Dale Worley's Journal|
[Most Recent Entries]
Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in
Dale Worley's LiveJournal:
[ << Previous 20 ]
[ << Previous 20 ]
|Friday, February 17th, 2017|
|In a sense, Boston leads there, too
In the run-up to the Stuporbowl, the Boston Globe had a cute infographic comparing Boston (yaaay!) and Atlanta (booo!) on various dimensions. One that was pretty impressive was on the comparison between median family incomes and media house prices. The incomes in Boston and Atlanta are nearly the same but the house prices differ greatly. In Atlanta, a house costs 3.6 times the annual income. In Boston, a house costs 8.4 times the annual income.
|Tuesday, February 14th, 2017|
|Experimental psychology has the most unusual subjects
A few years back, some researchers observed
that almost all psychological research was done on subject from backgrounds that were, relative to the world population, from a narrow range of cultures. They called these people WEIRD (Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic). Nonetheless, researchers usually blithely assume that the results they get describe people around the world.
Recently, some researchers have gone through the literature and noted that the situation is even worse
than was previously reported. Among other things, "67% of the American samples (and 80% of the samples from other countries) were composed solely of undergraduates in psychology courses". They analyze previous research and discover a number of cultural categories that make a significant difference in results: industrialized vs. small-scale societies, Western vs. non-Western, American vs. non-American Western, typical American subjects vs. other Americans. And indeed, the typical experimental subjects are the most extreme
outliers when viewed in context of these various categories.
Measured differences between these categories include not only factors of social behavior which you would expect to be modified by cultural context, but also things you'd think aren't subject to cultural influence, such as what optical illusions people observe and the measured degree of heritability of IQ.
|Tuesday, February 7th, 2017|
|Infrastructure is harder than it looks
I ran into this summary
that mentions that our road infrastructure is somewhat better now than it was in decades past, and that fixing infrastructure is not just a matter of dumping federal money into road-building:
As Bosworth and Milusheva observe, “the more basic problem is [that the] decision-making process is perverted by an excessive focus on efforts to obtain free federal funding of infrastructure projects whose benefits are largely local, and the emphasis on new construction results in inadequate funding of operating costs and timely maintenance.”
The CBO has found that operating and maintenance expenses account for more than half of the total costs associated with infrastructure, and more than that in mass transit and aviation in particular. Simply providing more money to build something, without a clear way of paying for the operations and maintenance, will only create problems down the road.
|Thursday, February 2nd, 2017|
|Why was England first?
Of course, the Industrial Revolution first happened in England. Gregory Clark presents evidence
that at that time, England had an unusually long history in which men's reproductive success was determined by economic success rather than by skill at violence. In particular, "Note that in England the reproductive success of the class that engaged in warfare on a large scale in the pre-industrial era, the aristocracy, was much poorer than for economically successful commoners, and was probably less good than that of the average person. ... Medieval manorial tenants, for example, had a life expectancy at age 20 of about 30, compared to 22 for the aristocracy." He suggests that this long period of Darwinian selection for economic success rather than success in violence shaped the English genetic/social inheritance in ways that favored a capitalistic economy and eventually the rise of the Industrial Revolution.
The peculiarity of this history is that the decline in success of violence wasn't due to the suppression of violence by the State, but by it becoming a less effective way of being successful relative to economic activity. That suggests that for some reason, violence couldn't be used simply to expropriate wealth generated by workers. The key transition, then, may not have been pacification but rather rule of law -- aristocrats could fight over each other's estates, but couldn't steal the village cooper's bag of gold.
|Sunday, January 29th, 2017|
|Facebook "likes" and politics
A researcher discovers that Facebook "likes" tell a great deal about your demographics and personality
Kosinski and his team tirelessly refined their models. In 2012, Kosinski proved that on the basis of an average of 68 Facebook “likes” by a user, it was possible to predict their skin color (with 95 percent accuracy), their sexual orientation (88 percent accuracy), and their affiliation to the Democratic or Republican party (85 percent). But it didn’t stop there. Intelligence, religious affiliation, as well as alcohol, cigarette and drug use, could all be determined. From the data it was even possible to deduce whether deduce whether someone's parents were divorced.
The strength of their modeling was illustrated by how well it could predict a subject’s answers. Kosinski continued to work on the models incessantly: before long, he was able to evaluate a person better than the average work colleague, merely on the basis of ten Facebook “likes.” Seventy “likes” were enough to outdo what a person’s friends knew, 150 what their parents knew, and 300 “likes” what their partner knew. More “likes” could even surpass what a person thought they knew about themselves. On the day that Kosinski published these findings, he received two phone calls. The threat of a lawsuit and a job offer. Both from Facebook.
Knowing your demographics and personality type allows politicians to target their appeals to individual voters with exquisite precision. And it looks like Donald Trump was the first politician to do this on a large scale -- Steve Bannon is on the board of a company that does this for hire.
|Sunday, January 22nd, 2017|
A reminder not to trust every alarming news story: Things are generally getting better
for black Americans. Of course, there are still substantial problems, but overall things are getting better by almost all measures, and some things are getting better at remarkable rates.
|Thursday, January 5th, 2017|
|The standard War on Poverty techniques aren't enough
The somewhat conservative black professor John McWhorter notes that the "War on Poverty" was generally a failure. He isolates several problems that WoP techniques don't address and suggests possible techniques
to reduce them. And he even suggests ways to sell those techniques to the new President. In particular, he recommends drastically reducing the War on Drugs (because it provides serious competition to legitimate employment for men, and because it puts the relationship between poor black men and the police on a permanent war footing) and increasing the availability of long-acting reversible contraceptives (to reduce the plague of out-of-wedlock births).
|Wednesday, January 4th, 2017|
|How to fix the retirement savings system
(Snarky joke: Saying that there is a retirement savings "system".) Megan McArdle points out that the problems with retirement savings
are well-understood and so is the solution: People have to save (in one way or another) enough to pay for their retirements. "Because none of the experts know how to get people to actually do this: to save 15 to 20 percent of their income, or sit still for a law that would make them. Nor has any clever technocrat come up with a way to sort of slip this by folks without their really noticing."
|Sunday, January 1st, 2017|
|Helping the fisheries
Probably the worst ongoing environmental disaster is the fishing-out of the oceans. Bloomberg View
proposed a simple solution that seems to be economically reasonable:
The high seas -- all that deep water beyond 200 nautical miles from a coastline -- are this planet’s last frontier. And like all previous frontiers, they’re ripe for plunder. But there may be a surprisingly simple solution to the scourge of overfishing on the high seas: a ban on commercial fishing in international waters.
The proposition may sound radical, but it has the backing of scientists who have shown how much a ban could restore coastal fisheries and the global fishing industry. In fact, it could raise the value of the world’s fisheries by $13 billion.
|Sunday, December 18th, 2016|
|It matters who you marry
There is a theory regarding how the larger structure of a society is affected by how the society deals with kinship: The less clan-based a society is, and the less marriages are arranged within clans, the stronger the "institutions" of society. The fundamental observation is that a great number of societies are organized along the lines of clans, or very extended families, with a characteristic behavior that people tend to marry their first- or second-cousins as part of the internal marriage politics of the clan. Societies that show this pattern seem to be consistently less economically developed and have less democratic institutions than societies where cousin marriage is rare.
(A number of online resources (e.g., 
) look at this connection in a strongly sociobiological way, but the connection can be explained by cultural and cultural-inheritance effects as well. On net, it seems that all paths by which kinship patterns might affect the larger society push in the same direction.)
This correlation seems to have been known for quite a while, and has been used to explain the high economic devlopment of northwestern Europe, which has had particularly low rates of cousin marriage for a particularly long time. Now, a new paper
attempts to assemble a high-quality statistical analysis based on the fact that cousin marriage in Euope was suppressed by direct fiat of the Eastern and Western Christian Churches, and that the length of time that those fiats were enforced on various populations differs greatly. The result is that areas where consanguineous marriages were banned for longer had a higher level of economic development (as of 1500 C.E) and today have more solid democratic institutions.
|Monday, December 12th, 2016|
|Society Is fixed, biology Is mutable
A psychiatrist muses
that problems that seem to have deep, "biological" causes seem to be easier to fix in practice than ones that have only "social" causes. This is despite that people think of "biological" things as fixed and society as infinitely plastic -- it's a lot harder to change society than people think. I'm not sure that he's entirely right, but there seems to be considerable truth to it. As has been said for a number of decades, the single biggest improvement in the effectiveness of the public schools was the free lunch program, and it's suspiciously plausible that eliminating leaded gas cut the crime rate in half.
|Sunday, December 11th, 2016|
|We need economic growth that is both stronger and broader-based
Five Thirty Eight gives a decent summary of new research
on income inequality and income mobility in the US. Yeah, it's been getting worse by every measure, and the fix will require stronger economic growth and a lessening of income inequality. Though beware that the authors' benchmark of people who were born in 1940 was a particularly lucky class of people: Their early adult years were in the boom times just after WW II, they were born in the center of a 15-year birth dearth (so they faced less competition in the job market), and their parents were 30 during the Great Depression (so it was easy to do better than their parents). Though one thing that hasn't changed is a fairly strong "regression to the mean" effect -- if your parents were poor, you'll likely make more money than them, and if your parents were rich, you'll likely make less money than them.
|Saturday, December 10th, 2016|
|The passing of a giant
Megan McArdle mourns the passing of Sears
Sears was the Wal-Mart of its era, that era being the 1890s to the 1930s. The company used economies of scale to become the comprehensive retailer to the large segment of the population that lived in small towns with few retail options. Then, as now, smaller local retailers might resent it, but the "wishbook," aka the Sears Roebuck catalog selling spices and plows and player pianos and seemingly everything else, could be found in almost every farmhouse in America.
[After World War II,] Sears embarked on an audacious expansion plan, building new stores and investing heavily in the automobile suburbs that were springing up everywhere. This decision by Sears helped create the retail landscape that many of us remember from our childhood: the massive suburban shopping mall, anchored by a giant Sears store.
It's fashionable to bash "dinosaurs" that can't evolve to survive, but I won't. Sears revolutionized American retail not once but twice, and made a lot of Americans immeasurably better off. But Sears built a great business for an America that no longer exists: eyes on the burgeoning suburbs, lives centered on cars, aesthetics relentlessly bourgeois. That business required a lot of investment in both business expertise and real estate that the company could not change, or shed, as fast as America changed around it. And there's no shame in that. Even the brightest stars eventually burn out.
|Friday, November 25th, 2016|
|Friday, November 18th, 2016|
|The old days
I ran into a description of what life was like in the early 1800s
, which included retail prices for food. I've annotated the prices with today's equivalents relative to the unskilled wage, calculated using Measuring Worth
For those who had to purchase their food, one record notes the following retail prices in 1818 in Washington, D.C.: beef cost 6 to 8 cents [$18] a pound, potatoes cost 56 cents [$145] a bushel, milk was 32 cents [$82] a gallon, tea 75 cents [$194] to $2.25 a pound. Shoes ran $2.50 [$645] a pair. Clothing expenses for a family of six cost $148 [$38,000] a year, though the record does not indicate the quality of the clothes.
|Monday, November 7th, 2016|
|How the first woman mayor in the U.S. was elected
From Five Thirty Eight
Kansas women had just won the right to vote in city elections, and the WCTU endorsed a slate of candidates for local office. Although all the recommended candidates were men, this bold act was still enough to annoy some of Argonia’s male residents, who came up with a plan to make the WCTU look silly, discredit its endorsements and, they hoped, drive the group to disband in shame. They published a fake WCTU endorsement list, exactly like the real one except that [Susanna] Salter was named as the group’s choice for mayor. The idea was that Salter would get only a couple of votes and the people of Argonia would see that the WCTU (and, by extension, all women) had no power in politics and no place trying to grub some up. The plan backfired spectacularly when Salter was elected, becoming the first female mayor in the U.S. and one of the first women elected to any kind of American political office.
The article continues that research shows that women running for office are viewed in various disadvantageous ways, but that the results from elections don't seem to show women candidates as being at a disadvantage.
|Thursday, October 6th, 2016|
|Monday, September 19th, 2016|
|All hail Haber-Bosch!
I finally ran into a clear statement of some facts that knew were generally true: The Haber-Bosch process
for producing "fixed nitrogen" has had a huge effect on the ecosystem, food production, and human life: "Nearly 80% of the nitrogen found in human tissues originated from the Haber-Bosch process." The application of artificial fertilizer, pesticides, and crops bred to thrive in those conditions "quadrupled the productivity of agricultural land". "With average crop yields remaining at the 1900 level the crop harvest in the year 2000 would have required nearly four times more land and the cultivated area would have claimed nearly half of all ice-free continents, rather than under 15% of the total land area that is required today."
|Sunday, September 18th, 2016|
|Holy Sapir-Whorf, Batman!
Geographical Origins and Economic Consequence of Language Structures
Oded Galor, Omer Ozak, and Assaf Sarid
This research explores the economic causes and consequences of language structures. It advances the hypothesis and establishes empirically that variations in pre-industrial geographical characteristics that were conducive to higher return to agricultural investment, larger gender gap in agricultural productivity, and more hierarchical society, are at the root of existing cross-language variations in the presence of the future tense, grammatical gender, and politeness distinctions. Moreover, the research suggests that while language structures have largely reflected the coding of past human experience and in particular the range of ancestral cultural traits in society, they independently affected human behavior and economic outcomes.
|Monday, August 29th, 2016|
|Nerd Amusement of the Day: Best spam evar!!!
Today I received in my inbox the message that reveals what we've all suspected:
From: "Christina Wiese <firstname.lastname@example.org>" <email@example.com>
To: "Christina Wiese <firstname.lastname@example.org>" <email@example.com>
Subject: RE: Easy way to join illuminati fraternity, if interested kindly
contact the supreme leader: firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: Mon, 29 Aug 2016 11:43:11 +0000