Monthly Archives: February 2015

If you thought the llama and dress memes were silly, this will make you feel worse

By Zachary A. Goldfarb

On Thursday and Friday, the Internet went gaga, first over a pair of llamas loose in Arizona, then over a dress that appeared either white-and-gold or black-and-blue depending on who was looking at it. Here at Wonkblog, we enjoyed the opportunity to shed some light on both memes, with stories on where llamas live and why there are so many in the United States, as well as a piece on the optical illusions that show color is in the eye of the beholder.

But no doubt some of us thought the focus on llamas and “the dress” was overkill. And these charts — visualizations of people tweeting about llamas and the dress on the one hand and ISIS and net neutrality (subjects on Friday’s front pages) on the other — show that the Internet indeed got carried away.

For starters, this first chart shows that there was no comparison between the llama story and the dress story. We may have been intrigued by llamas, but we absolutely loved the dress.

As you can see, from Thursday to Friday, there were 570,000 tweets about the llama. Not that many. But there were 7.6 million tweets about the dress. (Yes, some of those tweets involved the word “dress” in other contexts, but most of what you’re seeing above is driven by the mysterious dress.)

At its peak, there were were 17,000 tweets a minute about the dress, compared with 1,900 about the llama. So the llama was a mini-meme; the dress stole the show.

ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, is a fairly heavily trafficked phrase on Twitter. At its peak, it was more tweeted about than the llama. But this week, people were far more interested in the dress, at least for a …read more


RIP Leonard Nimoy, economist

By Jim Tankersley

(Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

We still haven’t gotten to Star Trek, my 8-year-old and I. He is currently enchanted by lightsabers and Ewoks, practicing his Jedi mind tricks. Star Wars has zippier ships and bigger explosions. The one time we pulled up Captain Kirk and co. on Netflix, he was slightly bored.

That will change soon. Boys mature, attention spans lengthen. Someday soon I will sit him down and say, my boy, the time has come to meet Mr. Spock.

Let him teach you some economics.

In Spock’s embrace of logic, my son, like generations of sci-fi fans before him, will find the cold realities of economic theory laid bare. Spock eschews sunk costs. Spock maximizes utility. Spock shows, as FiveThirtyEight’s Ben Casselman wrote so elegantly today, “that logic can point the way to morality, that evidence is the basis for truth, that curiosity matters more than dogma.”

As Austan Goolsbee, a former chair of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, said on Twitter this afternoon, “In many ways, he was the first economist on TV.”

And yet in Leonard Nimoy’s most famous scene as Spock – and that is why I’m writing this, because Leonard Nimoy has passed at age 83, and we who so enjoyed him are left to mourn and remember and celebrate – he expertly sketches the limits of economics, as they relate to the real world. He has sacrificed himself to save his ship. He waits behind glass for death to come. His friend Kirk stands outside the glass.

“Do not grieve, Admiral,” the dying Spock says. “It is logical. The needs of the many outweigh…”

“The needs of the few,” Kirk says.

“Or,” Spock says, “the one.”

Logical, yes, but not economically rational. People in theoretical models don’t sacrifice …read more