Weekly Roundup 120: A Curated Linkfest For The Smartest People On The Web

Handpicked to satisfy your intellectual curiosity!

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Weekly Cartoon:

Via Glasbergen

Video: The Internet in Society: Empowering and Censoring Citizen? – via RSA Animate

MUST WATCH VIDEO: Understanding uncertainty: We’re all going to die (sometime)
Past experience and probability theory can be used to check the odds of your football team winning or judge the risks of activities such as riding motorcycles, taking illegal drugs, going into hospital or just living. Things get more difficult when we don’t fully understand what is going on, like early on in the swine flu epidemic, or when we are dealing with huge complexity, as in climate change. Then it can be helpful to admit what we don’t know.

Miguel’s Linkfest:

Are secure people less materialistic?
– via Bakadesuyo- Lemay and his colleagues found that people who had heightened feelings of interpersonal security — a sense of being loved and accepted by others — placed a lower monetary value on their possession than people who did not.

What do we need most in a crisis? Good Habits – via Boston.com – Part of the horror of seeing Japan knocked out by an earthquake and tsunami is watching the best-prepared society in the world become overwhelmed. Japan calls itself an earthquake society. It was more prepared for disaster than Haiti or Chile or China or even New Zealand. Japan is richer, yes, so it has the resources to build earthquake-safe buildings. But more than that, the Japanese are psychologically prepared. They have carefully worked out and practiced emergency protocols.

Declining Phone Use…Or Why I (anecdotally) never make calls and stick to text messaging– via NYT- In the last five years, full-fledged adults have seemingly given up the telephone — land line, mobile, voice mail and all. According to Nielsen Media, even on cellphones, voice spending has been trending downward, with text spending expected to surpass it within three years. “I literally never use the phone,” Jonathan Adler, the interior designer, told me. (Alas, by phone, but it had to be.) “Sometimes I call my mother on the way to work because she’ll be happy to chitty chat. But I just can’t think of anyone else who’d want to talk to me.” Then again, he doesn’t want to be called, either. “I’ve learned not to press ‘ignore’ on my cellphone because then people know that you’re there.”

Gold, China, and Facebook: Detecting market bubbles – via Fortune- Suppose we can travel back in time and detect all the market bubbles that went bust. How much pain would we save ourselves? How much wealth would we forgo?

The Western cult of happiness is a mirthless enterprise – via City Journal – In the 1960s, two major shifts transformed the right to happiness into the duty of happiness. The first was a shift in the nature of capitalism, which had long revolved around production and the deferral of gratification, but now focused on making us all good consumers. Working no longer sufficed; buying was also necessary for the industrial machine to run at full capacity. To make this shift possible, an ingenious invention had appeared not long before, first in America in the 1930s and then in Europe in the 1950s: credit. In an earlier time, anyone who wanted to buy a car, some furniture, or a house followed a rule that now seems almost unknown: he waited, setting aside his nickels and dimes. But credit changed everything; frustration became intolerable and satisfaction normal; to do without seemed absurd. We would live well in the present and pay back later. Today, we’re all aware of the excesses that resulted from this system, since the financial meltdown in the United States was the direct consequence of too many people living on credit, to the point of borrowing hundreds of times the real value of their possessions.

How To Hack Into A Car Wirelessly-
via Tech Review- The researchers were able to control everything from the car’s brakes to its door locks to its computerized dashboard displays by accessing the onboard computer through GM’s OnStar and Ford’s Sync, as well as through the Bluetooth connections intended for making hands-free phone calls. They presented their findings this week to the National Academies Committee on Electronic Vehicle Controls and Unintended Acceleration, which was brought together partly in response to last year’s scandal over supposed problems with the computerized braking systems in Toyota Priuses.

Scott Belsky on How to Avoid Idea Plateaus
– via BrainPickings- Hand raise: Who here has had a big idea, the kind that keeps you up at night excitedly plotting its release into the world, only to have it plateau and lose steam before coming to fruition? We thought so. And how do we handle that? We come up with a new idea, a shot of creative dopamine to the brain, only to have it suffer the same fate. In his excellent talk from last year’s 99% Conference — one of our favorite cross-disciplinary event series — Scott Belsky breaks down how this trap works and how to avoid falling into it.

Are the Wealthiest Countries the Smartest Countries? – via APS- They found that intelligence made a difference in gross domestic product. For each one-point increase in a country’s average IQ, the per capita GDP was $229 higher. It made an even bigger difference if the smartest 5 percent of the population got smarter; for every additional IQ point in that group, a country’s per capita GDP was $468 higher.

Sentiment and Stock Prices: The Case of Aviation Disasters
via Empirical Finance – “Behavioral economic studies reveal that negative sentiment driven by bad mood and anxiety affects investment decisions and may hence affect asset pricing. In this study we examine the effect of aviation disasters on stock prices. We find evidence of a significant negative event effect with a market average loss of more than $60 billion per aviation disaster, whereas the estimated actual loss is no more than $1 billion. In two days a price reversal occurs. We find the effect to be greater in small and riskier stocks and in firms belonging to less stable industries. This event effect is also accompanied by an increase in the perceived risk: implied volatility increases after aviation disasters without an increase in actual volatility.”

The behavioral backdrop to financial incentives
– via Nudge Blog – Are good old-fashioned cash rewards nudges? This is a common question we hear. Financial incentives are listed as one potential tool for smart choice architecture. To ignore them is to ignore volumes of traditional economic work. That’s silly. Nudge is, after all, a book about psychology and economics. But financial incentives have a behavioral element, as Michael Kremer and Rachel Glennerster point out in a new, excellent review of behavioral economics and economic development published in the Boston Review. Since people are not good investing a little bit now to get a lot later (myopia, procrastination, status quo bias all get in the way), behavioral economics steps in to try and jump start these investments through small financial incentives. The basic point is that the context around the incentive (its size, when it’s delivered, how salient it is made) are all critical to its effectiveness. Uncovering these contextual lessons is one of behavioral economics broad goals.

Psychology of Fitting In– via situationist- Along with the excitement and anticipation that come with heading off to college, freshmen often find questions of belonging lurking in the background: Am I going to make friends? Are people going to respect me? Will I fit in? Those concerns are trickier for black students and others who are often stereotyped or outnumbered on college campuses. They have good reason to wonder whether they will belong – worries that can result in lower grades and a sense of alienation.

When Estimating Is Dangerous – via Freakonomics- A recent article in The New York Times offers a worrying application of street-fighting reasoning methods. The article describes the deterioration of the Lake Isabella Dam in California. This dam, the article reports, is one of 4,400 considered “susceptible to failure” (out of the 85,000 dams in the country). I’ll pass over lightly the statement early in the article that the repair costs would be “billions of dollars,” and note only that this figure seems like a massive underestimate. (My last blog entry looked at an analogous estimate for health-care costs.)

Is no evidence more persuasive than weak evidence?
– via Bakadesuyo- Defying logic, people given weak evidence can regard predictions supported by that evidence as less likely than if they aren’t given the evidence at all.

Dirty Liberals!: Reminders of Physical Cleanliness Influence Moral and Political Attitudes – via Sagepub-Many moral codes place a special emphasis on bodily purity, and manipulations that directly target bodily purity have been shown to influence a variety of moral judgments. Across two studies, we demonstrated that reminders of physical purity influence specific moral judgments regarding behaviors in the sexual domain as well as broad political attitudes. In Study 1, individuals in a public setting who were given a reminder of physical cleansing reported being more politically conservative than did individuals who were not given such a reminder. In Study 2, individuals reminded of physical cleansing in the laboratory demonstrated harsher moral judgments toward violations of sexual purity and were more likely to report being politically conservative than control participants. Together, these experiments provide further evidence of a deep link between physical purity and moral judgment, and they offer preliminary evidence that manipulations of physical purity can influence general (and putatively stable) political attitudes.

Bloomberg Keeps  Its Documents to Itself
via CJR – Caleb Newquist has a great post up at Going Concern showing how important it is for news organizations to publish primary documents, rather than just report what’s in them. He’s reacting to Boris Groendahl’s story at Bloomberg, headlined “HSBC Was Told About Madoff ‘Fraud Risks’ in Two KPMG Reports.” The story is pretty clear: KPMG warned HSBC twice — once in 2006 and once in 2008 — that there might be fraud going on chez Madoff.

Using behavioral Economics To Encourage Inventiveness
via Leadon Young- At MIT’s D-Lab we believe that users in the developing world have the potential to be the everyday inventers of their own solutions. In a Nicaraguan hospital, a nurse might quietly create neonatal UV protectors from layers of surgical gauze. Around the corner in the operating room, surgeons can be found trading sutures for fishing line and drainage valves for cut-up soda bottles that work just as well. These inventive behaviors are often hidden. The designs are remaches, geuzas, improvisations, hacks. Not exactly the stuff of professional associations. This is only because they lack the last bit of formal engineering that makes them appear the brilliant solutions they in fact are.

How Our Brains Predispose Us to Believe in God-
via APS- Psychologist Jesse Bering is best known for his often risqué (and sometimes NSFW) Bering in Mind blog for Scientific American, which examines human behavior — frequently of the sexual sort. But he’s also the director of the Institute for Cognition and Culture at Queen’s University in Belfast and his new book, The Belief Instinct, examines an entirely different subject: why our brains may be adapted to believe in gods, souls and ghosts

Online readership and ad revenue overtake newspapers
via Reuters- For the first time, online readership and advertising revenue has surpassed that of print newspapers.

Does Easily Learned Mean Easily Remembered? It Depends on Your Beliefs About Intelligence – via Sagepub – Because numerous studies have shown that feelings of encoding fluency are positively correlated with judgments of learning, a single dominant heuristic, easily learned = easily remembered (ELER), has been posited to explain how people interpret encoding fluency when assessing their own memory. However, the inferences people draw from feelings of encoding fluency may vary with their beliefs about why information is easy or effortful to encode. We conducted two experiments in which participants studied word lists and then predicted their future recall of those items. Results revealed that subjects who viewed intelligence as fixed, and who tended to interpret effortful encoding as indicating that they had reached the limits of their ability, used the ELER heuristic to make judgments of learning. However, subjects who viewed intelligence as malleable, and who tended to interpret effortful encoding as indicating greater engagement in learning, did not use the ELER heuristic and at times predicted greater memory for items that they found more effortful to learn.

Reactors, Perrow and Tightly-Coupled Systems: The Lessons of Fukushima – via Infectious Greed- We have now had four grave nuclear reactor accidents: Windscale in Britain in 1957 (the one that is never mentioned), Three Mile Island in the United States in 1979, Chernobyl in the Soviet Union in 1986, and now Fukushima. Each accident was unique, and each was supposed to be impossible. Nuclear engineers have learned from each accident how to improve reactor design so as to diminish the likelihood of that particular accident repeating itself but, as Donald Rumsfeld famously reminded us, there are always “unknown unknowns,” and so each accident has been succeeded by another, unwinding in a way that was not foreseen. The designers of the reactors at Fukushima did not anticipate that the tsunami generated by an earthquake would disable the backup systems that were supposed to stabilize the reactor after the earthquake.

Schumpeterian Competition and Diseconomies of Scope: Illustrations from the Histories of Microsoft and IBM – via Harvard- Firms dominant in one era are often less successful in new technological eras, despite being able to exploit economies of scope and other incumbent advantages. What leads to this Schumpeterian creative destruction?

The economics of hope – via Geary Behavioral Economics Blog – The degree of hopelessness surrounding our economy generally and many people’s private circumstances is probably much higher than normal. There appears to be an upward spike in suicide, for example. So a little economic theory is useful:


Which Drugs are Most Marketed To Doctors – via Infographic Showcase –

A Centuryof Meat Consumption – via Cool Infographics

Are Govt Employees Paid Too Much
– via NYT-

About Miguel Barbosa

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20. March 2005 by Miguel Barbosa
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