Weekly Roundup 108: A Curated Linkfest For The Smartest People On The Web

Handpicked to satisfy your intellectual curiosity!

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Must Read Articles!!

New BBC Documentary Featuring Hans Rosling: The Joy of Stats – Awesome! – via BBC – Documentary which takes viewers on a rollercoaster ride through the wonderful world of statistics to explore the remarkable power thay have to change our understanding of the world, presented by superstar boffin Professor Hans Rosling, whose eye-opening, mind-expanding and funny online lectures have made him an international internet legend.

The Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences Lecture Presentations -Via Economist View-
* Peter Diamond: Unemployment, Vacancies, Wages (30 mins.)
* Dale Mortenson: Markets with Search Frictions (35 mins.)
* Christopher Pissarides: Equilibrium in the Labour Market with Search Frictions (33 mins.)

Nobel-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa laments effects of Internet – via AP – Nobel literature laureate Mario Vargas Llosa on Monday lashed out against today’s fast-paced information society, saying it limits peoples’ depth of thinking and is a major problem for culture.

Video: Ted Talk – A feminine response to Iceland’s financial crash via Ted – Halla Tomasdottir managed to take her company Audur Capital through the eye of the financial storm in Iceland by applying 5 traditionally “feminine” values to financial services. At TEDWomen, she talks about these values and the importance of balance.

Video Documentary How Music Works – via Brain Pickings – Music. It’s hard to imagine life without it. How flat would a world be where films have no scores, birthdays no ‘Happy Birthday,’ Christmas no carols, gym workouts no playlist? Music is so ubiquitous and affects us so deeply, so powerfully. But how much do we really know about it? How well do we understand its emotional hold on our brains? How Music Works, a fascinating program from BBC4 (the same folks who brought us The End of God?: A Horizon Guide to Science and Religion), explores just that.

Video: Live from Wonderfest-Does 10k Hours of Gaming Have Effects? – via Fora.tv – Wonderfest’s broad goals are best described by its mission statement: Through public discourse about provocative scientific questions, Wonderfest aspires to stimulate curiosity, promote careful reasoning, challenge unexamined beliefs, and encourage life-long learning. Wonderfest achieves these ends by presenting series of scientific events to the general public. At most of these events, pairs of articulate and accomplished researchers discuss and debate compelling questions at the edge of scientific understanding.

Dire Messages Reduce Belief in Global Warming by Contradicting Just-World Beliefs – via SagePub – Though scientific evidence for the existence of global warming continues to mount, in the United States and other countries belief in global warming has stagnated or even decreased in recent years. One possible explanation for this pattern is that information about the potentially dire consequences of global warming threatens deeply held beliefs that the world is just, orderly, and stable. Individuals overcome this threat by denying or discounting the existence of global warming, and this process ultimately results in decreased willingness to counteract climate change. Two experiments provide support for this explanation of the dynamics of belief in global warming, suggesting that less dire messaging could be more effective for promoting public understanding of climate-change research.

How to Turn a School System Around – via Good – A report released last week by the management consulting firm McKinsey sheds some insight on how school systems that are seeing signs of or consistent improvement are getting the job done. Rather than recommending—as one might hear when international assessments such as this week’s PISA scores were released—to follow the lead of, say, Finland or Singapore, the report instead offers a continuum where a school system would need to locate itself and then work upward from that point.

Eric Falkenstein Reviews Nassim Taleb’s Latest Book – via Falken Blog – As to its flaws, it reminded me of one of my favorite aphorisms: “the man who early on regards himself as genius is lost.” He inverts the observation that geniuses are often misunderstood to the insight that misunderstood people are geniuses, and critics of such people are imbeciles who don’t even have the taste to appreciate genius. My criticisms are therefore consistent with him being right or wrong, but falsification is not symptomatic of punditry in general or Taleb in particular.

Digit ratios (2D:4D) as predictors of risky decision making for both sexes – via Springer – Many important decisions involve financial risk, and substantial evidence suggests that women tend to be more risk averse than men. We explore a potential biological basis of risk-taking variation within and between the sexes by studying how the ratio between the length of the second and fourth fingers (2D:4D) predicts risk-taking. A smaller 2D:4D ratio has been linked to higher exposure to prenatal testosterone relative to estradiol, with men having lower ratios than women. In financially motivated decision-making tasks, we find that men and women with smaller 2D:4D ratios chose significantly riskier options. We further find that the ratio partially explains the variation in risk-taking between the sexes. Moreover, for men and women at the extremes of the digit-ratio distribution the difference in risk-taking disappears. Thus, the 2D:4D ratio partially explains variation in financial risk-taking behavior within and between sexes and offers evidence of a biological basis for risk-taking behavior.

Getting Ahead of the Joneses: When Equality Increases Conspicuous Consumption among Bottom-Tier Consumers – via Uchicago – It is widely believed that increasing the equality of material possessions or income in a social group should lead people at the bottom of the distribution to consume less and save more. However, this prediction and its causal mechanism have never been studied experimentally. Five studies show that greater equality increases the satisfaction of those in the lowest tier of the distribution because it reduces the possession gap between what they have and what others have. However, greater equality also increases the position gains derived from status-enhancing consumption, since it allows low-tier consumers to get ahead of the higher proportion of consumers clustered in the middle tiers. As a result, greater equality reduces consumption when consumers focus on the narrower possession gap, but it increases consumption when they focus on the greater position gains (i.e., when consumption is conspicuous, social competition goals are primed, and the environment is competitive).

Miguel’s Weekly Favorites:

Think more, eat less
– via Uveal Blues – A new study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, published in Science, shows that when you imagine eating a certain food, it reduces your actual consumption of that food. The discovery changes the decades-old assumption that thinking about something desirable increases cravings for it and its consumption.

Assembling the Global Baby – via WSJ – With an international network of surrogate mothers and egg and sperm donors, a new industry is emerging to produce children on the cheap and outside the reach of restrictive laws.

Joris Luyendijk: ‘The old model of journalism is broken’
– via Guardian – How can journalism meet the challenges of the internet age? Former reporter Joris Luyendijk is looking for new ways to tell stories.

Round Numbers as Goals: Evidence From Baseball, SAT Takers, and the Lab
– via Sagepub – Where do people’s reference points come from? We conjectured that round numbers in performance scales act as reference points and that individuals exert effort to perform just above rather than just below such numbers. In Study 1, we found that professional baseball players modify their behavior as the season is about to end, seeking to finish with a batting average just above rather than below .300. In Study 2, we found that high school students are more likely to retake the SAT after obtaining a score just below rather than above a round number. In Study 3, we conducted an experiment employing hypothetical scenarios and found that participants reported a greater desire to exert more effort when their performance was just short of rather than just above a round number.

A fun prediction game – via Mind Your Decisions – I came across a fun video made by Professor Richard Wiseman (who incidentally includes puzzles and optical illusions on his fantastic blog).

The one night stand gene? – via Deric Bownds – An amusing article in a recent PLoS One by Garcia et al makes me wonder whether we soon may be requiring prospective mates to reveal not only their HIV status but also the number of tandem repeats in their dopamine receptor gene. Genetic tweaking of the receptor for the “feel good” neurotransmitter dopamine may be all it takes to ramp up sexual promiscuity and infidelity (usual disclaimer: This does NOT mean we are talking about a ‘gene’ for promiscuity, in spite of the title of this post). They rounded up 181 college students, asked them to answer a questionnaire about their sexual habits along with other proclivities, such as cigarette smoking and the tendency to take risks.

Living with “I’ll have what she’s having” via Herd – Thanks to the Marketing Society for reposting this piece I did for their great house mag, Market Leader on the work I’ve been doing recently on Social Learning

Video: Nudge Blog: A soundtrack for the speed limit – via Nudge Blog – When you speed, the music slows down. When you really speed, the music stops.

Music: When It Hits You, You Feel Less Anxiety
– via Good – In studies involving more than 200 intensive care patients, listening to music reduced anxiety and helped slow patients’ breathing rates. More work is planned to determine if the type of music played is important. In most trials doctors had plumped for classical music, such as Mozart’s piano sonatas, or easy listening. But it may be that for some patients other genres would work just as well, if not better.

Digital Learning Now! – via Policy Pointers – A 20-page US report identifying 10 elements of high quality digital learning

Do Aid Agencies Want to Know When Their Medicines Go Missing? – via Policy Pointers – A 6-page US paper on the theft of lifesaving drugs for developing countries, the consequences and the fact that aid agencies do a poor job of assessing whether donated drugs reach those in need

Mobile phones and behavioural problems – via Understanding Uncertainty – The authors did their best with a large survey, but they admit that mobile phone use in pregnancy is associated with being poorer, younger, more stressed, smoking, and doubtless many other factors that are known to increase the risk of behavioural problems. It is difficult to tease out the effect of a single factor even using statistical adjustment methods. They also find an association between mobile phone use in children under 7, even without use by their mothers were pregnant, and behavioural problems. Such an association is unsurprising, but I am not convinced that it’s the phone use that causes the problems.

Imitation Improves Language Comprehension
– via Sagepub – Humans imitate each other during social interaction. This imitative behavior streamlines social interaction and aids in learning to replicate actions. However, the effect of imitation on action comprehension is unclear. This study investigated whether vocal imitation of an unfamiliar accent improved spoken-language comprehension. Following a pretraining accent comprehension test, participants were assigned to one of six groups. The baseline group received no training, but participants in the other five groups listened to accented sentences, listened to and repeated accented sentences in their own accent, listened to and transcribed accented sentences, listened to and imitated accented sentences, or listened to and imitated accented sentences without being able to hear their own vocalizations. Posttraining measures showed that accent comprehension was most improved for participants who imitated the speaker’s accent. These results show that imitation may aid in streamlining interaction by improving spoken-language comprehension under adverse listening conditions.

Video- Nova: Magic and Autism
– via PBS – Tapping into social cues to trick their audience, magicians rely on a phenomenon called joint attention. Most audience members will pay attention to what a magician is looking at—so a magician can direct their attention away by looking in the opposite direction. People on the autistic spectrum can have trouble picking up on the cues of joint attention and may not be fooled by a magician’s sleight of hand. Researchers are now looking to magic as a useful technique to teach children with autism how to read social cues.

Video – Nova: Materials That Changed History – via Nova – Where would we be without wood, ceramics, glass, iron? Human civilization would not have advanced as it has without these and other key materials. Here, look at 10 resources that have had the most significant impact on society, ranging from the most ancient kinds to those remaking the 21st century.

A Facebook Founder Begins a Social Network Focused on Charities
– via NyTimes – Chris Hughes, founder of Jumo, says he wants his site, to be unveiled Tuesday, to do for charities “what Yelp did for restaurants.”

Copernicus Muddling Through – via PsyFi Blog – The story of how Nicolas Copernicus overturned centuries of dogmatic adherence to an Earth centred cosmos is well known – too well known, perhaps. Copernicus’ ideas didn’t come out of the wide blue yonder in a sudden revelation; they arose out of the careful work of earlier scientists, paving the way for his final proposition. Although our preferred methods of storytelling give preference to dramatic tales of sudden jumps the truth is nearly always much more gradual. Just as in science, corporations and industries tend to change slowly. Generally when they don’t there’s something either badly wrong or about to go badly wrong. We’re usually at our best when we’re incrementally muddling through, not trying to re-invent the world anew.

A Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Networks – via Learning Change – A Networked Self examines self presentation and social connection in the digital age. This collection brings together new work on online social networks by leading scholars from a variety of disciplines. The focus of the volume rests on the construction of the self, and what happens to self-identity when it is presented through networks of social connections in new media environments. The volume is structured around the core themes of “identity, community, and culture“ the central themes of social network sites. Contributors address theory, research, and practical implications of many aspects of online social networks including self-presentation, behavioral norms, patterns and routines, social impact, privacy, class/gender/race divides, taste cultures online, uses of social networking sites within organizations, activism, civic engagement and political impact.

Financial incentives and the brain’s reward system
– via NeuroKuz -Behavioural economics and the psychology of decision-making have rich histories, but with emerging brain imaging technology, we’re now able to peer into some of the intricacies of neural processes as they occur while someone is making an important financial decision. The hope is that studies of brain activity will help guide economic theory and practice.

An interview with Suzanne Corkin Famous Psychologist Studied HM Patient – SUZANNE Corkin is a professor of behavioural neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who worked with the famous amnesic patient H.M. for more than 45 years. I interviewed her at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego last month, for this article I wrote for The Dana Foundation. We talked about her work with H.M., and about the project to examine his brain now that he has died, which was partly funded by Dana. The transcript of our conversation is below.

Bad virus put to good use: Breakthrough batteries
– via PhysOrg – Viruses have a bad rep–and rightly so. The ability of a virus to quickly and precisely replicate itself makes it a destructive scourge to animals and plants alike. Now an interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering and College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, brought together by Professor Reza Ghodssi, is turning the tables, harnessing and exploiting the “self-renewing” and “self-assembling” properties of viruses for a higher purpose: to build a new generation of small, powerful and highly efficient batteries and fuel cells.

Endowed Progress Effect and Game Quests
– via Psych Video Games – Researchers Joseph Nunes and Xavier Dreze coined the term in a paper1 where they did the car wash experiment described above. They found that 34% of people who got a 10-stamp card with 2 freebies ended up coming back enough to redeem the cards, compared to 19% of customers who started with an unstamped card requiring only 8 stamps. This despite the fact that both sets of customers only needed 8 stamps for a free wash. Nunes and Xavier also found that those endowed with the two free stamps tried to reach their goal faster by waiting less time between washes.

Stars, Strife, & Education – via Contexts – A popular quote urges us to shoot for the moon: even if we miss, we’ll land among the stars. According to John R. Reynolds and Chardie L. Baird (American Sociological Review, February 2010), there’s more to it than cheesy inspiration. Using data from two waves of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, Reynolds and Baird test the common notion that failing to attain as much education as expected is associated with symptoms of depression in early/middle adulthood. Their results show that individuals with lower levels of education are more likely to exhibit signs of depression. But, their depression doesn’t come from the gap between plans and achievement. It comes from the low level of educational attainment in itself.

Sedentary Physiology – Future Directions
– via Plos – Given the research that we have reviewed this week, I personally find the evidence pretty convincing that too much sedentary behaviour is bad for your health. But as several readers have pointed out, what qualifies as “too much” sedentary behaviour? And as others have asked, what can be done to reduce or prevent the negative impact of excess sedentary behaviour? Is simply standing every few minutes enough, or do we need to be exercising at a relatively high intensity? Or is the only option to simply cut down dramatically on the amount of sitting that most of us perform on a daily basis? Unfortunately, no one knows the answers to any of these questions, but as I have mentioned earlier, several lab-based studies are going on in Australia and the USA which will hopefully be published in the next year and shed light on these issues.

Down on the Body Farm: Inside the Dirty World of Forensic Science – via Atlantic – Sometime soon, dead bodies will be scattered around John O’Laughlin’s land. Wanting to give students and researchers at California University of Pennsylvania’s Institute of Criminological and Forensic Sciences a place to analyze human remains, O’Laughlin recently donated a sizable chunk of his 222-acre piece of property in southwestern Pennsylvania to be used as a “body farm.” His won’t be the first.

The Hipster in the Mirror – via NYT – A  year ago, my colleagues and I started to investigate the contemporary hipster. What was the “hipster,” and what did it mean to be one? It was a puzzle. No one, it seemed, thought of himself as a hipster, and when someone called you a hipster, the term was an insult. Paradoxically, those who used the insult were themselves often said to resemble hipsters — they wore the skinny jeans and big eyeglasses, gathered in tiny enclaves in big cities, and looked down on mainstream fashions and “tourists.” Most puzzling was how rattled sensible, down-to-earth people became when we posed hipster-themed questions. When we announced a public debate on hipsterism, I received e-mail messages both furious and plaintive. Normally inquisitive people protested that there could be no answer and no definition. Maybe hipsters didn’t exist! The responses were more impassioned than those we’d had in our discussions on health care, young conservatives and feminism. And perfectly blameless individuals began flagellating themselves: “Am I a hipster?”

What Works in the Classroom? Ask the Students – via NYT – How useful are the views of public school students about their teachers?

Science Reveals How Not to Choke Under Pressure – via Discover – At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the star American gymnast Alicia Sacramone was expected to grab gold. But just as she approached the balance beam, an official pulled her aside. Watching at home on TV, Sian Beilock, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, cringed. An expert on “choking”—or falling apart under pressure—Beilock knew that allowing an athlete even a second to think about what she’s about to do can be disastrous.

The bitter sweet smell of success – via Geary Behavior Economics – The research described in this paper was carried out to determine the effects of olfactory stimuli (provided by natural essence oils of lemon) on achievement in English of fourth grade pupils in a school in Turkey. Pupils were randomly assigned to an experimental group (n:29) or a control group (n:29). Both groups were taught English lessons twice a week for a period of four weeks as part of the normal curriculum. In the experimental group, lessons were provided in an aromatic atmosphere. In the control group, lessons were provided in a normal classroom environment. Following treatment, the experimental group outperformed the control group on an achievement test in English. A month after the termination of treatment, the performance of both groups on the achievement test had deteriorated, but the experimental group still outperformed the control group.

The Psychology of Facebook
– via Geary Behavior Blog – Of the 20 most popular websites in the world, 13 relate to corporations that have European headquarters in Ireland: Ebay, Google, Yahoo and Facebook. The last three of these corporations have been the source of much commentary on this blog. Facebook (FB) has 1.5 millions users in Ireland and it is competing strongly with Google for web-user time-allocation. The chart below (from comScore/Citi) shows FB’s increasing share of web-user time-allocation since 2006. FB has an explicit interest in internet economics and it has been mentioned many times before on this blog: from ambient awareness to the App Economy, FB search data to Mulley Com’s study of FB eye-tracking, the choice architecture of FB, the FB Global Happinness Index, and of course, the debate on whether FB-use hurts students’ grades.

Love the bearer of bad news – via John Kay – In Sophocles’ play Antigone, a sentry reports the burial of Polyneices to King Creon. The sentry acknowledges that no one loves the bringer of bad news, but is unprepared for the strength of Creon’s reaction. “What you say is intolerable,” the king expostulates. He threatens the sentry with hanging.

Battle of the Sexes Not Worth the Risk! – via PsychScience – Women are generally thought to be more cautious than men, so does this translate over to financial decisions too? According to a new study published in Psychological Science, stereotypes like this about women actually influence how women make financial decisions, making them more wary of risk.


Is “Channel Checking” Illegal Insider Trading? – via Fraud Girl @ Sleight of Hand – Bruce Carton of Securities Docket wrote a very interesting article called Who’s Checking Your Channel? The article highlights the practice of “channel checking” which has been something investment analysts have done for a long time. Now it appears that our government is trying to decide whether channel checking is actually illegal insider trading.

Satyajit Das: The Past, The Present and an “Unusually Uncertain” Future
– via Naked Capitalism – he “past” in this case is Adam Smith, the doyen of economic liberals. Nicholas Phillipson’s “An Enlightened Life” is an “intellectual biography”, forced by the paucity of factual details about Smith’s life. In a pre-FacebookTM and TwitterTM age, Smith jealously guarded his privacy and instructed his unpublished papers be destroyed upon his death. Little information of his private life survives.

A Secretive Banking Elite Rules Trading in Derivatives – via NYT – On the third Wednesday of every month, the nine members of an elite Wall Street society gather in Midtown Manhattan. The men share a common goal: to protect the interests of big banks in the vast market for derivatives, one of the most profitable — and controversial — fields in finance. They also share a common secret: The details of their meetings, even their identities, have been strictly confidential.

Golden Parachutes and the Wealth of Shareholders – via Harvard Law Science – Golden parachutes have attracted much debate and substantial attention from investors and public officials for more than two decades, and the Dodd-Frank Act recently mandated a shareholder vote on any future adoption of a golden parachute by public firms. Our study uses IRRC data for the period 1990-2006 to provide a comprehensive analysis of the relationship that golden parachutes have both with the evolution of firm value over time and with shareholder opportunities to obtain acquisition premiums. We find that golden parachutes are associated with increased likelihood of either receiving an acquisition offer or being acquired, a lower premium in the event of an acquisition, and higher (unconditional) expected acquisition premiums. Tracking the evolution of firm value over time in firms adopting GPs, we find that firms adopting a GP have a lower industry-adjusted Tobin’s Q already in the IRRC volume preceding the adoption, but that their value continues to decline during the inter-volume period of adoption and continues to erode subsequently. A similar pattern is displayed by an analysis of abnormal stock returns prior to the adoption of GPs, during the inter-volume period of adoption, and subsequently.

IMF Paper: Financial Contagion through Bank Deleveraging: Stylized Facts and Simulations Applied to the Financial Crisis – via IMF – The financial crisis has highlighted the importance of various channels of financial contagion across countries. This paper first presents stylized facts of international banking activities during the crisis. It then describes a simple model of financial contagion based on bank balance sheet identities and behavioral assumptions of deleveraging. Cascade effects can be triggered by bank losses or contractions of interbank lending activities. As a result of shocks on assets or on liabilities of banks, a global deleveraging of international banking activities can occur. Simple simulations are presented to illustrate the use of the model and the relative importance of contagion channels, relying on bank losses of advanced countries’ banking systems during the financial crisis to calibrate the shock. The outcome of the simulations is compared with the deleveraging observed during the crisis suggesting that leverage is a major determinant of financial contagion.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom – via RCFEA – The persistence of financial instability calls into question the adequacy of the current regulatory regime. A critical review of the three pillars at the core of current financial regulation exposes some structural flaws. Four new pillars are proposed and compared with measures proposed to shore up the current financial architecture.


The Tax Deal, in One Chart – via Good

Via Good

Google Foreclosure Maps – via Chart Porn –

Picturing Social Order – flowing data

Money Supply as Percentage of GDP by Country

How Color Impacts our Purchasing Behavior – via Good

Video: Selling Dreams, Lovers, and Cars – via society Pages – In Deadly Persuasion, Jean Kilbourne discusses the tactics of car advertisers. Cars, she argues, are offered as keys to happiness. Often they are anthromorphized, even positioned as a lover or a soul mate.

About Miguel Barbosa

I run this site.

12. December 2004 by Miguel Barbosa
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