Quantification of Everything: Temper Tantrums

I’ve been having trouble finding entries for my hoped-for series of posts on the quantification of everything. Thankfully, today’s link round-ups brought in a fantastic example: the science of toddler temper tantrums (via NPR).

Apparently, the trick to creating a science of temper tantrums, as with so many things, is getting good data. But how do you get good data from respondents who can’t always produce full sentences and don’t sit still? You mic their onesie!

The first challenge was to collect tantrum sounds, says co-author James A. Green of the University of Connecticut.

“We developed a onesie that toddlers can wear that has a high-quality wireless microphone sewn into it,” Green said. “Parents put this onesie on the child and press a go button.”

The wireless microphone fed into a recorder that ran for several hours. If the toddler had a meltdown during that period, the researchers obtained a high-quality audio recording. Over time, Green and Potegal said they collected more than a hundred tantrums in high-fidelity audio.

From this dataset of toddler tantrum noises, researchers came up with a theory of tantrums and suggestions for parents about how to respond to toddlers (see the article for details). As a non-parent, I can’t say how helpful these suggestions would be or how they accord with conventional wisdom. But I think this is a great example of the growing quantification of everything:

“We have the most quantitative theory of tantrums that has ever been developed in the history of humankind,” said study co-author Michael Potegal of the University of Minnesota, half in jest and half seriously.


The Quantification of Everything: Burritos.

Heya all!

I am currently sitting at the Cleveland airport, having just left the excellent 4S (Society for Social Studies of Science) conference. I am a bit grumpy about this, as I should be en route to Raleigh to attend a dinner the night before my cousin’s wedding. Instead, after a cancellation and a delay, I am stuck in Cleveland until much later tonight. I’ll use this opportunity to launch what I hope will be a series of posts. In my 4S talk (on the dequantification of admissions), I brusquely summarized the existing literature as describing “the quantification of everything.” For example, just today, our excellent co-panelists covered everything from misleading aircraft reliability data* to the energy savings of the internet to sexual disorders. This all reminded me of Tyler Cowen’s long running series of “Markets in Everything” posts on Marginal Revolution.

So, in that spirit, I bring you the first “Quantification of Everything” post about… burritos. The local Ann Arbor blog Food and Wine Hedonist has started a project to quantify the burritos of Ann Arbor (and Chicago): The Burrito Guide. Currently The Burrito Joint ranks last with 5 points (of 25), including a subscore of 0 on taste, while BTB (formerly Big Ten Burrito) tops the list of local contenders with 17. The rankings are a bit suspect to me, as the comment field for Chipotle describes the Burritos as “smallish” which suggests either an absurd notion of reasonable burrito size, or a failure to take advantage of the various cheeses, salsa and veggies available.

In any event, please submit any suggestions for future posts on the Quantification of Everything by leaving a comment or sending me an email (asociologist at umich dot edu).

Now to find something else amusing on the internet to occupy my d(el)ay…

* And trust me, the irony(?) was not lost on me that I am now two maintenance-related events into my wait at the airport while writing about this paper.