Colin Camerer wins a MacArthur Genius grant

The notice is here.  Camerer is an economist at CalTech, a founding pioneer of neuroeconomics, and a former child prodigy, the standard set of links on him is here.  You can follow Colin on Twitter here.

And don’t neglect these three winners (among others):

— Jeremy Denk, 43, New York City. Writer and concert pianist who combines his skills to help readers and listeners to better appreciate classical music.

— Angela Duckworth, 43, Philadelphia. Research psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania helping to transform understanding of just what roles self-control and grit play in educational achievement.  [TC: Duckworth’s home page is here and her research focuses on conscientiousness as a major factor behind educational success]

— Vijay Iyer, 41, New York City. Jazz pianist, composer and bandleader and writer reconceptualizing the genre through compositions for his ensembles, as well as cross-disciplinary collaborations and scholarly writing.

Comments

— Angela Duckworth, 43, Philadelphia. Research psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania helping to transform understanding of just what roles self-control and grit play in educational achievement.

I'll go out on a limb here and guess she found that they were important. For $625,000, tell me something I don't know.

College exists to allowing signalling of grit and self-control.

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We call it Caltech these days.

I found Colin to be a great lecturer and advisor, but behavioral economics has been too heavily promoted--it's existence has more to do with politics and the perception that economics largely stands athwart the progressive march. Thus the need for the cover that behavioral economics provides: same conclusions, different dress.

Camerer does significant empirical work. Just because his empirical work conflicts with your political opinion is not a basis for criticism, even if it undercuts libertarian religion. I think Charlie Plotts work at also supports Camerers as well and he is an empiricist as well.

Guess you missed the point.

You made a comment that behavioral economics "has more to do with politics," but your comment is really just a political comment itself. If you object to their methods, then outline what you think they're doing wrong. Simply declaring that something is political is more of a political statement about your own ideas than a political statement about the subject.

Vulgar behavioral economics: "But as behavioral economics has shown, people are not rational, so mainstream economic theory based on homo economicus is bunk. (Let us thus move to an enlightened centrally planned economy.)"

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I suppose that the ideas of self-control and grit impacting achievement have become commonplace due to the marshmallow experiment and the writing of Gladwell.

That being said, here is a good piece on Duckworth's work: http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/tomorrows-college/grit/angela-duckworth-grit.html

"Duckworth's previous research shows that people who have "some college" but no degree are lower in grit than people who have college degrees. Does that mean the charter school students who are not making it through college are lacking grit? And if that's the case, can grit be learned?"

I worry this is and will always be a key stumbling block for online education models: they don't seem to be very good at "teaching grit". Instead, they reward only the conscientious, who are willing to slug it out through dull but essential courses (Every discipline has some).

Also, here's sports scientist Brian Epstein on "trainability", a somewhat under-discussed topic: http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/derbyshire/the-books-interview-david-epstein/

"Q: This is why the notion of “trainability” is so important for you isn’t it? Because, as you say at one point, it seems to “muddle” the notion of innate talent as something that appears strictly prior to training.

That’s right. If you look back at some of the old sports psychology papers where they define talent, it’s usually defined as something like prowess or skill that precedes the opportunity to train. So it just has to be there, before training. But exercise genetics is totally blowing that notion up. It’s showing that in many cases the most important kind of talent is your ability to profit from your one hour of training more rapidly than your peer does. So just as medical genetics shows that no two people respond to a drug the same way, exercise genetics finds that no two people respond to training the same way.

Q: That clearly has quite profound implications for coaching doesn’t it? To what extent is the theory of coaching catching up with the science in this respect?

It varies on a sport-by-sport basis. In the book I talk about the data scientist Jesper Andersen, who does biopsies of elite athletes. He tells them “Look you’re doing the wrong kind of training for your muscle fibre composition.” He’s had great success with that, sometimes telling guys to train less. I think Usain Bolt has figured this out. Here’s a guy whose achievements are a testament to how much time he takes off of training. For a guy with that much fast-twitch muscle fibre, I think the danger is training those away. And I think he’s really figured out the right balance for himself."

When was there a time when people thought that self-control and grit were not important for success?

Being born used to be considered enough of a qualification. Just any monarch.

In the modern context, ask anyone who has inherited massive wealth about how their 'success' has anything to do with grit - then be prepared to be given much the same explanations that a monarch would.

That's beside the point, because Duckworth's research is mainly about educational achievement. But I would think that being a successful monarch or not frittering away your inherited fortune has something to do with self-control and grit.

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Just any monarch [sic]

Were that were true. Alas.

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I am reminded of Duckworth's PNAS meta-analysis of the effect of incentives on IQ. She claimed that incentives increased IQ by an average of 0.64 SD, with a larger effect among those with low IQ. A blogger called Statsquatch reanalysed Duckworth's data and reached rather different conclusions. Statsquatch appears to have deleted his blog, but here's the forest plot of Duckworth's data that he created. The green dots are the larger the larger the sample size. It's easy to see that the overall effect size is greatly influenced by the three largish studies with effect sizes about 2 SD or more. In fact, without those three studies, the meta-analytic effect size is not significantly different from zero.

Duckworth pays no special attention to those three studies in her paper, but it's clear that understanding why those three experiments produced much larger effects than most others is central to understanding the question she is investigating. As it happens, all three were conducted by the same researchers (Bruening and Zella), included only mentally retarded participants, and were reported in one and the same 1978 paper. Of interest is perhaps the fact that the first author, Stephen Bruening, was later caught fabricating data in several of his other experiments dealing with mentally retarded subjects. But Duckworth does not discuss any of this in her paper.

But Duckworth does not discuss any of this in her paper

She's a genius, didn't you get the memo?

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Hey, whatever happened to the exciting field of Chaos Science? Remember that? Is it just "non-linear equations and shit" or something now?

Even less interesting, whatever happened to Fuzzy Logic? Did that ever go any further than 1998? It's not what they use to steer driverless cars, is it?

Dirk, medical devices use fuzzy logic algorithms all the time. As for chaos science, it is now part of complexity science. You can follow up by looking at the Santa Fe institutes website and taking a course on it.

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Fuzzy logic has not gone away; it has just lost its status as a buzzword as it became incorporated into standard practice. Yes, driverless cars are using it.

Paul Ehrlich won in 1990: whatever happened to the exciting field of "We're all gonna dieeeee!!!"?

John Imbrie won, too, whatever happened to the exciting field of climate change caused by natural phenomena (i.e., Milanković oscillations).

(The packaging on my rice cooker loudly promised the miracle of fuzzy logic in making onigiri.)

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Fuzzy logic was described academically in the 60s and revived in the 80s. Fixed-point arthimetric is so cheap now, no need for fuzzy logic. Moore's law made all the difference.

Still some legacy designs persist, and yes these stil get rolled over Ito new products. But people starting new programs in fuzzy logic, don't understand that it was always interesting only as a unit cost vs engineering time trade-off.

No doubt, risk adverse fields keeping rolling the old hacks forward.

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Would anyone who really was a genius choose to work in a university these days? If so, why?

Access to labs, perhaps.

a $2 million start-up package and $70,000 annual salary

Yeah, but you have to put up with the grind of pretending to be fascinated by humdrum issues. Geniuses, I'd guess, aren't.

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Am I the only one that thinks that there should be some kind of age limit to these kinds of prizes. Something like "under-35". What is the point of giving 625k to a professor in a major University? It is not an enormous amount for someone doing research at that level. Research grants are often in the order of the hundreds of thousands. It is not even that much to buy themselves out of teaching commitments.

The point is, the older and higher-status the recipient is, the lower the impact of the grant. I would try to give the money to young people (scientists, artists, entrepreneurs, charity directors, ) who are doing something disruptive or new, that has some probability of changing the world.

Evidence suggests otherwise. Recall the piece posted here just a couple of days ago. It showed that the Fields Medal (mathematicians under 40), reduced the winners' mathematical output by a statistically significant amount, relative to mathematicians who did not win the Fields, but did go on to win other major awards.

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Vijay Iyer should've been inevitable!

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Am I the only one who finds these cash prizes offensive, non-transparent, and total bullshit?

It's a private foundation. So are most award bodies (Lasker, Fields...). So is the Nobel foundation. They're free to award their prizes however they like (*). You are, of course, free to find them offensive...

* Except for the Peace prize, which is chosen by the Norwegian Parliament (nowdays by a committee selected by the parliament.), which makes it the least politicized and most transparent of all the Nobel Prizes umm, uh, errr.

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