The bizarre Super Bowl bets that changed Las Vegas forever

Do you think the Denver Broncos will score exactly four points? You can bet $100 on it at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook and win $999,900. You can predict which player scores the first touchdown, or whether Neymar will score more goals Sunday than Cam Newton scores touchdowns, or how many receptions Carolina Panthers wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery will make. You can bet, at worse than 50-50 odds, on the coin toss.

Adam Kilgore, Washington Post, February 5, 2016

A Judge’s Guidance Makes Jurors Suspicious Of Any Eyewitness

Eyewitness testimony can be unreliable. But some such accounts are better than others, research shows. Can jurors be taught to tell the difference?

The state of New Jersey has been trying to help jurors better assess the reliability of eyewitness testimony, but a recent study suggests that the effort may be having unintended consequences.

That’s because a new set of instructions read to jurors by a judge seems to make them skeptical of all eyewitness testimony — even testimony that should be considered reasonably reliable.

Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR, January 28, 2016

Is Dementia Risk Falling?

Amid gloomy reports of an impending epidemic of Alzheimer’s and other dementias, emerging research offers a promising twist. Recent studies in North America, the U.K. and Europe suggest that dementia risk among seniors in some high-income countries has dropped steadily over the past 25 years. If the trend is driven by midlife factors such as building “brain reserve” and maintaining heart health, as some experts suspect, this could lend credence to staying mentally engaged and taking cholesterol-lowering drugs as preventive measures.

Esther Landhuis, Scientific American, January 25, 2016

One Market Prediction Is Sure: Wall Street Will Be Wrong

In interpreting the week’s news, it’s also worth remembering that a few days or even a month of stock returns will not tell us much about where the market will be a year or more from now. In fact, although everyone would like to know where the current gyrations will take us, the unpleasant truth is that there is simply no reliable way to foretell the short-term path of the market.

You might not know that from the forecasts of major Wall Street investment houses. The start of a new year is the season for prognostication, and many analysts have issued very specific predictions. The consensus on Wall Street is that the S.&P. 500 will rise 7 percent for all of 2016.

Jeff Sommer, New York Times, January 9, 2016

If the I.R.S. Is Watching You, You’ll Pay Up

What would be more likely to get you to report the whole truth and nothing but the truth on your tax returns? A notice that says “Don’t cheat” or one that says “Don’t be a cheater”?

As it turns out, the personalized injunction works better than the more generalized abstract principle — though neither works as well as the plain, old-fashioned threat of an audit.

Patricia Cohen, New York Times, January 4, 2016

The Really Big One: An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when.

The next full-margin rupture of the Cascadia subduction zone will spell the worst natural disaster in the history of the continent.

In fact, the science is robust, and one of the chief scientists behind it is Chris Goldfinger. Thanks to work done by him and his colleagues, we now know that the odds of the big Cascadia earthquake happening in the next fifty years are roughly one in three The odds of the very big one are roughly one in ten. Even those numbers do not fully reflect the danger—or, more to the point, how unprepared the Pacific Northwest is to face it. The truly worrisome figures in this story are these: Thirty years ago, no one knew that the Cascadia subduction zone had ever produced a major earthquake. Forty-five years ago, no one even knew it existed.

Kathryn Schulz, The New Yorker, July 20, 2015

Are Primary Polls Finally Predictive? No, but This Is When the Fun Starts

You have undoubtedly heard that primary polls aren’t necessarily very predictive far from an election. With just a month to go until the Iowa caucuses, I’m writing to tell you that … it’s still true.

In recent primary campaigns, going back to the 2004 Democratic primary, those candidates who have led in Iowa or New Hampshire polls with just one month to go have lost as often as they have won.

Nate Cohn, New York Times, December 29, 2016

A Healthy Diet’s Main Ingredients? Best Guesses

[N]utrition experts, including those in this Retro Report, caution that life is complex, and that we are more than what we eat. Among them is Dr. Barbara V. Howard, who was a principal investigator in the 2006 federal study of low-fat diets.

“We are not going to reverse any of the chronic diseases in this country by changing the composition of the diet,” Dr. Howard said when that report was issued. “People are always thinking it’s what they ate. They are not looking at how much they ate, or that they smoke or that they are sedentary.”

Other explanations for why one person gains weight and someone else does not may include sleep patterns, genetic predispositions and the compositions of individual microbiomes — the trillions of microbes residing inside the human body. Some health researchers even question the significance of exercise in keeping pounds off, regardless of its other benefits. Among other things, one has to move around quite vigorously to hold the weight down. A Big Mac, for instance, has 540 calories. To burn it off, a person would need to jog or to swim laps for about 45 minutes. Not every Big Mac eater exercises that strenuously.

Clyde Haberman, New York Times, January 3, 2016

Startling new finding: 600 million years ago, a biological mishap changed everything

If life is effectively an endless series of photocopies, as DNA is transcribed and passed on from one being to the next, then evolution is the high-stakes game of waiting for the copier to get it wrong.

Too wrong, and you’ll live burdened by a maladaptive mutation or genetic disorder. Worse, you might never live at all.

But if the flaw is wrong in exactly the right way, the incredible can happen: disease resistance, sharper eyesight, swifter feet, big brains, better beaks for Darwin’s finches.

In a paper published in the open-access journal eLife this week, researchers say they have pinpointed what may well be one of evolution’s greatest copy mess-ups yet: the mutation that allowed our ancient protozoa predecessors to evolve into complex, multi-cellular organisms. Thanks to this mutation — which was not solely responsible for the leap out of single-cellular life, but without which you, your dog and every creature large enough to be seen without a microscope might not be around — cells were able to communicate with one another and work together.

Incredibly, in the world of evolutionary biology, all it took was one tiny tweak, one gene, and complex life as we know it was born.

Sarah Kaplan, Washington Post, January 11. 2016

Social Science Research Examines The Generosity Of The Wealthy

TOM COUPE: When I computed the statistics, I found that self-made billionaires are four times more likely to have signed the giving pledge than billionaires who inherited their money.

People in general want their children to grow up to be like them. And it could be that self-made people want their children to grow up to be self-reliant. So there might be psychological reasons why self-made billionaires want to give away more of their money to philanthropy.

GREENE: So an obvious implication here – if you’re looking for donations for a cause, I mean, and you’re going to rich people, go to self-made billionaires before people who’ve inherited their money.

Shankar Vedantam, NPR, January 20, 2016