Yeah, sort of.

(It worked on reload.)

Economics, Sociology, Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation, and Variance, or, Advice for the Tribal Social Scientist

Someone whose name I've forgotten said that economics is all about how people act rationally and sociology is all about how they don't. That's catchy, but not very helful, because it makes you think about the exact meaning of the term "rational", and before you know it, you're writing a book. Let me propose instead (and of course I'm using the broad brush here) that economics is how people are driven by extrinsic motivation and sociology is about how they're driven by intrinsic motivation.

Of course, people are driven by both, so a good social scientist should consider both. But there's more to be said about the two. Extrinsic and intrinsic motivation are functional equivalents, and the less variance there is in one of the two, the more variance in your dependent variable the other is going to explain.

That's a little abstract, so here's an example. For the purposes of the example, please accept the simplification that the two types of motivation are completely independent of each other.

Consider a company unit in which variance in intrinsic work motivation is low, and the mean is also low - that is, everybody's a lazy bastard. Then variance in extrinsic motivation will explain a lot of variance in behaviour. That is, those who have a higher incentive, such as financial rewards, to work, will work harder, while those that have little incentive will work little (high variance, middling mean).

Now consider a company unit in which variance in intrinsic work motivation is low, and the mean is high. Here, everyone will work hard (low variance, high mean), and differences in incentives will have little effect.

Next, start by thinking about extrinsic motivation. If extrinsic motivation's variance is low with a low mean (everyone gets minimum wage, regardless), then how hard people work will be driven by their intrinsic motivation (high variance, middling mean).

Finally, if extrinsic motivation's variance is low with a high mean, everyone will try hard (low variance, high mean).

What does that leave us with? First, if variance in one independent variable is lower, then variance in the other dependent variable will explain more of the variance in the dependent variable. Admittedly, that's a mathematical necessity, and not a new insight. More specifically, it means that economists who want to stick it to the guys in the other building had better select topics where variance in people's intrinsic motivation is low, while sociologists who want to teach those arrogant dicks in the Adam Smith building a lesson should select reasearch areas in which variance in people's extrinsic motivation is low.

And if you own a company, you ought to put a lot of time into selecting people with high intrinsic work motivation, and also think hard about how to taylor rewards to employees' behaviour. You'll want to do both, because you'll be perfect at neither.


Playlists by Year: A Tape Side's Worth of 1958

The greatest songs and other tracks, according to me, from 1958:

Virtual Reality, or, What's So Great about Knausgaard?

I've only read the first two volumes so far, but here's the best answer I've yet seen to the question Why is Knausgaard so great - when really, with all the detail and mundane plotlines, he should be boring:
The answer lies not in Knausgaard’s depth of revelation so much as the intensity of focus he brings to the subject of his life. He seems to punch a hole in the wall between the writer and reader, breaking through to a form of micro-realism and emotional authenticity that makes other novels seem contrived, “made up”, irrelevant. As [Zadie] Smith put it: “You live his life with him. You don’t simply ‘identify’ with the character, effectively you ‘become’ them.”
There's so much talk about literature's ability to put the reader in someone else's head - this is often portrayed as the feature that most differentiates writing from other forms of art, and Steven Pinker even singled out the increase in putting-yourself-in-other-people's-heads caused by the invention of the printing press as the trigger that started the long-term decline in violence ca. 1500-2000. I've read a fair bit of fiction and some memoirs, but have never seen anyone doing it like Knausgaard does.


Genetics, Human Capital, and the Thomas Theorem

In this short presentation on "Genetics and Society" (video), Gregory Cochran points out an obvious incompatability between human capital theory and empirical findings in behaviour genetics: Human capital theory proceeds as though differences in human capital were solely the product of environmental influences, and especially decisions made by parents, but this is known to be false. Cochran goes on to say this has an impact on a point made in human capital theory concerning the quality-quantity tradeoff: The standard view is that you can have many kids and low investment per kid, leading to relatively low human capital in each kid, or you can have many kids, invest heavily in them, and expect them to exhibit high human capital. To the extent that human capital is influenced by genetics, and to the extent that it is not influenced by parents, this tradeoff does not exist. For example, IQ shows practically no response to differences in parental behaviour, hence your kids' expected IQ is independent from your investments, hence independent from the number of kids you have.

But that's a normative point. Empirically, how much people plan to invest in their kids and how many kids they hence choose to have, should be influenced not by the truth itself, but by what people believe to be true. Belief in genetic influences on people's characteristics decreased ca. 1920-1950 and is now low. While research results from the 1970s onwards have shown the popular view to be wrong, these results are not widely known and believed. Hence, decreases in the number of kids people have might still in part be explained by the above-mentioned aspect of human capital theory, if it is combined with the Thomas theorem: "If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences."


The Greatest Tracks 2010-2014, Part 3

And, finally, the cream of the crop.


The Best Tracks from the First Half of the 2010s, Part 2

Installment 2/3 of the greatest songs from the first half of the 10s. Enjoy!


Playlist: The Greatest Songs 2010-2014, Part 1

Hey, it's already been half a decade! Here's 50 choice tracks from it. Well, actually, here's the first bunch of 20. Next installment tomorrow.


Does Altruism Exist? Against the "Warm Glow" Argument

Models of human decision-making are just that: models, not the real thing. Another way to put this is to say that models are wrong. As the famous saying goes, all models are wrong, but some are useful. This leads to the question, useful for what? That is, just because a model is useful in one domain, doesn't mean it's useful in another domain.

Case in point: economists. Traditionally, they have been working with a model of rational, egoistic decision-makers. Pretty much everybody knows that model is wrong because people sometimes act altruistically, but the model is useful model for many purposes. The trouble starts when people forget that it's just a model that is supposed to be good for some purposes (and not others) and start to defend the model as though it were an entirely accurate description - a view that obviously does not conform to the empirical evidence.

Bryan Caplan is not one of those people. He points out that altruism is real. Anticipating counter-arguments, he adds:
Sure, true believers in ubiquitous selfishness can grasp at straws to protect their dogma.  Perhaps people donate blood for the free cookie, join the army because they might run for office one day, or give to charity in order to make business connections.  Or maybe millions of average joes are clueless enough to believe that the blood supply, the safety of the free world, and the availability of charity hinge on whatever they personally choose to do. 

Anything is possible, but that doesn't mean that anything is plausible.  [...] Genuine altruism is all around us.  Benevolence doesn't explain why bakers bake bread for paying customers, but it does explain why blood donors give blood to strangers for free.
Naturally, this prompts his readers to double down on the altruism-is-really-egoism stuff. For example, his reader Caliban Darklock writes:
I suggest that if there exists an incentive, the activity is not altruistic.

If I give a person $10 for drugs, and then I take the drugs and they give me an endorphin rush, that is not altruistic.

If I give a person $10 because it makes me feel good about myself, which gives me an endorphin rush, how is that altruistic?

I traded $10 for an endorphin rush either way. What is the rational distinction between them?
This is generally known as the "warm glow" argument: If you give money to charity, for example, you get a positive feeling ("warm glow") in return. A counterargument to this comes from Jon Elster (cited from memory): If you could raise your future utility by taking a pill that erases all your altruistic motivations, would you do it? Probably not, because you think it would induce you to do things that are morally wrong.

Antoher counterargument that I've just though up: If, for example, giving a person $ 10 makes you feel good about yourself, this already presupposes you're an alturist. If you weren't, it wouldn't make you feel good about yourself. That is, the argument presupposes what it tries to disprove. I guess philosophers have a name for this; I don't.


Cops Don't Shoot People, Guns Do

I'm a fan of the right to keep and bear arms. But I prefer unarmed police and restricted gun rights to strong gun rights combined with a police force that regularly shoots civilians 'by accident'.
This is in the context of a discussion that uses the U.S. as an example of a country where cops bear arms as a default and New Zealand as an example of a country where they don't. The danger of police carrying guns is readily apparent given recent events and discussions about them in the U.S.: if they have guns, cops might use them all too often. I'm guessing a comparison of death by cop statistics between New Zealand and the U.S. would support that view.

But there's another important variable: the availability of guns to citizens. Apparently (based on information in the thread I link to above), it is pretty limited in NZ, whereas in some U.S. states, any Tom, Dick and Harry can buy a gun. Let me submit the theory that this is what really counts. I'm basing this view on a third data point: Germany. Here, cops routinely carry guns. If you play your music too loud at 10.01 p.m., the cops you'll find knocking on your door will be carrying fully loaded pistols. And yet, in 2011, police fired only 85 bullets while on duty (presumably not counting training), of which 49 were warning shots and 36 aimed at people; 15 people were injured and 6 killed. The numbers for 2010 were 96, 59, 37, 17 and 7, respectively.

Let me wildly generalize from that small heap of data and assumptions: When the probability is high that the other person has a gun, police will be quick to shoot. Part of this is split-second rational(ish) decision making, but there is also a wider institutional context in which this occurs - such as police guidelines about when to shoot and where to aim. The way to reduce police killings of citizens is hence to make it hard for citizens to bear arms.

Playlists by Year: A Tape Side's Worth of 1956

Merry Afterchristmas everybody!


Playlists by Year: A Tape Side's Worth of 1955

The greatest songs (including instrumentals) from that year, as far as I can tell:


The Thinker's Advantage

Men are often startled when, without any warning, their dearly beloved suddenly asks “What are you thinking about right now?”

Naturally, the last thing a man should give is a truthful answer. Endless trouble will ensue if the man innocently replies: “Having sex with your best friend”. Therefore, in the unaccustomed role of agony uncle, I would suggest that men prepare a response in advance, and trot it out when required.
Good advice. Although, in honesty, I can remember only one time when I was the recipient of that clichéd question. To which I answered, thruthfully, "I was thinking, 'Should I ever get rich, it would be nice to have a separate room to put a pool table in'". That taught her, I guess.

What happens to me more often is that people think I'm looking at something specific, when actually I'm just staring into undefined space, usually reflecting on what was just said. (I'm not particularly quick.) With some delight I've noticed that a colleague of mine has memorized this as a characteristic of mine after I'd repeatedly explained to her that, no I wasn't looking at her shoes, I was just thinking, and my eyeballs have to point somewhere. I know she's memorized this as she recently started saying something about how I was probably hungry, the way I was looking at her meal, oh, no, wait, I was probably just thinking, right? That'll come in handy the next time she starts thinking I'm staring at her tits, when I'm actually, you know, staring at her tits. They're lovely, and I can't help it.


Ich habe den Eindruck, dass der Empfehlungsalgorithmus von rebuy noch verbesserungsbedürftig ist

Ich habe zwar noch nie was von Jojo Moyes gelesen, vermute aber, dass mir das nicht gefallen würde. Ich beurteile Bücher nämlich gern nach ihrem Umschlag. Die werden schließlich nicht nach dem Zufallsprinzip zugeteilt.

Florian Illies, Shamelessly Jumping on Angrist & Pischke's Train

Good books both.


Unromantic Advice for Women

The less attractive you are, compared to other women of your age, the earlier you should look to getting married, assuming you're so inclined at all.


Playlists by Year: A Tape Side's Worth of 1954

Never mind the best-of-the-decade-type lists. Starting today, we'll go year by year. Each playlist will be as long as one standard tape's side. That is, no longer than 45 minutes.

The first is 1954, for the simple reason that it is the first I could get a good 45 minutes together; it is also the year that rock'n'roll broke.

There is no regular schedule for the release of new yearly lists, but I guess it's going to be about once a month.

And here's the first list:


Biological Reality of Race? What Does It Even Mean? (Also: Free access to Sage journals)

Via Dan Hirschman at Scatterplot comes a debate in Sociological Theory about the nature of race: is it social and/or biological? The new contributions consist of three critical reactions to an article in the 2012 volume of the same journal by Jiannbin Lee Shiao, Thomas Bode, Amber Beyer and Daniel Selvig called "The Genomic Challenge to the Social Construction of Race", and a rejoinder by Shiao. 

The topic isn't new, and the sub-exchange between Shiao in one corner and Daniel Martinez HoSang in the other confirms what something I've long been thinking about this.  

As you may know, variants of cluster analysis can be used to group individuals' genomes on the basis of similarities and dissimilarities, and it has been shown that the resulting clusters correspond to racial categories, as measured by self-identification, for example. One of the two main arguments in the initial Shiao et al. paper is that this clearly shows that the view that race has no biological basis, held by so many sociologists, is wrong.

HoSang's article ends in an attempt at character assassination that stops just short of holding Shiao et al. personally responsible for the gas chambers in Auschwitz, but the earlier portions actually have serious content. HoSang voices misgivings about the validity of the cluster analyses and their interpretation by Shiao et al. and others, but then goes on to say (p. 233):
And even if one accepts the (contested) finding that self-identified race or ethnicity correlates with population structure, this finding does not justify a conclusion that “race” (or clinal class) has a biological basis. At the most quotidian level, the findings suggest that a statistical analysis of genetic ancestry informative markers of a population in the United States that self-identifies as “black” is likely to bear a relationship to an analysis of populations sampled in some region of sub-Saharan Africa. And a population that self-identifies as Chinese is likely to be statistically related with a population in China (Dupré 2008). That a new statistical technique has validated a high probability of such histories of migration is hardly revelatory; it does not establish a biological basis of race.
But  Shiao et al. clearly think just that: These findings show that race has a biological basis.

I suggest that people who wish to have this debate take a step back and start by reaching an agreement on the following:

1. What does it means to say, "Race has a biological basis"? What does it mean to say "Race is a biologically meaningful concept"? Are the two the same?

2. What evidence, if it existed, would show that race has a biological basis/is a biologically meaningful concept? What evidence, if it existed, would refute those claims?

If you don't do that, you'll debate ad infinitum.

Added: Along similar lines, Fabio Rojas comments.


By the way, you can download all of the articles above, as Sage allows open access to all of its journals until October 31st (registration required).


Spoiler Alert!

An hommage to Alfred Hitchcock's second best movie, by one Jeff Desom.

Those who prefer vimeo, look here.


Stereotypes in Narrative Art

Recently watched one of those shows in which four critics - it's always four - debate the quality of new books. Critic A said that a character in the novel in question was clichéd. No, said critic B, such women really exist!

Sigh. First, it would be a strange complaint about a fiction book to say something's not realistic. Second, a cliché is but a stereotype, and the existence of a stereotype does not mean it's not true. If anything, the opposite is the case.

Stereotypes in literature and other forms of narrative art can be a problem for a different reason: they're not cognitively challenging, allowing the mind to quickly call up information about the character, because it has this information stored and connected to the characteristics you're given. If your mind's in the mood for a bit of a challenge, it's likely to be bored by cut-out characters. But the unchallenging nature of clichéd characters can also be a virtue: It allows the storyteller to quickly dispense information.

Hence, a rule of thumb for telling stories: If the character's only there for performing a function, you might want to reach for the cliché. Minimum fuss for the reader, info received, move on to the important stuff. On the other hand, if the character's a main attraction of the story, you want to make the character somewhat interesting, hence somewhat challenging, hence somewhat non-clichéd. Of course, another aspect is your intended audience. It's no coincidence that children's TV shows feature very bland characters, and that the villains are particularly bland. Often, the villains are not themselves meant to be interesting, their only function is to act as adversaries and allow the heroes to defeat them.

It seems all of this is but a special case of a more general rule. After all, the same argument has been made with respect to clichéd metaphors.


A Proposal for a New Norm

There are three types of favours one might ask of a friend: Unacceptable requests, acceptable requests, and the grey area between the two of them. Acceptable requests are fine to just ask, unacceptable requests shouldn't normally be asked. Here I am interested in grey area-type requests: stuff that is not unacceptable, but that might place so heavy a burden on the askee that you wouldn't be cross with her if she refused.

Let me propose a norm for how you should go about if you've decided you still want to ask the favour. Your aim should be to make it as easy as possible for the friend to say no. This means you want to do the opposite of what's done by a power salesman, who tries to get people to say yes. A power salesman will try to get as close to you as he can. Ideally, he wants you in person; the telephone is the next best thing. Conversely, you should try to keep a distance from the askee when you ask  and when she gives her answer. This means you put the request in writing: e-mail, letter, fax - I don't care.

Also, including something along the lines of "of course you can say no" helps.


Low Status and Economic Inequality: Two Points Often Overlooked

Lots of talk about economic inequality around U.S. blogs recently, on the occasion of the translation of Piketty's book. Here are two points that I think are often overlooked. Each of the points could hold if the other does not.

1. Let us say we know with certainty that low-status people suffer because most others are higher up the ladder. This suffering may come in the form of envy or of more distal outcomes such as poor health. This phenomenon, considered well-established by many, is often presented as an argument for reducing inequality. But does it follow that high-inequality societies are worse off, all other things equal? Of course not! Presumably, if low-status people suffer because they occupy a low rung, high-status people benefit because they occupy a high rung. The benefit experienced by high-status people might outweigh the suffering experienced by low-status people. Put differently, it is conceivable that, net of the influence of other factors, the avarage utility per person is as high or higher in a high-inequality society as it is in a low-inequality society. You might say that similarity of utility is desirable in and of itself, but then you'd be introducing an additional moral principle that not everybody might share. I'm saying "additional" because, as soon as you're arguing on the basis of people's suffering, you're already arguing on a utilitarian basis, whether or not you're aware of it.

2. Again, let us say people experience psychological costs because others do better than they do. But, clearly, there are positive externalities, too. In any society which uses taxation to pay for free or subsidized goods, poorer people benefit from having rich people around. That's because rich people pay disproportionate shares of the cost of amenities such as public libraries, clean drinking water, and a functioning criminal justice system. Low-income earners pay less than their share, even in flat tax regimes. Put differently, they get more than what they pay for. Would they really be better off if they switched to a regime in which they were less envious, but got Zimbabwe-level sewage and criminal justice systems? Probably not.


Seth Roberts Is Dead

Today, from his siter Amy, via his blog, came the message that Seth Roberts has passed away. My condolences to his family and friends.

I never met him, only had a few exchanges with him on this and his blog. Generally, I felt he went to far in his criticism of standard approaches, and put too much weight on low-quality evidence. But, as long as I knew of his work - and I certainly include his blogging here - I valued him as an original, unusual, and stimulating thinker. I believe that once the great weight gain in affluent countries ca. 1970-present is better understood, his learning theory of the set point will be a large part of the explanation.

Here are posts in which I discuss Seths work (some of them quite critical):
Two of his posts made it onto my year-end "Best Blogposts of..." lists:
Here are quotes of his that I found worth keeping. Here is his paper on self-experimentation in Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Here is his paper "What Makes Food Fattening?" Blowhard, Esq. remembers. Ben Casnocha remembers. Andrew Gelman remembers.

Social Scientist of the Month

The best answer in quite a while to the question, "Why do people look down on social scientists?" comes from Roger Matthews, professor of criminology at the University of Kent. The context is the idea that the removal of lead from gasoline may have played a role in falling crime rates, given that higher lead levels have been linked to aggression at the individual level. Here comes Matthews, as quoted by Dominic Casciani (via):
"I don't see the link," he says. "If this causes some sort of effect, why should those effects be criminal?

"The things that push people into crime are very different kinds of phenomena, not in the nature of their brain tissue. The problem about the theory is that a lot of these [researchers] are not remotely interested or cued into the kinds of things in the mainstream.

"There has been a long history of people trying to link biology to crime - that some people have their eyes too close together, or an extra chromosome, or whatever.

"This stuff gets disproved and disproved. But it keeps popping up. It's like a bad penny."
If you tried to come up with a parody of the daftness of those mushy-heads in the social sciences, could you think of anything better?


The Beatles' Please Please Me in Cover Versions and Originals

The Beatles' Please Please Me album in cover versions. Or originals in the many cases in which the Beatles' version is a cover. Have a nice weekend!


Intelligence Researchers: "Regression to the mean [...] is purely a statistical artifact"

Whoa Nelly! In a very interesting ask-a-researcher thread on Pschological Comments, researcher Michael A. Woodley drops the following, which surprised me a fair bit. The context is that there is intergenerational regression to the mean in intelligence. That is, very smart parents tend to have children who are less smart than they are; very dull parents tend to have children who are less dull than they are. Or so I thought - and not just I, I'm sure. Woodley disagrees. He quotes from a book by himself and Aurelio Jose Figueredo. Here's the central bit:
Furthermore in the case of parent-offspring correlations on g, oversampling parental scores with positive errors of measurement on IQ, as by selecting those identified as high-g individuals based on high observed IQ scores for special study, will produce regression to the mean when assessing the IQ of their offspring, even if the offspring were genetically identical to the parents, given the nature of this statistical artifact. This can be confirmed by retesting the parents themselves, which is rarely done, because one will then no doubt observe regression to the mean of the parental IQ scores in the parents themselves, presumably without having undergone any genetic recombination whatsoever. The proposition that offspring are necessarily closer to the mean of the general population in their actual latent g-factor (as opposed to their observed IQ scores) is therefore a fallacy, especially under conditions of assortative mating.
Quite a claim. Is this generally accepted, or perhaps Woodley & Figueredo's minority position? When they say that the claim "can be confirmed by retesting the parents themselves, which is rarely done", does this mean it has been done? Repeatedly?

This would explain a puzzle, though: If there were regression to the mean in a substantial sense, then it should not be over after a generation, which would mean that, by now, we should all be pretty much equally intelligent, right? With the above interpretation, that problem does not exist.

I just hope he means to restrict his statements about the nonexistence of regression to the mean to the context at hand. The phenomenon is certainly real in other contexts - unless you want to redefine, for example, a particularly hot day in a certain city as just an expression of a city's underlying latent hotness measured with upward error, and the like.


Why Is Quitting Smoking So Hard?

Quitting smoking is generally considered very hard. Anecdotally, most attempts seem to fail. Malcolm X is said to have said that quitting Heroin is not easy, but smoking is the real challenge.

I can't speak to the biochemistry of it all, but from a purely anecdotal-behavioral perspective, it is not obvious why quitting smoking should be particularly hard. I can see one big argument for why it should be easy and one for why it should be hard.

1. Should be easy. Beyond the addiction itself, there's little reason to smoke. It is not hard to see why people would consume alcohol or heroin: They're psychoactive, in ways that are often experienced as extremely pleasant. Strictly speaking, nicotine's psychoactive, too, but, really, that's negligible. So, in that sense, smoking is the stupidest addiction there is: You don't even get a high out of it. Why not stop altogether?

2. Should be hard. Being addicted to heroin or alcohol fucks up your life. You probably won't be able to hold down a job, and mess up your personal relationships as well. (Yes, there are high-functioning alcoholics. This is one of those cases in which the existence of the term tells you that it's been invented to describe an exception. Nobody would come up with the term "low-functioning alcoholics" because that's just, you know, regular alcoholics.) In contrast, the near-term consequences of smoking are minor (smell, yellow teeth, shortness of breath), while the biggie (lung cancer) is far into the future, and you, like everyone else, are a time discounter.

So, no major reasons to continue, but not that many reasons to stop either. Should be a wash in those terms, right? And yet quitting smoking is considered unusually hard. Let me suggest that this is a variant of the phenomenon "bad is stonger than good" (low quality pdf). That is, other drugs give you a better reason to continue (good), but they also give you a better reason to quit (bad). Bad gets a higher weight than Good, so if both are stronger, people feel less of a motivation to kick the low-bad, low-good addiction than the one that's high on both. Why go through all the trouble when you're not hurting yourself all that much?


The Operation Called Verstehen

So Robin "Hurricane" Carter died. While he was an accomplished boxer, he is best known for Bob Dylan writing a song about him. When I read the news, I immediately reacted by listening to the song.*

It is a well-known phenomenon that, when musicians die, people start listening to their stuff, sometimes putting old records on top of the charts. This is usually interpreted as people sort of paying homage to the artists. But I wonder how much is simply a reminder effect: "Oh, yeah, back in school, my best friend Michael had the Thriller album, and I really liked it. But I lost the tape he made for me. I should go to Amazon and order the CD."

*I found that Spotify also has two versions by an artist who calls himself "Dylan", but is not Bob - a "Dance Mix" and a "House Mix". Whether you ought to listen to them depends on how much of a taste for trash you got.


So That's the Way Scholars of Literature Write These Days

I went over to Google Scholar to test my hypothesis that there must be some scholarship on Dan Brown by now. And indeed there is. Among the first hits is an article by Victoria Nelson entitled "Faux Catholic: A Gothic Subgenre from Monk Lewis to Dan Brown", published in a cultural studies journal called boundary 2 (No, I don't know what boundary 1 is). It begins thus:
We’ve seen it on the big screen any number of times: the possessed woman writhing, screaming, face morphing (courtesy of computer-generated imagery) into a hideous leer as despairing relatives edge prudently away from the imminent prospect of projectile vomiting.

Demon possession, open-and-shut case. Who you gonna call?

Not your rabbi, imam, or Methodist minister. No, you want that Roman Catholic priest with his collar, cross, holy water, and Vulgate Bible—all the papist trappings that Protestant Americans shun in real life but absolutely demand for a convincing on-screen exorcism. A mild-mannered Episcopal reverend, a Southern Baptist preacher in a Men’s Wearhouse suit reciting the Lord’s Prayer in English over that tormented soul? I don’t think so.
If you think the writing style is an ironic take on pop culture, you're mistaken. The topic of Dan Brown is introduced with the phrase, "Looming over it all like the proverbial nine-hundred-pound gorilla is the Dan Brown phenomenon." And if you think that's a parody as well, this time of Brown's writing style in particular, I disagree. Brown would have written something like, "Nine-hundred-pound gorilla Dan Brown phenomenon was looming over it all, his eyes glowing like icicles in the mist."

It's been a while since I've read CultStud, but I don't remember authors aiming to write like sixteen-year-olds. But this just seems to be Mrs. Nelson's style. And, guess what? She teaches creative writing of all disciplines. Here's the somewhat unsettling opening bit from her teaching philosophy: "Teaching writing at the MFA level for me is an empathic act that amounts to entering my students’ imaginations".

Um, thanks, I'd rather not.

Ich weiß ja nicht, mit wem Jan Fleischhauer so abhängt

Will Wilkinson meint, Mad Men sei für viele männliche Zuschauer so attraktiv, weil die Serie zu zeigen scheint, "how sweet it would be to have women take care of all the annoying details of life and smoke at work." Laut Jan Fleischhauer geht es vielen Deutschen mit mit Vladimir Putin ähnlich:
Nicht trotz, sondern wegen der Erziehung zu Pazifismus, Geschlechtersensibilität und fortwährender Antidiskriminierung ist ein Gutteil der Deutschen so fasziniert von Russland und seinem Anführer.

Putin steht für das unterdrückte Andere, das gerade, weil es so selbstbewusst und unverstellt auftritt, einen unwiderstehlichen Reiz ausübt.
Diese Erklärung wäre freilich überzeugender, wenn erst mal etabliert würde, dass der zu erklärende Tatbestand überhaupt zutrifft. Mir zumindest ist in Deutschland keine besondere Putin-Begeisterung aufgefallen.

Vielleicht täusche ich mich aber auch, und Fleischhauer hat recht. Das Problem ist, dass weder Fleischhauer noch ich valide Repräsentativdaten zu der Meinung der Deutschen über Putin haben. So hängt die Weltwahrnehmung dann von dem ab, was man so mitkriegt. Ein grundlegender Wahrnehmungsfehler der Menschen ist es, "das, was man so mitkriegt" für repräsentativer zu halten als es ist. Soziologen machen sich nicht deshalb so einen Kopf um Sampling-Probleme und Frageformulierungen, weil man so toll gelehrte Artikel darüber schreiben kann, sondern weil sie bemüht sind, über das Niveau der Alltagswahrnehmung hinauszugehen.


Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, and Spotify

O.k., I'll admit I've never read Hirshleifer's book, but I'm wondering. In the last post I describe how you can react to the Spotify relaunch, which makes the product considerably worse, by switching back to, and remaining on, an older version of the software, using a trick not approved by Spotify (subverting the auto-update function). In Hirshleifer's scheme, what is this? The post itself can, I guess, be interpreted as voice, but what I (and many others) do cannot. It is exit, sort of, because I exit the use of the current software, as envisioned by the company, but then, it's not, but rather loyalty, because I remain a paying customer. Should Hirshleifer have called his book Exit, Voice, Loyalty, and Creative Adjustment?


How to Go Back to the Old Version of Spotify *Permanently*

You may have noted that Spotify decided to completely fuck up its interface in the new relaunch. Below is a slightly clarified version of a how-to that user AriMc99 (Gig Goer) posted on the Spotify forums on how to go install the older version of Spotify and keep it from updating automatically. Of course, that means you lose *all* future updates, including beneficial ones. The following worked for me, using Windows 7 on a PC, but of course if something goes wrong, you've only got yourself to blame. I don't take any responsibility if your computer is unusable afterwards.

1. Google for and download SpotifyInstaller.exe v., the one just before this horrendous new pile of puke.

2. At this point, you should naturally check the file for viruses.

3. Double-click the downloaded file to install.

4. You'll be told that you already have a version of Spotify installed and asked whether you really want to re-install. Yes, you do.

5. Then find the location of the current spotify.exe, usually C:\Users\\Appdata\Roaming\Spotify or C:\Document and Settings\\Application Data\Roaming\Spotify. I had to consult Windows' search function and look on the entire hard drive for "roaming" to find this.

6. Open this directory and do all of the following there.

7. Create a new empy text file.

8. Name it Spotify_new.exe

9. Right click the file and check the appropriate box to make it read only.

10. Create another new empty text file.

11. Name it Spotify_new.exe.sig

12. Right click the file and make the file read only.

Note. In one case, I had to overwrite to save the text file in the directory, in the other, I had to manually delete the file which had the same namme as the newly created file. I forget which was which.

Apparently the trick is that, upon closing, Spotify tries to create new files that have the names of the files it created, which would then be used to install the update. But it cannot, as the files are read only. Hence, no updates.


If You Make One Wrong Assumption, All Kinds of Shit Can Follow

From Steve Sailer's review of Gregory Clark's new book, The Son Also Rises (which I have not  read but might):
Economists [...] assumed that social mobility multiplies at the same rate with each new generation. If the correlation coefficient [...] of income between father and son is 0.4, then between grandfather and son it was imagined to be 0.4 squared or 0.16. Instead, it’s somewhat higher (0.26 in one study) due to regression toward the mean [...]. If a rich man has a son of only average income, his grandson is likely to earn somewhat above average.
This doesn't seem like such an advanced insight to come up with, so one might think that someone should have thought of it long ago and convinced all the others.

But then, it is not that surprising. Mainstream economics is a blank-slate science, as is the other discipline studying intergenerational mobility, sociology. To paint with a broad brush, the two differ in the timing of the influences they deem important. Standard economics sees everybody as basically the same, but subject to different opportunities and restrictions in a given situation. In contrast, sociologists typically think that people enter situations exhibiting vast differences, which result from social influences from birth onwards. Neither considers that large and important differences may already exist at birth (Hence, how could regression to the mean be important? What mean?).

This assumption has been known to be wrong for decades. Clinging to it causes all kinds of problems. Perhaps the main symptom of this in sociology is researchers' tendency to view a host of things as exogenous which are, in fact, endogenous. Such as, oh, socioeconomic status, the discipline's favourite variable. Once you realize there may be an endogenous component to status, you'll start doing lots of eyerolling when reading sociology journals. After a while, eyeache sets in.


Publication Bias: Things Are Looking Up!

I am happy to relay that my first peer-reviewed article was publshed today*, especially because coefficients of interest in the preferred models are all insignificant.

*In the past, I have published an article in an online journal that says it's peer-reviewed on the home page, but, judging from my experience, isn't.


The False Dichotomy Fallacy When There Are Only Two States of the World

The term false dichotomy fallacy (or fallacy of the false dichotomy) is typically used when a person concludes that your position is B because you commited to the view "not A", but there is at least one other position (C, D, E . . .) one can take. For example, when you say that a certain human trait is not 100% environmentally determined, people will often assume you think it is 100% genetically determined, despite the fact that there are a lot of numbers between 0 and 100. In so doing, they are committing the false dichotomy fallacy.

This fallacy, or a variant of it, can be committed even if there are only two possible states of the world. Suppose someone was about to toss a coin and declared: "This one will certainly come up heads." You might then say, "I wouldn't be so sure about that" and the person might reply, "Oh, so you think it will come up tails?" In this example it's obvious: You didn't mean that the other state of the world is certain to come to pass, you simply meant to express uncertainty, given that we cannot know the result of the coin toss.

While the example is a bit far from most real-life situations, variants of it seem to come up quite frequently. Generally, your expressing doubt that X is true is likely to be read as your asserting that X is not true. People tend to go about as though one had to take a confident position on as many issues as possible and assume others feel the same way. (In U.S. discourse, "opinionated" is usually meant as a compliment.*) This may be a sign that uttering opinions has little to do with truth-seeking an a lot with positioning oneself in social space by signaling what type of a person one is.

*Until a few minutes ago, I thought that there was no term in German for the word "opinionated". Now I see that the dictionary I consulted gives two terms that are clearly negative, eigensinnig and starrsinnig.


Around the Blogs, Vol. 106

2. "Nonshared environment" might best be conceived of as noise, not environment, says Kevin Mitchell.

3. External validity alert: Are patients in medical trials selected for large treatment effects? (Andrew Gelman/Paul Alper)

4. Chris Bertram makes a surprisingly good case for the argument "Squeezing the rich is good: even when it raises no money".

5. "Is there no racial bias precisely because it seems like there is?" Ole Rogeberg takes us into the mind of the microeconomist.

8. 50 great book covers from 2013, collected by Dan Wagstaff (via)

9. The low-hanging fruit of immigration: Bryan Caplan offers another metaphor.

12. What's it like to hear voices that aren't there? (Christian Jarrett/L. Holt and A. Tickle)


A Social Scientist Does Research

Eszter Hargittai counts some beans:
The VW Super Bowl ad features German engineers. The story goes as such: every time a VW reaches 100,000 miles, one of the engineers in Germany gets “his wings”. I didn’t find the ad particularly interesting until I realized that none of the engineers getting wings were women. In fact, there were barely any women in the video. Most prominent was the one in the elevator getting slapped by a male engineer’s wings.

There were ten male engineers featured who clearly got wings. It looks like 13% of engineers in Germany are female. So even going just by that statistic, one of the 10 featured should have been a woman.
Exactly! If you cannot rely on commercials to give a fair representation of reality, what can you trust?


50 Great Tracks of the 1950s (Ranks 25-1)

Yay! It's the second installment!

(Alternative link)


The Best Blog Posts of 2013

It's about time, so here.

As usual, brackets are appended to each link to indicate whether the post is Long, Medium lenght or Short; High-Brow, Mid-Brow or Low-Brow, and Funny or Not.

For other years' lists, use the tag.

15. Offsetting Behaviour: "Social Costs and HPV", by Eric Crampton

14. Discover: "Why Race as a Biological Construct Matters", by Razib Khan (L; HB; N)

13. The Power of Goals: "Home Sweet Home", by Mark Taylor (L; MB; N)

12. Crooked Timber: "New Tools for Reproducible Research", by Kieran Healy (S; MB; F)

11. German Joys: "The Metamorphosis (US Summer Movie) Elevator Pitch", by Andrew Hammel (S; MB; F)

10. Code and Culture: "You Broke Peer Review. Yes, I Mean You", by Gabriel Rossman (L; MB; N)

9. EconLog: "The Homage Statism Pays to Liberty", by Bryan Caplan (M; MB; N)

8. Scatterplot: "Annals of Self-Refuting Tweets", by Jeremy Freese (S; MB; F)

7. Overcoming Bias: "Future Story Status", by Robin Hanson (M; HB; N)

6. Gulf Coast Blog: "Defamiliarization, Again for the First Time", by Will Wilkinson (L; MB; N)

5. Armed and Dangerous: "Preventing Visceral Racism", by Eric S. Raymond (L; MB; N)

4. Askblog: "It Is Sometimes Appropriate . . .", by Arnold Kling (M; HB; N)

3. EconLog: "Make Your Own Bubble in 10 Easy Steps", by Bryan Caplan (M; LB; N)

2. Armed and Dangerous: "Natural Rights and Wrongs?", by Eric S. Raymond (M; HB; N)

1. Falkenblog: "Great Minds Confabulate Like Small Minds", by Eric Falkenstein (L; HB; N)

Thanks and congrats to all above.