If Ignorance Is Bliss, Why Aren’t There More Happy People? (2)

Second post in the series, first one is here. As already mentioned the book is a collection of quotes, and it contains quite a few really brilliant quotes I have not seen elsewhere. Some more samples, covering the letters B and C:

i. “As I get older I seem to believe less and less and yet to believe what I do believe more and more.” Gerald Brenan.

ii. “Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.” Isaac Asimov.

iii. “The reason why so few good books are written is that so few people who can write know anything.” Walter Bagehot.

iv. “A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” Mark Twain.

v. “Everyone has a book in them and that, in most cases, is where it should stay.” Christopher Hitchens.

vi. “When I was four, I told my mother I wanted to be a rock star when I grew up. She said, ‘You can’t do both.'” Steven Tyler.

vii. “The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy … neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.” John Gardner.

viii. “The feeling of having taken a wrong turning in life was made worse by the fact that he could not, for the life of him, remember having taken any turnings at all.” Charles Fernyhough.

ix. “You can recognize a pioneer by the arrows in his back.” Beverly Rubik.

x. “A man never discloses his own character so clearly as when he describes another’s.” Jean Paul Richter.

xi. “Chess is as elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you can find outside of an adverticing agency.” Raymond Chandler. I beg to differ, but sometimes I do think along similar lines when it comes to the very best players – what could the people at the very top have accomplished if they’d focused their energy elsewhere?

xii. “I have found the best way to give advice to children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.” Harry Truman.

xiii. “Communism is not love. Communism is a hammer which we use to crush the enemy.” Mao.

xiv. “Programming today is a race between software engineers striving to build bigger and better idiot-proof programs and the Universe trying to produce bigger and better idiots. So far, the Universe is winning.” Rich Cook.

xv. “No one really listens to anyone else, and if you try it for a while you’ll see why.” Mignon McLaughlin.

xvi. “Talk to people about themselves and they will listen for hours.” Benjamin Disraeli.

xvii. “There is no such thing as conversation. It is an illusion. There are intersecting monologues, that is all.” Rebecca West.

xviii. “The greatest crimes are caused by surfeit, not by want. Men do not become tyrants so as not to suffer cold.” Aristotle.

xix. “Honest criticism is hard to take – especially when it comes from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger.” Franklin P. Jones.


September 29, 2011 Posted by | Books, Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment

The difference


“StumbleUpon: 1
Google Reader: 1 1
(google images links): 2

Total views referred by links to your blog: 5”


“ 79
Facebook: 2
Google Reader: 1
(another google images link): 1

Total views referred by links to your blog: 83”

Most likely none of those ~80 additional readers will ever revisit the blog. But I’m still surprised at the impact such a link can have. Of course the number keeps growing at the moment as more people click the link.

I should probably thank William for putting up the link – done.

September 29, 2011 Posted by | meta | Leave a comment

A Natural History of Ourselves (1)

By Hannah Holmes.

“Whenever biologists discover a new animal it’s their custom to crank the creature through a factual sausage grinder, producing tidy links of information. With academic detachment they tabulate the number of legs and teeth, note food preferences, and characterize habits of reproduction. […] But I’ve never encountered a full description of the two-legged ape. We Homo sapiens, so eager to describe the rest of the world, have been chary about committing our own natural history to paper.
This seems unfortunate. For one thing, it reinforces the notion that we’re not normal animals. It lends the impression that we’re too wonderful to summarize; that although the giraffe can be corralled in paragraphs, the human cannot. That’s unfair to other species. On the flip side, it suggests we’re misfits, as animals go. It lends the impression that we’re not worthy to take our place beside the gemsbok and the gorilla; that we are excluded from the brotherhood of mammals. This is unfair to my species.
It also seems unnecessarily dour. What could be more fun than describing the human, after all?”

From the introduction. The book is quite funny and you learn a lot of new stuff. That said, it also gets a few things wrong, and I’ve gotten a bit annoyed a couple of times because she keeps repeating a common mistake people make when dealing with evolutionary bioloy: Assuming traits or behavioural strategies which are widespread today must necessarily have been advantageous in the past. It’s an easy mistake to make, but it’s the wrong way to think about these things: A general rule of thumb is rather that all it takes for a given trait to persist over time is for the trait to not be so costly as to give rise to a significant evolutionary disadvantage. Traits that impact the number of offspring in a positive way will generally spread (if certain other conditions are met), but neutral traits and adaptions can easily persist over time as well. Harmful traits are the only ones that generally have a hard time making it over time, and if you see the trait in individuals today and it’s been around for a while, the trait probably isn’t all that harmful – at least in terms of offspring impact, likelihood of mating ect.. She makes the mistake both when talking about traits more or less directly linked to genetics (‘color blindness has persisted because: “it gave hunters an advantage in spotting khaki-colored animals in the khaki-colored grasslands of human prehistory”) and also when talking about purely cultural adaptions (according to her, the new HIV study showing that circumcision reduces infection risk (slightly) might indirectly be part of the explanation why people thousands of years ago decided to cut off parts of the penis of their male children and keep doing it – “If circumcision does indeed reduce the risk of males contracting fatal diseases, that could well have kicked “cultural evolution” into gear long, long ago: Those groups of humans who practiced the cultural behavior would enjoy better survival rates.” My response would go somewhere along these lines: Sorry for asking, but what about wound infection risk 2000+ years ago? Risk of botched circumcision reducing number of offspring to 0? And just how big would the impact on transmission rates of i.e. sexually transmitted diseases have to be to actually offset these costs (the effect size in the HIV study was quite small)? Also, lots of fatal diseases one might come up with, including quite a few sexually transmitted ones, aren’t even impacting fitness to any significant degree despite the fact that they’re deadly (which is part of why there are so many of them still around) – if you die at the age of 35, after having had 10 kids, for all practical purposes the disease doesn’t really matter all that much in the big picture. To me, the interesting question is not how a cultural adaption like circumcision might have provided the group with an evolutionary advantage, but rather why it was not so disadvantageous to the group as to go out of style completely over time). In her book she’s finding ‘evolutionary explanations’ all over the place also in places where it seems rather obvious to me that really none need even exist – these are not the only examples.

Aside from this, it’s really quite good, interesting and fun – there’s lots of good stuff as well. I’ll post more on the book later on.

September 29, 2011 Posted by | Anthropology, Biology, Books, Evolutionary biology, Genetics | Leave a comment

Zach Weiner does it again


September 29, 2011 Posted by | Cartoons, Economics, Philosophy | Leave a comment

If Ignorance Is Bliss, Why Aren’t There More Happy People? (1)

I finished Camus’ The Outsider earlier today, but I decided against quoting from it here because most of the good stuff contains spoilers. Maybe I’ll change my mind later on, it’s a brilliant book, but if I blog it the post will contain spoilers. Now you know.

Anyway, I’ve also started reading If Ignorance Is Bliss, Why Aren’t There More Happy People. It’s basically ‘just’ a quote-collection […or rather: ‘a compendium of wise one-liners, knockout jokes, droll asides and heartfelt statements of truth and beauty’], but it’s quite funny and there’s some good stuff hidden here. Some quotes from the book:

i. “Man is a make-believe animal – he is never so truly himself as when he is acting a part.” (William Hazlitt)

ii. “To get something done, a committee should consist of no more than three people, two of whom are absent.” (Robert Copeland)

iii. “Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.” (Sydney J. Harris)

iv. “Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t.” (Erica Jong)

v. “The only good thing to do with advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself.” (Oscar Wilde)

vi. “There is still no cure for the common birthday.” (John Glenn)

vii. “Very few people do anything creative after the age of 35. The reason is that very few people do anything creative before the age of 35.” (Joel Hildebrand)

viii. “Old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.” (Maurice Chevalier)

ix. “Inside every older woman is a young girl wondering what the hell happened.” (Cora Harvey Armstrong)

x. “Man is the only animal whose existence is a problem that he has to solve.” (Erich Fromm)

xi. “Argument is the worst sort of conversation.” (Jonathan Swift)

xii. “In most instances, all an argument proves is that two people are present.” (Tony Petito)

xiii. “No matter what side of an argument you’re on, you always find some people on your side that you wish were on the other side.” (Jascha Heifetz)

xiv. “An atheist is a man who has no invisible means of support.” (John Buchan)

xv. “An autobiography usually reveals nothing bad about its writer except his memory.” (Franklin P. Jones)

xvi. “Every society honours its live conformists and its dead troublemakers.” Mignon McLaughlin.

The quotes in the book cover a number of themes/subjects, ordered alphabetically. All quotes above are from themes/subjects starting with the letter ‘A’ – so yeah, there’s a lot of stuff here.

September 27, 2011 Posted by | Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment

Forer (people are gullible)

“Personality evaluations can be, and often are, couched in such general terms that they are meaningless in terms of denotability in behavior. Or they may have “universal validity” and apply to everyone. […]

Thus the individual is a unique configuration of characteristics each of which can be found in everyone, but in varying degrees. A universally valid statement, then, is one which applies equally well to the majority or the totality of the population. The universally valid statement is true for the individual, but it lacks the quantitative specification and the proper focus which are necessary for differential diagnosis. In a sense a universally valid personality description is of the type most likely to be accepted by a client as a truth about himself, a truth which he considers unique in him. Many, if not most, individuals are able to recognize the characteristics in themselves – when it is not to their disadvantage – while oblivious to their presence in others. […]

Allport (1, p. 476) states that “one way in which character analysts secure a reputation for success is through the employment of ambiguous terms that may apply to any mortal person”. A naïve person who receives superficial diagnostic information, especially when the social situation is prestige-laden, tends to accept such information.1 He is impressed by the obvious truths and may be oblivious to the discrepancies. But he does more than this. He also validates the instrument and the diagnostician. […]

The following experiment was performed in the writer’s class in introductory psychology to demonstrate the ease with which clients may be misled by a general personality description into unwarranted approval of a diagnostic tool. The writer had discussed his Diagnostic Interest Blank (5)[2] (hereafter referred to as DIB) in connection with the role of personal motivational factors in perceptual selectivity. Class members requested that they be given the test and a personality evaluation. The writer acquiesced. At the next meeting the 39 students were given DIB’s to fill out, and were told that they would be given a brief personality vignette as soon as the writer had time to examine their test papers. One week later each student was given a typed personality sketch with his name written on it. The writer encouraged the expressed desire of the class for secrecy regarding the content of the sketches. Fortunately, this was the day on which a quiz was scheduled; hence it was possible to ensure their sitting two seats apart without arousing suspicion. From the experimenter’s point of view it was essential that no student see the sketch received by any other student because all sketches were identical. The students were unsuspecting.

The personality sketch contains some material which overlaps with that of Paterson, but consists of 13 statements rather than a narrative description. A further difference lies in the fact that this sketch was designed for more nearly universal validity than Paterson’s appears to have been. The sketch consists of the following items.

1. You have a great need for other people to like and admire you.
2. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself.
3. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage.
4. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them.
5. Your sexual adjustment has presented problems for you.
6. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside.
7. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing.
8. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations.
9. You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof. [Hahaha! Salt in the wound…, US]
10. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others.
11. At times, you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved.
12. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic.
13. Security is one of your major goals in life.

[The statements came largely from a newsstand astrology book]

Before the sketches were passed to the students, instructions were given first to read the sketches and then to turn the papers over and make the following ratings:

A. Rate on a scale of zero (poor) to five (perfect) how effective the DIB is in revealing personality.
B. Rate on a scale of zero to five the degree to which the personality description reveals basic characteristics of your personality.
C. Then turn the paper again and check each statement as true or false about yourself or use a question mark if you cannot tell.

In answer to their requests students were informed that the writer had another copy of their sketch and would give it to them after the data were collected. After the papers had been returned to the writer students were asked to raise their hands if they felt the test had done a good job. Virtually all hands went up and the students noticed this. Then the first sketch item was read and students were asked to indicate by hands whether they had found anything similar in their sketches. As all hands rose, the class burst into laughter. […]

The data show clearly that the group had been gulled. Ratings of adequacy of the DIB included only one rating below 4.”

From The fallacy of personal validation; a classroom demonstration of gullibility. That thing was written in 1949.

From Wikipedia I also learn that the statements which ‘may have “universal validity” and apply to everyone’ later became known as Barnum statements. Also:

“Later studies have found that subjects give higher accuracy ratings if the following are true:

*the subject believes that the analysis applies only to him or her
*the subject believes in the authority of the evaluator
*the analysis lists mainly positive traits”

September 25, 2011 Posted by | Psychology, Studies | Leave a comment

Beer goggles, parties…

When I went to that party at uni a little while ago (I tweeted it at the time, but no blog posts) I felt a bit like Jane Goodall. At least during the time periods of it where I was not caught up in social interactions, but perhaps also during the rest of it – I was very aware of the social context. I came to realize that I’ll probably never feel the same way about being at a party as I did when I was younger (I’m not actually that old now, just ‘older’). I also came to realize that this particular method of meeting people of the opposite sex, though inefficient, is not actually necessarily as bad as I’ve been telling myself. Exposure rate is high, you have the potential to meet a lot of people over a short amount of time, and the likelihood of ‘something happening’ goes up quite a bit with the consumption of alcohol, some of the (party-related?) effects of which I’d forgotten all about. As a standard selection and pairing-mechanism, parties like these aren’t really totally stupid, though some people deal better with the setting than others and thus have higher returns from participating – from my own experience I conclude that my expected returns from participating are probably low, however given the right social setting participating in such a thing needn’t be a boring and unpleasant, or perhaps even painful, experience. Though I continue to believe that it’s a far from optimal method. Traditional dating is costly, but those costs could also be considered part of an implicit selection mechanism weeding out non-serious candidates – but a major problem with traditional dating is that you need to meet the potential partner first, which is (certainly part of) the whole point of (these kinds of) parties.

Anyway, below a little random stuff on the beer goggles phenomenon, alcohol and sexual behaviour, partnership and obesity risk ect.:

i. From Beer goggles: blood alcohol concentration in relation to attractiveness ratings for unfamiliar opposite sex faces in naturalistic settings, by Lyvers, Cholakians, Puorro & Sundram:

“The popular notion that alcohol intoxication enhances perceptions of the physical attractiveness of the opposite sex has been inconsistently supported. The current study tested intoxicated and non-intoxicated persons of both genders in naturalistic settings after measuring their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) by a breath test. A sample of 80 heterosexual university student social drinkers was recruited at a campus pub and campus parties over a 3 month period to take a survey rating the attractiveness of unfamiliar faces of the opposite gender presented in photographs. Attractiveness ratings were positively correlated with BAC. Analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) was conducted on attractiveness ratings with independent variables of gender and BAC group, with three levels of the latter: non-intoxicated (BAC = 0), moderately intoxicated (BAC .01%-.09%), and highly intoxicated (BAC .10%-.19%). Both intoxicated groups gave significantly higher attractiveness ratings than non-intoxicated controls. The findings confirm the “beer goggles” phenomenon of folk psychology for both genders, although the mechanism remains unclear.”

I think it’s interesting that the ‘beer goggles’ start kicking in at BACs well below .1% (if they did not, the evaluations of the ‘moderately intoxicated’ group would match those of the non-intoxicated group).

ii. From Alcohol intoxication and self-reported risky sexual behaviour intentions with highly attractive strangers in naturalistic settings :

“Objective: The present investigation examined the relationship between alcohol intoxication and risky sex intentions in naturalistic settings.

Methods: Heterosexual young adults (n == 72) were approached at a campus pub and at campus parties. Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was measured by a breath test and ranged from 0 to 0.18%%. Participants rated their likely intent to have sex with 10 highly attractive unfamiliar models of the opposite gender, as depicted in photographs, if the opportunity arose. Photos varied in terms of accompanying information regarding risk, with three levels: slight risk, moderate risk and high risk.

Results: BAC was significantly positively correlated with self-reported likelihood of young adult men engaging in risky sex with highly attractive unfamiliar models at all risk levels, whereas in young adult women the relationship was significant only at the slight risk level. Men reported significantly higher intent to have risky sex than women did at all risk levels.”

iii. From Entry Into Romantic Partnership Is Associated With Obesity, by Natalie S. The & Penny Gordon-Larsen:


“BMI is highly correlated between spouses; however, less is understood about the underlying mechanism(s) by which the development of obesity in one individual increases the risk of obesity in his/her spouse. The objective of this study is to investigate whether romantic partnership and duration of cohabitation are related to incident obesity and obesity-promoting behaviors. We used two data sets from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health: (i) 6,949 US adolescents (wave II, 1996) followed into adulthood (wave III, 2001–2002) and (ii) 1,293 dating, cohabiting, and married romantic couples from wave III, including measured anthropometry and self-report behavior data. In the longitudinal cohort, we used sex-stratified logistic regression models to examine the risk of incident obesity by longitudinal romantic relationship status and duration of time spent living with a romantic partner. In the Couples Sample, we used multinomial logistic regression to predict concordance in outcomes: obesity, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, and screen time by romantic partnership and duration of time living with a romantic partner. Individuals who transitioned from single/dating to cohabiting or married were more likely to become obese than those who were dating at both waves. Partner concordance for negative, obesity-related behaviors was strongest for married couples and couples who lived together greater than or equal to 2 years. The shared household environment may increase the likelihood of becoming obese, influence partner concordance, and may be an important target for obesity intervention.”

Some more details:

“Men living with a romantic partner for 1.00–1.99 years were twice as likely to become obese, compared to men not living with a romantic partner.” […]

“Concordant obesity was over threefold higher (prevalence ratio (PR) = 3.30, 95% CI: 1.97–5.55), and discordant obesity twofold higher (PR = 1.90, 95% CI: 1.37–2.63) than concordant nonobesity in married vs. dating partners (Figure 1a). Similarly, married couples were more likely to consist of one or two less physically active partners than dating couples (PR = 2.00, 95% CI: 1.29–3.12 and PR = 2.15, 95% CI: 1.39–3.31, respectively) (Figure 1b), while cohabiting couples were more likely to consist of two sedentary partners (PR = 1.98, 95% CI: 1.37–2.87) (Figure 1c).” […]

“Duration of relationship was strongly associated with concordant obesity. Romantic partners who lived together greater than or equal to 2 years were significantly more likely to consist of one or two obese, less physically active, and more sedentary partners” [To take an example, the Odds Ratio of both partners being obese is 1.18 for a couple that’s been together less than a year (1.0 corresponds to the obesity risk of individuals who’re not living together with a partner), whereas it’s 4.31 for a couple that’s been together for more than 2 years, US]” […]

“Several studies examining longitudinal changes in romantic relationship status report a differential sex effect of entry into marriage, with greater weight gain in women (9,10,30). Women may be differentially impacted by transitions in romantic relationship status; for example, through increased social obligations encouraging consumption of regular meals (31,32) and larger portion sizes (33), resulting in increased energy intake (30). Further, entry into cohabitation or marriage is associated with decreased physical activity (34) and a decline in desire to maintain weight for the purpose of attracting a mate (6). In contrast, obese women may be less likely to marry (35). Our longitudinal findings suggest that both men and women who enter marriage are more likely to become obese, consistent with findings from another large, racially diverse sample of young adults (36). Moreover, we found that individuals who lived with romantic partners for a longer duration had higher likelihood of incident obesity suggesting that shared household environmental factors may contribute to changes in obesity.”

It’s an American study, but I’m pretty sure some of the mechanisms driving the results apply as well in other parts of the world.

September 25, 2011 Posted by | alcohol, Data, dating, Personal, Psychology, Studies | Leave a comment

A look into the past

Don’t really know what to say about this, so I’ll just post the video here:

September 25, 2011 Posted by | dating, History, Random stuff | Leave a comment

The neutrino velocity thing

Here’s the paper, go have fun if you’re into that kind of thing. Here’s one non-sensationalist take on it. I love how they’ve just put all this stuff ‘out there’ for everyone to see and criticise – open science is the only kind of science worth anything.

I have naturally no idea what’s the cause of the results, but my first guess would be the existence of some measurement error they’ve been unaware of. I think it’s a bit funny how a lot of ‘average Joes’ have decided to leave comments on the badastronomy post with more or less fleshed-out ideas as to what’s driving the results, probably posted after at most five minutes of thought on the matter – given that a lot of very, very smart people have spent a lot of time doing these tests and thinking long and hard for days, weeks, months about the test designs and how to improve them. Yeah, they most likely missed some source of uncertainty in the analysis, but you’re probably not the guy who’s going to figure out what it is. Most of the Average Joes commenting aren’t Swiss patent office clerks, and he thought about the stuff for years before he ‘went public’ anyway.

Oh yeah, remember to apply the Sagan Standard here. I know the journalists covering this sure aren’t.

September 23, 2011 Posted by | current affairs, Physics | Leave a comment


1. “In the conduct of life, habits count for more than maxims, because habit is a living maxim, becomes flesh and instinct. To reform one’s maxims is nothing: it is but to change the title of the book. To learn new habits is everything, for it is to reach the substance of life. Life is but a tissue of habits.” (Henri-Frédéric Amiel)

2. “I looked at her then to see if I could discern traces of what I had seen in the beginning. There were traces but only traces. Vestiges. Hints of a formerly intact mystery never to be returned to its original wholeness. “I know what you’re doing,” she said, “you are touring the ruins.”” (Donald Barthelme)

3. “Those who cavalierly reject the Theory of Evolution, as not adequately supported by facts, seem quite to forget that their own theory is supported by no facts at all.” (Herbert Spencer)

4. “Time: That which man is always trying to kill, but which ends in killing him.” (-ll-)

5. “Wise people are in want of nothing, and yet need many things. On the other hand, nothing is needed by fools, for they do not understand how to use anything, but are in want of everything.” (Chrysippus)

6. “Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.” (Jacques Barzun)

7. “There are ideal series of events which run parallel with the real ones. They rarely coincide.” (Novalis)

8. “the only rational way to fund retirement is to take people’s contributions, spend it now, and then write ourselves IOUs. Suggesting otherwise is heartless and is morally akin to setting seniors adrift on an iceflow.” (Commenter ‘Ibid’, here)

9. “Elites quite naturally define as the most important and admired qualities for a citizen those on which they themselves have concentrated.” (John Saul)

10. “It is impossible to write ancient history because we do not have enough sources and impossible to write modern history because we have too many.” (unsourced, but attributed Charles Péguy)

September 22, 2011 Posted by | Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment

Diabetes – some recent findings

1. From Aerobic Exercise Capacity and Pulmonary Function in Athletes With and Without Type 1 Diabetes, by Komatsu et al. (link):

“In this study, we have shown that athletes with type 1 diabetes have a Vo2peakmax [aerobic exercise capacity] similar to that of athletes without diabetes but a lower anaerobic threshold than that of athletes without diabetes.

In a previous study (6), we demonstrated that nonathletic type 1 diabetic patients have a lower Vo2peak max than healthy subjects. In the present study, we confirm these data in nonathletic type 1 diabetic patients, but the defect (low Vo2peak max) was not found in athletes with type 1 diabetes. These data are in accordance with a study (11) that compared 128 patients with long-duration type 1 diabetes and 36 healthy individuals. […]

All of the individuals in this study went to heart rate max frequency during the test. However, the type 1 diabetes sedentary group had lower maximum heart rate than the control group, as expected. This was an interesting finding and one in accordance with our previous data (6) in which the diabetic group showed lower maximum frequency during exercise than normal control subjects. This defect could be corrected with regular exercise since the diabetic athlete was able to achieve the same maximum heart rate as a normal athlete.

In this study, we also found that FEV1 [volume that has been exhaled at the end of the first second of forced expiration] was decreased in type 1 diabetic athletes compared with other groups. […] Abnormalities in lung elasticity behavior can be manifestations of widespread elastin and collagen abnormalities in type 1 diabetic patients (14). These alterations have been demonstrated in diabetes and are, in some respects, similar to those that occur during normal aging.”

I found the ‘lower anaerobic threshold’ particularly interesting as this threshold can probably be considered a significant limiting factor when you run (/half-)marathons and similar. If the threshold is lower, the inevitable buildup of lactic acid will start sooner or at a lower absolute activity level, meaning you simply can’t run as fast.

2. A follow-up on the All-Cause Mortality Trends in a Large Population-Based Cohort With Long-Standing Childhood-Onset Type 1 Diabetes study from ‘The Allegheny County Type 1 Diabetes Registry’, a previous version of which I’m pretty sure I’ve linked to before, has now been done, adding 9 more years of follow-up to the analysis. Here’s the link. Conclusions:

“Although survival has clearly improved, those with diabetes diagnosed most recently (1975–1979) still had amortality rate 5.6 times higher than that seen in the general population, revealing a continuing need for improvements in treatment and care, particularly for women and African Americans with type 1 diabetes.” […]

“Of note, now with a range of 28–43 years of type 1 diabetes duration, the risk of dying is 7 times higher than that of the local general population, with significant improvements in SMR [Standardized Mortality Ratios, US] for those with diabetes diagnosed most recently in this cohort.” […] This is the largest population-based type 1 diabetes cohort with at least 25 years of follow-up in the U.S. A recent population-based 20-year follow-up study in New Zealand showed the highest SMRs in individuals with type 1 diabetes diagnosed at age <30 (3.3 for men and 4.3 for women) (14). A nationwide Norwegian cohort with childhood-onset (age <15 years) type 1 diabetes recently reported SMRs of 3.9 (male) and 4.0 (female) after 20 years of follow-up (6).”

So what does this look like? The short version is this:

Graph number 3 directly above graphs the survival probability for the groups diagnosed during 65-69, 70-74 and 75-79; as can be seen quite clearly mortality is lower for the people diagnosed later in time, reflecting the progress that has taken place in treatment options and management of the disease. Note that these are not ‘historical figures’ – I got diagnosed in 87, just 8 years after the last of these cutoffs.

The US is quite different from the other countries analyzed in a few respects, in particular when it comes to the outcomes of the females: “The respective male-to-female mortality RRs [rate ratios, US] for these studies are 1.23 in New Zealand, 2.26 in Norway, and 1.29 in the U.K compared with 0.80 for our study. The reason for this discrepancy is unclear, but it appears that female sex completely lost its general survival advantage in our diabetes population. […] Women in our cohort die at a rate similar to that of men, a result warranting further exploration, as younger women die much less frequently than younger men in the general U.S. population.”

What about race, I hear you ask? Well: “Despite race being a significant predictor of mortality within the Allegheny County cohort (hazard ratio 3.2), no differences in SMR were seen by race, the African American SMR tending to be lower than the Caucasian SMR during follow-up (Fig. 2C). This seemingly contradictory result can be explained by the extremely high mortality rates seen in young African-Americans in the general population, particularly resulting from violent deaths (20)”

3. Changes in the Incidence of Lower Extremity Amputations in Individuals With and Without Diabetes in England Between 2004 and 2008, by Vamos et al. (link). From the study:

“RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS We identified all patients aged >16 years who underwent any nontraumatic amputation in England between 2004 and 2008 using national hospital activity data from all National Health Service hospitals. Age- and sex-specific incidence rates were calculated using the total diabetes population in England every year. To test for time trend, we fitted Poisson regression models.

RESULTS The absolute number of diabetes-related amputations increased by 14.7%, and the incidence decreased by 9.1%, from 27.5 to 25.0 per 10,000 people with diabetes, during the study period (P > 0.2 for both). The incidence of minor and major amputations did not significantly change (15.7–14.9 and 11.8–10.2 per 10,000 people with diabetes; P = 0.66 and P = 0.29, respectively). Poisson regression analysis showed no statistically significant change in diabetes-related amputation incidence over time (0.98 decrease per year [95% CI 0.93–1.02]; P = 0.12). Nondiabetes-related amputation incidence decreased from 13.6 to 11.9 per 100,000 people without diabetes (0.97 decrease by year [0.93–1.00]; P = 0.059). The relative risk of an individual with diabetes undergoing a lower extremity amputation was 20.3 in 2004 and 21.2 in 2008, compared with that of individuals without diabetes. […]

In summary, in this study we found no evidence that the incidence of amputations has significantly decreased over the last 5 years among people with diabetes in England. In contrast to the results from regional studies in England, the population burden of amputations increased in people with diabetes at a time when both the number and incidence of amputations decreased in the aging general population. There is strong evidence to support the fact that much of this burden is preventable through existing interventions, and our findings highlight the need to further improve foot care for people with diabetes.”

September 21, 2011 Posted by | Data, Diabetes, Epidemiology, Medicine | Leave a comment

A gem

I just found it earlier today. So do I link here, here or perhaps here? I don’t know yet, there’s much to explore and I haven’t spent a lot of time there yet. A longish quote from one of the ‘notes’ (which has more..):

““That is, from January 1926 through December 2002, when holding periods were 19 years or longer, the cumulative real return on stocks was never negative…”

How does one engage in extremely long investments? On a time-scale of centuries, investment is a difficult task, especially if one seeks to avoid erosion of returns by the costs of active management.

‘Unit Investment Trust (UIT) is a US investment company offering a fixed (unmanaged) portfolio of securities having a definite life.’

‘A closed-end fund is a collective investment scheme with a limited number of shares’

In long-term investments, one must become concerned about biases in the data used to make decisions. Many of these biases fall under the general rubric of “observer biases” – the canonical example being that stocks look like excellent investments if you only consider America’s stock market, where returns over long periods have been quite good. For example, if you had invested by tracking the major indices any time period from January 1926 through December 2002 and had held onto your investment for at least 19 years, you were guaranteed a positive real return. Of course, the specification of place (America) and time period (before the Depression and after the Internet bubble) should alert us that this guarantee may not hold elsewhere. Had a long-term investor in the middle of the 19th century decided to invest in a large up-and-coming country with a booming economy and strong military (much like the United States has been for much of the 20th century), they would have reaped excellent returns. That is, until the hyperinflation of the Wiemar Republic. Should their returns have survived the inflation and imposition of a new currency, then the destruction of the 3rd Reich would surely have rendered their shares and Reichmarks worthless. Similarly for another up-and-coming nation – Japan. Mention of Russia need not even be made.

Clearly, diversifying among companies in a sector, or even sectors in a national economy is not enough. Disaster can strike an entire nation. Rosy returns for stocks quietly ignore those bloody years in which exchanges plunged thousands of percent in real terms, and whose records burned in the flames of war. Over a timespan of a century, it is impossible to know whether such destruction will be visited on a given country or even whether it will still exist as a unit. How could Germany, the preeminent power on the Continent, with a burgeoning navy rivaling Britain’s, with the famous Prussian military and Junkers, with an effective industrial economy still famed for the quality of its mechanisms, and with a large homogeneous population of hardy people possibly fall so low as to be utterly conquered? And by the United States and others, for that matter? How could Japan, with its fanatical warriors and equally fanatical populace, its massive fleet and some of the best airplanes in the world – a combination that had humbled Russia, that had occupied Korea for nigh on 40 years, which easily set up puppet governments in Manchuria and China when and where it pleased – how could it have been defeated so wretchedly as to see its population literally decimated and its governance wholly supplanted? How could a god be dethroned?

It is perhaps not too much to say that investors in the United States, who say that the Treasury Bond has never failed to be redeemed and that the United States can never fall, are perhaps overconfident in their assessment. Inflation need not be hyper to cause losses. Greater nations have been destroyed quickly. Who remembers the days when the Dutch fought the English and the French to a standstill and ruled over the shipping lanes? Remember that Nineveh is one with the dust.

In short, our data on returns is biased. This bias indicates that stocks and cash are much more risky than most people think, and that this risk inheres in exogenous shocks to economies – it may seem odd to invest globally, in multiple currencies, just to avoid the rare black swans of total war and hyperinflation. But these risks are catastrophic risks. Even one may be too many.

This risk is more general. Governments can die, and so their bonds and other instruments (such as cash) rendered worthless; how many governments have died or defaulted over the last century? Many. The default assumption must be that the governments with good credit, who are not in that number, may simply have been lucky. And luck runs out.”

Here’s another:

“Why IQ doesn’t matter and how points mislead

One common anti-IQ arguments is that IQ does nothing and may be actively harmful past 120 or 130 or so; the statistical evidence is there to support a loss of correlation with success, and commentators can adduce William Sidis if they don’t themselves know any such ‘slackers’, or the Terman report’s similar findings.

This is a reasonable objection. But it is rarely proffered by people really familiar with IQ, who also rarely respond to it. Why? I believe they have an intuitive understanding that IQ is a percentile ranking, not an absolute measurement.

It is plausible that the 20 points separating 100 and 120 represents far more cognitive power and ability than that separating 120 and 140, or 140 and 160. To move from 100 to 120, one must surpass roughly 20% of the population; to move from 120 to 140 requires surpassing a smaller percentage, and 140–160 smaller yet.

Similarly it should make us wonder how much absolute ability is being measured at the upper ranges when we reflect that, while adult IQs are stable over years, they are unstable in the short-term and test results can vary dramatically even if there is no distorting factors like emotional disturbance or varying caffeine consumption.

Another thought: the kids in your local special ed program mentally closer to chimpanzees, or to Albert Einstein/Terence Tao? Pondering all the things we expect even special ed kids to learn (eg. language), I think those kids are closer to Einstein than monkeys.

And if retarded kids are closer to Einstein that the smartest non-human animal, that indicates human intelligence is very ‘narrow’, and that there is a vast spectrum of stupidity stretching below us all the way down to viruses (which only ‘learn’ through evolution).”

Incidentally, the 20 percent number is somewhat off – if you assume IQ is ~N(100,15), which is pretty standard, then by going from 100 to 120 you will pass by ~40 percent of all individuals, not 20. If you don’t have a good sense of the scale here, it’s a useful rule of thumb to know that ~2/3rds of the observations of a normally distributed variable will be within one standard deviation of the mean. When you jump from 120 to 140, you pass 8,7 percent of all humans, assuming ~N(100,15), a much smaller group of people.

But yeah, as to the rest of it, I have always had some problems with figuring out how to interpret IQ differences, in terms of how differences in IQ translates to differences in ‘human computing power’. And reading the above, it makes perfect sense that I’ve had problems with this, because that’s not easy at all. I wasn’t really thinking about the fact that the variable is at least as much about ordering the humans as it is about measuring the size of the CPU. That’s probably in part because I have an IQ much lower than Gwern.

September 20, 2011 Posted by | blogs, Economics, IQ, Random stuff | 4 Comments


Link. I probably would, but I don’t think of ‘dating my female self’ as an anywhere near optimal solution. She should be significantly different on at least some metrics. (Related: Here’s where I spent the last (20?) minutes before I decided to take a break which ended up in me posting this.)

September 20, 2011 Posted by | Random stuff | Leave a comment

Wikipedia articles of interest

1. Tuskegee syphilis experiment.

“The Tuskegee syphilis experiment[1] (also known as the Tuskegee syphilis study or Public Health Service syphilis study) was an infamous clinical study conducted between 1932 and 1972 in Tuskegee, Alabama by the U.S. Public Health Service to study the natural progression of untreated syphilis in poor, rural black men who thought they were receiving free health care from the U.S. government.[1]

The Public Health Service, working with the Tuskegee Institute, began the study in 1932. Investigators enrolled in the study a total of 600 impoverished, African-American sharecroppers from Macon County, Alabama; 399 who had previously contracted syphilis before the study began, and 201 without the disease. For participating in the study, the men were given free medical care, meals, and free burial insurance. They were never told they had syphilis, nor were they ever treated for it. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the men were told they were being treated for “bad blood,” a local term used to describe several illnesses, including syphilis, anemia and fatigue.

The 40-year study was controversial for reasons related to ethical standards; primarily because researchers knowingly failed to treat patients appropriately after the 1940s validation of penicillin as an effective cure for the disease they were studying. Revelation of study failures by a whistleblower led to major changes in U.S. law and regulation on the protection of participants in clinical studies. Now studies require informed consent (with exceptions possible for U.S. Federal agencies which can be kept secret by Executive Order[2]), communication of diagnosis, and accurate reporting of test results.[3]

By 1947, penicillin had become the standard treatment for syphilis. Choices available to the doctors involved in the study might have included treating all syphilitic subjects and closing the study, or splitting off a control group for testing with penicillin. Instead, the Tuskegee scientists continued the study without treating any participants and withholding penicillin and information about it from the patients. In addition, scientists prevented participants from accessing syphilis treatment programs available to others in the area.[4] The study continued, under numerous US Public Health Service supervisors, until 1972, when a leak to the press eventually resulted in its termination. The victims of the study included numerous men who died of syphilis, wives who contracted the disease, and children born with congenital syphilis.[5] […]

By the end of the study in 1972, only 74 of the test subjects were alive. Of the original 399 men, 28 had died of syphilis, 100 were dead of related complications, 40 of their wives had been infected and 19 of their children were born with congenital syphilis.” […]

“In October 2010 it was revealed that in Guatemala, Public Health Service doctors went even further. It was reported that from 1946 to 1948, American doctors deliberately infected prisoners, soldiers, and patients in a mental hospital with syphilis and, in some cases, gonorrhea, with the cooperation of some Guatemalan health ministries and officials. A total of 696 men and women were exposed to syphilis without the informed consent of the subjects. When the subjects contracted the disease they were given antibiotics though it is unclear if all infected parties were cured.[15]” (here’s a relevant link link to that story)

2. Containerization. File under: Stuff we don’t think about even though we probably should. A few quotes:

“As of 2009 approximately 90% of non-bulk cargo worldwide is moved by containers stacked on transport ships;[13] 26% of all container transhipment is carried out in China.[14] For example in 2009 there were 105,976,701 transhipments in China (both international and coastal; excluding Hong Kong), 21,040,096 in Hong Kong (which is listed separately), and only 34,299,572 in the United States. In 2005 some 18 million containers made over 200 million trips per year. […]

However, few initially foresaw the extent of the influence of containerization on the shipping industry. In the 1950s Harvard University economist Benjamin Chinitz predicted that containerization would benefit New York by allowing it to ship its industrial goods more cheaply to the Southern United States than other areas, but did not anticipate that containerization might make it cheaper to import such goods from abroad. Most economic studies of containerization merely assumed that shipping companies would begin to replace older forms of transportation with containerization, but did not predict that the process of containerization itself would have a more direct influence on the choice of producers and increase the total volume of trade.[10]

The widespread use of ISO standard containers has driven modifications in other freight-moving standards, gradually forcing removable truck bodies or swap bodies into standard sizes and shapes (though without the strength needed to be stacked), and changing completely the worldwide use of freight pallets that fit into ISO containers or into commercial vehicles.

Improved cargo security is also an important benefit of containerization. The cargo is not visible to the casual viewer and thus is less likely to be stolen; the doors of the containers are usually sealed so that tampering is more evident. Some containers are fitted with electronic monitoring devices and can be remotely monitored for changes in air pressure, which happens when the doors are opened. This reduced the thefts that had long plagued the shipping industry.

Use of the same basic sizes of containers across the globe has lessened the problems caused by incompatible rail gauge sizes in different countries. The majority of the rail networks in the world operate on a 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) gauge track known as standard gauge, but many countries (such as Russia, India, Finland, and Lithuania) use broader gauges, while many others in Africa and South America use narrower gauges on their networks. The use of container trains in all these countries makes trans-shipment between different gauge trains easier.”

3. Praetorian Guard. These guys had a lot of power – the Roman Emperors: Caligula, Galba, Pertinax, Elagabalus, Balbinus, Pupienus and Aurelian were all simply murdered by the Praetorian Guard; some of the others also died more or less because of the actions of some of the members of the Guard. And of course lots of those emperors who didn’t get killed were in power more or less because the Guard did not disapprove too strongly.

4. Battle of Trafalgar.

5. Wheat leaf rust. “Wheat leaf rust, is fungal disease that effects wheat, barley and rye stems, leaves and grains. In temperate zones it is destructive on winter wheat because the pathogen overwinters. Infections can lead up to 20% yield loss – exacerbated by dying leaves which fertilize the fungus.”

Imagine the food price- and nutritional consequenses of a global 20 % reduction of wheat production over, say, a five year period. Or (worse), such a reduction in rice production. In an alternative universe, some child right now sits in a classroom with no knowledge of Hitler, because he’s spent the history lessons learning about the horrors of the great global outbreak of Claviceps purpurea in 1939.

September 20, 2011 Posted by | Biology, Botany, History, Wikipedia | Leave a comment

Chess is complicated

“When I started playing 1.c4 on a regular basis, I did not dedicate any special attention to this variation [Reversed Dragon; 1.c4 e5, 2.g3 Nf6, 3.Bg2 d5, 4.cxd5 Nxd5]. My logic was quite simple: since I had excellent results playing the Sicilian Dragon with Black, how could I possibly have any problems playing the same opening with reversed colours and a whole extra tempo?

Practical experience quickly proved me wrong. Instead of pleasant one-sided games, I frequently found myself in enormously complicated situations that were very difficult to handle over-the-board. […]

I decided to dedicate a few weeks to a thorough analysis of this variation. After that I was pleasantly surprised to note that the competitive situation turned 180 degrees – the resulting positions continued to be complicated, but now it was my opponents who ran into trouble without any obvious reason or, in some cases, could not remember what they had looked at during their three hours of pre-game preparation.” (my italics)

From the book he later decided to write on the subject. Well, it has stuff on a bit more than just that specific line, there are 33 chapters after all. If you read them all and then sit down to play a game with the white pieces starting out confidently with 1.c4, thinking that now you must know everything there is to know about the English Opening, you’ll be out of book by move 1 if your opponent doesn’t play 1…e5. Of course there’s another one covering the other responses. Wait, did I say one? There’s a reason why Grandmasters never lose to a beginner.

In other news, the FIDE World Cup is entering its final phase, the last two games of the final and the match for third place will be played tomorrow and Monday. You can follow them here if you’re so inclined. Judging from my experience today, I’d say they could have picked much better commentators than they have. Some of the stuff today was the worst chess commentary I’ve ever heard online. Then again, maybe that’s just because I’ve been accustomed to commentary by guys like Seirawan (and Svidler, I remember Svidler commenting on a live game at some point, that was brilliant! I think it may have been one of the games of the Karpov-Kasparov mini-match in Valencia, 2009..) who does this exceptionally well.

September 17, 2011 Posted by | Chess | 2 Comments

Teach both?

…nah, probably a bad idea.


September 15, 2011 Posted by | comics | Leave a comment

Election stuff (reposts, ect.)

My recent post on the voting decision.

[A spaceship has just reached Earth…]
“A hatchway opened, crashed down through the Harrods Food Halls, demolished Harvey Nichols, and with a final grinding scream of tortured architecture, toppled the Sheraton Park Tower. After a long, heart-stopping moment of internal crashes and grumbles of rending machinery, there marched from it, down the ramp, an immense silver robot, a hundred feet tall.
It held up a hand.
“I come in peace,” it said, adding after a long moment of further grinding, “take me to your Lizard.”
Ford Prefect, of course, had an explanation for this, as he sat with Arthur and watched the nonstop frenetic news reports on television, none of which had anything to say other than to record that the thing had done this amount of damage which was valued at that amount of billions of pounds and had killed this totally other number of people, and then say it again, because the robot was doing nothing more than standing there, swaying very slightly, and emitting short incomprehensible error messages.
“It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see…”
“You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?”
“No,” said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, “nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”
“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”
“I did,” said ford. “It is.”
“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t the people get rid of the lizards?”
“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”
“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”
“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?”
“I said,” said Ford, with an increasing air of urgency creeping into his voice, “have you got any gin?”
“I’ll look. Tell me about the lizards.”
Ford shrugged again.
“Some people say that the lizards are the best thing that ever happened to them,” he said. “They’re completely wrong of course, completely and utterly wrong, but someone’s got to say it.””

(here’s the book)

Some stuff from a recent post:

“democracy made it possible to have status games where people didn’t argue about religion and politics started to matter a lot when it came to tribal affiliation. As the power of the state grew, handling more and more stuff, dealing with all kinds of related – and unrelated – stuff, it became a lot easier to use political cues as tribal markers. Political discussions got both complex enough for people to use discussion performance as an ability and loyalty signal, and the matters the politicians dealt with became important enough to merit people’s attention, at least in theory.

So people started telling their children both which god to believe in and which politician to vote for. They told their children. And they spent a lot of time arguing with other people, the other people who’d found out that ‘politics is the new religion’.

Some people enjoy political debates. Perhaps they like the mental gymnastics that some other people might get by dealing with mathematics or playing chess. Perhaps they think their opinion is important, that other people care about it. Maybe they think that they can change other people’s minds and thereby support the group by converting others to group X, just as they’re told to do by their politicians (and priests).

A lot of political views have an important value as a signal about which kind of person you are and/or which kind of person you’d like to be. Part of why you dislike the ‘opponent’ is that you disagree with him, but that’s not really all there’s to it. It’s also that you don’t trust him. He didn’t bow to Huitzilopochtli. His political views might have no influence on anything relevant to your relationship; you might be perfectly able to meet with him, have a long talk with him about his life, his family, his work, his hobbies – and you might end up being his best friend. Only that’s usually not how it goes, because when you hear about that ‘troublesome’ view on ‘the environment’/’god’/’fiscal sustainability’ you tend to make the ‘troublesome’ views relevant, because – he didn’t bow to Huitzilopochtli. Some people overcome politics by finding another individual with the same views or views which are dissimilar but unimportant, because their parents taught them the magic of ‘you should be able to be friends with everybody’ – which works for both until they meet a guy who bows to Huitzilopochtli. He will not be friends with them until they bow to Huitzilopochtli, and just a bow usually isn’t enough. So they have a tribe too which they’re forced into, even if they’d like not to be tribes members at all.

It’s not that political views matter in the big picture. Your political views that is. They don’t, they really don’t. But they matter in the small picture. Once a societal norm is firmly established it tends to get a life of its own. So people talk about windmills and fat taxes and public pension schemes instead of whether they should pray to Ares or Dionysus. If you talk about it many hours each year, you watch news and so on much of which is also just political posturing and games, then to actually go to the election booth on election day and cast your vote isn’t really a big deal. Also, politicians like voters more than supporters who don’t vote, just like priests like believers who give money to the church more than believers who don’t, so there’s consensus in the tribe that voting is the correct behavior, and if you don’t vote, you don’t bow to Huitzilopochtli and then you’d better have a good explanation.”

I should probably link to this one too (in Danish). And maybe this and this as well (in English). Yeah, a bit snarky, I know: “The illusion of control is the tendency for people to overestimate their ability to control events, for instance to feel that they control outcomes that they demonstrably have no influence over.”

No, in case you were wondering this post didn’t take long to write, it was just adding text and links from bookmarks collected at random points in time. I’ve never spent less time dealing with an election. Not wasting my time with this stuff was a good idea.

September 14, 2011 Posted by | politics, voting | Leave a comment

Some numbers

I spent a bit of time at Statistikbanken (Statbank Denmark) yesterday, below are some numbers from it that might be of interest. When you click the link you get to the front page of the site – now, if you look to the right there’s a small Union Jack which says ‘English’ if you hover over it. Click this and you get to the English version of the site. I don’t think all of the stuff at the Danish version of the site has been translated at the English link – but a lot of stuff has, so if you’re a foreigner curious about Denmark and the Danes, go take a look..

i. This part contains data from ‘KRHFU1: Befolkningens højeste fuldførte uddannelse (15-69 år) efter område, herkomst, uddannelse alder og køn’.

In 2010, when looking at the age segment of Danes who were 30-34 years old, 20494 Danish males and 22812 Danish females had as the highest achieved education level completed a ‘long-cycle higher education’ (I think this is the term they use in the English version of the data; in Danish it’s just ‘lang videregående uddannelse’. It corresponds to an education level above BA-level but below PhD-level, i.e. Master’s Degree or equivalent). Notice that more females than males at that age has completed this level of education. This is also true after you correct for the fact that there are more males than females in that age segment of the population; in total, there were 177078 males and 176291 females in that age segment of the Danish population. In terms of percentages of the total population in the specific age segment, 11,6 % of the males and 12,9 % of the females at the age of 30-34 had completed a long-cycle higher education in 2010 – the gender difference is about 10 percent.

Now, a funny thing happens when you compare these numbers to the age segment of Danes at the age of 65-69 (people who’ve just retired). In that sample, 9655 males and 3818 females have a long-cycle higher education – out of 146029
males and 152812 females. In that sample, 6,6 % of the males and just 2,5 % of the females have a long-cycle higher education – males in that age group are more than 2,5 times as likely to have a high education than females.

How does it look when you include the age groups in between those two? Like this:

More females than males get a long education today and it’s been that way for at least 10-15 years.

ii. This part contains data from ‘Folketal pr. 1. januar efter tid, alder og køn’ and ‘KM6: Befolkningen 1 januar efter kommune, køn, alder og folkekirkemedlemsskab’

(red: females, blue: males. The x-axis is age, the y-axis is the percentage of each age group who are members of Folkekirken)

So I took out the number of male and female members of Folkekirken at the ages of 1-80 and divided by the total number of Danes in the specific age-group – this gives a measure of how big a percentage of each age group is a member of Folkekirken (Danish National Church). It seems that there are some age cycles here. I did a quick logical test in Excel to get an overview of how the membership rate changes from age group to age group. At the ages of 1-15 years, membership grows ‘every year’ (2-year olds are more likely to be members than 1-year olds, ect.). At the age group of people 18-27 years old, membership drops ‘every year’. Between 30-43 it pretty much grows every year again, then it stabilizes around the new level. For people above the age of 55, it pretty much grows every year again. I decided to not include people above the age of 80 because nothing much of interest happens there; as should be clear from the graph this age segment has by far the highest membership rates and more than 9 out of 10 are members. Remember when interpreting the relatively low membership of children to the left of the graph and the membership growth of the 1-15 years old that part of this is probably because of the relatively higher fertility of Muslim immigrants (as opposed to fewer atheist children).

iii. This part contains data from ‘FAM55N: Husstande pr. 1. januar efter kommune/region, husstandstype og husstandsstørrelse’. Every time some econ blog posts something about the household income development over time (like this one) I also see a commenter asking: ‘but what about household size?’ What I very rarely see is a commenter linking to actual data on household size. This puzzles me every time, because at least in Denmark that kind of data actually isn’t all that hard to get your hands on. Here’s a quick run from Statistikbanken:

I omitted some of the classes because otherwise it quickly gets very messy and they don’t add much to the big picture anyway, this is why the numbers don’t quite add up to the total population – but the table does include far most Danes (the 2011 numbers include 4,92 million people, the 1986 numbers 4,42 million people). The number of single person households with one male or one female living alone has increased somewhat. If you wanted to do it completely right, you’d add all the omitted classes as well before making the calculation, but in terms of the people in the sample (which covers ~ 90% of all Danes) the percentage of people living in single person households went up from 16,2 % to 20,3 %. In terms of the percentage of all households that are single person households, the number is of course much higher. In 1986, 35,6 % of all households (in the sample) were single person households, in 2011 it was 41,5 %. The number has gone up, but less than I’d thought.

I found it interesting that the number of households with a married couple and 3-4 inhabitants altogether (the most likely constellation is a married couple plus 1 or 2 children) has decreased significantly and movement from ‘married couples’ to ‘other couples’ does not explain all of it. Is the driver an increase in the divorce rate or lower fertility rate? I don’t know.

September 14, 2011 Posted by | Data, Demographics, Economics, education | Leave a comment

Anti-blasphemy laws by region

I found it a bit interesting that if you live in a random European country, you’re five times as likely to be living in a country where anti-blasphemy laws are enforced than if you live in a random country in Sub-Saharan Africa. There are lots of reasons one could come up with that might help explain that difference and of course not all the laws in question are similar, but no matter how you set out to explain it, I still think it’s thoughtprovoking. The figure is from Pew.

September 13, 2011 Posted by | Data, Religion | Leave a comment

A reminder

From Rochefoucauld, On conversation :

“The reason why so few persons are agreeable in conversation is that each thinks more of what he desires to say, than of what the others say, and that we make bad listeners when we want to speak. […]

To please others we should talk on subjects they like and that interest them, avoid disputes upon indifferent matters, seldom ask questions, and never let them see that we pretend to be better informed than they are. […]

Above all things we should avoid often talking of ourselves and giving ourselves as an example; nothing is more tiresome than a man who quotes himself for everything. […]

We should never say anything with an air of authority, nor show any superiority of mind. We should avoid far-fetched expressions, expressions hard or forced, and never let words be grander than the matter. […]

We are sure to displease when we speak too long and too often of one subject, and when we try to turn the conversation upon subjects that we think more instructive than others, we should enter indifferently upon every subject that is agreeable to others, stopping where they wish, and avoiding all they do not agree with. […]

We should observe the place, the occasion, the temper in which we find the person who listens to us, for if there is much art in speaking to the purpose, there is no less in knowing when to be silent. […]

Those who lay down rules too often break them, and the safest we are able to give is to listen much, to speak little, and to say nothing that will give ground for regret.”

A Rochefoucauld-quote not included in the version quoted which I like very much is this: “Il faut écouter ceux qui parlent, si on veut en être écouté.” In conversation, like in so many other areas of human interaction, reciprocity is important.

September 12, 2011 Posted by | Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment