Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for December 16th, 2006

Smarter people become vegetarian

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Interesting:

As a child’s IQ rises, his taste for meat in adulthood declines, a new study suggests.

British researchers have found that children’s IQ predicts their likelihood of becoming vegetarians as young adults — lowering their risk for cardiovascular disease in the process. The finding could explain the link between smarts and better health, the investigators say.

“Brighter people tend to have healthier dietary habits,” concluded lead author Catharine Gale, a senior research fellow at the MRC Epidemiology Resource Centre of the University of Southampton and Southampton General Hospital.

Recent studies suggest that vegetarianism may be associated with lower cholesterol, reduced risk of obesity and heart disease. This might explain why children with high IQs tend to have a lower risk of heart disease in later life.

The report is published in the Dec. 15 online edition of the British Medical Journal.

“We know from other studies that brighter children tend to behave in a healthier fashion as adults — they’re less likely to smoke, less likely to be overweight, less likely to have high blood pressure and more likely to take strenuous exercise,” Gale said. “This study provides further evidence that people with a higher IQ tend to have a healthier lifestyle.”

In the study, Gale’s team collected data on nearly 8,200 men and women aged 30, whose IQ had been tested when they were 10 years of age.

“Children who scored higher on IQ tests at age 10 were more likely than those who got lower scores to report that they were vegetarian at the age of 30,” Gale said.

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Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2006 at 7:10 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health

The Great Influenza Pandemic

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I previously mentioned the influenza pandemic of 1918-19 in passing. To get a real understanding of what it was like, I highly recommend John M. Barry’s The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, deadlier by far than the Black Death of the Middle Ages.

Here’s what one survivor recently said:

At the height of the flu pandemic in 1918, William H. Sardo Jr. remembers the pine caskets stacked in the living room of his family’s house, a funeral home in Washington, D.C.

The city had slowed to a near halt. Schools were closed. Church services were banned. The federal government limited its hours of operation. People were dying — some who took ill in the morning were dead by night.

“That’s how quickly it happened,” said Sardo, 94, who lives in an assisted living facility just outside the nation’s capital. “They disappeared from the face of the earth.”

Sardo is among the last survivors of the 1918 flu pandemic. Their stories offer a glimpse at the forgotten history of one of the world’s worst plagues, when the virus killed at least 50 million people and perhaps as many as 100 million.

More than 600,000 people in the United States died of what was then called “Spanish Influenza.” The flu seemed to be particularly lethal for otherwise healthy young adults, many of whom suffocated from the buildup of liquids in their lungs.

In the United States, the first reported cases surfaced at an Army camp in Kansas as World War I began winding down. The virus quickly spread among soldiers at U.S. camps and in the trenches of Europe. It paralyzed many communities as it circled the world.

In the District of Columbia, the first recorded influenza death came on Sept. 21, 1918. The victim, a 24-year-old railroad worker, had been exposed in New York four days earlier. The flu swept through the nation’s capital, which had attracted thousands of soldiers and war workers. By the time the pandemic had subsided, at least 30,000 people had become ill and 3,000 had died in the city.

Among the infected was Sardo, who was 6 years old at the time.

He remembers little of his illness but recalls that his mother was terrified.

“They kept me well separated from everybody,” said Sardo, who lived with his parents, two brothers and three other family members. His family quarantined him in the bedroom he had shared with his brother. Everyone in the family wore masks.

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Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2006 at 7:07 pm

Posted in Daily life, Medical

A patriotic moment

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Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2006 at 6:46 pm

Posted in Art, Video

Habits 7.1

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I mentioned earlier that you could download a PDF intended to help in reading and applying the Seven Habits that Stephen Covey described. I’ve corrected a couple of typos and clarified a passage, so you might want to download the new version.

Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2006 at 6:43 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Stern disclaimer

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Reported in New Scientist:

Legal warnings and disclaimers on web pages must be among the most widely ignored texts in the history of human communication — which gives their composers a certain creative freedom. We particularly like the one that Dik Allison found at http://www.derbyshireguide.co.uk, which reads as follows:

This information is provided to the best of our knowledge. We have collected and collated it in good faith but we are not responsible for its accuracy and anyone intending to make use of this information is advised to check it out.

Well that’s the legal stuff sorted.

Should you decline to comply with this warning, a leather-winged demon of the night will soar from the deep malevolent caverns of the white peak into the shadowy moonlit sky and, with a thirst for blood on its salivating fangs, search the very threads of time for the throbbing of your heartbeat. Just thought you’d want to know that.

Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2006 at 6:31 pm

Posted in Daily life

Soldiers calling for withdrawal from Iraq

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From the Nation:

For the first time since Vietnam, an organized, robust movement of active-duty US military personnel has publicly surfaced to oppose a war in which they are serving. Those involved plan to petition Congress to withdraw American troops from Iraq. (Note: A complete version of this report will appear next week in the print and online editions of The Nation.)

After appearing only seven weeks ago on the Internet, the Appeal for Redress, brainchild of 29-year-old Navy seaman Jonathan Hutto, has already been signed by nearly 1,000 US soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen, including dozens of officers–most of whom are on active duty. Not since 1969, when some 1,300 active-duty military personnel signed an open letter in the New York Times opposing the war in Vietnam, has there been such a dramatic barometer of rising military dissent.

Interviews with two dozen signers of the Appeal reveal a mix of motives for opposing the war: ideological, practical, strategic and moral. But all those interviewed agree that it is time to start withdrawing the troops. Coming from an all-volunteer military, the Appeal was called “unprecedented” by Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice.

The Nation spoke with rank-and-file personnel as well as high-ranking officers–some on the Iraqi front lines, others at domestic and offshore US military bases–who have signed the Appeal. All of their names will be made available to Congress when the Appeal is presented in mid-January. Signers have been assured they are sending a communication to Congress protected under the Military Whistleblower Protection Act. The Pentagon is powerless to take official reprisals and has said that as long as active-duty personnel are not in uniform or on duty, they are free to express their views to Congress.

There are of course other, subtler risks involved. The military command exercises enormous power through individual reviews, promotions and assignments. But that hasn’t kept a number of signers from going public with their dissent.

Navy Lieut. Cmdr. Mark Dearden of San Diego, for example, enlisted in 1997 and is still pondering the possibility of a lifetime career. “So this was a very difficult decision for me to come to. I don’t take this decision lightly,” he says. But after two “tough” deployments in Iraq, Dearden says signing the Appeal was not only the right thing to do but also gave him personal “closure.”

“I’m expressing a right of people in the military to contact their elected representatives, and I have done nothing illegal or disrespectful,” Dearden adds.

Other interviews with active-duty soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen who have signed the Appeal for Redress reveal an array of motivations. Here are excerpts:

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2006 at 5:13 pm

Bush and his recess appointments

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Typical late Friday sneak-it-through move. Via Talking Points Memo:

A surprise late-afternoon announcement Friday that J. Timothy Griffin will become the new U. S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas drew the ire of U. S. Sen. Mark Pryor, whose spokesman said the maneuver amounts to “basically circumventing the normal process.”

“We think the people of the Eastern District of Arkansas deserve to know who their U. S. attorney is,” Michael Teague, Pryor’s spokesman, said shortly after learning that U. S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales made the appointment, which takes effect Wednesday.

“The proper way to do this is in the Senate Judiciary Committee, [where ] several things are done to make sure that whoever fills this post is qualified.”

The announcement caught even the current U. S. attorney, Bud Cummins, off guard as he hiked through deer woods with his son.

Shortly after being notified that the announcement was being moved up, Cummins said over a cell phone in the woods that he had been planning to announce next week that his resignation — in the works for several months — would be effective Wednesday.

As he has in the past few months, the 2001 Bush nominee declined to reveal any specific plans for his future except to say, “I’m going to pursue opportunities in the private sector.”

Cummins also said, “It’s been a great honor to serve…. I appreciate President Bush giving me this opportunity to serve in this exciting time.”

Griffin, 34, once an aide to former presidential adviser Karl Rove, has been working as a “special assistant” under Cummins for several months. He said that because he won’t officially take over until Wednesday, he didn’t want to comment on the announcement.

Teague said he believes the timing of the announcement might have had something to do with Pryor’s telephone calls this week with various officials, including conversations earlier Friday with Gonzales himself. Pryor made the calls in response to reporters’ queries about Cummins’ departure and rumors that Griffin was either going to be nominated soon or moved into office through a congressional recess appointment.

“No one would be straight with us and let us get to the bottom of this,” Teague said.

He said Griffin called Pryor “a couple of months ago,” apparently to get a feel for whether the Democratic senator would support his nomination, but Pryor wouldn’t commit to anything.

Normally, the White House requests names of potential replacements for U. S. attorneys and other positions from the state’s senators or congressmen, and then chooses a nominee from among those names. The nominee then must undergo a background check and Senate confirmation — which could be tough for Griffin in the new Democrat-controlled body. Griffin, a longtime behind-the-scenes Republican operative and political strategist, has worked for the Republican National Committee.

“If he was the nominee, potentially the senator would support him, but the way they’re doing it, it is basically circumventing the process,” Teague complained. “There are 100 U. S. attorneys around the country. The question is, what makes this one different ? The U. S. marshal [candidate, J. R. Howard, also for the Eastern District of Arkansas ] is going through the process. Why isn’t the U. S. attorney ?”

Teague noted that an interim appointment could keep Griffin at the helm of the top prosecutor’s post in the state’s Eastern District for the two years remaining in Bush’s term.

“This process circumvents a way to find out about his legal background,” Teague said. “We know about his political background, which is unbalanced. If he’s just interim for the next two years, every decision he makes during that time is going to be somewhat suspect.”

The state’s only Republican congressman, John Boozman, said last month that he hadn’t been asked to submit names to replace Cummins.

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Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2006 at 5:10 pm

I wonder if it would have been blamed on terrorists

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Probably:

A watchdog group charges a nuclear warhead nearly exploded in Texas when it was being dismantled at the government’s Pantex facility near Amarillo.

The Project on Government Oversight says it has been told by knowledgeable experts that the warhead nearly detonated in 2005 because an unsafe amount of pressure was applied while it was being disassembled, The Austin American-Statesman reports.

The U.S. Energy Department fined the plant’s operators $110,000 last month.

An investigator for Project on Government Oversight says the weapon involved was a W-56 warhead with 100 times the destructive power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

The watchdog group says the problem was caused in part by technicians at the plant being required to work up to 72 hours each week.

They released an anonymous letter, reportedly sent by Pantex employees, warning that long hours and efforts to increase output were causing dangerous conditions at the plant.

A spokesperson for the Energy Department declined to respond to safety complaints in the letter.

Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2006 at 3:25 pm

And some nice philosophy games

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Play away and see how strong your philosophical intuition is.

Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2006 at 3:21 pm

Posted in Games

Typing game

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Via Lifehacker, this little typing-practice game Word Shoot.

Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2006 at 3:10 pm

Posted in Daily life, Games

Good story about a home exchange

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I am getting to where I get intense enjoyment from reading about something that worked out well. OTOH, I find it extremely hard now to read about the environment, species extinction, injustice, death… There’s so much of it. I still haven’t been able to read an article about the extinction of the Yangtze River dolphin, a gentle creature wiped out by pollution — from humans, naturally.

So I find something like this, and I feel much better for a while:

First Home Swap to New Zealand: Worth the Bum-Numbing Airplane Ride

Dan & Jane may have exchanged being ‘sleepless in Seattle’ for an equally sleepless 12 hour flight to New Zealand but, from their report on their first home swap below, it was definitely worth the long trip!

‘Well our first, and for sure not last, home exchange, is behind us and it was swell! Any minor concerns we might have had concerning exchanging went up in a puff of smoke. We had the pleasure of meeting our exchange partners as our arrival and their departure overlapped a bit. They showed us the house and really made us feel welcome. We really think having the possibility of meeting your exchange partners enhances the experience that many exchangers probably miss in that they are passing in the air, so to speak.

New Zealand, our exchange destination, was beautiful (the greens were intense) and the people were in every way friendly and helpful. We would recommend it to anybody even with the bum numbing 12 hour airplane ride. On the other end of the exchange, when we got home it was as though nobody had been there with the exception of a few grocery brands that were strange to us. It was exactly as we had left it. We are both interested in a repeat exchange in the future and I feel we have definitely made a couple of new friends.

Our B&B landlady in London has been pushing us to try home exchanging for years. For next year we have a swap on for Oxford in August. I don’t know why we didn’t start doing this years ago.’ – Dan & Jane

The couple’s home in Seattle for exchange:

‘Comfortable 350 sq. ft, well equipped studio with a 90 sq. ft private deck, 30 minutes from downtown Seattle by frequent near by bus. Local area includes zoo, restaurants, shopping, groceries, live theatre and parks within easy walking distance.’ See full exchange offer and more photos, HE17283.

Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2006 at 11:14 am

Posted in Daily life

Luca Turin will triumph!

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As you have realized, Luca Turin is of great interest to me after reading Chandler Burr’s fascinating book The Emperor of Scent. And now this story:

Smell that? It’s the scent of mounting credibility for a controversial theory of smell that puts molecular vibrations front and center. Physicists have now analyzed the proposed mechanism and deemed it plausible.

The new calculations by no means prove the theory, but they give it added legitimacy, says biophysicist and perfumer Luca Turin, who developed the idea. “Most people would probably feel that if it can be done at all, evolution has managed to make use of it.”

The question: What property of an odor molecule (or odorant) do the receptors in our noses pick up? The reigning but still unproved explanation of smell supposes that the shape is the thing, with receptors fitting like a lock into the molecule’s key. But the shape theory doesn’t explain why some nearly identically shaped molecules smell vastly different, such as ethanol, which smells like vodka, and ethane thiol (rotten eggs).

Turin’s more controversial theory, put forth in 1996 and now the subject of two popular books, holds instead that odorant receptors sense the way a molecule’s atoms jiggle. The shape of the molecule still comes into play, Turin says, because it determines the odorant’s overall vibrational frequency. But he didn’t know how all the details fit together.

Physicist Marshall Stoneham and his colleagues at University College London report they have constructed a specific mechanism based on the properties of so-called G-protein coupled receptors, which project from olfactory cells inside the nose.

The researchers imagined that the odorant fits into a spot between a site that donates an electron and one that receives the electron. In this model, the receptor switches on when an electron hops from donor to acceptor. The group calculated that an electron could “tunnel” through the barrier imposed by the odorant, an effect made possible by quantum mechanics, they wrote in a preprint accepted for publication in Physical Review Letters.

Before it tunnels, the electron distorts the odorant molecule’s electrical field. When it tunnels, it effectively disappears, causing that electrical field to wobble like a plucked string, Turin explains. Tunneling is likely to take place if the plucking matches the molecule’s natural mode of vibration.

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Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2006 at 10:57 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Fortune cookies

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The Eldest and her family went to a Chinese restaurant so she could eat a vat of hot-and-sour soup to help fight her cold. When the fortune cookies came, The Younger Grandson opened his and pretended to read: “No yelling, no loud talking, no walking in the street–yes, yes!” A sensible fortune, if you ask me.

Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2006 at 9:57 am

Posted in Daily life

Hide the data

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A pattern of the Bush Administration: hide unfavorable data. It’s a form of denial. It also avoids that pesky oversight thing, the accountability issue:

As Justin Rood noted, this chart, produced by the Government Accountability Office, tracks the number of per-months attacks in Iraq, based on Pentagon data.

attacks

A close look at the chart, however, notes that a few details are missing — specifically, the number of attacks in September, October, and November of this year, despite the fact that the report having been produced in December.

So, where are those numbers? Rood called Joseph Christoff, the GAO official who produced the document, who said he had all of the data, but had to leave the report incomplete because the Pentagon classified the numbers.

The number of attacks from August 2006, and every month prior, are publicly available, but the fall of 2006 has to remain classified? Without explanation?

Of course, this does fit nicely into the Bush administration’s m.o. — when data are inconvenient, hide them.

* In March, the administration announced it would no longer produce the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation, which identifies which programs best assist low-income families, while also tracking health insurance coverage and child support.

* In 2005, after a government report showed an increase in terrorism around the world, the administration announced it would stop publishing its annual report on international terrorism.

* After the Bureau of Labor Statistics uncovered discouraging data about factory closings in the U.S., the administration announced it would stop publishing information about factory closings.

* When an annual report called “Budget Information for States” showed the federal government shortchanging states in the midst of fiscal crises, Bush’s Office of Management and Budget announced it was discontinuing the report, which some said was the only source for comprehensive data on state funding from the federal government.

* When Bush’s Department of Education found that charter schools were underperforming, the administration said it would sharply cut back on the information it collects about charter schools.

When government reports conflict with the White House’s, the Bush gang has a choice — deal with the problem or change the reports. Guess which course they prefer?

Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2006 at 9:43 am

Avocado smashwich

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I probably won’t have this (323 calories!), but it sounds great. Thanks to Frugal Cuisine for the pointer to this Washington Post recipe by Renee Schettler.

My friend Stacy and I met just after college when we were both newcomers to the East with much that we missed about the West.

Though we had a lot of other things in common — underpaid internships, cramped apartments and an unquenchable thirst for wine — a love of cooking was not one of them. Though she didn’t care to cook, Stacy almost always kept an avocado ripening on her kitchen counter so she could make, on a whim, her beloved avocado sandwich.

The open-faced convergence of lightly toasted bread and smashed avocado was actually less a sandwich than it was a smashwich. The avocado was gently smeared across the surface of a carefully cooled slice of toast, then drizzled with an indecent amount of cheap but fruity olive oil. It was ridiculously easy, yet she would assemble it as attentively as if she were putting the finishing touches on her wedding cake.

I think that the sandwich was, to her, a type of temporary West Coast fix. It was that to me as well. But it was also an unforgettable lesson in culinary simplicity.

My friendship with Stacy long ago fell by the wayside. But my fondness for her avocado smashwich has not.

Avocado Smashwich

Lightly toast a slice of bread — whole-grain, baguette, sourdough, it matters little — and set it aside to cool slightly. Then use a spoon to scoop out half of a very ripe avocado, place it in the center of the toast and, using the back of the spoon, gently smash the avocado ever so slightly, spreading it across the toast but not quite all the way to the crust. The avocado won’t spread evenly, but that’s okay. Drizzle the avocado lightly with a mild olive oil and, if desired, sprinkle with salt and a pinch of pepper.

Per serving: 323 calories, 6 gm protein, 24 gm carbohydrates, 26 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 4 gm saturated fat, 459 mg sodium, 7 gm dietary fiber

Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2006 at 9:18 am

Posted in Recipes & Cooking

Iodized salt

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Kazakhstan (the real one, not the Borat version) has had great success with its public-health campaign to get its people to use iodized salt:

Valentina Sivryukova knew her public service messages were hitting the mark when she heard how one Kazakh schoolboy called another stupid. “What are you,” he sneered, “iodine-deficient or something?”

Ms. Sivryukova, president of the national confederation of Kazakh charities, was delighted. It meant that the years spent trying to raise public awareness that iodized salt prevents brain damage in infants were working. If the campaign bore fruit, Kazakhstan’s national I.Q. would be safeguarded.

In fact, Kazakhstan has become an example of how even a vast and still-developing nation like this Central Asian country can achieve a remarkable public health success. In 1999, only 29 percent of its households were using iodized salt. Now, 94 percent are. Next year, the United Nations is expected to certify it officially free of iodine deficiency disorders.

That turnabout was not easy. The Kazakh campaign had to overcome widespread suspicion of iodization, common in many places, even though putting iodine in salt, public health experts say, may be the simplest and most cost-effective health measure in the world. Each ton of salt needs about two ounces of potassium iodate, which costs about $1.15.

Worldwide, about two billion people — a third of the globe — get too little iodine, including hundreds of millions in India and China. Studies show that iodine deficiency is the leading preventable cause of mental retardation. Even moderate deficiency, especially in pregnant women and infants, lowers intelligence by 10 to 15 I.Q. points, shaving incalculable potential off a nation’s development.

The most visible and severe effects — disabling goiters, cretinism and dwarfism — affect a tiny minority, usually in mountain villages. But 16 percent of the world’s people have at least mild goiter, a swollen thyroid gland in the neck.

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Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2006 at 9:05 am

Good shave, good coffee, good start

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I like the Progress. It always gives a nice shave, yet it’s not talked about a lot. Does a fine job. I used the Superior 22mm Super badger brush, a good size for face lathering, and Mama Bear‘s Dragon’s Blood shaving soap.

Dragon’s blood is interesting. I at first thought the name was fanciful, and only later discovered it’s an actual substance, though I don’t know that it is used as an ingredient.

Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2006 at 8:59 am

Posted in Shaving

Cheer up, stay well

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Attitude affects health:

People with generally positive outlooks show greater resistance to developing colds than do individuals who rarely revel in upbeat feelings, a new investigation finds.

Frequently basking in positive emotions defends against colds regardless of how often one experiences negative emotions, say psychologist Sheldon Cohen of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and his colleagues. They suspect that positive emotions stimulate symptom-fighting substances.

“We need to take more seriously the possibility that a positive emotional style is a major player in disease risk,” Cohen says.

In a study published in 2003, his group exposed 334 healthy adults to one of two rhinoviruses via nasal drops. Those who displayed generally positive outlooks, including feelings of liveliness, cheerfulness, and being at ease, were least likely to develop cold symptoms. Unlike the negatively inclined participants, they reported fewer cold symptoms than were detected in medical exams.

The new study, which appears in the November/December Psychosomatic Medicine, replicates those results and rules out the possibility that psychological traits related to a positive emotional style, rather than the emotions themselves, guard against cold symptoms. Those traits include high self-esteem, extroversion, optimism, and a feeling of mastery over one’s life.

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Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2006 at 8:51 am

Posted in Daily life, Health, Science

The weakness of ranking systems

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It’s well known, at least among mathematicians, that rankings based on 3 or more criteria are not transitive. (A transitive system means that if A is ranked higher than B and B higher than C, then A is ranked higher than C.) Without transitivity, ranking fails in its basic purpose, and one is left with trying to decide which ranks highest: rock, paper, or scissors?

Science News has a note on this:

In a paper published in a recent issue of SIAM Review, Paul K. Newton and Kamran Aslam of the University of Southern California argue against the widespread belief that it is possible, with just the right tweaking, to come up with a ranking system that yields reasonable results and eliminates logical inconsistencies—and, hence, settles all arguments, leaving everyone satisfied.

“The philosophy behind these systems is that there should be a player or team that ‘deserves’ to be recognized as ‘the best,’ and if only the correct method were found, such a team could be unambiguously chosen,” Newton and Aslam write.

But it’s impossible to make such a guarantee. The argument hinges on an application of a theorem proved by economist Kenneth Arrow. He showed that, under certain reasonable assumptions, there is no method for constructing social preferences (rankings) from arbitrary individual ones (votes).

One such assumption is that, when team A is ranked higher than team B, and team B is ranked higher than team C, then team A is ranked higher than team C. This seems like a reasonable requirement.

But voting schemes can readily undermine this desirable result, even when just three teams or players are involved.

Newton and Aslam cite the example of the selection of the top men’s tennis player in 2002. That year, Pete Sampras won the U.S. Open, Andre Agassi won the Australian Open, and Lleyton Hewitt won Wimbledon. Suppose that three judges voted for player of the year as shown (players listed first, second, third):

American Judge: Sampras, Agassi, Hewitt
British Judge: Hewitt, Sampras, Agassi
Australian Judge: Agassi, Hewitt, Sampras

Note that two out of the three judges ranked Sampras ahead of Agassi, two out of three put Agassi ahead of Hewitt, and two of three put Hewitt ahead of Sampras!

“Such outcome-based methods based on voting, as the one used to crown the NCAA national football champion, very often produce logical inconsistencies that are the basis for arguments that cannot be settled rationally,” Newton and Aslam contend.

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Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2006 at 8:45 am

Posted in Daily life, Games

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