Do you like the taste of beer?

Here’s a good one that Doug passed along. It’s amusing on its own merits, but it’s also a stark illustration of the coming power of statistics. OkCupid is a dating site. There are thousands of dating sites out there, but this one was founded by mathematicians. So not only do they have tons of interesting data on coupling, they’ve also got the math skills to extract some pretty fascinating conclusions.

In a recent blog post, The Best Questions For A First Date, they posed this question. Is there an innocuous question you can ask early in a relationship that yields the same information as the rude question that you’d rather ask? That question of questions, “Will my date have sex on the first date?” turns out to correspond very nicely with a much much safer question: “Do you like the taste of beer?” According to the wizards at OkCupid,

whether someone likes the taste of beer is the single best predictor of if he or she has sex on the first date.

Why? That’s the beauty of statistics! It doesn’t matter why. I’m telling you that it works. Isaac Newton had much the same problem when he tried to explain his law of gravity. “I have no faith in this gravitational law of yours,” they would say, “because you can’t explain how it works.” To this day, nobody understands how gravity works, but Newton’s law is darned useful all the same.

Similarly, we’re a long way from understanding human nature. But the statistics you shed every day are now being stockpiled and distilled, and they reveal an invisible hand shaping your every move. There’s a lot more of this on the way. I suspect that first dates in the near future will start to sound like spies encountering each other behind enemy lines.

HE: The otter is shy but friendly, don’t you think?
SHE: Yes, but would you agree that it is better to be invisible than to fly?
HE: True, but tell me this… do you like the taste of beer?
SHE: >> SLAP! <<

6 thoughts on “Do you like the taste of beer?”

  1. So true about statistics! I run into this quite a lot in the biomedical research; it is, in fact, the bane of the biomarker industry.

    ME: I can measure the expression of a gene in a tumor and tell with 95% certainty whether it will spread and kill the patient.
    REVIEWER: What does this gene do?
    ME: I dunno.
    REVIEWER: If you cannot show that it causes metastasis then it cannot possibly predict metastasis. Now go away; there’s another fellow over here who’s found a gene that causes flatulence in mice. CAUSES!

  2. That said, I wonder about the beer / sex thing:

    1. The obvious impression is that there is some neurological link between one’s response to activation of a specific set of taste receptors and one’s impulsiveness or response to sex.

    2. Another obvious one would be that if you like beer, you’re more likely to like a lot of it on your first date and end up in the sack.

    3. Fondness of beer and readiness for sex are both signs of a seasoned traveler, and as such are copredictors.

    4. (My favorite) Most people don’t really like the taste of beer, so the meaning of the response isn’t “yes, I like the taste of beer,” but “yes, I am willing to drink something I don’t particularly like because I am attracted to you.”

  3. I’m somewhat bothered by the (common) statement that we don’t understand gravity, mostly because when you think of the details of the situation it is understood no less well than anything else (e.g. solid mechanics, which is really due to electromagnetism, also happens entirely “at a distance”). People also like to say they are the most familiar with gravity, and that is why it is the weirdest, but it’s just because no one takes the time to ask themselves why objects are solid, or why solids collide, etc..

    Bertrand Russell allegedly said the following relevant quote:
    “[Electricity] is not a thing, like St. Paul’s Cathedral; it is a way in which things behave. When we have told how things behave when they are electrified, and under what circumstances they are electrified, we have told all there is to tell.”

  4. I read Mike O’s hypotheses and, for some reason, “Here’s a brand-new $200 barometer. How tall is this building?” pops into mind.

  5. Great comments, but their biggest impact on me is that I am realizing for the first time that have been conflating Mike O and JMike.

  6. You can see them both together in the “*Mike*” Birds of a Feather session at StarChamberCon, which will be in Vladivostok this year.

    I’ll be leading the workshop entitled “Unfalsifiable Causation Theories for Sociological Assertions” in the Pop Culture Bullshit Theories track. I hope some of you can make it. Incidentally, I claim, as a lemma to the OkCupid Beer Theorem that all men like the taste of beer. Wait… is that a lemma or a syllojism?

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