14 June 2019

Go, Godzilla!

The 2019 Godzilla film--Godzilla: King of
the Monsters
--from Warner Bros. Pictures.
Welcome back. Did you see the new Godzilla film? On its opening weekend, the movie earned $48 million in North America, topping the box office charts, and another $130 million worldwide. Not bad for the 35th film in the Godzilla franchise (a world record!), but they were expecting more. The movie cost an estimated $200 million to make.

I think I saw the reworked version of the original Godzilla when it came out in the U.S. in 1956, though none since. I’m just not a fan. That said, I was greatly impressed with the article on Godzilla’s evolution by two Dartmouth College faculty members.

Introducing Godzilla
In case you’re not up on the basics, Godzilla is a ceratosaurid dinosaur (Late Jurassic period), thought to be extinct, only to come bursting forth.

The 1954 Godzilla movie;
Japanese movie poster
(available from Amazon).

The first movie, produced and released in Japan in 1954, harkened back to the World War II nuclear bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. More immediately, it followed a U.S. nuclear weapon test conducted on 1 March 1954 at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

That initial test of a high-yield thermonuclear weapon produced unexpected, widespread radioactive fallout. The fallout contaminated islanders and the crew of a Japanese fishing boat and spawned international reaction to atmospheric thermonuclear testing, including anti-nuclear peace movements across Japan.

The test set the stage for the movie, in which an atomic bomb test awakens and unleashes Godzilla, mutated with an atomic fire breath. The bomb destroys the monster’s deep-water home, and the monster destroys Tokyo.

(Although I’m not a Godzilla fan, I thought The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was great. An enormous, carnivorous dinosaur is released from its frozen, hibernating state by an atomic bomb test in the Arctic Circle. The beast made its destructive way to New York City a year before Godzilla appears. That and a King Kong movie were reportedly inspirations for Godzilla.)

Size Matters
The Dartmouth researchers focused on Godzilla’s morphological change, to wit that Godzilla more than doubled in size from 1954 to 2019, 50 meters to 119.8 meters.

Godzilla Size Chart, 1954-2019, by Noger Chen
(from eurekalert.org/multimedia/pub/202312.php).
They attribute the extraordinary growth to strong natural selection and apply the Breeder’s Equation to calculate the selective pressure.

(The Breeder’s equation, which is considered the workhorse equation for quantitative genetics, may be written: R = h2
S, where R is the response to selection; h2 is the narrow-sense heritability, the proportion of variance in a particular trait, in a particular population, due to genetic factors; and S is the selection differential.)

Suffice it to note that using data from genetic studies of lizards they estimate Godzilla has been subject to a selective pressure 30 times greater than that of typical natural systems.

Wrap Up
The researchers recognize that a movie-star monster may not warrant a genetic assessment, yet they speculate that the causal agent of natural selection is the spike in humanity’s collective anxiety--many democracies are electing nationalist leaders, strengthening borders and bolstering their military presence around the world.

Expanding on military presence, they calculate a high, positive correlation (r2 = 0.74) between U.S. military spending and Godzilla’s growth that’s hard to ignore.

They conclude with the message from most Godzilla movies--humanity must work together to defeat the monster. Now is the time for cooperation--across countries, across disciplines, and across party lines. It is our only hope of mitigating the dire existential threats we face today. That’s also hard to ignore.

Thanks for stopping by.

Weekend movie box office, May 31-June 2, 2019: www.boxofficemojo.com/weekend/chart/
Example articles on the first Godzilla movie and the franchise:
Wikipedia article on 1954 thermonuclear weapon test: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castle_Bravo
Example article on The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms: www.imdb.com/title/tt0045546/
Study of Godzilla’s growth in Science and a news release on EurekAlert!:

07 June 2019

The Skinny on Gossip

Welcome back. Did you hear about ____? What did you hear? Oh, you can tell me; I won’t tell anyone. Men don’t gossip. Nonsense! Some of the men I’ve worked with never stopped gossiping.
“The Gossips,” Norman Rockwell’s painting for The Saturday Evening Post cover, 6 March 1948 (from www.nrm.org/2014/02/).
If you’re wondering who gossips, how often and what they gossip about, you’ll be very interested in a recent investigation by researchers from the University of California, Riverside.

Measuring Gossip
The researchers enlisted 467 people (269 female, 198 male; ages 18 to 58) for a series of five studies conducted with no intervention in the participants’ natural environments.

Each participant simply wore a portable listening device (Electronically Activated Recorder), which acoustically sampled 5% to 12% of what was spoken, for 2 to 5 days. For supporting data, they also completed demographic and personality questionnaires.

The recorded conversations were identified as gossip if (and only if) they were about someone who was not present (about 4,000 occurrences). The gossip was then categorized by the gender of the conversation partner; whether the gossip was positive, negative or neutral; whether the subject of the gossip was an acquaintance or a celebrity; and whether the topic was social information, physical appearance or achievement.

The Gossip Tallies
Of the participants’ total conversations, only about 14% were gossip.

The gossip was largely neutral, nearly 75%, though negative gossip did exceed positive gossip (604 vs 376 occurrences).

There was nearly nine times more gossip about acquaintances than about celebrities.

The female participants gossiped more than the males; however, their gossip was only neutral, information sharing.

Younger participants outdid older participants at gossiping negatively.

As would be expected, extraverted participants gossiped much more frequently than introverted participants, and their gossip ran the gamut of positive to negative.

As far as gossiping goes, there was little difference between poorer, less-educated participants and wealthier, better-educated participants.

Wrap Up
The researchers concluded that everyone gossips. With so many stereotypes about gossiping dismissed, I moved on to wondering about rumors.

Digging a bit, I found that some sources treat gossip and rumors as synonyms. I think that’s going too far, though they do overlap. But then some sources don’t limit gossip to talking about people; they open it up to things.

Defining rumors as spreading information about someone or something that has not been verified sounds correct to me, especially if it’s spread to make sense of an unclear situation or deal with a possible threat. (Rumors ran rampant in the weeks before our government office was eliminated.) On the other hand, I can’t agree with sources that claim rumors normally have a malicious intent.

Oh well. It’s probably best if I stop digging, be happy with what I learned about gossip and just wait for the next study of rumors. I’ll let you know, of course. Thanks for stopping by.

Study of gossip in Social Psychological and Personality Science journal: journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1948550619837000?journalCode=sppa&
Articles on study on National Public Radio and EurekAlert! websites:

Example background articles on gossip and rumor:

31 May 2019

Response to Diversity

Welcome back. Blogging about my most memorable birthday cake years ago, I devoted most of the post to describing the people in the small Upstate New York city where I grew up in the 1940s and ‘50s (Accented Birthday Cake).

Many were first generation Americans, but unlike large cities, there were no concentrations from any one country or conversant in any one language. Being dispersed and immersed, they had to learn some words of English if they were to communicate beyond the family.

Warren’s maternal
grandparents, 1946.
A Proverbial Melting Pot
I wrote about my grandmother from Eastern Europe or possibly the Russian Empire, who could get by in a handful of languages, including heavily accented English. (My grandparents spoke English to me, but not to each other.)

Dominic, who owned the food market near my father’s store, would prepare a sandwich for me, speaking Italian to himself or a helper and a mix of English and Italian to me. (No, I’m not Italian nor do I speak it.)

A school classmate’s family owned a diner, where they spoke English with patrons, Greek to each other and both languages with their children.

Our French-Canadian neighbors would switch fluently between French and English.

We never thought twice if someone didn’t speak English in public, yet a recent survey found that now seems to bother some people.

Americans’ Views of Diversity
The online survey was conducted to gauge Americans’ view about the impact of diversity and the best way to achieve it. Data were provided by 6,637 U.S. adults from the Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel in early 2019. Here is a sample, only a sample, of the results.

Hearing a Foreign Language
Overall, about 29% were bothered some or a lot to hear people speaking anything other than English in public. Those bothered most were over 65 years old (I’m stunned), less educated and Republican or Republican leaning.

Pew Research Center Survey (see P.S.)
Diversity’s Value and Impact
A clear majority (76%) said that racial and ethnic diversity is at least somewhat good for the U.S. The less educated and Republicans or Republican-leaning responders weren’t quite as convinced, but well over half were.

Pew Research Center Survey (see P.S.)
Expanding on diversity, the majority (64%) said that having many different races and ethnicities has a positive impact on the country’s culture. That view was most strongly held by Democrats and Democrat-leaning responders, yet half of Republicans and Republican-leaning responders agreed.

Workplace Diversity
Three-fourths of the survey responders said it was somewhat or very important for employers to promote workplace diversity; however, a like number of responders said that race and ethnicity should not be a factor in hiring or promotions.

Pew Research Center Survey (see P.S.)
School Diversity
The survey asked the relative importance of having students attend local versus racially and ethnically mixed schools. Overall, most (54%) favored local schools, regardless of the schools’ level of diversity. The percentages differed significantly between white and black responders, with nearly double the number of blacks favoring racially and ethnically mixed schools.

Pew Research Center Survey (see P.S.)
Wrap Up
The survey found that, whether white, black, Hispanic or Asian, most Americans have some interactions daily with people of other races or ethnicities. That’s a start.

And, again, most Americans favor diversity and recognize its value to our culture. I’m afraid those who don’t, those who are bothered to hear foreign languages spoken in public, may just have to get used to it. The Census Bureau projects that blacks, Hispanics, Asians and other racial minorities will make up the majority of the U.S. population by 2050.

Thanks for stopping by.

Pew Research Center Survey: www.pewsocialtrends.org/2019/05/08/americans-see-advantages-and-challenges-in-countrys-growing-racial-and-ethnic-diversity/

All tables are from the cited Pew Research Center survey. The following applies to all: Whites, blacks and Asians are those who report being one race and non-Hispanic. Hispanics are of any race. Asians were interviewed in English only. Though included in the totals, they may not be shown separately due to small sample size.

24 May 2019

The Most Creative Age

When does creativity
glow brightest
Welcome back. Are you creative? Do you or did you ever have the ability to produce original or unusual ideas or make something new or imaginative? Did your creativity peak at a certain age?

A number of studies have examined how old people were when they were most creative, when they did their best work. The ages vary with the field or endeavor, and you may find fault with the criteria used for rating creativity; but you still might be interested to see how your creative peak--whether past, present or future--compares to that of others.

Peak Creativity in Forms of Art
In separate investigations, a researcher from the Erasmus School of Economics in the Netherlands determined the age when modern art painters, writers and classical music composers produced their best work.

To assess the most creative age of painters in a 2013 study, he began with the 189 highest-price paintings. The average age of the painters who created these paintings was nearly 42.

For writers, he considered Nobel Prizes for Literature. In a 2014 study, he found the average age of 89 Nobel Laureates approached 45 when they wrote their prize-winning work.

And for his 2016 study of composers, he identified the 100 most popular classical music composers from a website that documents the most often performed works. The average age at which they composed their most popular work was about 39.

Peak Creativity in Sciences
Determining the age when Nobel Laureates did their prize-winning work was the approach taken earlier by researchers affiliated with Northwestern and Ohio universities and the National Bureau of Economic Research. Their 2011 study analyzed 525 Nobel Laureates in physics (182), chemistry (153) and medicine (190) from 1901 to 2008.

They found the differences among the three fields were small compared with the differences over time within each field. For example, before 1905, 60% to 70% of prize-winning work was done before age 40, with about 20% before age 30. By the end of the century, Nobel prize-winning work before age 30 was near 0%.

The mean age at which Nobel Laureates produced their prize-winning work in physics, chemistry and medicine from 1901 to 2008 (whole), through 1905 (early) and from 1985 (late); standard errors in parentheses (from www.pnas.org/content/108/47/18910).
The age increase mirrors both the increase in training--how long it takes to acquire foundational knowledge--and the decrease in theoretical contributions.

Regarding training, most Nobel laureates in these fields earned their PhDs by age 25 in the early 20th century. The number dropped substantially by the end of the century.

As for the nature of the contribution, theoretical/deductive contributions tend to come earlier in scientific careers than do inductive contributions, which build more on the knowledge associated with increased training.

Peak Creativity in Economics

The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, officially “Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel,” was established in 1968, not by Alfred Nobel’s will (from www.geni.com/projects/Nobel-Prize-Winners-in-Economics/8200).
In a recent study of age and creativity--the study that got me started--collaborators from Ohio State and Chicago universities examined 31 Nobel Laureates in economics.

By ranking the laureates on a scale from most conceptual/deductive to most experimental/inductive, they found the conceptual laureates made their most important contribution at an age of about 25, while experimental laureates peaked in their mid-50s.

Wrap Up

Comment on creativity
attributed to Einstein.
Well? How do you compare? Don’t lose sight of the many other forms of creativity or the other criteria for judging creativity.

If you’re into the mystical, you’ll appreciate how the researcher who studied painters, writers and composers expanded his assessment. Besides determining the average ages of peak creativity, he calculated the percentages of lifespan they had lived to that point.

It turns out that those percentages for painters and composers, 62% and 61%, are almost exactly the golden ratio, also known as the divine proportion among other labels. (Writers, at 57%, are off a bit.)

Apparently, Euclid studied the mathematical properties of the golden ratio around 300 BC, and its proportions pop up in music, art, architecture and patterns of nature. If you’re reading this, it’s too early for you to calculate your ratio. Thanks for stopping by.

Study of when painters did their best work in Creativity Research Journal: www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10400419.2013.843912
Study of when writers did their best work in Creativity Research Journal: www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10400419.2014.929435
Study of when composers did their best work in Creativity Research Journal: www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10400419.2016.1162489
Article on forms of art creative peak on Washington Post website: www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/06/23/when-you-will-most-likely-hit-your-creative-peak-according-to-science/

Study of scientific creativity in Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences: www.pnas.org/content/108/47/18910
Study of economics creativity in De Economist journal: link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10645-019-09339-9
Article on economics creativity on EurekAlert website: www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-04/osu-cin042319.php
Golden ratio: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_ratio

17 May 2019

Do Cats Know Their Name?

The three cats, from left, Rex, Boss
and Lassie, ready to respond.
Welcome back. In 2011, I blogged about the three cats we once had (Time for Pets--Cats and Time for Pets--Cats Revisted). I included an excerpt from a note I’d left for a new pet sitter: Age and weight are causing [Lassie] to rethink her life, but she's the only one of the three who knows and will respond to her name, presuming she feels like it.

Did Lassie really know her name? I had to wait until 2019 to get an answer.

Cat Name-Discrimination Study
Researchers affiliated with Japan’s Tokyo, Musashino and Sophia universities and the RIKEN Center for Brain Science investigated the ability of domestic cats to discriminate words uttered by humans, especially their own names.

They conducted four experiments, using a habituation-dishabituation approach.

In each experiment, they presented four different words to each cat as habituation stimuli, expecting the cat’s response to decrease over the four words. (In essence, the cat would likely perk up for the first word, then eventually lose interest.)

They then presented the test stimulus, the cat’s name, monitoring for habituated cats to dishabituate--for their response to rebound from the fourth word to their name. That would indicate the cat discriminated its own name.

Do you really think I’ll
come running if you call?

(Jasmine, the Sphynx cat, from
Vacuuming with Cats Photo Addendum)
Cat Experiment Logistics
The five words were recorded beforehand and played serially for the cats at 15-second intervals. The cats’ responses were videotaped and analyzed for type (ear moving, head moving, vocalizing, tail moving and displacement) and magnitude.

Testing was done where the cats lived, mostly in family households or a “cat café,” a business establishment where visitors interact with cats. The cat being tested was not isolated from cohabiting cats. Some cats participated in more than one experiment at least 2-weeks apart.

The researchers collected key data about the cats tested, e.g., sex, age, mongrel or breed, neutered or not, how long it had lived with the owner, how many other cats it lived with and owner’s gender. All were indoor cats but one.

Cat-Experiments and Results
Experiment 1 tested 16 cats living in households with 2 or fewer other cats. The stimuli--4 general nouns and the cat’s name--were recorded by the cat owner. Eleven cats habituated, and 9 of the 11 responded significantly to their name.

Experiment 2 tested 34 cats, each living with 4 or more other cats; 24 in households, 10 in a cat café. The habituation stimuli were the names of 4 cats cohabiting with the test cat. All stimuli were recorded by the cat owners. Fifteen cats (6 household, 9 café) habituated, and 9 of the 15 (6 household and 3 café) responded significantly to their name.

Experiment 3 tested 29 cats, each living with 4 or more other cats; 20 in households, 9 in a cat café. The stimuli--4 nouns and the cat’s name--were recorded by the cat owner. In all, 21 cats (14 household, 7 café) habituated; 13 of the 21 cats responded significantly to their name.

Experiment 4 tested 33 cats, each living with 5 or fewer other cats; 30 in households, 3 in university labs. The stimuli--4 nouns and the cat’s name--were recorded by two women unknown to the cats. Twenty cats habituated, and 13 of the 20  responded significantly to their names. 

Habituated cats’ mean response to stimuli in (a) Experiment 1, (b) Experiment 2, (c) Experiment 3 and (d) Experiment 4; bars are standard error, asterisks indicate significant differences (P<0.05); from www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-40616-4.
Wrap Up
So, do cats know their names? The household cats that habituated to nouns or other cats’ names generally responded significantly to their own names--they discriminated their names. Café cats also discriminated their names from nouns but not from cohabiting cats’ names.

Did I hear you say, Vet?
(Boss, from Time for Pets--Cats)
To be clear, there’s no evidence cats attach meaning to their names. They learn that when they hear their names, they’ll be rewarded (food, play) or “penalized” (a visit to the vet). The sound of their name becomes distinct, even if they don’t attach it to identity.

Will cats come if you call? In the experiments, the cats’ typical response was moving their ears and heads; fewer than 10% demonstrated vocalization, tail movement or displacement. Why come if there’s no guarantee of a reward?

I never took Lassie to the vet; Vicki handled that. Lassie only hesitated to come when I called as she got older (and heavier). Thanks for stopping by.

Study of cat name discrimination in Scientific Reports journal: www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-40616-4
Articles on study on TIME and Scientific American websites:
Related study of cats recognizing owner’s voice: link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10071-013-0620-4