THIS DOES NOT BODE WELL FOR OUR DECEMBER CHILDREN'S WORLD CUP CHANCES

The Freakonomics guys dashed the hopes of many parents in yesterday's Sunday Times magazine with a column exploring the apparent anomaly that the rosters of so many World Cup soccer squads, in the US and around the world, are clogged with players born in January, February, or March. Their conclusion is fairly intuitive, and probably obvious to parents who have recently gone through New York City's nursery school/kindergarten application process. First, Dubner and Levitt make a compelling case that stardom, in fields like sports or the arts, is less a result of talent than of desire, hard work, practice - and the opportunity to receive speedy, constructive feedback. However, the latter most often goes exclusively to those picked first for the team:

Since youth sports are organized by age bracket, teams inevitably have a cutoff birth date. In the European youth soccer leagues, the cutoff date is Dec. 31. So when a coach is assessing two players in the same age bracket, one who happened to have been born in January and the other in December, the player born in January is likely to be bigger, stronger, more mature. Guess which player the coach is more likely to pick? He may be mistaking maturity for ability, but he is making his selection nonetheless. And once chosen, those January-born players are the ones who, year after year, receive the training, the deliberate practice and the feedback — to say nothing of the accompanying self-esteem — that will turn them into elites.

So, there's an inherent bias in selection systems favoring children born on the early side of the age range being judged? Fascinating. Hunter College Elementary? Anderson program? Might you be willing to share the birthday lists of your incoming kindergarten classes?


THE COMPANY WILL NO LONGER CONTRIBUTE TO THE DEATHS OF CHILDREN BY CLOGGING THEIR ARTERIES WITH FATTY FOODS. RATHER, THEY'LL CONTINUE TO KILL KIDS THE FASTER, MORE PAINLESS WAY - ON THEIR AMUSEMENT PARK RIDES

Disney is getting out of the Happy Meal business. The LA Times reports that after fulfilling a few upcoming contracts to promote family movies with McDonald's tie-ins, the company will pull out of its longtime partnership with the fast-food giant:

. . . multiple high-ranking sources within Disney [say] that the company — which prides itself on being family friendly — wants to distance itself from fast food and its links to the epidemic of childhood obesity.

The Times reports that Dreamworks may follow suit, which would increase the pressure on Ronald and Friends to provide healthier Happy Meals, or to rethink the kids-meal-with-a-toy concept altogether. But don't cry for McDonald's just yet: Disney will still allow the Golden Arches and their transfatful treats inside its theme parks.

DOES THIS MEAN THAT WHEN ALL THOSE WOMEN WE DATED - IN HIGH SCHOOL, COLLEGE, AND INTO OUR EARLY 30s - TOLD US THEY WERE HOLDING TO A VIRGINITY PLEDGE, THEY WERE LYING?

According to Harvard School of Public Health researcher Janet Rosenbaum, teenagers who take virginity pledges, or claim virginity in order to make such a public vow, are in reality dirty, dirty liars:

Adolescents who sign a "virginity pledge" and then go on to have premarital sex are likely to disavow having signed such a pledge, according to an analysis of survey data. . . . Conversely, adolescents who have had premarital sex and then decide to make a virginity pledge are likely to misreport their earlier sexual history. This misreporting of sexual experience will make it difficult to accurately assess virginity pledges’ effects on early sexual intercourse, according to the author. Moreover, the fact that the majority of adolescents recanted their vows within a year may suggest that the virginity pledge programs have a high drop-out rate and that adolescents do not make a strong affiliation with the pledge, said the author.

Which goes to our longtime suspicion about virginity pledges - they're a little like "the lists" married couples carry around, in their heads or their wallets. The lists allow a husband, carte blanche, to commit adultery with any of their five favorite starlets. (We'd list our own top five here, but we don't want to jinx it.) Similarly, a wife would then have the right to do the same with, say, any of her five favorite 19th century novelists. And so we imagine that little Sally Johnson's virginity pledge is ironclad when it's Phineas Poindexter doing the asking, but somewhat more fungible should Johnny Quarterback come knocking.

FLIPPER, HELP US OUT: WE NEED A BOY'S NAME, STARTING WITH "A." WHAT CAN YOU GIVE US BY AUGUST 23?

Just like people, dolphins give themselves names, choosing a handle (actually a specific "call," or string of whistles) in infancy and retaining it throughout their lives. Researchers recently tested dolphin name recognition using underwater speakers:

In nine of 14 cases, the dolphin would turn more often toward the speaker — an established technique for gauging a dolphin's interest — if it heard a whistle resembling the name of a close relative.

It should be noted that in the other five cases, researchers played recordings of dolphins' fathers calling their children by name, eliciting absolutely no response.

May 9, 2006 | Permalink | Subscribe to RSS

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