Philosophy

This one is about the power of the individual, the authors are Makan Amini, Mathias Ekström, Tore Ellingsen, Magnus Johannesson, and Fredrik Strömsten:

Failure to express minority views may distort the behavior of company boards, committees, juries, and other decision-making bodies. Devising a new experimental procedure to measure such conformity in a judgment task, we compare the degree of conformity in groups with varying gender composition. Overall, our experiments offer little evidence that gender composition affects expression of minority views. A robust finding is that a subject’s lack of ability predicts both a true propensity to accept others’ judgment (informational social influence) and a propensity to agree despite private doubt (normative social influence). Thus, as an antidote to conformity in our experiments, high individual ability seems more effective than group diversity.

The co-editor on the paper was John List, a paragon of both innovation and self-criticism, but perhaps we need to ask a diverse focus group instead…

Mao

For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.

This one is transcript and podcast only, no video, and we will be doing some more in that format.  Jonathan was in top form, here are a few bits:

COWEN: If we get to a very fundamental question — left‑wing individuals and right‑wing individuals, and let’s take, for now, only America. As people, in other ways, how different do you think they are?

Or, is it just there are these semi‑accidental triggers which have set off certain modules in the left‑wingers and different modules in the right‑wingers, but otherwise they’re going to dress the same, they’re going to treat their spouses the same way, or not? Are they fundamentally different?

HAIDT: Not fundamentally different, but different in predispositions. The most important finding in psychology in the last 50 to 100 years, I would say, is the finding that everything you can measure is heritable. The heritability coefficients vary between 0.3 and 0.6, or 30 to 60 percent of the variance, under some assumptions, can be explained by the genes. It’s the largest piece of variance we can explain.

If you and I were twins separated at birth and raised in different families, our families would pick which religions we were raised in and they would pick how often we go to church or synagogue, but once we’re out on our own, we’re going to both converge on our brain’s natural level of religiosity.

Same with politics, whether you’re on the right or left is not determined by your genes, but you’re predisposed.

And:

COWEN: If you’re in a swing state in, say, proverbial southern Ohio and in a natural setting you meet a person. With what probability do you think you can guess or forecast if they’re left‑wing or right‑wing? Even-up would be 0.5.

HAIDT: Probably 0.58, 0.57. People are incredibly variable.

And:

COWEN: Would it be a partial test of your theory if we looked at a lot of different cultures and asked, “Who are the people who dress neatly and who have a lot of calendars and stamps?” to measure whether those were typically the conservatives?

HAIDT: Yes, that would be a test.

And:

COWEN: For gay individuals, maybe not all minorities, but many minorities this is very much a positive thing. If morality is fundamentally so nonrational or arational in some key ways, is it not the case we’re always either undershooting or overshooting the target, that we can never hit it just right?

Maybe for America to be more tolerant, you need the norms to be quite crude and blunt, and overstated, and we get this political correctness. Yes it’s bad, but maybe it’s less bad then when we used to undershoot the target?

Jonathan had a good answer but it is too long to excerpt.

COWEN: Let’s say you’re Brown or Yale, and students set up a lacrosse team, and they call it the Brown Redskins, and they do some rituals which offend some people. No matter what the intent would be, should Brown or Yale step in and say, “You can’t do that?”

HAIDT: There’s a big, big line between saying, “Brown or Yale should step in and tell people what they can’t — .” In general I think no, in general the idea — .

COWEN: No they shouldn’t step in?

HAIDT: They should not step in. We should be extremely limited when we say that authorities can step in and change things. The very fact of doing that encourages microaggression culture, encourages students to orient themselves towards appealing to these authorities. The point of the microaggression article is young people these days have become moral dependents.

And:

COWEN: Let me try another analogy on you. You mentioned the army, but take private corporations, and Brown and Yale are in a sense private corporations. Harvard was originally. I wouldn’t call them restrictions on free speech, I think that’s the wrong phrase, but if one’s going to use the phrase that way, there are numerous restrictions on free speech within companies, at the work place.

If you went to the water cooler and said a number of offensive things, you would be asked to stop and eventually fired, and I don’t see anything wrong with that. So if we think of Brown, Yale, or Harvard as like a normal company, isn’t there still even with all the nonsense, a lot more free speech on campus than in actual companies?

HAIDT: Yes, and there should be. Again, a company is organized to be effective in the world. Just like the army where their priority is unit cohesion, in a company your goal isn’t to encourage everyone to express their values and criticize each other, your goal is to get them to work together.

There is much much more, including on LSD, Sigmund Freud (overrated or underrated), Cecil Rhodes, how Jonathan would change undergraduate admissions, whether behavioral economics is realizing its full potential, Adam Smith, antiparsimonialism, the replication crisis in psychology, and whether Jonathan enjoys eating insects.

…Dante’s fame as a necromancer is also in a certain sense documented.

Such notoriety shouldn’t be surprising. For one thing, he had a reputation as an expert in astrology, and we know that this discipline could easily spill over into magical and necromantic practices.  And then, above all, he was famous after the publication of Inferno for having descended live into the realms of the afterlife and for having encountered devils there, the souls of the damned, and having spoken to them.  It must have been a rumor widely spread and also disturbing.  It seems, according to Boccaccio, that the women who used to pass him in the street would say to each other: Look, “he who goes into Hell, and returns whenever he likes, and brings back news of those who are down there…”

That is from the new Dante biography by Marco Santagata, Belknap Press at Harvard, definitely recommended, it will make my best non-fiction of the year list for sure.

That is a question posed by Robert H. Frank in his forthcoming book Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy.  The main point of this book is to illuminate the major role which luck plays in our lives and then to flesh out the social and policy implications of that fact.

My view is more Straussian than Bob’s: I think we have to believe in a concept of meritocracy whether it is justified or not.  (Do note that Bob covers a version of this point in one of his chapters, where he argues that reminding people of their good fortune makes them more generous; I still think society requires strong feelings of desert, and generosity often follows from a kind of false magnanimity about one’s good fortune.)  But as always with Bob, this is a deep and stimulating book, well written too.  You also learn a great deal about Bob’s highly interesting life, such as how he survived his heart attack, pulled out Cornell tenure at the last moment, and decided to track down his birth parents.

Here is the book’s home page.  Here is chapter one, which starts with the heart attack story.

Anyway, the comment section is open: what is statistically the most improbably thing that has happened to you?

If you read narratives of recent history from the perspective of the left and the right, each side believes it is losing. One could dismiss this as marketing strategy. If our side is winning, then why is it urgent to read my book or donate to my organization?

But I think it is possible for the each side to sincerely believe it is losing.

The left presumes that government can solve problems. We have problems. Therefore, we must be losing!

The right presumes that the government causes problems. We have problems. Therefore, we must be losing!

That is from Arnold Kling.

I’ll be doing a Conversations with Tyler with her, Tuesday, April 12.  What should I ask her?

Erwin Dekker’s The Viennese Students of Civilization: The Meaning and Context of Austrian Economics Reconsidered is an original and interesting look at the foundations of the Austrian School of Economics, properly situating it in the context of its time.  Here is one bit:

In the “Civilization and its Discontents” — as Rosten attempts to point out to Hayek — Freud argues that civilization means constraining ourselves. Freud argues that morality works through a sense of guilt, and that restraint and hence civilization is created and upheld by this sense of guilt.  As civilization progresses, this sense of guilt has to be intensified or heightened.  This is in line with Hayek’s ideas, as we will see later, but Hayek refuses to acknowledge this.

Dekker also discusses the relevance of Nietzsche, Hermann Broch, and Peter Drucker for the Austrian school, and goes beyond the usual hagiography.

However, we find that economic conservatives are as or more scientifically literate and optimistic about science than economic leftists. Our results highlight the importance of separating different sub-dimensions of political orientation when studying the relationships between political beliefs, scientific literacy and optimism about science.

That is from Carl, Cofnis, and Woodley, via Ben Southwood.

No experiment can ever be replicated so each attempted replication must assume that the things which differ don’t matter. The more and the more important the things that we can plausibly assume don’t matter, the stronger is the original study. Chemistry students have done the same experiments for hundreds of years and that’s useful because we can plausibly assume that who and when the experiment is conducted doesn’t matter. The recent brouhaha between Nosek et al. and Gilbert et al. illustrates a weaker case.

In their critique of Nosek et al., Gilbert et al. say that some of their replications failed because things were different.

An original study that asked Israelis to imagine the consequences of military service was replicated by asking Americans to imagine the consequences of a honeymoon

Now that sounds like two very different studies but Nosek provides important context. The original study in question wasn’t about military service or honeymoons it was about the conditions that promote reconciliation between victims and injurers after an injustice has been committed. The original study asked Israelis what they would do and how they would feel about a specific injustice. Namely you and a co-worker have been working on a project for a long-time but just before submission you are called away for reserve duty [male]/maternity leave [female]. Your co-worker takes credit for all the work and gets promoted while you later get demoted. The study then went on to ask questions about the conditions necessary for reconciliation. The reserve duty/maternity leave bit was just the story element needed to explain the situation not the focus of the study.

Nosek et al. tried to replicate the study in the United States where being called up for reserve duty is less common than in Israel and where being demoted for taking maternity leave could raise legal issues so they substituted ‘had to leave for honeymoon’. Everything else was the same. One of the original authors approved the new design.

Nosek et al. were not able to replicate the original findings. Is this because they didn’t replicate the study or because the study failed to replicate? Gilbert et al. say Nosek et al. failed to replicate the study.

In my view, Gilbert et al. are caught on the horns of a dilemma. If the studies don’t replicate they aren’t interesting and if the studies replicate but only under extremely precise conditions they also aren’t interesting. We are interested in general features of the human condition not in descriptions of the choices that 75 female and 19 male Israeli students made at a particular point in time. Moreover, if changes in wording matter then surely so does the fact that the original study was on Israeli’s in 2008 and the replication used Americans in 2013 (a lot has changed over these years!) and so must also a hundred other differences. But if so, what’s the point?

Hat tip: Andrew Gelman who has more to say.

There is notice on Wikipedia, I have heard confirmation elsewhere.  He was one of my all-time favorites, a truly curious man in the best sense of that term and also a true gentleman.  He was dedicated to the teaching of economics, to Guatemala, and to ideas of liberty.  We shall all miss him.

In the first stage of our analysis, we demonstrated that there are several substantively significant relationships between the personality traits and political ideology dimensions. Most notably, P [a complex variable, but derived from “Psychoticism”] is substantially correlated with conservative military and social attitudes, while Social Desirability is related to liberal social attitudes, and Neuroticism is related to liberal economic attitudes [emphasis added by TC]. Our findings at the phenotypic level are highly consistent with similar explorations in an Australian population (Verhulst, Hatemi, and Martin 2010).

The results are generated from twins data.  I found this discussion very interesting, as it shows the standard personality-to-politics chain is only part of a richer story:

These findings directly challenge the causal pathway assumed in the extant literature (e.g., Gerber et al. 2010; Mondak et al. 2010). Rather than personality traits causing people to develop liberal or conservative political attitudes, the current results suggest two alternative relationships. First, the combined Cholesky and DoC analyses suggest that a common set of genes mutually influences personality traits and political attitudes, implying the relationship between personality and politics is a function of an innate common genetic factor rather than a sequential personality to politics model (see the right panel of Figure 1). The results from the DoC analysis also suggest an alternative causal model. That is, the latent set of genes shared between political attitudes and personality traits directly influences attitudes and indirectly influences personality traits. In other words, the genetic component of political attitudes partially mediates the genetic influence on personality traits. This finding is completely opposite from the basic assumption in the most recent literature (e.g., Gerber et al. 2010; Mondak et al. 2010). Thus, it appears the genetic component of political attitudes measured relatively later in an individual’s life contributes to the development of an individual’s personality along the way. In this view, attitudes are more than what is expressed in adulthood, but part of one’s disposition which guides behavior and selection into environments, which later are recognized and measured as attitudes in adulthood. Regardless of whether the final analysis supports a latent genetic source of covariance or a mutual causal structure, both perspectives require a major revision to the prevailing assumptions about political attitudes and personality traits.

That is from Verhulst, Eaves, and Hatemi.

I will be doing a Conversations with Tyler with Jonathan Haidt, but with no public event and no video, transcript and podcast only.

What should I ask him?

The researchers, led by Dr Aleksandra Cichocka of the School of Psychology, also established that conservatives generally, to a greater degree than liberals, tend to refer to things by their names, rather than describing them in terms of their features. An example would be saying someone ‘is an optimist’, rather than ‘is optimistic’.

This use of nouns, rather than adjectives, is seen to preserve stability, familiarity and tradition – all of which appear to be valued more highly by conservatives than liberals.

Because nouns ‘elicit clearer and more definite perceptions of reality than other parts of speech’, they satisfy the desire for ‘structure and certainty’ that is common among social conservatives, the research authors found.

The research was based on studies carried out in three countries – Poland, Lebanon, and the USA. The US study compared presidential speeches delivered by representatives of the two main political parties. The sample included 45 speeches delivered by Republicans, considered to be more conservative, and 56 speeches delivered by then Democrats, considered to be more liberal.

The (gated) paper is here, and for the pointer I thank Charles Klingman.

From an email, via Dan Klein:

We are seeking a talented and experienced researcher with some tech skills to help run two projects that use social science research to improve major American institutions. Your main job would be research director for HeterodoxAcademy.org, a collaboration of social scientists trying to increase viewpoint diversity in the academy. You would also be part of the team at EthicalSystems.org, a research collaboration that uses behavioral science to “make ethics easy” for businesses.

The ideal candidate will be a recent Ph.D. or ABD in the social sciences with both technological sophistication and excellent writing skills.

To Apply: Send a CV, writing sample, and cover letter explaining why you would be a good fit for the job to Jeremy Willinger, Communications Director, at  willinger@ethicalsystems.org.

This is one of the more understudied behavioral biases, so I was pleased to see this new paper by Bobadilla-Suarez, Sunstein,and Sharot:

Human beings are often faced with a pervasive problem: whether to make their own decisions or to delegate decision tasks to someone else. Here, we test whether people are inclined to forgo monetary rewards in order to retain agency when faced with choices that could lead to losses and gains. In a simple choice task, we show that even though participants have all the information needed to maximize rewards and minimize losses, they choose to pay in order to control their own payoff. This tendency cannot be explained by participants’ overconfidence in their own ability, as their perceived ability was elicited and accounted for. Rather, the results reflect an intrinsic value for choice, which emerges in the domain of both gains and losses. Moreover, our data indicates that participants are aware that they are making suboptimal choices in the normative sense, but do so anyway, presumably for psychological gains.

I believe this is one reason why individuals can be so tribal, because otherwise they fear losing control to outsiders.