Diagnosis at a distance; why private school might not be worth it; Pretty Boy Floyd as statistical outlier; the upside of global warming
Paging Dr. Bond
When Bill Frist tried to diagnose Terri Schiavo via videotape last year, he was taking a page from the intelligence world’s playbook, a recently declassified 1979 CIA report reveals. The report examines the use of “medical intelligence” in diagnosing the illnesses of foreign leaders without the benefit of a direct examination, a process labeled “remote medical diagnosis.” Such diagnoses are facilitated by face-to-face encounters, but they can also be carried out using photographs, videotape, and even voice analysis (to identify stroke victims). The most useful images, the authors note, are those “obtained in more informal settings, particularly such sporting occasions as golf, hunting, and swimming when attire and postures are more revealing of the subject’s physical condition.”
As an example of a successful remote diagnosis, they cite the case of Leonid Brezhnev: in 1973, an “astute personal observation by a medical analyst” correctly diagnosed the Soviet leader with cardiac arrhythmia (he had a pacemaker installed shortly afterward) and with teeth so rotten that his face drooped and his words slurred. The latter diagnosis, the authors note, enabled the CIA to dismiss later theories that he had cancer of the mouth or had suffered a stroke. They also discuss the successful diagnosis of French President Georges Pompidou, whom CIA analysts observed in the early seventies developing a “characteristically puffy face” possibly indicative of cortisone treatments for multiple myeloma. This analysis was vindicated when Pompidou died from the disease, which he had hidden from the public. However, it’s possible to keep a foreign leader’s ailments secret even from the CIA: when Golda Meir passed away in 1978, aides revealed that she had been suffering from malignant lymphoma for over a decade—and the authors admit that they “had been entirely unaware that she had this lethal disease.”
Not every post-9/11 military intervention has cost us the hearts and minds of the local population, according to a new poll sponsored by the Program on International Policy Attitudes. The poll, based on a random nationwide sample of Afghan adults and carried out late last year, finds that 83 percent of Afghans have either a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” impression of the U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, and 70 percent rate the security situation in their region as either “excellent” or “good,” while only 5 percent call it “poor.” Eighty-three percent of respondents said their country was moving in the “right direction,” a similar percentage told pollsters that the toppling of the Taliban was a “good thing” for their country, and 79 percent approved of American military operations against al-Qaeda.
Every commuter has a least-favorite bottleneck, but if you live in Los Angeles you may have quite a few of them, according to a study prepared for the Federal Highway Administration which lists the twenty-four worst bottlenecks in the United States. Five are in Los Angeles, including the worst of all: the intersection of U.S. 101 and I-405, which generates 27,144 hours of delay every year. The worst bottlenecks on the East Coast, meanwhile, are in Atlanta, and just off the dreaded Capital Beltway around Washington, D.C.
In yet another sign of political polarization, Democrats and Republicans can’t even agree on how well the economy is doing. Throughout the 1990s, there was little partisan disagreement on the topic: even during politically fraught periods like the Republican Revolution of 1994 and the impeachment of Bill Clinton, voters on both sides of the political divide held roughly similar views about the health of the American economy. Since George W. Bush’s election in 2000, though, Democrats’ and Republicans’ perceptions of economic matters have steadily diverged, to the point where in a recent Pew poll, 56 percent of Republican respondents rated the state of the economy as either “excellent” or “good,” whereas only 28 percent of independents and 23 percent of Democrats judged that it was doing well. This divide holds true regardless of income: poor, middle-class, and well-off GOP voters were all far more likely than their Democratic and independent counterparts to say that the economy was in “excellent” or “good” shape.
Dick Tracy had it right, a new study suggests: there really is a correlation between ugliness and crime. A pair of economists examined looks and lawbreaking among adults aged eighteen to twenty-six, using a longitudinal study involving interviews with more than 15,000 adolescents and young adults. Controlling for socioeconomic status, the economists found that as a person’s reported attractiveness decreases, the chance of his or her having committed a crime—from selling drugs to burglary—goes up. (Interviewers were asked to rate the attractiveness of each participant on a 1-to-5 scale.) The authors note that their findings may be partially explained by the fact that good-looking people tend to have higher earnings than the unattractive, who therefore have a stronger financial incentive to consider a life of crime. But other factors may be at work: the effect of unattractiveness on crime is particularly strong among women, and the study suggests that this may have to do with “human-capital formation” in high school, where good-looking females tend to have higher GPAs and fewer disciplinary problems than unattractive girls, making them less prone to crime later on in life. The authors also note that attractive women “tend to receive favorable treatment from the criminal-justice system”—that is, even when they break the law, they are less likely to be detained for it.
Students at private schools tend to outscore their public- school counterparts on standardized tests—but are private schools really better at educating their students, or do they just enroll more pupils from socioeconomic backgrounds that foster academic achievement? A new study takes up this question by examining math scores from the 2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress, which tested more than 28,000 fourth and eighth graders nationwide. As expected, private-school students earned substantially higher math scores on the NAEP tests than did students in public schools—but when the authors controlled for socioeconomic status, the private-school advantage completely disappeared. Indeed, when the authors compared students within socioeconomic brackets, rather than across them, the students from public schools actually outscored their private-school peers, in the fourth and eighth grades alike.
More and more companies are experimenting with word-of-mouth marketing, in which consumers either volunteer or get paid to sing a product’s praises to their friends and neighbors. You might think that these covert marketers’ credibility would diminish if they admitted to being part of an organized campaign—but you’d be wrong, according to a Northeastern University study. Such advertising, the study finds, is more effective when the person spreading the word admits up front to being part of an advertising campaign. None of the metrics of a campaign’s success—from the credibility of the sales pitch to the likelihood that someone would eventually purchase the product in question—was adversely affected when the marketers admitted to being part of a marketing effort, and people were actually more likely to pass the sales pitch along to someone else if they knew that it was part of a campaign. To explain this phenomenon, the study notes that there was “higher conversational quality”—that is, the discussion was both more relaxed and more in-depth—during exchanges where the marketers admitted their affiliations. And the author speculates that telling people they’ve been targeted by a word-of-mouth marketing campaign makes them feel special—as if they’ve been handpicked to receive new or “inside” information.
Climate change may be bad for ice caps, permafrost, and coastal cities, but it could be good news for U.S. agriculture, a study from the AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies suggests. Using a long-range climate-change model from Britain’s Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, the authors project that global warming will lead to increased precipitation and longer growing seasons across the United States over the next century. The resulting productivity gains could effect a 3.4 percent increase in annual profits for U.S. agriculture, or $1.1 billion a year overall. These gains won’t be evenly distributed, however: the states most likely to benefit are Pennsylvania and South Dakota, where the model predicts increased profits of $570 million and $540 million, respectively; the big losers will be Colorado (–$610 million), Oklahoma (–$580 million), and especially California, which stands to lose $2.4 billion a year in agricultural profits if the study’s model proves accurate.