Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How Being a Jerk Shortens Your Life

Angry business man yelling at phone
Tom Grill via Getty Images

By John Cloud Monday, February 28, 2011 | 768 comments

Beware jocks and mean girls: you may be more popular in high school, but according to a new academic paper, it is the smart kids and conscientious glee-club types who will live longer. Not only that, they will suffer fewer diseases before they die. Only the good die young? Guess again.

The paper, which was published recently in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, summarizes data from millions of people studied in dozens of academic articles. The bottom line is that people who are smarter and more conscientious acquire fewer illnesses and die later than those who have the opposite traits.

How these relationships work is wildly complicated, but one of the simplest associations is between intelligence and health: smarter people are more adept at avoiding accidents, and they are more likely to understand public-health campaigns against smoking or drug abuse. Studies typically show that by middle age, there is a reliable correlation between low IQ and rate of hospital admission, even when researchers control for socioeconomic differences. (More on Why Do Immigrants Live Longer Than Native-Born Americans? Smoking)

A more puzzling but just as reliable finding is that people of lower intelligence are more likely to have disorders that stem in large part from genes. For instance, the new paper quotes a 2010 finding that those who have IQ scores just one standard deviation lower than the mean have a 60% greater risk of being admitted to a hospital for schizophrenia. That could be because admitting staffs are biased against people they see as less intelligent, but low intelligence is also correlated with greater risk of alcohol problems, depression, anxiety, late-onset dementia and posttraumatic stress disorder — again, even after researchers control for class variances. The same goes for risk of death by suicide and homicide and risk of injury from fights, stabbings, or maulings with blunt instruments.

Some of these relationships can be explained simply: stupid people make stupid decisions. But no one decides to be schizophrenic or to have dementia (or, for that matter, to be mauled by a blunt instrument). The authors wonder, then, if there's a genetic relationship between intelligence and likelihood of injury and earlier-than-average death.

How would that genetic relationship work? “One possibility,” write Ian Deary, Alexander Weiss and David Batty of the University of Edinburgh, “is that intelligence might capture suboptimal neurodevelopment.” Which would mean that the less intelligent have not only more limitations on their cognitive growth but that their very brains are constructed worse, leaving them more susceptible to physiological problems such as dementia.
Still, the strong relationship between lower intelligence and higher risk for illness also exists for non-brain ailments such as cardiovascular disease. According to a 30-year Scottish study published in 2004, a one standard-deviation disadvantage in intelligence at age 11 was related to an 11% increased risk of hospital admission or death due to cardiovascular illness. The Edinburgh team says this finding coincides with data from Denmark, Sweden, and the United States. Higher intelligence is also negatively correlated with risk of stroke. (More on Why Smart Humans — and Honeybees — Live Longer)

The authors suggest the mechanism at work may be that less intelligent people have a harder time understanding the importance of physical activity, a heart-healthy diet, and avoiding cigarettes. This mechanism would explain why there is a correlation between intelligence and lung cancer but not between intelligence and most other kinds of cancers.

What about personality?

A seminal 1959 paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that Type A people — hard drivers, people who face high competition and strict deadlines — are at higher risk for coronary heart disease. That finding is now so common that we take it for granted.

But it's also true that cardiac patients with Type D personalities — those who lack confidence and are prone to irritability — are at substantially greater risk for poor outcomes including death, according to a 2006 study. By contrast, patients open to experiences (art, ideas, feelings) are at lower risk for cardiac mortality.

Studies have shown for nearly 20 years that the key personality trait that predicts longevity is conscientiousness. In one long-term study, students judged by their parents and teachers to be conscientious as 12-year-olds were more likely to be alive when researchers followed up 64 years later. Surprisingly, though, the same study found that cheerfulness was related to greater mortality risk, suggesting that happy,
popular kids turn out to be at greater risk for disease later on, perhaps because they feel overly confident about their abilities to defeat life's difficulties. (More on Explaining Why Meditators May Live Longer)

High conscientiousness predicts a lower likelihood of developing all kinds of illnesses: diabetes, high blood pressure, hernia, bone problems, sciatica, stroke, Alzheimer's and tuberculosis. More conscientious HIV patients also enjoy a slower progression of their disease as indicated by viral loads, perhaps because they learn from helping others why it's important to care for themselves. As for other personality types, neurotic people tend to smoke more, as do ill-tempered people.

According to the Ediburgh team, a major flaw in these findings is that most of the studies that generated them did not adequately control for socioeconomic status (SES). Still, the authors write that the studies that did control for SES found that it “accounts for only a modest amount of the relationship between personality and health.”

Why is it that people with sunnier dispositions live longer? One reason may be that they interact more productively with health-care workers than do cynical, distrustful, or irritable people.
That's fascinating, but what are we to make of all these findings? After all, the very project of relating intelligence or personality traits to health outcomes seems a bit elitist: we smart, self-assured people unencumbered by neurotic fears are going to outlive you mean strivers. (More on Explaining Why Meditators May Live Longer)

As I was reading the careful data so attentively amassed by the Edinburgh team, I didn't think I would find any such elitism. Then I got to the final few pages. That's when the specter of eugenics crept into the discussion.

Here's one scary passage: “A patient lower in intelligence or agreeableness or who displays a distressed type of personality could have his or her cardiovascular health monitored more regularly [than those higher in intelligence or agreeableness].” Really? And who decides who is more “agreeable?” How, exactly, do we force the stupid and the mean to get these cardiovascular tests?
Here's another example:
When faced with a patient high in conscientiousness, a physician's or nurse's advice to change his or her diet or give up smoking would be likely to be met by a high self-directed effort on the part of the patient. However, for a patient low in conscientiousness, this advice may need to be accompanied with short-term incentives and regular monitoring and reminders or behavior modification either by the health-care provider or some other expert.
Wow. “Behavior modification?” “Regular monitoring” by doctors or unnamed "experts"? The authors seem to be suggesting a social-control model of dealing with people not quite as smart and optimistic as they are. People should have the right to make their own health-care decisions regardless of how smart and likable they are. Are we really going to have a separate health-care system for mean people? (More on Middle Age: It's Not Downhill from Here — At Least in Terms of Mood)

In short, let's not take this paper beyond the cocktail party. Like so many academics obsessed with intelligence scores, the Edinburgh team sounds smart but may be just creepy.

Follow my health columns on Twitter @JohnAshleyCloud

Saturday, January 29, 2011

WikiLeaks Draws FBI Ire

40 Search Warrants Executed as FBI Goes After 'Anonymous'

Police agencies worldwide are turning up the heat on a loosely organized group of WikiLeaks activists. On Thursday U.K. police arrested five people, and U.S. authorities said they'd executed more than 40 search warrants in the U.S. in connection with last month's Web-based attacks against companies that had severed ties with WikiLeaks.

Investigations are also ongoing in the Netherlands, Germany and France, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation said Thursday.

Acting on information from German authorities, the FBI raided Dallas ISP Tailor Made Services last month, looking for evidence relating to one of the chat servers used by Anonymous. Another server was traced to Fremont, California's Hurricane Electric.

The actions come after Anonymous knocked websites for MasterCard, Visa and others offline briefly by recruiting volunteers to target them with a network stress-testing tool called LOIC (Low Orbit Ion Cannon). LOIC flooded the sites with data, making them unable to serve legitimate visitors. This type of attack is called a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.

Anonymous has also targeted PayPal, Amazon and the websites of Sarah Palin and the Swedish Prosecutor's Office with these attacks.
"[F]acilitating or conducting a DDoS attack is illegal, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, as well as exposing participants to significant civil liability," the FBI said in a press release.

Anonymous members say they want to send a message to companies that dropping WikiLeaks over its decision to publish classified documents is an attack on free speech.

These types of political DDoS attacks have become commonplace. Pro-Russia computer users used them to shut down much of Estonia's Internet infrastructure in 2007, and two years later, supporters of Iran's pro-democracy movement attacked a number of state-sponsored websites.

Anonymous has launched similar DDoS attacks in the past, too, knocking the websites of the Recording Industry Association of America and Scientology offline in recent years.

On Thursday, a Web page used to coordinate this latest round of DDoS attacks was offline, and the group's Twitter and Blogspot pages were silent.

The U.K.'s Metropolitan Police arrested five men aged 15 to 26 on Thursday. No arrests have been announced in the U.S. Last month, Dutch authorities arrested two teenagers in connection with the attacks.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Strange Number 6174

6174 is known as Kaprekar's constant[1][2][3] after the Indian mathematician D. R. Kaprekar. This number is notable for the following property:
  1. Take any four-digit number, using at least two different digits. (Leading zeros are allowed.)
  2. Arrange the digits in ascending and then in descending order to get two four-digit numbers, adding leading zeros if necessary.
  3. Subtract the smaller number from the bigger number.
  4. Go back to step 2.
The above process, known as Kaprekar's routine, will always reach 6174 in at most 7 iterations.[4] Once 6174 is reached, the process will continue yielding 7641 – 1467 = 6174. For example, choose 3524:
5432 – 2345 = 3087
8730 – 0378 = 8352
8532 – 2358 = 6174
The only four-digit numbers for which Kaprekar's routine does not reach 6174 are repdigits such as 1111, which give the result 0 after a single iteration. All other four-digit numbers eventually reach 6174 if leading zeros are used to keep the number of digits at 4:
2111 – 1112 = 0999
9990 – 0999 = 8991 (rather than 999 – 999 = 0)
9981 – 1899 = 8082
8820 – 0288 = 8532
8532 – 2358 = 6174
9831 reaches 6174 after 7 iterations:
9831 – 1389 = 8442
8442 – 2448 = 5994
9954 – 4599 = 5355
5553 – 3555 = 1998
9981 – 1899 = 8082
8820 – 0288 = 8532 (rather than 882 – 288 = 594)
8532 – 2358 = 6174
Note that in each iteration of Kaprekar's routine, the two numbers being subtracted one from the other have the same digit sum and hence the same remainder modulo 9. Therefore the result of each iteration of Kaprekar's routine is a multiple of 9.
495 is the equivalent constant for three-digit numbers. For five-digit numbers and above, there is no single equivalent constant; for each digit length the routine may terminate at one of several fixed values or may enter one of several loops instead.[4]

See also


  1. ^ Mysterious number 6174
  2. ^ Kaprekar DR (1955). "An Interesting Property of the Number 6174". Scripta Mathematica 15: 244–245. 
  3. ^ Kaprekar DR (1980). "On Kaprekar Numbers". Journal of Recreational Mathematics 13 (2): 81–82. 
  4. ^ a b Weisstein, Eric W., "Kaprekar Routine" from MathWorld.

External links

Thursday, January 13, 2011

College Humor for John Ellis

Hey, I don't do this stuff! One of my college-aged kids showed it to me. It's from a site called


The story behind this seems to be that particle theorist John Ellis and experimentalist Melissa Franklin were playing darts one evening at CERN in 1977, and a bet was made that would require Ellis to insert the word "penguin" somehow into his next research paper if he lost. He did lose, and was having a lot of trouble working out how he would do this. Finally, 'the answer came to him when one evening, leaving CERN, he dropped by to visit some friends where he smoked an illegal substance'. While working on his paper later that night 'in a moment of revelation he saw that the diagrams looked like penguins'.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Cranks, Quacks, and Crackpots

I feel bad for you PhDs. in Physics to have to waste your time reading crackpottery. Well, no job is perfect, everything has a downside, what can you do about it? Nothing really. Hopefully the "amusing" aspect counteracts the "annoyance" factor.

While John Baez' The Crackpot Index is amazing in its own right, are you aware of another AMAZING one by Dr. Warren Siegel of SUNY's dept. of Physics?

It's called "Are you a Quack?" and can be accessed by clicking on this sentence. Good stuff. :-)