Monday, December 9, 2013

Hypothesis Falsified

AL sent me a link to this story about how Jessica Kerr, lately a model for Victoria’s secret, was apparently punted from said job after saying that she didn’t think Taylor Swift had what it took to be an underwear model.

Frankly, this didn’t seem like such a disrespect – the number of women who do have what it takes is surely extraordinarily small. Have you read about what they have to go through before a show? No solid food for 9 days before the show, and no liquid for 12 hours before. Ye gads! Every single excess pound is on display for the whole world, and your career depends on looking absolutely flawless to as many ogling eyes as possible. It’s perhaps not a surprise that this is not dissimilar from playing sport at an elite level, in terms of success requiring both extraordinary commitment and rare natural talent.

So my first hunch was that the Taylor Swift comments were mainly a pretext, and Victoria’s Secret was looking to ditch Kerr anyway. I was guessing it was an age thing – she was just close to the end of what is surely a very limited shelf life for underwear models.

According to the only reference anybody consults anymore, Kerr is 27. Bingo! Surely that’s got to be at the upper end of the range, right?

It turns out, not so much.

A vast and grueling dedication to scientific truth lead me to ascertain that the current list of Victoria’s Secret Models has a much wider age range than I thought. In ascending order:

Karlie Kloss – 21
Erin Heatherton – 24
Behati Prinsloo – 24
Candice Swanpoel – 25
Lily Aldridge – 28
Doutzen Kroes – 28
Lindsay Ellingson – 29
Miranda Kerr - 30
Adriana Lima – 32
Alessandra Ambrosio – 32

32!!! Remarkable, huh? Admit it – when you started reading this article, you would have thought it inconceivable that 30% of the most famous currently employed underwear models on the planet have ages starting with a ‘3’.

Part of the value in economics training is not the logic of economic reasoning itself, but simply the dedication to empiricism. You have a hunch about the world? Great! Find some data that will test said hunch, and see if it’s true or not.

The first thing you will learn is that it is amazing how often your hunches about the world turn out to be wrong.

The second thing you will learn, more by way of conversation, is how tiny the number of people is who actually regularly test their ideas about the world in a systematic way and update accordingly.

More’s the pity.

Much more, actually. 

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