Results for “Tests”
674 found

Can Philosophy Make People Generous?

Schwitzgebel and Rust famously found that professors of ethics are no more ethical than other professors. Peter Singer being perhaps a famous exception to the rule. In follow-up research Schwitzgebel and psychologist Fiery Cushman tried to find philosophical arguments to change people’s willingness to donate to charity. They were unable to find any. But perhaps they just weren’t good at coming up with effective philosophical arguments. Thus, they challenged moral philosophers and psychologists to a contest:

Can you write a philosophical argument that effectively convinces research participants to donate money to charity?

By a philosophical argument they meant an argument and not an appeal to pity or emotion. No pictures of people clubbing baby seals. The contest had 100 entrants which were winnowed down in a series of tests.

The test had people read the arguments and then decide how much of a promised payment they would they like to give to charity. An average of $2.58 was contributed to charity (of $10) in the control group (no argument). The best argument increased giving by 54% to $3.98. Not bad.

Here’s the argument which won:

Many people in poor countries suffer from a condition called trachoma. Trachoma is the major cause of preventable blindness in the world. Trachoma starts with bacteria that get in the eyes of children, especially children living in hot and dusty conditions where hygiene is poor. If not treated, a child with trachoma bacteria will begin to suffer from blurred vision and will gradually go blind, though this process may take many years. A very cheap treatment is available that cures the condition before blindness develops. As little as $25, donated to an effective agency, can prevent someone going blind later in life.

How much would you pay to prevent your own child becoming blind? Most of us would pay $25,000, $250,000, or even more, if we could afford it. The suffering of children in poor countries must matter more than one-thousandth as much as the suffering of our own child. That’s why it is good to support one of the effective agencies that are preventing blindness from trachoma, and need more donations to reach more people.

Now here’s the kicker. The winning argument was submitted by Peter Singer and Matthew Lindauer. Singer is clearly screwing with Schwitzgebel’s research!

You can read some of other effective arguments here. I don’t think it’s an accident that the winning argument was the shortest and also the least purely philosophical. I’m not saying Singer and Lindauer cheated, but compared to the other arguments the Singer-Lindauer argument is concrete and by making people think of their own children, likely to arouse emotion. That too is a lesson.

Why the sudden uptick in cases?

From Nate Silver, I am smushing together his tweet storm:

Something to think about: re-openings have been occurring gradually since late April in different states/counties. If you had a metric averaging out how open different states are, it would likely show a fairly linear pattern. So why is there a nonlinear increase in cases now?

Obviously some of that gets to the nature of exponential growth. An R of 1.3 isn’t *that* different than an R of 1.1, but played out over a few weeks, it makes a lot of difference. Still, a more complete story probably includes premature re-openings coupled with other stuff.

What other stuff? Two things seem worth pointing out. First, there seems to be some correlation with greater spread in states where it’s hot and people are spending more time indoors with the AC on. That *is* a bit nonlinear; there’s much more demand for AC in June than May.

And second, the conversation around social distancing changed a lot in early June with the protests and Trump making plans to resume his rallies. And COVID was no longer the lead story. Not blaming anyone here. But the timing is pertinent if people felt like “lockdowns are over”.

Here is the link, including a good picture of how the demand for air conditioning rises.

Thursday assorted links

1. Populous state schools are doing fine in terms of expected enrollment (NYT).  And Facebook is launching a new predictions app.

2. Would Adam Smith protest in a pandemic?

3. “I like saber cuts and bold steps. I get bored.”  Why one fellow left academia.

4. Maybe “enrichment activities” are neutral or bad for children.

5. Mozart’s 40th symphony in [Indian] swaras.

6. Greg Clark interview.

What’s the smart way to use spare Covid testing capacity?

I have a question for you and/or your MR readers: what’s the smart way to use spare Covid testing capacity?

With the virus (currently) receding in many places fewer and fewer people are getting symptoms and seeking tests.

Even without a second wave in the next few months, we’ll need testing capacity again for the next flu season, when we’ll need to distinguish between flu patients and Covid patients.

How should we use spare testing capacity in the meantime? Increase random testing? Weekly tests for everyone in a single city? Weekly tests for everyone in particular economic sectors?

I would be grateful for your thoughts on this.

That is from O.L.  My intuition (and I stress this is not a scientific answer in any way) is to test people who take elevators every day, to get a better sense of how risky elevators are.  And then test systematically in other situations and professions to learn more about transmission mechanisms, for instance the subway when relevant, supermarket clerks, and so on.  Test to generate better risk data.  What do you all think?

Coronavirus travel markets in everything

As tourism slowly resumes around the world, many nations are still reluctant to open their borders fully – with Cambodia imposing perhaps the toughest entry requirements of any country.

The south-east Asian country is popular with backpackers, and most renowned for the Unesco-listed temple complex at Angkor Wat.

According to the latest Foreign Office bulletin on Cambodia, foreign travellers must pay a $3,000 (£2,400) deposit for “Covid-19 service charges” at the airport upon arrival.

What appears to be the first “coronavirus deposit” can be paid in cash or by credit card.

The FCO says: “Once deductions for services have been made, the remainder of the deposit will be returned.” But those deductions may be steep – especially if another passenger on the same flight happens to test positive for coronavirus.

So far, so good, perhaps you are keen to go.  But here is the downside of the experience:

But if one passenger on their flight tests positive for coronavirus, everyone on the same flight is quarantined in government-approved accommodation for two weeks, at a cost of $1,176 including meals, laundry and “sanitary services”. They must also pay another $100 for a second Covid-19 test. This totals a further £1,021.

If the traveller happens to be the coronavirus-positive patient, they will have to take up to four tests at another $100 (£80) each, as well as $3,150 (£2,500) for treatment at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital in the capital, Phnom Penh.

And:

…Cambodia also imposes a requirement for $50,000 (£40,000) of travel insurance cover for medical treatment.

If the unfortunate arrival passes away, the Foreign Office warns: “The cremation service charge is $1,500 [£1,200].”

Here is the full article, via Shaffin Shariff.

Comparative Institutional Failure

The common element to our twin crises is that many of the government agencies we thought were keeping us safe and secure—the CDC, the FDA, the Police–have either failed or, worse, have been revealed to be active creators of danger and insecurity. Alex Tabarrok.

Derek Thompson writing at The Atlantic uses my quote as a jumping off point for a good piece on the failure of American institutions. He does a good job of covering the failures of the CDC, the FDA and the police but most interestingly asks why the FED has acted very differently.

While too many American police are escalating encounters like it’s 1990, and the FDA is slow-playing regulatory approval as if these are normal times, and the CDC is somehow still using fax machines, the Federal Reserve has junked old shibboleths about inflation and deficit spending and embraced a policy that might have scandalized mainstream economists in the 1990s. Rejecting the status-quo bias that plagues so many institutions, this 106-year-old is still changing with the world.

Why haven’t other American institutions done the same? Perhaps America’s dependency on old leadership makes our institutions exquisitely responsive to the anxieties and illusions of old Americans. Perhaps the nature of large bureaucracies is to become lost in the labyrinth of mission-creeping path dependency. Perhaps years of political polarization and right-wing anti-science, anti-expertise sentiments have wrung all of the fast-twitch smarts out of the government. Or perhaps we should just blame Trump, that sub-institutional creature summoned from the bilious id of an electorate that lost faith in elites when elites lost their grip on reality.

Whatever the true cause for our failure, when I look at the twin catastrophes of this annus horribilis, the plague and the police protests, what strikes me is that America’s safekeeping institutions have forgotten how to properly see the threats of the 21st century and move quickly to respond to them. Those who deny history may be doomed to repeat it. But those who deny the present are just doomed.

I see three reasons why the FED may have been different. First, the FED is one of the most independent agencies which may help to explain its faster and more adaptive behavior ala Garett Jones’s 10% Less Democracy. Second, and relatedly, the FED pulls a lot of leadership and staff from academia. That gives FED staff an affiliation goal and clique outside of politics which creates mental independence as well as political independence. Third, the FED was also tested in the last crisis and experience with crises helps as we have also seen in Asia tested by H1N1, SARS and MERS more than the US was.

I am not sure which, if any, of these explanations is the most important but I do think that we have a lot more to learn from comparative institutional analysis not just within the US but across countries as well.

Saturday assorted links

1. Revision of the Correia, Luck, and Verner paper on the 1918 flu, with response to critics.

2. Tim Harford update.  And Tim Harford on whether the pandemic will help fix our innovation problem.

3. Why was New York State so badly hit by Covid-19?

4. “Even when controlling for density, counties with a high proportion of #Trump voters have lower cases and deaths.”  Link here.  And an argument that the protests increased net stay at home behavior.

5. Toto song played on TESLA coils.  Or maybe this link works better.

6. “Plastics.

7. Uhlig placed on leave as editor of JPE.

8. Possible evidence of different Covid-19 strains?  Not yet confirmed, use with care, but at least appears that it might be serious work.

Why don’t NYPD police officers wear more masks?

While police officers may forgo mask-wearing for any number of reasons, from peer pressure within ranks that are loath to change to a desire to more easily communicate, the images have fueled a perception of the police as arrogant and dismissive of protesters’ health — perhaps even at the peril of their own.

And while several officers have conspicuously knelt down with or hugged people at rallies, the widespread failure to use masks is creating a more standoffish look, one that protesters say suggests that the police operate above the rules — one of the very beliefs motivating the nationwide movement.

“If you’re out here to protect the public, it starts with you,” said Chaka McKell, 46, a carpenter from Bedford-Stuyvesant who attended a protest in Downtown Brooklyn on Monday. “The head sets the example for the tail.”

The official New York Police Department policy is that officers should wear masks when interacting with the public. But in a statement on Wednesday, the department dismissed the criticism about the lack of masks as petty.

“Perhaps it was the heat,” Sgt. Jessica McRorie of the department’s press office said in a statement. “Perhaps it was the 15 hour tours, wearing bullet resistant vests in the sun. Perhaps it was the helmets. With everything New York City has been through in the past two weeks and everything we are working toward together, we can put our energy to a better use.”

“In a nutshell,” as they say, and here is the full NYT piece.  This short vignette reflects two basic truths: first, there is a tendency to see oneself above at least some of the laws, and to follow defined procedures only selectively.  Second, given the resources and constraints put on the table, such attitudes should not be entirely surprising.

Rewatching *Serpico*

When I was 12 it was one of my favorite books (by Peter Maas), and shortly thereafter I saw and liked the movie as well.  On this viewing I was struck by the excellent understanding of the culture of corruption, the notion that the mayor is beholden to the police who can threaten to shirk, the performance of Al Pacino, and the wonderful scenes of early 1970s New York City (yes that is Soho you are seeing).

The last quarter of the film should have been shortened.  And for all of its attempts to be a politically correct film, the degree of casual racism and sexism still is astonishing to the modern eye, specifically how either black criminals or attractive women are shown on screen.

Nonetheless recommended, and in particular as historical backdrop for understanding 2020.  Here is a John Arnold thread on the primary of culture in police departments.  And here is the police response to the recent protests.

Here is the Wikipedia page of the actual Frank Serpico, still speaking out against police abuses at age 84.

Underpoliced and Overprisoned, revisited

I’ve been writing for years that the United States is underpoliced and overprisoned. Time for a review:

NYTimes: “The United States today is the only country I know of that spends more on prisons than police,” said Lawrence W. Sherman, an American criminologist on the faculties of the University of Maryland and Cambridge University in Britain. “In England and Wales, the spending on police is twice as high as on corrections. In Australia it’s more than three times higher. In Japan it’s seven times higher. Only in the United States is it lower, and only in our recent history.”

…Dr. Ludwig and Philip J. Cook, a Duke University economist, calculate that nationwide, money diverted from prison to policing would buy at least four times as much reduction in crime. They suggest shrinking the prison population by a quarter and using the savings to hire another 100,000 police officers.

Here’s a graph from Daniel Bier on the ratio of police to prison spending comparing the United States to Europe. The US spends relatively less on police and more on prisons than any European country.

And here’s a graph from President Obama’s CEA report on incarceration and the criminal justice system. The graph shows that the United States employs many more prison guards per-capita than does the rest of the world. Given our prison population that isn’t surprising. What is surprising is that on a per-capita basis we employ 35% fewer police than the world average. That’s crazy.

polce v prison

Our focus on prisons over police may be crazy but it is consistent with what I called Gary Becker’s Greatest Mistake, the idea that an optimal punishment system combines a low probability of being punished with a harsh punishment if caught. That theory runs counter to what I have called the good parenting theory of punishment in which optimal punishments are quick, clear, and consistent and because of that, need not be harsh.

Increasing the number of police on the street, for example, would increase capture rates and deter crime and by doing so it would also reduce the prison population. Indeed, in a survey of crime and policing that Jon Klick and I wrote in 2010 we found that a cost-benefit analysis would justify doubling the number of police on the street. We based our calculation not only on our own research from Washington DC but also on the research of many other economists which together provide a remarkably consistent estimate that a 10% increase in policing would reduce crime by 3 to 5%. Using our estimates, as well as those of some more recent papers, the Council of Economic Advisers also estimates big benefits (somewhat larger than ours) from an increase in policing. Moreover, what the CEA makes clear is that a dollar spent on policing is more effective at reducing crime than a dollar spent on imprisoning.

Can we increase the number of police? Not today but in recent years large majorities of blacks, hispanics and whites have said that they support hiring more police. It is true that blacks are more skeptical than whites of police and have every reason to be. Some of the communities most in need of more police are also communities with some of the worst policing problems. Better policing and more policing, however, complement one another. Demilitarize the police, end the war drugs, regulate people less, restrain police unions and eliminate qualified immunity so that police brutality can be punished and the bad apples removed and the demand for police will soar.

As we reform and unbundle policing let us remember that lower crime has been one of the greatest benefits to African American men over the past 30 years.

…the most disadvantaged people have gained the most from the reduction in violent crime.

Though homicide is not a common cause of death for most of the United States population, for African-American men between the ages of 15 and 34 it is the leading cause, which means that any change in the homicide rate has a disproportionate impact on them. The sociologist Michael Friedson and I calculated what the life expectancy would be today for blacks and whites had the homicide rate never shifted from its level in 1991. We found that the national decline in the homicide rate since then has increased the life expectancy of black men by roughly nine months.

…The everyday lived experience of urban poverty has also been transformed. Analyzing rates of violent victimization over time, I found that the poorest Americans today are victimized at about the same rate as the richest Americans were at the start of the 1990s. That means that a poor, unemployed city resident walking the streets of an average city today has about the same chance of being robbed, beaten up, stabbed or shot as a well-off urbanite in 1993. Living in poverty used to mean living with the constant threat of violence. In most of the country, that is no longer true.

More police on the street is one cause, among many, of lower crime. Chicago just had a horrendous day with 18 innocent people murdered in mostly random drive-by shootings, in part because the police were occupied with protests and riots. As we reform, unbundle, and reimagine, let’s be careful not to reverse nearly thirty years of falling crime which has produced a tremendous increase in the standard of living of the poorest Americans.

We need better policing so that we can all be comfortable with more policing.

Wednesday assorted links

1. Braintwister Bayesian chess doomsday arguments from Ken Regan.  More about crime than chess per se.

2. Jordan Schneider podcast with Evan Osnos.  Now, better link with transcript too.

3. D.C. toughens officer hiring and discipline.  And the Republican plan in the Senate.  And the music category of “urban” may be disappearing.

4. Good vaccine and drug explainer (NYT).

5. Sleep regulates oxidation.

6. Monoclonal antibodies update.

7. Covid-19 in Haiti.

Solve for the journalistic equilibrium

In a company memo, the chief executive of the politics news site said he supported staff members’ right to march, adding that the publisher would cover bail for any employee who is arrested…

According to several people with knowledge of recent discussions at Axios, Mr. VandeHei said he did not intend his note to actively encourage marching in protests. He has also reminded the staff that the company’s reporters still need sources to open up to them, and that appearing to take one side could jeopardize their position.

And for purposes of contrast:

Ethics guidelines at The Times — similar to many other newsrooms across the country — say the company’s journalists “may not march or rally in support of public causes or movements” or publicly take positions on public issues. It adds, “doing so might reasonably raise doubts about their ability or The Times’s ability to function as neutral observers in covering the news.”

Here is the full NYT story, via a loyal MR reader.

Does partisanship shape investor beliefs?

We use party-identifying language – like “Liberal Media” and “MAGA”– to identify Republican users on the investor social platform StockTwits. Using a difference-in-difference design, we find that the beliefs of partisan Republicans about equities remain relatively unfazed during the COVID-19 pandemic, while other users become considerably more pessimistic. In cross-sectional tests, we find Republicans become relatively more optimistic about stocks that suffered the most from COVID-19, but more pessimistic about Chinese stocks. Finally, stocks with the greatest partisan disagreement on StockTwits have significantly more trading in the broader market, which explains 20% of the increase in stock turnover during the pandemic.

Here is the full piece by J. Anthony Cookson, Joseph Engelberg, and William Mullins, via the excellent Samir Varma.

That was then, this is now, pandemic public protest edition

Greta Thunberg is calling on other young climate activists to avoid big protests and move their demonstrations online amid efforts to contain the novel coronavirus. Over the past year and a half, Thunberg has incited thousands of students across the globe to protest inaction on climate change. She’s inspired many to join massive demonstrations like those outside United Nations climate conferences in New York and Madrid last year. Now, she’s asking people to stay home…

Just as she does when it comes to climate change, Thunberg urged people to “unite behind experts and science” to address the current public health crisis posed by the novel coronavirus…

“We’ll have to find new ways to create public awareness & advocate for change that don’t involve too big crowds,” Thunberg tweeted. “Listen to local authorities.”

Here is the relevant article.  I don’t recall anyone protesting her decision at the time, or arguing that the benefits of the climate change protests would outweigh their public health costs, or even attempting such a calculation.

I am inclined to conclude that some mix of two truths must hold, though I am not sure in what combination: 1) Many of you care less about climate change than you may think, compared to other issues, and/or 2) The lockdown has made us all somewhat batty.

I thank A. for the relevant pointer, noting that no one else seems to have considered this parallel, which is perhaps evidence for #2?