Sunday, May 16, 2010

Truest Line of the Week

"I said, oh my god, we have sensors at 7,000 locations on all the interstates. What could be better than that?" (Economists get more excited than the rest of us when happening on a potential new indicator.)
 Just one line taken out of a Slate piece on the trucking industry as an early indicator of the economy's direction.  This reaction to data reminds me of Freakonomics (the sequel is on my to-read shelf, half-read)).  But it also reminds me of my own reactions--that I don't necessarily get excited when I see new data, but when I see variation.  That is, when I am talking to my graduate students and they present their stuff, I will often see some changes over time or differences among the cases (or similarities, if the cases are very different) and get excited for them.  Variation = leverage.  That is, if we can compare two or more things and there are significant differences, we can get a grasp on them and figure out why they had different outcomes.

Anyway, this the social science geek of the week moment until I read another article, which concluded thusly:
He did note that his students at Harvard have been particularly fascinated by the research that shows quantifiable economic advantages of beauty. The benefit of these “weird facts,” he said, is that it “forces you to think about the world in ways you didn’t before.”
The article itself is on the growing effort to determine how height, weight and attractiveness are associated with engaging in crime and getting convicted.  The casual mechanisms may be complex--that nutrition and genetics influence these so we are not far from nature vs. nurture.  Also, one problem is that we have had a very significant increase in obesity (if the media is correct) at a time of decreasing crime.  So, I am pretty skeptical, but given that I am now below average in height (I am not shrinking, the North American average has increased), I guess I could be downplaying these results so that folks don't suspect me of being the criminal that I am.  Oops.

No comments: