Articles to 2013-08-24

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First the link to this week’s complete list as HTML and as PDF.

As it panders to my personal values and prejudices I would have very much liked to endorse the study by González-Jiménez et al. The Trojan Number of 504 notwithstanding their whole conclusion rests on a mere 26 cases (table 2). There is no significant trend between the two bigger of three subgroups and the insignificant one points in the wrong direction. Methodologically they disregard pregnancy and motherhood and their subjects include one 19 year old, who presumably got sick through not having nursed for at least six months. Their study is based on cases treated in recent years, so obviously the oldest patients will have nursed several years earlier than the younger ones. The fact that older patients tended to have nursed for longer probably only reflects a change in custom and has nothing to do with the later onset of sickness. Nice try, but no banana.

Bechtel and Scheve do not test what people prefer but ask them what they would prefer if offered. I would have expected the unreliability of this kind of questioning to be so well established by now as two wholly discredit the latter approach. It seems I was wrong again. Given the reluctance against giving the non-PC answer of doing nothing and adding the anchor of high cost there is no surprise in the support for the low-cost approach. I fail to see any value in this research.

Gavish et al. is one more reason to keep children (up to 21)[1] away from the pernicious influence of television and to try very hard to control their choice of peer group too[2].

After Park of last week I was directed to another, earlier article by Kallai et al., also demonstrating a connection between sensing middle-sized numbers and abstract math ability. So the result was not quite as new and as unexpected as I first thought. It seems more is to come and we’ve not heard the last of this. In earlier centuries it was literacy that made democracy feasible, with today’s kind of problems I’m convinced it’s numeracy that will have to take over that role or fail.

Sometimes reading supposed science I ask myself whether I am slowly losing my mind or everyone else is. Sarlis et al. claim to have found an advance warning before recurring events. In a period of 27 years they found 9 warnings, each followed by an event in under three months. In the same 27 years there were 139 events. Now quite apart from the question how much help a warning can be, that only works in 9 out of 139 cases, 139 in 27 years means, on average, one in a little over two months. So any soothsayer can use anything to predict an event inside the next three months with a high degree of confidence. “And this is [science]?” [RPF]

With Suglia et al. I don’t have to look hard for the possible pitfalls, they list them very well themselves.[3] There are two points they’ve overlooked though:
There seems to be a lack of effect for juice. Contrary to German usage in America juice is not 100 % pure fruit squash but water, sugar, colouring, and artificial flavour plus a little added fruit juice on top. As such juice and soda are essentially one and the same and ought to act similarly too.
In their table 1 sweet fruit juices, candy, and TV-watching are fairly evenly distributed while Soda, and only Soda, is heavily skewed, demonstrating a strongly directed disapproval in current American culture. So what we may really be capturing here could be a proxy measure of parental care or indifference. Shame really, their strictly monotonic dose-effect relationships, even if totalling just a few percent of the noise, are something most epidemiologists would sell their daughters for. And at first glance it looks so like science too.

After Opie (last week’s list) Lukas & Clutton-Brock too offer an explanation for the origin of monogamy. They review not just primates but all mammals and come to a different conclusion. But as they themselves clearly state, their result too is probably not applicable to the human lineage.

When using renewable energy sources the intermediate generation of electricity as in von der Assen (last week’s list) often is a costly and lossy step. Muhich et al. report on advances for the direct generation of hydrogen. Theirs is certainly the better way, but even then reducing carbon dioxide is probably not the best use of this valuable resource.

It seems that Pleistocene man too liked his meals to taste nice. Hardly surprising but Saul et al. are probably the first to prove it.

John Bohannon cites much the same kinds of criticisms in his review of a forthcoming article by Hsiang as I made of Hsiang 2011 in my list of 2011-09-08. Heat is a trigger not a cause and will only influence timing.


  1. As with most things children are protected from, it is to be hoped that at 21 they know to leave it by their own choice.
  2. “In this country, the people who run things—who populate major law firms and corporate boards—understand all of this at some level. They pay lip service to multiculturalism and diversity and non-judgmentalness, but they don’t raise their own children that way. I have highly educated, technically sophisticated friends who have moved to small towns in Iowa to live and raise their children, and there are Hasidic Jewish enclaves in New York where large numbers of kids are being brought up according to traditional beliefs. Any suburban community might be thought of as a place where people who hold certain (mostly implicit) beliefs go to live among others who think the same way.

    And not only do these people feel some responsibility to their own children, but to the country as a whole. Some of the upper class are vile and cynical, of course, but many spend at least part of their time fretting about what direction the country is going in, and what responsibilities they have. And so issues that are important to book-reading intellectuals, such as global environmental collapse, eventually percolate through the porous buffer of mass culture and show up as ancient Hindu ruins in Orlando.”

    Neal Stephenson

  3. “This study has some limitations. First, owing to the cross-sectional nature of our analysis, we cannot determine causality. However, a yearly time series might not be appropriate if the effect of soda on behavior is short-lived. Second, data on both soft drink consumption and behavior are based on parent reports; furthermore, the size of a soda serving was never defined. This potentially could have introduced some misclassification of exposure, although we have no reason to expect it to be related to the parental reports of child behavior. Third, we have no information on what type of soft drinks were consumed, particularly whether they were regular or diet, sugar-sweetened or artificially sweetened, cola or noncola, and caffeinated or noncaffeinated. Fourth, there are other potential confounders that we cannot adjust for that may be related to both soda consumption and child behavior, such as physical activity, watching violent video games, and other dietary factors.”

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