Archive for September, 2013

If you squint while taking a test will it improve your score?

In a 2007 experiment, researchers at Princeton split 40 math students into two groups for a test written up in two fonts—one clear and the other difficult (italic, light gray).  Counter-intuitively the latter group scored 29 percent higher.  In his new book David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell, renowned for the best seller the popular Outliers, cites this as an example of how “facing overwhelming odds produces greatness,” or, as Nietzsche said “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”  This works for me—being up for challenges, but perhaps it cannot be extrapolated to the people in general.  As Christopher Chabris cautions in this Wall Street Journal review yestertoday, provocative results like the ones from Princeton often cannot be reproduced.  He warns:

“Anyone who has followed recent developments in social science should know that small studies with startling effects must be viewed skeptically until their results are verified on a broader scale.  They might hold up, but there is a good chance they will turn out to be spurious.”

If it seems too counter-intuitive to be true, perhaps it isn’t—best in these cases you await confirmation by others in adequately-powered verification experiments.

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Tailgaters not put off by center high mounted stop lamps

According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nearly a third of all crashes are rear-enders.  So, when an experiment by psychologist John Voevodsky in 1974 found that San Francisco taxis equipped with a third brake light suffered 60.6% fewer rear-end collisions, it got the attention of the NHTSA.  After replicating these results on a larger scale, they required center high mounted stop lamps (CHMSL) on all new cars in 1986.  However, recent studies show a reduction in accidents of only 5%!*

I suppose drivers now are too busy texting to be deterred by CHMSL. ; )  But now Ford is experimenting on wirelessly warning those following when a driver puts the brakes on.  See more details here.  I suggest it set an alarm off on cell phones too—similar to wireless emergency alerts.

But the only real solution to rear-end collisions would be a system that automatically reduces speed on serial tailgaters.  They are a menace to society in my opinion.  Meantime let’s hope our highway patrols do what these cops did on California’s freeways.

*(Thanks to University of Minnesota Professor Sanford Weisberg of the School of Statistics for bringing this to my attention in his seminar today.)

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Little correlation between pay and how meaningful you find your work

2012-08-31 17.24.00The August 26 issue of Business Week features this chart on median salary versus job meaning developed by salary comparison site PayScale.  See if your profession is listed and, if so, how your colleagues rated their work.

I find it interesting that one of the lowest paying jobs—water treatment plant operator—came in at 100 percent self-rating of high job meaning.  On the other hand, a securities trader makes twice the pay but only 14 percent felt their work meant much.

Neurosurgeons come out tops on both counts—salary and meaningfulness.  That takes brains getting into a position like this. ; )

One of the least-paying jobs listed by PayScale is gas station attendant—it is also, evidently, nearly completely meaningless.  It seems that a person stuck with this work would do well by becoming a dog kennel worker: The pay is about the same but carers for canines rates their job at 64% on the meaningful scale.  My pet Penny (pictured sharing water with my grandson) approves. : )

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