Bet on a Bet but Not on a Ballot

By Richard Morin
Thursday, March 16, 2006

It's easier to rig an electronic voting machine than a Las Vegas slot machine, says University of Pennsylvania visiting professor Steve Freeman.

That's because Vegas slots are better monitored and regulated than America's voting machines, Freeman writes in a book out in July that argues, among other things, that President Bush may owe his last win to an unfair vote count.

We'll wait to read "Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen? Exit Polls, Election Fraud, and the Official Count" before making a judgment about that. But Freeman has assembled comparisons that suggest Americans protect their vices more than they guard their voting rights, according to data he presented at an October meeting of the American Statistical Association chapter in Philadelphia.

Funny Girls and Boys

Studies had consistently shown men and women looking for Mr. or Ms. Right say they want someone with a "good sense of humor." Two recent studies, however, offered persuasive evidence that men who claim to value humor in a woman really don't.

Now a team of three psychologists headed by Eric R. Bressler of Westfield State College in Massachusetts claims it has come up with a Grand Unification Theory of humor to explain those contrary findings: Men and women mean different things when they say they want to meet and mate with someone who's funny.

Women liked guys who made them laugh and who also laughed at their jokes. But the psychologists found that men were only looking for an audience: Those self-centered little piggies valued women who laughed at their jokes and could not care less about a woman who made them laugh.

Are White Babies Smarter?

Why do blacks repeatedly score lower on IQ tests than whites, who in turn lag behind Asians? One theory popularized in books such as "The Bell Curve" is that it's genetic: Whites are born with more of the right mental stuff than blacks, and presumably Asian newborns have even more.

So much for that theory. Economists Roland G. Fryer of Harvard and Steven D. Levitt of the University of Chicago analyzed a data set that contained measures of mental abilities for more than 10,000 babies 8 months to 11 months old and born in 2001. Trained evaluators rated a baby's skill in exploring objects (reaching for and holding items), exploring objects with a purpose (trying to determine what makes a bell ring), babbling, early problem solving (when a toy is out of reach, using another object as a tool to retrieve it), and using words to communicate.

When they looked at the data, they found there was no difference in mental ability between black and white babies -- and, if anything, Asian infants did slightly worse.

Who Would Have Thought? Dead Celebs, Copycat Couples, Birthday Parties

·"Artists' Suicides as a Public Good" by Samuel Cameron, Bijou Yang and David Lester in Archives of Suicide Research, Vol. 9 No. 4. A British and U.S. research team argues that artist and celebrity suicides may benefit society by increasing the emotional benefits fans derive from the dead star as well as boost "sales of the artist's products and associated merchandise."

·"Assortative Mating for Perceived Facial Personality Traits" by Anthony C. Little, et al. A British research team finds that husbands and wives tend to look alike and that couples who had been together the longest looked the most alike, because people choose to marry those who look like them or because couples who look alike stay together longer.

·"Opening Up Gift-Openings: Birthday Parties as Situated Activity Systems" by Jeffrey S. Good and Wayne A. Beach. Paper presented at the last National Communication Association convention. A San Diego State University communications professor videotaped his daughter's birthday parties from ages 3 to 10 and analyzed them with a colleague to glean "insights about language development, socialization, and the changing nature of human relationships reflected in who is invited to participate in birthday parties year after year."

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