Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sweet Thoughts

Friend and economist Brian Hollar made a tongue and cheek reference to claims that eating chocolate helps you win the Nobel Prize. Per capita chocolate consumption correlates strongly with per capita Laureates. Yes, yes, yes, we're all aware of the "correlation is not causation" platitude--though I wonder if half the people who say truly understands it--and it probably applies here. But there's probably such a story here. Not that winning Nobels cause people eat chocolate but wealthier nations eat chocolate and have more Laureates. Wealthier countries, after all, have better nutrition and caloric intake (which helps the brain develop), are safer (so smart/driven people are less likely to die young), and allow greater specialization (so smart/driven people don't get stuck doing menial labor rather than expanding the boundaries of knowledge). Moreover, wealthier countries have the capital equipment that's so helpful when doing revolutionary work. Switzerland has the highest per-capita in Laureates. Switzerland also has CERN. The heteroskedastic nature of the best fit line supports this theory: chocolate-starved countries have few Nobels but chocolate-rich ones have either many or (relatively) few. When you're wealthy, there's a lot of different things you can spend your money on. (I assume if there was a Nobel for engineering, Germany would be higher.) This is all pretty straight forward; this post is largely a record so I can remember to use this example in class when I teach research methods next year. Still, it's a fun exercise.

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