Science

The Demand and Supply of Sex

by on July 28, 2014 at 4:25 am in History, Religion, Science | Permalink

Alternet: The idea that men are naturally more interested in sex than women is [so] ubiquitous that it’s difficult to imagine that people ever believed differently. And yet for most of Western history, from ancient Greece to beginning of the nineteenth century, women were assumed to be the sex-crazed porn fiends of their day. In one ancient Greek myth, Zeus and Hera argue about whether men or women enjoy sex more. They ask the prophet Tiresias, whom Hera had once transformed into a woman, to settle the debate. He answers, “if sexual pleasure were divided into ten parts, only one part would go to the man, and and nine parts to the woman.” Later, women were considered to be temptresses who inherited their treachery from Eve. Their sexual passion was seen as a sign of their inferior morality, reason and intellect, and justified tight control by husbands and fathers. Men, who were not so consumed with lust and who had superior abilities of self-control, were the gender more naturally suited to holding positions of power and influence.

Early twentieth-century physician and psychologist Havelock Ellis may have been the first to document the ideological change that had recently taken place. In his 1903 work Studies in the Psychology of Sex, he cites a laundry list of ancient and modern historical sources ranging from Europe to Greece, the Middle East to China, all of nearly the same mind about women’s greater sexual desire.

The ancient belief is consistent with the well known fact that in ancient times when a man went to a bordello the women would line up and bid for the right to sleep with him.

In other words, the ancients believed a lot of strange things at variance with the facts (which isn’t to say that the switch in belief and its timing isn’t of interest or that these kinds of beliefs no longer sway with the times). More at the link.

There is a new piece of interest in Technology Review, here is one excerpt:

Psychologists have always assumed that patterns of behavior change more quickly in countries that emphasize collectivism. Once an idea has taken hold, the pressure to conform means it spreads rapidly. “It has previously been argued that social support mechanisms in collectivistic societies make it more likely that a person will stop smoking,” say Lang and co.

And conversely, in countries that emphasize individualism, patterns of behavior must change more slowly because there is less social pressure to conform.

The puzzle is that the data on smoking shows exactly the reverse. Sweden was much slower to adopt smoking and much slower to stop.

Now Lang and co think they know why. They’ve created a mathematical model that includes the effects of social pressure allowing them to simulate the way behavior spreads through societies with different levels of individualism.

The model reveals why Sweden stopped smoking more slowly. “Our model suggests that … social inertia will inhibit decisions to stop smoking more strongly in collectivistic societies than in individualistic societies,” say Lang and co.

The original research, by Lang, Abrams, and De Sterck is here.  Their results do not rest on Sweden alone, but for the record I consider the Swedes to be relatively individualistic by most metrics, most of all when it comes to atomization.

From Becker, Philipson, and Soares (pdf):

GDP per capita is usually used to proxy for the quality of life of individuals living in different countries. Welfare is also affected by quantity of life, however, as represented by longevity. This paper incorporates longevity into an overall assessment of the evolution of cross-country inequality and shows that it is quantitatively important. The absence of reduction in cross-country inequality up to the 1990s documented in previous work is in stark contrast to the reduction in inequality after incorporating gains in longevity. Throughout the post–World War II period, health contributed to reduce significantly welfare inequality across countries. This paper derives valuation formulas for infra-marginal changes in longevity and computes a “full” growth rate that incorporates the gains in health experienced by 96 countries for the period between 1960 and 2000. Incorporating longevity gains changes traditional results; countries starting with lower income tended to grow faster than countries starting with higher income. We estimate an average yearly growth in “full income” of 4.1 percent for the poorest 50 percent of countries in 1960, of which 1.7 percentage points are due to health, as opposed to a growth of 2.6 percent for the richest 50 percent of countries, of which only 0.4 percentage points are due to health. Additionally, we decompose changes in life expectancy into changes attributable to 13 broad groups of causes of death and three age groups. We show that mortality from infectious, respiratory, and digestive diseases, congenital, perinatal, and “ill-defined” conditions, mostly concentrated before age 20 and between ages 20 and 50, is responsible for most of the reduction in life expectancy inequality. At the same time, the recent effect of AIDS, together with reductions in mortality after age 50—due to nervous system, senses organs, heart and circulatory diseases—contributed to increase health inequality across countries.

That reminder is from Aaron Schwartz.  And of course that is the Becker, yet another contribution from Gary Becker.

Do note, by the way, that medical progress is usually egalitarian per se.  A common metric is something like “health outcomes of the poor” vs. “health outcomes of the rich,” and that may or may not be moving in an egalitarian direction.  But very often the more incisive metric is “health outcomes of the sick” vs. “health outcomes of the healthy,” and of course most medical treatments are going to the sick.  The more desperate is the lot of the sick, the more likely that medical progress is egalitarian per se.

Facial recognition is helping improve everything from gaming to fighting crime – and now it could help in the battle against cat obesity.

A new gadget that uses ‘cutting-edge cat facial recognition technology’ promises to monitor our feline friends’ appetites and alert owners to any problems.

The Bistro system, created by Taiwanese company 42Ark, uses a camera at the front of a feeder to identify each of the cats.

There is more here, along with obligatory cat photo, with the cat’s face being scanned by facial recognition technology.  For the pointer I thank Mark Thorson.

The Finnish capital has announced plans to transform its existing public transport network into a comprehensive, point-to-point “mobility on demand” system by 2025 – one that, in theory, would be so good nobody would have any reason to own a car.

Helsinki aims to transcend conventional public transport by allowing people to purchase mobility in real time, straight from their smartphones. The hope is to furnish riders with an array of options so cheap, flexible and well-coordinated that it becomes competitive with private car ownership not merely on cost, but on convenience and ease of use.

Subscribers would specify an origin and a destination, and perhaps a few preferences. The app would then function as both journey planner and universal payment platform, knitting everything from driverless cars and nimble little buses to shared bikes and ferries into a single, supple mesh of mobility. Imagine the popular transit planner Citymapper fused to a cycle hire service and a taxi app such as Uber, with only one payment required, and the whole thing run as a public utility, and you begin to understand the scale of ambition here.

The story is here, via s.  Here is a further and very different installment in The Culture that is Finland, nice visual on the igloos.  Or try this Finland Bitcoin link, blockchain-by-air.

The editors are Dow James and Glen Whitman and the subtitle is Zombies, Vampires, and the Dismal Science.  Authors include Steven Horwitz, Sarah Skwire, Ilya Somin, and also Hollis Robbins, “Killing Time, Dracula and Social Coordination”, among others.

From Jason Mitchell at Harvard:

Recent hand-wringing over failed replications in social psychology is largely pointless, because unsuccessful experiments have no meaningful scientific value.

Because experiments can be undermined by a vast number of practical mistakes, the likeliest explanation for any failed replication will always be that the replicator bungled something along the way. Unless direct replications are conducted by flawless experimenters, nothing interesting can be learned from them.

Three standard rejoinders to this critique are considered and rejected. Despite claims to the contrary, failed replications do not provide meaningful information if they closely follow original methodology; they do not necessarily identify effects that may be too small or flimsy to be worth studying; and they cannot contribute to a cumulative understanding of scientific phenomena.

Replication efforts appear to reflect strong prior expectations that published findings are not reliable, and as such, do not constitute scientific output.

The field of social psychology can be improved, but not by the publication of negative findings.   Experimenters should be encouraged to restrict their “degrees of freedom,” for example, by specifying designs in advance.

Whether they mean to or not, authors and editors of failed replications are publicly impugning the scientific integrity of their colleagues. Targets of failed replications are justifiably upset, particularly given the inadequate basis for replicators’ extraordinary claims.

The full piece is here, I don’t quite buy it but a useful counter-tonic to a lot of current rhetoric.  I found this in my Twitter feed, but I forget whom to thank, sorry!

Addendum: An MR reader sends along this related argument.

People, and especially men, hate being alone with their thoughts so much that they’d rather be in pain. In a study published in Science  Thursday on the ability of people to let their minds “wander” — that is, for them to sit and do nothing but think — researchers found that about a quarter of women and two-thirds of men chose electric shocks over their own company.

“We went into this thinking that mind wandering wouldn’t be that hard,” said Timothy Wilson, University of Virginia professor of psychology and lead author of the study. “People usually think of mind wandering as being a bad thing, because it interrupts when you’re trying to pay attention. But we wanted to see what happens when mind wandering is the goal.”

Wilson didn’t think his subjects would struggle with the task. “We have this big brain full of pleasant memories, and we’re able to tell ourselves stories and make up fantasies. But despite that, we kept finding that people didn’t like it much and found it hard.”

The full story is here.  Among other issues, I believe this has implications for how Principles of Economics should be taught.

For the pointer I thank Samir Varma.

That is a new paper by Henrik Cronqvist and Stephan Siegel, here is the abstract:

For a long list of investment “biases,” including lack of diversification, excessive trading, and the disposition effect, we find that genetic differences explain up to 45% of the remaining variation across individual investors, after controlling for observable individual characteristics. The evidence is consistent with a view that investment biases are manifestations of innate and evolutionary ancient features of human behavior. We find that work experience with finance reduces genetic predispositions to investment biases. Finally, we find that even genetically identical investors, who grew up in the same family environment, often differ substantially in their investment behaviors due to individual-specific experiences or events.

Hat tip goes to Kevin Lewis.  There is an ungated copy here.

There is a new NBER working paper with that title, by S. Borağan Aruoba and Jesus Fernandez-Villaverde. Here is the abstract:

We solve the stochastic neoclassical growth model, the workhorse of modern macroeconomics, using C++11, Fortran 2008, Java, Julia, Python, Matlab, Mathematica, and R. We implement the same algorithm, value function iteration with grid search, in each of the languages. We report the execution times of the codes in a Mac and in a Windows computer and comment on the strength and weakness of each language.

Here are their results:

1. C++ and Fortran are still considerably faster than any other alternative, although one needs to be careful with the choice of compiler.

2. C++ compilers have advanced enough that, contrary to the situation in the 1990s and some folk wisdom, C++ code runs slightly faster (5-7 percent) than Fortran code.

3. Julia, with its just-in-time compiler, delivers outstanding per formance. Execution speed is only between 2.64 and 2.70 times the execution speed of the best C++ compiler.

4. Baseline Python was slow. Using the Pypy implementation, it runs around 44 times slower than in C++. Using the default CPython interpreter, the code runs between 155 and 269 times slower than in C++.

5. However, a relatively small rewriting of the code and the use of Numba (a just-in-time compiler for Python that uses decorators) dramatically improves Python ’s performance: the decorated code runs only between 1.57 and 1.62 times slower than the best C++ executable.

6.Matlab is between 9 to 11 times slower than the best C++ executable. When combined with Mex files, though, the difference is only 1.24 to 1.64 times.

7. R runs between 500 to 700 times slower than C++ . If the code is compiled, the code is between 240 to 340 times slower.

8. Mathematica can deliver excellent speed, about four times slower than C++, but only after a considerable rewriting of the code to take advantage of the peculiarities of the language. The baseline version our algorithm in Mathematica is much slower, even after taking advantage of Mathematica compilation.

There are ungated copies and some discussion here.

Facebook manipulated the emotions of hundreds of thousands of its users, and found that they would pass on happy or sad emotions, it has said. The experiment, for which researchers did not gain specific consent, has provoked criticism from users with privacy and ethical concerns.

For one week in 2012, Facebook skewed nearly 700,000 users’ news feeds to either be happier or sadder than normal. The experiment found that after the experiment was over users’ tended to post positive or negative comments according to the skew that was given to their newsfeed.

The research has provoked distress because of the manipulation involved.

Clearly plenty of ads try to manipulative us with positive emotions, and without telling us.  There are also plenty of sad songs, or for that matter sad movies and sad advertisements, again running an agenda for their own manipulative purposes.  Is the problem with Facebook its market power?  Or is the the sheer and unavoidable transparency of the notion that Facebook is inducing us to pass along similar emotions to our network of contacts, thus making us manipulators too, and in a way which is hard to us to avoid thinking about?  What would Robin Hanson say?

Note by the way that “The effect the study documents is very small, as little as one-tenth of a percent of an observed change.”  How much that eventually dwindles, explodes, or dampens out in the longer run I would say is still not known to us.  My intuition however is that we see a lot of longer-run dampening and also intertemporal substitution of emotions, meaning this is pretty close to a non-event.

The initial link is here.  The underlying study is here.  Other readings on the topic are here.

I hope you’re not too sad about this post [smiley face]!

How Not to Bet

by on June 26, 2014 at 7:10 am in Economics, Science | Permalink

Tim Harford writes of bets:

Pundits who make wagers may look grubby but at least they are accepting a cost for failure. A more subtle advantage is that betting encourages forecasts that are specific and quantifiable.

Exactly, but not all bets are well considered. Consider the following from Christopher Keating:

I have heard global warming skeptics make all sorts of statements about how the science doesn’t support claims of man-made climate change. I have found all of those statements to be empty and without any kind of supporting evidence. I have, in turn, stated that it is not possible for the skeptics to prove their claims. And, I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is.

I am announcing the start of the $10,000 Global Warming Skeptic Challenge. The rules are easy:

1. I will award $10,000 of my own money to anyone that can prove, via the scientific method, that man-made global climate change is not occurring;

…5. I am the final judge of all entries but will provide my comments on why any entry fails to prove the point.

This is a poorly constructed bet. Notice first that the preamble, “empty”, “without any kind of supporting evidence”, “prove,” is simply unscientific bluster. Scientific thinking is Bayesian. (Appropriately, I first saw Keating’s bet flagged on the blog Prior Probability.) In contrast, this talk is suggestive of someone who doesn’t weigh evidence, a point of some importance given that he writes “I am the final judge of all entries…”. Keating is really betting that no one will change his mind and that’s not a bet that I would want to take.

Second, what counts as proof? And what does it mean to say that man-made global climate change is not occurring. How much is man made? How fast is it occurring? What are the costs? What are the benefits? Keating’s challenge is vague and poorly worded.

For an example of a much better bet consider the Caplan-Bauman bet on temperature change over the next 15 years. Caplan has agreed to pay Bauman $333.33 if the average temperature over the period 2015-2029 is more than .05C greater than the average temperature over 2000-2014 as measured by the National Climatic Data Center. If the average temperature increase over that time frame is less than .05c then Bauman will pay Caplan $1000. 

The Caplan-Bauman bet is quantifiable and specific and it contains odds, as it should since Bauman expresses much greater certainty in his belief than Caplan.

Keating seems even more certain in his beliefs than Bauman. But how certain? Will he accept my offer of the same bet at 5:1 odds?

Mr. Econotarian wrote:

Actual science is that your brain can be gendered during development in a different fashion than your sex chromosomes. And that gender is not something that hormones alone can “fix”.

For example, the forceps minor (part of the corpus callosum, a mass of fibers that connect the brain’s two hemispheres) – among nontranssexuals, the forceps minor of males contains parallel nerve fibers of higher density than in females. But the density in female-to-male transsexuals is equivalent to that in typical males.

As another example, the hypothalamus, a hormone-producing part of the brain, is activated in nontranssexual men by the scent of estrogen, but in women—and male-to-female transsexuals—by the scent of androgens, male-associated hormones.

I would stress a social point.  If it turns out you are born “different” in these ways (I’m not even sure what are the right words to use to cover all the relevant cases), what is the chance that your social structure will be supportive?  Or will you feel tortured, mocked, and out of place?  Might you even face forced institutionalization, as McCloskey was threatened with?  Most likely things will not go so well for you, even in an America of 2014 which is far more tolerant overall than in times past, including on gay issues.  Current attitudes toward transsexuals and other related groups remain a great shame.  A simple question is how many teenagers have been miserable or even committed suicide or have had parts of their lives ruined because they were born different in these ways and did not find the right support structures early on or perhaps ever.  And if you are mocking individuals for their differences in this regard, as some of you did in the comments thread, I will agree with Barkley Rosser’s response: “Some of you people really need to rethink who you are.  Seriously.”

Some of you people really need to rethink who you are. Seriously. – See more at: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2014/06/what-do-i-think-of-david-brat.html#comments

It’s not just the libertarian argument that you have — to put it bluntly — the “right to cut off your dick” (though you do).  It’s that there are some very particular circles of humanity, revolving around transsexuality, cross-gender, and related notions, which deserve a culture of respect, above and beyond mere legal tolerance.

India is not the paradise for cross- and multiple-gender individuals that it is sometimes made out to be, but still we could learn a good deal from them on these issues.  If nothing else, the argument from ignorance ought to weigh heavily here: there is plenty about these categories which we as a scientific community do not understand, and which you and I as individuals probably understand even less.  So in the meantime should we not extend maximum tolerance for individuals whose lives are in some manner different?

No, I do not know what are the appropriate set of public policies for when children should receive treatment, if they consistently express a desire to change, and what are the relative limits of family and state in these matters.  But if we start with tolerance and acceptance, and encourage a culture of respect for transsexualism, we are more likely to come up with the right policy answers, and also to minimize the damage if in the meantime we cannot quite figure out when to do what.

All hail Khan!

by on June 14, 2014 at 10:58 am in Current Affairs, Law, Religion, Science | Permalink

Congratulations to Razib Khan, the noted genetics blogger, on the birth of his son. Born just last week, Razib’s son is already making the news:

An infant delivered last week in California appears to be the first healthy person ever born in the U.S. with his entire genetic makeup deciphered in advance.

Razib, a graduate student at a lab at UC Davis in California, had some genetic material from his in-womb son from a fairly standard CVS test.

When Khan got the DNA earlier this year, he could have ordered simple tests for specific genes he was curious about. But why not get all the data? “At that point, I realized it was just easier to do the whole genome,” he says. So Khan got a lab mate to place his son’s genetic material in a free slot in a high-speed sequencing machine used to study the DNA of various animal species. “It’s mostly metazoans, fish, and plants. He was just one of the samples in there,” he says.

The raw data occupied about 43 gigabytes of disk space, and Khan set to work organizing and interpreting it. He did so using free online software called Promethease, which crunches DNA data to build reports—noting genetic variants of interest and their medical meaning. “I popped him through Promethease and got 7,000 results,” says Khan.

Promethease is part of an emerging do-it-yourself toolkit for people eager to explore DNA without a prescription. It’s not easy to use, but it’s become an alternative since the FDA cracked down on 23andMe.

Craig Venter was the first person to have his genome sequenced, that was in 2007. Now, just seven years later, costs have fallen by a factor of 10,000.  Personal genome sequencing is going to become routine regardless of the FDA.

NASA has a call for research in the economics of space exploration:

This NRA seeks empirical economic research projects, historical analog research, concepts for
encouraging further economic activity in space, and unique stimulatory activities that promote
novel private/commercial uses of space, new private/commercial space opportunities, and
emerging private/commercial capabilities in suborbital, orbital or deep space environments that
enable discoveries, development and applications from these environments.

Specific topics of interest include:

  • Historical Economic Studies in the following areas:
  1. Economic history of NASA programs;
  2. Long term historical impact of the space program;
  3. Economic and business histories of American private sector space enterprises (including companies, societies, and projects);
  4. Economic histories of historical analog activities for space exploration (including detailed investigations into the financing of historical expeditions, settlements, and transportation infrastructure projects).
  • Current and Near-Term Trends, Analyses and Concepts for accelerating American space development, in the following areas:
  1. Utilizing market mechanisms, private sector partnerships, and expanding markets to serve non-traditional commercial entities;
  2. Promoting broader uses of space for public and/or economic benefit, including job creation and/or workforce development, and maintaining American leadership in the global space marketplace;
  3. Encouraging engagement on space activities from citizen makers, crowd-funders, citizen explorers, and participation of innovators from non-traditional sectors that can have a transformative effect on future private/commercial space developments;
  4. Identifying and evaluating economic applications of space systems design to earth-scale economic analysis, including integrated modeling of globalized economic systems and earth systems science;
  5. Examining competitive stresses, potentials for public benefit, and issues affecting NASA or the nation in the commercial space arena;
  6. Monitoring, investigating and reporting on opportunities enabled by the rapidly growing national and international entrepreneurial space communities;
  7. Assessing the adequacy of economic assessment and evaluation tools and methods for space architectures;
  8. Conducting case studies of space development projects that can be used to inform NASA on the opportunities and impediments to economic development in space.
  • Economics, Systems Analysis, and Projections, in orbital and deep space development; lunar development, asteroid development, and Mars development.