Showing posts with label research ideas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label research ideas. Show all posts

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Things They Should Study: under what circumstances do kids get tired faster than adults?

Toronto Chief City Planner Jennifer Keesmaat tweeted a discussion from CityLab about whether adults should give up subway seats for children.

My first thought on reading this was of course I'd offer a seat to a kid, because standing is harder for kids. I remember very clearly that my feet got sore faster as a kid (even as old as 10-12).  My feet got sore from standing way faster than my parents' (to the extent that I think my parents didn't believe me), and my child-self's runner-clad feet got sore from standing and walking faster than my adult-self's feet do in my habitual four-inch heels. Also, in the absence of actual injury, standing and walking on feet that were already sore was more painful for me as a child than it is as an adult.

When reading responses both to Jennifer Keesmat's tweet and to the CityLab article, I saw a lot of adults saying (from an adult's perspective) that children are young and healthy and energetic, but I didn't see any kids giving their own perspective on the matter, and I think only one other commenter responded from the point of view of a child.

Someone should study this, and find out what kids are actually experiencing. The kids are able to tell us if we'd just listen!

I can't tell if my experience of my child-self's feet getting sore faster is typical.  But I do have extensive experience of adults baselessly assuming younger people are healthy and energetic. Both as a child and as a young adult, I've had older adults tell me "You're young and healthy" (with a lecturey tone and delivery suggesting that I shouldn't be tired, or I should be able to lift the heavy thing, or I shouldn't be uncomfortable) when they have absolutely zero knowledge of the state of my health. They're just assuming that that's how it should work because they believe I'm younger than them based on my superficial appearance, and they can't see any glaring health issues. And then act as though I'm Bad And Wrong when my body doesn't work the way they think it should.

I've also seen adults marvel about how energetic their children are when the kids are running around playing, but then turn around and say the kids are whiny when they get tired or hungry, as though the kids are being Bad And Wrong.  But the fact of the matter is that's just how kids' bodies work.  Yes, small children run around a lot.  But they also need to eat more frequently and sleep more frequently. (Think about how babies and preschoolers need snacks and naps.)

Maybe they also need to sit down more frequently?  Since a 6-year-old is 1/6 as old as me, maybe standing on a subway for half an hour for them is like if I had to stand on a subway for three hours?

Someone should research this, so we have credible data. Because grownups just sitting around going "Kids are young and healthy and energetic" isn't, in itself, credible data.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Do cell phones affect smoking rates?

The following is (a tangent) from Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death and Jazz Chickens by Eddie Izzard. As usual, any typos are my own:

In the old days we had cigarettes, so if you wanted to hang out somewhere looking relaxed, you could just light a cigarette an lean against a lampost and smoke it. You could lean against a wall in a station, or sit in a chair or on a bench. You could hang out anywhere with a cigarette. Now most of us have given up cigarettes, but we've got our mobile phones, which we can use much in the same way: we stand somewhere or sit somewhere while doing almost anything - reading a book, sending an email, checking our texts - on our smartphones.

This makes me wonder if the rising prevalence of cell phones and smart phones and texting and apps has resulted in a decline in smoking rates?  Perhaps not the percentage of smokers in society, but perhaps the number of cigarettes smoked.

Your phone gives you something to do with your hands when you have downtime, so you might not automatically reach for a cigarette out of boredom.  It also gives you something you want to do with your hands when you have a moment, and it might be harder to light a cigarette with a phone in your hand, or harder to text with a cigarette in your hand.  (I'm sure innovative people can find a way, but it would be an additional inconvenience).

I once read a theory of addiction that to cure an addiction, you have to replace it with something else, because the patient needs . . . something.  Maybe the phone could serve as that something?

I don't know if this could be studied, because there have been numerous efforts to decrease smoking rates for public health purposes before and during the advent of the cell phone, so I don't know if you could separate the effect of cell phones from other factors.  I know that in Europe in the 90s smoking was more widespread, and I know that Europe took up texting before North America, but I have no idea what else was happening in the interim that might have affected smoking rates.

I wonder if there's somewhere in the world where people do smoke, but there haven't been anti-smoking measures, and cell phones have also become increasingly prevalent.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Things They Should Study: what would election outcomes look like if votes were weighted by how much people are affected?

I've occasionally seen people say they're voting for various buffoonish political candidates for amusement purposes, because they want to see what shenanigans that candidate will get up to next.

When I hear this, I think what a privileged position these people must be in, to be so unaffected by politics that they can vote solely on the grounds of amusement.

In the shower one day, I had the idea of discouraging those who are so completely unaffected by politics from voting, which evolved into a series of other idea of giving extra votes to people who are more affected, or weighting votes by how affected people are.

Of course, this is all completely unfeasible in reality, and I'm in no way arguing or hinting that it should actually be done.  Voting is a capital-R Right, and it would be wholly inappropriate to argue for reducing some people's rights because they're thought to need them less. (That's the stated reasoning oppressors used to prevent people from having voting rights in the first place.)

But it would be super interesting to study as a what-if scenario.  What would the outcomes of elections look like if people's votes were weighted by how greatly they're affected by the policies of that level of government?

Another problem would be that weighing how greatly people are affected is highly subjective, with different people having different opinions about which factors should be weighted most heavily.  But since this is a what-if scenario anyway, why not calculate the outcome for every arguable definition of "greatly affected"?  What would election outcomes look like if people's votes were weighted by how much taxes the government's policies would cost them or save them? What if votes were weighted by how much people's employment and livelihood were affected? What if it they were weighted by how dependent you are on that government's policies for health care, or education, or transportation?

It might also be possible in certain cases to determine if there is a subset of people who are voting "wrong", by which I mean that the thing that affects them the most is the accessibility of widgets, but they're voting for the party that's trying to ban widgets. (Which would get into the question of whether they're voting "wrong" on purpose for selfless purposes because they believe other issues are more important than access to widgets, or if they're voting "wrong" out of ignorance.)

In any case, it would be terribly interesting to study as a "what if?", and might also end up being somehow informative. But it would have to be done in a way that makes it clear that weighting votes isn't something that actually should  be done.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Research/Journalism Wanted: what's up with the people who didn't see it coming?

This post is about the information that reaches people (including me) organically, without them making any effort to find it, as opposed to the full set of all information available.  While reading this, you may find yourself thinking "But you don't have all the information! You're just talking about the subset of information that reached you organically!" Yes, and that is exactly what this post is about.

In the wake of Brexit, my twitter feed has been showing me examples of people who voted Leave but were unaware of the consequences. I was rather surprised by this, because I was aware of those same consequences, and I haven't even been actively following the issue!  The information reached me with no effort on my part (and, in fact, despite my having mentally categorized it as To Disregard), but it didn't reach people who actually got to vote in this referendum, and would have voted differently if they'd had this information.

Someone should do research and/or journalism about these people. What did they think was going to happen? Where did they get that idea from? Were they given incorrect information, or just not given all the correct information they needed? Why didn't the information they missed reach them?

And, perhaps most importantly, how close did they the information get to reaching them? Was a friend of a friend on a social network posting the information they needed? Was it in the newspaper they read but on a boring page they just skimmed over?  Or were they nowhere near it and would have needed to drastically revamp their media consumption practices and/or voting research to have reached it.

After interviewing as many of the people who didn't see it coming as possible, the researchers/journalists should publish the results, highlighting any patterns they noticed.  This would serve two purposes: helping regular people see information consumption patterns that correlate with being less informed than one would like, and helping people who are trying to spread information or raise awareness see how to reach the people who would like to be more informed but don't even know it yet.

As a random made-up example, suppose 68% of the people who were misinformed got their incorrect information from their hairdresser. Then people would know that you should question/snopes/factcheck political information provided by your hairdresser, no matter how brilliant she is about doing your hair.  Or, suppose 68% of people who didn't get the information they wanted were two degrees of social media separation from that information. Knowing that, people might retweet links to political information that they normally wouldn't retweet because they think it's glaringly obvious.

And this isn't just a Brexit thing. Similar postmortems should be conducted for all elections, and for any other undertaking where they can find a significant number of people who didn't see it coming.  For Brexit we're hearing the morning after about the people who didn't see it coming, but the turnaround isn't always this fast. They should follow up after six months or a year, find people who didn't see it coming, and figure out why.

There's something wrong when the desired information doesn't reach people who will be voting in a referendum, even though that same information organically reached a random foreigner who is deliberately disregarding information on the issue. Investigating exactly how this happened is probably the first step to making the problem go away.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Things They Should Study: how does the gig economy affect productivity?

In economics, they often talk about productivity, most often bemoaning the fact that it isn't high enough.

I wonder if anyone has studied the effect of the gig economy on productivity? Because it seems like it would have a strong negative impact.

For example, a freelance translator has to not only translate, but also handle marketing, advertising, billing, online presence, inquiries from prospective clients, and all the administrative aspects of running a business of which I'm unaware. In comparison, a staff translator spends nearly all their time translating, and their employer's administrative staff deal with most of the rest of that stuff.  So it's easier for the staff translator to be more productive.

I'd imagine the same would hold in most occupations.  And, on top of that, the shorter the gig is, the less productive it is.  If industry standard is six-month contracts and then they transition to three-month contracts, workers have to spend time looking for work (rather than doing work) twice as often, and employers have to spend time hiring twice as often.  More and more person-hours are being spent on the non-productive tasks associated with connecting people with work rather than simply spending the time on work.

I wonder if anyone has yet studied this enough to quantify it?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Things They Should Study: does the success or failure of clothing retailers correlate with specific fashion trends?

A few months ago, they closed the Smart Set in my neighbourhood.  I was disappointed, because some of my very favourite shirts have come from Smart Set.

But, at the same time, I haven't bought anything from them in years.  They discontinued the specific style of shirts that's my very favourite, and, for the past couple of years, haven't had anything in colours that are flattering on me.

This came to mind when I saw that Gap is closing 25% of its North American stores.  Again, some of my favourite pieces are from Gap, but at the same time I haven't bought anything from them in years because they haven't had styles and colours that are flattering on me.

In general, the trends of the past few years have been unflattering on me, so I haven't bought nearly as many clothes as I did in previous years.  I don't feel enthusiastic about anything I see in stores, I don't feel moved to stock up on anything, and I keep reading about how clothing retail is dying.

It would be interesting to study this on a broader level and see if there is a correlation between specific fashion trends and the success or failure of clothing retail businesses.  You'd have to control for overall economic conditions, which should be fairly straightforwards (is clothing retail growing/shrinking faster than the overall economy?) You might also be able to control for other factors (such as the growth of online shopping) by comparing men's and women's clothing retail. Trends aren't the same for both genders, so if, for example, women's retail slows down significantly compared to men's when baggy white shirts are in style for women, then we'd have evidence suggesting that baggy white shirts are bad for women's clothing retail.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Things They Should Study: do more apartments get too hot or too cold in shoulder seasons?

I was very happy to hear that the City of Toronto is consulting the public about indoor temperature bylaws for rental housing.  I'm miserable for a week or two every May and September because the weather is hot but my landlord is legally required to provide heat (and, therefore, can't have the building's air conditioning turned on.)  So I was all set to write a submission advocating for air conditioning to have precedence over heating during shoulder seasons with warm daytime highs and cool overnight lows.

Whenever air conditioning is available, I set my thermostat to 25 degrees, which is the highest it will go. And the air conditioning switches on nearly every single day.

In cool weather,  I set my thermostat to 20 degrees, which is the lowest it will go. And the heating switches on an average of once per year.  Some years it's one time, some years it's two times, some years it's zero times.  Last winter, it was zero times.

Therefore, I strongly advocate for air conditioning taking precedence over heating in the shoulder seasons.  Even if it gets cold in your apartment overnight, you can just snuggle up under an extra blanket.  Certainly a fair price to pay for being comfortable during the day!

But as I was writing this, occurred to me that this could be studied comprehensively for a wide variety of housing types.  Get residents of buildings of a wide variety of sizes, ages and constructions, with the sample including apartments with exposure in each direction (and corner units).  Have the study participants agree not to use heating or air conditioning during the study period, and to using optimal temperature management practices otherwise (e.g. blinds open to let the sun in if it's cold out, blinds closed to keep the sun out if it's hot out, windows open if you want the indoor temperature to move in the direction of the outdoor temperature, windows closed if you don't, minimize use of electronics and appliances if it's hot, etc.)  Then track the temperature inside the apartments, and have residents record their comfort level.

Perhaps they could come to a definitive, evidence-based conclusion about whether heating or air conditioning should be prioritized.  Perhaps they could come to a definitive, evidence-based conclusion about whether more people and homes get too hot or too cold in the shoulder seasons in the absence of appropriate indoor climate control.  Maybe there are patterns based on type or age of building, and bylaws that take that into account would be more appropriate. 

We already know the current bylaw does not reflect the needs of our current climate and housing stock.  We should take this opportunity to do research and identify what exactly our needs are, and write a bylaw that reflects that.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Things They Should Study: does the societal move away from print newspapers affect how informed kids grow up to be?

I've blogged before about how a lot of my basic understanding of medical and political concepts comes from my lifelong habit of reading newspapers, and how my lifelong habit of reading newspapers comes from having them around the house when I was growing up.

This wasn't a result of parenting, it was a result of incidental proximity. My parents didn't try to get me to read newspapers are part of education or child-raising, they just had them sitting on the kitchen table for their own use.  I just started rummaging through them in search of comics, moved on to adjacent features like advice columns and lighter news, and by middle school I was reading the local daily every day.

I wonder how this will play out for future generations as more people move away from print newspapers?

Even if the kids' parents read newspapers electronically, that doesn't leave as much opportunity for casual discovery. If everyone in the household uses their own devices, there's no opportunity whatsoever.  If they have shared devices the possibility exists, but it's still less likely.  When you finally get a turn with the ipad, you're going to use it for gaming or social media as you planned, not to go look at the boring news sites mom and dad look at.  And with the move away from web towards apps, casual discovery is even less necessary because it's seen as a separate app.

Older kids will have the opportunity for casual discovery through social media, but I feel like that's not the same as the casual discovery you get from a newspaper. As I've blogged about before, I find that I read more articles in print that it would never occur to me to click online.  I also find that my social media serves as more of an echo chamber, reiterating and going into greater depth on my own opinions and interests.  Both of them have their function, but I feel like I'd be far more ignorant without the newspaper habit.

Of course, it's quite possible I feel this way because newspapers are my baseline.  It's very easy for me to see ways that non-newspaper people are poorly informed by their lack of newspapers, but it's possible that I'm poorly informed in ways I can't perceived by not being more app-centric or something.

That's why I think it would be interesting to study how (and if) the absence of print newspapers (but with the presence of informed parents) in the house when kids are growing up affects their informedness as adults.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

The opportunity to experience life's simple pleasures

I blogged before about how if I'd lived in a different time and place, I'd never have had the opportunity to be good at anything.

Today in the shower, it occurred to me that if I'd lived in a different time and place, I may never have experience any of the things that destress me or make me happy.

The first of which is the shower!  It relaxes me, makes me feel human, makes me look civilized, and is where I get all my best ideas.  And it wouldn't have been available even 100 years ago.  Or even 50 years ago in poorer areas where housing hasn't been upgraded to include modern conveniences.  Or even in the present in some parts of the world.

As I blogged about in my resilience braindump, the things that destress me are very externally dependent, and many of them are very 21st century.  Fandom is a huge destresser, and it's entirely dependent on the constant creation of new stories involving beloved characters.  For nearly all of human history, this simply wasn't possible.  There was no media, and new stories were few and far between.  And, apart from fandom, most of my pleasures and destressers are on my computer, which is why sending it out to be repaired is so upsetting to me.  But personal computers didn't exist before my lifetime, and the internet as we know it didn't exist even during the first half of my lifetime!

Even my other simple pleasures and necessary destressers - comfort food, privacy, curling up safe in my cozy bed as a storm rages outside - would have been impossible for all but the very wealthiest for the vast majority of human history, and still aren't available to the general population in many parts of the world.

So in another time or place, would I have found pleasure and destressing in other things in life?  Or would I simply live my whole life on edge, never completely at peace?

However, it also occurs to me that if I'd been born in a different time and place, I wouldn't be alive anyway.  Even if I'd survived being born, I probably wouldn't have survived my annual bouts of strep throat (which, the internet tells me, is the same infection as scarlet fever), and even if I'd survived that, I probably would have died on a fainting couch from my reflux incident where I just couldn't swallow food.

Things They Should Study: how does people's likelihood of having survived in more difficult times and places correlate with their likelihood of thriving in those times and places?  Would a disproportionate number of the people who are fragile and sensitive like me have died at birth anyway?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Things They Should Study: does street harassment by construction workers correlate with their working conditions?

From a blog post by Scott Adams that's otherwise irrelevant to what I'm writing about here:
For starters, I don't know any men who make creepy sexual remarks about women in public. Clearly such men exist. But if we are being objective, those men generally exist in the lower rungs of society's power ladder. It isn't the corporate lawyer doing the wolf whistles. It is usually the under-educated laborer who doesn't have an indoor job, or any job. The female victims in this scenario are, more often than not, among the more attractive humans on earth. Those are the ones that are (usually) attracting the most attention. And in our world, attractiveness is power.

In modern society, power comes from three sources: education, money, and attractiveness. People who have all three are at the top of the power pyramid. People who have any two of the three are next, and the people who have only one are the next level down. The unfortunate people who have no money, attractiveness, or education are at the bottom. So when a construction worker hassles an attractive woman on the street, it is often a case of a less powerful person bothering a more powerful person. You lose that nuance when you represent the situation as a men-versus-women problem. The reality is that the bad behavior is (mostly) limited to a small group of relatively powerless men. I would guess that less than 1% of men would be in that obnoxious category.

I don't know if I agree with his premise or not, but that's not relevant because this is simply a research idea.

I know enough people who have been street harassed by construction workers to know that this is a common thing.

But it has never happened to me and I have never actually seen it happen.  Construction workers most often disregard me, and, weirdly, when they do interact with me, they treat me like a lady. 

One thing I've noticed as I've watched my condo being built is that it's an extremely complex project - more complex than I thought was possible before I started observing a construction project up close.  There are a lot of task dependencies, there are a lot of safety measures, there are a lot of things that need to be done that don't directly produce the building.

For example, there's a guy who builds things out of wood.  He's there, every day, building stuff out of wood (safety railings, frames for pouring concrete, other things I can't recognize).  But the condo isn't made of wood.  All the things he builds are temporary and are taken apart eventually. 

There are these rubber safety caps on those pointy metal bars that sometimes go through concrete. Someone has to put those on, and take them off again when they're about to cover the ends of the pointy metal bars with more concrete.  And someone has to figure out how many safety caps they'll need and order them.

They repair the sidewalk in front of the construction site whenever they damage it (and they're awesomely diligent about snow clearance in the winter too!). They move the portapotty around the site depending on where they're working. They have trucks with cement and trucks with supplies and a crane and a concrete pump. When they're pouring concrete, they have to time their work around how much cement is in the cement trucks they have on-site and which parts of the site are still drying and the weather (the internet tells me the crane operator has to come down right away if there's a risk of lightning) and local noise by-laws and I'm sure other factors I'm completely unaware of.  And all of this has to happen in a very small, restricted area with existing highrise buildings directly next to the edge of the property.

In short, it's a far more complex and difficult than I would have expected - and, perhaps, far more complex and difficult than working on a smaller building, or a building in a less built-up area, or just putting on a roof or something rather than making a whole building.  I wonder if perhaps this means it requires more training, or is better compensated, or otherwise is seen as more prestigious?

The vast majority of the construction workers I encounter are either in my own neighbourhood working on similar highrise projects that are infilling the existing highrise neighbourhood, or are commuting on the subway. And if they're commuting on the subway, that means they're probably working near the subway, which means that their projects are either high-density projects similar to those in my neighbourhood, or they're working for homeowners or businesses who are wealthy enough to own low-density property on expensive transit-accessible land.  Which might also be well-compensated and/or more prestigious.

So if my theory about high-density projects being more difficult/well-compensated/prestigious is correct, and if Scott Adams's theory about street harassment being perpetrated by people who are lacking money/prestige/power is correct, the lack of street harassment from construction workers in my corner of the world would be explained by the fact that the construction being done in my area is more difficult and expensive.

That's a lot of ifs and a lot of theories, but nevertheless it would be an interesting thing to study.  Even if my theory is completely wrong, it may turn up some other interesting patterns.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Things They Should Study: does ability to buy happiness correlate with happiness?

As I've blogged about before, my experience is that money can in fact buy happiness. And I am generally happy.  In any case,  I'm happier than I ever expected to be or than any fair, just or karmatic system should be allowing me to be.

Some people think that money can't buy happiness.  Someone should study whether these people who think that money can't buy happiness are happy.  Are they unhappy because they're not able to buy happiness?  Or are they happy because their sources of happiness transcend their life circumstances?

It would also be interesting to see if there's a correlation between money and happiness among people who believe that money can't buy happiness, and see if that differs from the degree of correlation found among people who believe that money can buy happiness.

I know there have been studies quantifying how much happiness costs (i.e. identifying the point of diminishing returns where more money generally doesn't buy more happiness), but I don't know of any that have compared people who can buy happiness and people who can't.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Things They Should Study: what kinds of wear and tear are and aren't avoidable with quality manufacturing?

Conventional wisdom is that good-quality products last longer and cheaply-made products wear out faster.

But this isn't necessarily going to apply for every single kind of wear and tear.

For example, because my gait is uneven, the outside back corner of my shoe heels wears out long before anything else.  I've owned shoes at a wide range of price points, and this has happened with every pair that I've worn enough times.  It therefore stands to reason that it's going to happen regardless of the quality of the shoes.  (Unless shoes with 4-digit or higher prices, which I can't afford, won't wear out from uneven gait.)

A lot of my things that wear out seem to be from similar causes. The fabric of my coats gets threadbare where my purse hangs.  My rug gets threadbare under my desk chair.  Would better quality products not wear out in these ways (or wear out slower?) Or would everything wear out unevenly from an uneven application of friction (and therefore it's not worth it to buy more expensive if this is the first thing that wears out)?

As I've mentioned before, I buy cheap earbuds and treat them with no care whatsoever.  And my earbuds always die within a few months.  But are do they keep dying because they're cheap, or because I treat them with no care whatsoever?  In other words, if I bought high-quality earbuds and continued to treat them with no care whatsoever, would they last me years and years?

It would be really useful if someone could study different kinds of wear and tear in different quality levels of products and determine for us what kinds of wear and tear can be avoided by buying better-quality products, and what kinds are unavoidable regardless.  Then, if our possessions wear out from unavoidable wear and tear before avoidable wear and tear kicks in, we'll know that we're buying at a sufficient quality level for our needs.

Friday, May 24, 2013

How to study the impact of gender imbalance on future generations.

I previously came up with the idea that they should study how gender imbalance (in this case, resulting from heavy wartime losses of the male population) affect future generations.

I think I have an idea about how one might actually study this.

For pre-21st-century wars, compare countries with heavy military losses with countries with heavy civilian losses. The US and Canada, for example, did not have combat happening within their country.  So we would have lost a greater proportion of men, whereas countries like Germany and France and Poland would probably have had more gender-balanced losses.

So if someone wanted to study this phenomenon, they could look at military and civilian death tolls, put countries in order of postwar gender imbalance (perhaps with the help of postwar censuses), and then look at various outcomes over the course of generations.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Things They Should Study: are facial expressions informative on people who normally cover their face?

Recently there was a Supreme Court decision about whether people should be forced to expose their faces when testifying in court.  This case originated with a rape victim who wore a niqab and was called upon to testify against her attacker.

One of the ostensible reasons given for wanting witnesses to uncover their faces is that facial expression are thought to be informative in assessing the witnesses' credibility.

But is this also the case with people who are accustomed to covering their faces?  If  a certain method of communication is never available to you, would you be able to use it - and use it in the way the audience is expecting - if it were suddenly made available?  If you only ever used it in private and intimate settings and were suddenly called upon to use it in public, in front of an audience, and under scrutiny, how would your performance be read by people who use it every day?

I know someone who immigrated to Canada as a toddler.  He learned English quickly and easily like one does at that age, but he also retains the language of the old country, which he uses to talk to his parents and such.  However, because he left the old country at such a young age, he still speaks the other language like a toddler.  He has a childish accent, and he's less articulate and nuanced than you'd expect of a successful adult.  If he were called upon to testify in court in the language of the old country, his testimony would not reflect his actual credibility, because he's not accustomed to using that method of communication in the way the jury would expect.  Similarly, I find myself wondering if the facial expressions of someone who normally covers their face might also fail to reflect their actual credibility because they aren't accustomed to using that method of communication in the way the jury would expect.

I myself don't have a very expressive face, and my natural inclination is to keep it neutral. When I was a kid, people would always say things to me like "You look disgusted" or "Don't glower at Mrs. Neighbour like that" when I wasn't intentionally doing anything with my face, or feeling any of those emotions being attributed to me.  I later learned how to modulate my face in the way that's expected - a skill I was still mastering well into adulthood, because quite a lot of it I learned from Eddie Izzard - but it still isn't natural behaviour and doesn't come to me easily.  It's like telephone voice or a firm handshake - a performance I can put on, but not a natural reflection of my thoughts and feelings.  However, I'm not sure whether I'd be able to maintain the performance in so stressful a situation as testifying against my rapist, and if I can't maintain the performance my expressions may well be misinterpreted, like they were when I was a child, and be detrimental to my credibility through no fault of my own.

So if it could go so badly wrong for someone like me who has always been in a face-exposing culture, imagine how badly it can go to someone who isn't accustomed to their facial expressions being scrutinized and is suddenly having their credibility assessed based on something that they have never before had interpreted as informative!

I hope someone can actually do research and get scientific data on this, because the only thing I can imagine more terrifying than being forced to expose more of your body than you're comfortable with when testifying against your rapist is then having him set free and your credibility called into question because the jury is assuming you're more fluent than you are in a form of communication that you never use.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Things They Should Study: proportion of childfree vs. non-childfree people who change their minds

I've blogged before about how I used to want to have children, but then grew up to realize that I am in fact childfree.

Conventional wisdom is that people who are childfree may well change their minds (which is why it's so hard for those of us who have never had kids to get sterilized), but I find myself wondering if it might be the opposite.

Your worldview is first formed by your surroundings when you're a kid.  You first think that your surroundings and experiences are baseline human reality, and then gradually your worldview broadens as you grow up and learn more.

And, when you're a kid, the primary adults in your life are, necessarily, adults who are raising children.  So your very first impression of what you consider to be baseline human reality is that adults raise kids.

To arrive at the idea that you never want to have or raise kids, you have to put thought into the matter and question the basic assumptions you grew up with and conceptualize a reality that you may never have actually witnessed.  Critical thought goes into it - it's not a decision made mindlessly.

Because of this, I wonder how many people who are childfree actually change their minds compared with those who previously wanted children and then changed their minds.  This would be interesting to research.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Things They Should Study: does exercise have the same benefits for those whom it angers?

There's a lot of research about how exercise is allegedly good for non-physical things, like mood or cognition. 

Articles about this research often state as a given that exercise makes you feel good emotionally and boosts your mood.

However, for me, exercise makes me angry with no positive mental or emotional effects. I've blogged about this before, and over the years it has attracted the attention of others who are angered by exercise.

Someone should study whether exercise has the same alleged non-physical benefits for people whom it angers as it does for the general population.  What if being made angry by exercise is a sign that it doesn't have those benefits for you?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Things They Should Study: does sibling resemblance run in the family?

I recently saw a picture of a large family where all the children are blond, and my first thought was that it was kind of creepy but I couldn't articulate why.  After some thought, I realized it's because I'm not accustomed to seeing a whole family of blonds.  All the blonds in my own family, as well as nearly every blond kid whose siblings I knew growing up (I can only think of one exception), have at least one brunette sibling.

Siblings tend not to resemble each other especially closely in my own family.  My sister and I don't share colouring, shape, bone structure, or any distinguishing features.  Among my relatives, siblings who share colouring don't share bone structure, and siblings who share features have them in different colours. If you put us all together collectively you can see that some people might be related to others, but you'd never be able to tell who is siblings with whom.

And yet, siblings with strong resemblances do exist.  And sometimes, like with the family of eerily similar blonds, all the siblings in a given family resemble each other.

It would be interesting to see if there's some kind of genetic reason why some families have strong sibling resemblance and others don't.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Things They Should Study: what circumstances or conditions lead people to be blinded by popularity?

As I wrote about in my previous post, this whole plastic bag thing reminds me of elementary school group work, because in both cases I have a better solution than what's popular, and it's being automatically written off because it isn't the thing that's popular. I find this particularly irritating because I have to suffer the consequences of the worse solution despite having come up with a better solution and duly communicated it to all involved.

As I also mentioned in my previous post, I am able to convince people to use, or at least try, my ideas far more often than would be attributable to pure chance. In my previous post, I took this as a sign that my ideas are not without merit and I'm not entirely incapable of being convincing.

But what if people are more likely or less likely to be blinded by popularity under certain circumstances or conditions? What if there was some common condition present in my elementary school classrooms, in LCBO leadership, and in Toronto City Council that wasn't present in my workplaces and my high school and university classrooms?

One thing I have noticed, although it's possible this is subject to confirmation bias, is that others seem more likely to be blinded by popularity in cases where it is not logistically possible for me to implement my idea myself. In my job, I can do things my own way unless specifically instructed by my boss or a client to do otherwise. I don't need others to agree, I just need the people who can boss me around not to disagree. Nevertheless, nearly every idea I share in the workplace gets at least tried by at least one person. And, of all my ideas (not just in the workplace, but in life in general), the ones that get picked up the most are my mnemonics, and it makes literally no difference to me whatsoever if other people use them.

But when it comes to something like changing plastic bag policy, which I can't in any way make happen by myself and am dependent on governments and retailers to implement, I'm automatically dismissed because I'm advocating for something other than the most popular idea.

What if there's something in here that's indicative of a broader pattern of when people are open to ideas vs. being blinded by popularity?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Things They Should Study: most essential petroleum derivatives

I previously theorized that we should stop using petroleum for fuel so that our planet's limited petroleum reserves will be available for plastic. After all, lots of important things (computers, sterile medical equipment, hygienic food packaging) are made of plastic.

Someone should study and quantify this. Which things that are made of plastics and other petroleum derivatives most need to be made of these non-renewable materials? Do we even have a way to manufacture computers or keep syringes sterile without plastic? Is it possible but unwieldly? Is it possible and reasonably user-friendly but expensive? Or are there whole functionalities that we'd lose out on without plastic?

Now that I think about it, they could do this with fuel too. Electric cars are possible, renewable power generation is possible, but do we even have a renewable option for jet fuel? If so, how feasible is it?

Once they've done all the research and quantified everything, they can put it all in order of the importance of petroleum to the product and the importance of the product to society, and we'll have a better idea of whether we're really making the best use of our non-renewable resources. They could also use this information to target research into finding renewable replacement for petroleum derivatives. If, for example, there's some key medical application for which we don't yet have any alternative, maybe they should work on that first.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Things They Should Study: what percentage of the population can read on trains but not on buses?

One of the reasons why Transit City is of particular interest to me is that I get carsick reading on buses but have no problem reading on trains. A trip in any kind of rail vehicle - even the old-fashioned streetcars they have downtown which are nowhere near as awesome as LRTs - is an opportunity to relax and get some reading done. A trip in a bus, it's at best lost time, and at worst a struggle against nausea. Transit City maximizes the number of potential trips that can be taken by rail, thus maximizing multitaskability.

As I've blogged about before, multitaskable commutes increase productivity, and multitasking in a vehicle generally involves reading of some sort. I'm not the only one who is more prone to carsickness in buses than in trains, but I can't find any data on the percentage of the population to whom this applies. If it's a large percentage of the population, this should be a factor in transit planning - or at the very least it should be public information so we can make an informed decision about whether to take it into consideration.

The first page of google results gives numbers ranging from 33% to 90% of the population being prone to motion sickness, so the number of people affected is probably not negligible. Someone really needs to research this so we can get some real numbers.