Et tu, Economist

June 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

AMERICANS are getting fatter: obesity rates have risen 74% in the past 15 years to nearly 28% of the adult population. And they are driving more: the number of miles driven by each licensed driver (VMT/LD), excluding commercial vehicles, increased by an average of 0.6% a year between 1988 and 2008. Academics at the University of Illinois have found a striking correlation between these two variables—but with a large time lag. They noted that previous research had found that changes in diet had an effect on body weight only after some six years. Therefore VMT/LD in 2004 is correlated with obesity in 2010… This near-perfect correlation (99.6%) permits predictions about obesity rates. Since VMT/LD fell in 2007 and 2008, America’s obesity rate could fall to as low as 24% in 2014…

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Why We Fight

December 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

Could a brain parasite found in cats help soccer teams win at the World Cup?

What if I told you that last week I predicted all eight winners of a round of the World Cup? And that instead of rankings or divination all I did was look up how many people in each team’s home country had a tiny parasite lurking in their amygdalas? Would you believe me? A decade ago, Discover Magazine concluded that parasites ruled the world, and now I’m going to try to tell you that, at the very least, parasites rule the World Cup…

If we set aside the qualifying rounds (in which teams can play to a draw) and focus on matches with a clear winner, the results are very compelling. In the knockout round of this year’s tournament, eight out of eight winners so far have been the teams whose countries had higher rates of Toxo infection. If we go back to the 2006 World Cup, seven out of eight knockout-round winners could be predicted by higher Toxo rates.

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