The Things You Don’t Know You Don’t Know (Bombs via the Internet and the Phantom Fat Epidemic)

  • Blinded By The Internet. Apparently, some kiddies are frightened of the internet because they believe it “could put them at risk from bomb-making, blackmail, HIV, asylum seekers, aliens and blindness.(Guardian: “Schools urged to smash internet myths” by David Batty [June 7, 2004])
  • Phantom Fat. Obesity researcher Dr. Jeffrey Friedman thinks the craze about Americans getting fatter and fatter is bunk. Not totally, mind you; the “massively obese,” he says, are getting fatter. And yes, there’s some increase in weight—an average of 7 to 10 pounds across the spectrum—but on the whole, people are not getting as radically fat as the media would have you believe. He puts it like this:

    “Imagine the average I.Q. was 100 and that 5 percent of the population had an I.Q. of 140 or greater and were considered to be geniuses. Now let’s say that education improves and the average I.Q. increases to 107 and 10 percent of the population has an I.Q. of above 140.

    “You could present the data in two ways… You could say that the average I.Q. is up seven points or you could say that because of improved education the number of geniuses has doubled.

    “The whole obesity debate is equivalent to drawing conclusions about national education programs by saying that the number of geniuses has doubled.”

    Sure, there’s some disagreement on this point. But when the opposing side uses such nuanced reasoning as “[e]veryone notices that there are more overweight people now,” (an actual quote, by the way) you ought to be at least somewhat inclined to give Dr. Friedman some consideration.

    (NYT: “I Beg To Differ” by Gina Kolata [June 8, 2004] – fair-use text copy of article here)

  • Traffic Facts. Bogotá, Colombia has a problem. But it’s not so much a problem-dilemma as it is a problem-mystery: the streets of this metropolis of 7+ million inhabitants and 1+ million cars are strangely (mysteriously, you might say) free of traffic jams. Once again, science has the answer. It looks like the answer lies in the agressive, daredevil driving style assumed by motorists in the city. Maybe. (The Nature article says that the drivers are “simply more aggressive than their counterparts in London, New York and other huge metropolises,” but this could very easily be a vague and baseless assertion, as I couldn’t find any mention of New York or London in skimming the original journal article.) (Nature: “Bold motorists clear roads” by Michael Hopkin [June 8, 2004]; Olmos, L. E. & Muñoz, J. D.. Int. J. Mod. Phys C, arXiv preprint, [2004])