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Beware of the Leopard Lessons

In the book Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, there’s a vignette called ‘Beware of the Leopard’ which explains why it’s critical to provide convenient access to important information. The vignette is a useful way to explain information asymmetry, in which one person has relevant information not known by or available to the other person. Here’s…

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Darwin Comes to Town

Charles Darwin is well-known for his contributions to the science of evolution and has been described as one of the most influential figures in human history. But he certainly wasn’t infallible. Darwin claimed the effects of natural selection took hundreds of years. As he wrote in On the Origin of Species, “We see nothing of…

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Words Matter, Made-Up Edition

As my mantra is “Words Matter,” I’m fascinated by the etymology of words, how different cultures use language, and when people accidentally/purposefully misuse English. I’ve covered spelling bees, written about mondegreens and eggcorns, and advocated for the banishing of overused words. So, it’s probably not surprising that a friend caught my attention when he recently…

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The Power of Suggestion

“Objection, your Honor, the Defense is leading the witness.” If you’ve watched TV courtroom dramas, you’ve heard this common expression. One lawyer is complaining that the other lawyer is asking leading questions; the questions suggest the answers the witness should give. As such, it unfairly taints the witness’ testimony. As often happens, a recent courtroom…

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The Pygmalion Effect in Business

In 1965 two researchers conducted a now-famous experiment in a public elementary school, dubbed Pygmalion in the classroom. The researchers told teachers that about one-fifth of their students were unusually intelligent (so-called “growth spurters”), based on results of a fictitious IQ test. Even though the gifted students were seemingly chosen at random, these students performed…

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Can You Create A Dictionary of Cultural Literacy?

Almost exactly 25 years ago, a close friend gave me a book called “The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know.” The book contains 23 sections, representing “major categories of knowledge”, each containing hundreds of entries discussing ideas, events, and individuals that were “essential for understanding American discourse”. At first, I thought…

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