Month: November 2021

Wednesday assorted links

1. Can a submerged Tuvalu still be a state?

2. Your periodic reminder to read Matt Levine.

3. Ross Douthat on why we need new universities (NYT).

4. Ten podcast episodes of Agnes Callard and Robin Hanson.  With transcripts, and here is Robin’s overview of the series, which is also a very good post on differing mental models.  Self-recommending!

5. New Doc Watson box set, and WSJ review here.  In fact, in today’s links, 4 out of the 5 are self-recommending.

Yglesias on CRT

Matt Yglesias has an excellent post on schooling and politics emphasizing three points. First, there is a lot of diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) nonsense which the schools are using to train teachers and administrators. Second, at the same time the school administrators/teacher’s unions are generally ignoring the very real cost to children and parents of the school closures, including the costs of a widening racial gap. Third, the schools are stigmatizing testing under the guise of promoting equity but in reality because the teacher’s unions know that when you test children you learn that not all teachers are equally capable.

[The DC Public Schools] also recommend that people read a bunch of Robin DiAngelo books and brag that “more than 2,000 DCPS staff have participated in Courageous Conversation training.” But is Courageous Conversation training a good idea? This NYT Magazine profile of the company and its founder made it sound pretty bad:

Singleton, who holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford, and who did stints in advertising and college admissions before founding what’s now known as Courageous Conversation in 1992, talks about white culture in similar ways. There is the myth of meritocracy. And valuing “written communication over other forms,” he told me, is “a hallmark of whiteness,” which leads to the denigration of Black children in school. Another “hallmark” is “scientific, linear thinking. Cause and effect.” He said, “There’s this whole group of people who are named the scientists. That’s where you get into this whole idea that if it’s not codified in scientific thought that it can’t be valid.” He spoke about how the ancient Egyptians had “ideas about how humanity works that never had that scientific-hypothesis construction” and so aren’t recognized. “This is a good way of dismissing people. And this,” he continued, shifting forward thousands of years, “is one of the challenges in the diversity-equity-inclusion space; folks keep asking for data. How do you quantify, in a way that is scientific — numbers and that kind of thing — what people feel when they’re feeling marginalized?” For Singleton, society’s primary intellectual values are bound up with this marginalization.

I don’t think Frankfurt School Marxists are going to take over society by injecting these ideas into K-12 schools or anything like that. What I so think is that time and money is being wasted on initiatives that are run by people who are somewhere between stupid and fraudulent.

And it’s important to take that seriously, not just because someone somewhere may take these goofy ideas seriously (see prior commentary about Tema Okun), but because fiscal tradeoffs are real. Dollars spent on DEI trainings that come with zero proof of efficacy are dollars that can’t be invested in things like D.C.’s successful teacher bonus pay program, updating school air conditioning, improving school lunches, reducing kids’ exposure to air pollution and lead poisoning, or any of the other various interventions that have decent evidence behind them.

Of course when I say that investing in higher quality school lunches is good for kids’ learning, what I mean is that it’s good as measured on standardized tests.

Standardized testing has become a weird discourse flashpoint, but I think everyone agrees that you can, in principle, assess someone’s competence in a given subject area with a test. And if you want to compare different people, you need to give them the same test. It’s only by making comparisons across classrooms and across time that we are able to persuasively demonstrate that particulates are bad for school performance, healthy meals are good for school performance, and air conditioning improves school performance in the summer.

All this would be uncontroversial, I think, except teachers’ unions don’t like the idea of assessing teachers based on their job performance.

Read the whole thing and subscribe to Slow Boring.

The gender gap in preferences

This is taken from new work by Ángel Cuevas, Rubén Cuevas, Klaus Desmet, and Ignacio Ortuño-Ortín.  Here is the abstract:

This paper uses information on the frequency of 45,397 Facebook interests to study how the difference in preferences between men and women changes with a country’s degree of gender equality. For preference dimensions that are systematically biased toward the same gender across the globe, differences between men and women are larger in more gender-equal countries. In contrast, for preference dimensions with a gender bias that varies across countries, the opposite holds. This finding takes an important step toward reconciling evolutionary psychology and social role theory as they relate to gender.

Here is a bit more:

Our premise is that innately gender-specific interests should mostly conform to evolutionary psychology theory, whereas other interests should mostly conform to social role theory. We find strong evidence consistent with this premise.

And some detail on the categories:

We say that an interest is gender-related if it displays a systematic bias toward the same gender across the globe. More specifically, if in more than 90% of countries an interest is more prevalent among the same gender, then we refer to it as gender-related. For example, “cosmetics” and “motherhood” are universally more common among women, whereas “motorcycles” and “Lionel Messi” are universally more common among men. Conversely, we say that an interest is non-gender-related if its gender bias varies across countries. More specifically, if an interest is more common among men in at least 30% of countries and more common among women in at least another 30% of countries, then we refer to it as nongender-related. For example, “world heritage site” and “physical fitness” do not display a systematic gender bias across the globe.

And indeed everything works out as one ought to expect.  In the more gender-equal countries, men have “more male” interests, and the women have “more female” interests.  But for the less gender-specific interests, greater equality ends up resulting.  As for magnitude:

the standardized β is 30% when taking 9 dimensions, meaning that a one standard deviation increase in gender equality increases the difference in preferences between men and women by 30% of its standard deviation. The corresponding standardized β when taking 68 dimensions is 19%. Overall, the evidence points to a positive relation between gender equality and the difference in interests between men and women.

Hope you all are interested in this one!

Tuesday assorted links

1. Interview with Chris Dixon.

2. “But the Singaporean government said Monday that it will no longer cover the medical costs of people “unvaccinated by choice,” who make up the bulk of remaining new covid-19 cases and hospitalizations in the city-state.

3. Matt Clancy on the Weitzman model and combinatorial economic growth.

4. Crisis worsens at Poland-Belarus border.

5. Directly refuting economic fallacies is not such an effective means of communication.

Germany fact of the day

German industrial output in August was about 9% below its 2015 level, compared with a 2% increase for the eurozone as a whole, according to the European Union’s statistics agency. In Italy, whose manufacturers are closely tied with Germany’s, industrial output rose about 5% over the six-year period…

The weakness in Germany’s economy predates the Covid-19 pandemic. German industrial output and exports began stagnating in 2017, posing a problem for an economy where some 30% of jobs and output are tied to overseas demand, roughly four times the share in the U.S.

Here is more from the WSJ.

The Role of Property Tax in California’s Housing Crisis

From Paul J. Fisher, who is on the job market from University of Arizona:

California faces a shortage of housing according to politicians, activists, and residents. In his paper, I leverage differential exposure to the Proposition 13 tax laws to understand the impact of this policy on the production of housing in Southern California. Proposition 13 restricts property tax growth as long as the owner doesn’t sell or redevelop the property, which allows me to exploit differences in market conditions at the time of prior purchase to identify the effect of these property tax limits on property redevelopment. I find that Proposition 13 discourages redevelopment and sales. In a dynamic discrete choice model of land use, I find that adopting a land value tax that replaces Proposition 13 based property taxes would increase housing production by 35% generating a similar or greater amount of new housing as other policies under consideration in California.

Patrick Wolff, telephone!

The”hot hand” depends on location

Here is new research by Robert M. Lantis and Erik T. Nesson:

Do basketball players exhibit a hot hand? Results from controlled shooting situations suggest the answer is yes, while results from in-game shooting are mixed. Are the differing results because a hot hand is only present in similar shots or because testing for the hot hand in game situations is difficult? Combining repeated shots in a location and shots across locations, the NBA 3-Point Contests mimics game situations without many of the confounding factors. Using data on the 1986-2019 contests, we find a hot hand, but only within shot locations. Shooting streaks increase a hot hand only if a player makes his previous shot and only within locations. Even making three shots in a row has no effect on making the next shot if a player moves locations. Our results suggest that any hot hand in basketball is only present in extremely similar shooting situations and likely not in the run-of-play.

This YouTube video, of Stephen Curry, is one of the greatest videos of all time.

Monday assorted links

1. Why are crypto prices so volatile? (Diana Joy Xiuyao Yang on the job market from UC Irvine, note that crypto is not her main paper).

2. Dissecting economic growth in Uruguay (by Natasha Che).

3. Does disdain for women increase the pay gap? (Elizabeth Malony, job market paper from UCI).

4. Licensed to flesh out the James Bond world but without 007.  Meh.  What is next?: “Q equips Spiderman vs. Iron Man”?

5. Different stuff in the bill by the way composting is infrastructure.

6. The doctors solved for the equilibrium.

7. Even the mainstream admits that the CDC remains broken.

The University of Austin

A new university is being founded.  Here is part of the statement from its new president, Pano Kanelos:

As I write this, I am sitting in my new office (boxes still waiting to be unpacked) in balmy Austin, Texas, where I moved three months ago from my previous post as president of St. John’s College in Annapolis.

I am not alone.

Our project began with a small gathering of those concerned about the state of higher educationNiall Ferguson, Bari Weiss, Heather Heying, Joe Lonsdale, Arthur Brooks, and Iand we have since been joined by many others, including the brave professors mentioned above, Kathleen Stock, Dorian Abbot and Peter Boghossian.

We count among our numbers university presidents: Robert Zimmer, Larry Summers, John Nunes, and Gordon Gee, and leading academics, such as Steven Pinker, Deirdre McCloskey, Leon Kass, Jonathan Haidt,  Glenn Loury, Joshua Katz, Vickie Sullivan, Geoffrey Stone, Bill McClay, and Tyler Cowen [TC: I am on the advisory board].

We are also joined by journalists, artists, philanthropists, researchers, and public intellectuals, including Lex Fridman, Andrew Sullivan, Rob Henderson, Caitlin Flanagan, David Mamet, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Sohrab Ahmari, Stacy Hock, Jonathan Rauch, and Nadine Strossen.

You can follow the school on Twitter here.

How to Increase Effective Altruism

Caviola, Schubert and Greene have a good review of the reasons why effective and ineffective altruism attract donations. First, they note the large gains from making altruism more effective.

A US$100 donation can save a person in the developing world from trachoma, a disease that causes blindness [1]. By contrast, it costs US$50 000 to train a guide dog to help a blind person in the developed world. This large difference in impact per dollar is not unusual. According to expert estimates, the most effective charities are often 100 times more effective than typical charities [2].

…Most research on charitable giving focuses on the amounts that donors give [4]. However, if the societal goal of charitable giving is to improve human (or animal) well-being, it is probably more important to focus on the effectiveness of giving….you can double your impact by doubling the amount that you give to typical charities, but you can multiply your impact by a factor of ten, 100, or even 1000 by choosing to support more effective charities [2].

The authors then consider a number of cognitive factors or biases that allow or encourage ineffective altruism. For example, people tend to give to charities that they are emotionally connected with regardless of effectiveness and they also like to split donations across multiple charities in part because they have scope neglect (“a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic.” to quote Stalin who correctly identified the principle even though he was more concerned about how to get away with killing millions than saving millions).

One particular feature of the paper that I like is that instead of simply advocating overcoming these biases they think about ways to use them. For example, you can’t stop people giving to ineffective but emotionally attractive charities but because people like to split and don’t pay attention to scope you can get them to split their donation with an effective charity.

…people tend to support charities that are emotionally appealing, paying little attention to effectiveness. However, there is evidence that many people do care about effectiveness and that information about effectiveness can make giving more effective [2,21]. Combining these insights suggests a new strategy to increase the effectiveness of charitable giving: many donors may be amenable to splitting their donations between an emotionally appealing charity and a highly effective charity, especially if provided with effectiveness information.

This strategy can work especially well if you combine it with matching funds or funds to “cover overhead” which are given by a relatively small number of rich people who can be swayed by philosophical arguments in favor of effective altruism.

Hat tip: Steve Stewart-Williams.

Regional personality variation across the United States

Here is a fun piece for Bloomberg, I would say you should take Five Factor personality theory somehow seriously, but not too seriously.  Excerpt:

Let’s consider extraversion. The least extroverted states in the country are Maine, Washington and Oregon, which fits my stereotype that a disproportionate number of the residents of those states are seeking some kind of isolation. Wisconsin has the most extroverted population, with Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska coming in next. The Midwest seems to be a friendly and outgoing place. That is to me also no huge surprise, though I would not have picked Wisconsin to be No. 1. The southern states come in at about average, while New Mexico, Nevada, Vermont and Montana do not measure as very extroverted, relative to the rest of the country.


The data on conscientiousness run counter to stereotype. My expectation was that the Midwest would win out here, but the Southeast ranks the highest. Coastal California fares poorly, as do scattered parts of the Midwest and West, again non-obvious or unexpected results. If it restores your faith in stereotypes, the area surrounding New Orleans, perhaps the most licentious city in the South, also rates low in conscientiousness.

Overall, the two strongest correlates of conscientiousness were Republican share of the vote, and share of married individuals in the population.

When it comes to emotional stability, fans of “The Sopranos” or “Seinfeld” will not be surprised: The Northeast, stretching down through Appalachia, ranks the lowest by a noticeable amount. There’s a reason George Costanza and Tony Soprano fit right in.

Markets in everything

A Louisiana widow is left horrified at the news that her deceased husband was dissected in front of a live, paying audience after she donated his body to scientific research.

Elsie Saunders had carried out the wishes of her late husband, David Saunders, who wanted his body donated to help advance medical science, according to The Advocate. David Saunders, a World War II and Korean War veteran, died of COVID-19 on August 24 at the age of 98. Donating his body was his last act of patriotism, Elsie Saunders said.

But instead of being delivered to a research facility, David Saunders’ body ended up in a Marriott Hotel ballroom in Portland, Oregon, where held an “Oddities and Curiosities Expo.” At the October 17 event, members of the public sat ringside from 9 am to 4 pm—with a break for lunch—to watch David Saunders’ body be carefully dissected. Tickets for the dissection sold for up to $500 per person…

Elsie Saunders learned of the dissection from a Seattle-based reporter at KING 5, who was investigating the event and tracked her down. A photojournalist who attended undercover for KING 5 had noted that the body had a bracelet with the typed name “David Saunders.”

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s horrible, unethical, and I just don’t have the words to describe it,” Elsie Saunders told The Advocate. “I have all this paperwork that says his body would be used for science—nothing about this commercialization of his death.”

Are medical students allowed to pay tuition?  Is “science” allowed to balance the books?  Here is the full story, via the excellent Samir Varma.

Addendum: Under other circumstances, it has been common to use donated bodies for crash test dummies.

Sunday assorted links

1. Satirical short film about the Cuban peasantry and the Revolution.

2. There is no great New Zealand potato stagnation.

3. New edition of Ilya Somin’s Free to Move: Foot Voting, Migration, and Political Freedom.

4. Derek Lowe on the new Pfizer pills.

5. Should you value tokens like countries?  And here is Tascha on DeFi.

6. Ethiopia update, better and more detailed story than most.

7. More on the discretionary DOT fund embedded in the new bill.

Half Doses of Pfizer Work Well

New paper published in Vaccines from Polish group showing that half doses of Pfizer generate strong immune responses.

In the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, using a half-dose schedule vaccination can help to return to normalcy in a cost-efficient manner, which is especially important for low and middle-income countries. We undertook a study to confirm that in adults up to 55 years old, the humoral response to the half-dose (15 µg, 35 participants between 18 and 55 years old) and to the recommended dose (30 µg, 155 participants) in the two-dose three-week interval schedule would be comparable. Antibody levels were measured by the Elecsys Anti-SARS-CoV-2 S assay (Roche Diagnostics, upper detection limit: 2570 BAU/mL) on the day of dose 2 of the vaccine and then 8–10 days later to assess peak response to dose 2. The difference in proportions between the participants who did and did not exceed the upper detection limit 8–10 days after dose 2 was not statistically significant (p = 0.152). We suggest that a half-dose schedule can help to achieve widespread vaccination coverage more quickly and cheaply.

See my previous piece A Half Dose of Moderna is More Effective Than a Full Dose of AstraZeneca.