Archive for 'Research News'

Patents (De)pending on Weather

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

Inventors have reason to squirm a bit over the weather, suggests this new study about the granting — or rejection — of  patents. The study is:

Too hot to reject: The effect of weather variations on the patent examination process at the United States Patent and Trademark Office,” Balázs Kovács [pictured here], Research Policy, vol. 46, no. 10, December 2017, Pages 1824-1835. (Thanks to Barbara Ribeiro and Phil Shapira for bringing this to our attention.)

The author, at Yale University, explains:

“This paper documents a small but systematic bias in the patent evaluation system at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO): external weather variations affect the allowance or rejection of patent applications. I examine 8.8 million reject/allow decisions from 3.5 million patent applications to the USPTO between 2001 and 2014, and find that on unusually warm days patent allowance rates are higher and final rejection rates are lower than on cold days. I also find that on cloudy days, final rejection rates are lower than on clear days. I show that these effects constitute a decision-making bias which exists even after controlling for sorting effects, controlling for applicant-level, application-level, primary class-level, art unit-level, and examiner- level characteristics. The bias even exists after controlling for the quality of the patent applications. While theoretically interesting, I also note that the effect sizes are relatively modest.”

Here’s graphic detail from the study:

A more powerful sports statistics tool

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

A more powerful statistical tool is available for sports analysts, potentially displacing traditional measures based on old-fashioned body-dimension (height, weight, etc.), or sport-specific performance (speed, scoring, passing,  etc.). The statistic is displayed in a newly published research report:

“Relationships Between the Second to Fourth Digit Ratio (2D:4D) and Game-Related Statistics in Semi-Professional Female Basketball Players,” Makailah Dyer, Sandra E. Short, Martin Short, John T. Manning and Grant R. Tomkinson, American Journal of Human Biology, epub 2017.

The researchers explain:

“Using a cross-sectional design, 64 female basketball players who competed in the South Australian Premier League were measured in-season for height, mass, and 2D:4D, with game-related statistics collected end-season…. Female players with lower digit ratios tended to perform better in several aspects of basketball, especially defensively, and were more likely to be starters, suggesting they are the best players on the team in their positions.”

This researchers here include John T. Manning, the father of finger-length studies.

This study, together with the large and growing collection of other studies by Professor Manning and his colleagues, furthers the dream that statistics — in the proper hands — can tell us anything about everything.

The Ethical Knob: ethically-customisable automated vehicles and the law (new study)

Sunday, October 15th, 2017

Vehicles could be fitted with what they call an ‘Ethical Knob’, under a proposal by Giuseppe Contissa, Francesca Lagioia, and Giovanni Sartor of CIRSFID, at the University of Bologna,  Italy. The device might help clarify ethical/legal issues with Autonomous Vehicles (AVs). What for example, should a self-driving car do when it ‘realizes’ (in an impending crash situation) that it could swerve to avoid a large group of pedestrians but in the process kill the driver and passengers?

Before a journey starts, the driver could set the knob to Altruist | Impartial | Egoist (or anywhere in between) and the AV would take the appropriately-weighted action in the case of an emergency.

The authors point out that the idea of the Ethical Knob can be viewed either from a Utiliarian or a Rawlsian perspective:

“The Rawlsian approach could appear more acceptable if we assume that the disutilities being considered represent personal injuries having the same probability, but different gravity. For example, assume that 0,6l is the quantification of the damage from paraplegia (the loss of the use of both legs) and that 0,3l corresponds to the loss of the use of one leg. Assume that by proceeding the AV would cause with certainty the pedestrian to become paraplegic, while by swerving it would cause with certainty each one of three passers-by to lose one leg each. Then it might be argued—though this conclusion is very debatable—that swerving is preferable to proceeding, on grounds of equity/equality.”

See: The Ethical Knob: ethically-customisable automated vehicles and the law Artificial Intelligence and Law, September 2017, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 365–378.

Also see: from Giovanni Sartor : Why Lawyers Are Nice (or Nasty)

Coffee Intake and Incidence of Erectile Dysfunction [research study]

Thursday, October 12th, 2017

A new study about erectile dysfunction suggests — and also does not suggest — that drinking decaffeinated coffee ups a person’s risk of having erectile dysfunction, especially if the person is a male. The study is:

Coffee Intake and Incidence of Erectile Dysfunction,” David S. Lopez, Lydia Liu, Eric B. Rimm, Konstantinos K. Tsilidis, Marcia de Oliveira Otto, Run Wang, Steven Canfield, and Edward Giovannucci [pictured here], American Journal of Epidemiology, epub 2017).

The authors explain: “We investigated the association of coffee intake with incidence of ED [erectile dysfunction].”

The authors tell how they did that: “A prospective analysis of 21,403 men aged 40-75 years old was conducted… Total coffee, regular and decaffeinated coffee intakes were self-reported on food-frequency questionnaires. ED was assessed by means of questionnaires in 2000, 2004 and 2008….”

Then the authors tell what they identified: “No significant differences were identified for incident ED after comparing highest (≥ 4 cups/day) with lowest category (0 cups/day) of total and regular- coffee intakes.”

The study includes, also, an observation that non-expert readers might find disturbing:  “For decaffeinated coffee intake, after comparing the highest category with lowest category, we found a 37% increased risk of ED…”

But those same non-expert readers, if they have taken worry, might find some comfort in a sentence that occurs farther down in the paper: “Overall, long-term coffee intake was not associated with risk of ED in a prospective cohort study.”

CAUTION: One should remember the maxim that “correlation does not imply causation.” In the case of this study, it is possible to conclude, if one is incautious, that erectile dysfunction causes men to drink decaffeinated coffee.


TV commercial ‘zapping’ – its driving factors (study)

Thursday, October 12th, 2017

If you’re in the business of advertising – especially TV advertising – you might be keen to identify the driving factors behind so-called ‘zapping’ (viewers changing channels with the specific intent of avoiding commercial breaks) A 2017 study in the Journal of Advertising Research presents an extensive analysis of the subject and pinpoints a ‘significant driver’ in such behaviour :

“The use of remote controls emerged as a significant driver of observed commercial zapping.”

More specific details can be found in the lead author’s (Dr Steve Dix) extensive thesis on the subject :

“Although this study does not attempt to identify the underlying motivation for using the remote control device, [RCD] results do confirm the importance of the RCD in driving channel switching. Notably this study confirms the findings of Danaher (1995) that the RCD is one of the most important factors influencing channel switching activity.“

What then, from the advertisers’ point of view, might be done to mitigate this behaviour – which has been going on for more than 40 years?

” Advertisers can restrict commercial zapping by limiting levels of irritation and repetition in their creative strategy and by restraining exposure in their scheduling strategy.”

See: ‘Predictors of Commercial Zapping During Live Prime-Time Television : An Observation-Based Study Identifies Factors That Drive TV Channel Switching’ by Stephen Richard Dix and Ian Phau in the Journal of Advertising Research, March 2017; volume 57, issue 1.