Monday Miscellany

On coining new words:

The book coins dozens of new terms for the male member, like “thundertube,” “seedstick” and the “Malcolm Gladwell…”

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On a related topic, Tim Harford highlights a paper called “Male Organ and Economic Growth: Does Size Matter?” That’s right, a cross-country regression on how penis size correlates with economic outcomes over time. Westling, the author, notes that 13.5 cm (5.3 in) is “the GDP maximising size.” It’s a joke yes, but it’s also a serious commentary on interpreting such cross-country regressions. Harford continues:

Well, well. What are we to make of this? I asked Westling how he would characterise his research paper, and he suggested the term “sardonic economics” – and, he added, “Scientifically, this paper is probably as worthless as much of contemporary economics.”

(As an aside, in my last year as an undergrad I wrote my political science thesis doing this sort of cross-country comparison, except I didn’t even do a regression… but the program I was in did not have strong quantitative training.)

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This week Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science column features a great, simple explanation of adjustment by stratification. I’ve actually used this same hypothetical example (lung cancer with drinking alcohol, or with drinking coffee) to explain the concept to friends before. If you’ve ever struggled to explain this sort of thing to someone who isn’t an epidemiologist (or similarly trained researcher) it’s a great read: “Any set of figures needs adjusting before it can be usefully reported.”

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There’s an entire genre of New York Times articles that should all be subtitled “What you need to know if you make $500k or more each year.” The latest is “Planning Summer Breaks with an Eye on College Essays.” Reminds me of the one about taking private jets to summer camp

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The always insightful and often disheartening “Sociological Images” blog notes how advertising can reinforce stereotypes about Africa by doing things like erasing Nairobi. I think of this too every time I see a picture of the Pyramids at Giza. If you’ve been, you know that they’re actually surrounded on three sides by city — which isn’t exactly picturesque. But in postcards they’re always shown from one angle, and in movies the ‘ugly stuff’ (ie, where real people live) is often photoshopped out.

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08 2011

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