Putting the clocks forward caused 1,000 heart attacks

This article from Sweden (hat tip Åsa) describes some research by the Karolinska Institute analysing hospital records from which they calculate that over the two weeks from putting the clocks forward, there is typically an excess of 30 Swedes dying from heart attacks. Conversely, in the Autumn, there are 10 fewer heart attacks in the period following the clocks going back.

Scaling that up, this gives a rough back-of-the-envelope calculation for 1,000 excess fatal heart attacks across the EU27 each year as a direct result of the stresses caused by getting up an hour earlier.


How the UK budget is put together

Anyone can come up with an idea for the Budget: members of the public who write in; NGOs and Business groups; other government departments; officials in HMRC; Treasury staff, special advisers and ministers; and of course the Chancellor himself.

More here on how the UK budget is put together using an excel spreadsheet.

If you’re not paying for it…

A quote I saw somewhere recently (sorry, I don’t have the link now):

If you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.

This is partly why I don’t read free Metro-type newspapers when I come across one. More thoughts on whether you should spend time reading/watching the news here.

Do rich people steal children’s sweets?

This article,  “Interesting: being rich doesn’t make you good! Now, there’s a surprise!“, is a good example of how stories propagate around the internet. Its author, Richard Murphy, described as “the UK’s #1 economics blogger,” [edit: see one of the comments for some info on this] reproduces an infographic he’s found and states

“…it also looks properly sourced, so I thought it worth sharing.”

Here’s part of it:

You can see the full infographic reproduced in the article, with many more similar claims.

Let’s take two of the claims, paraphrased in the context they’re presented:

  1. Rich people steal more sweets from children
  2. Rich people are more likely to cheat others out of their money at games.


I checked the link given at the bottom of the infographic: http://www.livescience.com/18683-rich-people-lie-cheat-study.html. This article doesn’t name the  paper, nor does it even give the sizes of the studies.

So the source of this “properly sourced” item is itself not even sourced (I tracked down the paper, it’s Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior, PNAS (2012).)


For claim #1, 129 students were given a picture of a ladder with 10 rungs and told, “Think of the ladder as representing where people stand in the United States … Where would you place yourself on this ladder relative to these people at the very top? Imagine yourself in a getting acquainted interaction with one of the people you just thought about from the top/bottom of the ladder and write a brief description about how you think this interaction would go.”

Shortly thereafter they were asked to take a jar of 40 sweets to a child-specific laboratory, and were invited to help themselves to a few if they wanted. On average the 129 students took 1 sweet, with a S.D. of 1.

No more numbers than this are given, but I would say the evidence for claim #1 is something like: 60 students who thought about talking to poor people mostly accepted a couple of sweets when offered them, and 60 students who were thinking about rich people mostly declined. Right.


Claim #2 is based on 195 people responding to a Craigslist advert to take part in an online study after which they would be entered into a draw to win a $50 voucher for an online retailer.

They were divided into rich or poor based on answers to a survey about their background (sorry, but how rich exactly were the richest people in this group to need to take part in a study hoping to win $50?) Participants were presented with a computer program which randomly rolled five dice, the entrant with the highest score winning the $50 gift certificate. Test-takers had to report the scores themselves, but didn’t know the program was rigged to always generate a score of 12. A full 85% of people answered honestly, but out of the 31 participants reporting getting more than 12, there were a few more “richer” people than poorer people.

I’d restate claim #2 to suggest that poor people doing online surveys are probably poor because i) they’re not being productive with their time, and ii) they might help themselves by doing things such as typing the biggest number possible into a box in order to maximise their chances of making themselves $50 better off.


Perhaps the conclusion here is that people are inclined to believe what they want to believe, and are less questioning of claims consistent with that. The guy writing that this looks “properly sourced” was voted the seventh most influential left wing thinker in 2010/11, and as such likely has a world view on rich-v-poor with which the infographic resonates. Indeed, many web and print news outlets ran with stories based on this study, using headlines such as, e.g., Rich people more likely to take lollies from children, presumably because it’s a headline that would catch the attention of many of us and appeal to our biases.


Other dodgy stats:

BBC and selection bias

Subscribe to my blog:


Not the news

Not that I read the BBC news website, because that would not be a good use of time, but a couple of items caught my attention today.

Lifted from an article reporting comments made by the Premier League chairman about FIFA

Premier League chairman Sir Dave Richards has apologised for his comments about Fifa and Uefa.

Speaking at a conference in Qatar he said: “England gave the world football. Then, 50 years later, some guy came along and said, you’re liars, and they actually stole it. It was called Fifa.”

He also warned fans may boycott the Qatar 2022 World Cup unless beer is made freely available.

“In our country and in Germany, we have a culture,” added Richards. “We call it, ‘We would like to go for a pint’, and that pint is a pint of beer.

“You might be better off saying don’t come. But a World Cup without England, Germany, the Dutch, Danes and Scandinavians. It’s unthinkable.”

Richards later hurt his leg when he fell into a water feature.

Genius reporting. And this quote from a Welsh council’s cabinet member for education, worrying about the effects of truancy

“To do so, it is vital that children and young people are given the best education possible. To achieve this, all children need to attend school regularly, with non-attendance being unacceptable.

“Missing a school day a week is the same as losing a quarter of the year’s education.”

Hmm. Perhaps improving the maths curriculum might help in giving Welsh kids the best education possible too.

Flying: weigh more, pay more?

I saw an article earlier discussing whether people who weigh more should pay more to fly. (It reminds me of one of Tim Harford’s ‘Dear Economist articles’ on how to split a taxi fare on a trip home after a night out when a group of friends are going different distances).

The author states that:

Friends with whom I discuss this proposal often say that many obese people cannot help being overweight – they just have a different metabolism from the rest of us. But the point of a surcharge for extra weight is not to punish a sin, whether it is levied on baggage or on bodies. It is a way of recouping from you the true cost of flying you to your destination, rather than imposing it on your fellow passenger.

But I think he may be in danger of missing the woods for the trees. It’s true that the cost of flying is directly proportional to the weight carried, but almost all of that weight is the plane itself: a passenger on a A380 at maximum takeoff weight is about 0.01% of the total. Differences in passengers would run at an order of magnitude less. If you did want to charge according to weight, then the fixed cost of moving the plane itself (from which all passengers derive the same aerodynamic benefit) should presumably be shared equally amongst everyone, and then the smallest of deltas added on for individual weights.

Indeed, the data point given in the article is that carrying an extra 1kg from London to Sydney and back again on an A380 costs an additional… answer at the bottom, under the fold.

I typically fly a few times per week, and my answer to friends who ask what I think about the environmental consequences of this is that at the margin, I don’t think I make any difference. If I didn’t fly, I would be significantly financially poorer, yet the environment in no measurable way any better off. Tens of billions of humans will be responsible for dangerous climate change should it occur (it’s from accumulated excess CO2 in the atmosphere, so you need to add up the contributions of everyone from 1850ish, up to say 2050ish) and I’m going to be an infinitesimal portion of it. Tragedy of the commons, yes. (And it’s only looking at one side of the equation anyway, think about all the benefits accruing to other people from the consulting project I’m working on…hmmm.)

People sometimes take issue about me considering myself to be the marginal passenger, rather than an average one, which is a reasonable point, not withstanding the point above regarding the relative weight of the passenger to the plane. Of course, at some point the lose of one more passenger could cause the  airline to drop the route, and I could [not] be that passenger. I read an article a few years back that suggested that whilst the scenario can play out like this in the US, in Europe typically Airline A might keep operating unprofitable routes in order to tie up take-off and landing slots so that competitors B,C, and D are unable to use the slots to compete on the route/timing that is super profitable for A.

And anyway, wouldn’t the plane not just be deployed on another route? If you want to reduce the contribution to global warming from air travel then you need to stop planes moving, not passengers flying on them. Therefore reduce slots, rather than tax passengers more. I guess that would raise governments less revenue though, all things equal.

And, if you’ve read this far, the cost of carrying an extra 1kg from London to Sydney and back again on an A380 is: Read more of this post

Email management advice

This week I discovered that I missed reading  [and therefore responding to] a rather important email last year. It got me thinking about the best way to manage email.

Tim Harford had some thoughts on email management a few weeks back. Included in this was some research regarding whether you should spend time up front organising your email into multiple folders in order to later save time finding them back:

…have trained us to think in terms of folders, but an alternative is to find old email by searching for it – or even just scroll through a big fat unsorted inbox. Steve Whittaker, a computer scientist at IBM Research, with four colleagues, has conducted a study to figure out the effectiveness of these different approaches. It’s called “Am I wasting my time organising email?” and the conclusion is “yes, you are”.

I think some sort of folder structure is useful, but rather than manually filing everything I use filters and rules to automatically send some incoming emails to specific client folders.

I dip in and out of my email accounts using various devices, and in times when I am receiving a lot of volume I’ll often have a quick peek/scroll through the new ones without taking any action. This is not very efficient and makes the email appear read (which is what had happened in the case above, even though I hadn’t actually read it, just highlighted in the reading pane for 2+ seconds). So, things I do/have now started doing are:

  • Switched my email accounts to be IMAP rather than POP. This way, when I take action with an email (delete/reply) this propagates across my devices, and I don’t waste time thinking again later on what to do with it.
  • Deal with email in batches, and try to employ the ‘handle it once rule.’ So, no reading until I have some time to devote to emails, and then take an action after reading before moving to the next.
  • If I’m not going to deal with an email straight away, then either mark the email as unread again, or forward it to www.followupthen.com which will send the email back to me at a specified time in the future so that I can deal with it more effectively then.
  • To aid batching, I’ve turned off Microsoft Outlook notifications. This way I’m not distracted by emails arriving when I should be concentrating on a work task. You can however add an audible/visual notification for email from specific people/companies using Tools > Rules & Alerts for projects where email responses are time critical.
  • Have a folder for registrations. If I need to find back a login name, that’s a lot easier.
  • Have a folder for each month of the year for travel and expenses. This makes monthly invoicing a lot faster.
  • I use Xobni within my Outlook which makes finding files and url links from specific people easier.
  • Go through email at the end of each week, deleting anything I can, and quickly checking that nothing was missed.
  • Hit the unsubscribe button at the bottom of every newsletter received.

See this article regarding obsessively checking email by the smart professors at Cheap Talk, which uses a Poisson model of email arrival to argue that it could well be more efficient to have notifications switched on, otherwise you’ll be tempted to check too frequently for email,

…[if] you cannot resist checking any time you think that there is at least a 63% chance there is new mail waiting for you then you should turn on your new mail alert. If you are less prone to temptation then yes you should silence it. This is life-changing advice and you are welcome.

Plus, you know you’re making it as a blogger when companies ask you to check out and review their service. I recently received an email from RightInbox, a company offering an add-on to your web browser allowing you to schedule mails sent using the Gmail web interface to have a delayed delivery. Useful perhaps if you want to make the impression to your boss that you are working when you are in fact on the golf course that day, though I struggle to see a recurring function for which this could be used regularly and therefore attract subscription paying customers. Can you?

Related Post: How does the use of pronouns in an email differ between those of lower and higher status?

Missing women are not where you think

Typically there are more male births than females, an imbalance which evens itself out by the time a handful of testosterone-fuelled adolescent males have gotten themselves into sticky situations. In some parts of the world, however, there are substantially more men than women – notably in India and China, with tens of millions of ‘missing women.’ This is often put down to selective abortions/infanticide, but the data do not entirely support this theory.

Sources: Review of Economic Studies (2010) 77, 1262–1300, Missing Women: Age and Disease (pdf link); My analysis.

Around half the missing women in both countries are down to the mortality rate from mundane things such as cardiovascular disease being much higher amongst women than in the west (where fewer women than men die from such things). Over half the excess deaths occur within the adult population.

In China, circa 40% of the missing women are down to selective abortions and first year deaths, but this is not the case in India, where the largest cause of excess death is “injuries,” accounting for some 0.25m excess deaths per year, mostly occurring between the ages of 15 to 29.

Related Post: Increased chances of dying if you don’t get on well with your colleagues

Maths question: If a country were to implement a policy so that families had to stop having children once they had a boy, but could have as many daughters as they like until then, what would the male-female ratio be? Answer under the fold.

Read more of this post