Saturday, February 28, 2009

Leaves and pine tree (pic)

I took this picture out the window of my second floor office at home. I loved the colors.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Presenting data with enthusiasm

I like presenting data, and I enjoy doing it, but compared to this guy, I'm an absolute piker at presenting data. He is so clear and so enthusiastic with this presentation about health, income and change in the world.

Wow! Not only does he put on a show about presenting data, but he also debunks several myths about world development. (In sum: Things are getting better!)

Thanks Anne!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Gender differences in the confessional

A study that definitely needed to be done.... A priest has cataloged gender differences in what they confess as sins.

Women's top two sins were pride and envy.

Men's top two sins--get ready for a real shocker--lust and gluttony (followed by sloth). Who would have thought that men obsess over sex and food, and when they're done they look for the remote control?

(It would be interesting to read a more fine-grained analysis of the confessions, beyond just general categories, but those data might be hard to get.)

Thanks David!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Funny Video

I don't know what's more funny--the kid acting this way or the Dad videotaping it. The Dad is my hero!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Friday, February 20, 2009

Don't be such a Nazi

A story in the local newspaper yesterday highlighted an amusing trend. In a rural town nearby, there is a senior center, and they are having a hard time getting along. The newly elected president of the center has been told that she needs to follow its by-laws, and her response is that she can lead however she sees fit and that her critics are acting like the "Gestapo".

Now, why would one old person out in the country call another old person out in the country a member of the Nazi secret police? I don't know, but I routinely hear Nazi references for unwanted behavior.

Here's my question. Why Nazis? Why discriminate against other evil regimes and groups?

Next time somebody crosses me, I'm going to accuse them of being a member of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD). Or maybe I'll pop a SAVAK or a Gang of Four.

Heck, why stop there. The next time I'm in a meeting with a procedural disagreement, maybe I'll label my opponent as the "Great Satan" or "Evil Incarnate."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

John flying at the beach

My brother John seems to have made it one of his life goals to have a lot more fun than me, and he's doing really well! Here's a video he put together of him hang gliding at the beautiful beach Torrey Pines, CA.

How do I compete? Gosh, we have less ice to slip on than we did before?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Grad school as hazing?

I was reading an article in the paper about hazing, and I was struck by its definition of it:

“Hazing” refers to any activity expected of someone joining a group (or to maintain full status in a group) that humiliates, degrades or risks emotional and/or physical harm, regardless of the person's willingness to participate."

Sounds to me like graduate school!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Friday, February 13, 2009

Belief in evolution cross-nationally

Here's an interesting graph found in last week's issue of the Economist. It plots out how many people belief in evolution in the US & European countries (plus has a spiffy picture of monkeys). I'm surprised at how many people don't believe in evolution. If I were to guess, I would have put the US at 1/3 people not believing in it and very few in any of the major European countries. Instead, it's more than half for the U.S. and more than 1/4 in most European countries. Go figure...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Do data matter?

Last week, I posted about the role of data in changing (and probably more often not changing) peoples' minds.

Here's more evidence of (we) people being bound to what we think we already know, in the face of contrary evidence.

A while ago, I was in a small group discussion with about a dozen Christian grad students and Ph.D. types. The conversation got off onto the issue of how non-Christians perceive Christians, and several people commented about how little respect non-Christians hold for Christians because of how we misbehave.

I had recently finished doing some analyses about this very question for a review of the book UnChristian. With these analyses, I probably knew more about that small question than perhaps anyone else in the country (that's what academics do, I suppose, find a narrow question and start digging deep). It turns out that Christians are actually reasonably well thought of. See here, here, and here. I explained this all to the group, and they seemed very interested and thanked me for the information. I went into the other room for about 20 minutes, chatting with some other people. When I returned, the conversation about non-Christians not liking Christians was continuing on as before. Doh-h-h-h-h.

I'll have to buy the new Paradigm-Changer 2000 the next time I'm at the hardware store.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Do data matter? The case of Christian divorce statistics.

One of the first things that I learned in college was about Thomas Kuhn and paradigm shifts. Here's an extended discussion of it, but, basically, once people get a theory or idea in their heads, it will stay there even in the face of countering evidence. There is inertia to our worldview, and it takes a lot to change it.

Two years ago, when I started blogging, I did a series of divorce rates among Christians. The prevailing view on this was that Christians had high divorce rates, equal to people not affiliated with religion. Turns out this isn't the case. Both Christians and members of other religions have lower divorce rates than people unaffiliated with religion, and people who are more religious have lower rates than those less religious. I did what I thought was a nice deconstruction of Barna's statistic, explaining their what-I-considered-misleading assumptions.

Well, perhaps in my naivete, I figured that Barna's statistic would run out of steam and people who talk about this topic would do so more accurately.

After Googling the topic, it seems that Barna's statistics on this topic are as widely used as ever. Sigh, no paradigm shift yet.

As a bit of an experiment, I sent a letter to, who is probably the most consulted site on this topic (and one that puts forth Barna's findings). I briefly explained the problem with Barna's work, and sent along a manuscript that I'm working on that summarizes the issues.

Here's the question: Do you think religioustolerance will change their entry? If it's receiving a lot of hits, which it is, and it tells a catchy story--Christians gone bad--why would they change it? Now I realize they are very busy and probably understaffed and facing budget crisis, like everyone these days, but you'd figure they might want to get around to correcting what can be argued is a clear mistake.

Any predictions?

Hm-m-m-m, did I remember to teach something important?

Periodically, students who miss class will e-mail with the reason and then they'll ask: "Did I miss anything important?" (Actual quotation from an e-mail this week).

I'm not really sure how to respond.

"In this class? Not a chance..."

"No, it was just the usual load of bull"

"I'll hold off on the important stuff till after the midterm"

Any suggestions?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Milgram still works...

I'm prepping a lecture on research ethics, and, of course, I'm covering Stanley Milgram's experiment back in the day. Well, just found out that his work has been replicated, and even in the 21st century, people are still willing to shock others to death if an authority figure tells them to.

"Replicating one of the most controversial behavioral experiments in history, a Santa Clara University psychologist has found that people will follow orders from an authority figure to administer what they think are painful electric shocks.

More than two-thirds of volunteers in the research study had to be stopped from administering 150-volt shocks of electricity, despite hearing a person’s cries of pain, professor Jerry M. Burger reported in a study published in the January issue of the journal American Psychologist

Ugh... not surprising, but still dismaying.

Thanks David!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Obama and the J-Curve of revolutions

A classic idea in sociology is Davies J-Curve. This idea states that people are most discontent, and therefore revolutions most likely to happen, when things start getting better, not when things are initially really bad. Expectations continue to grow, but reality lags behind. Here's a figure of it:

It seems that the country is at a rather low point, with the financial crisis and low moral after George Bush, and Obama has raised expectations considerably. Initially, he should be able to make somewhat easy changes, but over time the more intractable problems will remain. I wonder if he'll get caught up in an expectations-reality gap in coming years--even if things are going better than know.

Monday, February 02, 2009

What goes on when Dad's not around?

The other day, I was walking out of the community center gym, and I saw Gus sitting at one of the public computers. He had a couple of friends watching him, and they were laughing and being very animated with whatever was on the screen.

H-m-m-m, I thought to myself, what is going on? A chance to see what he's up to when I'm not around, so I walked up behind him, unnoticed, and saw that Gus was conjugating Latin verbs for some on-line homework. His friends were alternately cheering him on and trying to get him to make a mistake.

Wow. I had no idea that high school students participated in the kind of dangerous, wild behavior. May be time for a family intervention.

Sunday, February 01, 2009