Latest Blog Posts & Articles


The Harms of Believing in Exercise

Harms of Believing in Exercise Pic2Can beliefs make you fat?

The answer to this question might seem pretty obvious. If I believe that the best way to lose weight is to super-size five meals a day at McDonald’s, while consuming bags of Doritos to tide me over between meals, that belief is probably going to make me fat. If I believe that the best way to get in shape is to watch other people exercise, I’m probably never going to have a six pack abdomen.

But what if I believe that exercise is the key to losing weight? Research suggests that this belief might be bad for my health.

Let’s be clear – I like to exercise. Maybe even too much for my own good, if the amount of money I’ve spent on orthopedic surgery is any indication. But I like to exercise because it is fun to exercise and makes me feel better, not because it keeps me thin. Let’s also be clear that exercise helps people avoid becoming obese. One of the reasons I’m still under 160 pounds in my early 50s is because I exercise six or seven days a week. But regular exercise, alone, doesn’t guarantee a trim figure. I have plenty of friends who exercise quite a bit, and still have hefty frames. They are hefty because they still manage to consume more calories than they burn.

And that’s where belief about exercise can become dangerous. (To read the rest of this article, please visit Forbes.)

Posted in Health & Well-being | Tagged ,

Cigarette Smoking Is So 1970!

I have two reasons for showing you this picture, illustrating the decline in cigarette sales in Germany, France, Japan, Switzerland and the US over the past few decades. First, to show you the decline in cigarette sales in Germany, France, Japan, Switzerland and the US over the past few decades.

Cigarette Smoking Is So 1970

Second, to encourage those of you who like pictures like this to follow Max Roser on Twitter – @MaxCRoser . His twitter feed is chock-full of wonderful pictures like this. You will probably see some of them in my twitter stream, too, because these pictures deserve to be widely shared. But if you don’t want to miss any, I suggest you go right to the source.

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Polarized Views on Science

Sometimes when I disagree with friends or family about contentious issues, and they accuse me of being partisan, I try to defend myself by explaining that I am basing my position on science, not politics. According to a recent poll, my defense is flawed, because it seems that science itself is partisan. Across a relatively wide range of issues, Republicans are less likely to follow scientific advice than Democrats, even on some issues I wouldn’t have guessed – like animal testing for medical research, and producing biotech food and crops. Here’s a picture showing these attitudes:

Polarized Views on ScienceIn short, far too many people on both the left and the right don’t have enough trust in science. The problem seems to be especially large among people who identify as Republicans.

Posted in Political Psychology | Tagged ,

It Pays to Pay Well for Medicaid

This study came out a while ago, from ICYMI. The research team called up primary care practices and tried to make appointments for Medicaid patients. When states raised reimbursement rates, it became easier:

It Pays to Pay Well for Medicaid Figure1Health insurance doesn’t do much good when patients can’t find doctors willing to accept crappy reimbursement.

Posted in Uncategorized

I Miss Ike

I Miss IkeHere is Eisenhower drawing out the connection between science and liberty:

“Love of liberty means the guarding of every resource that makes freedom possible—from the sanctity of our families and the wealth of our soil to the genius of our scientists.”

I would love to see a presidential candidate pick up this theme.

 

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Watch Out for Snack Food

People are correctly paying a great deal of attention to just how many calories it is possible to consume at American restaurants these days. The New York Times, in fact, recently showed just how many calories people typically consume at Chipotle:

Watch Out for Snack Food 1

But as the folks at Vox pointed out in a follow-up post, in focusing our attention on those calorie packed entrées, we shouldn’t forget about another very important source of calories – snacks! In fact, according to one study, by David Cutler, it is snack calories that changed the most in the US between 1977 in 1996:

Watch Out for Snack Food 2

Does anybody have any more recent data than this? With so many more people eating out for meals now, I wonder how this has changed.

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The Anchoring Heuristic Courtesy of Dilbert

Heuristics is jargon used by decision psychologists and behavioral economists to refer to cognitive shortcuts we humans take to make judgments and decisions. One of the first heuristics identified as such by Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky was the anchoring heuristic. I would define it for you, but it is wonderfully captured in this cartoon:

Anchoring Heuristic Dilbert

Posted in Behavioral Economics and Public Policy | Tagged

How Do Scientists’ Beliefs Differ from Those of Laypeople?

Do you think it is safe to eat genetically modified foods? I do, because I believe that most foods we eat have been genetically modified. Cows wouldn’t be cows if humans hadn’t changed them genetically, through breeding practices. That also might be because I’m a scientist, and one of the beliefs that separates scientists from laypeople’s belief is whether genetically modified foods are harmful. Here is a list of other beliefs, from a Pew Center pole:

How Do Scientists’ Beliefs Differ from Those of Laypeople

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Incentive to Stop Smoking?

In the United States, the FDA tried to mandate that cigarette companies put nasty images of the harms of smoking onto cigarette packages, images that would take up at least half of the carton. It looks like that effort has failed, because the courts have determined that it violates the First Amendment. I wonder what the courts will think about this graphic image, which somebody painted onto the ceiling of a “smoker’s room”.

Incentive to Stop Smoking

That’s got to give people reason for pause.

Posted in Behavioral Economics and Public Policy | Tagged , ,

Would Better Risk Communication Reduce Fear of Flying?

With so much recent news about airplane disasters, it’s easy to become frightened about flying. I wonder if a risk graphic like the following will do much to help?

Am I Going Down AppAs reported on recently in The Economist, the risk graphic comes from a new iPhone app called Am I Going Down?

I’m skeptical this will work. But I still love the way their display puts this risk information into a context we can all relate to. Hurrah!

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