Archive for 'News about research'

A collection of psychological research concerning beards

Sunday, May 15th, 2016

The British Psychological Society’s Research Digest has digested some of the psychological research concerning beards. Like beards themselves, that research comes in a both impressive and dismaying variety of quality.


Peano and the cat, and the earth

Saturday, May 14th, 2016

peanoMore from the history of cats and physics, as explained in the Skull in the Stars blog:

Giuseppe Peano (1858-1932) is not well-known to the general public, but he was a formidable voice and researcher in mathematics, publishing over 200 books and papers during his lifetime….

When Peano encountered the problem of the falling cat in 1894, he immediately saw in it a kindred spirit to the nutating Earth, and began working on mathematics to explain the latter.  Both problems involve an object changing its orientation in space entirely in the absence of external forces, and both problems can be qualitatively explained by internal motions of the object in question.

There is something terribly ironic about Peano’s inspiration: where physicists are normally known for oversimplifying problems — there is the famous joke about approximating a cow by a sphere — Peano went in the other direction, envisioning a sphere as a cat!

In an 1895 paper titled “Sopra lo spostamento del polo sulla terra” (“Concerning the pole shift of the Earth”), Peano presented his own mathematical theory of the phenomenon…

‘Friday the 13th: The Empirics of Bad Luck’ (study)

Friday, May 13th, 2016

Bearing in mind that today is Friday the 13th, what better time to examine the question of whether the socio-economic outcomes of people born on the 13th day of the month, and of those born on Friday the 13th, differ from the outcomes of people born on more auspicious days? Investigators Dr. Jan Fidrmuc and Dr. Juan De Dios Tena Horrillo have performed one of the only large-scale studies which has attempted to find out.

“We investigate the issue at hand using the UK Labor Force Survey (LFS), a quarterly nationally-representative survey of households across the UK. Each quarter, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) interviews approximately 60 thousand households, with over 100 thousand individual respondents aged 16 and above. We use data from 1999 to 2011, which gives us around 3.9 million observations.”


The answer? Those born on the 13th, or on a Friday the 13th, “need not lose much sleep over the inauspicious circumstances of their birth” :

“We find little evidence that being born on either the 13th or on Friday the 13th is associated with dramatically worse outcomes in the labor or marriage markets. Our results indicate a small increase in the probability that men born on the 13th are employed and a small fall in the probability that they remain single (we leave it up to the reader to decide whether staying single is good or bad luck).”

The paper can be read here, in full, ‘Friday the 13th: The Empirics of Bad Luck’ (in: Kyklos, Volume 68, Issue 3, pages 317–334, August 2015)

Further adventures in dung-beetle-navigation research

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

Rachel Feltman chronicles, in the Washington Post, some further adventures of the Ig Nobel Prize-winning dung beetle navigation researchers:

The humble dung beetle has a fantastic way of navigating the world


If you’re a dung beetle, you spend a good portion of your life dancing around on top of a ball made of poop – a ball of poop that, with any luck, will eventually become dinner. But the researchers who’ve devoted their lives to studying these coprophagic critters say the insects have a surprising adaptation: According to a study published Thursday in Current Biology, dung beetles can take “snapshots” of their surroundings and use them to navigate.

First, a dung beetle factoid you might not know: Scientists believe that they navigate at night using the visible portion of the Milky Way – that gorgeous strip of stars and dust that appears in a sky sans light pollution. Unsurprisingly, the finding that dung beetles stare at the stars was honored with an Ig Nobel Award

Do a person’s genes predict how high they will go in school? — The 3.2% solution

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

Scholars have wondered whether (and in some cases, assumed that) success in schools comes largely from the good genes a person inherits. A new study of scholars and their genes provides evidence that YES, IT DOES, sort of, a little bit, maybe. The study is powerful — its authors tell us exactly how powerful.

The study is “Genome-wide association study identifies 74 loci associated with educational attainment,” just published online in the journal Nature. It’s likely to get a lot of attention.

Here’s how the gang of authors sums up their work: “we report the results of a genome-wide association study (GWAS) for educational attainment [in] 293,723 individuals, and a replication study in an independent sample of 111,349 individuals… We identify 74 genome-wide significant loci associated with the number of years of schooling completed.”

Here’s perhaps the most impressive revelation in the study: “the mean predictive  power of a polygenic score constructed from all measured SNPs is 3.2%”.

BONUS: Here’s additional detail from the study. The complexity of  this detail will, for many readers, add to the cogno-intellectual persuasiveness of the study:


BONUS: Here are the co-authors of the study:

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