Results for “manipulation”
75 found

The first genetically modified potato

In the modern sense that is, of course potatoes have been genetically modified for a long time:

The Agriculture Department on Friday approved the first genetically modified potato for commercial planting in the United States, a move likely to draw the ire of groups opposed to artificial manipulation of foods.

The Innate potato, developed by the J.R. Simplot Co., is engineered to contain less of a suspected human carcinogen that occurs when a conventional potato is fried, and is also less prone to bruising during transport.

Boise, Idaho-based Simplot is a major supplier of frozen french fries to fast-food giant McDonald’s.

The story is here, and you will note that on Tuesday the mandatory GMO-labeling initiatives failed in Oregon and Colorado, the second failure in Oregon and that means failures in four states overall.  Less positively, voters in Maui County, Hawaii chose to restrict GMO cultivation altogether.  And now McDonald’s is under pressure not to use these new potatoes for its french fries.  But of course you can understand the marketing dilemma of McDonald’s here — they can’t just come out and say “these french fries won’t give you cancer.”

Are siblings obsessed with moral hazard?

In most Darwinian models there is competition across siblings for resources and parental attention, from the womb but also stretching into adulthood.  Siblings who do well therefore will be hyper-aware of the strategies employed by their brothers and sisters.  They will need to counter those strategies on a very regular basis and furthermore they will on average be deploying similar strategies themselves.

At the same time, siblings probably won’t see each other as so evil by nature.  They will be realistic about motives — some would say cynical — while at the same time recognizing that the siblings are probably, on average, no worse than themselves.  Plus there is a natural genetic and also family affinity.

How about mothers?  Genetically speaking, mothers often adopt the interests of the sibling as “their own.”  For instance a lot of mothers died in childbirth before modern medicine, when alternative biological arrangements would have given the mothers greater protection.  So the children can commandeer the loyalty of the mother (and sometimes the father) more readily than they can commandeer the loyalties of their siblings.

Mothers are therefore often deceived about or simply tolerant of the manipulations employed by their children on them.  In other words, mothers worry less about moral hazard problems with respect to their children.  The siblings will in some respects understand these strategies better than the mother will.

The other children may feel that a mother should punish (or possibly but less likely reward) the other siblings more.  And “Johnny is being a stinker” will be a more frequent complaint than “Johnny is possessed with Original Sin.”

In turn, mothers may worry more about problems of type.  If a mother is hyper-aware of the faults of her children, she may do a better job of protecting them or teaching them how to overcome those limitations.

A world where fewer people have siblings may be a world where recognizing moral hazard problems may be for many people less intuitive.  Is it also possible that men may on average be more aware of moral hazard problems than are women?  And women more aware of problems of type?

Should we care that Facebook is manipulating us?

Facebook manipulated the emotions of hundreds of thousands of its users, and found that they would pass on happy or sad emotions, it has said. The experiment, for which researchers did not gain specific consent, has provoked criticism from users with privacy and ethical concerns.

For one week in 2012, Facebook skewed nearly 700,000 users’ news feeds to either be happier or sadder than normal. The experiment found that after the experiment was over users’ tended to post positive or negative comments according to the skew that was given to their newsfeed.

The research has provoked distress because of the manipulation involved.

Clearly plenty of ads try to manipulative us with positive emotions, and without telling us.  There are also plenty of sad songs, or for that matter sad movies and sad advertisements, again running an agenda for their own manipulative purposes.  Is the problem with Facebook its market power?  Or is the the sheer and unavoidable transparency of the notion that Facebook is inducing us to pass along similar emotions to our network of contacts, thus making us manipulators too, and in a way which is hard to us to avoid thinking about?  What would Robin Hanson say?

Note by the way that “The effect the study documents is very small, as little as one-tenth of a percent of an observed change.”  How much that eventually dwindles, explodes, or dampens out in the longer run I would say is still not known to us.  My intuition however is that we see a lot of longer-run dampening and also intertemporal substitution of emotions, meaning this is pretty close to a non-event.

The initial link is here.  The underlying study is here.  Other readings on the topic are here.

I hope you’re not too sad about this post [smiley face]!

Can you trust Chinese government statistics?

Political scientist Jeremy Wallace has a recent paper on this topic:

Economic statistics dominate policy analyses, political discussions, and the study of political economy. Such statistics inform citizens on general conditions while central leaders also use them to evaluate local officials. Are economic data systematically manipulated? After establishing discrepancies in economic data series across regime types cross-nationally, I dive into sub-national growth data in China. This paper leverages variation in the likelihood of manipulation over two dimensions, arguing that politically sensitive data are more likely to be manipulated at politically sensitive times. GDP releases generate headlines, while highly correlated electricity production and consumption data are less closely watched. At the sub-national level in China, the difference between GDP and electricity growth increases in years with leadership turnover, consistent with juking the stats for political reasons. The analysis points to the political role of information and the limits of non-electoral accountability mechanisms in authoritarian regimes as well as suggesting caution in the use of politically sensitive official economic statistics.

All good points.  I would stress, however, that Chinese statistics have many problems in them and so they are not simple overestimates of how the economy is doing, at least not over the last thirty years as a whole.  In some ways Chinese growth statistics have been, until 2008-2009, probably underestimating the actual progress on the ground.  In general, growth figures underestimate progress when changes are large, and overestimate progress when changes are small.  (One reason for this is that extreme progress brings a lot of new goods to the market and their marginal value is underestimated by their price ex post, since it is hard to adjust for the fact that the price ex ante was infinite or very high.)  In Western history for instance, our most significant period of growth was probably the late 19th through early 20th century, when the foundations for the modern world were laid, yet estimated growth rates for this period are not astonishingly high.  We’re missing out on the values of the new goods, for one thing.

For the pointer I thank Henry Farrell.

Most Popular MR Posts of 2013

Here is my annual round-up of the most popular MR posts of 2013 as measured, somewhat eclectically, using the number of links, tweets, shares, comments and so forth. Sadly, the post that was most linked to this year was by neither Tyler nor myself but by… Tyrone.

Look people, I have explained this before. Tyrone is a bad man. Do Not Encourage Tyrone. Fortunately for us Tyrone doesn’t like it when people like him. 

Second most highly linked was my post No One Is Innocent. I was also pleased that a related post, Did Obama Spy on Mitt Romney?, was also highly linked although I think that the question raised in this post about the potential for NSA tools to be abused for political purposes hasn’t been truly addressed in the main stream media. Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic in The Surveillance State Puts U.S. Elections at Risk of Manipulation was one of the few people to pick up on this important question.

Also highly linked were my post The Great Canadian Sperm Shortage and a few less substantive items drawn mostly from elsewhere such as Equal Population US States and What is the Most Intellectual Joke You Know.

If you followed Tyler’s timely advice in another highly linked post, China, and the soaring price of Bitcoin, you would have saved yourself from a big loss (albeit you would have made an even bigger profit by ignoring Tyler’s earlier advice).

The most shared post was Tyler’s Stereotyping in Europe with over seven thousand shares, followed by Nobody dislikes inflation more than strippers. I was pleased that a bunch of my substantive posts were highly shared including:

Another highly shared and commented upon post was Our DNA, Our Selves on the FDA and 23andMe. Mark my words, when this or similar case goes to court the FDA will eventually lose on free speech grounds.

Gun posts get lots of comments including The Culture of Guns, The Culture of AlcoholGuns, Suicide and Natural ExperimentsFirearms and Suicides and How Japan Does Gun Control.

Question posts such as Who is the Worst Philosopher? and Who is the most influential public intellectual of the last twenty-five years? get lots of comments as did Who is Juan Galt?

There is overlap between most linked, shared, and commented so some of the above would fit in several categories but it’s surprisingly weak. Posts with a lot of comments, for example, often do not draw lots of links.

What were your favorite posts of 2013? And what requests do you have for 2014?

The literature on Iranian negotiation techniques

I found this 2004 piece (pdf) by Shmuel Bar.  It has numerous interesting and detailed points, though I do not think it can be considered objective.  Here is one excerpt:

Iranian negotiators are methodical and have demonstrated a high level of preparations and a detailed and legalistic attitude. On the other hand, their communication tends to be extremely high-context; ambiguous, allusive and indirect not only in the choice of words utilized, but in the dependence of the interpretation of the message on the context in which it is transmitted: non-verbal clues, staging and setting of the act of communication, and the choice of the bearer of the message. Procrastination is another key characteristic of Iranian negotiation techniques. This stands in sharp contrast to American style communication (Get to the point/Where’s the beef?/ time is money!) which places a high value on using lowest common denominator language in order to ensure maximum and effective mutual understanding of the respective intents of both sides. This tendency has been explained by an aversion to an assumption that the longer the negotiations last, the greater a chance that things can change in his favor and an intrinsic Shiite belief in the virtue of patience.

Dissimulation, high-level disinformation and manipulation are widely acceptable.

…one may paraphrase Marshall McLuhan in saying that in Iran frequently “the messenger is the message.”

…One of the characteristic traits of Iranian negotiation techniques is that the haggling goes on even after an agreement is struck.

I suppose we’ll see how it goes.

Wise Crowds Tell No Lies

One of the benefits of tapping the wisdom of the crowds is that the market doesn’t lie*.  Not even white lies, as Lars Christensen found to his chagrin when he recently gave a talk to investment advisors in the Danske Bank group:

As I was about to start my presentation somebody said “The audience have been kind of quiet today”. I thought that was a challenge so I immediately jumped on top of a table. That woke up the crowd.

I ask the audience to guess my weight. They all wrote their guesses on a piece of paper. All the guesses was collected and an average guess – the “consensus forecast” – was calculated, while I continued my presentation.

I started my presentation and I naturally started telling why all of my forecasts would be useless – or at least that they should not expect that I would be able to beat the market. I of course wanted to demonstrate exactly that with my little stunt. It was a matter of demonstrating the wisdom of the crowds – or a simple party-version of the Efficient Market Hypothesis.

I am certainly not weighing myself on a daily basis so I was“guestimating” my own weight then I told the audience that my weight is 81 kilograms (fully dressed). I usually think of my own weight as being just below 80 kg, but I was trying to correct it for the fact I was fully dressed – and I added a bit extra because my wife has been teasing me that I gained weight recently.

As always I was completely confident that the “survey” result would come in close to the “right” number. So I was bit surprised when the  ”consensus forecast” for my weight came in at 84.6 kg

It was close enough for me to claim that the “market” – or the crowd – was good at “forecasting”, but I must say that I thought the “verdict” was wrong – nearly 85 kg. That is fat. I am not fat…or am I?

So once I came back home I immediately jumped on the scale – for once I hoped to show that the Efficient Market Hypothesis was wrong. But the verdict was even more cruel. 84 kg!

So the “consensus forecast” was only half a kilo wrong and way better than my own guestimate. So not only am I fat, but I was also beaten by the “market” in guessing my own weight.

* The market doesn’t lie doesn’t mean the market is always correct. A lie is an intentional falsehood. Market manipulation would be analogous to an intentional lie so it’s not impossible for markets to lie only difficult much of the time.

Is a Ph.D. important for succeeding in finance?

There is a new paper by Ranadeb Chaudhuri, Zoran Ivkovich, Joshua Matthew Pollet, and Charles Trzcinka, the abstact is this:

Several hundred individuals who hold a Ph.D. in economics, finance, or others fields work for institutional money management companies. The gross performance of domestic equity investment products managed by individuals with a Ph.D. (Ph.D. products) is superior to the performance of non-Ph.D. products matched by objective, size, and past performance for one-year returns, Sharpe Ratios, alphas, information ratios, and the manipulation-proof measure MPPM. Fees for Ph.D. products are lower than those for non-Ph.D. products. Investment flows to Ph.D. products substantially exceed the flows to the matched non-Ph.D. products. Ph.D.s’ publications in leading economics and finance journals further enhance the performance gap.

For the pointer I thank Samir Varma, whose teenage daughter has a new book on iTunes here.

The Randall Collins theory of ritual

Much of it concerns the origins and application of violence, but this blog post on Randall Collins and his theory of ritual, by Xavier Marquez, is interesting throughout.  Here is one excerpt:

The (relative) insignificance of ideology. Taken in its strongest terms, Collins’ theory seems to suggest that ideology is generally unimportant. Whether a symbol acquires socially motivating value depends much less on its “generalized” meaning than on its place within chains of interaction rituals; we are not generally the dupes of rhetorical framings and persuasive strategies except in the context of successful ritual situations. (Collins notes, for example, that most advertisement seems to be unsuccessful at actually persuading people to buy products, and is mostly intended to preserve attention space against competitors). From this perspective, the decline of labor movements worldwide, for example, may owe less to any ideological changes (“persuasion” and “manipulation” taken in a very broad sense) than to (intentional or unintentional) changes in the conditions for the ritual production of solidarity. Chris Bertram recently mused on the occasion of Margaret Thatcher’s death that UK society used to be socially more class-differentiated (there were strong institutions where class solidarities and roles were produced) but is now less so (since these institutions have vanished), despite very low levels of economic mobility and higher levels of economic inequality; many people now “feel” that there is more equality. From the interaction ritual perspective, these changes are not the result of the working class becoming simply convinced of lies due to clever persuasive strategies by elites, but of the less central place of rituals and symbols reinforcing class solidarity in their lives. This is in turn due to any number of causes: laws that made labor unions more difficult to organize, structural changes in employment patterns, the decay of rituals of deference, the emergence of rituals focused on celebrities that cut across social class, etc.

Collins is one of the most important social scientists in the world today, though in many circles he remains underdiscussed.  You will find previous MR coverage of him here.  The pointer is from @HenryFarrell.

A Bet is a Tax on Bullshit

Nate Silver, whose models give Obama a high probability of winning reelection, has offered one of his critics a bet. “Putting your money where your mouth is,” is a time-honored principle of integrity in my view but the NYTimes Public Editor is very upset. Margaret Sullivan, however, never offers an argument against betting instead treating it as unseemly.

[Betting is] inappropriate for a Times journalist, which is how Mr. Silver is seen by the public even though he’s not a regular staff member.

“I wouldn’t want to see it become newsroom practice,” said the associate managing editor for standards, Philip B. Corbett. He described Mr. Silver’s status as a blogger — something like a columnist — as a mitigating factor…

…When he came to work at The Times, Mr. Silver gained a lot more visibility and the credibility associated with a prominent institution. But he lost something, too: the right to act like a free agent with responsibilities to nobody’s standards but his own.

The closest to an argument against betting is this:

…whatever the motivation behind it, the wager offer is a bad idea – giving ammunition to the critics who want to paint Mr. Silver as a partisan who is trying to sway the outcome.

My best parse of the argument is that by betting Silver has given himself an interest in the election and this hurts his credibility. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.

A properly structured bet is the most credible guarantor of rigorous disinterest. In order to prove his point, Silver is not required to take the Obama side of the bet! At the odds implied by his model (currently between 3 and 4 to 1) Silver should be willing to take either side of a modest bet. Indeed, we could hold a coin toss, heads Silver takes the Obama side, tails he takes Romney.

In fact, the NYTimes should require that Silver, and other pundits, bet their beliefs. Furthermore, to remove any possibility of manipulation, the NYTimes should escrow a portion of Silver’s salary in a blind trust bet. In other words, the NYTimes should bet a portion of Silver’s salary, at the odds implied by Silver’s model, randomly choosing which side of the bet to take, only revealing to Silver the bet and its outcome after the election is over. A blind trust bet creates incentives for Silver to be disinterested in the outcome but very interested in the accuracy of the forecast.

Overall, I am for betting because I am against bullshit. Bullshit is polluting our discourse and drowning the facts. A bet costs the bullshitter more than the non-bullshitter so the willingness to bet signals honest belief. A bet is a tax on bullshit; and it is a just tax, tribute paid by the bullshitters to those with genuine knowledge.

Noble Matching

In honor of the Nobel prizes to Al Roth and Lloyd Shapley, here is a primer on matching theory. Matching is a fundamental property of many markets and social institutions. Jobs are matched to workers, husbands to wives, doctors to hospitals, kidneys to patients.

The field of matching may be said to start with the Gale-Shapley deferred choice algorithm. Here is how it works, applied to men and women and marriage (n.b. the algorithm can also work for gay marriage but it’s a little easier to explain and implement with men and women). Each man proposes to his first ranked choice. Each woman keeps her top-ranked suitor but defers accepting the proposal. Each woman also rejects her lower ranked suitors. Each rejected man proposes to his second ranked choice. Each woman rejects again any lower-ranked suitors, which may include previous suitors who have now become lower-ranked. The process repeats until no further proposals are made; each woman then accepts her top-ranked suitor and the matches are made.

A similar process works when proposal receivers may accept more than one suitor, not that useful for marriage in most of the United States but very useful for when students are applying to schools and each school accepts many students.

Now what is good about this algorithm? First, Gale and Shapley proved that the algorithm converges to a solution for a very wide range of preferences. Second, the algorithm is stable in the sense that there is no man and no woman who would rather be matched to each other than to their current match. There are of course, men who would prefer to marry other women and there are women who would prefer to marry other men but no mutually preferable match is possible. Thus, the algorithm produces a stable match.

The application to men and women is somewhat fanciful, although Match.com should clearly adopt this idea!, but the application to students and schools is very real. Gale and Shapley concluded their paper by writing:

It is our opinion, however, that some of the ideas introduced here might usefully be applied to certain phases of the admissions problem.

Indeed, this is exactly what has happened. Students in New York and in Boston are now matched to schools using versions of this algorithm. Even before Gale and Shapley the algorithm had been used, without much theorizing, by doctors allocating residents to hospitals and since Gale-Shapley and Roth the idea has been used much more extensively all over the world .The algorithm, by the way, has been picked up and extended by computer scientists notably including Knuth.

I said above that the men propose to the women–this matters because when the women propose to the men you also get a stable match but it may be a somewhat different match and in general it is better to be the one proposing. Matching becomes more difficult when, as in modern times, both men and women may propose. Fortunately, in many problems, such as with students and schools, the proposers and receivers can be fixed.

Another question is whether the algorithm can be strategically manipulated. In an Impossibility Theorem with much the same flavor as Arrow’s Theorem and the Gibbard-Satterthwaite theorem, Roth and Roth and Sotomayor proved that there is always some possibility for manipulation but the G-S algorithm can be said to minimize the opportunity for strategic manipulation; in particular for the proposers, men or say students applying to schools. it is a dominant strategy to reveal one’s true preferences.

The importance of a stable matching algorithm can be seen in what happens when such algorithms are not used. In trying to allocate residents to hospitals, for example, what typically happens when a stable algorithm is not used is unraveling and chaos. Unraveling occurs when offers are made earlier and earlier in an attempt to get a jump on the competition. Prior to the currently used National Residency Matching Program, for example, hospitals were making offers to residents up to two years in advance! All kinds of chaos arose as hospitals would make exploding offers, accept now or the offer explodes! Such offers would inevitable lead to recriminations and backing out of the offers as better matches were sought.

What Roth has done is extend the Gale-Shapley algorithm to more complicated matches and to actually design such algorithms to solve real problems. In the 1970s, for example, the medical residency algorithm began to run into trouble because of a new development, the dual career couple. How to match couples, both doctors, to hospitals in the same city? By the 1990s assortative matching in the marriage market was beginning to derail matching in the doctor-hospital market! Roth was called in to solve the problem and moved from being a theorist to a market designer. Roth and Peranson designed the matching algorithm that is now used by Orthodontists, Psychologists, Pharmacists, Radiologists, Pediatric surgeons and many other medical specialties in the United States.

Most famously, Roth has worked on improving kidney allocation. I first wrote about this in 2004 (see also these posts):

Your spouse is dying of kidney disease. You want to give her one of your kidneys but tests show that it is incompatible with her immune system. Utter anguish and frustration. Is there anything that you can do? Today the answer is yes. Transplant centers are now helping to arrange kidney swaps. You give to the spouse of another donor who gives to your spouse. Pareto would be proud. Even a few three-way swaps have been conducted.

But why stop at three? What about an n-way swap? Let’s add in the possibility of an exchange that raises your spouse on the queue for a cadaveric kidney. And let us also recognize that even if your kidney is compatible with your spouse’s there may be a better match. Is there an allocation system that makes all donors and spouses better off (or at least no worse off) and that maximizes the number of beneficial swaps? In an important paper (Warning! Very technical. Requires NBER subscription.) Alvin Roth and co-authors describe just such a mechanism and show that it could save many lives. Who says efficiency is a pedestrian virtue?

Since that time we have seen many such swaps including this record of 60 people and 30 kidneys. Truly a noble match.

Minor editing Oct. 23.

What is a disability?

 Swimming has 10 classifications for athletes with different physical impairments, plus three more for visual impairments and one for athletes with intellectual deficits. For that reason it is particularly prone to challenges, and swimmers say they sometimes suspect that athletes have not been classified correctly.

Three weeks before she was set to compete in the London Paralympics, Mallory Weggemann, an American swimmer who is paralyzed from the waist down, learned that officials from the International Paralympic Committee had questions about her level of ability and were requiring her to submit to reclassification in London.

And this:

The most notorious example of Paralympic classification manipulation took place at the 2000 Games in Sydney. The Spanish men’s intellectual disability basketball team was stripped of its gold medal after it emerged that many of its members were not intellectually disabled at all.

After that, mentally disabled athletes were barred from the Paralympics while officials revised the classification process; they are back again this year.

The athletes say they sympathize with the difficulties faced by the classifiers, who are forced to determine how to sort people who have several hundred different types and degrees of disability.

There is more here, interesting throughout and yet also more interesting than the article itself as well.

The Myth of Chinese Meritocracy

No doubt you have heard how the leadership of China is meritocratic and composed of technocrats with PhDs. Minxin Pei suggests that there is less than meets the eye.

…Contrary to the prevailing perception in the West (especially among business leaders), the current Chinese government is riddled with clever apparatchiks like Bo who have acquired their positions through cheating, corruption, patronage, and manipulation.

One of the most obvious signs of systemic cheating is that many Chinese officials use fake or dubiously acquired academic credentials to burnish their resumes. Because educational attainment is considered a measure of merit, officials scramble to obtain advanced degrees in order to gain an advantage in the competition for power.

The overwhelming majority of these officials end up receiving doctorates (a master’s degree won’t do anymore in this political arms race) granted through part-time programs or in the Communist Party’s training schools. Of the 250 members of provincial Communist Party standing committees, an elite group including party chiefs and governors, 60 claim to have earned PhDs.

Tellingly, only ten of them completed their doctoral studies before becoming government officials.

Simply put, Chinese institutions are not as good as those in say Mexico. Thus, China will not overtake Mexico in terms of GDP per capita any time soon, hence Chinese growth rates will fall. All we are seeing today is the logic of the Solow model in action.