Weekly Roundup 117: A Curated Linkfest For The Smartest People On The Web

Dear Readers,

I apologize for the slow posting. Yesterday was my birthday and I completely forgot to post. Thank you very much for all the wishes.


Handpicked to satisfy your intellectual curiosity!

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Important Infographic (Via NYT)

America’s Ranking vs Other Advanced Countries: We Are Not Number 1

Miguel’s Roundup:

The continuing plight of the Sioux – via Decision Tree- Despite sitting on a trust fund that’s worth over $1 billion in equity from a “purchase” of the Black Hills that the tribe never agreed to, the Sioux are suffering from chronic disease and have what’s sure to be one of the lowest ethnic life expectancies in the United States.

Are Carbs Good For You: What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie? via NYT- Over the past five years, however, there has been a subtle shift in the scientific consensus. It used to be that even considering the possibility of the alternative hypothesis, let alone researching it, was tantamount to quackery by association. Now a small but growing minority of establishment researchers have come to take seriously what the low-carb-diet doctors have been saying all along. Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, may be the most visible proponent of testing this heretic hypothesis. Willett is the de facto spokesman of the longest-running, most comprehensive diet and health studies ever performed, which have already cost upward of $100 million and include data on nearly 300,000 individuals. Those data, says Willett, clearly contradict the low-fat-is-good-health message ”and the idea that all fat is bad for you; the exclusive focus on adverse effects of fat may have contributed to the obesity epidemic.”

When Vulture Funds Invest in Busted Countries- How traders make their fortune on the backs of weak and poor
via Playboy.com – These Americans use a highly specialized investment scheme developed over the past 20 years. They run vulture funds, buying abandoned debt in bedeviled countries at pennies on the dollar. The foreign governments owe the funds just as a man with a mortgage owes his bank. When the vultures decide to strike, they want their money immediately and launch integrated campaigns to get it. It’s like a credit card company selling a laid-off factory worker’s old account to a debt collector, only on a much larger scale.

Willpower and Reward Myopia: Short Term Behavior Ruins The Day
– via Brain Blogger – Don’t let the immediate rewards of a bad behavior wash away your better knowledge and values. Prevent your imagination from being hijacked by myopic temptations — eliminate “reward myopia.”

Following the Crowd: Brain Images Offer Clues to How and Why We Conform – via APS- What is conformity? A true adoption of what other people think – or a guise to avoid social rejection? Scientists have been vexed sorting the two out, even when they’ve questioned people in private. Now three Harvard University psychological scientists have used brain scans to show what happens when we take others’ opinions to heart: We take them “to brain”—specifically, to the orbitofrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens. These regions compute what we value and feel rewarded by, both primitive things like water and food and socially meaningful things like money.

How to properly think about sunk costs – via Globe & Mail – Those who had been prompted to think about growth and advancement were more likely to abandon the project, while the group that had written about duties and obligations felt they needed to see the project to the end. Focusing on duties and obligations makes people feel anxious about accepting failure, Dr. Molden explains.

Too Much Information? – Labeling Restaurant Menus – via BrainBlogger- Information can be a source of learning; but, when there is too much information, or it is not available in a form that can be easily understood and analyzed by the person for whom it is intended, information can be a burden. Or, too much information can simply be ignored in an over-stimulated society. Such seems to be the case when it comes to labeling restaurant menus with nutrition information.

You’re ooonly cheating yourself – via Bad Science – Science is about disproving hypotheses, and no matter what the armchair conspiracy theorists tell you, torpedoing cherished ideas is a very good way to make a name for yourself in academia. Here are two fun ones from the literature this month. Firstly: are sniffer dogs for real? Animals respond to humans, after all, and especially domesticated animals: that’s the point of them. This is why the placebo effect is so wonderfully effective in animals, and of course in children.

How our upbringing shapes: who we become – via boston- Just when you thought your childhood was behind you, a new study comes along showing that the conditions you experienced as a kid can have surprising effects on your decisions as an adult. A team of researchers randomly presented college students with an ostensibly real news story titled “Dangerous Times Ahead: Life and Death in the 21st Century.” Students from poorer backgrounds who read the story were more willing to take risks and live for the present. However, students from affluent backgrounds exhibited the opposite tendency: after reading the article, they were less willing to take risks and live for the present. In other words, when the future is threatened, people who grew up poor revert to the mindset that they have nothing to lose, while people who grew up rich revert to the mind-set that they have much to lose.

Video: Architect Frank Gehry in Conversation – via Fora.tv- Frank Gehry is not your average architect. He has a history of creating bold, innovative and often controversial buildings that stand out, such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, which transformed the town it was built in but had some Spaniards wanting to lynch him. Recently, Frank Gehry visited Sydney to unveil the designs for his first Australian project, a new building for the University of Technology in Sydney. Whilst he was in Australia, he sat down to talk with the ABC’s Geraldine Doogue about architecture, the reaction to some of his most iconic buildings, inspiration, negotiating with clients and something that keeps every architect up at night … budgets.

The foodie movement: via Boston- Foodie culture, Myers argues, is morally bankrupt, hopelessly self-involved, and boring. “Foodie-ism” presents itself as a movement, but is actually the single-minded obsession of wealthy city-dwellers who write about one another in an incestuous circle. (“Is any other subculture reported on so exclusively by its own members?”) Seen from the outside, Myers writes, it’s obvious that foodies hold all sorts of bizarre beliefs. The most central is the idea that “to serve one’s palate is to do right by small farmers, factory-abused cows,” and even by “Earth itself” — and that, therefore, being a foodie makes you “more moral, spiritual even, than the man on the street.” But if you really want to do well by the Earth, Myer argues, you should be vegetarian. Myers is a little coy about his own opinions; in fact, he’s a vegan and a member of the Green Party — not an objective observer but rather a dyed-in-the-wool enemy of foodies everywhere.

Staring Contests Are Automatic: People Lock Eyes to Establish Dominance
– via APS – Imagine that you’re in a bar and you accidentally knock over your neighbor’s beer. He turns around and stares at you, looking for confrontation. Do you buy him a new drink, or do you try to outstare him to make him back off? New research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests that the dominance behavior exhibited by staring someone down can be reflexive.

Do people know how they behave? – via Bakadesuyo- Participants interacted in a group- discussion task and then reported their act frequencies, which were later coded by observers from videotapes. For each act, observer-observer agreement, self-observer agreement, and self-enhance- ment bias were examined. Findings show that (a) agreement varied greatly across acts; (b) much of this variation was predictable from properties of the acts (observability, base rate, desirability, Big Five domain); (c) on average, self-reports were positively distorted; and (d) this was particularly true for narcissistic individuals.

Issuer Quality and Corporate Bond Returns via Harvard – The 2004-2007 credit boom and collapse was not unique, but rather part of a recurring historical pattern in which investors grant cheap credit to low quality borrowers during credit booms, and experience low returns when those borrowers ultimately default or spreads widen.

The secret of IKEA’s success – via Economist – Thrift is the core of IKEA’s corporate culture. Mr Ohlsson traces it back to the company’s origins in Smaland, a poor region in southern Sweden whose inhabitants, he says, are “stubborn, cost-conscious and ingenious at making a living with very little”. Ever since Ingvar Kamprad founded IKEA in 1943, the company has tried to allow “people with limited means to furnish their houses like rich people”.

The Lives of Wrongfully Convicted Citizens: Innocent Men put away for 30 years – via Esquire- Our packed prisons are starting to disgorge hundreds of mostly African-America men who, over the last few decades, we wrongly convicted of violent crimes. This is what it’s like to spend nearly thirty years in prison for something you didn’t do. This is what it’s like to spend nearly thirty years as someone you aren’t. And for Ray Towler, this is what it’s like to be free.

Inside the multimillion-dollar essay-scoring business: Behind the scenes of standardized testing – via CityPages- Though the efficacy of standardized testing has been hotly debated for decades, one thing has become crystal clear: It’s big business.

Bums, Brides, and primates: Thoughts on Social Networks – via Body Space Society- Social psychologist Robert Kraut and his team conducted a pioneering in-depth study of the social effects of the Internet on 50-odd families from the Pittsburgh area in the first year since the introduction of the Web in their housesholds. The results were summarized in a landmark article whose title was everything but ambiguous. “Internet paradox: A social technology that reduces social involvement and psychological well-being?“ was published in the American Psychologist in 1998 and it presented what can be described as a “hydraulic vision” of the relationship between online and offline sociability. According to the authors, the more time users devoted to Web-based interactions, the more they lost contact with their families and close friends. Face-to-face and computer-mediated interactions were like two communicating vessels. If the level of online connection increased, the level of offline connections automatically plummeted.

What happens after Yahoo acquires you – via 37 signals- Whether it’s Flickr, Delicious, MyBlogLog, or Upcoming, the post-purchase story is a similar one. Both sides talk about all the wonderful things they will do together. Then reality sets in. They get bogged down trying to overcome integration obstacles, endless meetings, and stifling bureaucracy. The products slow down or stop moving forward entirely. Once they hit the two-year mark and are free to leave, the founders take off. The sites are left to flounder or ride into the sunset. And customers are left holding the bag

Long-Run Impacts of Unions on Firms: New Evidence from Financial Markets, 1961-1999 – via Empirical Finance Blog – “We estimate the effect of new unionization on firms’ equity value over the 1961-1999 period using a newly assembled sample of National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) representation elections matched to stock market data. Event-study estimates show an average union effect on the equity value of the firm equivalent to a cost of at least $40,500 per unionized worker. At the same time, point estimates from a regression-discontinuity design—comparing the stock market impact of close union election wins to close losses—are considerably smaller and close to zero. We find a negative relationship between the cumulative abnormal returns and the vote share in support of the union, allowing us to reconcile these seemingly contradictory findings. Using the magnitudes from the analysis, we calibrate a structural “median voter” model of endogenous union determination in order to conduct counterfactual policy simulations of policies that would marginally increase the ease of unionization.”

Video: Robert Sapolsky: Are Humans Just Another Primate?
– via Fora.tv- Dr. Robert Sapolsky discusses his work as professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University and as a research associate with the Institute of Primate Research at the National Museum of Kenya. His enviable gift for storytelling led the New York Times to print, “If you crossed Jane Goodall with a borscht-belt comedian, she might have written a book like A Primate’s Memoir.” Dr. Sapolsky’s account of his early years as a field biologist. He is sure to dazzle and delight with tales of what it means to be human.

Are friends important in educational outcomes?
– via Voxeu- Most people agree that friends matter – not just for personal wellbeing but for achieving their goals in life. Several studies have shown this to be particularly the case in education but the detection and measure of such peer effects is often found wanting. Using detailed information on friendship networks of American high-school students, this column finds that the friends we make at age 15 to 18 have a strong and persistent effect on our lives.

Is bad stronger than good? – via Bakadesuyo- The greater power of bad events over good ones is found in everyday events, major life events (e.g., trauma), close relationship outcomes, social network patterns, interpersonal interactions, and learning processes. Bad emotions, bad parents, and bad feedback have more impact than good ones, and bad information is processed more thoroughly than good. The self is more motivated to avoid bad self-definitions than to pursue good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones. Various explanations such as diagnosticity and salience help explain some findings, but the greater power of bad events is still found when such variables are controlled. Hardly any exceptions (indicating greater power of good) can be found. Taken together, these findings suggest that bad is stronger than good, as a general principle across a broad range of psychological phenomena.

Equity Risk Premiums: The 2011 Edition – via Damodaran -The message that I have tried to deliver is that this number is too important to be be viewed as a constant or outsourced to someone else. Thus, the defense that is offered by many investment banks, consulting firms and corporations that the equity risk premium that they use comes from a reputable source (Ibbotson, Duff and Phelps or Credit Suisse) fails the credibility test. If you run a business or have to value it, you have to take ownership of this number.

The Case for Play: How a handful of researchers are trying to save childhood. – via Chronicle- Lucas Sherman and Aniyah McKenzie are building a house in Central Park. It is small, even by Manhattan standards, and the amenities leave something to be desired. But Lucas, who is 6, and Aniyah, who is 7, seem pleased with their handiwork. The house has a skylight (a hole torn in cardboard) and a flat-screen television (a black square of fabric). Lucas is too busy to answer a stranger’s annoying questions, but Aniyah, who is holding a feather duster, explains that she must clean the walls because they are very dirty.

Are Hospitals So Noisy that They’re Killing People? – via GOOD- Sitting in a hospital waiting room, you’ll hear a variety of buzzes, beeps, and bloops. But all those sounds don’t just fade into the background for hospital workers. The sounds create confusion that affects how health-care workers do their jobs. A Boston Globe article discussed this syndrome:

Self Interest- Self Fulfillment – via PsyFiBlog – By report and repute our planet has become a less pleasant place over the last hundred years. We’re wealthier and healthier – well, at least in some parts of the world – but this doesn’t seem to have made us any happier. Certainly the world of work is a harsher place, where people are no longer socially attached to their places of employment but a rather viewed as resources to be disposed of as and when required.

Temper, Temperature, and Temptation: Heat-Related Retaliation in Baseball – via Sage Psych- In this study, we analyzed data from 57,293 Major League Baseball games to test whether high temperatures interact with provocation to increase the likelihood that batters will be hit by a pitch. Controlling for a number of other variables, we conducted analyses showing that the probability of a pitcher hitting a batter increases sharply at high temperatures when more of the pitcher’s teammates have been hit by the opposing team earlier in the game. We suggest that high temperatures increase retaliation by increasing hostile attributions when teammates are hit by a pitch and by lowering inhibitions against retaliation.

Visualizing Loudness: How To Be a Smart Sound Consumer – via Brain Pickings – The rise of digital music over the past decade has sparked a phenomenon known as the loudness wars a detrimental sonic arms race to digitally master recordings with higher real and perceived levels of loudness, resulting in sound quality inferior to that of analog recordings like vinyl and cassettes. (You can see and hear the difference in action here.) To better understand these issues of sound compression, perceived loudness and recording quality, we’re looking literally at three visual approaches to subject that illuminate it in a visceral, intuitive way.

Understanding the Brain’s “Brake Pedal” in Neural Plasticity – via Scientific American – You definitely want to avoid an encounter with a banded krait. A single bite from this snake delivers enough venom to spell the end for a dozen people. Working like a chemical brake, the active toxin finds its way to your neurons, and snuffs out the signals that would otherwise animate your muscles. It’s bad stuff.

What Makes (Most of) Us Monogamous?
– via Discovery – The authors hypothesize that people in relationships are more likely to subconsciously reduce thoughts of temptation. Researchers call these tendencies “relationship maintenance strategies,” where we downplay the attractiveness of others we might be tempted by.

Schooling The Singapore Way
– MTEF Bayesian Heresy- If Singapore has one thing to teach America, it is about taking governing seriously, relentlessly asking: What world are we living in and how do we adapt to thrive. “We’re like someone living in a hut without any insulation,” explained Tan Kong Yam, an economist. “We feel every change in the wind or the temperature and have to adapt. You Americans are still living in a brick house with central heating and don’t have to be so responsive.”

People With Low Self-Esteem Show More Signs of Prejudice
– via Science Daily – When people are feeling bad about themselves, they’re more likely to show bias against people who are different. A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, examines how that works.

Why Do (Some) Households Trade So Much? – via Oxford – When agents can learn about their abilities as active investors, they rationally “trade to learn” even if they expect to lose from active investing. The model used to develop this insight draws conclusions that are consistent with empirical study of household trading behavior: Households’ portfolios underperform passive investments; their trading intensity depends on past performance; and they begin by trading small sums of money. Using household data from Finland, the article estimates a structural model of learning and trading. The estimated model shows that investors trade to learn even if they are pessimistic about their abilities as traders. It also demonstrates that realized returns are significantly downward-biased measures of investors’ true abilities.


Most Americans Don’t Have Passports – via Chart Porn

About Miguel Barbosa

I run this site.

27. February 2005 by Miguel Barbosa
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