Archive for 'Research News'

Whithering commentary about misconduct

Sunday, December 30th, 2018

Whither, oh why, do some researchers misconduct themselves professionally, and what is to be done about it? This study wants you to wonder about that:

Whither research integrity? Plagiarism, self-plagiarism and coercive citation in an age of research assessment,” Ben R. MartinResearch Policy, Volume 42, Issue 5, June 2013, Pages 1005-1014. The author laments:

“This extended editorial asks whether peer-review is continuing to operate effectively in policing research misconduct in the academic world. It explores the mounting problems encountered by editors of journals such as Research Policy (RP) in dealing with research misconduct.”


The scourge of ‘Alphabetism’ (new paper from professor Zax)

Thursday, December 27th, 2018

Professor Zax, who is (amongst other things) an anthroponomastician at the Department of Economics, University of Colorado at Boulder, US, presents (along with co-author Alexander Cauley) a new 48 page working paper which suggests that (males) who have a surname initial which occurs towards the end of the alphabet are more likely to end up academically and professionally undistinguished.

“Surnames with initials farther from the beginning of the alphabet were associated with less distinction and satisfaction in high school, lower educational attainment, more military service and less attractive first jobs.”

– say the team. The precise mechanisms, however, by which such effects might operate are perhaps suitable material for further anthroponomastical research.

See: Alphabetism: The Effects of Surname Initial and the Cost of Being Otherwise Undistinguished, University of Colorado Working Paper, Nov 2018.

Research research by Martin Gardiner

The Utility Fog of J. Storm Hall

Wednesday, December 26th, 2018

Utility fog has a father, who wrote a report:

Utility Fog: A Universal Physical Substance,” J. Storm Hall, Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering in the Era of Cyberspace, NASA Conference publication 10129, 1993, pp. 115-126.  Hall, at Rutgers University, explains:

Active, polymorphic material (“Utility Fog”) can be designed as a conglomeration of 100-micron robotic cells (‘foglets’). Such robots could be built with the techniques of molecular nanotechnology….

The Fog acts as a continuous bridge between actual physical reality and virtual reality. The Fog is universal effector as well as a universal sensor. Any (real) object in the Fog environment can be manipulated with an extremely wide array of patterns of pressure, force, and support; measured; analyzed; weighed; cut; reassembled; or reduced to bacteria-sized pieces and sorted for recycling.

General Properties and Uses—As well as forming an extension of the senses and muscles of individual people, the Fog can act as a generalized infrastructure for society at large. Fog City need have no permanent buildings of concrete, no roads of asphalt, no cars, trucks, or busses. It can look like a park, or a forest, or if the population is sufficiently whimsical, ancient Rome one day and Emerald City the next.

(Thanks to Anthony Brooks for bringing this to our attention.)

The “Santa Claus Effect” – positive or negative? (two viewpoints)

Monday, December 24th, 2018

Here’s the abstract of a 2017 study by Professor Brendan Kelly, Consultant Psychiatrist at Tallaght Hospital, School of Medicine, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.

Background: Christmas “is the season to be jolly” but, despite many recent studies of happiness and wellbeing, the population distribution of jollity is unknown.

Aims: To assess levels of jollity across Europe, hypothesising the existence of a “Santa Claus effect” whereby Mr. Claus, a long-established resident of Scandinavia, increases jollity through his social network.

Methods: Cross-sectional analysis of data from 37 966 participants in the European Society Survey (Round 7, 2014/2015) across 21 European countries.

Results: Jollity has independent associations with satisfaction with health and income, male gender, younger age, and country of residence. Each one-point increase in satisfaction with health (on a 5-point scale) corresponds to a 0.79-point increase in jollity (23-point scale); each one-point increase in satisfaction with income (4-point scale) corresponds to a 0.76-point increase in jollity. Switzerland is the jolliest country in Europe.

Conclusions: The jolliest European is likely to be a young Swiss male who is satisfied with his income and health. If there is a Santa Claus effect acting to increase jollity, it probably acts not just in Scandinavia but across Mr. Claus’s broad network of contacts and admirers in many countries.

See: Exploring and explaining the “Santa Claus effect”: cross-sectional study of jollity in 21 European countries, Journal of Mental Health, Volume 26, 2017 – Issue 6.

Where there is an opinion, however, there is always the possibility that there will be a counter-opinion. And in this case the possibility has turned into a documented reality. Because Professor Shaun O’Keefe of the Department of Geriatric Medicine, Galway University Hospitals, Galway, Ireland, protests – saying that :

“ I must protest his entirely one-sided portrait of Santa Claus and his comment on the ‘ubiquity of jollity at Christmas’. Santa may well be ‘‘very, very jolly’’ but this is on the back of his mistreatment and exploitation of elves and reindeers. Christmas generally leads to a decline in mood and in life satisfaction (Mutz, 2016; Sansone & Sansone, 2011). Furthermore, a quick Google search for jollity (5 September 2017) produces ‘‘about 1,270,000 results’’, many of them indeed referring to Christmas. However, the results total plummets to 438,000 when the search is repeated after excluding sites that also have the words ‘‘forced’’, ‘‘fake’’ or ‘‘false’’.


I suggest that the ‘‘Santa Claus’’ effect on true jollity is a negative one and that this is unsurprising if one is likely to be accosted by a disturbing character given to using the downright sinister ‘‘Ho! Ho! Ho!’’ as a greeting who plans to enter your home without permission in a most unorthodox way (Davis, 2012).”

See: Jollity and the “Santa Claus” effect: bah humbug? Journal of Mental Health, Volume 27, 2018 – Issue 2.

Research research by Martin Gardiner

Effect of Air Pollution on Professional Baseball Umpires

Wednesday, December 19th, 2018

Professional baseball umpires are not supposed to make errors, yet they sometimes do.  That happens more often on days when the air is badly polluted, suggests a new scientific study.

If umpires make more bad decisions on bad-air days, then maybe so does anyone who has to make rapid judgment calls. As the saying goes: more research is needed.

The study is: “Air Quality and Error Quantity: Pollution and Performance in a High-Skilled, Quality-Focused Occupation,” James Archsmith, Anthony Heyes, and Soodeh Saberian, Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 5, no. 4, October 2018. (Thanks to Tom Gill for bringing this to our attention.)

The authors, at the University of Maryland and the University of Ottowa, explain: “We provide the first evidence that short-term exposure to air pollution affects the work performance of a group of highly skilled, quality-focused employees. We repeatedly observe the decision making of individual professional baseball umpires, quasi-randomly assigned to varying air quality across time and space. Unique characteristics of this setting combined with high-frequency data disentangle effects of multiple pollutants and identify previously underexplored acute effects. We find that a 1 ppm increase in 3-hour CO causes an 11.5% increase in the propensity of umpires to make incorrect calls and a 10 mg/m3 increase in 12-hour PM2.5 causes a 2.6% increase.”

Anyone who reads the paper carefully will notice that there is a Trick. Specifically, the paper cites a study done by Michael A. Trick and colleagues: “Scheduling major league baseball umpires and the traveling umpire problem,” Michael A. Trick, Hakan Yildiz, and Tallys Yunes, Interfaces, vol. 42, no. 3, 2001, pp. 232–44.

Neither of those papers delves much into the related question of dust. Here’s a short video showing an umpire having to deal with a small, sudden uptick of airborne dust:

UPDATE (distantly related, sort of): Major League Baseball “players who sustained a concussion lost a mean of US$654,990 annually compared with players who took nonmedical leave.” That’s the word in a just-now-published study called “Short-Term Outcomes of Concussions in Major League Baseball: A Historical Cohort Study of Return to Play, Performance, Longevity, and Financial Impact.” (Thanks to Ivan Oransky for bringing this to our attention.)

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