Saturday, November 10, 2007

Does your name start with an R? Because you are Retarded!

I would like to please draw your attention to a new study that sheds light on that wacky, wacky human nature by applying two well-known statistical principles for rigorous study: 1. Blowing Your Results Out of Proportion, and 2. Ignoring Obvious and Simple Explanations for Your Data. Yay, science! (Note: italics denote extreme sarcasm).

The authors of the study have found that people tend to express preferences for things that begin with the same letter as their name--i.e., Tom likes Toyotas. I would like to first point out that it is in fact highly likely that this obviously definitely is the case within a certain sub-population of homo sapiens that science refers to as Losers. So obviously these Losers are skewing your results. But okay.

But wait! The researchers say. We have found that statistically, people express this preference for things that are NOT desirable--which means that it is an unconscoius preference. One of their examples of these undesirables is a strikeout in baseball (which is recorded on the scorecard with the letter K). Behold:

Based on data from 1913 through 2006, for the 6,397 players with at least 100 plate appearances, “batters whose names began with K struck out at a higher rate (in 18.8% of their plate appearances) than the remaining batters (17.2%),” the researchers find...Granted, 18.8% vs. 17.2% is not a huge difference, but it was statistically significant—that is, not likely to be due to chance."

Oh my god, there were 1.6% more strikeouts by people whose names began with K. You're right, that is not likely due to chance. But with 6,397 players and 26 letters in the alphabet, about 500 of them will have K as one of their initials (K is probably one of those averagely common letters, yeah?). So basically it could have been like one fucking guy who is accounting for this entire "statistically significant" difference. Like maybe in Little League mean kids called him Kenny Strikeout or something. Or whatever, maybe I'm exaggerating and it's more like five guys--either way, a 1.6-percent difference manifesting within a sample size of five hundred people seems pretty tenuous to me. I'm not even going to get into how the word "strikeout" actually begins with a fucking S--whatever. So that's Blowing Your Results Out of Proportion. Moving on.

The other shocking trend they found: People whose names begin with A and B get higher grades than people whose names begin with C and D--in fact, the Cs and Ds on average get lower grades than people with neutral initials (M, W, etc.). Again, this could be a sub-population of weirdos skewing the results, but just for fun let's pretend it isn't. Let's pretend it's actually true across the entire population. How do the researchers explain this?

The [students with initials of either C or D] had such “an unconscious fondness for these letters, [they] were slightly less successful at achieving their conscious academic goals than were students with other initials,” write the researchers.

I would just like to point out that half of these people are qualified here by their last initial, and that teachers often alphabetize their students by their last names. People with the initials A and B are probably frequently the first to get called in attendance, sit at the front of the class, and get graded on a test by a teacher. People with the initials C or D are probably frequently near the top but never first. This might very well have a psychological impact on both students and teachers. An analogy would be a race, say a marathon--The guy who finishes first is the happiest, the guys who finished second and third are the least happy (so close!), and everyone else is just happy to have finished at all. So that's Ignoring Obvious and Simple Explanations For Your Data.

So thanks Leif Nelson of the Univ. of California and Joseph Simmons of Yale. Oh that's funny. Your initials have nothing in common with what school you went to. Oh what's that? Leif? You own a Lawnmower?! Oh my god that's so amazing.

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