Most drugs don’t do anything significantly good or bad for most people who take them

Monday, October 25th, 2021

A statistic like relative risk reduction — which is far and away the most common one you’re getting — is not the statistic that you need in order to make an informed decision, David Epstein explains:

NNT is an abbreviation for “number needed to treat.” In other words: How many patients must be treated with the drug in order for a single patient to get the desired benefit?

When you read about drugs in the news — or even in most medical journals — you will almost never be explicitly given the NNT (which I will explain in more detail below). Instead, you’ll get relative risk reduction, a metric that a Michigan State med school dean once told me “is just another way of lying.”


Here’s a fictional example:

You read that a new drug reduces your chance of dying from Ryantastic syndrome by 40 percent. Here’s what that means in practice: if 10 in 100,000 people normally die from Ryantastic syndrome, and everyone takes the new drug, only 6 in 100,000 people will die from Ryantastic syndrome. Now let’s think about it from an NNT perspective.

For 100,000 patients who took the new drug, four deaths by Ryantastic syndrome were avoided, or one per 25,000 patients who took the drug. So the NNT is 25,000; that is, 25,000 patients must take the drug in order for one death-by-Ryantastic to be avoided. Ideally, you also want to know the NNH, or “number needed to harm.”

Let’s say that 1 in 1,000 patients who take the new drug suffer a particular grievous side effect. In that case, the NNH is 1,000, while the NNT is 25,000. Suddenly, the decision seems a lot more complicated than if you’re just told the drug will lower your chance of dying from Ryantastic syndrome by 40 percent.

Now let’s move to the real world: aspirin. Nearly five years ago, the NNT and NNH of aspirin caught my eye, so I included them in an article about medical evidence:

For elderly women who take it daily for a year to prevent a first heart attack, aspirin has an estimated NNT of 872 and an NNH of 436. That means if 1,000 elderly women take aspirin daily for a decade, 11 of them will avoid a heart attack; meanwhile, twice that many will suffer a major gastrointestinal bleeding event that would not have occurred if they hadn’t been taking aspirin.


Once I started looking at NNT and NNH data instead of relative risk, one of my main takeaways was that most drugs don’t do anything significantly good or bad for most people who take them.

Viruses integrate into our genome and get repurposed as regulators of host genes

Sunday, October 24th, 2021

A new study explores the function of one part of “junk” DNA and shows that at least one family of transposons — ancient viruses that have invaded our genome by the millions — plays a href=”″>a critical role in viability in the mouse, and perhaps in all mammals:

When the researchers knocked out a specific transposon in mice, half their mouse pups died before birth.

This is the first example of a piece of “junk DNA” being critical to survival in mammals.

In mice, this transposon regulates the proliferation of cells in the early fertilized embryo and the timing of implantation in the mother’s uterus. The researchers looked in seven other mammalian species, including humans, and also found virus-derived regulatory elements linked to cell proliferation and timing of embryo implantation, suggesting that ancient viral DNA has been domesticated independently to play a crucial role in early embryonic development in all mammals.

According to senior author Lin He, UC Berkeley professor of molecular and cell biology, the findings highlight an oft-ignored driver of evolution: viruses that integrate into our genome and get repurposed as regulators of host genes, opening up evolutionary options not available before.

The two inferior techniques largely rely on pushing down against the water

Saturday, October 16th, 2021

Alex Hutchinson reviews a recent study on the physiology of treading water efficiently:

They put 21 volunteers, all experienced water polo players, synchronized swimmers, or competitive swimmers who self-identified as water treading experts, through a series of physiological and cognitive tests while performing four different styles of treading. The verdict: some techniques really are substantially better than others.

The four techniques are as follows:

  1. Running in the water: This one is pretty self-explanatory. Hands and feet are moving up and down in a running-like motion.
  2. Flutter kick: Your hands are sculling back and forth along the surface of the water, while your legs do a flutter kick.
  3. Upright breaststroke: Your hands are still sculling along the surface of the water, but your legs are doing the distinctive frog kick of the breaststroke.
  4. Eggbeater: It’s similar to the upright breaststroke, with the key difference that your legs are kicking one at a time instead of synchronously, producing an eggbeater pattern of alternating circles with each leg.


There were clear differences in how efficient the different techniques were, with running and flutter kick performing equally poorly, and upright breaststroke and eggbeater performing equally well. This pattern showed up in every outcome measure.


Normally VO2 measurements are adjusted for weight, since heavier people burn more energy — but in this case, wet weight was used to also account for differences in buoyancy.


The two inferior techniques largely rely on pushing down against the water to move the body upward. This has two problems: water is too thin to provide much support, and even when the pushing works you get a lot of wasted up-and-down motion. The two better strokes, in contrast, involve lateral movements of the arms and legs: your cupped hand acts like an airplane wing or sailboat sail, generating lift forces perpendicular to the plane of motion. This is more efficient than pushing on the water, and produces less wasted vertical bobbing.

There’s one key difference between upright breaststroke and the eggbeater: in the former, your legs are kicking outward at the same time, while in the latter they’re alternating. This means that breaststroke produces some of that undesired up (when you kick) and down (between kicks) motion — and that effect is exacerbated if you stop sculling with your hands. In the eggbeater, there’s always one leg moving, so you get a smoother, more continuous lift that can keep you up even without your hands. The study didn’t test anything that required using your arms — but if you want to throw a water polo ball, strike a fancy pose during your synchro routine, or signal frantically to a passing ship that you need rescue, eggbeater looks like a much better bet.

More than anyone else, John von Neumann created the future

Tuesday, October 12th, 2021

More than anyone else, John von Neumann created the future:

He came up with a blueprint of the modern computer and sparked the beginnings of artificial intelligence. He worked on the atom bomb and led the team that produced the first computerised weather forecast. In the mid-1950s, he proposed the idea that the Earth was warming as a consequence of humans burning coal and oil, and warned that ‘extensive human intervention’ could wreak havoc with the world’s climate. Colleagues who knew both von Neumann and his colleague Albert Einstein said that von Neumann had by far the sharper mind, and yet it’s astonishing, and sad, how few people have heard of him.

Just like Einstein, von Neumann was a child prodigy. Einstein taught himself algebra at 12, but when he was just six von Neumann could multiply two eight-digit numbers in his head and converse in Ancient Greek. He devoured a 45-volume history of the world and was able to recite whole chapters verbatim decades later. ‘What are you calculating?’ he once asked his mother when he noticed her staring blankly into space. By eight he was familiar with calculus, and his oldest friend, Eugene Wigner, recalls the 11-year-old Johnny tutoring him on the finer points of set theory during Sunday walks. Wigner, who later won a share of the Nobel prize in physics, maintained that von Neumann taught him more about maths than anyone else.

Johnny’s plans (and by extension, the modern world) were nearly derailed by his father, Max, a doctor of law turned investment banker. ‘Mathematics,’ he maintained, ‘does not make money.’ The chemical industry was in its heyday so a compromise was reached that would mark the beginning of von Neumann’s peripatetic lifestyle: the boy would bone up on chemistry at the University of Berlin and meanwhile would also pursue a doctorate in mathematics at the University of Budapest.

All 14 systematic reviews undertaken by authors with histories of alcohol industry funding identified a cardioprotective effect of alcohol

Monday, October 11th, 2021

Researchers conducted a co-authorship network analysis of systematic reviews on the impacts on alcohol on cardiovascular disease (CVD) in order to investigate patterns of co-authorship in the literature, with particular attention given to industry funding:

60 systematic reviews with 231 unique authors met our inclusion criteria. 14 systematic reviews were undertaken by authors with histories of alcohol industry funding, including 5 that were funded directly by the alcohol industry itself. All 14 such reviews identified a cardioprotective effect of alcohol. These formed distinct co-authorship subnetworks within the literature. Of reviews by authors with no prior histories of alcohol industry funding, the findings were mixed, with 54% (25/46) concluding there was evidence of health protective effects.

The lithium-metal battery with this architecture had an energy density of 560 Wh/kg

Monday, October 4th, 2021

One of the more promising possibilities for improving lithium-ion batteries involves swapping out the graphite used in one of the battery’s electrodes for pure lithium metal, a material that can hold as much as 10 times the energy:

The researchers started off with what’s described as a cobalt-poor, nickel-rich layered cathode (NCM88) and a commercially available organic electrolyte called LP30. While the cathode reached high energy density, instability soon took hold and storage capacity decreased as the battery was cycled.

“In the electrolyte LP30, particles crack on the cathode,” explains Professor Stefano Passerini, Director of HIU. “Inside these cracks, the electrolyte reacts and damages the structure. In addition, a thick mossy lithium-containing layer forms on the anode.”

So the team swapped out the LP30 electrolyte for an alternative, and one that brought about profound gains in performance. Described as a non-volatile, poorly-flammable, dual-anion ionic liquid electrolyte (ILE), this ingredient proved to largely avoid the structural defects on the cathode and saved the battery from the fatal electrochemical reactions.


The lithium-metal battery with this architecture had an energy density of 560 Wh/kg. For context, there are research consortiums dedicated to breaking through the 500-Wh/kg density threshold in order to power next-generation electric vehicles, while today’s best-in-class lithium-ion batteries have energy densities of 250 to 300 Wh/kg.

Forty-nine are cute quirks, and one is destroying civilization

Sunday, October 3rd, 2021

Julia Galef, author of Scout Mindset, earned her celebrity status honestly, Scott Alexander quips, through long years of hard labor in the rationality mines:

Back in ~2007, a bunch of people interested in biases and decision-making joined the “rationalist community” centered around the group blogs Overcoming Bias and Less Wrong. Around 2012, they mostly left to do different stuff. Some of them went into AI to try to save the world. Others went into effective altruism to try to revolutionize charity. Some, like me, got distracted and wrote a few thousand blog posts on whatever shiny things happened to catch their eyes. But a few stuck around and tried to complete the original project. They founded a group called the Center For Applied Rationality (aka “CFAR”, yes, it’s a pun) to try to figure out how to actually make people more rational in the real world.

Like, a big part of why so many people — the kind of people who would have read Predictably Irrational in 2008 or commented on Overcoming Bias in 2010 — moved on was because just learning that biases existed didn’t really seem to help much. CFAR wanted to find a way to teach people about biases that actually stuck and improved decision-making. To that end, they ran dozens of workshops over about a decade, testing various techniques and seeing which ones seemed to stick and make a difference. Galef is their co-founder and former president, and Scout Mindset is an attempt to write down what she learned.

Reading between the lines, I think she learned pretty much the same thing a lot of the rest of us learned during the grim years of the last decade. Of the fifty-odd biases discovered by Kahneman, Tversky, and their successors, forty-nine are cute quirks, and one is destroying civilization. This last one is confirmation bias — our tendency to interpret evidence as confirming our pre-existing beliefs instead of changing our minds. This is the bias that explains why your political opponents continue to be your political opponents, instead of converting to your obviously superior beliefs. And so on to religion, pseudoscience, and all the other scourges of the intellectual world.

But she also learned that just telling people “Hey, avoid confirmation bias!” doesn’t work, even if you explain things very well and give lots of examples. What does work? Research is still ongoing, but the book concentrates on emotional and identity-related thought processes.


Instead of thinking “I’m sure global warming is fake!”, try to think in terms of probabilities (“I think there’s a 90% chance global warming is fake.”) Instead of thinking in terms of changing your mind (“Should I surrender my belief, and switch to my enemy’s belief that global warming is true”), think in terms of updating your probabilities (“Now I’m only 70% sure that global warming is fake”). This mindset makes it easier to remember that it’s not a question of winning or losing, but a question of being as accurate as possible. Someone who updates from 90% to 70% is no more or less wrong or embarrassing than someone who updates from 60% to 40%.


A lot of the best rationalists I know instinctively apply these tests to everything they think. One technique for cultivating this practice (not the book’s recommendation) is to go on Twitter, where the adage is “there’s always an old tweet”. Argue that people who say racist things should be cancelled, and someone will dig up your old racist tweet and make you defend why you shouldn’t face the same consequences. Argue that it’s disgraceful when the other party uses extreme violent language about their outgroup, and someone will dig up an old tweet where you used even more extreme language about yours. Demand that the Republican senator resign for sexual misconduct, and someone will find the old tweet where you said the Democratic senator should tough it out. Eventually, if you want to maintain any dignity at all, you learn to double-check whether your beliefs are consistent with one another or with what you’d believe in vaguely similar situations.

Scout Mindset says: why not try the same thing, even when you’re not on Twitter, just to determine what’s true?.

And one very likely answer is: because it would hurt.

Scout Mindset tries to differentiate itself from other rationality-and-bias books by caring a lot about this. It argues that, while other rationality books just told you what to do, most people wouldn’t do it; they’d be too emotionally attached to their existing beliefs. So after giving a few intellectual suggestions, it goes on a deep dive into the emotional side.


It reminds me of C.S. Lewis — especially The Great Divorce, whose conceit was that the damned could leave Hell for Heaven at any time, but mostly didn’t, because it would require them to admit that they had been wrong. I think Julia thinks of rationality and goodness as two related skills: both involve using healthy long-term coping strategies instead of narcissistic short-term ones.


Julia is trying to normalize changing your mind, to assure you that lots of great people who you respect do it, that there are whole communities out there of people who do it, that she does it and she is a TED-talk-having celebrity who you implicitly trust.

Harden’s Folly

Friday, October 1st, 2021

Steve Sailer describes Kathryn Paige Harden’s The Genetic Lottery as Harden’s Folly:

After years of trying out on the science conference circuit her arguments for why the Woke shouldn’t be so anti-genetics, The Genetic Lottery is finally here. It turns out to be an elaborately contrived triple-bank-shot attempt to head off growing Ibram X. Kendi-style science denialism by claiming that ignoring the influence of genetics upon human differences just enables the Real Bad Guys, led by archvillain Charles Murray, to easily dunk on the libs:

When social scientists routinely fail to integrate genetics into their models of human development, they leave space for a false narrative that portrays the insights of genetics as a Pandora’s box of “forbidden knowledge.”… Why would we want to hand people opposed to the goals of social equality a powerful rhetorical weapon, in the form of a widely prevalent and easily understood methodological flaw in social research?


The Genetic Lottery is all over the map. Some people try not to get canceled by adopting an obscure prose style. Harden, instead, artlessly expresses herself, and then goes back and says the opposite later.


Harden is proud of her book’s title:

A lottery is a perfect metaphor for describing genetic inheritance: the genome of every person is the outcome of nature’s Powerball.

But, except for the potential big payoff, lotteries are boring. In contrast, how a particular baby gets made is fascinating on multiple levels: scientific, sociological, romantic, and erotic. A less bad metaphor for how humans are conceived would be poker, a game that combines luck, strategy, and psychology. Murray, by the way, plays poker.

Moreover, Murray is an Aristotelian. The Greeks valued excellence not just for what it could do for the poor, but for its own sake.

This can lead to excessive Nietzscheanism. Yet, Harden’s Rawlsian conviction that society must be organized around helping the lowest potential people narrow gaps seems comparably unbalanced. The old Benthamite notion of the greatest good for the greatest number seems more sensible (but is out of fashion for its majoritarianism).

Harden propounds a sophomoric view that intelligence is “socially valued, not inherently valuable,” and follows that up with a conspiracy theory that early-20th-century eugenicists plotted to get us:

…to see intelligence (as measured on standardized IQ tests) and educational success, perhaps more than any other human phenotypes, in terms of a hierarchy of inferior and superior persons is not an accident. It is an idea that was deliberately crafted and disseminated.

In truth, intelligence has been viewed as valuable for a lot longer than that. For instance, the most famous work of ancient philosophy, Plato’s Republic, is basically about why philosophers deserve to be kings.

More reasonably, the Greeks felt it smart to invest the most in the education of the highest potential students. Thus, it used to be seen as a good thing that Plato had Socrates for a teacher and Aristotle for a pupil. Similarly, society invested heavily in the young Harden’s potential, granting her a full ride to a private college due to her high test scores.

The ideology of The Genetic Lottery seems motivated in sizable measure by Harden’s maternal feelings for her two very different children. One of her children is healthy and bright, while the other, to whom Harden devotes more of her efforts, was born with a congenital defect.

Nobody will pay you more for cleaner air directly

Tuesday, September 28th, 2021

Alex Tabarrok finds it puzzling that there isn’t more attention given to air filtration and UV light disinfection in hospitals, since these techniques have been shown to kill superbugs:

The authors installed portable air filters with UV disinfection on two COVID hospital wards in the UK. The air was tested for viruses, bacteria and fungi before the filters were turned on, during the time the filters were on and then again after the filters were turned off.

The results:

Airborne SARS-CoV-2 was detected in the ward on all five days before activation of air/UV filtration, but on none of the five days when the air/UV filter was operational; SARS-CoV-2 was again detected on four out of five days when the filter was off.

Importantly, in addition to greatly reducing SARS-CoV-2 the portable filters and UV light also greatly reduced multiple viral, bacterial, and fungal pathogens.

A commenter explains why this hasn’t become common practice already:

The main regulation rests largely on ASHRAE 170-2017. That in turn has been addended over a dozen times since the pandemic began. We have done things to change how air is handled in light of these and the more direct regulators (e.g. the Joint Commission) are adapting.

But it is not trivial to do all of this. Some hospitals have ductwork that is over a 100 years old. Adding in UV creates problems for reactive species in the air. And then there is the problem that any refits (e.g. to handle higher pressures/volumes) often means opening up the ceilings inside the ICUs or going through the floor in the the floor above. These are highly disruptive activities at the best of times. When you are (or may soon) be at or above bed capacity, well not the best time to bring in a small legion of contractors to close large areas of the hospital.

Then, yes, money is a huge thing. Funny thing is, nobody will pay you more for cleaner air directly. You might be able to eke out some sort of capital return through fewer nosocomial infections or uncharged readmissions, but those are speculative returns at this point and pretty long run things when, again, right now beds in many places are still exceptionally highly utilized. Worse, when you do open up the tubes and start mucking around there is a very high risk that you will disturb some collection of spores that has found some dark corner to accumulate in over the last few decades. When you have a bunch folks who already have respiratory compromise, this is a particularly bad time to risk that sort of contamination.

So faced with high upfront costs, a strong litigation risk, and remote cost savings, this is not a priority right now. If you want a massive overhaul of the air system right now it is going to need liability waivers and giveaways to the AHA crowd. A slower roll out via changes in ASHRAE and the like is already underway, but I figure it will be over a decade before everyone updates.

The smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2021

A Tunguska sized airburst destroyed a Middle Bronze Age city — or two — in the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea 3,600 years ago:

We present evidence that in ~1650 BCE (~3,600 years ago) a cosmic airburst destroyed Tall El-Hammom, a Middle-Bronze-Age city in the southern Jordan Valley northeast of the Dead Sea. The proposed airburst was larger than the 1908 explosion over Tunguska, Russia, where a ~50-m-wide bolide detonated with ~1,000x more energy than the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

There’s fear and doubt and probably a significant amount of negative polarization

Tuesday, September 7th, 2021

So what would persuade the unvaccinated?

A recent iteration of the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey asked unvaccinated Americans about their reasons for putting off or refusing vaccination against COVID-19, and allowed them to select more than one option, resulting in a set of ranked concerns for COVID-vaccine skeptics. Just more than half of the respondents listed the potential side effects of the vaccines as a major concern. Perhaps they’ve been paying attention to the news. The New York Times recently reported that myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle, is more common after COVID-19 vaccination; likewise, NPR featured a story earlier this month on university researchers looking into thousands of claims of menstrual changes following vaccination, and two days later Reuters ran a news article noting that European regulators were probing a skin rash and a pair of kidney disorders as possible side effects of the vaccines. None of these potential side effects has yet been verified by rigorous research. I think the vaccines are worth the slate of (what appear to me to be) relatively minor known risks (particularly when weighed against the risks of severe complications from getting COVID-19), and I haven’t had any sort of trouble since my Pfizer shots, which I got back in April — but that set of concerns is at least distinct from the total recalcitrance sometimes imputed to the unvaccinated.

Down the list we go: Nearly four in 10 unvaccinated Americans don’t trust the vaccines, which might be an expression of concern about either efficacy or side effects; a similar proportion want to wait and see whether they’re safe, which, again, is a deflatingly concrete concern, if not the decision I would (and did) make in the same situation. A third don’t trust the government (brothers and sisters: same here), and only then do we arrive at the just less than a quarter who don’t believe they personally need a vaccine. A rung down, after the 22 percent who aren’t sure that the vaccines are actually protective, are another 17 percent who don’t see COVID-19 as a major threat — a fairly small minority, all things considered.

What strikes me about the responses of the unvaccinated — as opposed to the tempting caricature presented by their worst representatives in pulpits and politics — is that there does seem to be significant willingness to consider vaccination, though I doubt that persuasion lies in lurid accounts of death or allegations that the unvaccinated themselves are guilty of killing those who end up infected. There’s fear and doubt and probably a significant amount of negative polarization — the god-awful inclination of each political faction to double down on its worst tendencies when opponents satirize or criticize them — worsened by the gross incentives of traditional and social media. But skepticism precludes certainty. That means there’s still openness — to the right kind of persuasion.

People begged for pieces of his cane as sacred relics

Thursday, September 2nd, 2021

I was aware that a gutta percha walking stick was used in the famous caning of Charles Sumner, but I had assumed that gutta percha was simply a hard wood, ideal for walking sticks, but gutta percha in much more interesting than that:

The stick is made of gutta percha, the hardened latex of the Palaquium gutta tree, originally native to Malaysia. This is a natural “thermoplastic” substance, meaning it can be softened with heat and shaped into a form that is retained on cooling. Gutta percha was introduced to Europe in 1842 by Dr. William Montgomerie, a surgeon serving with the British army in the East Indies who had come across the substance in Singapore, where it was being used to make handles for machetes. He thought the substance would be useful to produce handles for medical devices as well as splints for fractures.

Victorian society quickly took to gutta percha. Chess pieces, mirror cases and jewelry were fabricated with it, and dentists found it useful for filling cavities. But perhaps the biggest impact was on the game of golf. At the time, golf balls were made of feather-stuffed leather, were expensive, and not exactly aerodynamic. Balls fashioned out of gutta percha were cheaper and flew further. When they were dinged up, these “gutties” could be repaired by softening in boiled water, and then reshaping in a hand press. The ball’s popularity increased when it was discovered that grooves cut into the surface allowed for a longer flight. Gutties were the ball of choice until about 1900, when they were replaced by the Haskell ball, made of a solid core of rubber wrapped tightly with rubber threads.

Interestingly, rubber, which is also an exudate of a tree, and gutta percha have almost identical molecular structures. They are both polymers of a simple molecule, isoprene, so can be termed as polyisoprenes, but different “kinks” in the long molecules, referred to as “cis” or “trans,” allow for different properties. While gutta percha is thermoplastic, rubber is thermosetting, meaning that once formed into a shape it cannot be reshaped with heat. The rubber used in the Haskell ball was “vulcanized,” a process introduced by Charles Goodyear, who discovered that treating natural rubber with sulphur allowed it to be made into a very hard material. It turns out that the sulphur atoms cross-link the cis polyisoprene units to form a tough latex.

Michael Faraday, the brilliant English scientist who carried out numerous experiments with electricity, found that gutta percha was an excellent insulator — a property that allowed it to be put to use as a coating for the newfangled telegraph cables. In a monumental engineering undertaking between 1854 and 1858, the first transatlantic telegraph cable, insulated with gutta percha, was laid down. Unfortunately, it quickly failed. But by 1865, improvements in technology resulted in a properly functioning gutta percha-insulated telegraph cable that allowed messages to be sent between the continents in a few minutes. Prior to this, communication was via ships and could take weeks. Gutta percha proved to be a huge triumph and served well until it was eventually replaced by polyethylene insulation.


In 1856, Democrat Preston Brooks brutally attacked Republican Sumner with his walking stick on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Sumner, a dedicated abolitionist, had made a strong speech against slavery, a practice that Brooks favoured. The attack was so violent that Brooks’s gutta percha cane broke into pieces, some of which were recovered from the Senate floor and cut into rings that southern lawmakers wore on neck chains to show their solidarity with Brooks, who boasted that people begged for pieces of his cane as sacred relics.

(Hat tip to Hans Schantz.)

They are looking for the best possible move every time, instead of a good move

Monday, August 30th, 2021

To compete means to risk losing, and women, Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing explains, judge this risk differently than men:

A Stockholm University study of 1.4 million [chess] games over 11 years showed that elite women are less likely to use an aggressive opening move than elite male players. The women devote more deliberative thought to their first 25 moves: they are looking for the best possible move every time, instead of a good move.

(That means they often run short on time in tournaments and have to rush at the end.)

Women are less likely to arrange a draw when the outcome is predictable — women want to play the game out. If it’s a sure win for women, they want to get that win.

(Men seem to get bored or decide that the time spent finishing the game is more trouble than it’s worth.)

Women don’t get elected because they refuse to put their names on the ballot in the first place

Thursday, August 26th, 2021

There’s scant evidence that women don’t compete as hard as men, Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing explains; however, there is sizable evidence that women, on average, don’t jump into competitions as easily as men do, and they don’t turn situations into explicit competitions as quickly as men do — which has political repercussions:

But surprisingly, study after study has shown that when women are on the ballot today, they win just as often as men do. They also raise just as much money in campaign donations. Generally speaking, Democrats vote for their party’s nominee, regardless of the nominee’s gender. The same goes for Republicans.


There’s an even more fundamental problem: women don’t get elected because they refuse to put their names on the ballot in the first place.


Analyzing the state representatives’ responses, Fulton concluded that ambitious male state legislators will run for Congress if they have any chance to win. Ambitious female legislators will run for Congress if they have a good chance to win.

The tipping point seems to be around 20% odds. When the odds of winning are below that, almost all the candidates will be men. When the odds of winning are better than that, women jump in the race. In fact, when the odds are decent, women will compete in the election even more than men will.


Incumbents win about 92–95% of the time, depending on the year. That figure doesn’t change much. Even 2010, considered a horrendous year for congressional incumbents, saw 100% of Republicans retain their seats and 82% of Democrats retain theirs.


When you look at other elected positions, where women have better odds, you see a different story. There are approximately 550,000 elected positions in the United States. (To put that number in perspective — there are 363,000 computer programmers.) The majority of those are for local government positions, perhaps a part-time city council or school board. The odds of winning in those races are much better. And so women hold a much higher percentage of posts — 44% of school board posts are held by women. Not quite parity, but much closer.

When you add stress to the equation, women are far more likely to overload

Sunday, August 22nd, 2021

Estrogen’s effect on the COMT (Warrior-Worrier) process is quite dramatic, Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing explains:

It slows down dopamine reabsorption by 30%, regardless of which genotype a woman is.


When you add stress to the equation, women are far more likely to overload.


Lighthall and Mather found that the differences between men and women were very small when they just came into the lab and played the [risk-taking] game. But if they first had to submerge a hand in ice water, then play, the differences were dramatic. Women took less risk after being stressed; they made decisions more slowly and earned less money for themselves. Meanwhile, for men, the stress actually improved their performance. They took more risk, and it was smart risk — the stressed men earned more money overall. They also made faster decisions.


For women, the emotional regions of the brain increased activity after stress; their decision making became entangled with their emotions. But for men, there was no increase in emotionality — stress made them more calculated.

In further research, the scholars found that, in the back of our brains, in the optical cortex, there’s a region where we process the visual look on faces, to read the subtle cues of mood. When women have been stressed, this region markedly increases its activity, but in men, the activity in that region is suppressed.

Under stress, men’s brains tune out emotional cues. Women under stress seek out the emotional cues.