Category Archives: Science

New Studies: You shouldn’t be an over-protective parent

Parents should take note of two scientific studies that came out this week and added further muscle to otherwise common sense beliefs about education and hygiene. Bottom line: your kids are going to play and get dirty whether you want them to or not. Make sure they get an adequate dose of the truth.

First, an Oxford University study of tens of thousands of American teenagers concluded that Abstinence-Only programs don’t work. A second study, though not statistically significant, suggested that Abstinence-Plus programs (teaching abstinence plus advising on condom use) probably do work. (Of course, as the article mentions, this means that were wasting a huge amount of money on policies that are ineffectual in the U.S. and likely to be ineffectual in developing countries.)

Second, a University of Michigan public health study found that antibacterial soap was no better than regular soap at preventing disease. Triclosan is the antibacterial ingredient that manufacturers like Procter & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive dump into products ranging from soaps to deodorant and even toothpaste (yuck); triclosan may also cause bacteria to become drug-resistant. Of course, this raises the issue of whether we should be so paranoid about germs in the first place. Obsessive hygiene is one theory behind the rise in allergies in children. The hysteria to kill every possible germ is a new one, and you can thank the marketers at the big companies mentioned above.

How Google and Matt Cutts make the internet useful

Last week, Jen and I had dinner with our friends Sarah, Matt, and Sarah’s parents. Sarah’s father Roger is a mathematics professor in Morehead, Kentucky and has a keen interest in computers. As we loaded the dishwasher, he asked me a bit about the work I’ve done in development and interactive marketing. He then started to tell me about a friend’s son who was highly regarded in his field. Roger began by stating that this individual was a graduate student at the University of North Carolina but left before completing his PhD.

I cut him off mid-sentence. “Are you talking about Matt Cutts?”, I asked. Roger beamed in affirmation.

I would venture to say that anyone working in search engine marketing has probably heard of Matt Cutts, and if your search marketing team hasn’t, you might want to hire someone else. Matt is a senior engineer at Google and is in charge of web spam: preventing it, not creating it. Matt joined Google very early in the company’s history and has helped it develop and continually refine its search algorithm. So how has this changed your life and what’s an algorithm?

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DirecTV Kills the Tour

For the record, I do not currently have cable nor satellite TV. I have a 1992 20″ TV with rabbit ear antennas and we receive maybe seven TV stations semi-clearly, one of which is public TV and another is in Spanish. I might subscribe to pay TV if it wasn’t such a headache.

This afternoon, we were at a friend’s house watching the last stage of the Tour de France that she’d recorded that morning on her DirecTV DVR, or set-top recorder. (I still don’t know anything about the stage, so don’t tell me.) About 20 minutes into the program, a heavy rainstorm knocked out her satellite signal, and with it the DVR’s ability to play a pre-recorded show. Satellites need an unobstructed view of the Southern sky. Makes sense, got it. But I don’t understand why the box can’t play a locally recorded show without a satellite uplink. I’m guessing it has something to do with keeping you tethered to a DirecTV monthly subscription and avoiding the sharing of recorded content.

When we finally got the thing back up and running, we tried to resume the Tour stage, only to find out that the DirecTV box had mysteriously decided to record 9 minutes of Extreme Cage Fighting (as opposed to the non-extreme cage fighting shows) over the Tour Stage. The DVR menu still said “Tour Stage 20, 7:30 AM”, but now the notes stated it was recorded at 1:57 PM. A few calls to customer service and tech support confirmed that the program was probably gone permanently. In fact, when we mentioned that we thought the storm had done something to the DVR box, the tech rep replied “Yep, that will happen with storms.”

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Home Depot’s Green Streak

It has been said that Green is the new Black, as all marketers jump on the eco bandwagon. The NY Times reports on Atlanta-based Home Depot’s new Eco Options campaign, which features and promotes environmentally-friendly products.

Home Depot VP Ron Jarvis heads up the campaign and scrutinizes potential products for their environmental merit. There is no shortage of interested companies hawking products, and Ron acknoledges that it is mostly hype or “voodoo marketing.” While the article paints a flattering picture of Mr. Jarvis, it also notes criticism from consumer and environmental groups that highlight the fact that Home Deport continues to be a (large) retailer of non environmentally-friendly products.

Regardless, it sounds like Home Depot has put the right man on the job. I was very pleased to see Mr. Jarvis thinking about the total lifecycle of a product when considering its environmental impact. Some products have an eco-friendly consumption footprint, though when you examine the entire product lifecycle, including production and disposal, the negative can outweigh the positive. Mr. Jarvis mentions a corn-based rug. Economists as well as environmentalists continue to debate whether corn is really green.

NY Times: At Home Depot, How Green is that Chainsaw?

Science: Oldest sibling found to have higher IQ. Really? Are you sure?

On Friday, Science published a study conducted by Norwegian doctors on 250,000 military conscripts. The study found that eldest children enjoyed an IQ boost of nearly 3 points.

The study’s finding that psychological factors — interaction of parents and children — and not biological ones account for the IQ discrepancy is fueling a raging debate this week. It will no doubt rile existing sibling rivalries and cause conscientious parents like mine to second guess every interaction they had with us growing up. Did they give us all equal attention? Did they show favorites? Did they ignore someone’s hidden talents? 

Let’s explore. I am the oldest of 4 children. My parents took twice as many photos of me and saddled me with all of the responsiblity and expectation you expect of a first born. I attended a presitigious public university and graduated with a humanities degree. My younger brother, more introverted and more modest, graduated with a BS in electrical engineering from one of the nation’s top programs and is currently finishing his Masters degree in mathematics. The older of my two sisters received her Bachelors and Masters degree from one of the nation’s best accounting programs and was also captain of her NCAA Division I gymnastics team. My youngest sibling, also a gymnast, who by the study’s method should probably be the least intelligent, is about to start her PhD program in biomedical engineering. (Disclaimer: neither I nor any of my siblings are Norwegian military conscripts.)

On paper at least, you can see why I would be reluctant to test the doctors’ findings with an IQ test. I know none of my siblings would care. The only persistent rivalry is a bet my brother and I made a long time ago: whoever has the most hair and whoever is the tallest at age 35 wins. Height and hair seem to be far more substantial than 3 IQ points.