Author Archive

Debunking Princeton

February 7, 2014 1 comment

This blog has been pretty dormant so I imagine this won’t really increase the reach, but I did write something that is pretty in tune with it over on Facebook: a note on Debunking Princeton.

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A Joe Paterno angle I haven’t seen

November 12, 2011 8 comments

I’m in no way condoning child abuse, and I’ve always disliked Joe Paterno and found him really creepy to begin with (and disliked Penn State by association). So I don’t have a bias here, I really don’t. I’m just a quant.

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Australian gender

September 15, 2011 1 comment

Australia announced today that it’s providing the option to not specify a gender on your passport — you can use “X”, intended for intersex people and the like. What I’m wondering as a quant (unrelated to whether or not it’s a good change) is: if you’re going to do this, why bother specifying anyone’s gender at all? Actually, it’s not clear what the point of that ever was, but certainly if “not specified” is an option for an identification type situation, it’s not really helpful for those sorts of security purposes, which the stuff on a passport is designed to accomplish.

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Ethics of the placebo effect

June 17, 2011 4 comments

Is it ethical to package things in a way that increases the placebo effect?

Is it ethical to publicize the placebo effect? (It works less well the more familiar people are with it.)

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Dental insurance

June 16, 2011 5 comments

Just a quick thought today. Dental insurance is the biggest swindle ever. I’m not talking about it being an instance of the general swindle that is the insurance industry (perhaps overstated by me); I’m talking about the fact that it’s called insurance. I don’t know who did this, but it’s brilliant: by using the word for something not really insurance, they make it seem obligatory. A dentally related catastrophe would almost certainly fall under medical insurance; people use dental insurance for routine things like checkups and cavities being filled, and dental expenses are generally both optional and in most people’s linear utility range. Getting insurance on something in your linear utility range (e.g. dealer blackjack, unless you really have a gambling problem) is quite the folly indeed, but somehow the industry gets away with using the word to give a sense of prudence and sensibility to buying dental coverage, all the while taking the insurance company’s usual steep vig. Quite a trick indeed!

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June 15, 2011 4 comments

This link reminded me of this to-me fascinating situation. No, not gay marriage itself: rather, whether a gay judge should have recused himself from this case, which seems to me to be an entirely different type of question.
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Always believe Vegas

June 14, 2011 2 comments

One of the lessons from my career working for a hedge fund is a pretty obvious one: if someone is good at predicting something, they will be making a mint off of it and moving the market in the process. The contrapositive, of course, is the relevant implication: if someone isn’t making a mint off of it, they probably aren’t good at predicting it. I’m reminded of this when I see all sorts of psychoanalysis and even non-psychoanalysis of sports.
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June 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Watching some press conferences during the NBA finals, I was struck by how similar to interrogations a lot of the questions are. As a reporter, you would think that you’re actually trying to get the truth, and it should be widely known that the best way to do this is to ask an open-ended question. For instance, asking “what do you think the main problem their defense presents you with is?” as opposed to “what do you think the main problem their defense presents you with is, height or athleticism?” This is of course a phenomenon exploited in polling and also in courtrooms: you are basically pushing the answers on the respondents. It’s a huge effect; a hard prime, if you will. Especially in realtime, like in a courtroom or a press conference, you give people an easy way out without them having to think on their feet. In a sense it’s a win-win: easier for the reporter (who can write his story first, then get quotes that support it) and easier for the player (who doesn’t have to think about things).

But in the courtroom as well as in the press conferences, this approach isn’t very good at revealing the truth. Open-ended questions, instead of choice-delimited ones, are far far superior. The problem, I guess, is that no one really cares what the truth is; attorneys have agendas (they work, after all, for their client, whether that be individuals or the state), and reporters have stories they want to write. And maybe this isn’t some huge tragedy. But if you are ever in a position where you really want someone’s honest opinion, don’t give them choices — and don’t prompt them if they pause to think (a pedagogic technique my advisor passed down to me many years ago — you want to help people along when they don’t know what to do, but it’s much better for them if you just allow the awkward silence and they come up with the answer on their own.)

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Daily News, you are dead to me

June 12, 2011 Leave a comment

This is unfortunately just another example of the fight I’m trying to fight. This is the second biggest paper in the biggest city in the US and we still get gems like:

Meanwhile, 139 million Americans have jobs. And since 13.9 million do not have jobs, that means 10% do not, not the 9.1% that they tell you of.

Via Ali Davis via facebook.

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Crime rates down

June 11, 2011 Leave a comment

This economist article notes that crime has fallen during this recession. No one really knows why! Worth a read — shows the murky waters of trying to ascribe explanations to quantitative phenomena, i.e. the counterpart to this blog.

Via Jennifer Doleac via fb.

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