Perusing job market papers

by on November 21, 2015 at 2:14 am in Economics, Education, Science | Permalink

GMU isn’t hiring this year, but I still enjoy going through the job market candidates to see what is new in the profession.  I’ll be blogging a few of the more interesting pieces I found, in the meantime here are some summary remarks from my investigations.  Keep in mind these are highly subjective impressions for the most part:

1. MIT students had the most interesting papers overall, Harvard second.

2. Job market papers seem to be getting longer.  I was surprised how many 60-90 pp. papers I saw.

3. The concentrated distribution of students among a few advisors, within a department, seems to be increasing.

4. There are plenty of good but not interesting to me papers on economic development going around.  The “dairy farmers in Kenya” sort of paper, fine work of high quality, but I look for something more general to read and report on.

5. Industrial Organization continues to be a mostly boring field.  Development economics and health care economics are still “in.”  There are a variety of good papers on financial intermediation.

6. There are hardly any theory papers coming out of the top schools.

7. The differences in student quality, within a department, seem to be narrowing.

8. Harvard economics has the best and easiest to use web site for their job market candidates, some other very good schools still have very low quality web sites.

That is the title of an Arnold Kling blog post, it runs like this (I am not adding an extra layer of indentation):

“With this:

Speaking this week at the EmTech conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Editas CEO Katrine Bosley said the company hopes to start a clinical trial in 2017 to treat a rare form of blindness using CRISPR, a groundbreaking gene-editing technology.

…The condition Editas is targeting affects only about 600 people in the U.S., says Jean Bennet, director of advanced retinal and ocular therapeutics at the University of Pennsylvania’s medical school.

I don’t think that the FDA is prepared for what is coming.”

This topic feels over-covered by other sources, but still I would like to see these points receive more attention:

1. I don’t trust early media reports on such matters, and so I am reluctant to offer judgment on a variety of the specifics.  That includes Yale, Mizzou, and other places.  For most or maybe even close to all readers, the proper context probably is missing and perhaps some of the facts are being garbled.

2. Universities have the right to regulate speech and also behavior on their premises, just as a corporation does or a hotel might do.  There is no infringement of freedom of speech when a university acts in this manner.  Public funding does introduce some complications, but even there residual regulatory rights exist.

3. Subtle linguistic cues, social barriers, bigotries of expectations, and segregations can in fact harm students and shape their future life prospects.  That said, I am mostly skeptical about the ability of universities to undo these social mechanisms by conscious social engineering of the immediate environment.  Some gain can be achieved, and some of the worst harms can and should be avoided, but it is a mistake to expect too much from universities in this regard.

4. My personal preference is to see controversial ideas discussed and debated openly on campuses,more so than is currently the case.  Those ideas are going to be out there anyway, so let’s have universities contribute to shaping the broader social discourse.  For instance imagine that more advanced forms of genetic engineering someday become possible, and parents can selectively abort an embryo with a higher chance of being gay.  Do we really want to be in a position where universities have shied away from discussing this issue for decades?  I say no, realizing that in the meantime some peoples’ feelings will indeed have ended up being hurt.  If you are gay, and sitting in a classroom discussion of this topic, or maybe you just have a gay friend — whatever — I doubt if there is a fully comfortable way for this discussion to proceed.  Yet the rest of the world is going to be talking about this, the internet above all, and making the university a “safe space” won’t make the broader world one, if anything the contrary.

5. The natural tendency for administrators is to want to minimize internal disruption, even if that is sometimes at the expense of having a broader world impact.  I thus believe many administrators overinvest in political correctness, at least from a Benthamite, utilitarian point of view.  See #4.

6. The upshot of this all is that lower tier administrators will be sending fewer all-student emails in the future.  And some presidents may be less interested in improving the quality of their football teams, or starting such teams in the first place.  I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

7. Most of the world knows very, very little about the details of these events.  They see there is a mess, and they think something is wrong with universities, students, parents, administrators — everyone.  No matter what happens from this point, universities have messed up and lost this round rather badly.

For this post I am indebted to a discussion with Stephen Macedo and two of his students, but of course they are not to be implicated in my opinions one way or the other.

Apparently.  Heather Sarsons has a paper on this phenomenon (pdf), the abstract is this:

Within academia, men are tenured at higher rates than women are in most quantitative fields, including economics. Researchers have attempted to identify the source of this disparity but find that nearly 30% of the gap remains unexplained even after controlling for family commitments and differences in productivity. Using data from academic economists’ CVs, I test whether coauthored and solo-authored publications matter differently for tenure for men and women. While solo-authored papers send a clear signal about one’s ability, coauthored papers are noisy in that they do not provide specific information about each contributor’s skills. I find that men are tenured at roughly the same rate regardless of whether they coauthor or solo-author. Women, however, suffer a significant penalty when they coauthor. The results hold after controlling for the total number of papers published, quality of papers, field of study, tenure institution, tenure year, and the number of years it took an individual to go up for tenure. The result is most pronounced for women coauthoring with only men and is less pronounced the more women there are on a paper, suggesting that some gender bias is at play. I present a model in which bias enters when workers collaborate and test its predictions in the data.

See also this very interesting paper on “Confidence Men,” in economic science, women seem to have more epistemic modesty than men.

Hat tip goes to Dina Pomeranz.

Here is Jessica Gigot, farmer:

We don’t really plan for the weather short-term. That makes me sound like a bad farmer, but I’ve been surprised so many times that I don’t want to get too attached to one scenario. That’s what old farmers tell you: Be open to unpredictability. The drought will continue, that seems to be the consensus. And I may adjust my planting dates, putting in crops early to harvest early, and putting more in late to harvest again late. I kind of go with instincts. There are great farm planners out there and a lot of spreadsheets to follow, but I honestly don’t do that for every crop. You just get in a time bind and could spend all winter doing that and nothing else. Sometimes, it’s scary looking forward as a farmer. From our farm, we can see Mount Baker and the Puget Sound, a volcano and a rising sea. We’re kind of living for the moment, in a geological sense.

The NYT story, by Ryan Bradley, also interviews an economist, a biologist, a musician, and others.

In a live demonstration conducted in 2006 with the celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal, Spence found that when people were served a scoop of bacon-and-egg ice cream accompanied by the sound of sizzling bacon they described the taste of the ice cream as much more “bacony” than subjects whose consumption was accompanied by the clucking of chickens. This insight—that the appropriate soundtrack can intensify the flavor of a food—inspired Blumenthal’s iconic “Sound of the Sea” dish, for which diners at his restaurant, the Fat Duck, in Bray, are presented with an iPod loaded with a recording of crashing waves and screeching gulls to listen to while enjoying an artfully presented plate of seafood. The effect could be used similarly, Spence said, to design soundtracks that replace some of the lost flavor of food for the elderly.

That is from Nicola Twilley in The New Yorker, interesting throughout.

That is the new book by Daniel P. Todes, the first sentence is:

Contrary to legend, Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) never trained a dog to salivate to the sound of a bell.  In over three decades of research and tens of thousands of experimental trials, he and his coworkers used a bell only in rare, unimportant circumstances.  Indeed, the iconic bell would have proven totally useless to his real goal, which required precise control over the quality and duration of stimuli (he most frequently employed a metronome, a harmonium, a buzzer, and electrical shock).

Nor was Pavlov a behaviorist, to address another common misconception.

This superb book — one of the year’s best — is 731 pages of original material on Russia, Russian communism, Russian science, and of course the life of Pavlov.  The TLS Stephen Lovell review of the book had a good line: “Controls were unthinkable: all the dogs were individuals.”

Overkill for some, recommended for many.

Gina Kolata from the NYT reports:

Something startling is happening to middle-aged white Americans. Unlike every other age group, unlike every other racial and ethnic group, unlike their counterparts in other rich countries, death rates in this group have been rising, not falling.

That finding was reported Monday by two Princeton economists, Angus Deaton, who last month won the 2015 Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences, and Anne Case. Analyzing health and mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from other sources, they concluded that rising annual death rates among this group are being driven not by the big killers like heart disease and diabetes but by an epidemic of suicides and afflictions stemming from substance abuse: alcoholic liver disease and overdoses of heroin and prescription opioids.

The original research is here (pdf).

NASA’s mantra for finding alien life has long been to “follow the water,” the one ingredient essential to our own biochemistry. On Wednesday, NASA will sample the most available water out there, when the Cassini spacecraft dives through an icy spray erupting from the little Saturnian moon Enceladus.

…in 2005, shortly after starting an 11-year sojourn at Saturn, Cassini recorded jets of water squirting from cracks known as tiger stripes near the south pole of Enceladus — evidence, scientists say, of an underground ocean kept warm and liquid by tidal flexing of the little moon as it is stretched and squeezed by Saturn.

And with that, Enceladus leapfrogged to the top of astrobiologists’ list of promising places to look for life. If there is life in its ocean, alien microbes could be riding those geysers out into space where a passing spacecraft could grab them. No need to drill through miles of ice or dig up rocks.

As Chris McKay, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Ames Research Laboratory, said, it’s as if nature had hung up a sign at Enceladus saying “Free Samples.”

It is sad the American public is not more excited about this, but kudos to the NYT for making it a feature story.

Apple Should Buy a University

by on October 28, 2015 at 7:25 am in Economics, Education, Science | Permalink

Apple has more than $205 billion in cash. What should they do with the money? Apple should buy a university and rebuild it from the ground up.

In recent years, some private equity firms have bought universities and turned them into for-profits. The for-profit model, however, has yet to produce a world-class university. But consider Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, it was only established in 1984 and yet today with its online students it’s the largest private, non-profit university in the United States. Liberty University doesn’t get accolades but it is a technology leader and it shows what is possible starting from a small budget.

Apple_Campus_2_renderingApple is a for-profit corporation not a charity but there are plenty of ways to make money from a non-profit university. Aside from the tax breaks and other deductions, Apple University would be a proving ground for educational technologies that would be sold to every other university in the world. New textbooks built for the iPad and its successors would greatly increase the demand for iPads. Apple-designed courses built using online technologies, a.i. tutors, and virtual reality experimental worlds could become the leading form of education worldwide. Big data analytics from Apple University textbooks and courses would lead to new and better ways of teaching. As a new university, Apple could experiment with new ways of organizing degrees and departments and certifying knowledge. Campuses in Delhi, Seoul, Shanghai, Berlin, and Sao Paulo could provide opportunities for studying abroad. Apple’s reputation would attract top students, especially, for example, if it started with a design and business school. Top students would lead Apple University to be highly ranked. The more prestigious Apple University became the greater would be the demand for Apple University educational products.

Apple already has the beginning of this model with iTunes U and its own internal Apple University for training in business and design. By buying a university, Apple would commit to a learning process to develop these technologies in entirely new ways.

More than a century ago Stanford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller used their industrial-age fortunes to build some of our best universities. Isn’t it time for another great university built for the information age?

…the personality trait most strongly correlated with programming ability was not introversion or conscientiousness, but openness: a trait that’s related to being creative and imaginative. What’s more, over time to the present day, openness has become a more important correlate of programming ability, while conscientiousness has become less important. This is speculation, but perhaps more creative people are today drawn to careers in programming because of all the opportunities for imaginative expression in a world of apps, video games, snazzy websites, and social networks. Finally, the traits of agreeableness (essentially how friendly someone is) and neuroticism (how anxious and emotionally unstable) were not correlated with programming ability, pretty much refuting the tired stereotype of the socially awkward programming geek.

A final thought: knowing someone’s personality and mental ability doesn’t actually tell you a great deal about their likely computer programming skills. Personality traits and IQ in fact only accounted for around 12 per cent of the difference between people in their programming abilities, which just goes to show that the very idea that there is such a thing as a computer wiz “personality type” is nonsense anyway.

There is more here, original research here.  I would put more weight on the second excerpted paragraph than the first.

There is a growing industry where publication consultants will work with authors, research groups or even institutions to help get their work published, or help submit their dissertation/thesis. This help can range from proof reading, data collection, analysis (including statistics), helping with the literature review and identifying suitable journals/conferences.

That is from a new PubMed paper, via Neuroskeptic.

Here are two sentences about Raj Chetty:

“The unintended consequence of Chetty’s work is a tremendous demoralization of teachers,” said New York University educational historian Diane Ravitch.

It’s funny how you don’t need to know more there.  And this one:

He says he won’t register to vote because he thinks that could bias his “laboratory science” approach to economic research.

Both are from this WSJ Bob Davis profile of Chetty, or Google to the ungated link if you wish.

*The Peregrine*

by on October 20, 2015 at 11:01 am in Books, Science | Permalink

That is a classic and beautifully written nature book by J.A. Baker, here is my favorite passage:

The peregrine swoops down towards his prey.  As he descends, his legs are extended forward till the feet are underneath his breast.  The toes are clenched, with the long hind toe projecting below the three front ones, which are bent up out of the way.  He passes close to the bird, almost touching it with his body, and still moving very fast.  His extended hind toe (or toes — sometimes one, sometimes both) gashes into the back or breast of the bird, like a knife.  At the moment of impact the hawk raises his wings above his back.  If the prey is cleanly hit — and it is usually hit hard or missed altogether — it dies at once, either from shock or from the perforation of some vital organ.  A peregrine weights between 1 1/2 and 2 1/2 lbs.; such a weight, falling from a hundred feet, will kill all but the largest birds.

Here is my earlier essay “Policing Nature.”

The neuroscience of corporations

by on October 19, 2015 at 12:18 am in Economics, Philosophy, Science | Permalink

In research published last year in the journal Social Neuroscience, Mark Plitt at Baylor College of Medicine and colleagues presented some of their 40 subjects with vignettes of actions taken by humans or corporations that were either prosocial (e.g., donating money), neutral (e.g., buying a printer) or antisocial (e.g., breaking the law). As a control, the other subjects got Wikipedia descriptions of randomly chosen nouns. What were people’s responses to human and corporate actions?

There was a small negative skew about corporations—their prosocial acts elicited less positive emotions, and their neutral or antisocial acts elicited more negative emotions than did the equivalents by humans.

There is more from the WSJ here, via Samir Varma.  By the way, file under “speculative.”