Weekly Roundup 30: A Curated Linkfest For The Smartest People On The Web

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Feature: Will Higher Education Be the Next Bubble to Burst? - Via Finance Professor & Chronicle – “Is it possible that higher education might be the next bubble to burst? Some early warnings suggest that it could be. ….According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, over the past 25 years, average college tuition and fees have risen by 440 percent — more than four times the rate of inflation and almost twice the rate of medical care.”

Feature: You Are Not Your Brain: A Video Discussion by Philosopher Alva Noe - Via NeuroNarrative – Alva Noe , professor of Philosophy at UC Berkeley, visits Google’s San Francisco, CA office to discuss his book, Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness.  Noe contends that consciousness is not merely the product of billions of neurons firing in our brains, but rather a complex process resulting from our brains constantly interacting with our environment. This event took place on April 16, 2009, as part of the Authors@Google series.

1. Visualization: US Auto Market Share 1980-2008 – Via Chart Porn  – Toll-overs show the ten-year data trends. What surprised me was how GM has taken the bulk of the loss, with Chrysler actually holding pretty steady.

2. A Tale of a Plastic Ship - Via Good – In 1947, Thor Heyerdahl and a crew of five men traveled across the Pacific Ocean to Peru on craft comprised of natural materials modeled after ancient Inca rafts. Using that as inspiration, David de Rothschild, the banking scion and the founder of Adventure Ecology, is embarking on The Plastiki Expedition, and will soon set sail on another curious vessel: one comprise almost entirely of re-purposed plastic bottles. T

3. Bailout Visualizations On SubsidyScope - Via Chart Porn – Created by the Pew Charitable Trusts, SubsidyScope.com has some interesting visualizations, and looks to be a great resource for tracking these issues going forward.

4. One Billion Years of Memory – Via Long Now – “A new experimental computer memory device that can store 1 terabyte per square inch… with an estimated lifetime of more than one billion years has been developed by Alex Zettl of UC Berkeley and colleagues.” This is possible through a series of lab tests and theoretical studies that show the device has “temperature stability in excess of one billion years,” an estimate that appears to be the maximum thermal read on the life of the device.

5. Understanding the Subprime Mortgage Crisis - Via SSRN -Using loan-level data, we analyze the quality of subprime mortgage loans by adjusting their performance for differences in borrower characteristics, loan characteristics, and macroeconomic conditions. We find that the quality of loans deteriorated for six consecutive years before the crisis and that securitizers were, to some extent, aware of it. We provide evidence that the rise and fall of the subprime mortgage market follows a classic lending boom-bust scenario, in which unsustainable growth leads to the collapse of the market. Problems could have been detected long before the crisis, but they were masked by high house price appreciation between 2003 and 2005.

6. U.S. Unemployment verses Europe: March 2009 – Via Visualizing Economics – From CEPR, for the first time (since 1993) the U.S. unemployment equals the total unemployment of the first 15 countries in the European Union:

7. I: The New Portugues Newspaper With Astounding Visualizations & Infographics - Via Infographic news – Some weeks ago was released in Portugal a new print newspaper (yes, print!), called just i.

8. Networks and Intelligence in the Human Brain - Via Ak’s Rambling Thoughts – This paper reports “extensive analyses to test the hypothesis that individual differences in intelligence are associated with brain structural organization, and in particular that higher scores on intelligence tests are related to greater global efficiency of the brain anatomical network.”

9.Your Microbiome and You - Via Mad Scientist – You are never alone. Not even when you might want to be. Tucked away within the ~100m2 of your bowels are ~1014 (there are ~1013 somatic and germinal cells in the human body) of your closest friends, collectively termed The Microbiota. They eat, spawn, conjugate, die, poop, fight, and secrete right there inside of you, unseen and mostly unthought of except when something is wrong. This system, the remarkably homeostatic mammalian gut, forms what is perhaps the densest and most complex microbial ecology on this planet.

10.What is ecological intelligence? - Via Daniel Goleman – Ecologists tell us that natural systems operate at multiple scales. At the macro level there are global biogeochemical cycles, like that for the flow of carbon, where shifts in ratios of elements can be measured not just over the years, but over centuries and geologic ages. The ecosystem of a forest balances the entwined interplay of plant, animal, insect species, down to the bacteria in soil, each finding an ecological niche to exploit, their genes co-evolving together. At the mico-level cycles run through on a scale of millimeters or microns, in just seconds.

11. Psychologists are the least religious of American Professors - Via Epiphenom – Fifty percent of professors of psychology at US universities and colleges do not believe in any god, and another 11% are agnostic. That makes them the least religious of a pretty heathen bunch. The data come from Politics of the American Professoriate study, a survey carried out in the spring of 2006 and published yesterday in the journal Sociology of Religion. The researchers, Neil Gross of the University of British Columbia and Solon Simmons of George Mason University, surveyed nearly 1500 full-time college and university professors teaching in U.S. institutions.

12. People By Nature Are Universally Optimistic – Via ScienceDaily — Despite calamities from economic recessions, wars and famine to a flu epidemic afflicting the Earth, a new study from the University of Kansas and Gallup indicates that humans are by nature optimistic.

13.Financial Help as a Means of Coping with the Economic Crisis - Via Rand & Geary Behavior Center – One way that U.S. households are coping with the global economic downturn is by reaching out to each other via financial help. This paper reports survey results from late 2008 and early 2009 that detail patterns of giving and receiving financial help among households in response to the economic crisis, and how these patterns vary by age and income. Among the key findings are that many more households are giving financial help than receiving it and that help most frequently flows from parents to children.

14. Mixed But Seemingly Positive results on the Microfinance front – Via Finance Professor- “The results from the first large-scale randomized trial of access to microfinance indicate that it comes up short in many areas of human development. 52 of 104 slums in Hyderabad were randomly selected to receive new branches of a microfinance outfit called Spandana. Abhijit Banerjee and the other randomistas from the Poverty Action Lab describe the results in The Miracle of Microfinance? Evidence from a Randomized Evaluation.

15. Proposed Amendments to Conflicts of Interest Rules in Public Offerings - Via Harvard Law – The SEC has issued Release No. 34-59880 soliciting comments on proposed amendments to NASD Rule 2720 that streamline the application of the Rule’s requirements to public offerings of securities in which a participating broker-dealer has a “conflict of interest.” Some of the more significant proposed amendments would.

16. It’s time to stop being shy about retiring – We can’t afford it - Via Financial Times – If 80 is the new 60, and 50 is the new 30, I’m a teenager again, looking forward to a bright future at university. I certainly had a thought-provoking tutorial recently at the hands of UBS’s professorial George Magnus, one of the prophets of the credit crunch but also the author of a book about demographics, The Age of Aging. The statistics about an ageing population are starting to become familiar: people are living longer and having fewer children, and this is true not only in rich countries but much of the developing world. But the implications are often misinterpreted. An ageing society is not, primarily, a demographic crisis. The problem is a failure to adapt – a failure that afflicts politics, management and society.

17. Financial Visibility and the Decision to Go Private - Via Oxford Journals – A large fraction of the companies that went private between 1990 and 2007 were fairly young public firms, often with the same management team making the crucial restructuring decisions at both the time of the initial public offering (IPO) and the buyout. This article investigates the determinants of the decision to go private over a firm’s entire public life cycle. Our evidence reveals that firms with declining growth in analyst coverage, falling institutional ownership, and low stock turnover were more likely to go private and opted to do so sooner. We argue that a primary reason behind the decision of IPO firms to abandon their public listing was a failure to attract a critical mass of financial visibility and investor interest.

18. Health Care: The Cost Conundrum - Via The New Yorker – I was impressed. The place had virtually all the technology that you’d find at Harvard and Stanford and the Mayo Clinic, and, as I walked through that hospital on a dusty road in South Texas, this struck me as a remarkable thing. Rich towns get the new school buildings, fire trucks, and roads, not to mention the better teachers and police officers and civil engineers. Poor towns don’t. But that rule doesn’t hold for health care.

19. Info Graphic:“The Fall of the Mall” - Via Economists View – InfoGraphic Compares sales in the first quarter of 2009 to the same quarter in 2008. “The deeper the red, the steeper the loss.”

20. Growing New Brain Cells Using Deep Brain Stim – Via Alfin – Deep brain electrode stimulation can lead to a doubling of production of new brain neurons in mice. Such therapies will likely be used in humans for persons suffering from brain injury and degenerative disease. Later, it will be used in order to boost performance for persons with particularly demanding jobs.

21. Monopolistic Competition Between Differentiated Products With Demand For More Than One Variety – Via HBS – How and when is price competition most significant among firms? This paper develops a theoretical framework for studying price competition between multiple firms. Two examples of markets that fit the description for study are software applications and videogames: There are thousands of software applications as well as games, and different users are interested in different applications and/or games. A given software or game user’s tastes may overlap with another’s, yet they may have nothing in common with a third’s. Thus, although there is a sense in which competition is localized (any given firm competes only with firms whose brands are similar to its own), it is not clear how the fact that consumers are generally interested in purchasing multiple products affects the type of competition waged among firms.

22. Are Dopamine Neurons (For): Reward, Aversion, or Both? - Via Neurotopia -  So as of recently, it’s been assumed that dopamine neurons fire in response to value-related signals. Sci’s dopamine neurons fire in response to pizza, and a crack addict’s neurons fire in response to cocaine. And of course, if they encode value-related stimuli, dopamine neurons should be inhibited by aversive stimuli, because those have negative value. So while my dopamine neurons fire in response to pizza, they should be really inhibited in response to brussels sprouts. Right? Well…wrong. And this is something that has puzzled scientists for a while. Some studies show inhibition of dopamine neurons in response to negative stimuli, and some show both negative and POSITIVE dopamine response to negative stimuli. So what’s up with that? Are the neurons firing for negative stimuli just some random wackos that get off on brussels sprouts?

23. Crazy Compensation and the Crisis - Via WSJ – Despite the vast outpouring of commentary and outrage over the financial crisis, one of its most fundamental causes has received surprisingly little attention. I refer to the perverse incentives built into the compensation plans of many financial firms, incentives that encourage excessive risk-taking with OPM — Other People’s Money.

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