The gap between “silly joke about what the most unlikely computer game possible would be” and “computer game exists, you can download it for $4.99” seems to be about five years. First it was the Great Gatsby sidescroller. Now there’s a Jane Austen MMORPG. Really the only place to go from here is a Finnegan’s Wake first person shooter where you make your way through a postapocalyptic Ireland shooting rocket-propelled grenades at legitimate English words.
I admire the disease threat research community for compiling strong and important findings that I nevertheless have trouble acknowledging because they’re so weird. Now they’re at it again with a paper (paper, NYT article) that finds that people more concerned about disease are more likely to favor attractive candidates for political office. First they do controlled experiments and find that priming people for disease – but not for other stressful things like violence – make people more likely to choose an attractive candidate in a mock election. Then they go through Congressional districts and find those with a higher disease burden more likely to elect attractive Congressors, even after controlling for income and education. The evolutionary argument is that attractiveness is a sign of not being diseased, and so people have an evolutionary preference to affiliate only with attractive people if there’s high disease risk.
Doing my part to help spread the latest medical panic: Prenatal Paracetamol Exposure and Child Neurodevelopment: A Sibling-Controlled Cohort Study. Children whose mothers used lots of Tylenol when they were pregnant have worse intellectual and developmental outcomes at age 3. Also, Emily Deans, a psychiatrist I respect the heck out of, is very suspicious of Tylenol herself – even though trying to do anything with ecological autism correlations is a “land war in Asia” level bad idea. I would agree with her that the most important message is that, although the risks are still questionable and preliminary, there aren’t that many benefits – trying to prevent your body from having a fever when it wants to have a fever is a bad idea anyway and likely prolongs illness. That makes the risk-benefit ratio pretty easy to figure out.
A good overview of the most morally questionable online dating sites. I really want to approve of these in principle, because there’s an obvious market failure in romantic relationships and more degrees of freedom in things with market failures are generally good. In practice, most of them seem pretty horrible, and I can’t imagine their dating pools contain a lot of people worth building a life with. Also, MyFreeImplants.com reaches Jane Austen MMORPG-level of you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me.
On a similar note, people with long commutes are almost half again more likely to get divorced. I feel like this ties in pretty well to the argument I was making against the Reactionaries where there are lots of complicated causes of rising divorce rate in a changing society and it’s probably not just feminism and kinglessness.
We know that high IQ people tend to live longer. The thought was that this is because they’re wealthier and better educated and they get nice jobs with good health insurance and eat their vegetables. But the relationship remains even when this is adjusted out, and a new study finds that the size of blood vessels in the retina, part of the same vascular network as the brain, is closely linked to intelligence. So what if both intelligence and lifespan are linked to the health of blood vessels? For one thing, intelligence amplification by hacking vasculature sounds a lot easier than intelligence amplification by hacking neurons (though probably less scalable).
On the same note, this story about a 107 year old veteran helped crystallize something I’ve been noticing. Old people seem to be almost bimodal – you’ll get 80 year olds who are really decrepit, demented, and on twenty medications, but by the time you get past 100 or so, they seem to be universally pretty healthy. This surprises me. It’s almost as if there’s some gene for stay-healthy-in-old-age, and everyone without the gene dies off early so that all the really really old people are in perfect health until they die of natural causes.
I didn’t realize there were already augmented reality games going on with thousands of players. And they sounds really fun.
Etienne Bottineau was an 18th century French guy who claimed to be able to ascertain the position of ships hundreds of miles away by looking really closely at the weather. So far, so dumb – except that over decades, he proved his ability to detect ships again and again in front of lots of different official people, and some of his students did the same. It’s an interesting historical enigma – but mostly I’m just linking to the article about him because of the pun in the title.
Crispr is apparently a revolutionary new genetic technique that will allow perfect pinpoint editing of any genetic code you want, according to extremely enthused experts. Even though it sounds like a stupid Web 2.0 social media site.
Earlier this month, a Whig was elected to public office for the first time in 150 years.
Paid maternity leave seems to have no detectable effect on child or parent outcomes.
Quote from Stephen Hawking (source): “When I gave a lecture in Japan, I was asked not to mention the possible re-collapse of the universe, because it might affect the stock market.”
Surnames can be used to measure long-term social mobility. For example, if a surname was associated with aristocrats hundreds of years ago, are its holders still disproportionately more likely to be wealthy? Answer – yes, very much so. Key quotes: “Even in famously mobile Sweden, some 70-80% of a family’s social status is transmitted from generation to generation across a span of centuries. Other economists use similar techniques to reveal comparable immobility in societies from 19th-century Spain to post-Qing-dynasty China. Inherited advantage is detectable for a very long time … Indeed, it may take as long as 300-500 years for high- and low-status families to produce descendants with equal chances of being in various parts of the income spectrum.”
Leading British addiction researcher David Nutt wants to create a drug that makes you drunk without the hangovers or health risks of alcohol – a sort of e-cigarette version of beer. Given the resistance faced by actual e-cigarettes, good frickin’ luck. Also, apparently he wants to base it on benzodiazepines? Which are also addictive and also carry serious health risks? I wouldn’t even have naively thought separating pleasure from addictiveness was necessarily possible. But Prof. Nutt is a very smart guy (for a good time, read his essay on Equasy) and if he thinks it’s worth trying, it’s worth trying.
Unfun fact: the stories of idiotic trials by ordeal for witchcraft – put a woman in water, kill her as a witch if she floats, exonerate her dead body if she drowns – are just stories. In fact, witch-hunters would tie a rope to the woman so they could pull her back up and acquit her if she seemed to be drowning. Which decreases the stupidity of the whole “dunk a woman in water to see if she is a witch” thing by maybe, like, ten percent. One thing I wonder, though – what exactly does determine whether a person sinks or floats in that situation? Is it percent of body mass fat? Wouldn’t the Inquisition have noticed that all their fat people were coming up witches? Are you allowed to dive to the bottom of the water and hang out there until they decide you’re not a witch and pull you back up? So many questions.
There was a big blogosphere to-do about the white guy in Texas who won an election by pretending to be black. But he is a rank amateur compared to the politician in India who convinced voters that electronic voting machines would give them an electric shock if they voted for his opponent.