Snakes in a Burrow: Fossil Rattles Origin of Snakes

Probability in Archaeology, Science –


Last week, paleontologists published a study in the journal Science Advances revealing a possible habitat origin for modern snakes. This study was based on an exciting morphological discovery in a fossil snake that could help scientists understand why snakes developed limbless bodies and distinct sensory systems.

The habitat of ancestral snakes has been debated between several studies, pointing to either aquatic or terrestrial origins. Studying the habitat of fossil snakes is limited to inference based on qualitative morphological analyses of the fossils themselves, or by interpretation of the depositional environment of the fossil, which can be problematic if the fossils were potentially displaced post-death.

This new study, led by Hongyu Yi from the University of Edinburgh and Mark A. Norell from the American Museum of Natural History, produced a quantitative morphological analysis examining the inner ear across all lineages of snakes, including the Cretaceous snake Dinilysia patagonica, found in South American deposits. Yi and Norell concluded from their study that D. patagonica was a burrower, and that ancestral snakes likely occupied a fossorial (burrowing) ecological niche.

Sarah Gibson, PLOSpaleo, November 30, 2015

Burnout increasing among U.S. doctors

Probability in Health –

Burnout among U.S. doctors is getting worse, according to a study that shows physicians are worse off today than just three years earlier.

Mayo Clinic researchers, working with the American Medical Association, compared data from 2014 to measures they collected in 2011 and found higher measures on the classic signs of professional burnout. More than half of physicians felt emotionally exhausted and ineffective. More than half also said that work was less meaningful.

Lena H.Sun, Washington Post, December 8, 2015

Years You Have Left to Live, Probably

Probability in Health –

This is your life.

Also, life expectancy is typically quoted “from birth.” It’s the number of years a baby is expected to live the moment he or she escapes from the womb into the wondrous realities of the outside world. This is a good measure for progress in countries and is a fine wideout view, but it’s just so-so for you and me, as individuals.

The range of your life expectancy is much more interesting.

Toggle your age and sex below to see the possibilities.

Nathan Yau,, September 23, 2015


Who Turned My Blue State Red? Why poor areas vote for politicians who want to slash the safety net.

Probability in Politics, Economics –

IT is one of the central political puzzles of our time: Parts of the country that depend on the safety-net programs supported by Democrats are increasingly voting for Republicans who favor shredding that net.

It’s enough to give Democrats the willies as they contemplate a map where the red keeps seeping outward, confining them to ever narrower redoubts of blue. The temptation for coastal liberals is to shake their heads over those godforsaken white-working-class provincials who are voting against their own interests.

Alec MacGillis, New York Times, November 22, 2015

Eat With Gusto (and Good Information)

Probability in Health –

Tara Parker-Pope did the math a few years ago at the Well blog and found you’re probably eating around 1,000 calories at Thanksgiving. That’s not bad at all, as feasts go. Even with a big piece of pumpkin pie with whipped cream (400 calories) and two glasses of wine (250 calories), you’ll be hard pressed to get to 2,000 calories. A moderately active adult man should consume, on average, 2,400 to 2,800 calories a day and a woman about 2,000 calories, so as long as you take it easy the rest of the day, there’s nothing offensively gluttonous about eating a big Thanksgiving meal.

Enjoy the big dinner and enjoy a second helping of advice on eating and drinking that we have collected here.

Aaron E. Carroll, New York Times, November 23, 2015

How We Spend Our Money, a Breakdown We know spending changes when you have more money. Here’s by how much per year.

Probability in Economics –

low-highThe Bureau of Labor Statistics (using data collected by the Census Bureau) estimates spending patterns over time and across demographics, through the Consumer Expenditure Survey.

BLS released midyear estimates today. Spending on food, housing, and healthcare is up from the same time period last year. Spending on clothes, personal insurance, and everything else is down.

Nathan Yau,, April 2, 2015

Why Indexing Beats Stock-Picking

Probability in Investing –


Professional equity managers — of mutual funds, pension funds or hedge funds — use a number of methods to try to beat their benchmark index. These broadly fall into one of two camps, “active” and “passive,” and a debate over which gets better results has raged since at least the late 1960s.

Passive managers have been able to claim the upper hand by pointing to the well-known tendency of active equity managers to underperform their benchmark index.

J.B. Heaton, Nicholas G. Polson, Jan Hendrik Witte, BloombergView, November 11, 2015

The Probability of Having a White Christmas in the USA What are the chances your city will be hit by snowfall for the holidays?

Probability in Climate –


A White Christmas is not as common as you would think for the majority of the United States (and, really, is a lack of black slush and inevitable wet socks such a bad thing?).

In fact, very few places have a high probability of experiencing at least 1-inch of snowfall on December 25, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration map.

Natasha Umer,, December 10, 2015

Beijing air pollution reaches hazardous levels –

Probability in Health, Climate, Economics –

Schools in the Chinese capital kept students indoors and parents brought their kids to hospitals with breathing ailments Tuesday as Beijing grappled with extremely severe air pollution for the fifth straight day.

The heavy smog erased the capital’s skylines with a monotonous gray and left buildings just a block or two away hardly discernable. Neon signs barely punctured the gloom, and many Beijingers wore masks of various kinds while walking the streets.

Didi Tang, Yahoo! News, DEcember 1, 2015