University of Pennsylvania update and correction

“The email sent by Penn SAS Deans last Tuesday needs to be interpreted with some care. In particular, notice the words “school-funded Ph.D. programs.” There is a lot of institutional background that is lost when the email is read from the outside, especially because the Economics Ph.D. program has its own funding structure that differs from other Ph.D. programs at Penn SAS.

At this moment, the Department of Economics is working out the details of the next year incoming class, but a first-year incoming class and regular classes first-year are planned. Also notice that much of graduate teaching in economics involves Ph.D. students from Wharton, who are not part of SAS. Wharton is going ahead with its Ph.D. admissions.”

That is from an email from a well-informed inside source.  Here is the original MR post, blame it on the Dean.

What I’ve been reading

1. Leonard Mlodinow, Stephen Hawking: A Memoir of Friendship and Physics.  One man’s version of “the real Stephen Hawking story,” including the marital arrangements and rearrangements, told by a former good friend.  I am not sure that books such as this should be written (or read), but…this one is pretty good.  It also gives Hawking’s account of why he did not win a Nobel prize (“radiation must be observed”), among other tidbits.

2. Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity — and Why This Harms Everybody.  The authors serve up many on-target criticisms of current academic nonsense, but somehow it is not how I would proceed.  Given the ridiculousness of so much of what is going on, I say there are new intellectual profit opportunities to mine the best insights from critical theory, postmodernism, intersectionality and the like.  I would rather read a book that did that.  Start with Foucault, and steelman everything as you go along.

3. Ed Douglas, Himalaya: A Human History.  Truly an excellent book covering the history, politics, and culture of…the Himalayan region.  Full of substance, lovely cover too.  The USA link here has a worse cover, no surprise.  But you’ll get the British version quicker, with the preferred cover, and at a lower price.  Arbitrage!

4. The Early Political Writings of the German Romantics, edited by Frederick C. Beiser, but basically Novalis, Schlegel, and a bit of Schleiermacher.  In particular I was surprised how well the Novalis has held up: insightful, to the point, and laying out the aesthetic approach to politics (and more) with a stark and memorable clarity.  If you are looking for something to read that is non-liberal, but not the tiresome version of non-liberal being beat to death these days, maybe try this book.

5. George Prochnik, Heinrich Heine: Writing the Revolution.  Heine has aged very well, circa 2020, and he is an appropriate liberal but also satiric counterpart to the writers mentioned immediately above, plus he was more historically prescient, and for all the talk about culture from the Romantics, it was Heine who was the perceptive observer of other people’s cultures.  This is a good book for additional historical background once you already know Heine, though not at all an introduction to his charm and import, available only from the man himself.

And I have just received my copy of Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, Lives of the Stoics: The Art of Living from Zeno to Marcus Aurelius.

The educational culture that is Dutch

Academics should not be forced to squeeze their research into weekends and holidays, according to the Dutch education minister, who admitted that pressure on some researchers had become intolerable and that professional competition had gone “too far.”

Ingrid van Engelshoven wants to reduce stress and time pressure in academe by tipping the balance away from competitive grants and toward more stable support for universities, reversing a long-term research funding trend in the Netherlands and elsewhere.

Speaking to Times Higher Education in the Hague, she hoped that reforms to Dutch academe would mean that in five to 10 years, academics would be able to do their research “within normal working hours.”

“So you don’t have to skip your vacation, skip your weekend, because you’re busy all week with teaching your students, designing your online courses [or] … drafting your applications for grants,” she said.

Here is the full story by David Matthews.

No economics Ph.D admissions for U Penn next year

The School of Arts and Sciences will pause admissions for school-funded Ph.D. programs for the 2021-2022 academic year.

SAS Dean Steven J. Fluharty and Associate Dean for Graduate Students Beth Wenger wrote in an email to SAS standing faculty and graduate students on Tuesday that the decision was made as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the school’s finances.

Here is more, via Jon Hartley.  GMU, by the way, seems to be doing fine with its enrollments and finances at all levels.

Addendum: See this update and correction.

Thursday assorted links

1. Did Covid-19 trigger nostalgic taste in music?

2. The philanthropy of Chuck Feeney who gave it all away (link fixed now).

3. Claims about North Korea and nuclear war.

4. Kanye to the NYT: “He also expressed anguish about abortion, said he didn’t reflexively support Democrats, and asked, “Does anyone at your magazine believe in Jesus?”” (link is NYT as well — they do not report their answer to that question).

5. Airline workers have lower rates of Covid-19 than the general population.

The international game theory of vaccines

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

Ideally, a government will wish to publicize the announcement of a vaccine while slow-walking the actual distribution. That way, if there is something wrong with the brew, it can stop distribution before too many of its citizens experience adverse side effects. In essence, the approving countries are doing a version of their Phase III trials with fewer scientific controls and more out in the open. For Russia in particular, it is not obvious how much it is really ahead of other countries.

One possible American strategy would be to encourage the early approvers to distribute and test their vaccines on a broader scale, and then make their data freely available. Given close working relations, this may be easier to accomplish with the UAE than with China or Russia. If one of those vaccines turned out to be good enough, the U.S. has the resources either to buy doses or to reverse engineer it.

U.S. decisions on approval speed, meanwhile, will depend on what other nations do. For instance, if the early approvers are gathering useful data through their experiments, U.S. officials might decide not to hurry so much, instead preferring to let foreigners take the risks. That sounds good, but it could be counterproductive for the world as a whole. America is the country most likely to come up with the highest quality vaccine. Slowing down the U.S. will mean that more of the world gets the (possibly) lower-quality but more readily available Chinese product.

One tension in “vaccine relations” is that richer countries and poorer countries do not want exactly the same thing. Typically, the wealthier the country, the more risk-averse its citizens, and the less need to hurry.


China may be unique: It has some properties of a rich country (a big, advanced scientific establishment), but it has a poor country’s willingness to take risks. That’s one reason China might end up leading on vaccines. The U.S. is ahead of China technologically, but Chinese priorities are more in sync with those of many other countries in the world.

There are further arguments at the link.

American distress (average is over)

The proportion of the US population in extreme distress rose from 3.6% in 1993 to 6.4% in 2019. Among low-education midlife White persons, the percentage more than doubled, from 4.8% to 11.5%. Regression analysis revealed that (1) at the personal level, the strongest statistical predictor of extreme distress was “I am unable to work,” and (2) at the state level, a decline in the share of manufacturing jobs was a predictor of greater distress.

As for the definition, exceptional distress is the percentage who reported major mental and emotional problems in all 30 of the last 30 days.

That is from Blanchower and Oswald, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

What is new in behavioral genetics?

Here is an excellent conceptual survey article by K. Paige Harden, it goes well beyond the usual.  Hard to summarize, but here are two good bits:

An early study using a DNA-based method estimated the heritability of height to be∼80%,and it noted that this result was “consistent with results from independent twin and family studies but using an entirely separate source of information” (Visscher et al. 2006). However, although the results from DNA-based method of estimating heritability scale with the estimates from twin and family studies, the former are typically smaller (Young et al. 2019). This discrepancy between heritability as estimated from classical twin and family studies and heritability as accounted for by measured DNA was labeled the missing heritability problem (Manolio et al. 2009). Recent work has suggested that some of the missing heritability is actually “hiding” in rare variants that are not typically measured and in the heterogeneity of genetic effects across populations (Tropfet al. 2017, Wainschtein et al. 2019, Young 2019). Whether missing or hiding, the continued gap between DNA-based estimates of heritability and estimates from twin/family studies means that the latter might still be overestimating heritability due to faulty assumptions. But it is no longer reasonable, contra some predictions, to expect that advances in human genomics will reveal that the heritability of psychological phenotypes is entirely illusory.

And this one:

In contrast to what is seen for educational attainment, most studies find a minimal effect of shared environmental factors on cognitive abilities, particularly when measured in adulthood. It has been suggested,however,that this near-zero main effect of the family-level environment masks the heterogeneity of the effects of the shared environment across the SES spectrum.An early paper by Turkheimer et al. (2003) analyzed data from a sample of twins with an unusual overrepresentation of children in poverty and found substantial effects of the shared environment on cognitive ability at age 7. Subsequent research on the genotype×SES interaction effect yielded mixed results, with several studies finding null effects or even effects in the opposite direction. However, a meta-analysis of this literature (Tucker-Drob & Bates 2016) found evidence of a significant interaction effect (albeit with a smaller effect size than estimated by Turkheimer and colleagues, an example of the winner’s curse), particularly in the United States.

The importance of the shared environment for cognitive ability has also been demonstrated us-ing adoption studies. In particular, population-wide data from Sweden allowed researchers to estimate the impact of the family environment using a unique sample of male-male sibling pairs where one brother was adopted while the other brother was raised by his biological parents (Kendler et al.2015). The IQ score of the adopted brother was, on average,∼4 points higher, an increase that varied with the education level of the adopting parents.

Recommended, interesting throughout, and worth a reread as well.  I have forgotten who sent it to me, if indeed anyone did, but I thank you.

Incentives matter, high school college football divorce edition

For a transfer student to be immediately eligible under Georgia High School Association rules, he or she must make a “bona fide move,” in which the “student moved simultaneously with the entire parental unit or persons he/she resided with at the former school, and the student and parent(s) or persons residing with the student live in the service area of the new school.”

Moving to Georgia wasn’t a problem for Randy, who retired in 2012 after working for 32 years with the Los Angeles Police Department. Yvonne, who works as an administrative assistant, had to remain in California for her job. For Jake to be eligible for one season at Valdosta High, Randy and Yvonne legally separated to meet the Georgia residency rules. According to court records, Randy and Yvonne dissolved their marriage on Aug. 20. They plan to get back together once Jake’s season at Valdosta High ends.

“The requirements [are] a full family move, so that and, obviously, grades and that kind of thing,” Randy said. “So at this point, we got a legal separation. We’re right down the guidelines as far as being eligible to play.”

Here is the full story, via Tom G.

Wednesday assorted links

1. Warsaw Ghetto state capacity.

2. Anger increases susceptibility to misinformation. When I see all you “pro-science” types getting mad at the wrongdoers, mostly I get sad and think you are turning your back on your cause.

3. Speculative thread on seroprevalence.

4. What kind of euro-based arbitrage scheme is this!?  Sorry W.S. Jevons!

5. Antibody treatments seem to be working.

6. I wonder how China thinks they can push my buttons.

How is Defunding the Police Going in Minneapolis?

Not well.

MPR News: The meeting was slated as a Minneapolis City Council study session on police reform.

But for much of the two-hour meeting, council members told police Chief Medaria Arradondo that their constituents are seeing and hearing street racing which sometimes results in crashes, brazen daylight carjackings, robberies, assaults and shootings. And they asked Arradondo what the department is doing about it.

…Just months after leading an effort that would have defunded the police department, City Council members at Tuesday’s work session pushed chief Medaria Arradondo to tell them how the department is responding to the violence…More people have been killed in the city in the first nine months of 2020 than were slain in all of last year. Property crimes, like burglaries and auto thefts, are also up. Incidents of arson have increased 55 percent over the total at this point in 2019.

Bear in mind this is coming after just a few months of reduced policing, due in part to extra demands and difficulty and probably in part due to police pulling back either out of fear or reluctance (blue flu) as also happened in Baltimore after the Freddie Gray killing and consequent protests and riots.

A few true believers still remain:

Cunningham also criticized some of his colleagues for seeming to waver on the promises they made earlier this year to transform the city’s public safety system.

“What I am sort of flabbergasted by right now is colleagues, who a very short time ago were calling for abolition, are now suggesting we should be putting more resources and funding into MPD,” Cunningham said.

I’m a supporter of unbundling the police and improving policing but the idea that we can defund the police and crime will just melt away is a fantasy. As with bail reform the defunders risk a backlash. Let’s start by decriminalizing more victimless crimes, as we have done in many states with marijuana laws. Let’s work on creating bureaus of road safety. But one of the reasons we do these things is so that we can increase the number of police on the street. The United States is underpoliced and the consequences of underpolicing, as well as overpolicing, fall on minority communities. As I have argued before, we need better policing so that we can all be comfortable with more policing. Getting there, however, will take time.

Horror fans and morbidly curious individuals are more psychologically resilient during the COVID-19 pandemic

Fans of horror films exhibit less psychological distress during COVID-19.

Fans of “prepper” films reported being more prepared for the pandemic.

Morbidly curious people exhibit greater positive resilience during COVID-19.

Morbidly curious people are more interested in pandemic films during the pandemic.

Speculative, and yes replication crisis, but consistent with my intuitions, and in any case a question worthy of further study.  Here is the full paper, by Coltan Scrivner,, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Kiwi start-up to the Venus rescue

On Monday, scientists announced the astonishing discovery of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus. This chemical could have been produced by a biological source, but scientists won’t know for sure without sending a spacecraft to the planet.

As luck would have it, Rocket Lab, the private small rocket company founded in New Zealand, has been working on such a mission. The company has developed a small satellite, called Photon, that it plans to launch on its own Electron rocket as soon as 2023.

“This mission is to go and see if we can find life,” said Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s founder and chief executive. “Obviously, this discovery of phosphine really adds strength to that possibility. So I think we need to go and have a look there.”

Rocket Lab has launched a dozen rockets to space, putting small satellites into orbit for private companies, NASA and the U.S. military. It also has a mission to the moon in the works with NASA, called CAPSTONE, scheduled to launch in early 2021.

…The company’s plan is to develop the mission in-house and mostly self-fund it, at a cost in the tens of millions of dollars.

Here is the full NYT story by Jonathan O’Callaghan, interesting throughout.

Green vs. green: whose side are you on?

An Australian mining firm wants to turn a Nevada valley into a quarry for lithium and boron – key elements for green technologies – but a rare plant may stand in its way. Researchers say that biodiversity and clean energy should not be in opposition.

The company, Ioneer, says the quarry in Rhyolite Ridge valley would be the first US quarry of its kind, able to supply lithium for 400,000 electric car batteries a year and boron to power wind turbines. But soil containing these elements is also the perfect environment for Tiehm’s buckwheat (Eriogonum tiehmii), a plant that looks like a pile of leaves. When it blooms, it could be the dandelion’s fuzzy cousin.

There are only about 40,000 specimens of the buckwheat, and its namesake, Arnold Tiehm at the University of Nevada, Reno, says its closest relative is more than 80 kilometres away.

Most of the buckwheat’s natural home lies in the area mapped to be dug up for the quarry. “That puts the buckwheat on a one-way path to extinction,” says Patrick Donnelly at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) in Nevada. Ioneer will remove 65 per cent of the buckwheat’s population if the first planned quarry goes ahead, the company confirmed to New Scientist.

Although rare, the buckwheat isn’t yet considered endangered, but that may change. Following a petition by the CBD, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced in July that the plant is both valuable enough and under sufficient threat to warrant a year-long review to decide whether to list the plant under the US Endangered Species Act. The listing would spell the end for the quarry as currently planned.

Here is the full story, via Ilya Novak.