Tag Archives: study - Page 2

The Flu Virus Thrives In Low And Very High Humidity

A Virginia Tech professor and her team figured out why the flu spreads in the winter: indoor heating. When the outside air is heated, it becomes very dry, creating the perfect environment for the virus. Their tests show that the influenza virus performs best at humidity levels under 50%, which is pretty much every heated space in the winter. Above that humidity, it doesn’t do very well until the levels reach 98%. That humidity is seen in tropical environments in the summer wet season, which is another condition under which flu outbreaks happen. The moral of the story: use humidifiers in the winter to reduce the spread of the flu.

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From The Wall Street Journal, via Slashdot

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

Americans Are Now Using Too Much Birth Control

The reason libertarians are against social engineering is because it’s very hard to get it right. We start out trying to fix a problem, so we devise a good solution, which often times turns out to be too good: it fixes the problem so much that it breaks something else. One example we recently looked at was food: government tried to eliminate hunger, so it made food cheap — so cheap, that now half the country is obese and dying of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, instead of hunger.

The Washington Post is now highlighting population control as another good intention gone bad. For years, the educational message has been that babies were bad news. You should be using birth control, and if you’re not, you’re throwing your life away and any chance at material happiness. Since education works quite well at changing behavior, in 2011, the birth rate hit an all-time record low.


At first blush, this might look like good news because of overpopulation. And it is a good thing for us to not reach China or India’s population levels. But, the birthrate is now too low to even sustain the population. In order to maintain the same number of people, the average woman should have 2.1 children in her lifetime, but today’s average is 1.9. Of course, a shrinking population does have its benefits too, since the world is probably already overpopulated. But it presents a big problem to the elderly: less children means less tax-paying adults in the future, which means less retirement benefits for more retirees. And so, in an interesting turn of events, birth control education is now threatening socialized geriatric care.



A few more interesting facts:

  • The birthrate in America has long been propped up by Hispanic immigrants, who tended to have a lot of children.
  • Bad economies lead to lower birthrates, and since the Great Recession of 2008, the American-born birthrate dropped 6%, the immigrant one dropped 14% and the Mexican immigrant birthrate dropped 23%.
  • The peak birthrate happened during the baby boom and was twice as much as it is now — in 1957, there were 122 births per 1,000 women.
  • Immigrant women constitute 17% of the female population, but account for 23% of births. Their birthrate is 1.5x that of U.S.-born women.
  • Since over 40% of births come from unwed mothers — indicating that a large share of them are accidental pregnancies — the birthrate will drop even more as contraceptives use increases.
  • Due to the lower birthrate of non-Hispanics, California and Texas are now almost 40% Hispanic and New Mexico, 46%. (Note that majority of people in those states are still white, since the term “Hispanic” refers to heritage, not race: you can be white Hispanic, black Hispanic, etc.)

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Finally, Scientific Proof That Conductors Do Something

During rehearsals, conductors definitely do a lot: they create the rehearsal schedule, yell at musicians that don’t play something quite the way they want, and make small adjustments to the score. But after the last rehearsal, during the performances, does the wand- and hand-waving that conductors live for, actually mean anything? (Also, the head thrusts, for which a special kind of conductor haircut is required.) After all, the musicians have the score, they’ve rehearsed it to the conductor’s satisfaction, and could probably play it back with or without him standing in front them, gesturing as if he were doing some serious programming in Minority Report.

Tom Cruise conducting a computer in Minority Report


The theory of orchestral music is that the conductor could make minor timing changes during a live performance, and since the whole orchestra is paying attention to him, they would stay in harmony. This being an important scientific question, scientists devoted considerable science to answer it: they put infrared LED lights on the tip of a conductor’s baton and on the tip of violinists’ bows in his orchestra. They recorded the infrared movements and used special computers and mathematics (and science) to figure out if the violin bows followed the baton. And it turns out they did. So now we know for sure that musicians really do pay attention to the conductor. Thank you, science.

Oh, and they also figured out that orchestras with more authoritarian conductors produce better music.

From NPR

Another Study Shows Red-Light Cameras Increase Accidents And Costs

Since at least 2005, study after study has shown that while red-light cameras decrease T-collisions from the side, they increase rear-end accidents more than enough to make up for that benefit. The latest study comes from New Jersey’s Department of Transportation: it showed that total accidents have increased 1% and rear-end collisions have increased 20% at intersections with red-light cameras. Accident costs have gone up by a million dollars.

The companies which sell and operate those cameras to municipalities, for sizable profits, have been surreptitiously setting up and funding grass roots efforts — with names like Traffic Safety Coalition — to portray the cameras as a safety-driven, moral requirement. In Florida, the law legalizing them was named The Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act, after someone who died in a red-light accident. From The Chicago Tribune:

[Red-light camera industry consultant] Goldner acknowledged last week that the coalition’s strategic model involves an early appearance in markets that interest [red-light camera company] Redflex, building community support, finding examples of children victimized by errant drivers, videotaping their parents and then asking sympathetic policymakers to file a bill or pass an ordinance in support of automated traffic cameras.

With the guise of safety unraveling, the other benefit of red-light cameras comes into prominence: money. Many cash-strapped cities in the past few years have instituted red-light cameras, ostensibly to save lives; but one has to wonder if the motivation is that pure when most cities stand to make quite a bit of money from tickets issued by the cameras. (One notable exception is the city of Alpharetta, GA, which sets up its contracts to always break even.) Some cities go as far as shortening the yellow light duration down to illegal levels in order to hand out more citations.

But, it turns out that even the promise of filling cities’ coffers is a false one: red-light camera programs make money during the first couple of years until drivers learn where the cameras are and then adjust their behavior accordingly. After that, cities lose tens of thousands of dollars per year on the programs, and are often stuck in contracts which require them to pay a hefty penalty if the cameras are removed. In 2011, Los Angeles voted to remove its cameras, which overwhelmingly issued citations for illegal right turns, and cost the city a million dollars per year. In Houston, a referendum forced the government to shut down its program, even while the city faced a 25M$ penalty for doing so. So far, seven states have banned the use of cameras altogether.

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From Courier Post, via Slashdot

Genocides Target Competent, Yet Cold People

Wired has a very insightful interview with a social psychologist from Harvard Business School named Amy Cuddy. She says that since World War II, we have been trying to figure out a more scientific answer for why the Jews were targeted for genocide. The most prevalent theory was that of ingroups and outgroups: during hard times, one group of people kills the ones that aren’t in their group. It sounds good, but in practice that theory couldn’t predict who would be discriminated against. So she did a study which involved finding out the groups within a society and then asking the members of that society to rank each group on a number of traits. This revealed that what actually matters are two qualities: competence and trustworthiness.

Competence is how good someone is at turning their intentions into successful action, and trustworthiness is the feeling that their intentions toward you are good. (Warm people are generally perceived to be trustworthy, while cold people are not.) With any two traits, there can be four emotional and behavioral outcomes:

  1. Incompetent and untrustworthy: disgust and avoidance. Think bums.
  2. Incompetent but trustworthy: pity. Like kids and small animals.
  3. Competent and trustworthy: the Holy Grail that everyone wants. Jesus.
  4. Competent but untrustworthy: respect, admiration, resentment and antipathy. What you feel for Scrooge.

If you think someone is competent and doesn’t really care one iota whether you’re happy, lying in a ditch somewhere, or getting tortured, then that may just scare you. What if you fall into their bad graces or get on their radar? They’re obviously able to destroy you, since they’re competent. So when the situation arises, like during war, famine or depression, those are the people that get killed: the aristocracy in the French Revolution, the Jews under the Nazis, the educated under the Khmer Rouge. With the right circumstances, Occupy Wall Street might have ended up there too.


Of course, they don’t have to be killed — just made incompetent. During World War II, the US government incarcerated the highly competent and very untrustworthy Japanese living in America. The Civil War was basically fought because, while almost everyone thought blacks were incompetent, southerners thought them to be untrustworthy and therefore worthy of the chains, while northerners thought of slaves like Uncle Tom, and therefore worthy of pity. In presidential elections, both candidates are usually competent, but the one that’s warmer generally wins, because he’s perceived more trustworthy. The exception that proves the rule is the election in 2000: both candidates were trustworthy, but George W. Bush, who did not appear competent, lost the popular vote. However, in 2004, he won by a good margin after proving his competence in handling the aftermath of 9/11 and starting a war no one wanted — and being more trustworthy than flip-flopping Kerry.

The lesson to take away here is that smart or not, you should try to be nice and popular. If you’re not well-liked, people will be disgusted by you if you’re incompetent, or resent you otherwise. Even pity for being dumb but nice is better than resentment, because at least then the villagers won’t try to burn your house down the first chance they get. Or more likely, you won’t die alone. But, according to science, the best thing is to ask yourself: what would Jesus do?

Update, 11 March 2013: A new book called The Charisma Myth makes a similar point about trustworthiness and competence. In it, the author says that charisma is made up of warmth (trustworthiness) and power (competence), underlined by presence — the ability to be completely in the moment. Warm, powerful and present people are very charismatic.

From Wired, via Lifehacker

People Who Eat Healthier Snack More

Market research firm NPD Group followed people’s eating habits for two years and found out that those with the healthiest eating habits had 36% more snacks than average; the ones with the least healthy diets snacked 29% less than normal. Conclusion: snacking helps you keep to a healthy diet.


What should you be snacking on? The Huffington Post compiled a list of snacks that nutritionists eat:

  • Greek yogurt
  • Snack-size vegetables, like carrots
  • Apples (probably also pears, nectarines and bananas)
  • Roasted walnuts or almonds
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Edamame
  • Avocado

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From NPD and Huffington Post, via Lifehacker

Smoking Bans Will Cause Healthcare Costs To Rise Even More

NPR has an article highlighting two studies which show that indoor smoking bans have a big effect on people’s health:

  • The first study focused on a Minnesota county that banned workplace smoking and found that heart attacks dropped by a third within a year and a half of the ban
  • The second one was a meta-study which concluded that smoking bans were likely the reason for a drop in heart attacks and strokes by a sixth and of lung diseases by a quarter.

Photo by RawMotion

As we saw before, heart attack, cancer, lung disease and stroke are the top four causes of death in America, and together are responsible for 57% of fatalities. Smoking is a factor in all of them. Politicians and anti-smoking advocates are quick to point out not only the public health benefits of smoking bans, but also the financial savings due to all the health care that’s not being provided anymore. (The same holds true for food taxes and bans, like Hungary’s junk food tax.) At first blush, that makes sense, because if people aren’t having heart attacks and strokes, they won’t need as much care. And in the short-term, that may be true. But what is often forgotten is that everyone grows old, and aging is far worse for your health than smoking: over their entire lifetime, a smoker’s healthcare is estimated to cost about 326,000$, but because the non-smoker will live longer, their bill will run 417,000$ — 28% more.

Therefore, it’s crucially important for everyone to realize that in this age of health and budget consciousness, the two goals of living longer and spending less on healthcare are very much at odds with one another. Without any improvement to the health status of the population, healthcare costs are predicted to increase even beyond the currently oppressive levels. Almost half of our government expenses are currently used by two agencies specializing in geriatric care: Social Security Administration and Department of Health and Human Services, which includes Medicare. With half of the states in the union having already enacted comprehensive smoking bans, those agencies’ budgets will only need to go up, and eventually, most of the government’s function will be simply to care for the elderly.

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From The Archives of Internal Medicine and Circulation, via NPR

Why Routines Make You A Better Person

The Harvard Business Review has an article which points out that many busy, important people like Steve Jobs and President Obama wear basically the same clothes and eat the same meals every day. Why? Because they intuitively know what psychological studies have recently shown us: that we have a limited amount of mental energy; we can only spin our brains’ wheels so much per day.

Think of mental energy like a battery: if you spend it on making decisions about what to wear and where to eat, you have less to spend on designing the iPhone. If you spend it on trying to avoid eating the cheesecake in the fridge or on talking yourself into going for a run, you’ll have less to spend on beating Romney in a televised debate. If you spend it trying to stay awake longer than you’re supposed to, you won’t have enough to spend on keeping your temper in check when your airheaded BFF asks you what you did this weekend for the 52nd time.


Steve Jobs' outfits at keynote speeches, 1998-2010


Faced with limited mental resources, productive people came up with a simple plan: use the battery only for important things. If you make everything a routine, you don’t have to spend any mental energy on your clothes, your diet, your fitness or any number of daily activities. Regular people already do this to a degree: imagine if every day you had to decide whether or not to brush your teeth, whether or not to go to work, whether or not to put shoes on. You’d have no faculty left to even hold a conversation, much less do anything productive, like show up at work and look alive.

The most successful people take this to a more extreme level: they eliminate every choice possible. When you wake, how you dress, what you eat, when (not if) you exercise all become a foregone conclusion. If and/or when they happen is not up for debate, just like brushing your teeth in the morning isn’t. And since they’re routine, they’re one less thing you have to worry about. Which means you now have more mental power to spend worrying about things that matter — like becoming a better person.

From Harvard Business Review, via Slashdot

Food Riots Fed The Arab Spring; More Predicted For 2013

The French Revolution is probably history’s most famous food riot. It came about due to the aristocracy ignoring widespread hunger among peasants — an episode in history we now erroneously associate with “let them eat cake.” The French had forgotten what the Romans figured out 2,000 years before, and implemented via their bread and circuses policy: a well-fed, entertained, and somewhat free population doesn’t overthrow the government.

We like to think that we revolt against tyranny, but the truth is that we don’t mind tyranny that much, as long as there are enough things for us to eat and be amused by. However, when the food runs out and people believe their rulers are standing in the way of nourishment, governments will fall. And in that respect, the Arab Spring was no different than the French Revolution: it started when Tunisian police confiscated a 26 year-old street vendor‘s fruit cart, which was the only, meager source of income for his mother and six sisters; he set himself on fire in front of the governor’s office, after shouting “How do you expect me to make a living?”

Food price index, 2004-2011, with the timing of riots around the globe


In 2011, researchers noticed that the number one predictor of riots worldwide in the prior 5 years, was the price of food. Since 1990, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has been calculating a monthly food price index and if that number is above 210, recent history shows that riots become a lot more likely. The data fits this month’s American consulate riots which are supposedly due to the Muhammad video, but are probably more about the price of food — the current index is at 213. People will put up with a lot, but once they can’t afford to eat and death looms around the corner, consequences disappear and they begin to think of their legacy: it’s better to die in a riot while trying to change the world than to die of starvation in your bed.

During the Arab spring, the food price index was around 230. Due to widespread drought, prices are expected to rise 3 to 4% in 2013, likely putting the index above 220 and causing even more rioting. Meanwhile, America is in the midst of an obesity epidemic caused by food being too cheap — so cheap, in fact, that 40% of it gets thrown away.

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From MIT Technology Review, via motherboard and Slashdot