Thursday, 1 September 2016

A variety of interesting links

Not about Brexit, you will be pleased to hear.

1. The slowest athletes in the Olympics: "He was ready to participate at the Olympic games. It would be the fifth race of his life." This answers a lot of questions you might have had about who gets to be in the Olympics, and why the 100m final is not completely full of Jamaicans.

2.  Trust and more trust. The Economist is, as ever, optimistic: "New technologies that encourage co-operation in some spheres of life contribute to social capital rather than weaken it." Tim Harford, by contrast, has this story from high-trust Bavaria: "While browsing for shades in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, I warned my young son not to play with the merchandise: a sign forbade children to touch the sunglasses. // The shopkeeper bustled over and reassured me that the rule did not apply to my son. “It’s for the Arab kids,” she told me, beaming. “They just drop the sunglasses on the floor.”"

3. This is a frightening photograph.

4. The influence of Tolkein on rock music.

5. Very weird insects.

6. Sam Kriss on the multiverse. I'm pleased to see that Kriss has, at least in this universe, gained transatlantic appeal.

7. Finally, here's a story that should have a moral - but what? This is how the story goes. If you play basketball, you will have a subjective experience of a 'hot hand': from time to time, it seems that every shot goes in, and you just know that the next one will do too. (I think we all get that feeling with physical skills, such as sporting ones, that are not entirely under conscious control - the feeling that you're in the groove, or something has just clicked.) But some researchers did some maths and proved that there was no such thing. That became famous: a great story about how statistics can show that something you just know to be true is not true. So far so good. But then some other researchers came along and showed that the maths was wrong. In fact - there is a hot hand. A famous 'fallacy' is not a fallacy at all. So what's the moral? There are things you can know that maths can't prove - or if maths seems to disprove it, doubt the maths? OK, that deals with subprime mortgages: don't trust the computer models, trust your instinct. But what about global warming - just go with your gut on that one? Or is it a moral about when scientific research and intuition clash: we know we should be suspicious about scientific findings that we instinctively like - but should be more suspicious about those we dislike? If the next set of science papers say that there is no hot hand again, who will be listening?

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