When are people OK with nuclear waste?

by on June 20, 2013 at 2:44 am in Economics | Permalink

When they are asked — and not when they are paid  — at least when it comes to one recent study of the Swiss:

In the early 1990s, Switzerland was getting ready to have a national referendum about where it would site nuclear waste dumps. Citizens had strong views on the issue and were well informed. Bruno Frey and Felix Oberholzer-Gee, two social scientists, went door-to-door, asking people whether they would be willing to have a waste dump in their community. An astonishing 50% of respondents said yes—this despite the fact that people generally thought such a dump was potentially dangerous and would lower the value of their property. The dumps had to go somewhere, and like it or not, people had obligations as citizens.

Frey and Oberholzer-Gee then asked a slightly different question. People were asked whether, if given an annual payment equivalent to six weeks’ worth of an average Swiss salary, they would be willing to have the dumps in their communities. So these people, who already had one reason to say yes—their obligations as citizens—were now given a second reason—financial incentives. Yet in response to this question, only 25% of respondents agreed. Adding the financial incentive cut acceptance in half.

The full story is here, and of course the actual answer might be different if you actually paid them.  One way to read this result is in terms of signaling: if they have to pay me to accept it, it must be really bad.  Another signaling explanation is that you look bad if you are willing to welcome a community harm in return for money.  Another option is that “reasons compete,” rather than serving an additive function.  The reason “being paid” may be crowding out the reason “being asked.”

Coming from another quarter, here is a dispiriting tale of commercialization, involving Alan Alda and Michael Sandel, among others.

1 Ryan June 20, 2013 at 3:14 am

This example appeared in “Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior,” right? It’s a classic example of taboo tradeoffs.

2 Rahul June 20, 2013 at 5:30 am

This also reminds me of that daycare-center anecdote, where asking parents to pay a monetary penalty for delayed pick-ups actually increased the number of late-pick-ups.

3 Ian Maitland June 20, 2013 at 10:34 am

It’s an experiment. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=180117
Why call it a “fine” or “monetary penalty”? Why not simply a price that compensates the teacher for having to stay past closing time. So long as the teacher was not compensated, parents naturally felt guilty about late pick-ups.
The interesting finding is that once the “fine” was removed no reduction in tardiness occurred.
Is this a case of “crowding out” of solidary or altruistic motives by commercial ones?
Beats me.

4 Adam June 20, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Social norms are more powerful than financial incentives.

Only in economics would that be a surprise.

5 Frederic Mari June 20, 2013 at 3:15 am

Sorry, is it commercialisation that is dispiriting or this show that you find dispiriting?

If the former, I am quite surprised. I’ve been reading this blog for a while and got the impression that you and Alex Tabarrok were quite ‘libertarian’ – i.e. would defend surrogate-for-pay, trading in kidneys etc.

Was I mistaken? If so, where and how do you think we should put our (fuzzy) limits to commercialisation?

6 Andrew' June 20, 2013 at 6:49 am

It’s the Hollywood ducats.

7 Rahul June 20, 2013 at 9:55 am

This quote was interesting:

“They recalled a bygone age, before “the skyboxification of American life,” in Professor Sandel’s phrase, when tycoons sat next to common laborers at the ballpark, eating the same hot dogs and getting soaked by the rain that raineth on rich and poor alike.”

Was there really such an age in America? Or are they just romanticizing the past? Were tycoons of yesteryears any more connected with the common man?

8 Hazel Meade June 20, 2013 at 10:20 am

Yes, somehow I doubt that in 1890, the rich families of New York were accustomed to eating hotdogs at the ballpark next to railroad workers. They were more likely at the race-track attempting schmooze with visiting British nobility.

9 Peter Schaeffer June 20, 2013 at 12:05 pm


“Was there really such an age in America? Or are they just romanticizing the past? Were tycoons of yesteryears any more connected with the common man?”

Yes, as best I can tell the ballpark anecdotes are accurate. However, there was also Delmonico’s (famous upscale New York 19th century restaurant), Saratoga (horse racing), and Tuxedo Park (elite neighborhood). In raw class terms, the elite were probably more divorced from the citizenry back then. However, today’s elite are actually much richer.

The biggest difference between then (the 19th century) and now is that the elite was once very patriotic. Now the elite revels in cosmopolitan globalization. Teddy Roosevelt (who came from a very upper class family) was eager to go to war (too eager) and was a fierce nationalist as president. Obama wants a ‘world without walls’. Vast numbers of Harvard students served and died in the Civil War, WWI, and WWII. See http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2011/9/10/iraq-war-afghanistan-wars/ for an article. Quote

“In the first half of the 20th century, Harvard students responded to the threat of war with patriotic enthusiasm, with more than 11,000 Harvard affiliates serving in World War I. In World War II, 27,000 students, faculty, and staff served. Harvard also counts more Medal of Honor recipients among its alumni than any other school besides the service academies.”

For some perspective, watch the 1950 version of “Father of the Bride” (Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor) versus the 1991 version of the same movie (Steve Martin andKimberly Williams-Paisley). The 1950 version is set in New England. By 1991, the setting is Los Angeles. The 1950 family is downright poor compared to the 1991 family, but much more upper class.

10 Peter Schaefer June 20, 2013 at 12:13 pm


A useful caveat to my prior note is that Harvard has a larger number of veterans in its graduate schools. They served prior to enrolling.

11 Hazel Meade June 20, 2013 at 4:04 pm

That’s actually a very good point about elites today embracing cosmopolitain globalization. People who have the ability to travel widely may be more detached from the nation-state, and also less concerned about the quality of life or long term future of any given state. If you’re relatively poor though, you know you’re stuck in one place for life. You’re not going to pick up roots and relocate to New Zealand when things get tough, so you’re more invested in the country you live in, more worried about what’s going to happen to it tomorrow as a result of policies today. Cosmopolitain elites have the luxury of advocating in favor of policies that they don’t have to live under. See Cuba and Venezuela.

12 Rahul June 21, 2013 at 2:58 am

Yes, but the fact that patriotism is superior to cosmopolitan globalization; is that to be taken as an axiom?

13 Peter Schaeffer June 21, 2013 at 3:17 pm

“Yes, but the fact that patriotism is superior to cosmopolitan globalization; is that to be taken as an axiom?”

Yes. We have the good fortune of living in a country that others fought and died to create, and then defend from its enemies.

14 Jonpez June 22, 2013 at 3:44 am

@Peter – You appear to be confusing cost with benefit…

15 Ian Maitland June 20, 2013 at 10:54 am

Or is it a dispiriting story about hypocrisy?

Professor Sandel ignored one example of money’s power to change the tone of social relations. As audience members filed out from an event described in lofty terms as a public debate, they found that, lo and behold, something was being offered for sale: Fresh copies of “What Money Can’t Buy.” (Money and Morals Share the Stage with Shakespeare).

Since Sandel has recruited Shakespeare in his crusade against commerce, it is worth noting that the bard did not suffer from Sandel’s squeamishness concerning money.

In 1599, a partnership of company members built their own theatre on the south bank of the River Thames, which they called the Globe. In 1608, the partnership also took over the Blackfriars indoor theatre. Records of Shakespeare’s property purchases and investments indicate that the company made him a wealthy man.In 1597, he bought the second-largest house in Stratford, New Place, and in 1605, he invested in a share of the parish tithes in Stratford. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare

Evidently money did not “crowd out” the bard’s creative genius. Indeed, he probably would have agreed with Samuel Johnson that “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.”

16 Roy June 20, 2013 at 2:14 pm

But this sort of mean commercialism is a major component of the idiotic belief that Oxford was Shakespeare.

For the irrational facts are obstacles easily overcome

17 Alistair Cunningham June 20, 2013 at 3:29 am

I stay in 30 or 40 different hotels each year, totalling 200 to 250 nights. Most are booked through Hotels.com. Like most booking websites these days, they always ask for my feedback after the stay. I’ve always given this freely. Hotels.com are good to me – for example, they let me cancel and change bookings even when the original booking was sold as not changeable or cancellable – so I’m happy to be good to them.

A few months ago, they started offering me vouchers for 10% off future stays if I sent them feedback. Since I’d always given the feedback freely anyway, I was very happy to take them up on this offer. They didn’t offer it every time – maybe only one time in ten. Still, nice to have.

Then something strange happened. When I got a request for feedback that didn’t offer a 10% off voucher, I thought to myself “Meh, I’ll get round to doing that feedback later”. Of course, I often didn’t. These days, I always give feedback when offered a voucher, and rarely do when not offered a voucher.

Why the change? Well, I think offering the voucher changes the nature of the relationship from one that’s friendly and virtuous (yes, even with a faceless corporate entity) to one that’s cold and commercial and strictly calculating.

18 8 June 20, 2013 at 6:38 am

GK Chesterton FTW.

19 ezra abrams June 20, 2013 at 9:21 am

i think this is well known in the marketing world
there is a duke professor, indian, who was badly burned as a child; he has a popular book on psychology and marketing
and there is a whole chapter on how people respond very differently to “free” and “paid”
course, the people at hotels.com might or might not know this, and might or might not be care one whit about feedback, and this whole thing is really a marketing scheme to ensure your loyalty and to cutback on all those annoying feedback forms that actually have to read and respond to (I mean seriously, you are some overworked guy at hotels.com, or at the hotel, the last thing you want to deal with is a whole bunch of whiney poorly written emails….)

20 enoriverbend June 20, 2013 at 2:09 pm

@ezra abrams

You are referring to Dan Ariely at Duke. He is a gifted behavioral economist even though his academic background is mostly in psych (with an additional DBA). His books are light reading but worth reading for all that:

Predictably Irrational
The Upside of Irrationality
The Honest Trust about Dishonesty

He also was awarded an Ig Nobel for a piece on placebos…

21 Hazel Meade June 20, 2013 at 10:28 am

Maybe what’s actually happening is that you adapt to a nominal price for the hotel room that includes the 10% discount voucher, so when you don’t get the voucher, you fell like you’re getting ripped off.

It could also be that at some level your engaged into some behavioral gaming. I.e. if you only fill out the survey when they give you the discount, they will “learn” to give you the discount every time. Like the iterated prisoner’s dilemma tit-for-tat strategy. Not that you’re consciously doing it, but the human brain has evolved all sorts of mechanisms for social interactions that operate below conscious awareness.

22 Henrik Karlstrøm June 20, 2013 at 3:30 am

I don’t know the nuclear situation that well, but this is exactly the mechanism at work when it comes to placement of various types of renewable energy constructions. Let people be a part of the pre-construction process (through meetings or by actually having a say in the planning process), and they tend to be more accepting of wind turbines or large biofuels plants or new hydro dams or whatever.

One important aspect is that monetary compensation often is not equally distributed – the land owner gets well paid, the larger community not so much – while “citizen obligations” go for each and all.

23 mw June 20, 2013 at 3:45 am

Perhaps they should have done this study on the Japanese before and after they found 30x the legal limit of SR-90 in the groundwater. What do you think the results would look like?

I’m bemused by the idea that we should allow people who’ve no idea how to evaluate the probabilities and risks make the decision “for themselves.” The *scientists* don’t even know how to evaluate the risks, in part because of fat tails that make no sense to model, also very much because they’re not including a model of shoddy regulation, corruption, and incestuous corporatocracy.

24 Henrik Karlstrøm June 20, 2013 at 4:15 am

Well, who else do you ask? I think it’s fair to consult people who are affected by potentially dangerous developments – isn’t that the point of the sanctity of private property? We’re not talking outright veto power either, just keeping the locals in the loop. By the way, the fact that the best available information on nuclear waste is close to useless, i.e. the scientists have no idea how to evaluate the risk, seems to me to be an argument against the use of nuclear power in itself.

25 Rahul June 20, 2013 at 5:37 am

The challenge always is how to deal with the Not-In-my-Backyard syndrome. Recently, in our town there was a huge outrage over an high voltage overhead transmission project. Why? Because it’s an eyesore. This is after right-of-way was acquired. I cannot imagine an infrastructure project more innocuous than that.

26 Henrik Karlstrøm June 20, 2013 at 5:51 am

Actually, most studies of NIMBY-like phenomena show that much of that disappears if people are consulted early on (Patrick Devine-Wright, holder of one of academe’s best names, has written a lot about NIMBYism). Also, if the project is framed in a way that appeals to communal values rather than monetary ones. And, of course, sometimes there are legitimate concerns that cannot be reduced to the all-too-common “people are hypocrites/stupid” tone of NIMBY debates.

Agree about power lines, though. We have a similar controversy here in Norway, and I really wonder whether protesting power lines is the right use of one’s energy and attention.

27 Andrew' June 20, 2013 at 6:21 am

I’m bemused by people who can say that the scientists don’t even know and yet the citizens still can’t be allowed to make the decision for themselves. The problem is you still have to place the dump.

Here is how I’d do it, hold a reverse auction (or whatever you professionals call it). “We’ll have that dump for $10B.” “We’ll take that dump for $9B!” Nobody still knows, but at least you’ll place the dump and establish the market price for not knowing what to do with dumps.

Just “paying people reduces acceptance” is nearly meaningless. I wouldn’t want to underpay people even if I could by appealing to a wrong-headed sense of civic duty (wouldn’t it be everyone’s civic duty even though the dump ends up in only one place?). Not to mention did they get the price right (see above)? Were they informed of the known and unknown risks? Etc.

28 Hazel Meade June 20, 2013 at 10:31 am

I though the power lines were to keep in the trolls … 😉

29 Andrew' June 20, 2013 at 6:39 am

High voltage overhead transmission lines are not just eyesores. One of the reasons you pay people instead of just foisting it on them because it is “their” (false) civic duty (if anything it would be everyone’s but really it is the duty of those using the pro-rated amount of electricity) is that the process of creating markets for externalities will encourage the discovery and communication of actual information like how much transmission lines affect health and child development. Then maybe it makes it economical to think about things like making the towers higher or providing more right of way.

30 Cliff June 20, 2013 at 10:40 am

Only if you are ignorant and think high voltage lines have some impact on health or child development.

31 Andrew' June 20, 2013 at 11:15 am

Do you know more than these guys?

“While the NRC review is fairly decisive in giving power-line EMFs a clean bill of health, a 1999 report by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) concluded, “The scientific evidence suggesting that ELF-EMF exposures pose any health risk is weak” but goes on to state, “The NIEHS concludes that ELF-EMF exposures cannot be recognized as entirely safe because of weak scientific evidence that exposure may pose a leukemia hazard.””

It’s about pricing. I believe something that causes cancer (at some p) will have a larger effect on epiginetics. How much do you think it is worth to me for, say, 1 IQ point for my children even if it is notional? Go read Frederic Mari’s comment below at 7:55.

32 Andrew' June 20, 2013 at 11:20 am

I’ll give you a hint, if someone told me “you can pay me $1000 for a 10% chance of increasing your child’s IQ by 1 point” I’d shout at them “you mean I can just PAY YOU?!?” and then start throwing money at them like a madman.

33 Dan Weber June 20, 2013 at 12:45 pm

I don’t think people should be allowed to sell computers until they have been proven safe.

34 Andrew' June 20, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Not sure what you mean. Computers are known unsafe. For one thing you wouldn’t just let your kid roam free on your computer. They might buy a bunch of stuff off Amazon one-click.

But your “allowed” comment is not what I’m referring to. I’m referring to the “allowed but compensated” and the pricing of the compensation by people who may not fully understand the risks or lack thereof. Nuclear waste sounds dangerous and it is probably most dangerous if we don’t figure out a good protocol for it.

35 Peter Schaeffer June 20, 2013 at 12:17 pm


“This is after right-of-way was acquired. I cannot imagine an infrastructure project more innocuous than that.”

Pipelines are quite a bit more innocuous. They are almost always burred. The Keystone pipeline is controversial mainly because it would transport tar sands oil. Interestingly enough oil pipelines are more controversial than gas pipelines even though gas pipelines are much more dangerous (but still incredibly safe).

36 Rahul June 21, 2013 at 3:04 am

I don’t think pipelines are more innocuous than transmission lines: Pipelines need more excavations, chance of undetected corrosion, undetected groundwater contamination, fires etc. Electric lines have fewer, more obvious and less impact failure modes.

Gas vs oil pipelines; gas has more fire hazard yes, but oil has more ground contamination potential.

In any case, for me personally this comparison is academic, since I’m a fan of an expansion of all three modes: gas-pipelines, oil-pipelines and electric lines.

37 Martin June 20, 2013 at 4:09 am

It seems to me that what used to be a civic duty became an offer, and an offer you can refuse. If you want to formulate it differently, what used to be an “obligation under the social contract”, became the object of an offer for another contract.

It’s not that a financial incentive was added, the obligation was removed.

38 BC June 20, 2013 at 5:17 am

The fact that people donate money and/or time to charities, volunteer for military service, agree to live next to waste dumps, etc. demonstrates that they get some sort of “altruistic utility” from self-sacrifice and helping others. Perhaps, when the people were given a financial incentive to accept the dumps, the altruistic utility disappeared. At that point, their brains switched over to making the traditional economic decision: did the financial incentive offer sufficient traditional utility to make up for the lost utility of living next to a dump. Apparently, the altruistic utility exceeded the traditional utility of the financial incentive for about 25% of the respondents.

An analogy might be that some people are willing to make straight donations to certain charities but would be unwilling to buy over-priced products and services (cookies/candy, ball/dinner tickets, car washes, etc.) from those charities.

39 Simon Hang June 20, 2013 at 6:16 am

I worked as a pro bono adviser to a charity quite happily for years then they offered me $10 a hour so I quit.

40 Andrew June 20, 2013 at 6:24 am

Serious question, were you being weird about money (aka “irrational”) or was it a rational decision along the lines of “Oh, now they think they can buy me cheap and that will affect how they view me.”

41 Simon Hang June 20, 2013 at 7:01 am

I think initially I felt good about helping and didn’t value my time in dollars. By paying me they triggered a different valuation method.

42 Andrew' June 20, 2013 at 7:07 am

One interesting thing is that charities don’t have a lot of money, kind of by definition, so they might be making a huge sacrifice to underpay you. That they can’t compensate you adequately for your opportunity cost shouldn’t mean anything other than “yeah, that’s why there are charities, they are different from the marketplace.”

43 Frederic Mari June 20, 2013 at 7:51 am

+1 on Andrew’s comment i.e. it does depend on the spirit in which the money was offered but, yeah, it’s not particularly tactful of the charity.

If they wanted to show their appreciation and knew they couldn’t do so money-wise, they could have done it with gifts or praises. For example, would Simon still quit helping them if they had offered him a present worth around $10/h (times however many hours he spent in the last year, whatever, you get the point)?

44 Axa June 20, 2013 at 8:20 am

And that’s how charities end using 75% of donations to cover overhead costs. In theory charities are for helping others, not you. The opportunity cost evaluation is not for “what can I have done with my time?” but “why is this money payed to me instead of using it for the charity goal”. Bad signaling, it just shows poor management.

45 Andrew' June 20, 2013 at 9:05 am

Is it really bad management or is it just not knowing the behavioral economics literature? Or is good management for a charity to know the behavioral economics?

46 Hazel Meade June 20, 2013 at 10:39 am

Here’s an idea:

By paying you $10 per hour they were signalling that they wanted you to do more work. They thought you would work more hours if you got paid for it. But, you only wanted to put in X hours, so now the payment made you feel like they were trying to twist your arm to put in more hours than you really wanted to. So now you start thinking about how much is that time really worth to you and you start thinking about all the other activities you like to do.

This is sort of why overtime pay is time-and-a-half for many people. The closer you get to working 60-70 or more hours a week, the more steeply graded the curve is, and the higher an hourly rate you want. If you’re already working a full-time job, and the people your volunteering for want you to put in 20 hours a week, you’re going to want a lot more money than what you’d want if you’re only working 5 hours a week.

47 Rory Sutherland June 22, 2013 at 12:00 pm

If I were giving marketing advice to hotels.com I would simply suggest that every time you had left a random number of reviews (between 5 and 10, say) they should send you a voucher retrospectively to thank you for your past efforts. There is, I think, a difference between explicit and implicit reciprocation (we probably prefer the latter – liking the seemingly spontaneous gesture of thanks to the more patronising “if X then Y”). More to the point, by attaching the reward to all your reviews, not just some, this would get rid of the problem where you feel short-changed writing reviews when *not* incentivised to do so.

What this voucher system is probably designed to do is to jump-start the practice of leaving reviews in those customers (a majority, possibly) who are not in the habit of providing feedback ever. In aggregate the current practice may pay off. But data analysis should have shown them that in some cases (yours, at any rate) the incentive seems to have backfired.

48 Frederic Mari June 20, 2013 at 7:55 am

In the case of the nuclear waste, I wouldn’t take the money either. There’s just no adequate compensation for a tail risk of total obliteration or worse, such as slow death by irradiation, of me and mine.

However, I also acknowledge that it’s a tail risk (i.e. small) and that it must go somewhere. Thus, if I was informed along the way and ‘feel’ as well informed as possible under the circumstances, I might be willing to ‘reward’ my political class for showing some decent stewardship and thus accepting their/our dump in my backyard.

49 Krigl June 20, 2013 at 10:49 am

Not sure what’s your notion of such Total Obliteration Event but rest assured that it’s not tail but infinitesimal risk – basically the area would have to be hit by asteroid or something like that. Nuclear waste can’t explode, neither can nuclear fuel for that matter, and in the stage when it will be actually placed in the long-term repository, level of radioactivity will already drop very low.

Also no need to be shy about “their/our” distinction; Switzerland gets over third of its electricity from nuclear plants, therefore it would be simply the waste after part of your internet browsing/laundry/lighting too.

50 JWatts June 20, 2013 at 11:41 am

Not sure what’s your notion of such Total Obliteration Event but rest assured that it’s not tail but infinitesimal risk

+2, there’s is no significant short term risk from nuclear waste. There is some theoretical risk in the long term, i.e. 1,000+ years from ground water contamination. The risk from nuclear radiation is almost entirely associated with the generation side of nuclear power.

51 Michael Cain June 20, 2013 at 12:13 pm

…there’s is no significant short term risk from nuclear waste.

True, but the important thing is the public’s perception that such a risk exists. The decisions are not being made based on the science; it’s all about perceptions and politics. The whole history of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and amendments is instructive.

The perceived risk led to politicians from states with commercial nuclear reactors eventually dictating that the waste would be stored in a state (a) with no commercial reactors, (b) more than 1,000 miles away from the vast majority of commercial reactors in the US, and (c) little political power. Studies were not finally confined to Yucca Mountain based on science; it was limited to that single site because, when the list had been whittled down to three (mostly by political maneuvering), the other two were in states that had powerful members in the leadership of the US House of Representatives. One of whom once remarked for the record that the purpose of the amendment added in the conference committee for a budget reconciliation bill, with no debate, was to “screw Nevada.”

52 Andrew' June 20, 2013 at 1:50 pm

The actual civic duty is to try to help ensure that the waste storage protocols are gotten right…mainly so that we can produce a lot more nuclear waste.

53 Krigl June 21, 2013 at 4:45 am

Oh, public’s perception, don’t I know that ugly troll, took me ages to kill mine by constant hitting with Knowledge. I’m just trying to live up to my perception of civic duty and reduce irrational fears.

As for Andrew”s (whatever the possible background in formal logic, the apostrophe clearly wasn’t the best choice for differentiation) production of more waste – it’s pretty much given that we, as a civilization, will produce much more of it, but the real breakthrough in public’s perception would be to finally get the simple fact that nuclear fuel is one of the few things where Green mantra “Reduce, reuse, recycle” makes matter-of-fact sense. With the state of research in fields of fast reactors or at least Accelerator-driven transmutors, seems that within next 20-30 years, we could get rid of waste by producing energy from it, instead of spending money to make million-years rug under which we’ll sweep it.

54 Nick June 20, 2013 at 8:18 am

It might not be crowd-out or signalling, just a new equilibrium. If money is on the table, then some other community will probably be more willing to take the nuclear waste! Less need to take one for the team as a citizen.

55 Axa June 20, 2013 at 8:53 am

Switzerland is so special. Careful when extrapolating results.

There may be some kind of unintended priming in the question about the nuclear waste disposal site approval. If no money is mentioned, people may be more cooperative to find a solution since they don’t like the nuclear waste and think others feel the same way. However, if money is available, the attitude “just pay someone else to solve it” wins.People may think “don’t pay me, pay France and Germany to store it”. And, that’s exactly what happened until 2006, several years after the quoted research.

56 Dave Smith June 20, 2013 at 8:58 am

Tyler, you say the answers might be different if you actually pay them, I’d also say that the answers to the first question might be different if you actually were going put the dump in their neighborhood. I don’t think this survey teaches us anything.

57 S June 20, 2013 at 9:07 am

Caveat emptor. Bruno Frey is disgraced by massive self-plagiarism scandals. I would take his research with a healthy serving of salt.

58 Rahul June 20, 2013 at 9:44 am

I’ve never entirely understood the harm of self-plagiarism. The only losers are the bean-counters of the publish-or-perish model which is a stupid model as it is.

If something’s good when said once, what’s the harm in saying it again (even if not advertising you’ve said it once before). Most communication is based on tremendous redundancy anyways.

59 Andrew' June 20, 2013 at 3:12 pm


You are starting to sound like some deep-libertarians I know.

As far as I can tell, you are right. The victims are the administrators and the folks who follow the “rules.”

It’s a bit like the steroids in sports issue.

60 Rahul June 20, 2013 at 3:50 pm

Yeah, on odd days people accuse me of being a deep libertarian and on even, a commie. I’m pretty confused myself. 🙂

61 JWatts June 20, 2013 at 11:44 am

is disgraced by massive self-plagiarism scandals

How exactly do you get disgraced by massive self-plagiarism? And how is it considered a scandal versus say a minor trivia question?

62 NN June 21, 2013 at 6:42 am

Massive self-plagiarism implies having lied. Journals ask whether the work has been submitted elsewhere. If somebody lies on this (minor) issue, are you going to trust that person’s self-collected data?

63 mulp June 21, 2013 at 12:32 pm

I submit to a journal, but a year later it still isn’t published, so I update it with new data so the paper it essentially unchanged but even better supported by data, so I submit it for publication to a different forum, which edits it to the core, as the data and related stuff is bulky and boring.

Have I lied when I said I haven’t submitted for publication elsewhere?

Are you taking the position that the funder of my research paying the publisher the $1500 “donation” for my research paper constitutes a market transaction that limits my speech because it is now owned by the publisher?

Does the market trump “free speech” which is a matter of justice, not markets?

64 ezra abrams June 20, 2013 at 9:17 am

as a scientist who works on chemicals in test tubes, my take home is:
survey polls are literally worse then useless, as they provide wrong info that muddies the waters ?

65 Andrew' June 20, 2013 at 3:14 pm

But imagine how many studies you could do and then redo!

66 Hazel Meade June 20, 2013 at 10:12 am

This reminds me of a case I heard of in my cognitivie science classes. In one experiment, researchers attempted to get people to eat insects. In one group, they asked nicely, and in the other group they tried to coerce people into eating it.
The interesting result is that the people who were coerced into eating the bug thought it tasted better.

67 Dan Weber June 20, 2013 at 12:54 pm

This will be helpful with my kids.

68 Hazel Meade June 20, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Let me know what your results are. It will be interesting to see if it holds up.

69 Urso June 21, 2013 at 10:23 am

Jeez you guys are cheap. Just buy your kids some groceries.

70 Adam June 20, 2013 at 11:24 am

I don’t think it’s signalling. I think this reveals something more fundamental, that’s a real challenge to libertarian and other world views based on viewing people as always acting economic self interest.

There is such a thing as altruism. There is such a thing a civic duty. People will do things because they believe it’s the right thing to do, even where it would be difficult to pay them to do the same thing.

71 JWatts June 20, 2013 at 11:50 am

You are assuming that libertarian motivation is substantially about economic self interest. More often it’s about not being ordered/told to do something or restricted from doing something. I.E. The anti-Statist strain in libertarianism.

72 Andrew' June 20, 2013 at 1:53 pm

“a real challenge to libertarian and other world views based on viewing people as always acting economic self interest.”

Okay. I’m over it. What’s the next challenge?

73 egl June 20, 2013 at 6:59 pm

Back in the 70’s when we were still trying to create a dump for U.S. reactor wastes, a colleague had the idea of offering states a Solar Energy Research Institute in exchange for hosting a dump. His boss, the senator, was not amused.

74 Edmund in Tokyo June 21, 2013 at 9:20 am

I think everybody’s misinterpreting the results. The “asked” isn’t a secret ballot or anything that affects whether they actually get the nuclear waste dump, is it? It’s a face-to-face interview.

So the question the research is answering isn’t whether they actually want a nuclear waste dump, or whether they’d vote for one, or whether they’d oppose one if you actually tried to build it. It’s what they want people to think.

Q) Do you want people to think you’re a mature and sensible citizen? A) Yes: 50%.
Q) Do you want people to think you’re a right grasping bastard who would sell out your community for a little bit of money? A) Yes: 25%

If you want to test this approach properly, the researchers need to skip the hypotheticals and tell them they’re actually going to build the nuclear waste dump.

75 mulp June 21, 2013 at 12:17 pm

You hit the nature of democracy or republican government on its head.

For 90% of issues, the people are happy to go with the community, but that is based on the community supporting them when they have a concern about an issue. This isn’t a quid pro quo, but a commitment to community and justice.

Something simple. I don’t much care about paving the road in front of your house. If you want it to be a dirt road and the road agent made plans to pave it, I will support it remaining a dirt road or being taxed to pave it. But you aren’t the only one on the road. If a dozen others on your road want it paved, I will side with them. If the paved road is going to open up the land to a developer, then it becomes more complicated, and the reasons for your objections become more relevant – if the road means 200 cars an hour 10 feet from your front door (old country roads are narrow and old houses were built only 25 feet from them).

My opinion on an issue does not determine my vote in a community decision on that issue. My vote is not a market good, but a statement of justice.

When someone attempts to buy my vote, I must discard the notion of justice, and simply view everything in market terms, or be totally repelled by the offer as an injustice.

76 Tarrou June 21, 2013 at 9:49 am

This is a well known (within certain fields) psychological process involving sacred values. Incentives, financial or otherwise, are quantitatively different from morality, and when a given subject is intertwined with people’s moral sense, it becomes insulting to offer financial incentives. One study asked Iranians if they would support ending their country’s nuclear program in exchange for the US ending aid to Israel, or no aid to Israel plus a large sum of money paid to Iran. The proposal for just ending the aid received far more support. This exchange is seen as one of qualitatively equal moral “things”, while the addition of a direct payment is a different beast. A generic science article about the phenomenon here:



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