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The (Other) Secret

The inverse square law trumps the law of attraction
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An old yarn about a classic marketing con game on the secret of wealth instructs you to write a book about how to make a lot of money and sell it through the mail. When your marks receive the book, they discover the secret — write a book about how to make a lot of money and sell it through the mail. (continue reading…)

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Eat, Drink & Be Merry

Or why we should learn to stop worrying and love food
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Among athletes who obsess about their weight, we cyclists are second to none. Training rides are filled with conversations about weight lost or gained and the latest diet regimens and food fads. Resolutions are made and broken. We all know the formula: 10 pounds of extra weight on a 5 percent grade slows your ascent by half a mile an hour. It has a ring of Newtonian finality to it. F = MA. The Force needed to turn the pedals equals Acceleration times that Mass on the saddle. (continue reading…)

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Common Sense

Surprising new research shows that crowds are often smarter than individuals
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In 2002 I served as the “phone a friend” for the popular television series Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. When my acquaintance was stumped by a question, however, he elected to “poll the audience” instead. His choice was wise not only because I did not know the answer but because the data show that the audience is right 91 percent of the time, compared with only 65 percent for “experts.”

Although this difference may in part be because the audience is usually queried for easier questions, something deeper is at work here. For solving a surprisingly large and varied number of problems, crowds are smarter than individuals. This is contrary to what the 19th-century Scottish journalist Charles Mackay concluded in his 1841 book, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, a staple of skeptical literature: “Men, it has been well said, think in herds. It will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.” This has been the dogma ever since, supported by sociologists such as Gustave Le Bon, in his classic work The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind: “In crowds it is stupidity and not mother wit that is accumulated.” (continue reading…)

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