Lowering Voting Age to Six

I just ran across this study in Scientific American, May 5th, 2009 entitled “The Look of a Winner”. The study had Swiss children aged 5 to 13 playing a game based on Odysseus’ voyage from Troy back to Ithaca. At the end of the game they were asked to pick their captain to lead them from two images. Unbeknownst to the children they were two rival candidates from the French parliamentary elections. The researchers found that the Swiss children’s choice of captain, based solely on the pictures, was the person more likely to win the French election. Further, five year old judgements were about as good as adults.

The article notes that appearing like a leader is appearing competent, not attractive. Other researchers have found, “That candidate appearances have the strongest impact on voters who possess little political knowledge and spend a lot of time in front of their television screens.”

My knee jerk scientific reaction is more studies are needed but those that have been done are pointing to a consistent conclusion: large numbers of people base their candidate choice consistently with facial appearance. If these results continue to hold up I have a few thoughts:

  • Is just seeing a face good enough? In other words it’s possible that after thousands of millenia of evolving, and the importance of picking good leaders to surviving, maybe we can identify competent leaders by just looking. Though it seems to me that what might have worked in the past, like craving sweets and fats, may not work so well in this obese, nuclear armed, inside the beginning of Earth’s sixth major extinction event, new Anthropocene geological epoch.
  • We think that thinking is important to picking a leader, and that thinking works better in adults. But if 5 year olds have the same competence (or some might say lack of it) as adults in picking their leaders, perhaps we should just drop the voting age to say 6 (just to be conservative)? Imagine how great it could be. We could require voting in school, maybe homeroom for middle and high schoolers, and right after the Pledge of Allegence for grade schoolers. The voter turnout would be very high so presidential candidates would have to come to schools and promise better cafeteria meals with this voter block. I can see it now!
  • Or perhaps instead of voter ID laws eliminating voters we should eliminate heavy TV viewers from the voter rolls.
  • This confirms my reasons for not usually watching the candidates. I strongly prefer to be a data driven voter, looking at what they do first in statistics and policy studies. So I’ve preferred not watching debates, speeches, etc, but instead the analysis of those, or simply read the text. Otherwise it seems they’re judge pulling my emotional triggers. Further evidence of this is the Kennedy Nixon debates where the radio audience gave the node to Nixon while TV views thought Kennedy did a better job (click here for a discussion of that). Of course once I’m sure of the rational basis then I can have fun being emotionally tweaked, so I delighted in watching Clinton’s 2012 Democratic National Convention speech that entwines good facts, reasoning, and strong emotional value appeal.

Check out another post I have on this topic by clicking here.

My Feet Are Younger!

(Photo by Matthew Kirkland, (Flicker simpologist))

(Photo by Matthew Kirkland, (Flicker simpologist))

When I was nine years old I saw a magazine that showed if you went really fast to Andromeda galaxy, then you’d age really slowly. The magazine suggested the round trip on Earth would take 2,000,000 years while the astronaut would age 20 (at least that’s what I think I remember). It also said that many scientists couldn’t believe this was true, and I knew at once I didn’t want to be like them. I promised myself, in a nine year old way, that I’d pay more attention to the means of getting the answers than to the answers themselves.

Einstein’s theories of relativity predicted this and there are probably no theories in science that have been more tested and proven right. The reason for these theories is odd measurements that showed nothing can go faster than the speed of light. This is very counter intuitive (so of course I love it). If we have two cars approaching each other at 99 mph a radar gun in one car would show the speed is 198 mph. If two spaceships were going at each other at 99% the speed of light, the radar gun (or any other way to measure it) would show the speed at a bit under the speed of light, not 198%.

To get this result means the faster you go the shorter your spaceship has to be and the slower time goes. This is in Einstein’s Special Relativity theory. Einstein’s General Relativity theory says the greater the gravity the slower time goes meaning if you’re closer to the Earth the slower time goes. This means time is a very local phenomenon. The passage of time for your feet is generally slower than for your head. And when you’re in a car driving down the street at 20 mph it’s slower than for you than for the people you left in the house.

The National Institute of Standards’ clocks are now so accurate they can measure these time differences. Check out this story on their website, “NIST Pair of Aluminum Atomic Clocks Reveal Einstein’s Relativity at a Personal Scale“. With expected improvements they’ll be able to measure time differences of 1 cm (less than ½-inch) elevation! Future improvements will bring this down to 1mm (about a dime’s thickness). Rocks my world, but I’ve loved accurate time ever since I ran across WWV on shortwave and after a while realized they were telling me time to better than 1 second accuracy. This was in an age when you’d be proud if your wrist watch was only off a minute a day. Now I wear a watch that resets itself nightly with WWV broadcasts to be less than 1/100 second off.

But one thing has kept me up a little later at nights lately. Another effect of near light speeds is increasing mass of the object. Those atomic particles they’re accelerating to huge velocities under the Swiss-French countryside to find the Higg’s particle weigh a lot more than they do when they’re sitting still.

The problem I have is imagining a big lead shield at the back of the spaceship protecting the astronauts. As it gets near light velocities doesn’t this get so much mass it turns into  neutronium, just like a neutron star, with its gravity crushing the astronauts and sort of making it obvious who’s going really fast thus violating Special Relativity? I’ve done the requisite searches to understand this but have yet to find someone who seems to have a handle on this. If you find something let me know so I can sleep better! Please.

Liberal vs Conservative Brains

In college I began to ponder the oddities of political identification. It made no sense to me. It was like people had a paper bag, labeled it “Conservative/Republican” or “Liberal/Democrat”, and threw items in it with little concern if they made much sense together.

This was clearest to me with the Conservative bag where there was “Pro-Life” (and thus anti-Planned Parenthood, more on that in a moment), pro death penalty, and large war budgets. Now clearly in my mind, the basic principle, the prime motivator, of this set of issues was not supporting and nurturing life. Something else had to be going on despite the words being uttered.

And what goes into the bag and out can change too. A recent NPR Fresh Air podcast Continue reading

Clinton Was Right: Dems 41 Million Jobs, Reps 21 Million Jobs

I love the phrases “Flying by instruments,” or “Data Driven”. Without a doubt it reflects my distrust of my own biases and prejudices, so I lean heavily to the analytical, to what can be tested and proven. The scientific method is just part of me.

So it’s no surprise that I thought one of the most interesting things to come out of the Democratic National Convention was Bill Clinton’s heavy in the policy and statistics speech. And what followed in the press was that Bill Clinton Was Right, according to US News and World Report, not known to be a bastion of the East Coast Media Elite.

In particular US News & World Report analyzed economic outcomes based on the party of the president. Since 1961 Democrats added 41 million jobs (Clinton rounded up to 42) while Republicans added about half as many at 21 million jobs. Now this was from the start to the end of each administration but that hardly seems fair. Surely some time is needed to change the jobs outcome. So the writer skewed to numbers to one year after the start of an administration to one year after it ended. In other words give an administration a year to let things kick in. Result: Dems 38 million, GOP 27 million.

This was only private sector jobs, which seems to me the Republicans would agree are the really good ones, or as I’ve heard argued, government can’t create jobs. But the writer checked total jobs, including government, again giving one year for administration policies to kick in and once again: Dems 44 million, GOP 34 million.

Another very interesting review, again not from the East Coast Media Elite (correct me if I’m wrong as I think use of this phrase is whining on the parts of conservatives so I’m not sure of the scorecard as to who is or isn’t in the “Elite”), is from Fox News in their story History Shows Stocks, GDP Outperform Under Democrats we learn that GDP (gross domestic profit), stock prices, and corporate profits are better under Democrats.

McGraw-Hill’s S&P Capital IQ analysis shows: Continue reading

Neutron Stars Are More Fun

Neutron StarSo I’ve reached a new stage in my life. I’ve decided neutron stars are more fun. I know, black holes have all the buzz, the press, the hyperbole. And I know they seem absolutely necessary to make galaxies and thus life itself. But black holes seem so remote. Hardly in my universe once you cross the event horizon.

Neutron stars are still our neighbor, although very very weird neighbors. Some interesting things about them:

  • Neutron stars are about 20 kilometers (12 miles) in diameter but weigh as much as 1½ to 2 suns.
  • A sugar cube size of a neutron star weighs more than all humanity, or put another way, the Empire State Building would squeeze down to the size of a grain of rice on a neutron star. Remember all those pictures of atoms? The electrons whirling around the nucleus? They leave the wrong impression because the proportions are wrong in order to make the drawing work. If you hold your fists together imagining they are made of lead and are a proton and neutron, then imagine the electrons, smaller than a speck of ground pepper, whirling around 3 miles away. If you have a friend they could be doing the same thing, 6 miles away and you have an idea of what ordinary matter is like. Almost all the weight of an atom are those neutrons and protons. Now squeeze the electrons into your fists and get all your friends to hold their fists next to you and you get an idea of the what a neutron star’s matter is like. I find this an incredible image! It means almost all of what I see, including me,  is really vast and empty space. (Check here to see a nice diagram of that.)
  • If you could find a 1 meter (39 inch) cliff to fall off, you’d hit the “ground” at  4,300,000 miles/hour.Now that’s acceleration! At that speed you could whiz past the moon in 3½ minutes and the sun in 22 hours. (Check to see the professor’s estimates.)
  • I’d weigh 35,000,000,000,000 pounds on a neutron star. I feel so grateful now that I’m so lightweight! (Click here to check your weight on different worlds.)
  • To leave the star you’d have to get up to an escape velocity of about 1/3 to 1/2 the speed of light.
  • If it was a special kind of neutron star, called a magnetar, the magnetism from the star would tear apart your tissues from thousands of miles away. (See the great Wikipedia for more information on this.)
  • And then I’ve run across this wonderful article on the most famous neutron star in the Crab Nebula having a 4 inch carbon atmosphere.
  • And most interesting to me is that, like the Earth, they can have a structure, with a crust, and different things going on inside. This is where I feel they’re still sort of vaguely familiar, as opposed to a black hole which really crosses into terra incognita. Check out Coleman Miller’s article, which is a nice summary of neutron stars.

Take A Test of Political (and other) Biases

It’s much easy for our brains to process things that are congruent, that is when things make sense because they’re related to each other.

For example say the following words:

RED
BLUE
PURPLE
BROWN
YELLOW
GREEN
GRAY
ORANGE

Now try this but do NOT read the word, instead say the color of the word:

RED
BLUE
PURPLE
BROWN
YELLOW
GREEN
GRAY
ORANGE

Didn’t that take longer? This effect is called the Stroop Effect. Most of us have been trained and ingrained that reading something has priority over other ways of getting facts. So we have difficulty with this task since it doesn’t make sense to our brain to ignore the word in favor of the color of the word. This in turn leads to longer time to answer the implicit question of what’s the color. The time difference to process what makes sense to us verses what doesn’t allows us to test for biases. Continue reading

Band Around The World

Quiz Time!

Band Around The World

Question 1
Earth's circumference is 24,901 miles (40,075 km). Imagine it's as smooth as a cue ball, or even smoother like a neutron star. Imagine there's a stiff tight band around it. Now if 10 feet (3 meters) is added to the band raising it up above the ground equally around the whole world could you:  
A
Barely slip a piece of paper under it.
B
Crawl under it.
C
Walk under it.
Question 1 Explanation: 
The question is really asking about the increase in radius of a circle. The circumference is equal to: C = 2R * π But we want to know how much higher this band is which is really asking what's the increase in radius. Rearranging the formula to find R: R = C / (2 * π) Let's just calculate how much radius increases with 10 feet: R = 10 / 6.28 = 1.59' About two feet, enough to shimmy under.
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I saw this question in an old time book by Lillian and Hugh Lieber, probably titled Infinity. It is wonderfully counter-intuitive and points out the need to really think and analyze problems.