kottke.org posts about squirrels

Observation effectsJan 24 2008

A recent study shows that when Tiger Woods plays in a golf tournament, the other players perform worse than they do when he doesn't play.

Analyzing data from round-by-round scores from all PGA tournaments between 2002 and 2006 (over 20,000 player-rounds of golf), Brown finds that competitors fare less well -- about an extra stroke per tournament -- when Tiger is playing. How can we be sure this is because of Tiger? A few features of the findings lend them plausibility. The effect is stronger for the better, "exempt" players than for the nonexempt players, who have almost no chance of beating Tiger anyway. (Tiger's presence doesn't mean much to you if the best you can reasonably expect to finish is about 35th-there's not much difference between the prize for 35th and 36th place.) The effect is also stronger during Tiger's hot streaks, when his competitors' prospects are more clearly dimmed. When Tiger is on, his competitors' scores were elevated by nearly two strokes when he entered a tournament. And the converse is also true: During Tiger's well-publicized slump of 2003 and 2004, when he went winless in major events, exempt competitors' scores were unaffected by Tiger's presence.

Research papers with a woman as the primary author are more likely to published if the author's gender is unknown.

Double-blind peer review, in which neither author nor reviewer identity are revealed, is rarely practised in ecology or evolution journals. However, in 2001, double-blind review was introduced by the journal Behavioral Ecology. Following this policy change, there was a significant increase in female first-authored papers, a pattern not observed in a very similar journal that provides reviewers with author information. No negative effects could be identified, suggesting that double-blind review should be considered by other journals.

When watched, squirrels fool would-be nut thieves by pretending to bury nuts.

In the journal Animal Behaviour, biologist Michael Steele at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania examines squirrels' caching of nuts. While the furry-tailed creatures made a show of digging a hole in the ground and covering it with dirt and leaves when watched, one time out of five they were faking and nothing was buried.

The squirrels' deception increased after their nut caches were raided.

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