What Would Global Wealth Equality Look Like?

The Oxfam charity grabbed headlines this week with a report on global wealth inequality. Their primary data source was the (much more in-depth) Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report, which in 2014 specifically focused on the same subject.

(Credit Suisse is a Swiss holding company with nearly a trillion dollars in total assets.)

While the Oxfam report deals mainly in percentages and proportions, the Credit Suisse report (and its accompanying data sheet) has page after page of hard numbers. And those numbers got me thinking . . . how much money are we talking about here? If wealth inequality didn’t exist—if somehow wealth were perfectly distributed among every adult human on earth (and leaving aside the many serious possible consequences of such a redistribution)—how much would everybody have?

Continue reading “What Would Global Wealth Equality Look Like?”

Who Has Come Closest To Winning Civilization In Real Life?

Games in Sid Meier’s Civilization series are loosely patterned off the rise and fall of real-life civilizations. And some of these real-life civilizations had exactly the kinds of ambitions that would win a game of Civilization. Which raises the obvious question: did any of them get close? Has anybody won? Are we all just living in the “just a few more turns” postgame of a real-life Civilization match?

(“Yes,” “maybe,” and “maybe.”)

This is about who got closest, although in a couple cases, there may already be a winner. And I’ll be using the victory conditions from Civilization III. Because I like Civilization III and it’s the best one.

Continue reading “Who Has Come Closest To Winning Civilization In Real Life?”

You Have Better Taste Than You Realize

The old “tongue map” from our elementary school textbooks has been roundly debunked. Experimental confirmation of “umami” expanded Westerners’ traditional four basic tastes—sweet, sour, salty, and bitter—into five. But did you know those 5 basic tastes might actually be 6 . . . or 7, 8, or more?

Advances in the technology and techniques available to researchers have led to significant new discoveries in taste perception. Receptors have been discovered in the last few years for “tastes” long assumed to be entirely smell or texture dependent. What tastes have you been tasting your whole life without even knowing it? Continue reading “You Have Better Taste Than You Realize”

How Do We Know The Continents Are Moving?

50 years ago, “continental drift” was a fringe hypothesis rejected by most geologists. Today the theory of plate tectonics (which includes continental drift) is universally accepted as true, and unifies once-separate areas of geology under one grand banner.

There are mountains of evidence (literally) that plate tectonics has taken place in our planet’s past. But how do we know that the continents are still drifting, right now? And how do we know what direction each one is moving, how fast they’re going . . . how do we know what we know about plate tectonics? Continue reading “How Do We Know The Continents Are Moving?”

Academic Urban Legends: Is Spinach A Good Source Of Iron?

Spinach is a great source of iron! Except no, no it isn’t. That was debunked in the 1980s . . . someone misplaced a decimal point in the ’30s, and everyone since has thought it had 10 times more iron than it does. Or was it the 1890s? Or . . ..

Writing in Social Studies of Science, author Ole Bjørn Rekdal shares the weird, twisty, fascinating story of how “academic urban legends” like this get going, and keep going long after they’re debunked. It seems both the false idea that spinach is a good nutritional source of iron, and the subsequent urban legend that that urban legend got its start as a misplaced decimal point, have been widely believed and spread by highly-educated people in the health sciences field of study, years or even decades after they were debunked. Continue reading “Academic Urban Legends: Is Spinach A Good Source Of Iron?”

Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys

In Poland, there’s an idiom that I’ve recently fallen in love with. Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy . . . literally, “not my circus, not my monkey;” figuratively, “not my problem.”

I guess monkeys are “problems” in Poland, and circuses are where “problems” come from. If it’s not your monkey, and it’s not even from your circus, then it’s not your problem.

(Not that I’d ever use this in a truly serious situation . . . but I’m betting there’ll be a few opportunities to call upon this idiom around the office.)

2014 edit: image appears to have originated here, but isn’t there now.
This post originally appeared on the Observation Deck.