Monthly Archives: January 2013

Neutrinos, parasites, and Vino

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Two articles from Science News make for interesting reading on frigid January nights.  First, the hunt for the elusive neutrino brings some tantalizing results that might explain why the universe contains more matter than antimatter.  Neutrinos 

Next up is a parasite that infects the human brain and may impact personality over time.  Don’t get too comfortable..there’s a decent chance this alien is in your brain too.  Of course, cats are involved in this spooky story.  Things in your Brain.

Finally, I tried to capture neutrinos bouncing off this wine bottle.  Since tens of trillions of neutrinos pass through every person on earth every second, I figured I could isolate a couple as they passed through some good wine.  #experimentfailed

Still, this wine…if you should be so lucky to find it in a local wine shop…is good stuff.  For the price (< $15), this vino comes with good body and consistent flavor.  It’s dry, delivers good tannins, and dark flavors that you must explore on your own.

Patterns

SnowPattern

Roof, Brattle Street, Cambridge MA

Humans are not good at detecting patterns…nor are we good at recognizing randomness when it presents itself as a pattern (or part of one).

The tragedy at Newtown brings up the question of whether mass shootings (counted as 10 fatalities or more) are increasing.  If you do you use 10 fatalities as a baseline, then it certainly seems that we’ve seen an increase in these incidents over the last two decades.   The increase in frequency as a percentage would appear to go down if you defined mass shootings as 2 fatalities or more (or even 3, 4, 5, and 6).  So, it all depends on what constitutes a “mass shooting.”  Defining these incidents is not merely an academic exercise.  Indeed, the definition of “mass shooting” determines the abilities of policy makers to make informed decisions.  And the definition of these events impacts the arguments of gun control advocates and champions of the 2nd Amendment.  (I have not done formal research to verify these numbers, but based on a preliminary search it does seem there is an increase of incidents with 10 fatalities or more.)

Super-storm “Sandy” brings up another problem with pattern detection.  Some commentators attribute the cause of the storm to climate change.  It’s a convenient argument.  There is a belief among climate experts that super storms will increase in frequency as climate change progresses.  Nevertheless, there is zero empirical evidence linking this storm with climate change.  We simply don’t know if “Sandy” is part of a large emerging pattern of super storms or if the storm was simply an occurrence unassociated with the variables of climate change.

The End of US Economic Growth? Maybe.

Is the flame of economic growth going down?

Is the flame of economic growth going down?

I often cringe when economists or other social scientists make predictions about future outcomes.   Nevertheless, provocative postulations that draw ire always pique my interest.  In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, economist Robert Gordon argues that the growth rate experienced in the United States between 1891-2007 is not going to return any time soon.   Innovation – the engine of US productivity – will not be sufficient to sustain the 2% annual growth rate of output per person during this period.   Not surprisingly, Gordon’s thesis received many boo’s and hisses from commentators.

Paul Krugman’s polite denouncement of Gordon’s claim seems slightly off target.  In my reading of Gordon’s argument, techno-pessism is not the primary explanatory variable for why growth won’t match previous rates.  Innovation will continue.  However, the new technologies simply won’t produce seismic shifts in consumer spending and worker productivity.  The pool of those who benefit from innovation is going to get smaller and smaller in coming decades.