Friday, July 27, 2012

Mass murder in the absence of guns

How did people commit mass murder before the advent of automatic weapons?

Often with fire. Revolutionary War veteran Barnett Davenport is widely considered the first mass murderer in U.S. history. ... [M]ost criminologists define mass murder as the killing of at least three people in a single incident. After beating the Mallorys to death, however, Davenport burned the house down, killing their three grandchildren. ...

Guns aren’t even the most lethal mass murder weapon. According to data compiled by Grant Duwe of the Minnesota Department of Corrections, guns killed an average of 4.92 victims per mass murder in the United States during the 20th century, just edging out knives, blunt objects, and bare hands, which killed 4.52 people per incident. Fire killed 6.82 people per mass murder, while explosives far outpaced the other options at 20.82. Of the 25 deadliest mass murders in the 20th century, only 52 percent involved guns.

The U.S. mass murder rate does not seem to rise or fall with the availability of automatic weapons. It reached its highest level in 1929, when fully automatic firearms were expensive and mostly limited to soldiers and organized criminals. The rate dipped in the mid-1930s, staying relatively low before surging again in the 1970s through 1990s. Some criminologists attribute the late-century spike to the potential for instant notoriety: Beginning with Charles Whitman’s 1966 shooting spree from atop a University of Texas tower, mass murderers became household names. Others point out that the mass murder rate fairly closely tracks the overall homicide rate. In the 2000s, for example, both the mass murder and the homicide rates dropped to their lowest levels since the 1960s.
--Brian Palmer, Slate, on technological substitutes

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Who the harshest criticisms are reserved for

Still, I don’t think any 15-year-old girl will turn down the chance to be called beautiful. You don’t realize at that point that you are also going to be called ugly.
--Supermodel Paulina Porizkova on the price of using any talent

Friday, July 20, 2012

Why that restaurant music is so loud

But [music designer Wyatt] Magnum said the Hard Rock Cafe had the practice down to a science, ever since its founders realized that by playing loud, fast music, patrons talked less, consumed more and left quickly, a technique documented in the International Directory of Company Histories. While not denying this tactic, Hard Rock said its current approach was “vastly different,” with on-site video and guests helping to select the music.

There is research supporting Mr. Magnum’s theory. In 1985, a study by Fairfield University in Connecticut reported that people ate faster when background music was sped up, from 3.83 to 4.4 bites per minute. Nicolas Gueguen, a professor of behavioral sciences at the Université de Bretagne-Sud in France, reported in the October 2008 edition of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research that higher volumes led beer drinkers in a bar to imbibe more. When the bar’s music was 72 decibels, people ordered an average of 2.6 drinks and took 14.5 minutes to finish one. But when the volume was turned up to 88 decibels, customers ordered an average of 3.4 drinks and took 11.5 minutes to finish each one.
--Cara Buckley, NYT, on acoustic profit maximization

Thursday, July 19, 2012

When there were only 40 adult humans in the world

Humans have 46 chromosomes. Our closest primate relatives have 48. So where did those extra two disappear to? ...

Around a million years ago, in some fateful man or woman in Africa, what were the 12th and 13th human chromosomes (and still are the 12th and 13th chromosomes in many primates) got entangled at their tips. Instead of separating cleanly, 12 and 13 fused together, like one belt buckled onto another. This amalgam eventually became human chromosome 2.

Fusions like this are not uncommon—one in every 1,000 babies has some sort of chromosomal fusion—and most go unnoticed because they don’t upset anyone’s health. (The ends of chromosomes contain few genes, so often nothing gets disrupted.) However, a fusion by itself can’t explain the drop from 48 to 46. A fusion leaves a person with 47 chromosomes, not 46, and the odds of two identical fusions in the same cell are remote. And even after the drop to 47, the person still has to reproduce to pass on the trait, a serious barrier. ...

What Guy needs is a Doll with the same two fused chromosomes. Now, the odds of two people with the same fusion meeting might seem infinitesimal. And they would be—except in inbred families, where the chances of finding a cousin or half-sibling with the same fusion don’t round down to zero so easily. What’s more, while the odds of Guy and Doll having a healthy child remain low, every 36th spin of the genetic roulette wheel (because 1/6 x 1/6 = 1/36), the child would inherit both fused chromosomes—giving him 46 total. ...

How did having 46 chromosomes then spread worldwide? It’s possible that having two fewer chromosomes than everyone else gave Guy and Doll’s family a whopping evolutionary advantage, allowing them to out-compete the 48-chromosome sluggards. But probably not. More likely, they happened to be living at a point when the human race nearly got wiped out. ...

But humans have far less genetic diversity than most other species, and the most reasonable explanation for this is a genetic bottleneck: a severe reduction in the population of humans in the past, perhaps multiple times. One study suggested that our population, worldwide, might have dropped as low as 40 adults.
--Sam Kean, Slate, on our genesis

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Atheism in the face of evidence

Our second attempt to measure dogmatic behavior involved simply asking the San Francisco atheists [n = 253] the question, "What would be required, what would have to happen, for you to believe in the 'traditional' God described at the beginning of this survey? Are there conceivable events, or evidence, that would lead you to believe? What, for example?"

We got many different answers to this open-ended question. ... Nevertheless, 51 percent of the Bay Area atheists said there was nothing conceivable that could change their minds on the existence of the traditional God.

We found this level of closed-mindedness hard to believe, and suspected the wording of our question had not communicated our intention. So we reworked the item for the Alabama/Idaho sample, to make sure the informants knew we would take anything they would consider a test of the matter. Specifically, we inserted, "Is there absolutely nothing that could happen that would convince you? Or are there conceivable events—however unlikely or unprecedented—that would lead you to believe? What?" And 52 percent of the Alabama/Idaho atheists still said nothing would change their minds. Nothing. And the thirty-eight Manitoba parent atheists who encountered this question (in its original wording) were even more locked down, with 57 percent choosing the response, "No, there's nothing."

All of which implies that if the traditional God does exist, an awful lot of atheists are going to miss out on the fact no matter what happens.
--Bruce Hunsberger and Bob Altemeyer, Atheists: A Groundbreaking Study of America's Nonbelievers, on unshakable unbelief

We asked forty-five highly fundamentalist parents, "What would be required, what would have to happen, for you to not believe in the traditional Judeo-Christian God? That is, are there conceivable events, or evidence, that would lead you to not believe?" All of them said nothing could do this.
--Hunsberger and Altemeyer on belief at the other end of the spectrum

Coaching girls for their sorority rush

For a generation that grew up on tutors, admission counselors and relentless competition, prepping for rush seems only natural. A mini-industry of blogs, Web sites, books and consultants now helps them prepare for sorority recruitment and all its fallout, professionalizing what was once left to older siblings.

Samantha von Sperling is an image consultant in New York, but lately her bread-and-butter Wall Street clients have asked her to help their daughters get ready for rush at schools like Harvard; the University of Wisconsin, Madison; and New York University...

Ms. von Sperling offers a Friday-to-Sunday intensive, for $8,000. One day is devoted to carrying yourself properly and the art of conversation. ... Another day is for getting physically ready — hair, makeup and wardrobe. ...

Because the experience can be so emotional, consultants provide “on-call services.”
--Abigail Sullivan Moore, NYT, on sorority insanity

Monday, July 16, 2012

Def Leppard forging its own recordings

A band is covering Def Leppard's most popular songs to create "forgery" recordings it can sell, but Def Leppard doesn't mind at all -- because it is Def Leppard itself that is creating the new recordings.

Joe Elliott, Def Leppard's lead singer, is now 52 years old. In 1979, a teenage Elliott and his bandmates signed a recording deal with Universal Records that still governs the terms of how the band is compensated for the sales of its music. The sales of digital music, which did not exist at the time, were not covered by the deal, however, and the company and the band have disagreed on what a fair price is for such sales. Billboard reports that this has led Def Leppard to refuse to allow Universal to sell digital versions of its hits. ...

The dispute has also led Def Leppard to undertake something that has proven to be a great challenge: re-recording many of its back catalog of songs "with brand new, exact same versions of what we did." Elliott told NPR that once the songs are re-recorded, the band owns them and do whatever it likes with them. ...

Elliott said that the band had to carefully study the original recordings so that the new versions would match as closely as possible. After decades of singing the songs differently live every night, he said, "it just drifts away from the original. ... To go back in and recreate what's in everybody's DNA is near on impossible. It's a challenge if nothing else and, like I said, it's a business decision." To accomplish this, the band "had to study those songs, I mean down to the umpteenth degree of detail, and make complete forgeries of them." Elliott said he had to sing himself into a "certain throat shape" to recapture his 22-year-old voice for the new recordings.
--Bruce Carton, Legal Blog Watch, on the strange boundaries of property rights

The evolution of starting salaries out of law school

Class of 2009

Class of 2010

All graphs are based on NALP data. Notice the emergence of the famous bimodal distribution in 2000, and the dramatic shrinkage of that right mode from 2009 to 2011.

Sources: Catherine Rampell, NYT; Judith Collins, NALP.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Three ways to learn wisdom

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.
--Confucius on why you should go to business school

Why it's hard to make new friends after college

No matter how many friends you make, a sense of fatalism can creep in: the period for making B.F.F.’s, the way you did in your teens or early 20s, is pretty much over. It’s time to resign yourself to situational friends: K.O.F.’s (kind of friends) — for now. ...

In studies of peer groups, Laura L. Carstensen, a psychology professor who is the director of the Stanford Center on Longevity in California, observed that people tended to interact with fewer people as they moved toward midlife, but that they grew closer to the friends they already had. ...

As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other, said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is why so many people meet their lifelong friends in college, she added.

Hypotheses derived from this model are then tested using data on a large (N = 2956) southeastern community sample. Frequent churchgoers report larger social networks, more contact with network members, more types of social suport received, and more favorable perceptions of the quality of their social relationships than do their unchurched counterparts. Further, most of these empirical patterns withstand statistical controls for a wide range of covariates.
--Christopher Ellison and Linda George, "Religious involvement, social ties, and social support in a southeastern community," on one place where proximity, repeated unplanned interactions, and encouragement to let one's guard down and confide in each other are common

Frequent churchgoers experience an average of 3.36 positive emotions per day compared with an average of 3.08 among those who never attend. This relationship holds true even when controlling for key demographic variables like age, education, and income.

This underscores previous Gallup research that finds very religious Americans do better across numerous dimensions of wellbeing than do those who are less religious or not at all religious.

This analysis is based on more than 300,000 interviews collected as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index in 2011. Gallup and Healthways ask at least 1,000 Americans each day about the positive and negative emotions they experienced the previous day. ...

Not only do Americans who attend a church, synagogue, or mosque frequently report having higher wellbeing in general, but they also get an extra boost to their emotional state on Sundays -- while the rest of Americans see a decline in their mood. ...

As Daniel Kahneman writes in his new book Thinking, Fast and Slow, "it is only a slight exaggeration to say that happiness is the experience of spending time with people you love and who love you." In fact, additional research based on one of the most comprehensive surveys of religion in America, the Faith Matters Survey suggests that how many close friends churchgoers have in their congregations explains higher life satisfaction among regular churchgoers. Moreover, the research found that friendship in church is more strongly correlated with life satisfaction than friendships in other contexts such as the workplace or a book club.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The economics of complaining about busy-ness

Across the world, it seems, wealthier people are much more likely to complain -- or kvetch, if you will -- about being busy than the poor. It's not simply that the well-to-do work more, although that's part of it, says Daniel Hamermesh, the University of Texas economist who co-authored the 2005 study with a former graduate student. It turns out that if you hold the hours people spend at their jobs and on household chores constant, individuals who bring home bigger paychecks still feel more stressed for time. Increase a husband's income, and his wife begins to feel busier.

Hamermesh reached his conclusions by analyzing time-use surveys from the United States, Germany, Australia, and South Korea. The results were fairly consistent across international borders, although they varied a bit in South Korea, he says. In general, the richer a survey taker was, the more they kvetched about their lack of time. Women, meanwhile, kvetched more than men. And although Hamermish is hesitant to make cross cultural comparisons, he says that Americans appeared to be the "world champions" of kvetching. ...

We all live on two things: time and money. And people who have extra income don't get much, if any, extra time to spend it. As a result, Hamermesh argues, each of their hours seems more valuable, and they feel the clock ticking away more acutely. Much the way it's more stressful to order dinner from a menu with 100 items than 10, choosing between a night at the symphony, seats at the hot new play, or tickets to Woody Allen's latest flick is in some senses more stressful than knowing you'll have to save money by staying in for the evening. There's a lot the rich could be doing and too few hours to do it all.

That isn't to say the rich are necessarily more stressed overall. While the poor are less likely to complain about a lack of time, they are much more likely to complain about a lack of money. "One of them is always going to be scarce for you. If you're rich, it's time that's scarce. If you're poor, it's the money that's scarce," Hamermesh says.
--Jordan Weissman, The Atlantic, on the marginal value of time

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Senior Wall Street execs on wrongdoing and success

A quarter of Wall Street executives see wrongdoing as a key to success, according to a survey by whistleblower law firm Labaton Sucharow released on Tuesday.

In a survey of 500 senior executives in the United States and the UK, 26 percent of respondents said they had observed or had firsthand knowledge of wrongdoing in the workplace, while 24 percent said they believed financial services professionals may need to engage in unethical or illegal conduct to be successful.

Sixteen percent of respondents said they would commit insider trading if they could get away with it, according to Labaton Sucharow. And 30 percent said their compensation plans created pressure to compromise ethical standards or violate the law.
--Lauren Tara LaCapra, Reuters, on a race to the bottom

When former pro athletes mess up your intramural game

Yesol Huh walked into a gym here for an intramural-basketball game last year, eager to help her team notch its first victory.

Then she spotted the opposing center.

He was 6-foot-9 and warmed up by violently dunking the ball in the Stanford University court. "We're never winning this game," Ms. Huh recalls thinking.

Her prediction was a slam-dunk: The center was Mark Madsen, a former player in the National Basketball Association. Mr. Madsen "had such good rebounding instincts, we eventually gave up and let him have every one," says Travis Johnson, one of Ms. Huh's teammates. Their side lost by 30 points. ...

Mr. Madsen, enrolled at Stanford's business school, had joined classmates for the game against Ms. Huh's squad, which was made up of Ph.D. students who called their team Full Frontal Nerdity.

Few on the Nerdity team had even played basketball before. Ms. Huh, a 5-foot-4 finance student, says she scored only one "goal" in two years. Mr. Madsen played nine years in the NBA, winning two championships with the Los Angeles Lakers. ...

The next day, a school administrator told [Madsen] he couldn't play anymore. Mr. Madsen's NBA career put him afoul of Section I of Stanford's intramural policy, which says "former PROFESSIONAL athletes are not eligible to participate in their associated sport."

The policy's key word is "associated," the 36-year-old Mr. Madsen argued. In an email to administrator Linda Clauss, he said she should let him in the coed league because "I've never played in a coed professional league."

Ms. Clauss rejected that argument and his contention that he wasn't a "former" professional because "I have never filed my retirement papers."
--Stu Woo and Justin Scheck, WSJ, on bullies

Monday, July 9, 2012

Religion among professors

College professors are, on average, somewhat less religious than the general public, but it is not at all clear that this reflects a fundamental tension between faith and science. Irreligion is most pronounced in the humanities and the social sciences; faculty in the physical sciences and professional fields are much more likely to attend church, profess faith, and approve of religion (Robert Wuthnow 1985). It is, in fact, only within the social sciences most committed to the secularization thesis (psychology, anthropology, and, to a lesser extent, sociology) that one finds high levels of antireligious sentiment (Stark, Iannaccone, and Finke 1996). Among leading physicists, chemists, and biologists, belief in a god who answers prayer is as widespread today as it was in 1916 (Edward Larson and Larry Witham 1997).
--Laurence Iannaccone, "Introduction to the Economics of Religion," on the correlation between scientific discipline and religious belief

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Why Indians dominate the American motel industry

40% of all motels in the United States are owned by Indians. ...

Dating back to the 1940s, the first Gujarati motel owner, Kanjibhai Desai, who came to the U.S. via Mexico, was based in San Francisco. He managed a “residential hotel,” which is the present-day equivalent of a youth hostel. People who stayed there were generally down and out.

Other Gujaratis who came to the U.S. in the 40s and 50s were typically farmers back in India, and even if they didn’t own land, they didn’t want to work for someone else. ...

There was also the financial angle—if a new Gujarati immigrant wanted to open up a florist, for instance, his relatives wouldn’t know anything about it but if he wanted to open up a motel, he would have access to experienced investors and advice.

Also, many brought in additional relatives to work – unlike other small businesses, motels allow people to live for free so they’re saving money as they work. And after spending 5 years in the motel industry, it was only natural those relatives would go on to manage franchises of their own.
--Pawan Dhingra, author of Life Behind the Lobby: Indian American Motel Owners and the American Dream, on the Korean dry cleaners of the hospitality business

Friday, July 6, 2012

Negative productivity consequences of long economics journal review times

Ellison (2002) documents that the time an economics paper spends at one journal between submission and publication has more than doubled over the last thirty or so years. ... Intuitively, one would expect that, ceteris paribus, increased publication lags would make it more difficult for members of recent cohorts to produce as long a curriculum vitae in six years as earlier cohorts. ...

[W]hen we look at the number of AER equivalent papers instead of pages published at the end of six years... we find large and statistically significant drop-offs in productivity over time for graduates of both the top and non-top thirty departments. By this measure for graduates of the top thirty programs, the oldest cohort [1986-88 Ph.D. graduates] is 51% more productive than the middle cohorts [1989-94 graduates] and 72% more productive than then youngest [1995-2000 graduates]. The middle cohorts in turn, are 14% more productive than youngest cohorts.

Thus, unless we believe that recent graduates are fundamentally of poorer quality, the same quality of tenure candidate is significantly less productive today than 10 or 15 years ago.
--John Conley et al., "Incentives and effects of publication lags on life cycle research productivity in economics," on the real reason economists didn't predict the financial crisis

Apple's MacMan computer

So how did you come up with i in iMac?

We filled walls and did all sorts of stuff. It needed to have the word Mac in the name. And there’s an easy way to get on the Internet. When we went in to show Steve there was such things as MacRocket, another was Macster and MacMan. What Steve liked about MacMan was, we thought it sounded a little like Walkman, and he said Sony is a great consumer electronics company, and if there is a rub-off from that I don’t think it would be a terrible thing. Ten years later Steve wouldn’t feel that way any longer.

The thing he told us to keep in mind was because it looked kind of toylike, I don’t want it to sound like a toy. Then we all scratched our heads and said MacMan sounds like PacMan, it sounds like a game. But Steve had that “I like it” thing going on and he followed his heart a lot of the time. The only good thing we could do is go back and find a better one. So I came up with five names, I saved the best one for last. And I said, iMac, and we can list bullet points:
  • i for Internet
  • i for imagination
  • i for individual
It’s so short and we can own that, and one of the reasons also was maybe one day we would want to use it as a foundation for other names. Steve’s reaction? “Hate it.” So we come back a week later with three new names, and, “Hate it, hate it, hate it.”

But we said we still like this one, iMac. And Steve said, I don’t hate it this week, but I still don’t like it, so you’ve got two days.

The next day Steve had it silk-screened on a computer model and he was showing it to his inner circle. There was never a phone call from Steve saying, you guys really are geniuses. It was just silence, and it was suddenly iMac, which was great.
--Ken Segall, NYT, on how the iMac was almost the MacMan

Monday, July 2, 2012

Working with natural friends hurts performance

We find that individual venture capitalists choose to collaborate with other venture capitalists for both ability-based characteristics (e.g., whether both individuals in a dyad obtained a degree from a top university) and affinity-based characteristics (e.g., whether individuals in a pair share the same ethnic background, attended the same school, or worked for the same employer previously). ... We find that while collaborating for ability-based characteristics enhances investment performance, collaborating for affinity-based characteristics dramatically reduces the probability of investment success. A variety of tests show that the cost of affinity is not driven by selection into inferior deals; the effect is most likely attributable to poor decision-making by high-affinity syndicates post investment.
--Paul Gompers, Vladimir Mukharlyamov, and Yuhai Xuan, "The Cost of Friendship," on the case for working with high-ability people who don't look like you

March Madness greatness predicts NBA greatness

Using a detailed personally-assembled data set on the performance of collegiate and professional basketball players over the 1997-2010 period, we conduct a very direct test of two questions. Does performance in the NCAA “March Madness” college basketball tournament affect NBA teams’ draft decisions? If so, is this effect the result of decision making biases which overweight player performance in these high-visibility college basketball games or rational judgments of how the players later perform in the NBA? ... First, unexpected March Madness performance, in terms of unexpected team wins and unexpected player scoring, affects draft decisions. ... Second, NBA personnel who are making these draft decisions are certainly not irrationally overweighting this MM information. If anything, the unexpected performance in the March Madness tournament deserves more weight than it gets in the draft decisions. ... Players with positive draft bumps due to unexpectedly good performance in the March Madness tournament are in fact more likely than those without bumps from March Madness participation to become one of the rare NBA superstars in the league.
--Casey Ichniowsi and Anne Preston, "Does March Madness Lead to Irrational Exuberance in the NBA Draft? High-Value Employee Selection Decisions and Decision-Making Bias," on evidence for the adage that winners just know how to win

Statistical evidence on the existence of Tiger Mothers

I analyzed detailed data from the American Time Use Survey. This U.S. government survey measures the time use of thousands of individuals from 2003 to 2009 based on time diaries, which are considered the most accurate way to measure time use. ...

Figure 1 shows that Asian [American] high school students indeed spend more time studying and doing homework. The bars show average weekly hours spent on studying and homework by full-time high school students, averaged over the entire year. The average (non-Hispanic) White student spends five-and-one-half hours per week, and Hispanic and (non-Hispanic) Black students spend even less. In contrast, the average Asian student spends a whopping 13 hours per week (and recall that this is averaged over summer vacation times as well!). Moreover, the differences become greater if the sample is limited to children who have at least one parent with a college degree. Thus, the educational level of their parents cannot explain the large differences. ...

Do these Asian students "coast" on studying once they escape the grips of their "Tiger Moms?" To answer this question, Figure 2 shows study time by full-time college students. ...
Table 2 shows time spent by parents by ethnic group in education activities with their children, such as reading to them or helping with homework, as well as total time spent on childcare. These averages control for differences across groups in the number and age of children, education of the mother, and marital status. The numbers show that Asian mothers do spend more time in educational activities, but only half an hour a week more than White mothers. There is no difference in time spent on all childcare between White and Asian mothers, though both groups devote more time than Black and Hispanic mothers. Thus, these "Tiger Mothers" seem to be able to make their children spend much more time studying without having to spend more of their own time. Perhaps this is what "Chinese discipline" is all about.
--Valerie Ramey on the statistical truth behind the stereotype

Government borrowing costs are low... until they're not

--Valerie Ramey on why low U.S. government borrowing rates don't absolve us from fiscal fear