Why it’s good for grown-ups to go play

Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College, says, “Play primarily evolved to teach children all kinds of skills, and its extension into adulthood may have helped to build cooperation and sharing among hunter-gathers beyond the level that would naturally exist in a dominance-seeking species.” In other words, for our earliest ancestors, play wasn’t just about adding fun to their lives, it may have been a way of keeping the peace, which was critical for survival.

Jennifer Wallace, Washington Post, May 20, 2017

Scientists Think They’re More Rational Than Other People

That is the question researchers at Tilburg University in the Netherlands investigated in a study published this year in Accountability in Research. The team surveyed both scientists and highly educated nonscientists and asked them to rate the two categories of people in terms of objectivity, rationality, integrity, open-mindedness, intelligence and cooperativeness.

Both groups rated scientists higher on every one of these measures, yet scientists perceived bigger differences between the two groups than laypeople did.

Simon Makin, Scientific American, May 1, 2017

Social Interaction Is Critical for Mental and Physical Health

As the Harvard Women’s Health Watch reported, “Dozens of studies have shown that people who have satisfying relationships with family, friends and their community are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer.”

In a study of 7,000 men and women in Alameda County, Calif., begun in 1965, Lisa F. Berkman and S. Leonard Syme found that “people who were disconnected from others were roughly three times more likely to die during the nine-year study than people with strong social ties,” John Robbins recounted in his marvelous book on health and longevity, “Healthy at 100.”

Jane E. Brody, New York TImes, June 12, 2017

Police are using software to predict crime. Is it a ‘holy grail’ or biased against minorities?


“Predictive policing” represents a paradigm shift that is sweeping police departments across the country. Law enforcement agencies are increasingly trying to forecast where and when crime will occur, or who might be a perpetrator or a victim, using software that relies on algorithms, the same math Amazon uses to recommend books.

“The hope is the holy grail of law enforcement — preventing crime before it happens,” said Andrew G. Ferguson, a University of District of Columbia law professor preparing a book on big data and policing.

Now used by 20 of the nation’s 50 largest police forces by one count, the technologies are at the center of an increasingly heated debate about their effectiveness, potential impact on poor and minority communities, and implications for civil liberties.

Justin Jouvenal, Washington Post, November 17, 2016

No, don’t buy those ‘best stocks to own in 2017’

Each year around this time, the headlines blare about what you should do with your cash. Click around any of the usual financial media sites, and you will find all manner of experts detailing the “must own” stocks you should be buying right now if you want big returns in the year ahead.

I can show you how you would have done had you put money into recommendations made by these same folks a year ago for 2016.

How did they did do? For the most part, pretty mediocre.

Barry Ritholtz, Washington Post, December 12, 2016

Indian American Prof. wins $100,000 lottery jackpot, makes himself role model in probability class

An Indian American professor of statistics at Fairfield University, Nicholas Kapoor, 26, has made himself a role model teaching probability to students in his class, after winning a $100,000 lottery jackpot.

Kapoor teaches statistics at Fairfield University and had lectured his students about probability just prior to his win. He is now using himself as a real-life example in class. He buys a lottery ticket almost weekly despite what he said his undergraduate probability professor taught him.

“He’d always show us that you shouldn’t play the lottery because the odds of winning are so small,” Kapoor told ABC News. “My counterargument was always, ‘Yeah, but somebody has to win.’ “And he would say, ‘Yeah, but that’s not going to be you.’”

The American Bazaar, November 17, 2016

Life and death in the United States, in two maps

The latest news about preventable deaths in the United States has some encouraging data and one sobering statistic. On the good-news front, fewer people are dying prematurely from three of the five leading causes of death between 2010 and 2014: cancer, stroke and heart disease.

But there was a significant increase in preventable deaths from unintentional injuries, mostly because deaths from opioid overdoses are increasing.

In a report published Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed data for the five leading causes of death in 2014 in the United States, which together account for 63 percent of all deaths. In each of the five categories, a substantial proportion of those deaths could have been avoided. The study assessed how the rates of these potentially preventable diseases changed from 2010 to 2014, the latest year for which numbers are available.

For all five causes, states in the Southeast continued to have the highest number of premature deaths that could have been avoided.

Lena H. Sun, Washington Post, November 17, 2016

Divorce in U.S. Plunges to 35-Year Low

The U.S. divorce rate has fallen for the third consecutive year, to its lowest level in more than 35 years, according to data released Thursday.

Meanwhile, marriage is up a bit, at 32.3 marriages for every 1,000 unmarried women age 15 or older last year, from 31.9 in 2014. It was the highest since 2009, suggesting that, after a plunge of several decades, matrimony could be stabilizing.

Ben Steverman, Bloomberg, November 17, 2016

Is It Better to Rent or Buy?

The choice between buying a home and renting one is among the biggest financial decisions that many adults make. But the costs of buying are more varied and complicated than for renting, making it hard to tell which is a better deal. To help you answer this question, our calculator takes the most important costs associated with buying a house and computes the equivalent monthly rent.