Chance News 44

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Game Theory Explains Why You Can't Hurry Love.

"From a female's point of view, males are not all equal" and "there remains some risk that she will mate with the wrong type of male. She cannot eliminate this risk completely unless she decides never to mate."

Dr Peter Sozou
Warwick Medical School and
LSE Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science.
Quoted in Science Daily
Commenting upon here
And the math is here

Submitted by Paul Alper

Statistics with heart-pounding excitement

The Manga Guide to Statistics, Shin Takahashi and Trend-pro Co., November 2008, 224 pp.

I suppose it was only a matter of time - now you can be entertained by a manga cartoon and learn about statistics at the same time:

Our heroine, Rui, is determined to learn about statistics to impress the dreamy Mr. Igarashi and begs her father for a tutor. Soon she's spending her Saturdays with geeky, bespectacled Mr. Yamamoto, who patiently teaches her all about the fundamentals of statistics: topics like data categorization, averages, graphing, and standard deviation.

This comic uses real-world examples like teen magazine quizzes, bowling games, test scores, and ramen noodle prices to enliven the subject matter. Not surprisingly, the intended readers are people interested in learning more about statistics.

After all her studying, Rui is confident in her knowledge of statistics, including complex concepts like probability, coefficients of correlation, hypothesis tests, and tests of independence. But is it enough to impress her dream guy? Or maybe there's someone better, right in front of her?

Examples, exercises, and answer keys help you follow along and check your work. An appendix showing how to perform statistics calculations in Microsoft Excel makes it easy to put Rui's lessons into practice.

Further Reading

No Starch Press publishes the finest in geek entertainment -- distinctive books on computing, such as bestsellers Steal This Computer Book, How Linux Works, Hacking: The Art of Exploitation, The Cult of Mac, and The Unofficial LEGO Builder's Guide, with a focus on open source/Linux, security, hacking, programming, and alternative operating systems.

Submitted by John Gavin.

You are what your mother eats.

Here we will discussion of an article in the Wall Street Journal

which is based on an article"You are what your mother eats" in the Proceedings of the Royal Society and on a criticism of this article: "Cereal-Induced gender selection? Most likely a multiple testing false positive" in the same journal.

You might want to read these articles before we figure out something wise to say about the articles.

To be continued.

Submitted by Laurie Snell

Two media frenzies not supported by the data

The Epidemic That Wasn’t, Susan Okie, The New York Times, January 26, 2009.

The Myth of Rampant Teenage Promiscuity, Tara Parker-Pope, The New York Times, January 26, 2009.

Two articles in the New York Times use statistics to debunk media reports of pending social disasters.

"When the use of crack cocaine became a nationwide epidemic in the 1980s and ’90s, there were widespread fears that prenatal exposure to the drug would produce a generation of severely damaged children. Newspapers carried headlines like 'Cocaine: A Vicious Assault on a Child,' 'Crack’s Toll Among Babies: A Joyless View' and 'Studies: Future Bleak for Crack Babies.'

It turns out that while cocaine is not exactly beneficial, the pessimistic prognosis in the media did not pan out.

So far, these scientists say, the long-term effects of [cocaine] exposure on children’s brain development and behavior appear relatively small. 'Are there differences? Yes,' said Barry M. Lester, a professor of psychiatry at Brown University who directs the Maternal Lifestyle Study, a large federally financed study of children exposed to cocaine in the womb. 'Are they reliable and persistent? Yes. Are they big? No.'

Research in this area is difficult, of course, because the data is observational and there are a whole host of confounders.

"Teasing out the effects of cocaine exposure is complicated by the fact that ... almost all of the women in the studies who used cocaine while pregnant were also using other substances. Moreover, most of the children in the studies are poor, and many have other risk factors known to affect cognitive development and behavior — inadequate health care, substandard schools, unstable family situations and exposure to high levels of lead. "

The tendency to exaggerate the effects of leads to some serious problems.

"... cocaine-exposed children are often teased or stigmatized if others are aware of their exposure. If they develop physical symptoms or behavioral problems, doctors or teachers are sometimes too quick to blame the drug exposure and miss the real cause, like illness or abuse."

Another area ripe for debunking is the explosion of risky teenage sexual behavior.

"The talk show host Tyra Banks declared a teen sex crisis last fall after her show surveyed girls about sexual behavior. A few years ago, Oprah Winfrey warned parents of a teenage oral-sex epidemic. The news is troubling, but it’s also misleading."

Again, these risks seem to be overstated.

"While some young people are clearly engaging in risky sexual behavior, a vast majority are not. The reality is that in many ways, today’s teenagers are more conservative about sex than previous generations."

This exaggeration of the problem also has bad effects.

"Health researchers say parents who fret about teenage sex often fail to focus on the important lessons they can learn from the kids who aren’t having sex. Teenagers with more parental supervision, who come from two-parent households and who are doing well in school are more likely to delay sex until their late teens or beyond. 'For teens, sex requires time and lack of supervision,' Dr. Kefalas said. 'What’s really important for us to pay attention to, as researchers and as parents, are the characteristics of the kids who become pregnant and those who get sexually transmitted diseases. 'This whole moral panic thing misses the point, because research suggests kids who don’t use contraception tend to be kids who are feeling lost and disconnected and not doing well.'"

One researcher in the area notes the desire of many to hold on to a pessimistic perspective.

"'I give presentations nationwide where I’m showing people that the virginity rate in college is higher than you think and the number of partners is lower than you think and hooking up more often than not does not mean intercourse,' Dr. Bogle said. 'But so many people think we’re morally in trouble, in a downward spiral and teens are out of control. It’s very difficult to convince people otherwise.'"


1. What can the media do to minimize the exaggeration of health risks?

2. Why do you think that some people want to hold on to a pessimistic perspective?