Strangely Charming: Tree-ness Envy

Opinion by Jack Cackler
April 14, 2010, 12:35 a.m.

Strangely Charming: Tree-ness EnvyI had a fascinating column prepared for this week on teleportation, but an issue surfaced which requires immediate redress. An article by Lea Hachigian in last week’s Harvard Crimson entitled “California Dreaming” ( wistfully theorized that the poor weather in Cambridge compared to Palo Alto is actually a positive feature, and enables Harvard students to fully reach their potential and minimize wasted time. While it’s unclear what combination of satire, delusion and self-loathing the piece is, I feel compelled to defend the honor of Stanford from such brazen attacks from the “Stanford of the East.” My only hesitation in writing this article is that perhaps the fruit hangs too low; in the twenty-first century, a comparison between the two schools, particularly when it comes to weather, is not even fair. Nevertheless, this is a science column, and so perhaps the best way to settle this playful rivalry once and for all is to use science to crown a victor.

For starters, Hachigian asserts that poor weather keeps students from exercising outside, so that they can instead remain inside and study. Her presumed assertion is that, by spending more time in the library, Harvard students will have superior academic performance. A study out of the American Heart Association just last month, however, tested both physical activity levels and academic performance in 725 adolescents. The study concluded that, even controlling for confounds, students that were more physically active performed better academically. So while “wasting time” being physically active in balmy February conditions might appear to be a detriment to students purely focused on GPA, our recreation in fact enables superior and more effective academic performance. Stanford’s fifteen Directors’ Cups probably help qualify us as an “active” school.

In addition to exercise, Hachigian also claims that inclement conditions keep students from socializing, sparing them a few more minutes to work on their precious problem sets. As with exercise, the error in her logic is in assuming that simply spending more time studying will lead to higher performance. A study out of Lousiana State University published in October 2008 measured both academic ability and performance by analyzing ACT scores and exam scores throughout the year, as well as socialization in 867 undergraduates. Students were asked to report new friendships and social interactions they made, and the students that made the highest academic improvements over the year showed a high correlation with those that gained the most friendships. The implication of the study is that while developing friendships may draw time away from focused studying, the process of socialization is an enormous boon to academic performance. Also, friends are fun.

As to Hachigian’s claims that poor weather will aid Harvard students in their quest to save the world from injustice, I might advise a read through a study done out of UCLA and the University of Plymouth last June demonstrating that good weather is positively linked to altruistic behavior. The study corroborated a study conducted in 1977 which showed that sunshine, higher temperatures, lower humidity and lower winds all increased subjects’ altruism. Altruism was quantified both by measuring how well subjects tipped and how willing they were to help a researcher with a seemingly unrelated task. I’m by no means implying causation, but perhaps the Cambridge winters were a contributing factor to Harvard President Drew Faust noting that 39 percent of her graduating class in 2008 went into finance or consulting, and chiding them to lead meaningful lives at her Baccalaureate address.

Hopefully, I’ve provided enough veritas to put this old rivalry to rest. All kidding aside, I think we all know that both Stanford and Harvard are excellent schools. Both sets of student bodies are driven, organized and exciting enough to find plenty of time to exercise, socialize and help change the world, rain or shine (some shine more than others). There is much that binds us together, from our size, to our 11-digit endowments, to our generic shade of dark red mascot. But despite a 252 year head start, there’s a reason that Stanford and the Bay Area have already eclipsed Harvard as the omphalos of the technological world, particularly in information technology, biotechnology, clean energy, start-ups and non-profits. And while we may joke about our splendid weather, the impact of 300 sunny days a year on quality of life should not be understated. The Wind of Freedom is strong at Stanford, but perhaps the Sun of Joy is the unsung hero that drives us to truly excel and enjoy life while doing so.

Transfer applications are available at Ask Jack more about Cardinal superiority at [email protected].

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