Tatyana Deryugina (Twitter: @TDeryugina)

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Posted 20 May 11 by Tatyana in Verisimilitudes
I was going to start an original series on "verisimilitudes”, ideas that appear true and persist in popular or even scientific beliefs, but are actually false. When I started researching a few myths, I realized that there are already many other people out there writing up myths. So I decided to start by sharing and summarizing existing webpages debunking myths. If I run out of good stuff (what’s the probability of that on the internet?), I’ll start doing more original research.

Posted 16 May 11 by Tatyana in General
I was grading papers today and found out that Mississippi has the most bizarre set of alcohol laws of any state. Namely, you’re allowed to drive while drinking, as long as you’re not drunk. At the same time, most counties prohibit sales of alcohol on Sundays and there are many dry counties, where the possession of any alcohol is illegal.

Posted 13 May 11 by Tatyana in General

A recent study has found that women born in the spring are more likely to be anorexic than women born in the fall. You can see the results graphically here.

The authors seem quick to attribute this to gestational factors. But there are two other more plausible explanations I can think of first. One is that women who are born in the spring face more looks-based pressure in school and are more likely to develop the disorder. Perhaps being the smallest/largest/medium kid in your class has something to do with it. Second, I would be surprised if the season of birth is completely random. Some parents undoubtedly plan when they want their kid to be born. How do we know that it isn’t parental characteristics that contribute to this? It’s plausible that gestational factors affect the development of this complex disorder, but the environmental/selection factors above are way more plausible.

Posted 11 May 11 by Tatyana in Movies

Following a friend’s recommendation, I sat down and watched "Inside Job”, a 2010 documentary by Charles Ferguson about the role of the financial sector in the recession. At least that’s the neutral way of putting it. It would be more accurate to say that "Inside Job” is about how the financial sector (plus some academic and government helpers) caused the recession. The interviewer was impressive in that he seemed to succeed in annoying many of the people who disagreed with his views. I expected the movie to be more neutral, but it definitely felt more like a Michael Moore documentary than like a Discovery Channel one. That said, the line-up of people that Charles Ferguson interviewed (I assume it was him) was impressive, from John Campbell and Dominique Strauss-Kahnto Glenn Hubbard, Elliot Spitzer, and Paul Volcker.

Posted 06 May 11 by Tatyana in Science

Many people are convinced that computers will soon (everyone has their own definition of "soon”) become integrated into our bodies, pointing to the fact that some people already have medically prescribed hearing aids, pacemakers, and even brain implants. Will we soon be able to control the TV directly with our brains? We will if Intel has its way.

I wonder how such implants will be regulated. Currently, medical devices areregulated by the FDA. It would seem unfair to have non-medical implants unregulated while medical ones are. I doubt the FDA is about to stop regulating the latter. So the logical conclusion I make is that someone will step up to be the regulator in this case. Who will it be? And will this change the picture of how "soon” these technologies will emerge?

Posted 05 May 11 by Tatyana in General

The author of this one is pretty certain:

"The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity — in all this vastness — there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

~ Carl Sagan

Posted 03 May 11 by Tatyana in Simply Amusing

I wonder how many people at this point are unaware of a semi-fake Martin Luther King Jr. quote going around the internet. In my (perhaps small) world, it’s been taking up more space than the analysis of Osama Bin Laden’s death. Here’s the quote:

"I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Apparently, the first sentence was not said by MLK, although the latter three were. I saw a friend of mine post this quote on facebook last night and reposted it as my own status. How much did my reposting have to do with the fact that the quote was supposedly MLK’s? I have no idea, but I’d like to think that my motivations had more to do with the content than the supposed author of the quote. I’m sure that’s what the millions of other people who reposted it will say as well.

What’s REALLY amazing here is not only how quickly a previously non-existent quote spread. The fact that the quote was not authentic seems to be spreading as quickly as the quote itself. In fact, if you Google search for "MLK quote” right now, I bet you will find more mentions of the quotes non-genuineness than of the quote itself (this was not true this morning when I tried the search). If you search for the first sentence of the quote, you still get mostly people sharing the quote, but I bet that will change soon as well.

I’m not sure whether this is a good or bad signal about the internet’s power. On one hand, untruths can spread amazingly quickly when the circumstances are favorable. However, they also seem to be corrected quickly.

Posted 01 May 11 by Tatyana in Simply Amusing

Watch your thoughts; they become words.

Watch your words; they become actions.

Watch your actions; they become habits.

Watch your habits; they become character.

Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

-- Frank Outlaw

Interestingly enough, Frank Outlaw is probably not the person who said this. From a brief internet search, I gathered that (a) there are a bunch of Frank Outlaws out there, but none is particularly famous and (b) there’s no evidence that any of them actually said this. Nevertheless, it’s a good quote.

Posted 30 Apr 11 by Tatyana in General

My roommate went out of town on Thursday. To celebrate, my subconsciousness decided to lock me out of the apartment by leaving my keys at home. Now this has happened to me a few times last summer. Luckily, we live on the first floor and our kitchen windows were unlocked, so I would simply climb back in. At some point, I decided that leaving windows unlocked on the first floor was not such a great idea and locked them. So there I was with no keys, no cell phone, and no roommate to let me back in. I tried a few of the windows just for the hell of it, but no luck. My landlady didn’t pick up. Long story short, I managed to call a locksmith who took half an hour to arrive and then informed me that he couldn’t open any of the doors because of the lock type. While standing there and pondering which one of my friends I was going to inconvenience tonight, I decided to try a living room window. Lo and behold, it opened. The locksmith charged me $75 (yep, just for telling me there was nothing he could do) and left.

Posted 28 Apr 11 by Tatyana in Simply Amusing

I have to admit, I know very little about the "rules” of diplomacy, if there are any. So this story seemed very strange to me. Here’s the rough timeline:

  1. British high commissioner in Malawi calls its ruler "intolerant of criticism” in a diplomatic cable.

  2.  Wikileaks publishes cable.

  3. British high commissioner is expelled from Malawi (for "undiplomatic language”).

  4. Malawi high commissioner is expelled from Britain.

I hope you’re happy, Wikileaks. Is this what you were hoping to achieve by releasing these cables? I also wonder how expelling the British high commissioner could have helped Malawi’s ruler in any way, shape, or form, given what the accusations were. Does anyone realistically expect the language in internal diplomatic cables to be "diplomatic”? And event 4 just sounds like kindergarten. But then again, I’m not sure what these commissioners were doing in the first place – maybe this will help the countries cut unnecessary spending.

By the way, one definition of diplomacy is "The art of dealing with people in a sensitive and effective way” (from Google dictionary). So maybe this isn’t diplomacy after all.

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