very closely behind Hoffman.
  • Best supporting actress: correctly called Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables), with Sally Field (Lincoln) being a distant second.

Not bad at all. He made the predictions by looking at historical data for 16 other awards shows, like the Golden Globes, SAG Awards and BAFTAs. Now if only he could bring that kind of forecasting accuracy to economics.

Nate Silver


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From The New York Times, via Slashdot

How To Care For Introverts And Extroverts


The design comes from the Questionably Late Tumblr; the actual tips come from an article by a developmental psychologist. Then someone came up with a companion list for extroverts and the same designer made an image out of it:

From Questionably Late and Pretty Butch Lifts

Shrinks Really Need To See Someone About Their Issues

Someone asked the world’s smartest man, Cecil Adams, if it’s true that mental health professionals are crazier than the average person. Short answer: yes. The data Cecil gives, based on several studies, goes like this:

  • British psychiatrists have nearly five times the suicide rate of general practitioners
  • Britist psychiatrists are 46% more likely than other physicians to die from injuries and poisoning, and have a 12% greater risk of dying overall
  • American psychiatrists have two to three times the suicide rate of the general population
  • The divorce rate among pyshiatrists is 2.7x that of other doctors and 5x that of the general public
  • Finnish psychiatric staff is 81% more likely to have suffered from mental illness and 61% more likely to miss work due to depression
  • They’re also likely to smoke and drink a lot more than average
  • Female psychiatrists have a 67% greater likelihood of having psychological problems, usually depression, and have a 26% greater likelihood of having a family history of psychological problems
  • Male psychiatrists in California are almost twice as likely to be disciplined for unethical sexual relationships with patients as other physicians
  • One study found that 24 out of 25 psychiatrists chose the profession so they could explore some conflict in their lives

Dr. Thredson from American Horror Story


There’s a psychiatrist on the disappointing second season of American Horror Story (spoiler alert!), who turns out to be a serial killer, and who only became a psychiatrist to explore his own issues. Turns out, that’s not that far fetched of an idea. Ditto goes for Dr. Weston from In Treatment, who also has a trunk full of issues.

From The Straight Dope

How To Make Procrastination Work For You

Procrastination is a big problem for procrastinators, who generally would rather do anything than the thing they have to do right then. Strategies to defeat procrastination usually involve “just making yourself do it”, which also usually fails miserably. Common thinking would have procrastinators keep few things on their to-do list so that they can focus on something worthwhile. This comes from the assumption that procrastinators are lazy, which they are probably not. What they are is anti-authoritarian: they’re not avoiding taking out the trash because it’s difficult, but rather they reject the notion that they have to do anything.

Procrastinators see themselves as free people who do what they want, when they want and therefore no one tells them what to do, themselves included. So the problem is the procrastinator feeling like he has to do a particular thing, which implies he has no choice:

If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him to do it. However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely, and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important. — from “Structured Procrastination“, by John Perry

The above comes from an essay written by a Stanford philosophy professor. His strategy for beating procrastination is to overwhelm himself with choices. If you keep a large to-do list, with vaguely important items at the top that have vague deadlines, followed by things that actually need to get done, then procrastinator logic will work like this: “I know I should be working on my great American novel, but instead I will do the seventh thing on my list: trimming the bushes in the front yard.”

Note that if writing the book were the only thing on the list, the procrastinator would invent another task that would likely be much less worthwhile than trimming the bushes, like reorganizing his music collection. From the essay:

At this point, the observant reader may feel that structured procrastination requires a certain amount of self-deception, since one is, in effect, constantly perpetrating a pyramid scheme on oneself. Exactly. One needs to be able to recognize and commit oneself to tasks with inflated importance and unreal deadlines, while making oneself feel that they are important and urgent. This clears the way to accomplish several apparently less urgent, but eminently achievable, tasks. And virtually all procrastinators also have excellent skills at self-deception — so what could be more noble than using one character flaw to offset the effects of another?

Incidentally, in the beginning of the essay, John Perry says that he finally got around to writing it because he had a lot of papers, dissertations and a grant review to read, and this was a way of not doing those things. He wrote it in 1996, and in 2011, it won the Ig Nobel prize for Literature. His granddaughter even made a website for the essay, “while avoiding the far more weighty assignment of her literature test.”

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From The Chronicle of Higher Education

Why Polyamory And Homosexuality Are Wrong

Poly is Greek for “many” and amor is Latin for “love”. Same goes for homo, which is Greek for “same” and sex, which is Latin for… “sex”.

Homosexuality? What barbarity! It’s half Greek and half Latin! — from the 1997 play The Invention of Love

There are a ton of other hybrid words like this: television, neuroscience, monolingual, sociology, amoral, bureaucracy, etc. In fact, there are so many that a word for words like this should exist: heteroriginal, from the Greek hetero meaning “different” and the Latin origin, meaning… “origin”.

From Zazzle, via FAIL Blog