Saturday, June 24, 2017

Remedial failure

Nearly perfect on paper, with résumés packed full of extracurricular activities, [students] seemed increasingly unable to cope with basic setbacks that come with college life: not getting a room assignment they wanted, getting wait-listed for a class or being rejected by clubs.

“We’re not talking about flunking out of pre-med or getting kicked out of college,” Ms. Simmons said. “We’re talking about students showing up in residential life offices distraught and inconsolable when they score less than an A-minus. Ending up in the counseling center after being rejected from a club. Students who are unable to ask for help when they need it, or so fearful of failing that they will avoid taking risks at all.”

Almost a decade ago, faculty at Stanford and Harvard coined the term “failure deprived” to describe what they were observing: the idea that, even as they were ever more outstanding on paper, students seemed unable to cope with simple struggles. “Many of our students just seemed stuck,” said Julie Lythcott-Haims, the former dean of freshmen at Stanford and the author of “How to Raise an Adult.”

They soon began connecting the dots: between what they were seeing anecdotally — the lack of coping skills — and what mental health data had shown for some time, including, according to the American College Health Association, an increase in depression and anxiety, overwhelming rates of stress and more demand for counseling services than campuses can keep up with. ...

It was Cornell that, in 2010 after a wave of student suicides, declared that it would be an “obligation of the university” to help students learn life skills. Not long after, Stanford started an initiative called the Resilience Project, in which prominent alumni recounted academic setbacks, recording them on video. “It was an attempt to normalize struggle,” Ms. Lythcott-Haims said.

A consortium of academics soon formed to share resources, and programs have quietly proliferated since then: the Success-Failure Project at Harvard, which features stories of rejection; the Princeton Perspective Project, encouraging conversation about setbacks and struggles; Penn Faces at the University of Pennsylvania, a play on the term used by students to describe those who have mastered the art of appearing happy even when struggling. ...

“For a long time, I think we assumed that this was the stuff that was automatically learned in childhood: that everyone struck out at the baseball diamond or lost the student council race,” said Donna Lisker, Smith’s dean of the college and vice president for student life. “The idea that an 18-year-old doesn’t know how to fail on the one hand sounds preposterous. But I think in many ways we’ve pulled kids away from those natural learning experiences.” ...

Researchers say it’s a complicated interplay of child-rearing and culture: years of helicopter-parenting and micromanaging by anxious parents. “This is the generation that everyone gets a trophy,” said Rebecca Shaw, Smith’s director of residence life. College admissions mania, in which many middle- and upper-class students must navigate what Ms. Simmons calls a “‘Hunger Games’-like mentality” where the preparation starts early, the treadmill never stops and the stakes can feel impossibly high.
--Jessica Bennett, NYT, on the need to let kids fail from time to time

Friday, June 23, 2017

David Ortiz hit .786 in walkoff situations for 1.5 years

Back in 2005 and 2006, when Ortiz came to the plate at Fenway Park with a chance to win the game, he never made an out. That is barely an exaggeration. When I compiled the data for the first version of this post (August 1, 2006), I noted that from the end of the 2004 regular season through July 2006, Ortiz came to the plate 19 times in a walkoff situation - and made only three outs. He had a .786 batting average (11-for-14) with seven home runs and 20 RBI! ...

Of course, the walkoff opportunities listed below tell only a small part of Ortiz's story. But it is a huge part of Big Papi's legend, one that led to Ortiz being dubbed, officially, by the team, as The Greatest Clutch Hitter In Red Sox History.

          PA   AB   H  HR  RBI BB  Walkoffs
2003       7    6   2   1   2   1     2
2004      14   13   5   3   8   1     5
2005       5    3   3   2   5   2     3
2006      10    7   5   3  10   3     5
2007       7    5   1   1   2   1     1
2008       9    5   1   0   0   3     0
2009       3    3   1   1   1   0     1
2010       6    5   1   0   3   1     1
2011       7    5   3   0   0   2     0
2012       3    2   0   0   0   1     0
2013       8    7   1   1   3   1     1
2014      14    8   1   0   0   6     0
2015       6    3   0   0   0   3     0
2016       7    7   3   0   2   0     1
TOTALS   106   79  27  12  36  25    20   (.342 batting average) 
--Allan Wood, Joy of Sox, on Mr. Clutch

Babies who never cry

The creepiest sound I have ever heard was nothing at all. My wife, Maria, and I stood in the hallway of an orphanage somewhere in the former Soviet Union, on the first of two trips required for our petition to adopt. Orphanage staff led us down a hallway to greet the two 1-year-olds we hoped would become our sons. The horror wasn’t the squalor and the stench, although we at times stifled the urge to vomit and weep. The horror was the quiet of it all. The place was more silent than a funeral home by night.

I stopped and pulled on Maria’s elbow. “Why is it so quiet? The place is filled with babies.” Both of us compared the stillness with the buzz and punctuated squeals that came from our church nursery back home. Here, if we listened carefully enough, we could hear babies rocking themselves back and forth, the crib slats gently bumping against the walls. These children did not cry, because infants eventually learn to stop crying if no one ever responds to their calls for food, for comfort, for love. No one ever responded to these children. So they stopped.

The silence continued as we entered the boys’ room. Little Sergei (now Timothy) smiled at us, dancing up and down while holding the side of his crib. Little Maxim (now Benjamin) stood straight at attention, regal and czar-like. But neither boy made a sound. We read them books filled with words they couldn’t understand, about saying goodnight to the moon and cows jumping over the same. But there were no cries, no squeals, no groans. Every day we left at the appointed time in the same way we had entered: in silence.

On the last day of the trip, Maria and I arrived at the moment we had dreaded since the minute we received our adoption referral. We had to tell the boys goodbye, as by law we had to return to the United States and wait for the legal paperwork to be completed before returning to pick them up for good. After hugging and kissing them, we walked out into the quiet hallway as Maria shook with tears.

And that’s when we heard the scream.

Little Maxim fell back in his crib and let out a guttural yell. It seemed he knew, maybe for the first time, that he would be heard. On some primal level, he knew he had a father and mother now. ...

Little Maxim’s scream changed everything—more, I think, than did the judge’s verdict and the notarized paperwork. It was the moment, in his recognizing that he would be heard, that he went from being an orphan to being a son. It was also the moment I became a father, in fact if not in law. We both recognized that something was wrong, because suddenly, life as it had been seemed terribly disordered.
--Russell Moore, Adopted for Life, on the goodness of baby cries

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Non-stinky kimchi?

If Western consumers on a health kick can be convinced to drink yeasty, probiotic tea and tart, cultured yogurt, then why wouldn’t they be up for spicy pickled cabbage fermented with garlic for months on end?

Well, that’s the goal of South Korean scientists at the World Institute of Kimchi on Kimchi Street in Kimchi Town, on the outskirts of the southern city of Gwangju.

“We are trying to globalize kimchi,” said Ha Jae-ho, head of the institute, describing it as a “functional food.” ...

Even among kimchi-loving Koreans, many have separate kimchi fridges to stop the dish from tainting other food. If they keep it in their regular fridge, it goes into a vault-like box.

For this reason, scientists are trying to increase the good bacteria — especially the lactic acid that gives kimchi its probiotic qualities — and decrease the bad parts, namely the smell so pungent it can take days to work its way out a person’s pores. ...

In labs at the institute, scientists are working on the distinctive fumes, at least. “We’re trying to engineer the smell out of kimchi,” said Lee Mi-ae, a white-coated researcher. “But it’s difficult because the smell is linked to the flavor of the kimchi.”
--Anna Fifield, Washington Post, on creating a culinary abomination

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Claw machines for toys are rigged

At some point or another you've probably played one of these claw machines, hoping to score the plush toy of your dreams. But despite your skill at perfectly positioning the claw over the prize and activating it, you've found that the pincers just don't grab tightly enough to pick up a stuffed animal.

It's not your imagination. Those claw machines are rigged. ...

Some people think the claw machine is so hard to win because the stuffed animals are packed so tightly together. But the bigger reason is more insidious than that: the claw machine is programmed to have a strong grip only part of the time.

This isn't a closely kept secret. It's publicly available information, pulled straight from the instruction guides for the biggest claw games out there. ...

The machine's owner can fine-tune the strength of the claw beforehand so that it only has a strong grip a fraction of the time that people play.

The owner can manually adjust the "dropping skill," as well. That means that on a given number of tries, the claw will drop a prize that it's grabbed before it delivers it to you.

The machines also allow the owner to select a desired level of profit and then automatically adjust the claw strength to make sure that players are only winning a limited number of times...

This isn't isolated to one claw machine or one company — this is standard practice industry-wide.

Starting in 1951, the machines were regulated as gambling devices, but in 1974, those regulations were relaxed. A claw boom began. Today, they're ubiquitous in grocery stores, malls, and anywhere else with lots of foot traffic.
--Phil Edwards, Vox, on money from suckers. HT: MEL

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Friendliness can come from a genetic disorder

Eli D’Angelo has a superpower: the ability to win over strangers in seconds flat.

I once watched the gregarious 12-year-old approach a scowling man in a leather jacket and chaps as he secured his Harley in a restaurant parking lot. He didn’t look like he was in the mood for conversation, but his expression softened as soon as Eli complimented his bike. When Eli reached out to hug him, he hugged back.

Even more intimidating was the group of teenage girls Eli once greeted at an after-school soccer practice. With smiles and flattery, he talked them into drawing him a picture of a two-headed guitar-playing zombie who shoots laser beams from his eyes. ...

Eli’s superpower is actually a symptom. He has Williams syndrome, a rare genetic disorder sometimes called “cocktail party syndrome” because it makes people extremely outgoing and irrepressibly friendly. When I first heard of the disorder — before I knew much about the intellectual impairments and serious health issues it also entails — I was envious of the apparent social ease it imparted. ...

But Eli violated the standard rules of etiquette more often than he obeyed them. ... Again and again, people forgave Eli’s faux pas and responded instead to the earnestness of his interest in them and the sincerity of his care.

And Eli truly cares about people. He wants to talk to them, hug them, invite them over for a sleepover. He can’t help feeling this way; almost everyone with Williams does. It’s one of the quirks of the disorder, caused by the deletion of about two dozen genes from chromosome seven. The absence of these genes, it seems, produces an insatiable drive to connect with other people. ...

Spending time with Eli, and others with Williams, made me realize that this is the key difference between us: It’s not that they’re not awkward, it’s that they’re not afraid of being awkward. They don’t have the fear of looking foolish that holds many of us back. We’re so terrified of that one-in-100 chance of embarrassment or rejection that we avoid the 99 interactions that are more likely to be fulfilling. ... Lacking that concern, Eli grasped what has long eluded me: that most people aren’t excessively judgmental. They’re quick to forgive. And more often than not, they want to connect.
--Jennifer Latson, New York, on the darnedest genetic influences on behavior

Liberals on immigration a decade ago

A decade ago, liberals publicly questioned immigration in ways that would shock many progressives today.

In 2005, a left-leaning blogger wrote, “Illegal immigration wreaks havoc economically, socially, and culturally; makes a mockery of the rule of law; and is disgraceful just on basic fairness grounds alone.” In 2006, a liberal columnist wrote that “immigration reduces the wages of domestic workers who compete with immigrants” and that “the fiscal burden of low-wage immigrants is also pretty clear.” His conclusion: “We’ll need to reduce the inflow of low-skill immigrants.” That same year, a Democratic senator wrote, “When I see Mexican flags waved at proimmigration demonstrations, I sometimes feel a flush of patriotic resentment. When I’m forced to use a translator to communicate with the guy fixing my car, I feel a certain frustration.”

The blogger was Glenn Greenwald. The columnist was Paul Krugman. The senator was Barack Obama.

Prominent liberals didn’t oppose immigration a decade ago. Most acknowledged its benefits to America’s economy and culture. They supported a path to citizenship for the undocumented. Still, they routinely asserted that low-skilled immigrants depressed the wages of low-skilled American workers and strained America’s welfare state. And they were far more likely than liberals today are to acknowledge that, as Krugman put it, “immigration is an intensely painful topic … because it places basic principles in conflict.”

Today, little of that ambivalence remains. In 2008, the Democratic platform called undocumented immigrants “our neighbors.” But it also warned, “We cannot continue to allow people to enter the United States undetected, undocumented, and unchecked,” adding that “those who enter our country’s borders illegally, and those who employ them, disrespect the rule of the law.” By 2016, such language was gone. The party’s platform described America’s immigration system as a problem, but not illegal immigration itself. And it focused almost entirely on the forms of immigration enforcement that Democrats opposed. In its immigration section, the 2008 platform referred three times to people entering the country “illegally.” The immigration section of the 2016 platform didn’t use the word illegal, or any variation of it, at all. ...

In July 2015, two months after officially announcing his candidacy for president, Sanders was interviewed by Ezra Klein, the editor in chief of Vox. Klein asked whether, in order to fight global poverty, the U.S. should consider “sharply raising the level of immigration we permit, even up to a level of open borders.” Sanders reacted with horror. “That’s a Koch brothers proposal,” he scoffed. He went on to insist that “right-wing people in this country would love … an open-border policy. Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them. I don’t believe in that. I think we have to raise wages in this country.” commentators now routinely claim that there’s a near-consensus among economists on immigration’s benefits.

There isn’t. According to a comprehensive new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, “Groups comparable to … immigrants in terms of their skill may experience a wage reduction as a result of immigration-induced increases in labor supply.” But academics sometimes de-emphasize this wage reduction because, like liberal journalists and politicians, they face pressures to support immigration.
--Peter Beinart, The Atlantic, on why we should be charitable towards our opponents

Friday, June 16, 2017

Why do fathers abandon their children?

Millions of poor children and teenagers grow up without their biological father, and often when you ask them about it, you hear a litany of male barbarism. ... The children’s tales often reinforce the standard image we have of the deadbeat dad — the selfish cad who spreads his seed and leaves generations of wreckage in his wake.

Yet when you ask absent fathers themselves, you get a different picture. You meet guys who desperately did not want to leave their children, who swear they have tried to be with them, who may feel unworthy of fatherhood but who don’t want to be the missing dad their own father was.

In truth, when fathers abandon their own children, it’s not a momentary decision; it’s a long, tragic process. A number of researchers have tried to understand how father abandonment happens, most importantly Kathryn Edin and Timothy J. Nelson, who moved to Philadelphia and Camden, N.J., immersed themselves in the neighborhoods there and produced an amazing account, “Doing the Best I Can.”

Pregnancy is rarely planned among the populations they studied. Typically the parents are in a semi-relationship that is somewhere between a one-night stand and an actual boyfriend-girlfriend bond. ...

When the men learn that their partner is pregnant, they don’t panic, or lament all the freedom they are going to miss. On the contrary, three-quarters of the men in Edin and Nelson’s research were joyous at the news. The men are less likely than the women to want to end the pregnancy with an abortion.

These guys have often had a lot of negativity in their lives. The child is a chance to turn things around and live a disciplined life. The child is a chance to have a respected role, to find love and purpose.

The men at this stage are filled with earnest resolve. They begin to take the relationship more seriously and commit to the kid during infancy. ...

The key weakness is not the father’s bond to the child; it’s the parents’ bond with each other. They usually went into this without much love or sense of commitment. ...

By the time the child is 1, half these couples have split up, and many of the rest will part ways soon after. Suddenly there’s a new guy living in the house, a man who resents the old one. The father redefines his role. He no longer aims to be the provider and caregiver, just the occasional “best friend” who can drop by and provide a little love. This is a role he has a shot at fulfilling, but it destroys parental responsibility.

He believes in fatherhood and tries it again with other women, with the same high hopes, but he’s really only taking care of the child he happens to be living with at any given moment. The rest are abandoned.
--David Brooks, NYT, on pregnancy without love

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Anxiety disorder is becoming the new norm

According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health, some 38 percent of girls ages 13 through 17, and 26 percent of boys, have an anxiety disorder. On college campuses, anxiety is running well ahead of depression as the most common mental health concern, according to a 2016 national study of more than 150,000 students by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Pennsylvania State University. Meanwhile, the number of web searches involving the term has nearly doubled over the last five years, according to Google Trends. (The trendline for “depression” was relatively flat.)
--Alex Williams, NYT, on our anxious age

Richard Thaler's conflict of interest

Declaration of Conflicting Interests
R. H. Thaler has served as an uncompensated advisor to the United Kingdom Behavioural Insights States Social and Behavioral Sciences Team, both from their inception. He also has numerous behavioral biases so would personally benefit from evidence-based noncoercive nudges.
--Conflict of interest section from Benartzi et al., "Should Governments Invest More in Nudging?"

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Fetuses prefer face-like images

It is dark in the womb—but not that dark. Human flesh isn’t fully opaque, so some measure of light will always pass through it. This means that even an enclosed space like a uterus can be surprisingly bright. “It’s analogous to being in a room where the lights are switched off and the curtains are drawn, but it’s bright outside,” says Vincent Reid from the University of Lancaster. ...

But what exactly do fetuses see? And how do they react to those images? To find out, Reid shone patterns of red dots into the wombs of women in the third trimester of their pregnancies, and monitored the babies within using high-definition ultrasound. By looking at how the babies turned around, Reid showed that they have a preference for dots arranged in a face-like pattern—just as newborn infants do. ...

For decades, scientists have known that third-trimester babies can perceive sounds and other stimuli while still in the womb. For example, in 1980, Anthony DeCasper and William Fifer asked pregnant women to read The Cat in the Hat to their fetuses, again and again for the last 7 weeks of their pregnancies. As soon as the babies were born, DeCasper and Fifer gave them pacifiers. The babies could then choose to hear a recording of either The Cat in the Hat or a different children’s story, by sucking at different times. And they sucked for the cat.

“People showed that a fetus could learn, was aware of elements of language, and preferred its mother’s own voice,” says Reid. ...

[The study] also confirms that the preference for faces isn’t the result of experiences that happen after birth. Some scientists have suggested that babies imprint on the first things they see—usually their mother’s face—in the same way that baby chicks or ducklings do. It’s very hard to test that idea: If imprinting happens and is important, it would be unethical to deprive a baby of that stimulus. “But this study rules that out,” says Reid. The preference already exists in utero.
--Ed Yong, The Atlantic, on consciousness before birth

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The decline of the Big Mac

The Big Mac, wrote a top McDonald’s franchisee in a memo to fellow operators in July, “has gotten less relevant.” This is the problem facing the world’s largest hamburger maker—its burgers aren’t good enough.

Just one in five millennials, the fast-food industry’s core customer, has tried the flagship product, the memo said.
--Julie Jargon, WSJ, on how times change

Monday, May 29, 2017

The dark side of self-driving cars

I can’t count the number of emails I get from cybersecurity researchers who are predicting a spike in acts of terrorism carried out via self-driving cars. Picture everything from suicide-bombing cars (minus the actual suicide bombers) to triggering a 10-car pileup on a freeway by remotely taking over the controls of a car.
--Sheera Frenkel, NYT, on the advantage of wetware

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Wealth is the adult version of magic

Wealth, I realized, is the adult version of magic: an incredibly powerful but ultimately arbitrary resource that transfers primarily through inheritance. It has some logic to it— but also enough randomness that those without can hope for a spontaneous windfall in the form of an improbably lucrative investment or a secret inheritance. (Harry Potter and Rachel Chu were both thrust into lands of glittering palaces and gem-studded talismans after discovering secret inheritances.) Particularly in the rapidly growing economies of post-WWII Asia and post-communist China, the acquisition [of] wealth has, at times, taken on a sort of magical quality — with all the confusion and trauma that can imply.
--Maureen O'Connor, New York, on the popularity of Crazy Rich Asians and other books/shows about rich people

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Why are MLB pitchers taking longer between pitches?

Compared with 2007, the average MLB pitcher now holds the ball a full two seconds longer between consecutive pitches. ... terms of baseball’s most valuable currency — fastball velocity — pitchers do benefit from a slower pace of delivery. I found this using a model that compared every pitch to the pitcher’s own average velocity, while normalizing for the count and number of pitches he had thrown in the game. ...
For every additional second they spend (up to 20 seconds), pitchers throw about .02 miles per hour harder.

Such a small difference in fastball velocity might seem too insignificant to chase. But every mile per hour matters: According to a 2010 study by Mike Fast (now employed in the Houston Astros’ front office), a single tick of fastball velocity is worth 0.3 runs per nine innings for a starter, and even more (0.45 runs per mph) for relievers. ...

If a team’s entire pitching staff took an average of 10 extra seconds, the resulting 0.2-mile per hour increase would equate to about 10 extra runs saved per season. Using the classic sabermetric rule of 10 runs per win, that’s one whole extra victory — something general managers have been willing to pay upwards of $7 million to acquire. ...

Across baseball, the average four-seam fastball velocity has spiked a full mile per hour since 2010, and that jump has coincided with the drop in pace. ... All in all, declining pace could be responsible for about 20 percent of the leaguewide increase in fastball velocity since 2010.
--Rob Arthur, FiveThirtyEight, on why baseball games last more than three hours

Revenge of the nerds on Wall Street

When Michael Savini came to Wall Street in 2006, banks and brokers had stocked their annual recruiting classes with a preponderance of new hires who shared at least one thing in common: They’d played college sports. ...

Ex-jocks had the right stomach for risk-taking, the theory went, and the ideal temperament to win clients’ trust and business. ...

As an economics major at Columbia University, where he was a four-year starter and co-captain of the wrestling team, Mr. Savini followed two older brothers, also college athletes, into finance. There, he believed, his background gave him an edge. “Athletes are better equipped at knowing you’re not always going to win,” he said. “In sales, you’re going to get a lot of doors slammed in your face. It’s how you bounce back from those losses that define us.”

Yet these days, when he attends mixers for former wrestlers in finance, Mr. Savini, 42 years old, says he hears more gripes than enthusiasm. If college athletes asked him for advice in pursuing a career on the trading floor, he said, his message would be a simple one.

Don’t. ...

Two years ago, after nearly a decade working as an equity salesman, Mr. Savini left for 303 Capital Markets, a boutique investment-banking firm. “The business is changing,” he said. “It’s all going electronic.”

“These guys are on the wrong side of Moore’s Law,” said Rett Wallace, a former investment banker, referring to the axiom on the exponential growth of computing power. ...

The industry started to shift away from athletes in the 1990s as derivatives grew in number and complexity. That necessitated a hiring spree for Ph.D.s who could understand and price them. More recently, the advent of electronic trading and quantitative investing called for many more recruits with math or computer-programming skills.
--Justin Baer, WSJ, on brains over brawn

The astronomical improbability of life

Nor do we know how life began. At some point, the Earth made the transition from chemistry to biology, yes, but we cannot “agree on a definition that separates the nonliving chemistry from life,” as the geneticist Johnjoe McFadden puts it. (He then paraphrases the astronomer Fred Hoyle, who famously said that the odds of assembling something like a bacterium out of the primordial ooze were akin to the odds of a tornado’s assembling a jumbo jet out of a junkyard heap as it sweeps through.)

There are scientists who will go so far as to say that life is a spectacular fluke. Not everyone, mind you: Researchers now estimate that there are one billion Earthlike exoplanets in the Milky Way. “To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational,” Stephen Hawking has said.

But a powerful essay by the evolutionary biologist Matthew Cobb will make you wonder whether any form of multicellular life is far less likely than one in a billion. He points out that “there are more single-celled organisms alive on Earth than there are Earthlike planets in the observable universe”; that the number of single-celled organisms that have lived on this planet over the course of 3.8 billion years is beyond calculation; that these organisms have interacted “gazillions” of times (I love it when words of the appropriate magnitude desert even the experts). Yet we’ve never had a second instance of eukaryogenesis — that remarkable moment when one unicellular life form lodged inside another, forming something much more complex — in all this time.
--Jennifer Senior, NYT, on the uniqueness of life as we know it

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Maybe macroeconomic forecasts aren't so bad

Macroeconomists... are asked to routinely produce forecasts to guide fiscal and monetary policy, and are perhaps too eager to comply. ...

...the supposedly most embarrassing forecast errors come with regards to large crises. Yet, these crises are rare events that happen once every many decades. Since typical economic time series only extend over a little more than one hundred years, statistically forecasting the eruption of a crisis will always come with large imprecision.

Compare how economics does relative to the medical sciences. ...

Imagine going to your doctor and asking her to forecast whether you will be alive 2 years from now. That would sound like a preposterous request to the physician, but perhaps having some actuarial mortality tables in her head, she would tell you the probability of death for someone of your age. For all but the older readers of this article, this will be well below 50%. Yet, one year later, you have a heart attack and die. Should there be outrage at the state of medicine for missing the forecast, with such deadly consequences?

One defense by the medical profession would be to say that their job is not to predict time of death. They are driven to understand what causes diseases, how to prevent them, how to treat them, and altogether how to lower the chances of mortality while trading this off against life quality and satisfaction. ... This argument applies, word for word, to economics once the word disease is replaced by the words financial crisis. ...

A more sophisticated defense would note that medical sciences are about making conditional forecasts: if you make some lifestyle choices, then your odds of dying change by this or that much. These forecasts are at best probabilistic. ...

Economics is not so different, even in 2007-08. Within days or weeks of the failure of Bear Sterns or Lehman Brothers, economists provided diagnoses of the crisis, and central banks and finance ministries implemented aggressive measures to minimize the damage, all of which were heavily influenced by economic theory. ... The economy did not die, and a Great Depression was avoided, in no small part due to the advances on economics over many decades.

Too many people all over the world are today being unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer, undergo enormously painful treatment, and recover to live for many more years. This is rightly hailed as a triumph of modern oncology, even if so much more remains to be done. After suffering the worst shock in many decades, the global economy’s problems were diagnosed by economists, who designed policies to respond to them, and in the end we had a painful recession but no melt down. Some, somehow, conclude that economics is at fault. ...

Macroeconomists are... asked to predict what will happen to the changes in the CPI or GDP over the next 1-5 years. The comparison of forecast quality must be made for the same time horizon and for a similar level of aggregation. The fairer comparison would be to ask doctors to predict what will be the percentage change in the annual number of patients that eventually die after being admitted to an emergency room due to a stroke. For these similar units, my guess is that medical forecasts will look almost as bad as macroeconomic forecasts.
--Ricardo Reis on comparing apples to apples

Why do dads tell dad jokes?

But now I know why dads tell dad jokes. You have this captive audience that laughs at 100% of your jokes for eight straight years, so your jokes just get worse and worse. And then one day, the laughter stops.
--MEL on the fate of the monopolist

Why do your sports teams suck? Taxes

Between 1989, when the team entered the N.B.A., and this season, the [Minnesota] Timberwolves have the worst record in the league. ...

In a state synonymous with hockey, neither the Wild nor the Stars (while in Minnesota) has won the Stanley Cup. Same for the Vikings and the Super Bowl. The Twins did win the World Series, but that’s the exception to the losing rule. ...

Minnesota has one of the highest top marginal income tax rates for any state at 9.85 percent. ...

It’s unclear how much professional athletes value these public goods, but the Timberwolves still have to pay extra to offset those taxes. And given the competition under a salary cap, it means Minnesota teams spend almost 10 percent less than teams from Florida or Texas, which have no income tax. This could be enough money to upgrade from an average player to an All-Star.

To test my theory, I gathered data on the outcomes of every professional sports game over the past 40 years as well as data on state and local tax rates each team member faces. I then computed how much taxes predict winning for each league in every year while controlling for other factors such as population, income, franchise age and local amenities (i.e., weather).

Results of the analysis show that higher taxes consistently predict worse performance in every league — not just the N.B.A. but also Major League Baseball, the N.H.L., and the N.F.L. over the past 20 years. ...

Several other factors connect the income tax effect to my theory. Comparing player salary to player value measures provides evidence that higher-taxed teams in baseball and basketball pay more for players of similar quality, suggesting tax compensation is real. The income tax effect also relies on the assumption that players and teams are responding to income tax rates when negotiating contracts. This explains why the effect arises only in the wake of collective bargaining agreements in the late 1980s and early 1990s that allowed players to become unrestricted free agents and have teams compete to sign them.

The income tax effect could also be explained if people in low-tax states such as Texas and Florida just enjoy sports more and support their teams more and this translates to more winning. But I found that in college football and basketball, where athletes are not paid and should not care about income tax rates, teams from lower-tax states do not perform better than teams in higher-tax states.
--Erik Hembre, NYT, on the tax elasticity of labor supply

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Does education make people less religious?

The idea is peppered through the writings of scholars, great thinkers, and New Atheist-types: Education is the cure for religion. ...

New data from the Pew Research Center doesn’t disprove these claims, but it does challenge them. ...

There are at least two different ways to think about the relationship between education and religiosity: how schooling affects belief, and how it affects practice. Pew’s researchers looked at data from a number of recent surveys, including their 35,000-person study of American religion from 2014. They found that educated people are generally less likely to believe in God: Among all U.S. adults, only 83 percent of college grads said they think God exists, while 92 percent of people with only a high-school degree or less said the same.

Within Christianity, though, the difference all but disappears. Among educated mainline Protestants, 96 percent said they believe in God, compared to 97 percent among the less educated; among Catholics, 98 percent of both groups said the same. Among Mormons, black Protestants, and evangelical Protestants, there was effectively no difference at all, because virtually everyone in those groups said they believe in God.

Educational differences had a much bigger effect on religious practice. Sixty-eight percent of college-educated evangelical Protestants go to church every week, compared to 55 percent of those who only went to high school. In fact, college grads show up in the church pews more often in nearly every kind of Christian tradition: Among mainline Protestants, weekly attendance was 36 to 31 percent, more educated to less; among black Protestants, 59 to 52 percent; and among Catholics, 45 to 39 percent. The effect was perhaps greatest among Mormons: 85 percent of Mormon college graduates go to church at least once a week, compared to 66 percent of their peers with a high-school education or less.
--Emma Green, The Atlantic, on religiosity among the knowledgable

Monday, April 24, 2017

Who has buyer's remorse? Hillary voters, not Trump voters

I argued last week that anecdotal stories about disillusioned Trump supporters were overdone. The fact is that, on a broad scale, Trump supporters say they aren't disappointed. In fact, a poll showed they were more pleased than disappointed, by about 5 to 1:
...The Pew Research Center released a poll showing very little buyer's remorse among Trump voters. The poll showed just 7 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say Trump has performed worse than they expected him to. Fully 38 percent — five times as many — say he has performed better.
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll confirms this — in spades. And, in fact, it shows more buyer's remorse for Trump's opponent in the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton. And were the 2016 election held again today, it shows Trump would avenge his popular-vote loss.

While just 4 percent of Trump's supporters say they would back someone else if there was a redo of the election, fully 15 percent of Clinton supporters say they would ditch her. Trump leads in a re-do of the 2016 election 43 percent to 40 percent after losing the popular vote 46-44. ...

Just 2 percent of those who voted for Trump say he has been a worse president than they expected. Only 1 percent say he has been “much worse,” and 1 percent say he has been “somewhat worse.”

In contrast, 62 percent say he has been better than expected, with one-third (33 percent) saying he has been “much better.”
--Aaron Blake, Washington Post, on happenings outside the liberal bubble

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Correlation between likability and status is nearly zero for teenage girls

“In elementary school, the kids who are really well-liked and who are nice are also the kids who are popular,” said Amanda Rose, a psychology researcher at the University of Missouri. “But in middle school, this starts to change.” By the time high school starts, there are two kinds of popularity: There are the well-liked students, and then there is the emergence of a new group, which researchers call the high-status students — these are the ones who dominate their social groups, who are perhaps voted to the homecoming court, or are captain of the soccer team.

This distinction — between status and likability — is especially important in understanding the alpha girl over her teenage-boy counterpart. Alpha boys tend to be aggressive in physical ways, starting fights or pushing each other around, while alpha girls are more likely to act in relationally aggressive ways, spreading rumors or using the silent treatment. ...

For girls, “the more aggressive you are, the less likable you will be. But it will make you more popular,” said Mitch Prinstein, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the author of the upcoming book Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World. “For boys, a lot of them can be [high-status] and also well-liked at the same time. But that is so not the case for girls. The correlation between likability and status approaches zero for girls.” Alpha girls are admired and feared, but they’re not often liked. ...

For teenagers, as you’ll no doubt recall, their peers’ opinions mean everything. Their parents’ opinions, on the other hand, means nothing — less than nothing. The farther they can get from anything adults approve of, the better. ...

Hence the allure of the alpha girl. High-status teenagers, the research suggests, tend to behave in ways adults find inappropriate, which other teenagers find exhilarating. ... They skip class, they dabble in drugs, they go to parties. They are, in a word, cool. ...

One might assume, as I did, that your high school’s alpha girl grew up to be the office alpha girl, too. But every researcher I talked to said the opposite; several of them, for that matter, pointed me toward a fascinating study led by Allen and published in 2014 in the journal Child Development, titled: “What ever happened to the ‘cool’ kids?” For that paper, Allen and his colleagues interviewed a group of teenagers — including the “high-status” ones, otherwise known as the popular kids — when they were seniors in high school, and then tracked them down and reinterviewed them ten years later. “And a decade later,” Allen tells me, “they’re not doing so well. They’re doing less well in romantic relationships, they’re more likely to have problems with alcohol use and criminal behavior.”

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Do diets make you fat? a 2012 study, researchers followed over 4,000 twins aged 16 to 25. Dieters were more likely to gain weight than their non-dieting identical twins, suggesting that dieting does indeed increase weight gain even after accounting for genetic background...

The causal relationship between diets and weight gain can also be tested by studying people with an external motivation to lose weight. Boxers and wrestlers who diet to qualify for their weight classes presumably have no particular genetic predisposition toward obesity. Yet a 2006 study found that elite athletes who competed for Finland in such weight-conscious sports were three times more likely to be obese by age 60 than their peers who competed in other sports.

To test this idea rigorously, researchers could randomly assign people to worry about their weight, but that is hard to do. One program took the opposite approach, though, helping teenage girls who were unhappy with their bodies to become less concerned about their weight. In a randomized trial, the eBody Project, an online program to fight eating disorders by reducing girls’ desire to be thin, led to less dieting and also prevented future weight gain. Girls who participated in the program saw their weight remain stable over the next two years, while their peers without the intervention gained a few pounds. ...

If dieting doesn’t work, what should we do instead? I recommend mindful eating — paying attention to signals of hunger and fullness, without judgment, to relearn how to eat only as much as the brain’s weight-regulation system commands.

Relative to chronic dieters, people who eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full are less likely to become overweight, maintain more stable weights over time and spend less time thinking about food. Mindful eating also helps people with eating disorders like binge eating learn to eat normally. Depending on the individual’s set point, mindful eating may reduce weight or it may not. Either way, it’s a powerful tool to maintain weight stability, without deprivation.
--Sandra Aamodt, NYT, on winning by letting go

Friday, April 14, 2017

Reporting bias drives half of the starting MBA gender pay gap

Women MBAs are at a salary disadvantage from the onset of their post-business school careers, new data shows. According to self-reported data from MBAs graduating from top U.S. business schools, women earn an average total compensation package of $14,000 less than men in their first year of work. The data has been compiled by Transparent Career, an online MBA job reporting platform founded by an MBA team from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. ...

[Transparent Career CEO Mitch] Kirby continued, after running multiple regressions, “roughly $4.5K of the gap was driven by this difference in job function choice, or about 33% of the total.”

To go even further still, Kirby honed in on consulting, because of its “notoriously standardized compensation packages.” Yet, in the data, there was still a wage gap of more than $12,000. How could this be? ...

“We used data from a set of top consulting firms, which we know to offer completely standardized compensation to MBAs regardless of gender,” Kirby wrote of their methodology to examine the hypothesis. “We looked to see if there was a difference in how women and men reported these offers.”

While men and women both reported salaries around $144,400, men reported earning $8,000 more in “bonus” and “other compensation.” Of the $12,000 gap in consulting, Kirby reasoned at least two-thirds of it was due to men inflating their projected bonuses and overall compensation. According to the report, an additional 43% of the overall wage gap was a result of this phenomenon.

“What’s noteworthy here is that offered salary is an objective, immutable number,” Kirby wrote. “Performance bonuses and other compensation, however, can be interpreted more subjectively — based on a range candidates are given in an offer letter. Its likely that men are estimating they will achieve higher performance bonuses than women, which leads to a larger reported wage gap.”

--Nathan Allen, Poets and Quants, on self-confidence in pay estimates. Next step is to see how much of the forecasted bonus gap materializes in actual bonuses.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Job interviews are useless

...interviewers typically form strong but unwarranted impressions about interviewees, often revealing more about themselves than the candidates.

People who study personnel psychology have long understood this. In 1979, for example, the Texas Legislature required the University of Texas Medical School at Houston to increase its incoming class size by 50 students late in the season. The additional 50 students that the school admitted had reached the interview phase of the application process but initially, following their interviews, were rejected. A team of researchers later found that these students did just as well as their other classmates in terms of attrition, academic performance, clinical performance (which involves rapport with patients and supervisors) and honors earned. The judgment of the interviewers, in other words, added nothing of relevance to the admissions process.

Research that my colleagues and I have conducted shows that the problem with interviews is worse than irrelevance: They can be harmful, undercutting the impact of other, more valuable information about interviewees.

In one experiment, we had student subjects interview other students and then predict their grade point averages for the following semester. The prediction was to be based on the interview, the student’s course schedule and his or her past G.P.A. (We explained that past G.P.A. was historically the best predictor of future grades at their school.) In addition to predicting the G.P.A. of the interviewee, our subjects also predicted the performance of a student they did not meet, based only on that student’s course schedule and past G.P.A.

In the end, our subjects’ G.P.A. predictions were significantly more accurate for the students they did not meet. The interviews had been counterproductive. ...

What can be done? One option is to structure interviews so that all candidates receive the same questions, a procedure that has been shown to make interviews more reliable and modestly more predictive of job success. Alternatively, you can use interviews to test job-related skills, rather than idly chatting or asking personal questions.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Does a life of radical generosity bring moral satisfaction?

The “do-gooders” in Larissa MacFarquhar’s new book, “Strangers Drowning,” make these kinds of calculations every day. Obsessively. They sacrifice little luxuries and add up the lives they’ve saved. Then they wonder if they should give up more things they don’t need: cable television, having children, a new winter coat, that extra kidney they’ve been carrying around forever.

After Julia Wise allowed her boyfriend to buy her a $4 candy apple, she was overwhelmed with tortured thoughts. “With her selfish, ridiculous desire for a candy apple,” MacFarquhar writes, “she might have deprived a family of an ­anti-malarial bed net or deworming medicine that might have saved the life of one of its ­children.”

Wise became a social worker and married Jeff Kaufman, a young professional who was just as focused on giving. Their shared mission is to send money to people in distant countries and thus reduce the world’s suffering. To do so, they labor and scrimp and save — having lived at one point on a self-­imposed weekly allowance of $38 — so that they can give away tens of thousands of dollars to charity. ...

Martyrdom doesn’t seem to be the point, not even for the man who donates his kidney to a complete stranger. Without exception, MacFarquhar’s do-gooders are as messed up and conflicted as the rest of us, if not more so. They long for connectedness and a sense of purpose. ...

The stories in “Strangers Drowning” all have open-ended conclusions. After decades of giving, many of MacFarquhar’s do-gooders feel strangely unsettled. They’ve discovered that sacrificing for others doesn’t make them feel as if they’ve earned a spot in heaven. All it does is see them through one more day.
--Hector Tobar, NYT, on rediscovering Martin Luther's rediscovery that salvation is not by works. HT: CG

Why is victimhood all the rage?

We’re living in an age of great moral pressure, even if we lack the words to articulate it. In fact, as Wilfred McClay points out in a brilliant essay called “The Strange Persistence of Guilt” for The Hedgehog Review, religion may be in retreat, but guilt seems as powerfully present as ever.

Technology gives us power and power entails responsibility, and responsibility, McClay notes, leads to guilt: You and I see a picture of a starving child in Sudan and we know inwardly that we’re not doing enough. ...

McClay is describing a world in which we’re still driven by an inextinguishable need to feel morally justified. Our thinking is still vestigially shaped by religious categories.

And yet we have no clear framework or set of rituals to guide us in our quest for goodness. Worse, people have a sense of guilt and sin, but no longer a sense that they live in a loving universe marked by divine mercy, grace and forgiveness. There is sin but no formula for redemption.

The only reliable way to feel morally justified in that culture is to assume the role of victim. As McClay puts it, “Claiming victim status is the sole sure means left of absolving oneself and securing one’s sense of fundamental moral innocence.”

“If one wishes to be accounted innocent, one must find a way to make the claim that one cannot be held morally responsible. This is precisely what the status of victimhood accomplishes.”

I’d add that this move takes all moral striving and it politicizes it. Instead of seeing moral struggle as something between you and God (the religious version) or as something that happens between the good and evil within yourself (the classical version), moral struggle now happens primarily between groups.

We see events through the lens of moral Marxism, as a class or ethnic struggle between the evil oppressor and the supposedly innocent oppressed. The moral narrative of colonialism is applied to every situation. The concept of inherited sin is back in common currency, only these days we call it “privilege.”
--David Brooks, NYT, on our need for redemption

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The shortcomings of affirmative consent policies

The main problem with affirmative consent policies is that they don't match how people have sex in the real world, including on college campuses. They are a classic example of policies that sound good in theory but break down in practice.

After all, isn’t it important that people make sure that they have consent for sex? How could it be bad to codify that requirement in the clearest possible terms?

The problem is that what seems clear in principle is often decidedly less so in practice. Most affirmative consent policies, for example, say that consent may only be expressed through unambiguous words or actions. On its face, that is clear enough. Expressing unambiguous verbal consent only takes one word: “Yes.”

Requiring verbal consent seems that it would simplify proof in sexual assault accusations, but it doesn’t. We have seen multiple cases where the complainant acknowledged that they said yes, but claimed that they did not mean it, or that they non-verbally withdrew the consent later. The accused was found responsible for sexual assault in these cases. ...

This brings us to consent through actions. This is where, as most communist nations eventually discovered, what sounds great in theory can be a disaster in practice.

What does unambiguous consent through actions look like? Consider, for example, the last time you had intercourse without verbal consent. How did you know the other person wanted to do it? ...

If you point to any one thing and say that’s what made me think I had consent, you’re going to be found responsible for sexual misconduct. That’s because most sexual misconduct policies explicitly say that consent for one sexual act does not imply consent for another sexual act. So if you say, “I thought because she put my hand on X, she wanted Y,” you’re toast. ...

The problem is that consent through actions is all about context. It’s not any single thing, especially when the participants are in a romantic relationship. ...

But universities, in our experience, default to punishing the accused in these ambiguous cases. Breaking down how consent-through-actions was communicated, in the cold light of a conference room months or even years later, is impossible. The practical result is that the affirmative consent policy allows any student to get his or her former sex partners expelled or suspended.
--Justin Dillon and Hanna Stotland, Harvard Crimson, on a failure of social engineering

Friday, March 17, 2017

The case for tipping generously

[Steve Ross] was also well known in [New Haven’s] restaurants and was a generous tipper, [Rick] Antle said. “He said that extra that you give, that’s where all the action is, and it’s not that much money,” he said.
--Ed Stannard, New Haven Register, on the everyday wisdom of Steve Ross

A great bon viveur, [Steve Ross] would baffle friends with his ability to find tiny ethnic restaurants tucked into obscure corners of southern Connecticut, where the food was delicious and the staff invariably seemed to know and love him.

He was also a great aficionado of wine. At dinners he held for peers, it was decided to put a cap on the price of the wine, to make sure that the meal was within everyone’s budget. “Why would we want constrained optimisation like that?” Ross complained, in the language of economic theory.

He avoided the problem by bringing in ever more exquisite wines — and politely lying about their price.
--John Authers, Financial Times, on the generosity of Steve Ross

Steve Ross and Bernie Madoff

When Stephen Ross went to perform due diligence on the investment firm run by Bernard Madoff, he found himself baffled. His client, an investment group, was unsure Madoff’s great returns could be sustained — and the more the Madoff representatives talked to Ross in generalities about their options trading strategies, the less he understood what they actually did.

As he pressed them, they protested that options pricing was complicated. “I know it’s complicated,” said Ross. “I invented your model for pricing options.” He did not in the end recommend investment in Madoff’s funds.
--John Authers, Financial Times, on the limits of BS

Monday, March 13, 2017

Why professors should ask only tough Ph.D. oral exam questions

My second memory of Steve Ross is of the oral exam that he administered along with Jim Tobin. At that time, Yale students talked in whispers of the "Tobin spiral," caused when Tobin asked an easy question, the student assumed there must be a catch and froze up, prompting Tobin to ask an even easier question, and so on towards failure. I was actually more intimidated by Steve than by Jim, but escaped a Ross spiral when Steve asked what seemed to me abundantly difficult questions.
--John Campbell, a member of my dissertation committee, on a great man and scholar

Why you think you know things you don't

The truth is obvious if you bother to look for it, right? This line of thinking leads to explanations of the hoodwinked masses that amount to little more than name calling: “Those people are foolish” or “Those people are monsters.” ...

Here is the humbler truth: On their own, individuals are not well equipped to separate fact from fiction, and they never will be. Ignorance is our natural state; it is a product of the way the mind works.

What really sets human beings apart is not our individual mental capacity. The secret to our success is our ability to jointly pursue complex goals by dividing cognitive labor. ... Each of us knows only a little bit, but together we can achieve remarkable feats. ...

Consider some simple examples. You know that the earth revolves around the sun. But can you rehearse the astronomical observations and calculations that led to that conclusion? ... We’re guessing no. Most of what you “know” — most of what anyone knows — about any topic is a placeholder for information stored elsewhere, in a long-forgotten textbook or in some expert’s head.

One consequence of the fact that knowledge is distributed this way is that being part of a community of knowledge can make people feel as if they understand things they don’t. Recently, one of us ran a series of studies in which we told people about some new scientific discoveries that we fabricated, like rocks that glow. When we said that scientists had not yet explained the glowing rocks and then asked our respondents how well they understood how such rocks glow, they reported not understanding at all — a very natural response given that they knew nothing about the rocks. But when we told another group about the same discovery, only this time claiming that scientists had explained how the rocks glowed, our respondents reported a little bit more understanding. It was as if the scientists’ knowledge (which we never described) had been directly transmitted to them. ...

The key point here is not that people are irrational; it’s that this irrationality comes from a very rational place. People fail to distinguish what they know from what others know because it is often impossible to draw sharp boundaries between what knowledge resides in our heads and what resides elsewhere.

This is especially true of divisive political issues. Your mind cannot master and retain sufficiently detailed knowledge about many of them. You must rely on your community. But if you are not aware that you are piggybacking on the knowledge of others, it can lead to hubris.

Recently, for example, there was a vociferous outcry when President Trump and Congress rolled back regulations on the dumping of mining waste in waterways. This may be bad policy, but most people don’t have sufficient expertise to draw that conclusion because evaluating the policy is complicated. Environmental policy is about balancing costs and benefits. In this case, you need to know something about what mining waste does to waterways and in what quantities these effects occur, how much economic activity depends on being able to dump freely, how a decrease in mining activity would be made up for from other energy sources and how environmentally damaging those are, and on and on.

We suspect that most of those people expressing outrage lacked the detailed knowledge necessary to assess the policy. We also suspect that many in Congress who voted for the rollback were equally in the dark. But people seemed pretty confident.
--Philip Fernbach and Steven Sloman, NYT, on the case for humility before outrage. HT: EP

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Hillary Clinton would be even more unlikeable as a man

Maria Guadalupe, an associate professor of economics and political science at INSEAD, had an idea. Millions had tuned in to watch a man face off against a woman for the first set of co-ed presidential debates in American history. But how would their perceptions change, she wondered, if the genders of the candidates were switched? She pictured an actress playing Trump, replicating his words, gestures, body language, and tone verbatim, while an actor took on Clinton’s role in the same way. ...

Guadalupe reached out to Joe Salvatore, a [NYU] Steinhardt clinical associate professor of educational theatre who specializes in ethnodrama—a method of adapting interviews, field notes, journal entries, and other print and media artifacts into a script to be performed as a play. Together, they developed Her Opponent, a production featuring actors performing excerpts from each of the three debates exactly as they happened—but with the genders switched. ...

Inside the evening’s program were two surveys for each audience member to fill out...

Many were shocked to find that they couldn’t seem to find in Jonathan Gordon what they had admired in Hillary Clinton—or that Brenda King’s clever tactics seemed to shine in moments where they’d remembered Donald Trump flailing or lashing out. For those Clinton voters trying to make sense of the loss, it was by turns bewildering and instructive, raising as many questions about gender performance and effects of sexism as it answered. ...

The gender-swapping technique, Salvatore suggests, could also be used to explore the communication styles of different political figures in other charged confrontations. ...

[Salvatore:] We heard a lot of “now I understand how this happened”—meaning how Trump won the election. People got upset. There was a guy two rows in front of me who was literally holding his head in his hands, and the person with him was rubbing his back. The simplicity of Trump’s message became easier for people to hear when it was coming from a woman—that was a theme. One person said, “I’m just so struck by how precise Trump’s technique is.” Another—a musical theater composer, actually—said that Trump created “hummable lyrics,” while Clinton talked a lot, and everything she was was true and factual, but there was no “hook” to it. Another theme was about not liking either candidate—you know, “I wouldn’t vote for either one.” Someone said that Jonathan Gordon [the male Hillary Clinton] was “really punchable” because of all the smiling. And a lot of people were just very surprised by the way it upended their expectations about what they thought they would feel or experience.
--Eileen Reynolds, NYU News, on new perspectives on Hillary Clinton's unlikeableness. HT: Marginal Revolution

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The loneliness of the American middle-aged man I ran down the list of those I’d consider real, true, lifelong friends, I realized that it had been years since I’d seen many of them, even decades for a few. ...

I turned 40 in May. I have a wife and two young boys. ...

I love “dada time.” And I’m pretty good about squeezing in an hour of “me time” each day for exercise, which usually means getting up before dawn to go to the gym or for a run. But when everything adds up, there is no real “friend time” left. Yes, I have friends at work and at the gym, but those are accidents of proximity. I rarely see those people anywhere outside those environments, because when everything adds up, I have left almost no time for friends. I have structured myself into being a loser. ...

Beginning in the 1980s, [psychiatrist Richard] Schwartz says, study after study started showing that those who were more socially isolated were much more likely to die during a given period than their socially connected neighbors, even after you corrected for age, gender, and lifestyle choices like exercising and eating right. ...

My wife and I also have other couples we like and see often. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that’s good enough — and for many men it is, at least until their spouse gets the friends in the divorce. ...

In February at a conference in Boston, a researcher from Britain’s University of Oxford presented study results that most guys understand intuitively: Men need an activity together to make and keep a bond. ... That’s why, studies have shown, men tend to make their deepest friends through periods of intense engagement, like school or military service or sports. ...

Researchers have noticed a trend in photographs taken of people interacting. When female friends are talking to each other, they do it face to face. But guys stand side by side, looking out at the world together. ...

But in the middle years of life, those side-by-side opportunities to get together are exactly the sort of things that fall off. ... Planning anything takes great initiative, and if you have to take initiative every time you see someone, it’s easy to just let it disappear.

That’s why Schwartz and others say the best way for men to forge and maintain friendships is through built-in regularity — something that is always on the schedule. ...

“Wednesday night,” Ozzy explained, was a pact he and his buddies had made many years before, a standing order that on Wednesday nights, if they were in town, they would get together and do something, anything.

Everything about the idea seemed quaint and profound — the name that was a lack of a name (such a guy move); the placement in the middle of the week; the fact that they’d continued it for so long. But most of all, it was the acknowledgment from male friends that they needed their male friends, for no other reason than they just did.
--Billy Baker, Boston Globe Magazine, on friendship beyond your 20s

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Why do governments tolerate leaks?

Leaks are supposed to be super-dangerous, or so we are told, yet actual leakers, until recently, were not prosecuted very often.

To make sense of this puzzle, I read a variety of interesting histories. The most interesting source was “The Leaky Leviathan,” by David E. Pozen of Columbia Law School.

Pozen stresses that leaks serve the purpose of the federal government more often than not. A survey from the mid-1980s found that 42 percent of surveyed senior government officials felt that it was sometimes appropriate to leak information to the press -- hardly a sign this is intrinsically treasonous behavior. ...

Sometimes governments trade leaked information to reporters, to curry favor. Other times leaks are used to hurt rivals within the public sphere, or a leak can serve as a trial balloon to test the popularity of an idea. Leaks also may help a president’s Cabinet members build up their own internal empires, which can boost a president’s agenda.

Or the American government may want to inform its people about, say, drone operations in Yemen, but without having to answer questions about the details. In this regard, leaks may substitute for more direct congressional oversight, to the benefit of the executive.

In other words, leaks are part of how the government manages the press and maintains its own popularity. ...

Leaks are also a way of threatening other governments, yet without the president putting all of his credibility on the line. For instance, it can be leaked that the national security establishment would be especially unhappy with a further expansion of Israeli West Bank settlements. That sends a message, yet without committing the American government to any particular response if the settlements proceed. Or leaks can signal to foreign terrorists or governments that we know what they are up to.

Of course, many leaks are unwelcome, such as when national security confidences are disclosed. Given that reality, why haven’t American governments worked harder to prosecute unwelcome leaks and leakers?

Well, if that policy were pursued successfully, the only leaks that would occur would be “approved” or government-intended leaks, and everyone would figure this out. The government could no longer use leaks as a way of providing information or making threats in a distanced manner with plausible deniability.
--Tyler Cowen, BloombergView, on solving for the equilibrium

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Ken Arrow knew something about everything

Professor Arrow was widely hailed as a polymath, possessing prodigious knowledge of subjects far removed from economics. Eric Maskin, a Harvard economist and fellow Nobel winner, told of a good-natured conspiracy waged by junior faculty to get the better of Professor Arrow, even if artificially. They all agreed to study the breeding habits of gray whales — a suitably abstruse topic — and gathered at an appointed date at a place where Professor Arrow would be sure to visit.

When, as expected, he showed up, they were talking out loud about the theory by a marine biologist — last name, Turner — which purported to explain how gray whales found the same breeding spot year after year. As Professor Maskin recounted the story, “Ken was silent,” and his junior colleagues amused themselves that they had for once bested their formidable professor.

Well, not so fast.

Before leaving, Professor Arrow muttered, “But I thought that Turner’s theory was entirely discredited by Spencer, who showed that the hypothesized homing mechanism couldn’t possibly work.”
--Michael Weinstein, NYT, on an insatiable love of knowledge

Monday, February 20, 2017

Fitbit causes you to lose LESS weight

The trial took place at the University of Pittsburgh between 2010 and 2012, and it involved more than 470 adults between the ages of 18 and 35. All of them were put on a low-calorie diet, had group counseling sessions and were advised to increase their physical activity. Six months into the intervention, all were given telephone counseling sessions, text-message prompts and study materials online.

At that time, though, half were also given wearable tech devices that monitored their activity and connected to a website to help provide feedback. All participants were followed for 18 more months.

At the end of the two years, which is pretty long for a weight loss study, those without access to the wearable technology lost an average of 13 pounds. Those with the wearable tech lost an average of 7.7 pounds.

It’s hard for many to accept, so I’m going to state the results again: Those people who used the wearable tech for 18 months lost significantly less weight than those who didn’t.

You may rightfully point out that the primary reason to wear the devices isn’t to lose weight — it’s to be more active. But even in this respect, it didn’t work nearly as well as we might hope. In the IDEA trial, those who employed the technology were no more physically active than those who didn’t. They also weren’t more fit.
--Aaron Carroll, NYT, on the dubious health benefits of wearable fitness devices

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Baby carrots are not really baby carrots

Most baby carrots — those smooth, irresistible tricksters — are actually, 100 percent made of: That’s right: Normal carrots.

Despite their adorable name, baby carrots are actually whole, imperfect, craggy-looking carrots that are sliced into smaller pieces, sculpted into rounded sticks, washed and packaged for our snacking convenience. (Watch how they’re made here.)

In fact, baby carrots were originally one farmer’s ploy to sell more carrots. The late Mike Yurosek, a California carrot farmer, invented baby carrots in 1986 because most full-grown carrots were too ugly to sell.

Back in the ‘80s, supermarkets would only purchase the prettiest looking carrots, forcing farmers to turn the imperfect ones into carrot juice or animal feed. Due to the lack of demand, most of them were simply thrown away, according to the Carrot Museum.

In an attempt to find a second life for the ugly ones, Yurosek threw a few batches into an industrial green bean cutter that sliced them into uniform 2-inch pieces, then he ran them through a potato peeler to smooth them out.

He sent the polished sticks to grocery stores in California — and they were an instant hit.
--Carla Herreria, Huffington Post, on vegetables unnaturally born

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Prizes for innovation might not be so effective after all

Some economists have cited the experience of the prestigious Royal Society of Arts (RSA), which offered honorary and cash awards, as proof of the efficacy of innovation prizes. The Society initially was averse to patents and prohibited the award of prizes for patented inventions. This study examines data on several thousand of these inducement prizes, matched with patent records and biographical information about the applicants. The empirical analysis shows that inventors of items that were valuable in the marketplace typically chose to obtain patents and to bypass the prize system. Owing to such adverse selection, prizes were negatively related to subsequent areas of important technological discovery. The RSA ultimately became disillusioned with the prize system, which they recognized had done little to promote technological progress and industrialization. The Society acknowledged that its efforts had been “futile” because of its hostility to patents, and switched from offering inducement prizes towards lobbying for reforms to strengthen the patent system.
--Zorina Khan, NBER Working Paper 23042, on the strength of the second-best

Why are second-born boys more likely to be delinquents?

...we find that second-born boys are substantially more likely to exhibit delinquency problems compared to their older sibling. In particular, involvement with the juvenile justice system is found to be on the order of 40 percent higher than the mean for first-born boys in both Denmark and Florida. Incarceration by age 21 is also found to be 40 percent higher in Denmark. These effects are particularly strong among more severe violent crimes (36 percent). In Florida, similarly large effects are found for suspensions in school (29 percent) but effects on truancy are much more moderate and heterogeneous. We find corroborative evidence when we consider a sample of young adolescents in Denmark where we can measure behavioral problems directly in the form of hyperactivity and measures of conduct problems by age 12.

In terms of mechanisms, we can rule out large classes of explanations. These include worse health at birth (second-born children appear healthier) or in childhood (second-born children have fewer disabilities), schooling decisions including the age of entry and the quality of schools chosen (second-born children attend no worse schools and are more likely to attend pre-kindergarten and daycare) as well as maternal employment (measured by maternity leave) in the first year of life. We do find that maternal employment and the use of daycare is higher for second-borns in years 2-4 compared to older siblings. While it is well known that first-borns have undivided attention until the arrival of the second-born, these results show that the arrival of the second-born child has the potential to extend the early-childhood parental investment in the first-born child and a concomitant bifurcation of parental attention between first- and second-born children.
--Sanni Breining, Joseph Doyle, David Figlio, Krzysztof Karbownik, and Jeffrey Roth, NBER Working Paper 23038, on the importance of parental investment

Single female MBA students act unambitious to attract a husband

Do single women avoid career-enhancing actions because these actions could signal personality traits, like ambition, that are undesirable in the marriage market? We answer this question through two field experiments in an elite U.S. MBA program. Newly-admitted MBA students filled out a questionnaire on job preferences and personality traits to be used by the career center in internship placement; randomly-selected students thought their answers would be shared with classmates. When they believed their classmates would not see their responses, single and nonsingle women answered similarly. However, single women reported desired yearly compensation $18,000 lower and being willing to travel seven fewer days per month and work four fewer hours per week when they expected their classmates would see their answers. They also reported less professional ambition and tendency for leadership. Neither men nor non-single women changed their answers in response to peer observability. A supplementary experiment asked students to make choices over hypothetical jobs before discussing their choices in their career class small groups; we randomly varied the groups' gender composition. Single women were much less likely to select career-focused jobs when their answers would be shared with male peers, especially single ones.
--Leonardo Bursztyn, Thomas Fujiwara, and Amanda Pallais, NBER Working Paper 23043, on acting wife

Friday, February 10, 2017

Why pro-immigration arguments are losing

Even despite the chaos, Trump's [immigration] ban is polling at about a 50-50 proposition. ...

Eventually, Trump will get to more comfortable political ground: the question of whether immigration to the US is in the interest of American citizens. He has a theory of why restrictive policies are good for Americans, one that was the centerpiece of his successful presidential campaign.

Democrats are much less clear about what they see as the purpose of immigration and how they believe their policies would serve the interests of existing American citizens. Often, their arguments for immigration focus on the opportunities it affords to potential immigrants — that is, people who cannot vote. ...

...what is the compelling illustration of upsides, to make the case that Americans should permit large amounts of immigration, despite their perception that immigration creates certain problems?

There are broad appeals to the economic and cultural benefits of immigration.

But the economic case is undermined by the arbitrary nature of the way the consensus reform position would admit immigrants: guest-worker programs at both the high and the low ends of the skill spectrum, as well as millions of admissions allocated to existing unauthorized immigrants primarily on the basis of when they arrived in the US rather than their ability to contribute economically.

As for the cultural case, the desirability of "taco trucks on every corner" is a matter of opinion. ...

I think the true reason that immigration advocates fail to make strong national-interest arguments for immigration is that the pro-immigration impulse is not really about the national interest.

Potential immigrants are human beings with moral worth. Especially in the case of refugees, they have been disadvantaged by the place of their birth. The human condition is improved by their admission to the US. This — a global, humanistic concern — is a driving factor behind support for immigration.

Plus, elites in government, media, and business tend to be in positions where they stand to derive disproportionate benefits from immigration to the US and bear relatively few costs related to it. Thus immigration is a relatively easy area to favor policy altruism.

But what if about half the electorate disagrees? What's in it for them? ...

Immigration advocates do not need to abandon the idea that resettling refugees is a morally necessary act of altruism by a rich country, nor do they need to concede the idea that public policy should be made solely in the interest of American citizens, forsaking the concerns of all other people.

But they need to acknowledge that admitting outsiders to the US is a policy choice — and demonstrate that they have carefully considered the national interest in making the choice. Voters will be more inclined to let politicians be altruistic on their behalf if they do not believe their own interests have been lost in the calculations. ...

Most important, immigration advocates can demonstrate their focus on the national interest by being willing to support enforcement of laws against immigration that is neither legal nor in the national interest — by showing that the willingness to say "yes" to immigration is paired with a willingness to say "no."

For the last 20 years or more, the federal government has pursued a policy of benign neglect. Trump presents this as a problem of "weak borders," but the main issue is a failure of interior enforcement — particularly a failure to aggressively enforce laws against working in the US without authorization. ...

This neglect is a major reason for the failure of comprehensive immigration reform.

Immigration reform is supposed to be a trade: amnesty for unauthorized immigrants and high future levels of legal immigration, in exchange for stringent enforcement of immigration laws in the future.

But why would anyone believe that Democrats or pre-Trump Republicans would follow through on a promise to enforce immigration law effectively?
--Josh Barro, Business Insider, on remembering that the voter is boss in a democracy

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The most interesting man in baseball

On Sunday [in October 2016] in Sapporo, Japan, in front of 41,000-plus fans, Shohei Otani, the best starting pitcher in Japanese baseball, did something that would have broken the baseball internet had it happened here. He got a save.

It was Otani’s first career save, but that undersells its significance. This save, which sealed the semifinals of the “Climax Series” — Japan’s perfect term for the playoffs — sent Otani’s team, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, to the Japan Series, a seven-game showdown between the winners of the Central League and the winners of the Pacific League. In his one inning of work, Otani retired three consecutive hitters from the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, the two-time defending Japan Series champions. In the process, he threw two fastballs 165 kilometers per hour — 103 miles per hour, to those of us still spurning the metric system. That broke the NPB record of 164 he’d set in September, which broke the previous record of 163 he’d set in June.

In the same outing, he also threw 89 mph sliders and a 94 mph forkball...

Please hold your applause: It gets much more impressive than that. Four days earlier, Otani had started the first game of the series and thrown seven scoreless innings, allowing only one hit and two walks to the team with the Pacific League’s highest on-base percentage. Not bad, but we’ve seen MLB aces masquerading as closers as recently as last week. What sets Otani apart even more than his arm is his hitting.

Before he came in to close, Otani had already made four trips to the plate as Hokkaido’s designated hitter. He also started at DH in the three games he didn’t pitch. And he took his turns at bat in Game 1, as he often did on days he pitched during the regular season, even though the Fighters have to surrender their DH for him to pitch and hit. ...

Otani’s 2016 performance produced the most climax-worthy stats page since late-career Barry Bonds. In 140 innings, he struck out 174 and allowed only four home runs, finishing with a 1.86 ERA — an improvement on his 2015 performance, when he’d been one of the top three contenders for the Sawamura Award, Japan’s equivalent of the Cy Young. While he was at it, he hit .322/.416/.588 in 382 plate appearances, launching 22 home runs. And to top things off, he won the Home Run Derby.

Essentially, this season Otani boasted Noah Syndergaard’s stuff, Clayton Kershaw’s ERA and strikeout rate, and David Ortiz’s OPS. And just to show that there was no hole in his game, he stole seven bases in nine attempts.
--Ben Lindergh, The Ringer, on a sports fantasy come to life

Sunday, February 5, 2017

By quitting social media, you could read 200 books a year

Somebody once asked Warren Buffett about his secret to success. Buffett pointed to a stack of books and said,
Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will…

In January of 2015, I found Buffett’s quote. I decided to read. I was going to read and read and read and never stop until I got some damn answers.

I didn’t quite make 500 pages a day, but, in these last two years, I’ve read over 400 books cover to cover. That decision to start reading was one of the most important decisions in my life. ...

Two years ago, I stopped to do the simple math. Here’s what I found: Reading 200 books a year isn’t hard at all. ...

How much time does it take to read 200 books a year?

First, let’s look at two quick statistics:
  • The average American reads 200–400 words per minute (Since you’re on Medium, I’m going to assume you read 400 wpm like me)
  • Typical non-fiction books have ~50,000 words

Now, all we need are some quick calculations…
  • 200 books * 50,000 words/book = 10 million words
  • 10 million words/400 wpm = 25,000 minutes
  • 25,000 minutes/60 = 417 hours

That’s all there is to it. To read 200 books, simply spend 417 hours a year reading. ...

Here’s how much time a single American spends on social media and TV in a year:
  • 608 hours on social media
  • 1642 hours on TV
Wow. That’s 2250 hours a year spent on TRASH. If those hours were spent reading instead, you could be reading over 1,000 books a year!
--Charles Chu, Better Humans, on time you really do have. HT: ML

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The wrong way to oppose a populist: Lessons from Venezuela

In Venezuela, the urban middle class I come from was cast as the enemy in the political struggle that followed Chávez’s arrival in 1998. For years, I watched in frustration as the opposition failed to do anything about the catastrophe overtaking our nation. Only later did I realize that this failure was self-inflicted. So now, to my American friends, here is some advice on how to avoid Venezuela’s mistakes.

Populism can survive only amid polarization. It works through the unending vilification of a cartoonish enemy. Never forget that you’re that enemy. Trump needs you to be the enemy, just like all religions need a demon. A scapegoat. “But facts!” you’ll say, missing the point entirely. ...

Don’t feed polarization, disarm it. This means leaving the theater of injured decency behind.

That includes rebukes such as the one the “Hamilton” cast gave Vice President-elect Mike Pence shortly after the election. While sincere, it only antagonized Trump; it surely did not convince a single Trump supporter to change his or her mind. Shaming has never been an effective method of persuasion.

The Venezuelan opposition struggled for years to get this. We wouldn’t stop pontificating about how stupid Chavismo was, not only to international friends but also to Chávez’s electoral base. “Really, this guy? Are you nuts? You must be nuts,” we’d say. ...

By looking down on Trump’s supporters, you’ve lost the first battle. Instead of fighting polarization, you’ve played into it.

The worst you can do is bundle moderates and extremists together and think that America is divided between racists and liberals. That’s the textbook definition of polarization. We thought our country was split between treacherous oligarchs and Chávez’s uneducated, gullible base. The only one who benefited was Chávez.

Our opposition tried every single trick in the book. Coup d’etat? Check. Ruinous oil strike? Check. Boycotting elections in hopes that international observers would intervene? You guessed it. ...

The people on the other side — and crucially, independents — will rebel against you if you look like you’re losing your mind. You will have proved yourself to be the very thing you’re claiming to be fighting against: an enemy of democracy. And all the while you’re giving the populist and his followers enough rhetorical fuel to rightly call you a saboteur, an unpatriotic schemer, for years to come. ...

In Venezuela, the opposition focused on trying to reject the dictator by any means possible — when we should have just kept pointing out how badly Chávez’s rule was hurting the very people he claimed to be serving. ...

The problem, remember, is not the message but the messenger. It’s not that Trump supporters are too stupid to see right from wrong, it’s that you’re more valuable to them as an enemy than as a compatriot. Your challenge is to prove that you belong in the same tribe as them — that you are American in exactly the same way they are.

In Venezuela, we fell into this trap in a bad way. We wrote again and again about principles, about separation of powers, civil liberties, the role of the military in politics, corruption and economic policy. But it took opposition leaders 10 years to figure out that they needed to actually go to the slums and the countryside. Not for a speech or a rally, but for a game of dominoes or to dance salsa — to show they were Venezuelans, too, that they weren’t just dour scolds and could hit a baseball, could tell a joke that landed. That they could break the tribal divide, come down off the billboards and show that they were real.
--Andrés Miguel Rondón, Washington Post, on e pluribus unum