Friday, July 27, 2007

Talking college students out of drinking

This study involved different punishments for drug/alcohol violations at a college campus. It compared the effectiveness of motivational discussions vs. a $300 fine for a violation. Both were pretty effective in the short term (4 months). But a little more surprisingly, the discussions were more effective in the longer term (15 months).

Frankly I'm surprised the little interventions worked that well. I would think the short-term effects would happen because it's embarrassing, but I find it hard to believe they're convincing. All the alcohol education seminars I heard about in college were kind of a joke.

Of course, this would depend on the type of violation we're talking about. A violation where other people are put at risk (hazing at frats, drunk driving) is something that somebody can be guilted into not doing again. Offenses for loud parties or possession, where the most the motivators can argue for is the hallmate's study habits or the offender's own health, are a little harder to use guilt against.

Now, if part of this "motivational discussion" included them saying to the offender "Next time we're turning you over to the cops", I would understand.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Google data miners have come across a scientific breakthrough.

They have proved that GTalk users are very, very lonely, and are probably about 16 years old.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Fiction as an exaggeration of inner fiction

An interesting post in Overcoming Bias. It suggests that our bias toward reality tends toward the direction of fiction. That is, (successful) fiction is simply a further exaggeration of things we already tend to overestimate. I think it's suggested that biases cause such fiction to be well-written and well-received, not that exposure to fiction causes this. Hanson then suggests to "Find ways in which fiction tends to deviate from reality, and then move your estimates of reality in the other direction."

A few possible human biases that this "fix" would identify.
-Your boss at the office probably isn't as socially inept and ignorant as you think.
-Your adversaries or competitors are not as evil and immoral as you think.
-Solutions cannot be wrapped up as quickly as you think.
-Serial killers are not as interesting as you think.
-People don't have nearly as much sex as you think.

This is related to the idea that everybody is their own protagonist.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Oh dear. I found a new (to me) toy, STEM: Spatio-Temporal Epidemological/Event Modeler. It comes built-in with a simulation of what would happen if the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak happened in 2000, with various starting points. You can create your own SIR/SIS/SIER virus and set them loose, while they infect the entire world by way of bird migratory patterns, air traffic, etc. What's more, they've released the source code, allowing a whole new level of tinkering.

Full press release here.

For some background on the mathematics, see The Mathematics of Infectious Disease, by Herbert Hethcote.
I am beginning this blog in an attempt to maintain a public blog. I'm too shy to make public my personal blog, but too vain to not broadcast at least some of my thoughts to the unknown.

I'm a grad student studying data mining for social networks. While I would like to be able to write about things related to my field on a regular basis, I will probably write to the tune of whatever I'm reading. I read blogs and books focusing on data mining, stats, sci/tech, public health, social sciences (particularly w.r.t. gender issues), and humor. Since my goal is just to write regularly, off-topic posts are better than none at all.