Cool article about the rise of public radio in recent years, thanks to a reinvention of the medium by shows like This American life, Radiolab, and Sound Opinions:
I talked recently with Robert Krulwich, who first joined the NPR network just a few years after All Things Considered went on the air in the Nixon era and now cohosts the public radio program Radiolab, and he remembers those days as filled with invention:
“Radio was dead—it was top 40. All the smarties were at the Times or The Washington Post, or if you didn’t want to be Woodward and Bernstein you went to work for Walter Cronkite at the Tiffany network. This group of nutty people wandered in and said, let’s do radio. We’ll reinvent it. Jump thirty-five or forty years ahead and where is Walter Cronkite? What happened to The Washington Post? And guess what, the nutty radio people have suddenly emerged as the focus for a huge audience. And now they have a little of the swagger of the Timesmen.”
Nate Silver wrote a really excellent article yesterday on confidence intervals, and it really describes very well a pet issue of mine: probabilities and our brains. Probabilities play a very large role in our decision making processes and are specifically very important when performing risk assessments, but I think, as humans, we are naturally ill-equipped to handle probabilities in a meaningful and precise way.
With due respect to our reader, Skeptical Sam, I’m not sure that people’s intuitions are all that good when it comes to estimating confidence intervals. Most people probably know, almost to the minute, how long their commutes to work take them on average. But if I asked you to tell me how often your commute takes 10 minutes longer than average — something that requires some version of a confidence interval — you’d have to think about that a little bit, and you might wind up being pretty far off. Calculating the average amount you expect your family to spend on groceries in a month, likewise, is easier than estimating the risk of some catastrophic event that will cause you to go bankrupt.
Finally, there’s some evidence from behavioral economics that human beings are bad at estimating probabilities out at the tail ends of the bell curve. We’re pretty decent at telling a favorite from an underdog, but we’re not so good at telling an 8:1 underdog from an 80:1 underdog or an 8,000:1 underdog, even though those are huge differences statistically.
All of these are good reasons not to trust your gut.
This also reminds me of an excellent Radiolab episode on a similar topic: Stochasticity.
I think the only real way to combat the counter-intuitive nature of these concepts is more education, and I think there’s some very real opportunities to beef up high school math curricula when it comes to probabilities. I remember spending a very short amount of time on the subject, and it being particularly uninteresting (red and blue marbles…). I think a larger amount of time spent on particularly the larger concepts of what probabilities actually mean would make for a more informed populace.
I love reading Juice and finding out something that I never new anything about. While there’s a lot of information floating around here, there have been two tidbits that I’ve discovered through Juice which have had very influential effects on the way I live my life. Many Juicers, perceptive as they are, are probably taking full advantage of these lifestyle enhancers. However, I’d like to take a brief opportunity to discuss them with you, in case anybody missed out.
Hey fans! What’s shakin’? It’s been several weeks since the last installment of EW(oCtW)B/PR and much has happened in the blog/podoshpere. In the spirit of the holidays, here’s your post-Thanksgiving roundup:
Cake Wrecks also has the holiday fever with a hearty assortment of turkey flavored cakes.
Anyways, up this week is a podcast currently in the running for the coveted “my favorite thing ever”: Radiolab! Each episode of the show is an investigation of a scientific or philosophical question or topic, such as “Time”, “Sleep”, “Who Am I?”, etc. The show is hosted by two badass dudes, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich who ask some really tough questions and offer earth-shattering insights that I’m sure that juicers will be able to appreciate to their fullest.
The show also features some really great, creative sound design. Rock out to it.
Also, I will recommend that you listen to Radiolab when you have some time to pay attention to it. I don’t get as much out of it when it’s in the background. It’s good with a buddy too. So if you’re looking for something to do tonight, grab that special someone, plop on down, and get your mind blown. Seriously, do it.