Sex, Race, Uncertainty, Climate, and More! Saturday Links.

Science Gone Wild with William M Briggs
Science Gone Wild with William M Briggs
Sex, Race, Uncertainty, Climate, and More! Saturday Links.

A Saturday collection of fun and interesting stories sent in by readers.

Larger Breasts Pay Off for Waitresses

Reader Katie sent in this breaking news: a professor from Cornell’s Hotel School finds that big busted, thin, blond women earn more tips that their opposites. The professor, a certain Michael Lynn, said, “Ugly people are not a protected class, legally. It is not in fact illegal to hire only attractive waitresses.”

To which, depending on your temperament, you shout either, “Injustice!” or “Amen!”

Shock: Race, Sex Matter

Reader Webbed Pete sent in this story from the ABA Journal: “Race & Gender of Judges Make Enormous Differences in Rulings, Studies Find“.

Two studies looked through trials ruled over by the men and women of different races; the studies concluded that the sex and race of a judge matter. The conclusions:

In federal racial harassment cases, one study (PDF) found that plaintiffs lost just 54 percent of the time when the judge handling the case was an African-American. Yet plaintiffs lost 81 percent of the time when the judge was Hispanic, 79 percent when the judge was white, and 67 percent of the time when the judge was Asian American.

A second study (PDF), looked at 556 federal appellate cases involving allegations of sexual harassment or sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The finding: plaintiffs were at least twice as likely to win if a female judge was on the appellate panel.

Note the criterion of success switched between the two paragraphs: in the first, it was “plaintiff losing”; in the second “plaintiff winning.”

Your optimal strategy—if you’re the female plaintiff complaining of “discrimination”—is to seek out a sister: black female judges give you the best chance of sticking it to the man. But keep away from white or Hispanic male judges.

I have not read these studies, so I can’t comment on their veracity. But I would be shocked if there were no differences.


Reader Sean Inglis sent in this link to the U.K. Royal Society’s “Handling uncertainty in science” series of lectures.

My favorite: Uncertainties of quantum mechanics – faith or fantasy? Sir Roger Penrose OM FRS, Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford, UK.

Incidentally, if you haven’t read any of Penrose’s books, you’re in for a treat.

Half of All People Make Less Than the Median Income!

Reader Jim Fedako sent in this curiosity: “Obesity as an Educational Issue.” Unfortunately, the period to view the article without paying has expired, but Fedako was able to copy this quote earlier: “Today fully one-third of children and adolescents are obese (having a weight to height ratio at or above the 95th percentile for age and gender) or overweight (85th percentile).”

That seem right to you? 33% are greater than 95% or 85%?

This is either another case of statistical hilarity, or the author of the study was using very old tables of percentages, or possibly those tables represented what some human agency decided was “optimal.” I was unable to discover which.

Balanced Education

Ryan Alexander, Campaign Manager for Balanced Education for Everyone, asked me to give a plug to that organization. He says:

The Independent Women’s Forum has launched the Balanced Education for Everyone Campaign that calls for balanced education of global warming in public schools. We’re encouraging encouraging parents and local activists who are interested in this issue to approach their schools. On Earth Day, schools often show films like An Inconvenient Truth or do some activity to suggest that humans are recklessly destroying the planet and will all die off if we don’t take drastic measures. Not all schools are like this of course, but we’ve heard enough alarming stories to realize this trend is happening in many parts of the country.

We’re just asking for a more balanced and appropriate treatment of environmental education. We’ve built a website that gives parents some resources and suggestions to approach their schools and ask for balance ( It also has a place for parents to share their stories/experiences.

EPA Posts Four New Fact Sheets on Climate Change

An anonymous reader alerted us to the EPA’s efforts to regulate anything to do with climate—-which, by logic, is everything. Start here.

I’ll let readers peruse the site: I don’t have the stomach for it.

Logical Nuns

Reader John Moore points to a National Review pleasant interview with Sister Prudence Allen, R.S.M. What’s the difference between a nun and a sister? This is the place to learn.

Statistical Models and the Census

Reader Al Perrella points us to this article in the Washington Post, in which author Jordan Ellenberg calls anybody who’s against statistical manipulation of census figures a mathematical Luddite.

Ellenberg is wrong: there are plenty of reasons not to trust us statisticians to fiddle with the numbers.

Budget Fantasies

Reader Nate Winchester shows us how paranoia can lead to bad math: Your Tax Dollars at War: More Than 53% of Your Tax Payment Goes to the Military. Sheesh.

Fun Fact: New York City Population

New York City (~8.3 million) has twice as many people as Ireland, about twice as many as Norway, a third more than Denmark. We have more folk than Israel, Finland, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Switzerland, and are about tied with Austria. In fact, NYC tops about 40% of other countries in the world in population.


  1. Speed

    Does that make NYC (790 square km.) a paragon of efficiency in housing and commerce and Switzerland (41,290 square km.) a poster child for urban sprawl?

    “Discussions and debates about sprawl are often obfuscated by the ambiguity associated with the phrase.” (Wikipedia)“urban+sprawl”

  2. Kevin

    I can’t say that Roger Penrose’s books are a treat or not — haven’t read them. However, he did once file a civil complaint against one of the big paper companies (Kimberly Clark, I think) for a 2-D tiling on toilet paper. According to Penrose, this tiling was identical to one invented by him. As Sir Roger himself put it, he was unhappy with his tiling being used to wipe one’s bum. Here is what I found most interesting about this complaint. Penrose’s tiling is infinite and non-repeating. Unless that piece of TP is truly enormous, the pattern on it must repeat. Shouldn’t this have flushed the complaint away?

  3. Ray

    The only thing you need to know about the EPA is that they were founded based on a lie and they have been lying ever since. You can’t trust anything they say.

  4. DAV

    Obesity as an Educational Issue: I wouldn’t think obesity required education. A waist is a terrible thing to mind.

  5. Joy

    Why can’t a disgruntled parent take a school to court to argue that their child is being frightened and burdened unnecessarily with a film such as ‘The Inconvenient Truth’.

    There is a law now in place in England. Surely the US is big enough and clever enough to do the same? No?

    It would cost some money to do it, but that’s a small problem, easily overcome.

    Otherwise, just time, that’s all that’s needed. The pea green boat is busy trying to bail out as we speak. The Owl will fly and the pussycat will have to learn to swim.

  6. Smoking Frog

    Mr. Briggs,

    Re the 53%. I recently encountered someone claiming that 53% of the tax dollar goes to military spending. (I didn’t know about the article on CommonDreams, but I figured he was getting it from somewhere, i.e., that it was not his own idea.) I think it’s bogus, but I’d like to know what you say is “bad math” about it.

    The first thing I said to the guy is that it’s meaningless to say that spending on any particular thing or class of things comes from tax revenue, as opposed to borrowed money, unless it exceeds the amount borrowed, and in that case the only meaningful statement would be that the money spent on it minus the total amount borrowed comes from tax revenue. I told him, “If you mean that military spending is equal to 53% of tax revenue, that’s one thing, but if you mean that it comes from tax revenue, that’s fallacious, and you did say ‘comes from.'” (I’d call the error “bad logic,” not “bad math.”)

    Suppose that he really meant “equal to.” His argument seemed to depend on (1) an error of double-counting a supplemental appropriation, and (2) a broad claim that all sorts of things which are not part of the defense budget are nonetheless “military spending,” e.g., some of the activity of the State Department. I didn’t analyze his argument far enough to see whether you get 53% minus (1) if the things in (2) are admitted as military spending, but I suppose it’s possible, and that has nothing to do with “bad math.”

    So I’m asking you what you mean.

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