Assorted links

by on August 17, 2013 at 1:55 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. MIE: bunny cafes.  And the complete guide to getting into an economics Ph.d. program.

2. The hard life of celebrity elephants.

3. To what extent do macro conditions predict health care spending?

4. The psychology of accepting GMO foods.:”…the experimenters discovered that if a product was perceived as more necessary—butter, for instance, as opposed to fish fingers—people were more willing to accept genetically modified alternatives.”

5. Efficiency wages for military contractors are gone, by Charles Stross.

6. Henry on the Nick Turse book on Vietnam.

TS August 17, 2013 at 3:48 pm

@4 Those comments make me depressed.

jtf August 17, 2013 at 11:48 pm

Sigh, ditto.

Vernunft August 17, 2013 at 4:13 pm

“That may sound like a crazy claim to most Americans, who are raised to believe that math ability is in the genes.”

What sounds crazy is that someone would say this – our entire educational establishment is devoted to the idea that, gosh darn it, with good teachers and some hard work, ANYONE can be an expert at algebra. If math ability is in the genes, what, do Americans think all of us have the genes?

The strong signal of detachment from reality permeates that article. Yikes.

Vernunft August 17, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Of course anyone can learn math. Who would ever doubt that?

Andrew' August 18, 2013 at 6:00 am

We can’t learn something they teach classes on?

I welcome another member of the hard-form signaling theory team, but that is particularly cynical even for me ;)

Anon. August 17, 2013 at 5:04 pm

Obviously anyone can learn SOME math. But I have no doubt that some people are genetically predisposed to high mathematical ability.

In high school I knew a couple of guys who did the mathematical olympiads, etc. and the way they approached math was on a completely different level from anyone else. They didn’t “learn”, they intuited. They didn’t make conscious effort, they made instantaneous leaps of logic to connect seemingly unrelated concepts. At times it was really awe-inspiring.

I understood very quickly that I could never even come close to what they were doing.

guest August 17, 2013 at 5:11 pm

were you planning on winning the fields medal? the kind of math genius may be beyond the common man but reaching a relatively advanced understanding of calculus/linear algebra and so forth should be possible for anyone. The success of the Soviet math education — and the complete collapse of that system in the Russian Federation today — is a great example of what happens when you and invest and then you dinvest into mathematical education.

prasad August 17, 2013 at 6:47 pm

Anyone can understand calculus and linear algebra at an advanced level?

[citation needed]

Also, participation in (international?) olympiads is a pretty ho-hum level of smarts when you’re talking Fields Medal. I’m guessing there’s 2-3 standard deviations separating those populations on scores, plus the Fields medalists are exceptional among their own peers and likely have qualities that aren’t picked out by tests.

Andrew' August 18, 2013 at 8:02 am

Anyone depending on your definition of anyone.

Careless August 19, 2013 at 9:11 am

That’s the silliest thing written here in a long time. I have a neighbor too stupid to learn to speak, ffs.

Faze August 17, 2013 at 6:18 pm

In his review of Nick Turse’s book on Vietnam, Henry wonders why this is so little public discussion of the atrociousness of the war. But in fact, there was a great deal of public discussion on the war. It was called the years between 1964 and 1974, when our whole generation went berserk on the topic. We more or less destroyed western culture trying to draw someone’s attention to the fact that “Hey, this war is really, really bad in so many more ways than it could possibly be good that it needs to be stopped right now — and we mean now”. The whole society was turned upside down on the topic — families were divided, dinner parties broke up in screaming arguments, demonstrators were shot and beat up, cops were shot and beat up. Mountains of brilliant journalism and anti-war writing was turned out and millions of people read it. Vietnam was not only talked about during the 1960s and 70s, no one shut up about it. And the anti-war people knew and said that it was horrible — just as horrible as we now know it was — but, man, that was a hard war to close down. Twenty years later, everyone thought Vietnam was a lesson America would never forget, but then George H.W. Bush’s smashing triumph in the first Iraq war erased the memory, and by the time his George W. was ready to launch the next nation-sickening war, the lessons had been totally unlearned.

Frederic Mari August 19, 2013 at 1:35 pm

But, if you’re right (and I would roughly agree), you have to admit that people nowadays don’t talk that much about it anymore. And they didn’t get nearly that upset about GWB’s wars.

I think the professionalisation of the military and the relatively low body count plays a big part but also it might be a feeling of lassitude: “Yeah, those in power always declare their pet little wars and shit. Banks always steal money. Chemical companies always put harmful stuff in the environment. Such is the world we live in and, as long as I am not directly affected, I’ll just watch the movie Hollywood will no doubt make about it”…

DAB August 17, 2013 at 8:28 pm

The sarcastic responses here regarding the claim that anyone can learn math just lends support to the author’s view of Americans’ opinion of math ability. Whenever the topic of writing skills is brought up, you never hear the Pulitzer, Nobel Prize in Literature, or Spelling Bee contestants invoked. Yet when it comes to math, you always hear someone go on about the math wizard they knew in junior high who could see the solution to a problem as if by magic.

No one is saying that everyone is equally good at math or that anyone can be a Fields Medalist. But given the importance of math, it’s in all of our interest to ensure that as many people are learning it as at a high a level as they can. Multivariable calc and linear algebra are relatively low-level compared to what else is out there.

And look at N.E. Asians. They take little stock in genetic excuses and just tell their kids to grind it out and take care of business. We’d probably do better in math if we adopted more of this mentality regardless of the extent that genes play in mathematical aptitude.

prasad August 17, 2013 at 9:29 pm

Re. “Whenever the topic of writing skills is brought up, you never hear the Pulitzer, Nobel Prize in Literature, or Spelling Bee contestants invoked.”

It’s worth pointing out extremely large numbers of us possess the ability at least to *read* Nobel Prize winning literature. There must be a few billion people who can read a Hemingway novel and understand what’s going on. Advanced work in mathematics is not like that. Most of us lack the capacity even to understand, let alone to create. Math beyond simple counting simply isn’t innate in us to the extent or in the way that language is, so it’s a skill we have no reason to think universal. We see the effects for advanced mathematics and most commentators here at an economics blog. It also holds, (or so it seems to me) for a much larger set of people at lower levels in the broader world.

The initial poster just said advanced calculus, but you’ve explicitly said multivariate calculus. I’d like to see evidence that most people can in fact understand mathematically say gradients and curls are, and how to prove the integral theorems. I am skeptical that more than 25% of of 18 year olds can do it with any teaching.

Skip Intro August 18, 2013 at 7:04 pm

You say “lack the capacity”, but the correct answer could very well be “lack the training”. Far too many Americans are likely simply too lazy to discipline themselves to learn mathematics.

Mark Thorson August 17, 2013 at 10:28 pm

But given the importance of math, it’s in all of our interest to ensure that as many people are learning it as at a high a level as they can.

That’s assuming the math knowledge won’t displace something else. The theory of fluid and crystallized intelligence suggests that it will, i.e. you’ve only got so much fluid intelligence to spend, and if you spend it on math there will be less to spend on other things. Like sports.

Careless August 19, 2013 at 9:16 am

You left off words like “expert” and “advanced” that seem important, for some reason. And the claim seems to be that anyone can learn math well enough to get a PhD in economics, which is simply nuts

(I can’t read qz links from here, so maybe I’m misrepresenting the original post)

TGGP August 17, 2013 at 10:43 pm

#5, I don’t recall hearing anything about Snowden having a grievance with his employer, even over a perceived petty slight. My understanding is that he was politically opposed from the beginning, and took the job in part to get access. Manning isn’t even a contractor, but a member of the not-particularly-neoliberalized uniformed military. Stross’ argument may have some general applicability, but those two don’t seem like great examples (the former AP employee who encouraged Anonymous/LulzSec to go after his old employer might count).

Gordon August 18, 2013 at 1:41 am

According to Snowden, he became concerned about what he found after he started working for the NSA while being a contract employee through Dell. This is similar to the claims from past NSA whistleblowers William Binney, Russell Tice, and Tom Drake. And all three of them were NSA employees which undermines Charles Stross’s analysis about the risks of contractors.

Andrew' August 18, 2013 at 5:18 am

4. Regarding the excerpt, somewhere between no duh and no crap? It’s just part of the cost.

Andrew' August 18, 2013 at 7:20 am

“As Michael Specter put it, “The history of agriculture is the history of humans breeding seeds and animals to produce traits we want in our crops and livest””

When oh when can we end with the false equivalence? I suspect never. Just as there is no ‘vaccine industry’ but only vaccines, and it turns out the HPV is kind of a fraud (especially the justification for mandating it) and every vaccine should be analyzed on its merits as well as within the (at some point there must be too many, right? RIGHT?) broader aggregates (at some point, the least good vaccines must be crowded out, right? RIGHT?) – there is no GMO but only GMOs. The former is a concept, the latter are the individual examples that need to be evaluated on their own merits.

Now to the false equivalence of breeding and modern GMO. Just as there is a qualitative and a quantitative difference between your neighbor gossiping about you and Google vacuuming up and tabulating all your existential data and handing it over to the government, there is a huge difference between what breeding was and what genetically modifying is, not even counting the obvious technical differences.

Careless August 19, 2013 at 9:18 am

Preventinga common cancer is a fraudulent reason for mandating a vaccine?

Time to get your own newsletter, Andrew

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