Tatyana Deryugina (Twitter: @TDeryugina)

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Posted 12 Aug 17 by arbelos in Simply Amusing

“Often wrong, always certain”, goes a saying I once heard about economists. Frankly, I hate admitting when I’m wrong or when I don’t know something (don’t try to use that against me in an argument, I’ll totally deny that it applies in that case). I force myself to do it, and I think I succeed most of the time, but it is very unpleasant.

I think the same thing applies to other people. We would rather take an “educated guess” than to say “I don’t know” and we would rather defend our original point in an argument even though halfway through we may have started wondering (very very deep down) if we’re wrong.

A few days ago, I realized that I actually have great data to test this hypothesis. In a survey experiment pilot my colleague Olga Shurchkov and I ran recently, we asked people two multiple choice questions: (1) what is the current concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere? and (2) what is the “albedo effect”? We included “I don’t know” as an answer option and used the number of correct answers as a gauge for objective knowledge about climate science (there was another question asking people to name greenhouse gases, but that one is more complicated because there are multiple correct answers).

Our sample was not necessarily representative of the US (Amazon MTurk workers), but there is definitely a wide range of various demographic and economic characteristics in our data. We never looked at what fraction of people answered “I don’t know”, but my prior was that it was low. I got really excited to have some data to test my hypothesis. I was even going to run an informal survey on Facebook, making up a fake city and asking people which continent it was located on to see how many of my friends would admit that they didn’t know.

But I decided to look at the survey data first, and frankly I was shocked. 224 out of 361 respondents (62%) admitted they didn’t know the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere (22% chose the right answer and the rest chose a wrong answer, if you’re wondering). 200 (55%) admitted that they didn’t know what the albedo effect was (20% got it right). Apparently the majority of people have no problem admitting when they don’t know something (at least on a survey). Even though my original hypothesis didn't pan out, I thought the results might be interesting to some of my blog readers.

And there you go: I was wrong.



Posted 02 Feb 16 by arbelos in Science

There has been a lot of sickness around my household, prompting me to try to figure out what I could do to prevent myself from getting sick. I found myself taking probiotic pills, even though the germs around my house were not the kind a probiotic could help against. I also drank vitamin C mixes and in general kept wondering about what other non-clinically-tested thing I could take that maybe marginally works. And then I remembered one thing that we know works very well in many situations - sugar pills, aka placebos. In fact, they sometimes work even when people know they're taking a placebo (see here and here). So here's my great business idea: someone should sell placebo pills that people can take when they feel sick.

Now I know what you're going to say - there are many "placebos" out there in the form of homeopathic treatments and herbal remedies. Those things, however, are fairly expensive. Although there's some evidence that more expensive placebos provide more relief (see here and here), the market needs some cheap placebos too. And the best part is that you don't even have to deceive people. In fact, I was surprised to see that no one makes such a thing already (if you want to have a good laugh, google "placebo pills"). You're welcome.



Posted 10 Jan 16 by arbelos in Simply Amusing

Over the past few years, I've noticed an interesting pattern on my Facebook feed - lots of my friends were sharing articles about how to handle/understand introverts. I was surprised because I didn't think introverts were so rare that there was a need for special instructions about how to deal with them and because some of the people posting did not seem like introverts to me. So I decided to ask my friends (a) if they thought they were an introvert/extrovert and (b) if they thoughts their FRIENDS/FAMILY considered them an introvert or extrovert. A few days ago, I posted a SurveyMonkey questionnaire with those two questions on my Facebook feed.

Of course, lots of caveats apply to my discussion of the results. I'm not a psychologist and this is not research. I didn't define extrovert/introvert either in the questionnaire or in this post, so presumably people just went with their own ideas of who these types are (you can read about the "official" differences here). The people who completed the questionnaire are almost certainly not random. From the two questions, it was probably pretty obvious what I was trying to get at. This post is NOT peer reviewed and may be duplicating existing efforts. Etc, etc.

Anyway, here are the results. Of the 74 people who took my survey, 48 (65%!) considered themselves introverts. This is quite high! The best stat I could (quickly) find says that about half the U.S. population can be classified as an introvert. So this either means that my friends are different (this link claims that people with higher IQ are more likely to be introverts, so maybe my friends are just smart) or that people tend to identify more with the idea of being an introvert, even if an official test would not classify them as an introvert. I also consider myself an introvert, so maybe I'm just more likely to befriend introverts. That's not the interesting part of the survey anyway.

The interesting part is that only half (24) of the self-identified introverts thought that their family and friends would classify them as an introvert. The rest either didn't know (11 people) or thought that their family would classify them as an extrovert (13). So if you extrapolate from this, at least a quarter of all introverts think that they're misclassified by their loved ones. Maybe that's why they were posting all those news articles in the first place!

Now what about the extroverts? There were 23 of them (a few people who took the survey didn't know whether they were introverts or extroverts). A whopping 22 said their family and friends also consider them extroverts and 1 person didn't know. Not a single extrovert said that their friends/family thought they were an introvert!

This is roughly in line with what I was expecting, at least qualitatively. And maybe you're also not surprised, but I think it's nice to confirm ideas with data (subject to many caveats). Thanks to everyone who took the survey!



Posted 23 Jun 11 by Tatyana in Science
There is direct evidence that endorphins are released following a period of strenuous exercise. What it takes for endorphins to be released is unclear (and probably varies from person to person), but the consensus seems to be that the body has to cross over some threshold of strain before endorphins are released. I’ve certainly experienced this myself (I think). The first two miles or so of my recent runs are usually pretty tedious and unpleasant.  I get tired and want to stop. Sometimes I get side pains. But then I start feeling better and am able to run another three miles without significantly slowing down. I’ve never gotten side pains during the second part of a long run (and it’s not because I selectively stop running). So I do think the time-delayed endorphin release is real.


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 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 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 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.



Posted 31 Mar 11 by Tatyana in Books

This blog works very well as a commitment device. Today, two people have mentioned my "I’m going to memorize the countries of the world” promise, forcing me to sit down and do some creative memorization following the techniques in the "Moonwalking with Einstein”. I had actually already memorized Central and South America and successfully recited the countries to a friend almost two days after the memorization took place. OK, I left out Argentina (ironically, that was one of the few countries I could identify before this exercise). But that’s still an over 90% retention rate.

I’ve moved on to Africa now. It’s much tougher than South America. The memorization techniques calls for coming up with images that evoke the country names (e.g., "guacamole” for Guatemala). The crazier the image, the better. It also has to be concrete (e.g., you won’t be able to remember Mauritania by thinking of "moratorium”). So what am I supposed to picture for Ghana? And why are there three countries with the word "Guinea” in their name?

I’m about halfway done with Africa (Mauritania is Maury Povich). It’ll be interesting to see how much more I can memorize without forgetting Latin America.



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