Education

That is the latest entry in the Conversations with Tyler series, here is the transcript, audio, and video.  Here is the overview:

Michael Orthofer, one of the world’s most prolific book reviewers, joins Tyler Cowen for a conversation on — what else? — books. Read to discover why Michael believes everyone should read more fiction, how we should choose books, why American popular literature is overrated, what he thinks about authors like Herman Melville, Fyoder Dostoevsky, Goethe, J.K. Rowling, Arno Schmidt, and many others, his recommendations for the best sites for readers, why studying literature at college was such a big disappointment, how much book covers matter, and why his opinion will never be the final word.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Here’s another life hack which I totally reject, but it may just be because I’m an addict of sorts. You tell me why, for you, it’s wrong.

A lot of people say to me, “Well, I love fiction, but I’m never going to read new works because I can’t tell what’s really good. I’ll just wait 20 years and then look back on what was truly excellent from 20 years ago and read that 20 years later. In the meantime, now I’ll just read classics or things in other areas which are verified as being truly excellent.” Does that make sense?

ORTHOFER: I worry very much about people who rely on what gets that stamp of approval. Just because it has a cover review in the New York Times Book Review does not mean that that book really is, if we look at it from five or ten years down the road — that that book will still be a significant work. I find so much which is highly praised at any one point long‑term won’t be. Again, however — .

Another question:

COWEN: If we take American citizens, who are not necessarily the people who read you, but at the margin, we could give them more nonfiction, we could give them more travel, we could give them more fiction, or we could actually give them more of some really good TV, which of those things are we rooting for them to do more of, at the margin?

And this exchange:

COWEN: Bottom’s Dream. Most people have never heard of Arno Schmidt.

ORTHOFER: Regrettably, no.

COWEN: We have a chance now to read his masterwork. Some of his others are in English already. Tell us why we should care.

COWEN: But you giggled when you read Bottom’s Dream, right?

ORTHOFER: Yes.

COWEN: You giggled a lot.

ORTHOFER: The English edition, I think, is just under 1,500 pages.

COWEN: A mere pittance compared to Dream of the Red Chamber, right?

Do read the whole thing.

Here is my short review of Michael’s big book on world literature: “If you measure book quality by the actual marginal product of the text, this is one of the best books written, ever.  Reading the manuscript in draft form induced me to a) write an enthusiastic blurb, and b) order about forty items through Amazon, mostly used of course.  The book is basically a comprehensive guide to what is valuable and interesting in recently translated world literature, a meta-book so to speak, with extensive coverage of most of the countries you might want.”  And here is Michael’s blog.  You can order Michael’s book here.

I see a number of proposals for inducing less well informed voters to make better choices:

1. Educating them better.

2. Boosting the rate of sustainable economic growth, which tends to persuade people to support better policies.

3. “Buying” voters with one-off transfers, in the hope they will show more support for the better sides of the system.

4. Shaming voters away from making mistakes.

5. Actually giving them control over electoral outcomes, say by having the elites copy the voting choices of the less informed.

Most of us prefer the first two options, but they are relatively hard to accomplish.  What is striking is how much attention #3 gets relative to #4 and #5.

It all depends on the margin, but my view of human nature makes me relatively skeptical of #3.  It is either ignored, or viewed as a kind of insult, or it induces people to simply up their demands and expectations.  That is especially likely to happen for voters who express potentially “nasty” electoral preferences.  I think it is less of a problem for say how a single mother responds to food stamps for her kids, but of course we could debate that.  (By the way, if you are wondering, the main difference between Brazil and Denmark boils down to #2, not #3.)

I can’t recall anyone endorsing #5, yet of course the elites recommend an inverse version of #5 for the less informed voters, namely they should copy the elites.  Hmm.  The version of #3 we offer is actually more like “#3 but no way #5,” and I believe it is processed and understood as such, no matter how “under-informed” those voters may be.  They’re not under-informed about that!

#4 is under-discussed.  Take the less informed voters who voted for the better candidates in the 1960s.  Why did they do that?  Note that many of those people believed some pretty terrible things, including about race and about the suitability of George Wallace for higher office.  I believe shame is part of the answer — they did not want to feel the shame of deviating from the preferences the elites wanted them to express.

Perhaps it is hard to re-bottle that genie, but there are plenty of historical examples where shame cultures go away and then return, consider for instance the United States after the 1920s.

There is a literature on shame and voting behavior, though from what I can tell most of it concerns participation per se rather than the quality of electoral choice.  Here is one striking sentence:

Pride motivates compliance with voting norms only amongst high-propensity voters, while shame mobilizes both high- and low-propensity voters.

Hmm.

I believe in the last two years I have read at least five hundred times that elites should somehow do more for less informed voters, not only for efficiency or distribution reasons but also to improve the quality of our democracy.  The efficiency and distribution claims are at least defensible, maybe more, but the electoral claims are remarkably unsupported.  At the same time, shame barely comes up and I take that to be a reflection of the myopic nature of contemporary times.

Now, maybe elites think there is something wrong with shaming.  But when I watch what elites do, including but not only on Twitter, they spend a great deal of time and effort trying to shame each other.  If anything, that seems to drive them further apart and make a good solution less likely.

It might have been a better situation when the elites, acting with some joint collective force, directed more of their energies to shaming the less elite voters than to shaming each other.

And with that claim I am seeking to shame…the elites.

We should give more thought as to how we can get the advantages of shame cultures, without also taking on all of their disadvantages.  Is it good or bad that shame, like many other aspects of American life, seems to be more income-segregated than before?

Here is the latest report:

The man behind the Nice truck attack drank alcohol, beat his wife and has been described as “not a Muslim but a shit”.

Furthermore about a third of the dead from the attack were Muslims (NYT).

One form of radical Islam is Sufism, many strains of which are pacifist in nature.  It was not too long ago that Amjad Sabri, of Sabri brothers fame, was shot dead in Pakistan by terrorists.  Was he the radical or were they?  And which do we want more of?

Recently I had a long lunch with a researcher in Brussels who was studying terrorism in the city.  He was very much of the view that most of the terrorists and terrorist-candidates are not very religious, although most did end up latching onto Islam as an identity marker and source of group support.

In other words, they are not “radical Islam.”  Here is a Vox piece on why the term “radical Islam” is not always productive.

In general, I am suspicious when someone dismisses a view for being “radical” or “extreme.”  There is usually sloppy thinking behind that designation.  Why not just say what is wrong with the view?  How for instance are we supposed to feel about “radical Christianity”?  Good or bad?  Does it mean Origen or Ted Cruz or something altogether different?  Can’t we just debate the question itself?

The same is true in politics.  Let’s say someone favors free trade and the First Amendment.  Is that “radical”?  Or is it mainstream and thus non-radical?  Does labeling it radical further the debate on whether or not those are the correct positions?

For similar reasons, don’t be too quick to call someone or someone’s views “divisive.”  If the status quo is problematic, a good reform might be divisive in some critical regards.  Arguably the modern world is specializing in “non-divisive” means of creating an ultimately divisive state of affairs.

More generally, when that term “radical” or “extreme” is introduced, there is a presupposition  that no external argument or perspective can be so strong to counter what one’s own swarmy group takes for granted.

Is education overrated?  Or did the real industrial revolution not come until the latter part of the nineteenth century?  Or maybe a bit of both?  Here is new research by B. Zorina Khan (pdf):

Endogenous growth models raise fundamental questions about the nature of human creativity, and the sorts of resources, skills, and knowledge inputs that shift the frontier of technology and production possibilities. Many argue that the nature of early British industrialization supports the thesis that economic advances depend on specialized scientific training, the acquisition of costly human capital, and the role of elites. This paper examines the contributions of different types of knowledge to British industrialization, by assessing the backgrounds, education and inventive activity of the major contributors to technological advances in Britain during the crucial period between 1750 and 1930. The results indicate that scientists, engineers or technicians were not well-represented among the British great inventors, and their contributions remained unspecialized until very late in the nineteenth century. For developing countries today, the implications are that costly investments in specialized human capital resources might be less important than incentives for creativity, flexibility, and the ability to make incremental adjustments that can transform existing technologies into inventions that are appropriate for prevailing domestic conditions.

For the pointer I thank David Levey.

Results Free Review

by on July 20, 2016 at 7:28 am in Economics, Education | Permalink

If researchers test a hundred hypotheses, 5% will come up “statistically significant” even when the true effect in every case is zero. Unfortunately, the 5% of papers with statistically signficant results are more likely to be published, especially as these results may seem novel, surprising or unexpected–this is the problem of publication bias.

A potentially simple and yet powerful way to mitigate publication bias is for journals to commit to publish manuscripts without any knowledge of the actual findings. Authors might submit sophisticated research designs that serve as a registration of what they intend to do. Or they might submit already completed studies for which any mention of results is expunged from the submitted manuscript. Reviewers would carefully analyze the theory and research design of the article. If they found that the theoretical contribution was justifiably large and the design an appropriate test of the theoretical logic, then reviewers could recommend publication regardless of the final outcome of the research.

In a new paper (from which the above is quoted) the editors of a special issue of Comparative Political Studies report on an experiment using results-free review. Results-free review worked well. The referees spent a lot of time and effort thinking about theory and research design and the type of institutional and area-specific knowledge that would be necessary to make the results compelling. The quality of the submitted papers was high.

What the editors found, however, was that the demand for “significant” results was very strong and difficult to shake.

It seems especially difficult for referees and authors alike to accept that null findings might mean that a theory has been proved to be unhelpful for explaining some phenomenon, as opposed to being the result of mechanical problems with how the hypothesis was tested (low power, poor measures, etc.). Making this distinction, of course, is exactly the main benefit of results free peer review. Perhaps the single most compelling argument in favor of results-free peer review is that it allows for findings of non-relationships. Yet, our reviewers pushed back against making such calls. They appeared reluctant to endorse manuscripts in which null findings were possible, or if so, to interpret those null results as evidence against the existence of a hypothesized relationship. For some reviewers, this was a source of some consternation: Reviewing manuscripts without results made them aware of how they were making decisions based on the strength of findings, and also how much easier it was to feel “excited” by strong findings This question even led to debate among the special issue editors on what are the standards for publishing a null finding?

I’ve seen this aversion to null results. In my paper with Goldschlag on regulation and dynamism, we find that regulation does not much influence standard measures of dynamism. It’s been very hard for reviewers to accept this result and I don’t think it’s simply because some referees believe strongly that regulation reduces dynamism. I think referees would be more likely to accept the exact same paper if the results were either negative or positive. That’s unscientific–indeed, we should expect that most results are null results so this should give us, if anything, even more confidence in the paper!–but as the above indicates, it’s a very common reaction that null results indicate something is amiss.

Here, by the way, are the three papers reviewed before the results were tabulated. I suspect that some of these papers would not have been accepted at this journal under a standard refereeing system but that all of these papers are of above average quality.

The Effects of Authoritarian Iconography: An Experimental Test finds “no meaningful evidence that authoritarian iconography increases political compliance or support for the Emirati regime.”

Can Politicians Police Themselves? “Taking advantage of a randomized natural experiment embedded in Brazil’s State Audit Courts, we study how variation in the appointment mechanisms for choosing auditors affects political accountability. We show that auditors appointed under few constraints by elected officials punish lawbreaking politicians—particularly co-partisans—at lower rates than bureaucrats insulated from political influence. In addition, we find that even when executives are heavily constrained in their appointment of auditors by meritocratic and professional requirements, auditors still exhibit a pro-politician bias in decision making. Our results suggest that removing bias requires a level of insulation from politics rare among institutions of horizontal accountability.”

Banners, Barricades, and Bombs tests “competing theories about how we should expect the use of tactics with varying degrees of extremeness—including demonstrations, occupations, and bombings—to influence public opinion. We find that respondents are less likely to think the government should negotiate with organizations that use the tactic of bombing when compared with demonstrations or occupations. However, depending on the outcome variable and baseline category used in the analysis, we find mixed support for whether respondents think organizations that use bombings should receive less once negotiations begin. The results of this article are generally consistent with the theoretical and policy-based arguments centering around how governments should not negotiate with organizations that engage in violent activity commonly associated with terrorist organizations.”

Addendum: See also Robin Hanson’s earlier post on conclusion free review.

Remember the paper that said “conservatives” were on average more likely to exhibit “psychoticism,” but then it turned out there was a statistical mistake and this should have been attributed to “liberals,” at least within the confines of the paper’s model?  How did it all happen, and why did it take so long to correct?  Jesse Singal has the scoop, here is one excerpt:

Hatemi is convinced that Ludeke is out to get him. In our phone conversation, he repeatedly impressed on me just how minor the error is, how few times the papers in question had been cited, and how much of an overreaction it was for anyone to care all that much. “This error is freaking tangential and minor and there’s nothing novel in the error, whether [the sign on the correlation] was plus or minus,” he told me. “There’s no story. And I wish there was — if there’s any story, it’s, Should people be allowed to honestly correct their errors, or should you lampoon them and badmouth them for everything they didn’t do because they had a real error they admit to?”

Yes it’s that kind of story.  There is much more at the link, including tales of academics acting “like dicks.”  Here is the conclusion of the piece:

…the social-science landscape isn’t yet as embracing as it could be — and should be — of the replicators, challengers, and other would-be nudges like Ludeke who tend to make science better and more rigorous, who make it harder for people to coast by on big names and sloppy research.

For the pointer I thank Daniel Klein.

This is tentative, and I still will make further changes, so by all means please leave your suggestions in the comments.  The list is long, so I am putting it under the fold… Read More →

“The definition of an anchor has changed,” said Stephen Lebovitz, the chief executive of mall owner CBL & Associates Properties Inc. “Cheesecake Factory does as much business as Sears used to do.”

That is from Suzanne Kapner at the WSJ, on the decline of traditional anchor stores.  Yet not all of the new service sector jobs will be there forever:

“Right now we’re doing a couple hundred videos a day,” he said. “We think we need to be doing 2,000 videos a day.”

Mr. Ferro’s comments added to mounting confusion over his embattled company’s sudden rebranding. How could a newspaper publisher create nearly three-quarters of a million videos a year?

But as jarring as Tronc’s goals may sound, the company’s plan is far from novel. In pursuit of more lucrative video advertising and success on dominant social platforms like Facebook, a growing number of publishers have turned to technology that promises to streamline video production, sometimes to the point of near-full automation.

That is John Herrman from the NYT.  File under Marginal Revolution Robot University.  And if you are wondering how it works, here is a snippet:

The two services’ automation features work in similar ways. They analyze, and may summarize, text, be it a script or a traditional news article, and then automatically find photographs and video clips to go with it. The services typically get the videos and images from sources like The Associated Press and Getty Images.

Additionally, the tools offer the option to quickly put large animated captions over the videos, in a format that has become popular on Facebook, where videos begin playing automatically and are often watched with the sound off. Each can also supply, through a third party, on-demand human narration; Wibbitz offers computerized voice-overs as well.

What does this say about the media sector more generally?

This is how to make me feel like Bryan Caplan:

Back-to-school angst isn’t just for kids. To keep senior citizens up with the times, several Nordic countries are currently debating a proposal to send them back to school.

“To prepare ourselves for the future we need to think out of the box,” writes Nordic Council rapporteur Poul Nielson in Proposal 7 of a new report (pdf) about the future of work in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Aaland. His proposal outlines a plan for mandatory adult education and continuing education in the region, in order to stay competitive in the global market.

A startling point in Nielson’s proposal is the word “mandatory.” He hopes to make continuous education compulsory for all, and to build it into the regular career cycle of Nordic workers.

That is by Anne Quito, via Daniel Pink.

“Some have begun to call public schools ‘government schools,’ a calculated pejorative scorning both education and anything related to government,” he [Davis Merritt] wrote.

That elicited a response from Bob Weeks, the host of “WichitaLiberty.TV,” a show about Kansas politics and public affairs.

“It is surprising to me that liberals and progressives object to the term ‘government schools,’” he said on the show. “They like government, don’t they? These people want more taxation and government spending, don’t they? Well, when we think about our public schools, we find they have all the characteristics of government programs.”

That is from Julie Bosman at the NYT.

That is in the FT, gated most likely, do subscribe!  In any case, here was to me the most interesting bit:

He [Tetlock] is trying to replace the public debates he describes as “Krugman-Ferguson pie fights” — a reference to the clashes over austerity between the economist and Nobel laureate, Paul Krugman and the economic historian, Niall Ferguson — with adversarial collaboration. “You give each side the opportunity to pose, say, 10 questions it thinks are probative and resolvable, and that it thinks it has a comparative advantage in answering” and then have the two sides give testable answers . . . Here is a very clear psychological prediction: people will come out of that tournament more open-minded than they otherwise would have been. You can take that one to the bank.”

More importantly, Tetlock ordered “…an apple fizz cocktail to go with haddock with a sauce of butter and musses.”

Here was the best single sentence from Tetlock, itself worth the price of an FT subscription:

“There is a price to be paid for feeling good about your beliefs.”

Robert Armstrong did an excellent job with the interview and piece.

North Brooklin, Maine

30 March 1973

Dear Mr. Nadeau:

As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.

Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society—things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.

Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.

Sincerely,

(Signed, ‘E. B. White’)

Here is the link, via Jodi Ettenberg and Letters of Note.

Alternatively, you might try the thoughts of Langston Hughes.

Which Danish restaurant gained a third Michelin star in February 2016?

How many municipalities are there in Denmark?

In what constellation did the 16th-century Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe discover a new star?

Questions such as those are part of a new Danish citizenship test so difficult that more than two-thirds of applicants who took it for the first time in June failed, the Integration Ministry confirmed this week.

Here is the NYT article, this one stumped me too:

Danish Radio recently asked the actor Morten Grunwald a question on the test: When was the premiere of the first movie about the Olsen Gang, a fictional criminal syndicate? Mr. Grunwald, a star of the film, replied, “That, I can’t even answer myself.” His memory was jogged when he was given the choices: 1968, 1970 or 1971. (It was 1968.)

I hope you have all seen the episodes of the TV show Borgen, one of my favorites.

“These are black boxes,” said Dr. Steven Joffe, a pediatric oncologist and bioethicist of the University of Pennsylvania, who serves on the FDA’s Pediatric Ethics Committee. “IRBs as a rule are incredibly difficult to study. Their processes are opaque, they don’t publicize what they do. There is no public record of their decision or deliberations, they don’t, as a rule, invite scrutiny or allow themselves to be observed. They ought to be accountable for the work they do.”

That is part of a longer and very interesting article on whether IRBs should be for-profit, or if we even at this point have a choice:

“This shift to commercial IRBs is, in effect, over,” said Caplan, who heads the division of bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center. “It’s automatic and it’s not going back.”

Institutional review boards — which review all research that involves human participants — have undergone a quiet revolution in recent years, with many drug companies strongly encouraging researchers to use commercial boards, considered by many more efficient than their nonprofit counterparts.

Commercial IRBs now oversee an estimated 70 percent of US clinical trials for drugs and medical devices. The industry has also consolidated, with larger IRBs buying smaller ones, and even private equity firms coming along and buying the companies. Arsenal Capital Partners, for example, now owns WIRB-Copernicus Group.

But even if the tide has already turned, the debate over commercial review boards — and whether they can serve as human subject safety nets, responsible for protecting the hundreds of thousands of people who enroll in clinical trials each year — continues to swirl.

I am not well-informed in this area, but if you refer back to the first paragraph, perhaps nobody is.  That’s worrying.

For the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

In the early to mid twentieth century, the majority of the city’s libraries had live-in superintendents. Like the superintendents who still live in many of the city’s residential buildings, these caretakers both worked and lived in the buildings for which they were responsible. This meant that for decades, behind the stacks, meals were cooked, baths and showers were taken, and bedtime stories were read. And yes, families living in the city’s libraries typically did have access to the stacks at night—an added bonus if they happened to need a new bedtime book after hours.

There is also this:

The family, who were joined by Rose Mary’s younger brother Terrence in 1945, lived in the library until Patrick Thornberry retired as the building’s superintendent in 1967. Their home was in what the library now refers to as the “closed stack” (a locked stack reserved for rare books). While the closed stack is currently sealed off to daylight to protect its rare contents, when the Thornberrys lived in the library, it was a light-filled and vibrant space. But the family was by no means confined to their apartment. They also enjoyed a penthouse-level garden and after hours, access to the library’s stacks and large reference rooms too.

library

Cait Etherington offers much more, including additional photos.  For the pointer I thank Ted Gioia.