Weekly Roundup 163: A Curated Linkfest For The Smartest People On The Web!
Handpicked to satisfy your intellectual curiosity!
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The Activist(s) Corner ( Issues to Get Your Blood Boiling):
Inequality, mobility, opportunity – via lanekenworthy.net – Nations with lower income inequality tend to have more intergenerational mobility, and the association is quite strong. There are concerns about the data. But suppose the data are accurate, and suitable for testing this link. What does the association depicted in this chart tell us about the magnitude of inequality’s impact? How much would reducing income inequality in the United States help?
The Great Divorce – via NYTimes.com – Murray’s basic argument is not new, that America is dividing into a two-caste society. What’s impressive is the incredible data he produces to illustrate that trend and deepen our understanding of it.
Resegregation in the South – via The Nation – Mansfield’s district is emblematic of how the redistricting process has changed the political complexion of North Carolina, as Republicans attempt to turn this racially integrated swing state into a GOP bastion, with white Republicans in the majority and black Democrats in the minority for the next decade. “We’re having the same conversations we had forty years ago in the South, that black people can only represent black people and white people can only represent white people,” says Mansfield. “I’d hope that in 2012 we’d have grown better than that.” Before this year, for example, there were no Senate districts with a BVAP of 50 percent or higher. Now there are nine. A lawsuit filed by the NAACP and other advocacy groups calls the redistricting maps “an intentional and cynical use of race that exceeds what is required to ensure fairness to previously disenfranchised racial minority voters.”
The good life can be a killer. – via mindblog.dericbownds.net – In a healthy environment…people who are young, elderly, sick or poor can meet their life needs without getting in a car, which means creating places where it is safe and enjoyable to walk, bike, take in nature and socialize…People who walk more weigh less and live longer…People who are fit live longer… People who have friends and remain socially active live longer…In 1974, 66 percent of all children walked or biked to school By 2000, that number had dropped to 13 percent…We’ve engineered physical activity out of children’s lives…two in seven volunteers for the military can’t get in because they’re not in good enough physical condition…Not only are Americans of all ages fatter than ever, but also growing numbers of children are developing diseases once seen only in adults: Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and fatty livers.
U.S. State Science Standards Are “Mediocre to Awful” – via Budding Scientist, Scientific American Blog Network – A new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute paints a grim picture of state science standards across the United States. But it also reveals some intriguing details about exactly what’s going wrong with the way many American students are learning science.
Children’s Books Increasingly Ignore Natural World – Miller – via McCune – A group of researchers studied Caldecott Medal-winning children’s picture books between 1938 through 2008 and found what they say are “significant declines in depictions of natural environments and animals.”
Raise the Crime Rate – via nplusonemag.com – From 1980 to 2007, the number of prisoners held in the United States quadrupled to 2.3 million, with an additional 5 million on probation or parole. What Ayn Rand once called the “freest, noblest country in the history of the world” is now the most incarcerated, and the second-most incarcerated country in history, just barely edged out by Stalin’s Soviet Union. We’re used to hearing about the widening chasm between the haves and have-nots; we’re less accustomed to contemplating a more fundamental gap: the abyss that separates the fortunate majority, who control their own bodies, from the luckless minority, whose bodies are controlled, and defiled, by the state.
Kids as Capital – via The Atlantic – Americans like to think of their children as a source of pleasure rather than profit. Recently, when I asked people I know why they had had children, they talked about family values, about the kind of people they want to be, about the kind of world they want to leave behind. The one reason for having children that never came up was economic need.
Electric Youth: Why Susan Linn and the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood Terrify Child Advertisers – via Boston Magazine – Kids today are subjected to an avalanche of digital media — TVs, computers, tablets, smartphones — and the advertising that comes with it. As researchers try to figure out what that’s doing to our children, Susan Linn and her tiny Boston nonprofit have become a child marketer’s worst nightmare. Just ask Disney, Hasbro, Scholastic, and Kellogg.
Leveling the field: What I learned from for profit education – via Christopher R. Beha (Harper’s Magazine) – But if for-profits have been unscrupulous, the federal government has remained an enthusiastic partner in their growth. In his very first speech before Congress as president, Barack Obama declared that by 2020 America would once again lead the world in the percentage of adults with college degrees. Obama has restated this intention in every major education speech he’s made since then.
What Moral Philosophy Tells Us About Income Inequality – via The Atlantic – At heart, this is a philosophical question, and moral and political philosophers have given it considerable thought. Utilitarians, like Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, would argue for “the greatest good for the greatest number.” Implicit for many utilitarians is a calculus that permits trade-offs, such that one extremely happy person might make up for the fact of nine unhappy people. Envy is not a primary concern of utilitarians.
Rising City Inequality – via www.overcomingbias.com – The estimated [power α] is on average not 1.0. If the regression is properly specified in the Pareto form, the pooled estimate of α is considerably larger than one, close to 1.1. … Point estimates of α are significantly smaller if the estimate is based on population data for metropolitan areas (instead of inner cities), the estimate is based on data for recent years, the estimate is for the US city size distribution, the sample comprises only a small number of observations, and the study reports only a single estimate.
Best Reads of The Week:
Video: Danny Hillis: Back to the future (of 1994) – via Video on TED.com – From deep in the TED archive, Danny Hillis outlines an intriguing theory of how and why technological change seems to be accelerating, by linking it to the very evolution of life itself. The presentation techniques he uses may look dated, but the ideas are as relevant as ever.
Video: A Crash Course in World History – via Open Culture -Give John Green 40 weeks, and Green will give you a playful and highly visual crash course in world history, taking you from the beginning of human civilization 15,000 years ago through to our modern age. If you’re not familiar with him, Green is a bestselling author of several young adult books
A Practical Writing Guide For Everyone! – via Invisible Gorilla– Over the past 20 years of teaching, writing, and editing, I have compiled a set of tips, tricks, and pet peeves that I share with students and colleagues. I’ve decided to make this writing guide more widely available in case others will find it useful. The emphasis is on scientific writing, but the same principles apply to most non-fiction (including journalism). I will maintain a link to the most recent version of the file on this page.
The Greatest Books of All Time, As Voted by 125 Famous Authors – via Brain Pickings – “Reading is the nourishment that lets you do interesting work,” Jennifer Egan once said. This intersection of reading and writing is both a necessary bi-directional life skill for us mere mortals and a secret of iconic writers’ success, as bespoken by their personal libraries. The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books asks 125 of modernity’s greatest British and American writers — including Norman Mailer, Ann Pratchett, Jonathan Franzen, Claire Messud, and Joyce Carol Oates — “to provide a list, ranked, in order, of what [they] consider the ten greatest works of fiction of all time– novels, story collections, plays, or poems.”
Video: A Short History of the Modern Calendar – via Long Views: The Long Now Blog – Keeping time, it turns out, is a messy business. In order to satisfy science, religion, and sometimes ego, our calendar has changed quite a bit throughout history. This video by Jeremiah Warren tells the story up to now.
“Forever” Dies Hard A What You Should Know About Diamonds! – via BlogHer – Desperate times call for desperate measures, I reminded myself as I walked into the jeweler’s. What I found out inside confused me. The jeweler wasn’t interested in buying it. And when I finally found one willing to buy it back after a handful of futile attempts, the amounts they quoted weren’t even remotely close to the sum at which the diamond had been appraised. The highest was less than a third of its supposed actual worth.
Behavioral Economics, Complexity Research, Decision Making, Psychology, & Risk:
The GoCognitive Collection – via mindhacks.com – We’ve reported before on the Univeristy of Idaho’s goCognitive project. It’s a enticing collection of videos and demonstrations, including many guest spots by the glitterati of cognitive neuroscience. The site has more free video content in cognitive neuroscience than before – and it is more easily accessible as well.
The Persistence Of Memory – via Wired.com – A new paper in Cell provides a fascinating glimpse into how this marking process might happen. According to research led by Kausik Si at the Stowers Institute in Kansas City, it appears that one of the essential regulators of long-term memory – an ingredient that provides both persistence and specificity – is a protein called CPEB, or cytoplasmic polyadenylation element-binding protein.
Are you Risk Literate? – via Decision Science News – We introduce the Berlin Numeracy Test, a new psychometrically sound instrument that quickly assesses statistical numeracy and risk literacy. We present 21 studies (n=5336) showing robust psychometric discriminability across 15 countries (e.g., Germany, Pakistan, Japan, USA) and diverse samples (e.g., medical professionals, general populations, Mechanical Turk web panels)
Information Processing Differences in Active Versus Passive Person Perceivers – via spp.sagepub.com – Previous work has shown that compared to passive perceivers who view preselected information about target persons, active perceivers are less confident in their impressions, do not show increased confidence with increased amounts of information, and like targets less. The authors now explain these findings, postulating that perceivers without control over the amount of information they receive should be motivated to form impressions earlier, altering their information-processing strategies. Study 1 predicted and found that content-only active perceivers who control the content, but not the amount, of information show the same positive relationship between confidence and amount of information as passive perceivers, as well as the same reading-time patterns and level of liking. Study 2 used clearly valenced target stimuli and found support for the hypothesis that passive perceivers form more extreme early impressions, leading to greater liking when early information is positive but less liking when it is negative.
Could A Club Drug Offer ‘Almost Immediate’ Relief From Depression? : Shots – via Health Blog : NPR – “I’ve suffered from depression for most of my adult life,” she says. “It got to the point where I kind of felt like there wasn’t going to be anything that was going to be able to help me.”At times her depression gets so bad that she can’t take care of her family or even herself, she says. And that’s how she was feeling the day before, she says, when doctors placed an IV in her arm and began to administer a drug.
Group Status Drives Majority and Minority Integration Preferences – via pss.sagepub.com – This research examined preferences for national- and campus-level assimilative and pluralistic policies among Black and White students under different contexts, as majority- and minority-group members. We targeted attitudes at two universities, one where 85% of the student body is White, and another where 76% of students are Black. The results revealed that when a group constituted the majority, its members generally preferred assimilationist policies, and when a group constituted the minority, its members generally preferred pluralistic policies. The results support a functional perspective: Both majority and minority groups seek to protect and enhance their collective identities.
Simplicity itself – via mindblog.dericbownds.net – Elegance is more than an aesthetic quality, or some ephemeral sort of uplifting feeling we experience in deeper forms of intuitive understanding. Elegance is formal beauty. And formal beauty as a philosophical principle is one of the most dangerous, subversive ideas humanity has discovered: it is the virtue of theoretical simplicity. Its destructive force is greater than Darwin’s algorithm or that of any other single scientific explanation, because it shows us what the depth of an explanation is.
Information and Contemplative Thought – We Turn Ourselves Into Media Creations – via The European Magazine – We are living through a vast cognitive shift: Information has turned from a scarce resource into an abundant feature of life. Lars Mensel spoke with Nicholas Carr about advantages of the printed page, the erosion of contemplation and how information helped our ancestors survive.
The effects of social exclusion on confirmatory information processing – Greitemeyer – 2012 – European Journal of Social Psychology – via Wiley Online Library – After making a preliminary decision, a balanced search for information that is consistent and inconsistent with one’s decision is associated with effective decision making. However, whereas searching for information that is inconsistent with one’s preliminary preference arouses the aversive motivational state of cognitive dissonance, evokes negative emotions, and threatens the self, preference-consistent information reduces dissonance, evokes positive emotions, and has positive implications for the self. Thus, searching for information in a balanced way requires the willingness to face the negative implications of searching for preference-inconsistent (relative to preference-consistent) information. Social exclusion has been shown to be associated with impulsive, undercontrolled behavior. Therefore, we expected socially excluded (relative to included or control) participants to be less willing to confront oneself with the unappealing qualities of preference-inconsistent information and more willing to seek for the appealing qualities of preference-consistent information. This hypothesis was supported in two studies, with the use of different manipulations of social exclusion.
Rationally Speaking: The mismeasure of neuroscience – via rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com – It’s not that I don’t like neuroscience, on the contrary, it is precisely because I’m fascinated by the new discoveries, and because of the respect and love I have for science, that I think people do a disservice to the whole enterprise when they make claims that are simply unsubstantiated by the available evidence (or, worse, when they incur category mistakes, like Harris’ confusion between facts and values).
A Study of Very Happy People – via pss.sagepub.com – A sample of 222 undergraduates was screened for high happiness using multiple confirming assessment filters. We compared the upper 10% of consistently very happy people with average and very unhappy people. The very happy people were highly social, and had stronger romantic and other social relationships than less happy groups. They were more extroverted, more agreeable, and less neurotic, and scored lower on several psychopathology scales of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. Compared with the less happy groups, the happiest respondents did not exercise significantly more, participate in religious activities significantly more, or experience more objectively defined good events. No variable was sufficient for happiness, but good social relations were necessary. Members of the happiest group experienced positive, but not ecstatic, feelings most of the time, and they reported occasional negative moods. This suggests that very happy people do have a functioning emotion system that can react appropriately to life events.
This Is Your Brain on Comedy – via Brain Pickings – “At the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities,” author and philosopher Jean Houston once said, and Walt Disney famously called laughter “America’s most important export.” But what exactly is humor, and why does it have such a profound effect on us? In this talk from TEDxRainier, comedian Chris Bliss — whose writing credits include The Tonight Show and The Late Show with David Letterman — explores the sociology and neuroscience of humor, the alchemy of laughter, and why honesty and integrity are at the heart of good comedy, using a handful of Pretty Damn Good jokes to illustrate these insights along the way.
Financial Moods – via www.overcomingbias.com – We conduct a random-assignment experiment to investigate whether positive affect impacts time preference, where time preference denotes a preference for present over future utility. Our result indicates that, compared to neutral affect, mild positive affect significantly reduces time preference over money. … Happier respondents are [also] less likely to agree with the “live for today” statement than are less happy respondents. This holds even after controlling for covariates that have been shown to be related to happiness … High cognitive load increases time preference and … individuals with greater cognitive skills, as measured by IQ tests, exhibit lower time preference.
The Ideal Self at Play – via pss.sagepub.com – Video games constitute a popular form of entertainment that allows millions of people to adopt virtual identities. In our research, we explored the idea that the appeal of games is due in part to their ability to provide players with novel experiences that let them “try on” ideal aspects of their selves that might not find expression in everyday life. We found that video games were most intrinsically motivating and had the greatest influence on emotions when players’ experiences of themselves during play were congruent with players’ conceptions of their ideal selves. Additionally, we found that high levels of immersion in gaming environments, as well as large discrepancies between players’ actual-self and ideal-self characteristics, magnified the link between intrinsic motivation and the experience of ideal-self characteristics during play.
Video: The happy secret to better work – via Video on TED.com -We believe that we should work to be happy, but could that be backwards? In this fast-moving and entertaining talk from TEDxBloomington, psychologist Shawn Achor argues that actually happiness inspires productivity.
Capitalism, Business, Economics, Entrepreneurship, Finance:
iFixit: Over $4 Million In Sales With No Outside Funding?– via Mixergy -How does a bootstrapper who creates online repair manuals generate over $4 million in annual sales?Kyle Wiens is the cofounder of iFixit. You probably know iFixit as the guys who take apart every new iPhone and other shiny gadget to show you what’s inside. iFixit is a collaborative wiki with the goal of crowdsourcing gadget-repair manuals for every type of device imaginable and generates millions by selling spare parts.
How to Name Things – via www.ribbonfarm.com – Naming and counting are the two most basic behaviors in our divided brains. Naming is the atomic act of association, recognition, contextualization and synthesis. Counting is the atomic act of separation, abstraction, arrangement and analysis. Each behavior contains the seed of the other.
Limit Orders & The Edge of Behavioral Finance – via The Psy Fi Blog– Although behavioral psychology has helped explain some of the odder effects around investment there remain many sceptics. The reason for this isn’t hard to find, because if you start out assuming that peculiar features of investment markets are caused by rampant misbehavior then you’re quite likely to find evidence to support that assumption. Some of this is down to irrational behavior, no doubt, but perhaps not in the way that the academics first thought. So, for instance, consider the use of the humble limit order. Used unwisely – which is to say, nearly always – it doesn’t just lose investors money but ruins the researchers’ results into the bargain. Just watch those behavioral biases crumble away.
Once a Castle, Home is Now a Debtors’ Prison — HBS Working Knowledge – via hbswk.hbs.edu – Forget the notion of the home as “castle,” protecting the owner from greedy landlords. Forget too the expectation that a physical nest will morph into a nest egg. For 22 percent of people who hold mortgages, those notions are anachronistic—relics of a long-ago era before unemployment soared, the Dow plummeted, and credit default swaps surfaced. In today’s jargon, these owners are underwater—they owe more than the value of their homes.But underwater is a misnomer. People underwater either swim or drown. These underwater owners linger, trapped in their very own debtors’ prisons. Their task is Sisyphean: they work, pay the monthly debt to the lender, yet see a perpetual gap between payments and value. The payments can seem like an extortion episode from The Sopranos.
Innovation without Age Limits – via Technology Review – But great ideas by themselves don’t lead to breakthrough technologies or successful companies. Ideas are dime a dozen. The value comes from translating ideas into inventions and inventions into successful ventures. To do this, you have to collaborate with others, obtain financing, understand markets, price products, develop distribution channels, and deal with rejection and failure. In other words, you need business and management skills and maturity. These come with education, experience, and age.
Measuring the Efficacy of the World’s Managers — HBS Working Knowledge – via hbswk.hbs.edu – Firms in the United States, Japan, and Germany tend to be managed especially well, while firms in Brazil, China, and India tend to be managed poorly.
Facebook, Wall Street: Friends with Benefits – via Businessweek – The IPO is often a defining moment in the life of a company, the point at which its buoyant values are tested by the rapacious forces of naked capitalism. The act of going public means Facebook is about to become, inevitably, a different beast. As a public firm it will be under pressure to maintain its torrid growth rate, and to continue to push users to share information with one another and with advertisers. Zuckerberg & Co. have never shown that they have any difficulty making these kinds of compromises—and in that sense, their comfortable alliance with the nation’s biggest investment banks shouldn’t be all that surprising. Like many other entrepreneurs, Zuckerberg claims to have a higher calling, but as his S1 filing shows, he’s also out to build one of the biggest companies on the planet.
Making the World’s Largest Airline Fly – via BusinessWeek – “Merging two airlines is unlike merging any other businesses because it’s such a complex business, and we are so heavily regulated,” says Smisek, sitting surrounded by scale models of jetliners in his office in the United Building, with a view of the Chicago River and the office towers to the north. “There’s huge technology issues, fleet issues, facilities issues, people issues. It also takes several years, which I think is surprising to a lot of people.”
The Eclectic Mix:
Can Moneyball statistics be used to beat Jeopardy? – via Barking up the wrong tree – NPR covers the fascinating story of Roger Craig, a PhD in computer science, who used data-mining and statistics to make hundreds of thousands of dollars on Jeopardy.
Revenge of the Nerd – via www.theamericanconservative.com – Ray Bradbury would have made a great “Revenge of the Nerds” character alongside Gilbert, Lewis, Poindexter, Wormser, and Lamar Latrell, had he not been such a caricature. A four-eyed, zit-faced, bully bull’s-eye gliding through Los Angeles on steel-wheeled rollerskates, Bradbury was a fanboy who forcefully demanded autographs and pictures from Hollywood’s most glamorous stars. Nobody told the uncouth teenaged transplant from the Midwest that he was staring at his opposites when he cornered Marlene Dietrich, Clark Gable, and Judy Garland. The stargazer dared to become the star. His life is the ultimate revenge of the nerd.
Orwell’s heir? – via Prospect Magazine – Judt may have taken too seriously Raymond Aron’s straitjacketing notion, borrowed from Weber, of the responsibility of intellectuals: that they “must always face the decision of how to act in a given situation.” (In the case of Aron, a consummate “insider” in French politics, this meant keeping silent on torture in Algeria). In any case, before 2000 Judt never seems to have criticised the norms of an intellectual milieu where the concerns of European and American elites were paramount, and philosophy and history appeared essentially western in nature and provenance.
Datavisualization.ch – via vimeo.com – In this talk Zach presents his interactive works and collaborations, focusing on the artistic process as a form of research. He shows work such as IQ Font, where a car was driven to draw a custom typeface, and EyeWriter, a tool he collaborated on building to aid a paralyzed graffiti artist in making art again. He also talks about openFrameworks, a C++ toolkit for creative coding which is being used by developers worldwide to make compelling interactive installations and performances.
Quantifying history: Two thousand years in one chart – via The Economist – SOME people recite history from above, recording the grand deeds of great men. Others tell history from below, arguing that one person’s life is just as much a part of mankind’s story as another’s. If people do make history, as this democratic view suggests, then two people make twice as much history as one. Since there are almost 7 billion people alive today, it follows that they are making seven times as much history as the 1 billion alive in 1811. The chart below shows a population-weighted history of the past two millennia. By this reckoning, over 28% of all the history made since the birth of Christ was made in the 20th century. Measured in years lived, the present century, which is only ten years old, is already “longer” than the whole of the 17th century. This century has made an even bigger contribution to economic history. Over 23% of all the goods and services made since 1AD were produced from 2001 to 2010, according to an updated version of Angus Maddison’s figures.
How Carbs Make You Fat – via Chart Porn – In my experience, this is very true – whenever I jump off the carb/insulin roller coaster I lose weight very quickly.
How much does Hollywood earn? – via www.informationisbeautiful.net – Major anti-online piracy laws like PIPA/SOPA and ACTA are designed to protect the intellectual property of businesses like the US movie industry.Hollywood cites yearly losses of billions of dollars to illegal internet downloads as justification for new legislation.