Tatyana Deryugina (Twitter: @TDeryugina)

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Posted 13 Jun 11 by Tatyana in General
 I have to admit that although I first heard the terms "Sunni Muslims” and "Shia Muslims” years ago, I never bothered to figure out what the differences between the two sects of Islam were. Recently I finally sat down and looked it up. Turns out, the differences aren’t major. But the origins of the sects are pretty interesting – they arose over a disagreement about who should succeed Muhammad, someone elected by the the people or a blood/undemocratically chosen heir. You can find the details here. Here’s a nice chart with the major differences in beliefs between the two.  

Posted 09 Jun 11 by Tatyana in General
 For those who have heard that scientists in the 1970′s believed a new Ice Age was imminent, I recommend reading this article, which investigates what the true consensus was back then. To give away the punchline, the title of the article is "The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus”. It’s non-technical and very well-written.  

Posted 29 May 11 by Tatyana in Books
I finally finished reading "Moonwalking with Einstein” by Joshua Foer, where he documents his quest to win the US Memory Championship (even though the quest starts out with a less ambitious goal).  It was a very easy to read and contained a lot of interesting facts. For one, I had no idea that memorization was such a big part of life in ancient times. When you think about it, it makes sense – many people didn’t know how to read and those who did couldn’t afford to own every book. But I never really thought about it.

Posted 22 May 11 by Tatyana in Books
I just finished reading "Poor Economics” by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, both MIT economics professors. The book was amazing and I highly recommend it. In summary, it is an excellent, evidence-based discourse about the behavior of the poor and the policies that work and don’t work to improve their lives. Abhijit and Esther cover how the poor make decision about how much to save, eat, and spend on their children’s education, why so many poor households run businesses but don’t become rich, and how political institutions can be improved.

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

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