As with many of my shorter pieces, they are inspired by some short topic on NPR, my exclusive source of news from outside my optics bubble. This morning there was a piece by the sports commentator, Frank DeFoe. He had come across a marketing piece from Stanford that related the outcome of a scientific study on our circadian rhythm, a well-known concept to frequent flyers. I myself just passed 2 million airline miles, although a colleague has us all beat, as he has cleared 5 million and is still on the move, versus me, who is now traveling slightly less than 100,000 per year.
Now to the Frank Defoe piece. It seems on relatively rare occasions, every few weeks for half of the year, NFL games are played at night between a team from the East Coast and one from the West Coast. A well-established trend is that people experience a surge of attention and performance at about 6 pm on any given day, and by 10 pm most of us are on marginal power. So, if one were to study the outcome of NFL evening football games between East and West Coast teams, which typically start about 8 pm EST, one might see a trend. This was the Stanford scientists’ hypothesis. Specifically, independent of which coast the game is played on, from the above observed behavior, the West Coast team always has the advantage (I’ll let you process that). Sure enough, the scientists at Stanford determined from 25 years of compiled data that the West Coast team wins 70% of the time, versus a 50% split for the more typical day games. Frank suggested that listeners place their bets accordingly.
This reminds me of my favorite NPR report years ago on behavioral science. There was a science team that received a grant to travel to some 25 cities around the world, where they would foist the following three scenarios on an unsuspecting public.
- They would drive through the city and record the accuracy of the public square and other outdoor building clocks. Guess who won? You’re right.
- At noon, in a busy part of town, they set up cones about 50 yards apart on a sidewalk and recorded the time it took passersby to traverse the span. The winner (in a manner of speaking) was New York City. The city with the least-fast pedestrians also took the prize for test number 3.
- This last scenario is my favorite. They went to the post office and bought one 2-cent (or the lowest denomination) stamp, with a $50 or other large bill and timed the transaction. In one city, the clerk closed the window and walked away until they left.
So, we need to be creative with our proposals and figure out how to do science around the world. The closest attempt I’ve seen was an NSF proposal to travel to every large telescope site in world and improve their alignment. I never heard if it was funded.