Results for “Tests”
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Two misunderstood movies, two Rorschach tests (not too many spoilers here)

American Sniper is one of the best anti-war movies I have seen, ever.  But it shows the sniper-assassin, and his killing, to be sexy, and to be regarded as sexy by women, while the rest of war is dull and stupid.  (Even the two enemy snipers are quite attractive and fantastic figures, and there is a deliberate parallel between the family life of the Syrian sniper and the American protagonist.  The klutziness of the non-assassin soldiers limited how many African-Americans and Hispanics they were willing to cast in those roles, as it is easiest to make white guys look crass in this way without causing offense.)  By making the attractions of war palpable, this film disturbs and confuses people and also occasions some of the worst critical reviews I have read.  It also, by understanding and then dissecting the attractions of blood lust, becomes a quite convincing anti-war movie, if you doubt this spend a few months studying The Iliad.  (By the way, Clint Eastwood, the director and producer, describes the movie as anti-war.)  The murder scenes create an almost unbearable tension, the sandstorm is a metaphor for our collective fog, and they had the stones to opt for the emotional overkill of four rather than just three tours of duty.  Iraq is presented as a hopeless wasteland with nothing of value or relevance to the United States, and at the end of the story America proves its own worst enemy.  It is not clear who ever gets over having killed and fought in a war (can anything else be so gripping?…neither family life nor sex…), even when appearances suggest a kind of normality has returned.  The generational cycle is in any case replenished.  I say A or A+, both as a movie and as a Rorschach test.

Two Days, One Night has some of the worst economics I have seen in a movie, ever.  It would be brilliant as a kind of Randian (or for that matter Keynesian) meta-critique of the screwed up nature of Belgian labor markets and social norms, and most of all a critique of the inability of the Belgian intelligentsia to understand this, except it is not.  It is meant as a straight-up plea for sympathy for the victim and as such it fails miserably, even though as a movie it embodies reasonably good production values.  Everything in the workplace of this solar power company is zero-sum across the workers and we never see why.  The protagonist campaigns to get her job back, but never asks or even considers how she might improve her productivity or attitude, asking only on the basis of need.  (And she is turned down only on the basis of need.)  At one point her employer states the zero marginal product hypothesis quite precisely, something like “when you took time off, we saw that sixteen people could do the work of seventeen.”  She never asks if there might be some other way she could contribute — but she does need the money — nor does the notion of a better job match somewhere else rear its head.  The depictions of financial hardship confuse wealth and income, basic survival and discretionary spending.  The rave reviews this movie has received represent yet another Rorschach test and one which virtually every commentator seems to have failed.

The growth of on-line tests in assessment (average is over)

This continues to be a growing trend:

T-Mobile asks job applicants to take this [problem-solving, for a customer] test before inviting them for an interview because the company has found powerful correlations between the online assessments and success on the job. High scorers tend to resolve customer calls about 25 seconds faster than those who receive low scores. That means they can handle one more call a day and about 250 more a year.

More generally:

Companies are using these tests to evaluate skills and personalities for job openings at every rung of the career ladder, from bank teller to C-suite executive. They are not merely on-screen versions of decades-old paper employment tests. They are built on the power of big data: Creators have harnessed a massive trove of results to help companies pinpoint the kind of worker who might thrive in a particular job.

The legion of tests is only growing:

Some tests evaluate a specific skill, such as how quickly and accurately someone can make change from an onscreen cash register or program software in the Java coding language. Many tests incorporate simulations of scenarios one might encounter on the job. Marriott International, for example, shows housekeeping applicants a photo of a landscaped area at one of its hotels and asks candidates to determine what’s wrong with it. (Perhaps a gardening tool was not put away properly). In one of CEB’s tests for a supervisory role, applicants might have to demonstrate how they would talk to an employee who was coming in late and missing important meetings.

We are entering a new “meritocracy,” at least for people who test well, especially on-line:

Providers say the tests hold the promise of leveling the playing field for job applicants by removing the chance of bias that comes with a traditional résumé screening. The tests can’t distinguish, for example, if a candidate didn’t attend a top-tier college, is currently unemployed or is a woman or minority.

“In many cases, algorithms can trump instinct on staffing,” said John Boudreau, a professor in the business school at the University of Southern California, adding that decades of research have found that tests can serve as reliable barometers of certain personality traits, such as conscientiousness.

The full story, by Sarah Halzack, is here.

Markets in everything, positive pregnancy tests

The latest, uh, must-have appears to be positive pregnancy test results.

Women across the country are selling — and buying — them on Craigslist.

One post from Buffalo, New York, sums up the appeal for potential shoppers:

“Wanna get your boyfriend to finally pop the question? Play a trick on Mom, Dad or one of your friends? I really don’t care what you use it for.”

That particular test was going for the reasonable rate of $25 dollars. The tests in Texas seem to be slightly more expensive, at $30 a pop.

There is more here, via Marcela Veselková.

Increased aggression during human group contests when competitive ability is more similar

From Stulp G, Kordsmeyer T, Buunk AP, Verhulst S.:

Theoretical analyses and empirical studies have revealed that conflict escalation is more likely when individuals are more similar in resource-holding potential (RHP). Conflicts can also occur between groups, but it is unknown whether conflicts also escalate more when groups are more similar in RHP. We tested this hypothesis in humans, using data from two professional sports competitions: football (the Bundesliga, the German first division of football) and basketball (the NBA, the North American National Basketball Association). We defined RHP based on the league ranks of the teams involved in the competition (i.e. their competitive ability) and measured conflict escalation by the number of fouls committed. We found that in both sports the number of fouls committed increased when the difference in RHP was smaller. Thus, we provide what is to our best knowledge the first evidence that, as in conflicts between individuals, conflicts escalate more when groups are more similar in RHP.

The paper is here, hat tip goes to Neuroskeptic.  One hypothesis is behavioral.  The other hypothesis is more directly microeconomic.  Perhaps fouling has positive expected returns within the context of the game, but costs a player long-term reputation, risks long-term retaliation, and so on, and thus the aggression is deployed more in the really important situations.

Should we renorm IQ tests?

The year in which IQ is tested can make the difference between life and death for a death row inmate. It also can determine the eligibility of children for special services, adults’ Social Security benefits and recruits’ suitability for certain military careers, according to a new study by Cornell University researchers.

That’s because IQ scores tend to rise 5 to 25 points in a single generation. This so-called “Flynn effect” is corrected by toughening up the test every 15 to 20 years to reset the mean score to 100. A score from a test taken at the end of one cycle can vary widely from a score derived from a test taken at the beginning of the next cycle, when the test is more difficult, says Stephen J. Ceci, professor of human development at Cornell.

In other words, our definitions of intelligence and mental retardation are more relativistic than we would like to think. Yet the law, and various institutional categories, look to IQ scores as if they were fully objective. Here is the full story.

The Flynn effect implies, if you take it literally, that most people were morons as recently as a few generations ago. Just think, “someone who scored among the best 10% a hundred years ago, would nowadays be categorized among the 5% weakest. That means that someone who would be considered bright a century ago, should now be considered a moron!” So much as I believe in the idea of progress, I don’t think we can take the numbers at face value. If you are not convinced, try reading David Hume. Here is another survey of hypotheses, and why they fail to explain the data.

We’re past the point where nutrition can explain the rise in IQ scores, and more generally the Flynn effect numbers are inconsistent with more general data about the limits on environment for improving IQ scores. The less culturally specific the test, the stronger the Flynn effect appears. Bill Dickens and Flynn offer some interesting evidence on how genes and environment interact.

My favorite hypothesis, which has no hard data to support it, cites “the impact of the visual and spatial demands that accompany a television-laden, video-game-rich world. ” In other words, TV helps us do well on IQ tests. This does not explain why the Flynn effect predates 1950, but perhaps the more general increase in world complexity forces our brains to adapt. In earlier times people were “smart enough” for their environments, and still could create brilliant achievements on the frontiers they faced, still they might have been ill-suited to live in modern times.

From the Comments, On FDF

Sure and Tom Meadowcroft have been hitting it out of the ballpark in the comments sections. Two examples.

Sure:

Protocol was made to serve man, not man to serve the protocol.

The reason we have protocols is because we need to weight the harms of waiting without a treatment against the harms that happen if the treatment is counterproductive in some unforeseen manner.

We can, normally, pretty easily measure the benefit side: count up the mortality and morbidity for the illness in question. The risk side is harder so we developed tests and processes to elucidate those: RCTs, literature reviews, regulatory oversight, mandatory waiting periods. At the end of the day though, the whole process is just one giant test to measure the likely harm of a new entity.

So when is a test worth doing? After all I do not order an MRI for every patient even though I could find a lot of early stage cancers that way.

..GSW to the abdomen with crashing bp with minimal response to volume? Straight to the OR. No matter the results of the CT scan they are still getting opened to stop the bleeding.

…So now we look at the vaccine approval process and methods to stretch doses. Pre-test probability that vaccines work? Inordinately high after passing Phase II. Odds that we hit on the precise optimal timing regimen on the first go? Nil.

The likelihood ratios for RCTs and approval mechanisms are powerful. But we are talking thousands of deaths per day. The odds that these tests will remotely alter management decisions is nil. It is malpractice to delay life saving treatment on tests exceedingly unlikely to change management decisions.

And remember the UK is not seeing horrid outcomes for doing this for a while now. A lot of theoretical failure mechanisms are now off the table.

Science is wholly about building a reliable model that accurately predicts future outcomes of current actions. While doing the actual experiment is the gold standard for knowledge acquisition, it is not the only option and in cases like this pandemic is not sufficiently better than past data to merit waiting.

As far as the regulators. I work with some of them directly. They are not overburdened to anywhere near the degree that the frontline clinicians have been hit. When I ask them to explain their cost benefit calculations, they have none. Not I cannot follow them. Not I disagree with them. They have done not an iota of math to justify their course of action.

Sorry, but I believe in evidence based medicine, not eminence based medicine. If you as a regulator cannot explain to me in technical terms the math behind your decision process, even if only back of the envelope, you are not worth putting in charge.

Approve all the vaccines, FDF, fractional dosing trials, and first dose followed by variolation trials should all be done now. It is was [what] the math demands.

Also this from Tom Meadowcroft:

Scientific researchers search for the truth. Medical clinicians use limited data balance cost and benefits in the face of uncertainty to save the most lives.

When searching for the truth, it is important to have high standards of statistical significance, integrity, and patience, because credibility and a reputation for integrity is everything. Every academic knows that a retracted paper or an accusation of playing fast and loose with statistics can be the death knell for a career. As a result it is prudent to be very certain before publishing. Public health officials, particularly those in charge of approving vaccines, dread the possibility that a vaccine that will be given to millions of healthy people, often children, to prevent diseases where death is rare, which could harbor some flaw that causes a hundred avoidable deaths; they seek the highest standards of proof of safety and efficacy before approving such a vaccine.

But a pandemic is not a search for truth, and a COVID vaccine administered in the midst of a pandemic is very different than a measles vaccine administered to 2-year-olds. The pandemic makes these decisions for FDF or for vaccine approvals into clinical decisions, where health professionals should be balancing the certain benefit of reducing the thousands of daily deaths against the uncertain cost of the possibilities of harmful side-effects and uncertain details of efficacy (when does immunity kick in, how long does it last, how valuable is a booster) that additional months of testing and trials would reveal more clearly.

Public health researchers, academics for the most part, lack the ability (and courage) to make the sort of cost/benefit analysis with necessarily limited data that clinical physicians make every day in examination rooms. Any good clinician, faced with the citizenry of a country as their patient, would have opted for FDF, the AZ vaccine, and quite likely reduced doses by the start of the year. Because we are stuck with academics and administrators as our decision makes, unable to see beyond their usual routine of searching for the truth and protecting their reputations, thousands more will die.

Profile of Youyang Gu, data scientist

In mid-April, while he was living with his parents in Santa Clara, Calif., Gu spent a week building his own Covid death predictor and a website to display the morbid information. Before long, his model started producing more accurate results than those cooked up by institutions with hundreds of millions of dollars in funding and decades of experience.

“His model was the only one that seemed sane,” says Jeremy Howard, a renowned data expert and research scientist at the University of San Francisco. “The other models were shown to be nonsense time and again, and yet there was no introspection from the people publishing the forecasts or the journalists reporting on them. Peoples’ lives were depending on these things, and Youyang was the one person actually looking at the data and doing it properly.”

The forecasting model that Gu built was, in some ways, simple. He had first considered examining the relationship among Covid tests, hospitalizations, and other factors but found that such data was being reported inconsistently by states and the federal government. The most reliable figures appeared to be the daily death counts. “Other models used more data sources, but I decided to rely on past deaths to predict future deaths,” Gu says. “Having that as the only input helped filter the signal from the noise.”

The novel, sophisticated twist of Gu’s model came from his use of machine learning algorithms to hone his figures.

Here is the full Bloomberg piece by Ashlee Vance, I am especially pleased because Youyang was an Emergent Ventures winner.  Here is Youyang Gu on Twitter.

The problem with rapid testing was always on the demand side

The U.S. government distributed millions of fast-acting tests for diagnosing coronavirus infections at the end of last year to help tamp down outbreaks in nursing homes and prisons and allow schools to reopen.

But some states haven’t used many of the tests, due to logistical hurdles and accuracy concerns, squandering a valuable tool for managing the pandemic. The first batches, shipped to states in September, are approaching their six-month expiration dates.

At least 32 million of the 142 million BinaxNOW rapid Covid-19 tests distributed by the U.S. government to states starting last year weren’t used as of early February, according to a Wall Street Journal review of their inventories…

“The demand has just not been there,” said Myra Kunas, Minnesota’s interim public health lab director.

…the tests are piling up in many states, the Journal found.

Here is more from Brianna Abbott and Sarah Krouse at the WSJ.  You may recall the discussions of demand-side issues from my CWTs with Paul Romer and Glen Weyl.  The envelope theorem remains underrated.

Sunday assorted links

1. The regulatory, status quo bias in public health commentary: “Do any of the experts arguing that it’s wrong for Americans to demand access to the AstraZeneca vaccine also advise residents of the UK, EU, and 15 other countries to delay taking it until our FDA grants authorization?

2. Claudia Sahm Substack.

3. People are fed up with broken vaccine appointment tools — so they’re building their own (Technology Review).

4. NASA prize to make food on the Moon, Mars.

5. The UK put a venture capitalist in charge of its vaccine procurement.

6. Cuba will allow more small business.

7. Ross Douthat on the Romney family plan (NYT).

8. It seems fear of kidnapping is severely limiting mobility in Haiti, even for the non-wealthy (NYT).

Had Covid? You May Need Only One Dose

The barriers are breaking. Step by step we move closer to First Doses First. New results from a small-scale study suggest that people who have had COVID have strong reactions to the first dose and may not need the second dose.

NYTimes: Based on these results, the researchers say, people who have had Covid-19 may need only one shot.

“I think one vaccination should be sufficient,” said Florian Krammer, a virologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and an author on the study. “This would also spare individuals from unnecessary pain when getting the second dose and it would free up additional vaccine doses.”

…People who have had Covid seem to be “reacting to the first dose as if it was a second dose,” said Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at the Yale School of Medicine. So one dose is probably “more than enough,” she said.

A study published earlier this month reported that surviving a natural infection provided 83 percent protection from getting infected again over the course of five months. “Giving two doses on top of that appears to be maybe overkill,” she added.

So for the 25 million to 100 million Americans who have already been infected by COVID it may be better for them personally to delay the second dose. In short, a significant fraction of second doses have little to no value. This (unsurprising) finding means that First Doses First is an even better strategy even if we can’t condition doses on previous infection.

Most important, First Doses First gets more people significant immunity faster which is good for the vaccinated and also drives down R which is good for society as a whole, even the unvaccinated.

The Biden administration has been more pro-active than the Trump administration on tests and vaccination and has already made some goods calls on getting more doses out faster. I hope they continue to be bold. We need quick, bold, and decisive action.

Markets in everything

Illicit sales of fake negative Covid-19 test results are becoming more widespread as criminals look to profit from travel restrictions imposed during the pandemic, according to Europol.

The EU’s law enforcement agency on Monday reported an increase in cases of fraudulent Covid-19 test certificates being sold to travelers. It comes as an increasing number of countries in the European Union and beyond oblige travelers to present a negative coronavirus test in order to be allowed entry, when travelling from a high-risk area.

In its latest Early Warning Notification, which Europol issues to alert EU member states of new or increasingly prevalent forms of criminal activity, the agency said the latest case of this crime had been detected in Luton Airport in the U.K., where a man was arrested trying to sell false coronavirus test results. Elsewhere in the U.K., fraudsters were caught selling bogus Covid-19 test documents for £100 ($137).

There had also been earlier reports of similar activity in other European countries.

A forgery ring at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, for example, was “dismantled” after being found selling forged negative test results to passengers, Europol said. The amount charged for the fake test documents ranged between 150-300 euros ($181-$363).

Another fraudster was apprehended in Spain for selling false negative test certificates on the internet for 40 euros, and in the Netherlands, scammers were discovered selling fake negative test results for 50-60 euros through messaging apps.

Here is the full article, via Samarth.

The Invisible Graveyard is Invisible No More

We called it the invisible graveyard, the place they buried people killed by FDA delay. Back then only a few of us–mostly libertarians long practiced in seeing the invisible hand–could see the invisible graveyard. Normal people looked at us oddly and quickly ran away when we frantically pointed to the dead. “There! there! Can’t you see the bodies?” Now, however, the veil has been lifted and even normal people see.

Here is Ezra Klein writing in the NYTimes:

The problem here is the Food and Drug Administration. They have been disastrously slow in approving these tests and have held them to a standard more appropriate to doctor’s offices than home testing. “The F.D.A. needs to catch up to the science,” Mina said, frustration evident in his voice. “They are inadvertently killing people by not following the science.” On my podcast, I asked Vivek Murthy, President Biden’s nominee for surgeon general, whether the F.D.A. had been too cautious. “I do think we’ve been too conservative,” he told me. Murthy went on to argue that there’s a difference between the diagnostic testing doctors do and the surveillance testing the public could do and that the F.D.A. had failed to appreciate the difference. Speeding the F.D.A. on this issue will be an early, and crucial, test for the Biden administration. In this case, Democrats need to deregulate.

Even back in December when I was tweeting from the rooftops things like:

Your daily reminder that 14,696 people have died from COVID in the United States since Pfizer applied for an EUA from the FDA.

people argued that I was exaggerating the simple math of FDA delay. Today, however, the reality of deadly delay is almost conventional wisdom. Here’s Klein again:

The new strains spread quickly. The speed of our countermeasures will decide our fate. What feel like reasonable delays in our normal experience of time — a few weeks here for Congress to debate a bill, a few weeks there for the F.D.A. to hold meetings — could lead to the kind of explosive infections that overwhelm our hospitals and fill our morgues.

Wednesday assorted links