Fairness in Break Ups: An Algorithm

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Editor's note: We have a guest editor! Meet Virginia Hughes, an excellent science writer who (mostly) covers genes, brains, and drugs. She's got a new weekly newsletter for great science writing called Gray Matters (sign up!). The links are hers. 


1. After a break-up, how do you fairly divvy up your stuff? Math!

"Ayers and Socha committed that in the event of a break-up, they would use a relatively new algorithm called Fair Buy-Sell to determine which of them would buy out the other’s share, and at what price. Fair Buy-Sell was devised in 2007 by Ring and Steven Brams, a professor of politics at New York University, and requires each partner to simultaneously propose a buyout price. If John proposes $110,000 and Jane proposes $100,000 then John, the higher bidder, will buy out Jane for $105,000. Unlike the shotgun clause, this method is equitable: Each participant ends up with something—either money or the business—at a price that is better than his or her offer. 'Both participants always get a solution that’s better than what they proposed,' Ring says. And the business always goes to the partner who values it more."


2. Companies are making eggs without the chickens.

"While an egg farm uses large amounts of water and burns 39 calories of energy for every calorie of food produced, Tetrick says he can make plant-based versions on a fraction of the water and only two calories of energy per calorie of food — free of cholesterol, saturated fat, allergens, avian flu, and cruelty to animals. For half the price of an egg."


3. Multisensory tasting: How color and sound change the way we judge wine.

"Spence has done plenty of research to show that red makes things taste sweeter and green makes them more sour, but I asked him why that was the case. He said that in this experiment it was likely some kind of 'non-verbal priming effect.' In the same way that if you’re told a wine tastes of cherry or chocolate or whatever you’re more likely to think you taste those ingredients, if you’re shown red you’re more likely to associate it with sweetness. 'Most people, when they think of sweet, they think of red as the first colour to come to mind,' said Spence. This perhaps goes back to the colours of nature: when fruits are green, they’re unripe and sour, and when they’re red, they’re ripe and juicy. 'Either we’ve learnt that or it’s innate—who knows which?' said Spence."


4. Grandma might not want a robot-caretaker.

"Though the older respondents believed they would be invincible in the face of the robot’s deleterious charms, they believe younger people would suffer at the hands of the bots. This belief actually might make the technology a less appealing tool on the whole. According to research on other third-person effects, the feeling usually results in avoidance of the material in question. This could obviously have significant implications for the impending roll-out of robot elder care."


5. How scientists measure "aggression" in studies of violent video games.

"Another task, called the 'hot sauce paradigm', measures aggression by having participants prepare a cup of chilli sauce for another (again, fictional) participant. The more hot sauce they put in the chilli, the more aggressive they are deemed to be, and some studies have shown that people who are asked to play violent video games beforehand use more hot sauce."


Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip

bestir is now always used reflexively (must bestir myself), & never, idiomatically, as an ordinary transitive verb; stirred should have been used in (WRONG) The example of the French in Morocco has bestirred Italy into activity in Africa.


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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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