Weekly Roundup 93: A Curated Linkfest For The Smartest People On The Web

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Weekly Cartoon


Weekly Joke (Via About)


The path of civilization is paved with tax receipts.

If Congress can pay farmers not to raise crops, why can’t we pay Congress not to raise taxes?

Congress thinks it’s alot easier to trim the taxpayers than expenses.

Must Read Articles for Weekly Visitors

Free Chapter: Financial Serial Killers- Inside the World of Wall Street Money Hustlers, Swindlers, and Con Men (Think Cialdini, Persuasion & Influence)

How to improve your cognitive function via Psychothalamus- The link between exercising and cognitive health is an area of intense research but some questions remains unanswered. What component of cognitive functioning does exercise improves and how much does the quantity of exercise affect any subsequent increase in cognitive functions? Masley, Roetzheim & Gualtieri (2009) provides some answers. So what are you waiting for? Go get yourself some aerobic exercise (preferably in a natural environment) because interaction with a natural environment as opposed to an urban environment has also been shown to improve cognitive functions. (Berman, Jonides & Kaplan, 2008)


Interview with an Insider: Enron & Political Entrepreneurship– via Stephen Hicks – Robert Bradley worked at Enron for 16 years. As director of public policy analysis, he wrote speeches for the late Ken Lay, Enron’s CEO, who was convicted in 2005 of fraud and conspiracy. Dr. Bradley is also founder and CEO of the Institute for Energy Research of Houston, Texas, and Washington, D.C. He frequently writes and lectures on energy, political economy, and corporate governance. He is currently completing his seventh book, Edison to Enron: Energy Markets and Political Strategies, the second volume of a trilogy on political capitalism inspired by the rise and fall of Enron. We met with Dr. Bradley in Houston to explore his thoughts on Enron, political capitalism, and the future of energy.


Losing Control: Dealing with Trading Addiction – via Charts Gone Wild- What can we learn from these two stories? Trading addiction is as great of a problem as being addicted to gambling, drugs, and sex. Trading is a powerful substance that is regularly abused. Trading addiction has no feelings. It can happen to anyone at the turn of a dime or it can take years to develop. In fact, most of us has suffered from trading addiction many times during our development as a professional trader. I know I have. If you currently find yourself unable to control yourself, then I am here to specifically write to you. Let’s take a look at whether you are an addict, some of the causes, symptoms, and finally, solutions.

Robert Shiller: The Case for Reviving Revenue Sharing – Protracted unemployment is eating away at millions of people. And the economy’s failure to create enough jobs for them is part of a vicious circle that could keep turning for years to come. In my last column, I called for big, temporary government programs aimed directly at putting people back to work. But how might we best accomplish this? The clock is ticking, and we don’t have time to create new national organizations to employ people. Instead, the most efficient approach is to use existing organizations for specific ideas and projects.


Why Are We So Fascinated by Famous People? – via PsychFiles- If you’ve ever met a famous person you know how exciting that feels. But why? What is it about fame that draws so many people to it? In this episode I examine fame from two very perspectives: the Basking in Reflected Glory theory and Terror Management Theory. Along the way we’ll see what this all has to do with the rock band Queen, baseball and Chelsea Clinton’s wedding.

Why making our own choices is more satisfying when pleasure is the goal – via PhysOrg – When it comes to our own pleasure, we like having a choice, but when it comes to utilitarian goals, we’re just as happy being told what to do, according to a new study in the journal of consumer research.


Upstairs-Downstairs pathways regulating our cravings – via Deric Bownds – The ability to control craving for substances that offer immediate rewards but whose long-term consumption may pose serious risks lies at the root of substance use disorders and is critical for mental and physical health. Despite its importance, the neural systems supporting this ability remain unclear. Here, we investigated this issue using functional imaging to examine neural activity in cigarette smokers, the most prevalent substance-dependent population in the United States, as they used cognitive strategies to regulate craving for cigarettes and food. We found that the cognitive down-regulation of craving was associated with (i) activity in regions previously associated with regulating emotion in particular and cognitive control in general, including dorsomedial, dorsolateral, and ventrolateral prefrontal cortices, and (ii) decreased activity in regions previously associated with craving, including the ventral striatum, subgenual cingulate, amygdala, and ventral tegmental area. Decreases in craving correlated with decreases in ventral striatum activity and increases in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex activity, with ventral striatal activity fully mediating the relationship between lateral prefrontal cortex and reported craving. These results provide insight into the mechanisms that enable cognitive strategies to effectively regulate craving, suggesting that it involves neural dynamics parallel to those involved in regulating other emotions. In so doing, this study provides a methodological tool and conceptual foundation for studying this ability across substance using populations and developing more effective treatments for substance use disorders.

Video: Sheena Iyengar on the Power of Choice – and Why It Doesn’t Always Bring Us What We Want – via Knowledge @ Wharton – In March 2010, Sheena Iyengar, a professor at Columbia Business School, published a book titled, The Art of Choosing. Iyengar, who is blind, says the book reflects her interest in how people make choices, including how they are able to navigate both the opportunities and responsibilities that an abundance of choice can bring. In a video presentation, Iyengar offers Knowledge@Wharton viewers her perspectives on the need to separate choices that are “meaningful and uplifting” from those that tend to distract us or that lead to unwise decisions. Choice, she says, is “the most powerful tool that we have in our lives. It enables us to go from who we are today to whom we want to be tomorrow. But it does not fulfill all our needs.”

Latest Issues of Chance News is out…all things chance, randomness, and probabilities… – via Chance News 65

Miguel’s Weekly Favorites

The power of anecdotes – via Bad Science – For simpletons and amateurs, there are good research methods, and bad research methods. In reality, different tools are valuable in different situations, and sometimes, even very tiny numbers of people can give you a meaningful piece of information: even an anecdote can be informative. For example, if you produced a research paper about just two people who had gone into space, in a rocket or in a space shuttle, and then an extra eye had physically opened in the centre of their forehead, I would be concerned. Thats’s because going into space is a very rare lifestyle risk exposure: maybe a thousand people in total. And I’ve never seen a third eye physically open in the centre of someone’s forehead.

Six Keys to Being Excellent at Anything – via Harvard –

1. Pursue what you love. Passion is an incredible motivator. It fuels focus, resilience, and perseverance.

2. Do the hardest work first. We all move instinctively toward pleasure and away from pain. Most great performers, Ericsson and others have found, delay gratification and take on the difficult work of practice in the mornings, before they do anything else. That’s when most of us have the most energy and the fewest distractions.

3. Practice intensely, without interruption for short periods of no longer than 90 minutes and then take a break. Ninety minutes appears to be the maximum amount of time that we can bring the highest level of focus to any given activity. The evidence is equally strong that great performers practice no more than 4 ½ hours a day.

4. Seek expert feedback, in intermittent doses. The simpler and more precise the feedback, the more equipped you are to make adjustments. Too much feedback, too continuously, however, can create cognitive overload, increase anxiety, and interfere with learning.

5. Take regular renewal breaks. Relaxing after intense effort not only provides an opportunity to rejuvenate, but also to metabolize and embed learning. It’s also during rest that the right hemisphere becomes more dominant, which can lead to creative breakthroughs.

6. Ritualize practice. Will and discipline are wildly overrated. As the researcher Roy Baumeister has found, none of us have very much of it. The best way to insure you’ll take on difficult tasks is to ritualize them — build specific, inviolable times at which you do them, so that over time you do them without having to squander energy thinking about them.

Does Your Language Shape How You Think? – via NYT Magazine – Seventy years ago, in 1940, a popular science magazine published a short article that set in motion one of the trendiest intellectual fads of the 20th century. At first glance, there seemed little about the article to augur its subsequent celebrity. Neither the title, “Science and Linguistics,” nor the magazine, M.I.T.’s Technology Review, was most people’s idea of glamour. And the author, a chemical engineer who worked for an insurance company and moonlighted as an anthropology lecturer at Yale University, was an unlikely candidate for international superstardom. And yet Benjamin Lee Whorf let loose an alluring idea about language’s power over the mind, and his stirring prose seduced a whole generation into believing that our mother tongue restricts what we are able to think.


Do we like a group more if it puts us through a difficult initiation? – via Bakadesuyo- An experiment was conducted to test the hypothesis that persons who undergo an unpleasant initiation to become members of a group increase their liking for the group; that is, they find the group more attractive than do persons who become members without going through a severe initiation.

You’re Easily Influenced, but I’m not – via What Makes Them Click – I’m not that influenced” — In another example, I share in my talks about the power of social validation: how ratings and reviews at websites have a huge influence over what people decide to do (it’s because when we are uncertain we look to others to decide what to do). And everyone in the room nods and talks about how this is true, that other people are very influenced by ratings and reviews, but most people I am speaking to think that they themselves are not very affected. I talk about study after study on persuasion and how much we are affected by pictures, images, words, and that we don’t realize we are being influenced. And the reaction is always similar: “Yes, other people are affected by these things, but I am not

How credit cards force the poor to subsidize the rich – via Felix Salmon – Just after I went on holiday in July, the Boston Fed released a 57-page paper quantifying the subsidy from poor to rich that is the result of credit-card interchange fees. It was picked up by the likes of the NYT and the WSJ, and now Tim Chen, the CEO of NerdWallet, has decided to push back on the findings.

Ovulation, Female Competition, and Product Choice: Hormonal Influences on Consumer Behavior- via UChicago – Recent research shows that women experience nonconscious shifts across different phases of the monthly ovulatory cycle. For example, women at peak fertility (near ovulation) are attracted to different kinds of men and show increased desire to attend social gatherings. Building on the evolutionary logic behind such effects, we examined how, why, and when hormonal fluctuations associated with ovulation influenced women’s product choices. In three experiments, we show that at peak fertility women nonconsciously choose products that enhance appearance (e.g., choosing sexy rather than more conservative clothing). This hormonally regulated effect appears to be driven by a desire to outdo attractive rival women. Consequently, minimizing the salience of attractive women who are potential rivals suppresses the ovulatory effect on product choice. This research provides some of the first evidence of how, why, and when consumer behavior is influenced by hormonal factors.


When left is right via Boston.com – Right is right, left is wrong. Because most people are righthanded, this bias has become customary. Thus, according to a recent paper, “the Latin words for right and left, dexter and sinister, form the roots of English words meaning skillful and evil, respectively,” and “according to Islamic doctrine, the left hand should only be used for dirty jobs, whereas the right hand is used for eating,” and “the left foot is used for stepping into the bathroom, and the right foot for entering the mosque.” But what do lefthanders think? The authors of the paper compared the gestures made by the presidential candidates in the final debates of the 2004 and 2008 elections to the phrases that were spoken at the same time. John McCain and Barack Obama, who are both lefthanded, preferred their left hands for positive comments and their right hands for negative comments, while the pattern was reversed for George W. Bush and John Kerry, who are both righthanded.


Are TV ads more effective if we pay less attention to them? – via Bakadesuyo- “The sting in the tail is that by paying less attention, we are less able to counter-argue what the ad is communicating. In effect we let our guard down and leave ourselves more open to the advertiser’s message. “This has serious implications for certain categories of ads, particularly ads for products that can be harmful to our health, and products aimed at children.


2010 Young Innovators Under 35 via MIT – Since 1999, the editors of Technology Review have honored the young innovators whose inventions and research we find most exciting; today that collection is the TR35, a list of technologists and scientists, all under the age of 35. Their work–spanning medicine, computing, communications, electronics, nanotechnology, and more–is changing our world.

America: Land of Loners? – via Wilson Quarterly – Americans, plugged in and on the move, are confiding in their pets, their computers, and their spouses. What they need is to rediscover the value of friendship.

Lies, Damned Lies and Economists – via PsyFi Blog – It’s established by now that economics didn’t help stop some of the more spectacular misadventures of the financial community but it’s a bit less obvious that it was directly responsible for many of the mishaps. It’s all tied up with the dirty fact that economists are basically a bunch of untrustworthy, deceitful bums who shouldn’t be left alone with your child’s piggybank, let alone the world’s economy.

Do the rich spend less of new income than the poor? – Washington Post – The evidence is mixed, but seems to suggest that I was wrong. In “Do the Rich Save More?”, economists Karen Dynan, Jonathan Skinner and Stephen Zeldes found a strong relationship between personal savings and income. However, other research suggests the opposite conclusion. Julia Lynn Coronado, Joseph Lupton and Louise Sheiner of the Federal Reserve studied (PDF) the effects of the 2003 tax cuts’ child credit and found that the rich were actually more likely to spend most of the credit. Most of this is due to the fact that high earners were less likely to have to pay off debt:


India, the Rent-a-Womb Capital of the World – via Slate – You can outsource just about any work to India these days, including making babies. Reproductive tourism in India is now a half-a-billion-dollar-a-year industry, with surrogacy services offered in 350 clinics across the country since it was legalized in 2002. The primary appeal of India is that it is cheap, hardly regulated, and relatively safe. Surrogacy can cost up to $100,000 in the United States, while many Indian clinics charge $22,000 or less. Very few questions are asked. Same-sex couples, single parents and even busy women who just don’t have time to give birth are welcomed by doctors. As a bonus, many Indians speak English and Indian surrogate mothers are less likely to use illegal drugs. Plus medical standards in private hospitals are very high (not all good Indian doctors left in the brain drain).

Video: Justin Halpern: Sh*t My Dad Says -via Fora.tv – After being dumped by his longtime girlfriend, twenty-eight-year-old Justin Halpern found himself living at home with his seventy-three-year-old dad. Sam Halpern, who is “like Socrates, but angrier, and with worse hair,” has never minced words, and when Justin moved back home, he began to record all the ridiculous things his dad said to him.

The End of Human Specialness via Chronicle – The defining idea of the coming era is actually the loss of an idea we never had to worry about losing before. It is the decay of belief in the specialness of being human.

As an example of what that would mean, consider the common practice of students blogging, networking, or tweeting while listening to a speaker. At a recent lecture, I said: “The most important reason to stop multitasking so much isn’t to make me feel respected, but to make you exist. If you listen first, and write later, then whatever you write will have had time to filter through your brain, and you’ll be in what you say. This is what makes you exist. If you are only a reflector of information, are you really there?

30 Awesome College Lab Programs – via Good – Popular Science compiled a list of 30 groundbreaking programs in science, engineering, and technology offered at schools around the country.

The Variety Effect: Variety Might Be The Spice of Life But It Can Lead To Weight Gain – via Psychology Today -The variety effect has been confirmed in a wide number of ways. For example, one will consume a greater amount of yogurt if offered three flavors as opposed to one. In my opinion though, the most interesting finding from the vast literature on the variety effect is the demonstration that perceptual cues that otherwise do not alter the taste, texture, or smell of a given food can nonetheless augment how much we eat if they trigger our innate penchant for variety. For example, if individuals are offered M&M candies in one color, they will eat fewer candies then if offered the same amount of candies albeit in multiple colors. Similarly, the shape of pasta (one shape versus multiple shapes) also affects the amount of pasta eaten. Neither the candy colorant nor the pasta shapes alters in an objective manner the food in question, yet they each serve as a triggering cue for variety seeking.

Mystery of Beer Goggles Solved via Discovery – Everyone looks better after you’ve tipped back a pint or two, and now we may know why. It turns out that alcohol dulls our ability to recognize cockeyed, asymmetrical faces, according to researchers who tested the idea on both sober and inebriated college students in England.”We tend to prefer faces that are symmetrical,” explained Lewis Halsey of Roehampton University in London. That’s well established by previous research, he said.


The Business of Piracy in Somalia – via Ideas Repec – This paper argues that contrary to conventional wisdom, Somali piracy is likely to increase if Somalia’s domestic stability is improved, and that naval counter-piracy efforts had limited and unpredicted effects. To make this argument we analyze the underlying factors driving piracy off the coast of Somalia and examine the effectiveness of the international naval anti-piracy mission. We show that while the navies perform well with respect to their declared aims, they failed to resolve the piracy problem through 2009: pirates were not deterred from attacking ships in the Gulf of Aden and have expanded their operations in the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. Evidence from domestic conditions in Somalia suggests that land-based approaches focusing on rebuilding state capabilities may also backfire as economic development and greater stability aid pirates. We examine the incentives of the various interest groups in the Gulf of Aden and conclude that the key players have an interest in the continuation of the piracy off Somalia, as long as violence does not escalate and ransoms remain at their current modest levels.

Financial Topics & Investing

Can interest rates explain the US housing boom and bust? – via Voxeu- The debate over the cause of the US housing boom and bust is far from concluded. This column questions the explanation that low interest rates were a critical factor, arguing that it sits uneasily alongside theories of household behaviour and historical evidence. With the causes remaining uncertain, the authors call for more research in this area.

Food production: Agriculture wars via FT – “I’ve never heard of BHP – does this mean the price of potash is going to rise?” Mr Jiang asks repeatedly from his fertiliser store. Others in China’s agricultural areas say they have not heard of the bid for the Canadian fertiliser company by the world’s largest miner. But their interest in the price and availability of potash, a mineral used in fertilisers, is keen. The significance of the bid, the biggest in a wave of mergers and acquisitions in the sector, reaches beyond investment bankers and boardrooms. Mr Jiang’s anxiety encapsulates the increasing interaction between globalisation, demographics, agriculture and food security.


A Crib Sheet on Wall Street’s Self-Dealing Money Machine – via Propublica – Last night, we published a story about self-dealing [1] by the big Wall Street banks, cashing in on the world of structured finance. We know the subject matter is heady stuff, so together with our partners at NPR’s Planet Money [2], we’ve tried to make it as digestible as possible — with our first-ever cartoon [3], colorful charts [4] (or “lovely chart porn [5],” as described by Barry Ritholtz), and an Auto-Tune song [6] about the banks.


The Pirate Latitudes (a story of somali pirates) – via Vanity Fair – When the French luxury cruise ship Le Ponant was captured by a raggedy, hopped-up band of Somali pirates last spring, in the Gulf of Aden, it looked as if the bandits had bitten off more than they could chew. But after a week-long standoff, they got what they had come for—a $2.15 million ransom. Describing the terrifying attack, the ordeal of the ship’s epicurean crew, and the tense negotiations, the author examines the ruthless calculus behind a new age of piracy.

The Billionaire Prince – via FP- Saudi Arabia’s Al-Waleed bin Talal is back in the spotlight for allegedly being one of the financiers behind the planned Islamic center in downtown Manhattan. Here are 10 things that you should know about the colorful royal.

Academic Research Worth Reading

The Underdog Effect: The Marketing of Disadvantage and Determination through Brand Biography – via Chicago Journals – We introduce the concept of an underdog brand biography to describe an emerging trend in branding in which firms author a historical account of their humble origins, lack of resources, and determined struggle against the odds. We identify two essential dimensions of an underdog biography: external disadvantage, and passion and determination. We demonstrate that such a biography can increase purchase intentions, real choice, and brand loyalty. We argue that these biographies are effective because consumers react positively when they see the underdog aspects of their own lives being reflected in branded products. Four studies demonstrate that the underdog brand biography effect is driven by identity mechanisms: we show that the effect is (a) mediated by consumers’ identification with the brand, (b) greater for consumers who strongly self-identify as underdogs, (c) stronger when consumers are purchasing for themselves versus for others, and (d) stronger in cultures in which underdog narratives are part of the national identity.

Supertaskers: Profiles in extraordinary multitasking ability – via Developing Intelligence – Theory suggests that driving should be impaired for any motorist who is concurrently talking on a cell phone. But is everybody impaired by this dual-task combination? We tested 200 participants in a high-fidelity driving simulator in both single- and dual-task conditions. The dual task involved driving while performing a demanding auditory version of the operation span (OSPAN) task. Whereas the vast majority of participants showed significant performance decrements in dual-task conditions (compared with single-task conditions for either driving or OSPAN tasks), 2.5% of the sample showed absolutely no performance decrements with respect to performing single and dual tasks. In single-task conditions, these “supertaskers” scored in the top quartile on all dependent measures associated with driving and OSPAN tasks, and Monte Carlo simulations indicated that the frequency of supertaskers was significantly greater than chance. These individual differences help to sharpen our theoretical understanding of attention and cognitive control in naturalistic settings.


Why Are Women So Willing To Make Sex Tapes? – via Good –

Cost Efficiency of Transporation – Dataviz –

How tax breaks could affect your bottom line – via Flowing Data –

Driving is why you’re fat? – via FlowingData –

Work at Home Scams by the Numbers – via Elearners –

About Miguel Barbosa

I run this site.

29. August 2004 by Miguel Barbosa
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