Month: March 2017
1. Buridan’s Ass no more?: “Indecisive People Rejoice: There’s an iPhone Case That’s Also an Android Phone.”
4. Economic ideas we should forget (keep on clicking through to see the whole list). By no means do I always agree — the Coase theorem??
I don’t quite agree with this as stated, as the experience of enjoying a bargain can make it more pleasurable, or at least I have seen this for many people. Some in fact enjoy the bargain only, not the actual good or service. Nonetheless here is the abstract:
Prices are typically critical to consumption decisions, but can the presence of price impact enjoyment over the course of an experience? We examine the effect of price on consumers’ satisfaction over the course of consumption. We find that, compared to when no pricing information is available, the presence of prices accelerates satiation (i.e., enjoyment declines faster). Preliminary evidence suggests price increases satiation by making the experience seem like less of a relaxing break and something to financially monitor. We rule out several alternative explanations for this effect and discuss important implications for marketers and consumer researchers.
That is from Haws, McFerran, and Redden, “The Satiating Effect of Pricing: The Influence of Price on Enjoyment Over Time.” The original pointer was from Rolf Degen.
When Judy Norman walks on stage for the play Spillikin, she performs beside a somewhat different cast member — a humanoid robot.
Featuring a “robothespian”, the play brings love and technology together for a story about an engineer who builds a robot to keep his wife company after he dies.
Yet accuracy is required from the human thespian:
The robot is connected to the theatre’s control room, where a laptop transmits cues for its performance.
“[There is] a big pressure on the actor…to always have the right lines, always stand in the right place so that the robot is looking at the right direction at that particular moment,” Welch said.
Onstage, Norman talks to the robot and even kisses it. In return, the robot replies, displays facial expressions and moves its hands.
4. The real Pigou Club? Especially if you believe in increasing returns. And the pending deregulation of human subjects research in some areas.
6. Soylent is getting an AI spokesperson, because it wasn’t dystopian enough already.
He was superb, here is the transcript, audio, and video. We considered satire as a weapon, Harvard, long-distance running, Washington vs. NYC, Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden, Caribbean culture and intellectual history, and of course Malcolm’s mom, among other topics. His answers are so fluid and narrative they are hard to excerpt, but here is one bit from him:
COWEN: Overrated or underrated, the idea of early childhood intervention to set societal ills right?
GLADWELL: Overrated because to my mind it’s just another form . . . it became politically impermissible to say that certain people in society would never make it because they were genetically inferior. So I feel like that group, it’s like, “All right, we can’t say that anymore. We’ll just move the goalpost up two years.” And we’ll say, “Well, if you don’t get . . .” Or three years — “If you don’t get the right kind of stimulation by the time you’re three, basically it’s curtains.”
Why is that argument, which we decided we didn’t like it when they set the goalpost at zero, and somehow it’s super-important and legitimate and chin-stroking-worthy when they moved the goalpost to three. Truth is, people, it’s not over at three any more than it was over at zero. There are certain things that it would be nice to get done by the age of three. But if they’re not, the idea that it’s curtains is preposterous. It’s the same kind of fatalism that I thought we had defeated in the . . .
If you want to say that the goalpost should be at 30, then I’m open to it.
I asked what changes he would make to higher education:
GLADWELL: OK. I would establish a set of baseline criteria for admissions, and then I would have a lottery after that. So if you’re in the top 2 percent of your high school class — 5 percent, whatever cutoff we want — following test scores at a certain point, whatever cutoff we want, some minimum number of other things you do — you just go into the pot and we’re pulling out names. I’d probably triple or quadruple the size in the next 10 years, open campuses — probably two other campuses in the United States, one overseas.
I had this idea, I’m not sure how you’d do it, where I think that it would be really, really useful to ban graduates of elite colleges from ever disclosing that they went to an elite college.
I thought the Steve Pearlstein material was perhaps Malcolm’s highlight, but you need to read it straight through.
Here is a very short bit from me:
Most of my questions will be quite short, but my first question will be really, really long. Since everyone knows you and your work so well, I asked myself, “Who is Malcolm Gladwell?” And I tried to come up with an answer. I’ll give you my answer, and then you can correct me or add to that, and this will take a little while.
1. The political process does not select for humble versions of empiricism. Those end up with virtually no political influence, whereas some of the more dogmatic form of empiricism may find some traction.
2. A lot of the bias in empirical methods comes simply from which questions are asked/answered. Post Trump and De Vos, I see plenty of commentators and researchers reporting “vouchers don’t raise test scores” and virtually no “vouchers increase parental satisfaction.” Is that empiricism? In isolation, maybe. In terms of reflecting the broader spirit of science, not so much. It is also not humility.
3. I also see bias in terms of framing and contextualizing. One empirical result is “over a short time horizon, a $15 minimum wage in Seattle hasn’t destroyed many jobs.” Another empirical result is “rises in the prices of inputs virtually always lower input demand, with larger effects over longer time horizons.” There is also “non-pecuniary factors of jobs adjust downward, in response to wage minimums, thereby removing the benefits for the workers from the wage hike.” One side claims the mantle of empiricism with #1, the other side claims the mantle of empiricism with #2 and #3. Overall the course of that debate does make me more skeptical about “empiricism as we find it,” though not about proper empiricism. And note that the scholarly division of labor does in fact give any particular individual a sufficient excuse not to be doing the task of overall synthesis.
4. I find a very common pattern among both researchers and commentators. They first form broadly empirical judgments about social systems, based on overall views of history, current politics (too much), and some of their relatively general empirical judgments, such as whether elasticities are large or small, or the relative crookedness of politicians vs. businesspeople, or the relative competence of voters, and so on. Those are empirical judgments, though usually in non-formal, non-directly testable ways, and also inter-smushed with ethical judgments, for better or worse.
They then view very particular empirical debates through the broader lenses they have chosen. For instance, views on politics used to correlate with views on the interest elasticity of money demand. Today views on politics correlate with views on minimum wage elasticity, and so on.
It’s the kind of empiricism outlined in the first paragraph of #4 that has the greater predictive value for beliefs. Furthermore it is sometimes (not always) the more important form of empiricism for settling many questions of policy.
5. I am sympathetic with the view that the broader empiricism outlined at the top of #4 is overused. Yet many of the critics of that broad approach simply wish to protect the presuppositions of the academic status quo from being disrupted by the possibility of other broad paradigms. In other words, I worry that criticizing “ideology” is too often a means of cementing in the dominant ideology in academia (and journalism), rather than an actual critique of ideology.
6. Most generally, humility is always scarcer than one might think. Perhaps that should be one of Cowen’s Laws.
This article presents a national measure of Americans’ level of concern about economic inequality from 1966 to 2015, and analyzes the relationship between this construct and public support for government intervention in the economy. Current research argues that concerns about economic inequality are associated with a desire for increased government action, but this relationship has only been formally tested using cross-sectional analyses. I first use a form of dynamic factor analysis to develop a measure of national concern over time. Using an error correction model I then show that an increase in national concern about economic inequality does not lead to a subsequent increase in support for government intervention in the economy. Instead there is some evidence that, once confounding factors are accounted for, an increase in concern could lead to reduced support for government intervention.
That is from a new paper by Graham Wright, via the excellent Rolf Degen. I think of one possible mechanism for this result in these terms. As one group of commentators repeats the message: “Group X doesn’t have enough,” or “Group X is being ripped off,” in fact many voters process the message as “Group X is actually a low status group.” And so they do not end up supporting more redistribution to Group X.
“Be careful how complain” is one of the overarching points here, and it is a point which is not heeded so very often.
That is the title of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one bit from it:
…the U.K. seems to be in a crisis of ideas, as outlined by Michael Moran in his recent “The End of British Politics?”. He points out that the earlier Protestant, imperial and social democratic rationalizations for the political union largely have fallen away. Scottish separatism — now very much back on the agenda — is one manifestation of this problem. In such a setting, it’s possible to imagine a slightly different legal status for Northern Ireland, where the border check — if there is to be one — is done for flights to London rather than for ground transport to the Republic of Ireland, such as on the ground in Donegal County.
I don’t expect full union anytime soon, as I explain in the piece, but here is the closing tag line:
I’m seeing a world where the past is emerging as stronger than we had thought, and where nationalism has arguably been the most influential idea since the 17th century. That probably means the two Irelands still have some surprises in store for us.
I wish to thank Ray Lopez for the pointer to Moran.
That is the new book by Lisa Feldman Barrett, and the subtitle is The Secret Life of the Brain. I am not well-informed in this area, but here were some of my takeaways:
1. The previous dominant view of emotions, sometimes associated with Paul Ekman, suggests that emotions are a natural and pre-programmed response to changes in the environmental. Imagine a wolf snarling if a potentially hostile animal crosses its path.
2. According to Barrett, the expressions of human emotions are better understood as being socially constructed and filtered through cultural influences: “”Are you saying that in a frustrating, humiliating situation, not everyone will get angry so that their blood boils and their palms sweat and their cheeks flush?” And my answer is yes, that is exactly what I am saying.” (p.15) In reality, you are as an individual an active constructor of your emotions. Imagine winning a big sporting event, and not being sure whether to laugh, cry, scream, jump for joy, pump your fist, or all of the above. No one of these is the “natural response.”
3. Immigrants eventually acculturate emotionally into their new societies, or at least one hopes: “Our colleague Yulia Chentsova Dutton from Russia says that her cheeks ached for an entire year after moving to the United States because she never smiled so much.” (p.149)
3b. There is also this: “My neighbor Paul Harris, a transplanted emotion researcher from England, has observed how American academics are always excited by scientific puzzles — a high arousal, pleasant feeling — but never curious, perplexed, or confused, which are low arousal and fairly neutral experiences that are more familiar to him.” (p.149)
3c. It can be very hard to read the emotions on faces across cultures, and Barrett is opposed to what she calls “emotional essentialism.”
3d. From her NYT piece: “My lab analyzed over 200 published studies, covering nearly 22,000 test subjects, and found no consistent and specific fingerprints in the body for any emotion. Instead, the body acts in diverse ways that are tied to the situation.”
4. One reason for my interest in this work is that it potentially provides microfoundations for thinking about how “culture” matters for economic and other social outcomes. It also helps explain the importance of peers for education, and for that matter for religious experience, in the same outlined by William James. It may help explain Jonathan Haidt-related research results about disgust. It also provides potential microfoundations for explaining how individuals with different cognitive profiles (autism, Williams and Rett, Down syndrome, etc.), will, for related reasons, process some emotions differently too, although Barrett does not explore this route.
5. The concepts of a “control network” and an “introceptive network” are explained and presented as critical for controlling emotions, and in terms of the broader theory the mind is fundamentally about prediction. From my outsider point of view, the emphasis on prediction seems a little too strong. For instance, there may also be a need to make ourselves predictable to others, even if that lowers out own ability to predict.
6. “Affect is not just necessary for wisdom; it’s also irrevocably woven into the fabric of every decision.” And she refers repeatedly to: “…your inner, loudmouthed, mostly deaf scientist who views the world through affect-colored glasses.”
7. I found the chapter on animals the most problematic for the broader thesis. It seems to me that the Ekman view really does handle the snarling wolf pretty well and that is a case of emotional essentialism. Barrett tries to outline how humans are different from other mammals in this regard, but I came away thinking the truth might be a mix of her view and the Ekman view. It seems to me that some version of emotional essentialism provides an overarching constraint on the social construction of emotions, and furthermore there might be some regulating process at a higher level, mixing in varying proportions of essentialist and social construction features of emotional responses.
My apologies for any errors or misunderstandings in this presentation!
I can say this book is very well-written, it covers material not found in other popular science books, and it comes strongly recommended by Daniel Gilbert. I asked a friend of mine who researches directly in this area, and she reports that Barrett’s view is in fact taken seriously by other researchers, it has been very influential, and it is has been gaining in popularity. Make of that what you will.
Here is a very useful interview with the author. Here is her Northeastern home page. I recall reading somewhere that she is a big fan of chocolate, but can no longer find that link. Should I laugh, cry, or shrug my shoulders in response to that failure?
I thank Benjamin Lyons for the pointer to this work.
That is the new book and also free pdf by Joshua Gans. This is an ideal book of sorts. He writes it clearly, says what he wants to, ends it, and then gives it away for free. Here is part of his conclusion:
It is easy at a high level to think about how knowledge could be unbundled, but once a framework is developed, then graduate students who were learning and reading past knowledge would be encouraged to translate their own information into the new framework. The knowledge could be freed from the bounds of journals without undermining all the curation and attribution work that goes with them. And at the same time, a searchable database that is open by design would exist not for articles, pages, or PDFs, but for the knowledge itself.
I’m all for moving in this direction, my main worry is to wonder how much difference it will make. Systems of hierarchy tend to reemerge in some manner or another, no matter what the setting. And if there is one thing we have learned from the internet, it is that free entry can lead to a greater rather than lesser consolidation of interest.
I recall back in the 1990s, when my colleague Don Lavoie was so excited about organizing science by “linkable hypertext,” in a kind of new knowledge utopia, a Habermasian wet dream. It was to be an intellectual paradise. What we got was…the blogosphere. Still a paradise of sorts! And free. But not a scientific paradise. I’m sure some of you in the comments can explain that to the others perfectly well, whether you are trying to do so or not.
2. Radioactive boar update (NYT).
Internationally: today’s external patron (the United States) of the free Korean half is weakening, while the external patron (China) of the communist half is strengthening. The opposite was true of the United States and West Germany, and the Soviet Union and East Germany, in 1989. Today’s northern patron (China) is trying to push further into the Asian continent, while yesterday’s eastern patron (the Soviet Union) was looking for an exit from central Europe. Chinese peninsular intervention is therefore easier, while U.S. support for South Korea’s unification terms will be more difficult.
Some old formats:
1. Chalk and talk. Or with Powerpoint.
2. Play a video and comment on it.
3. Panel discussion.
5. Manage an audience or classroom discussion.
6. One person interviews another or interviews a panel. Or, one person interviews another and children burst into the room, only to be pulled back by their mother. This latter option seems popular right now.
7. All Q&A, no talk (one of my favorites).
8. All questions, no answers allowed from the speaker (never seen this one, but it does produce audience participation).
9. Read aloud from one’s book (the worst).
10. Play or sing a song, or perform in some other manner, such as doing periodic magic tricks. Chat or trash talk while attempting basketball free throws.
Are there new formats worth considering? Has anyone tried “Holding a two-person or group conversation while pretending the audience isn’t there”? What else?