Weekly Roundup 124: A Curated Linkfest For The Smartest People On The Web

Handpicked to satisfy your intellectual curiosity!

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Weekly Cartoon:
H/T Neuroskeptic


Yale Rolls Out 10 New Courses – All Free – via OpenCulture- This week, Yale University rolled out its latest batch of open courses. This release, the first since October 2009, features 10 new courses, and brings the total number to 35. Find the complete list here.

How To Download Tons Of Free eBooks Online For Any eReader Device via Uveal Blues- There are a ton of free eBooks out there, no matter what eReader you own—Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Sony’s Reader, etc. And with those eReaders comes fantastic eBook stores for easy browsing and purchasing. They have tons of great digital literature for sell, but you shouldn’t waste your money unless necessary (or want to). There’s plenty of free options out there, so make sure you exhaust the free before you receive the fee.

Video: Eric Kandel : We Are What We Remember: Memory and Biology
– via Fora.Tv- Eric Kandel, who received the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, is professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and a senior investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He was also the founding director of the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior, which is now the Department of Neuroscience at Columbia.

Miguel’s Linkfest:

US Inflation Rate: Inflation Using Volcker-Era Methodology Nearing 10%
– via Finance Professor- “Since 1980, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has changed the way it calculates the CPI in order to account for the substitution of products, improvements in quality (i.e. iPad 2 costing the same as original iPad) and other things. Backing out more methods implemented in 1990 by the BLS still puts inflation at a 5.5 percent rate and getting worse, according to the calculations by the newsletter’s web site, Shadowstats.com.

David Friedman’s Portraits of Inventors – via Brain Pickings- For the past few years, New-York-based photographer David Friedman has been taking portraits of inventors — those ordinary people who came up with ordinary-seeming things that transform lives, often our lives, in extraordinary ways. Rather than lofty and fluff-padded, like many such efforts tend to be, these profiles blend humility with creative restlessness, demystifying invention and reframing it not as the idle blessing of some arbitrary muse but as the product of combinatorial creativity and one’s everyday life experience.

The Illusion of Health – via Situationist- If a box of chocolate cookies had an “organic” label, would you feel less guilty about eating them? Would you think they were more nutritious, or tastier? Economists who study social psychology refer to something called the “halo effect,” a bias in judgment that causes you to assume that one positive attribute comes packaged with a bunch of others. For example, you might perceive your attractive coworker as being more capable as well.

Secrets of the Tax-Prep Business
– via Mother Jones- JOHN HEWITT WASN’T seeking to turn the working poor into cash cows when his father and some friends helped him buy a six-store tax-service chain in Virginia Beach back in 1982. A 33-year-old college dropout who’d recently left his post as a regional director for H&R Block, Hewitt bought the Mel Jackson Tax Service hoping simply to break his old employer’s near-monopoly on the market. “We’re going to be bigger than H&R Block!” he liked to boast, though his operation was a mere tadpole challenging a leviathan with 7,000 stores in middle-class neighborhoods across the country. Hewitt renamed the company Jackson Hewitt and bet that his early embrace of computers would give him a leg up on his former bosses. But it wasn’t until he began offering something called a refund anticipation loan (RAL)—a product aimed at down-market customers desperate for cash—that his chain really took off.

The Test Generation – via American Prospect – What happens in the classroom when a state begins to evaluate all teachers, at every grade level, based on how well they “grow” their students’ test scores? Colorado is about to find out.

Do Cellphones Cause Brain Cancer? – via NYT- The crudest method to capture a carcinogen’s imprint in a real human population is a large-scale population survey. If a cancer-causing agent increases the incidence of a particular cancer in a population, say tobacco smoking and lung cancer, then the overall incidence of that cancer will rise. That statement sounds simple enough — to find a carcinogen’s shadow, follow the trend in cancer incidence — but there are some fundamental factors that make the task complicated.

Clutter is Toxic For The Brain
– via intrepid insights – In an effort to better explain this process, a group of researchers at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute conducted an experiment designed to isolate and examine both the “top down” and “bottom up” factors that influence our ability to effectively filter out and process visual sensory data. There’s a great write up over at IonPsych that provides more details on the study, but the implications of the findings are pretty straightforward: Highly disorganized (i.e. cluttered) environments compromise our cognitive functioning by overactivating the centers of the brain that manage visual processing.

Goldman’s Alpha War – via Vanity Fair- Steve Friedman’s decision to quit as chairman of Goldman Sachs, in 1994, during one of its darkest hours, stunned and angered his partners. And despite Friedman’s maneuverings, it created a leadership crisis as the mismatched team of Jon Corzine (future New Jersey governor) and Henry Paulson (future Treasury secretary) took the helm. In an adaptation from his book on Goldman, William D. Cohan reveals how secret merger discussions put the expansive trader and the hardheaded banker on a collision course, setting the stage for the firm it would soon become.

Video: Charlie Rose: The Deciding Brain – via Law & Neuroscience Blog- Charlie Rose recently hosted a series of discussions about recent advances in the sciences of the mind. One of these shows featured LANP’s own Joshua Greene. The episode is entitled, “The Deciding Brain.”

Edward O. Wilson tries to upend biology, again
– via Boston.com- What Wilson is trying to do, late in his influential career, is nothing less than overturn a central plank of established evolutionary theory: the origins of altruism. His position is provoking ferocious criticism from other scientists. Last month, the leading scientific journal Nature published five strongly worded letters saying, more or less, that Wilson has misunderstood the theory of evolution and generally doesn’t know what he’s talking about. One of these carried the signatures of an eye-popping 137 scientists, including two of Wilson’s colleagues at Harvard.

Low- and High-Testosterone Individuals Exhibit Decreased Aversion to Economic Risk
– via SagePub- Testosterone is positively associated with risk-taking behavior in social domains (e.g., crime, physical aggression). However, the scant research linking testosterone to economic risk preferences presents inconsistent findings. We examined the relationship between endogenous testosterone and individuals’ economic preferences (i.e., risk preference, ambiguity preference, and loss aversion) in a large sample (N = 298) of men and women. We found that endogenous testosterone levels have a significant U-shaped association with individuals’ risk and ambiguity preferences, but not loss aversion. Specifically, individuals with low or high levels of testosterone (more than 1.5 SD from the mean for their gender) were risk and ambiguity neutral, whereas individuals with intermediate levels of testosterone were risk and ambiguity averse. This relationship was highly similar in men and women. In contrast to received wisdom regarding testosterone and risk, the present data provide the first robust evidence for a nonlinear association between economic preferences and levels of endogenous testosterone.

Don’t bet on the joys of poker/pokies via ABC -Working in a casino provides an interesting insight into people’s psyche – on both sides of the gaming tables. One of the first things a new dealer has to get used to quickly is to not give a damn about whether the punters won or lost – because they mostly lost. Often the reaction of the staff was then to become indifferent – all that mattered was that things were run well, that everyone was happy, that turnover was good, that no mistakes were made. Punters would often accuse us of wanting them to lose – mostly that was not the case (unless they were particularly loathsome), we didn’t need to want them to lose, mathematics took care of that for us. On the games I dealt and supervised the House advantages were as follows:

Video: Nassim Taleb on Living with Black Swans
via Wharton – The black swan problem is much more difficult, vastly deeper and does not have a solution that does not entail a total revamping of some institutional architecture. That’s why I am having a rough time getting the message across.

Doing Horrible Things While Using The Omission Strategy – via Sagepub- People are more willing to bring about morally objectionable outcomes by omission than by commission. Similarly, people condemn others less harshly when a moral offense occurs by omission rather than by commission, even when intentions are controlled. We propose that these two phenomena are related, and that the reduced moral condemnation of omissions causes people to choose omissions in their own behavior to avoid punishment. We report two experiments using an economic game in which one participant (the taker) could take money from another participant (the owner) either by omission or by commission. We manipulated whether or not a third party had the opportunity to punish the taker by reducing the taker’s payment. Our results indicated that the frequency of omission increases when punishment is possible. We conclude that people choose omissions to avoid condemnation and that the omission effect is best understood not as a bias, but as a strategy.

John Cassidy: Inside George Soros’s “Monstrous Monkey House”
– via New Yorker – Soros launched INET in 2009 with the intention of fostering fresh ways of thinking to replace an economic orthodoxy that manifestly had failed. Two years on, it’s not clear how far he’s succeeding in that enterprise, but Rob Johnson, a former Capitol Hill staffer and employee of Soros Fund Management, who heads up INET, has certainly put its annual meeting on the map. This year’s conference attracted more than two hundred economists, policy makers, and journalists from around the world. The subjects covered ranged from “Too Big to Fail” to the European debt crisis to “New New Trade Theory.”

The Illusion of Free Advice – via Felix Sim – Lawyers charge for giving legal advice. Tax experts charge for giving professional tax advice. Doctors charge for giving medical advice. Many corporate finance professionals, tend to work on a “success basis”, seemingly giving free advice. Or not.

Economic Inequality, Relative Power, and Religiosity – via Wiley – These results support relative power theory, which maintains that greater inequality yields more religiosity by increasing the degree to which wealthy people are attracted to religion and have the power to shape the attitudes and beliefs of those with fewer means.

Gut bacteria may influence thoughts and behaviour – via Science Blogs – THE human gut contains a diverse community of bacteria which colonize the small intestine in the days following birth and vastly outnumber our own cells. These intestinal microflora constitute a virtual organ within an organ and influence many bodily functions. Among other things, they aid in the uptake and metabolism of nutrients, modulate the inflammatory response to infection, and protect the gut from other, harmful micro-organisms. A new study by researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario now suggests that gut bacteria may also influence behaviour and cognitive processes such as memory by exerting an effect on gene activity during brain development.

Outsourcing Self Regulation
– via Deric Bownds – It seems reasonable that thinking about supportive partners should be motivationally bolstering – leading us to work harder. Fitzsimonds and Finkel make observations that suggest just the opposite – that such thoughts are motivationally undermining, causing us to make less ambitious plans to pursue goals and to spend less time on the pursuit.

Have you paid a bribe?
– via Qn- Corruption gums up the workings of a market economy—making legal activity less efficient, degrading the quality of institutions, and disadvantaging those who would behave ethically. A website in India aims to use the tools of social networking to start the wheels of positive change.

“Condensed Capitalism: Campbell Soup and the Pursuit of Cheap Production in the Twentieth Century” – via New books in History – But it’s important to remember that the benefits of mechanical production are largely due to making work mechanical. To get all that cheap stuff we know and love, we have to turn what was once complex jobs into simple jobs. In his excellent book Condensed Capitalism: Campbell Soup and the Pursuit of Cheap Production in the Twentieth Century (Cornell UP, 2009), Daniel Sidorick tells how the Campbell company made the cooking of soup–a magical art to many–into a mechanical process. The results were contradictory. On the one hand, soup became homogenous (though pretty tasty), portable, and very cheap. On the other, the soup-makers were made, as Marx might have put it, into appendages of soup-making machines. Management tried to make production lean and keep profits high; labor tried to keep work safe and wages high. But in the end, the two couldn’t make ends meet, at least in Camden: Campbell moved its production out of NJ in the 1980s. Not an unfamiliar story, I think, but still a very important one to tell and re-tell.

A Misleading View on Corporate Taxes – via NYT- The Business Roundtable, a group comprising 200 of the largest companies in the United States, is out with a “study” that claims to show that the United States levies excessively high tax rates on companies. It actually shows nothing of the kind.

ESP and the significance of significance
– via Understanding Uncertainty – A controversy about experiments in extra-sensory perception throws some light, and maybe some confusion, on the idea of statistical significance. This article discusses a common misinterpretation of the results of significance tests, and investigates some criticisms of significance tests in general.

Are celebrities good for development aid?
– via Aid Watch -In Product (RED), celebrities are moving attention away from “conscious consumption” (based on product information) and towards “compassionate consumption” (based on emotional appeal). To us, this is even more problematic than the risk of negative media attention that celebrities bring to development aid.

Putting off tomorrow to do what you want today: Planning for retirement
– via PsychNet -In this article we note that in the coming years, a larger number of people will be experiencing retirement for a longer period of time than ever before and that despite this fact, many will find themselves unprepared for this stage of their lives. We review the literature on retirement preparation, structuring our review around the key questions that need to be addressed when planning for retirement: (a) What will I do? (b) How will I afford it? (c) Where will I live? and (d) Who will I share it with? We make a number of suggestions for research and practice. We conclude that although psychology has begun to play a role in understanding and addressing retirement preparation, there are considerable opportunities for psychologists to engage with this issue in their research and applied work.

Co-Residence Patterns in Hunter-Gatherer Societies Show Unique Human Social Structure
– via complexity – Contemporary humans exhibit spectacular biological success derived from cumulative culture and cooperation. The origins of these traits may be related to our ancestral group structure. Because humans lived as foragers for 95% of our species’ history, we analyzed co-residence patterns among 32 present-day foraging societies (total n = 5067 individuals, mean experienced band size = 28.2 adults). We found that hunter-gatherers display a unique social structure where (i) either sex may disperse or remain in their natal group, (ii) adult brothers and sisters often co-reside, and (iii) most individuals in residential groups are genetically unrelated. These patterns produce large interaction networks of unrelated adults and suggest that inclusive fitness cannot explain extensive cooperation in hunter-gatherer bands. However, large social networks may help to explain why humans evolved capacities for social learning that resulted in cumulative culture.

When coal mines devour mountain ranges
– via good – Among the various indecent things America does to get energy, mountaintop removal mining—a process by which mountains are literally flattened for coal, creating rivers of toxic sludge and clouds of pollution as byproducts—is one of the worst.

Judges’ Decisions More Lenient After Lunch – via Miller McCune – Ordering in the court may be the new cry as a look at judges’ decisions made before and after lunch shows a wide difference in outcome.

Where it all began: lending of last resort and the Bank of England during the Overend-Gurney panic of 1866
– via Norges Bank – he National Monetary Commission was deeply concerned with importing best practice. One important focus was the connection between the money market and international trade. It was said that Britain’s lead in the market for “acceptances” originating in international trade was the basis of its sterling predominance. In this article, we use a so-far unexplored source to document the portfolio of bills that was brought up to the Bank of England for discount and study the behavior of the Bank of England during the crisis of 1866 (the so-called Overend-Gurney panic) when the Bank began adopting lending of last resort policies (Bignon, Flandreau and Ugolini 2011). We compare 1865 (a “normal” year) to 1866. Important findings include: (a) the statistical predominance of foreign bills in the material brought to the Bank of England; (b) the correlation between the geography of bills and British trade patterns; (c) a marked contrast between normal times lending and crisis lending in that main financial intermediaries and the “shadow banking system” only showed up at the Bank’s window during crises; (d) the importance of money market investors (bills brokers) as chief conduit of liquidity provision in crisis; (e) the importance of Bank of England’s supervisory policies in ensuring lending-of-last-resort operations without enhancing moral hazard. An implication of our findings is that Bank of England’s ability to control moral hazard for financial intermediaries involved in acceptances was another reason for the rise of sterling as an international currency.

“Beauty Is the Promise of Happiness”? – via IZA- We measure the impact of individuals’ looks on their life satisfaction or happiness. Using five data sets from the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Germany, we construct beauty measures in different ways that allow putting a lower bound on the true effects of beauty on happiness. Personal beauty raises happiness, with a one standard-deviation change in beauty generating about 0.10 standard deviations of additional satisfaction/happiness among men, 0.12 among women. Accounting for a wide variety of covariates, including those that might be affected by differences in beauty, and particularly effects in the labor and marriage markets, the impact among men is more than halved, among women slightly less than halved. The majority of the effect of beauty on happiness may work through its effects on economic outcomes.

Video: The story of Prize4Life — as told by founder Avi Kremer

About Miguel Barbosa

I run this site.

17. April 2005 by Miguel Barbosa
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