Real Clear Science: Why We Reject Facts & Embrace Conflict
There is a growing body of research suggesting that when beliefs become tied to one’s sense of identity, they are not easily revised. Instead, when these axioms are threatened, people look for ways to outright dismiss inconvenient data. If this cannot be achieved by highlighting logical, methodological or factual errors, the typical response is to leave the empirical sphere altogether and elevate the discussion into the moral and ideological domain, whose tenets are much more difficult to outright falsify (generally evoking whatever moral framework best suits one’s rhetorical needs).
While often described in pejorative terms, these phenomena may be more akin to “features,” than “bugs,” of our psychology. ...
For instance, the Machiavellian Intelligence Hypothesis holds that the primary function of rationality is social, rather than epistemic. Specifically, our rational faculties were designed to mitigate social conflicts (or conflicting interests). But on this account, rationality is not a neutral mediator. Instead, it is deployed in the service of one’s own interests and desires—which are themselves heavily informed by our sense of identity. ...
... Accordingly, the best way to reduce polarization is not by obscuring critical differences under the pretense of universalism. Instead, societies should aspire to lower the perceived stakes of these identity conflicts.
For example, rigidity, polarization and groupthink are much less common, and more easily addressed, in deliberations within an identity group; closed-mindedness is largely a response to a perceived threat from outside. In heterogeneous contexts, many of the benefits of this enclave deliberation can be achieved by engaging interlocutors in terms of their own framing and narratives, mindful of their expressed concerns and grievances. That is, identity differences should not be suppressed, avoided or merely tolerated, but instead emphasized, encouraged and substantively respected—emphasizing pluralism over sectarianism. This can create a foundation where good-faith exchange and intergroup cooperation are feasible. Or put another way, the problem isn’t cultural cognition, it’s the lack of cross-cultural competence.
Scientific American: Why People "Fly from Facts"
Research shows the appeal of untestable beliefs, and how it leads to a polarized society ...
“There was a scientific study that showed vaccines cause autism.”
“Actually, the researcher in that study lost his medical license, and overwhelming research since then has shown no link between vaccines and autism.”
“Well, regardless, it’s still my personal right as a parent to make decisions for my child.”
Does that exchange sound familiar: a debate that starts with testable factual statements, but then, when the truth becomes inconvenient, the person takes a flight from facts. ...
... We presented 174 American participants who supported or opposed same-sex marriage with (supposed) scientific facts that supported or disputed their position. When the facts opposed their views, our participants—on both sides of the issue—were more likely to state that same-sex marriage isn’t actually about facts, it’s more a question of moral opinion. But, when the facts were on their side, they more often stated that their opinions were fact-based and much less about morals. In other words, we observed something beyond the denial of particular facts: We observed a denial of the relevance of facts. ...
... These experiments show that when people’s beliefs are threatened, they often take flight to a land where facts do not matter. In scientific terms, their beliefs become less “falsifiable” because they can no longer be tested scientifically for verification or refutation. ...
... While it is difficult to objectively test that idea, we can experimentally assess a fundamental question: When people are made to see their important beliefs as relatively less rather than more testable, does it increase polarization and commitment to desired beliefs? Two experiments we conducted suggest so. ...
... So after examining the power of untestable beliefs, what have we learned about dealing with human psychology? We’ve learned that bias is a disease and to fight it we need a healthy treatment of facts and education. We find that when facts are injected into the conversation, the symptoms of bias become less severe. But, unfortunately, we’ve also learned that facts can only do so much. To avoid coming to undesirable conclusions, people can fly from the facts and use other tools in their deep belief protecting toolbox.
With the disease of bias, then, societal immunity is better achieved when we encourage people to accept ambiguity, engage in critical thinking, and reject strict ideology. This society is something the new common core education system and at times The Daily Show are at least in theory attempting to help create. We will never eradicate bias—not from others, not from ourselves, and not from society. But we can become a people more free of ideology and less free of facts.
Tom Jacobs has an excellent piece at Pacific Standard, Threaten My Group, and I’ll Belittle Your Science. He writes:
Newly published research provides at least a partial answer. It finds scientific findings that challenge the assumptions of a group you strongly identify with motivate people to derogate the research in online comments.
When informal membership in a group—say, the anti-vaccine movement, or those opposed to genetically modified foods—informs your sense of self, and/or provides a feeling of pride and belonging, a perceived attack on its basic beliefs is grounds for a counterattack. Today, that often means writing nasty, dismissive comments online. ...
... While conceding that there are a number of reasons why gamers would choose to angrily argue with the science rather than seriously consider its implications, the researchers focus on one particularly interesting psychological framework: Social identity theory.
This school of thought contends that group membership (be it political, religious, or something as innocuous as being a fan of a particular sports team) is a significant source of our self-esteem. It follows logically that members have an interest in boosting the group’s status (and degrading the status of competing groups), since its prominence, or lack thereof, rubs off on ourselves. ...
... Perhaps this discovery can provide an opening for educators and policymakers as they attempt to get around this frustrating psychological block. If scientific findings are to be accepted and acted upon, they have to somehow be presented in a way that does not trigger a defensive reaction.
We remain, in many ways, a tribal species, and if you challenge my “tribe,” don’t be surprised if the response is a metaphorical poke in the eye.
To this I would add that the reason a great majority of people hold a scientifically sanctioned position is not because of science, but also because of social identity. Science affirms my narrative and my tribe. "Science" becomes a weapon to deploy against other tribes. It lets me beat my chest in defiant superiority. It becomes a club with which to bludgeon those who threaten my tribe. Advocacy of the "scientific" position frequently has precious little to do with a concern for science. I don't care if it is climate change, vaccinations, evolution, GMOs, nuclear safety, or a host of other topics. It is far more about affirmation than information.
I'll also add this - if you think you are not affected by this dynamic, then you are likely either Commander Data from Star Trek or delusional. ;-) It is inescapable. We are communal creatures and tribalism is always a factor. The realistic response is to continually strive to be self-aware of our own tribal issues and be more accepting of the tribal buttons we push in others. Only then can we move toward genuine dialog.
The Atlantic: The Danish Don't Have the Secret to Happiness
A common meme in economic discussions is that we need to make America more like Scandinavian countries where things are more equal and people are happier. Denmark, land of my ancestors, is often the poster child.
There is much to debate about economic policy but few seem to question what is meant by "happy." "Happy" is one of those words of which everyone knows the meaning until you try to define it. Happiness is shaded different ways in different cultures.
Michael Booth writes:
These rules set out the Law of Jante, a kind of Danish Ten Commandments, the social norms one should be aware of if one is planning a move to the north:
- You shall not believe that you are someone.
- You shall not believe that you are as good as we are.
- You shall not believe that you are any wiser than we are.
- You shall never indulge in the conceit of imagining that you are better than we are.
- You shall not believe that you know more than we do.
- You shall not believe that you are more important than we are.
- You shall not believe that you are going to amount to anything.
- You shall not laugh at us.
- You shall not believe that anyone cares about you.
- You shall not believe that you can teach us anything.
The truth is, Sandemose really nailed the Danes. My experience has been that Jante Law, which has become a national social manifesto of sorts, operates everywhere in Denmark on some level or another.
On the face of it, the Danes have considerably less to be happy about than most of us. Yet, when asked, they still insist that they are the happiest of us all.
What is one to make of this?
The obvious response is, “Define happiness.” If we are talking heel-kicking, cocktail-umbrella joie de vivre, then the Danes do not score highly, and I suspect not even they would take their claims that far. But if we are talking about being contented with one’s lot, then the Danes do have a more convincing case to present.
Over the years I have asked many Danes about these happiness surveys—whether they really believe that they are the global happiness champions—and I have yet to meet a single one of them who seriously believes it’s true. They appreciate the safety net of their welfare state, the way most things function well in their country, and all the free time they have, but they tend to approach the subject of their much-vaunted happiness like the victims of a practical joke waiting to discover who the perpetrator is.
On the other hand, these same Danes are often just as quick to counter any criticism of their country—of their schools, hospitals, transport, weather, taxes, politicians, uneventful landscape, and so on—with the simple and, in a sense-argument-proof riposte: “Well, if that’s true, how come we are the happiest people in the world?” (This usually accompanied by upturned palms and a tight, smug smile.) The happiness argument does come in handy sometimes, I guess.
Newspaper editor Anne Knudsen had an interesting theory relating to why the Danes continue to respond positively to happiness surveys: “In Denmark it is shameful to be unhappy,” she told me. “If you ask me how I am and I start telling you how bad I feel, then it might force you to do something about it. It might put a burden on you to help me. So, that’s one of the main reasons people say things are all right, or even ‘super.’”
Here’s another convincing theory, posited by a Danish friend of mine: “We always come top of those surveys because they ask us at the beginning of the year what our expectations are,” he said. “Then they ask us at the end of the year whether those expectations were met. And because our expectations are so extremely low at the beginning of the year, they tend to get met more easily.”
Later he writes:
With that in mind, I had a standard question that I asked most of my interviewees: “What are your fears for the future of Denmark?” One word cropped up more than any other in their responses: complacency. Many of my interviewees were worried that the Danes had it too good for too long, that they were now content to sit back in their Arne Jacobsen San armchairs and watch the plates wobble and fall. Worryingly for the Danes, the latest OECD Better Life Index of life satisfaction saw them plummet to seventh place, behind Norway and Sweden, among others. ...
... Danish society appears to have reached maturity, some would argue to a state of perfection, others to a perilous halt. The fear is that the next stage will be stagnation and decline. What happens when you develop a genuinely almost nearly perfect society in which there is nothing left to achieve, nothing to kick against, or work for?
But I had one other question I always asked, which, in its way, was even more revealing. Whenever I asked my Danish interviewees whether they could think of a better country to live in, the answer was invariably a thoughtful silence.
My point is not so much about which society is better, America or Denmark. The point is that I think "happiness," and how we report it, is different. It strikes me that Denmark is more about keeping expectations low and being content with things staying mostly as they are. That is what will make you happy. While in America, I am not "happy" with my life as it is but I am "happy" that I have an unalienable right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," and that I will one day have a "happier" life. Happiness is found in the striving and achievement. I'm painting with broad brushes but hopefully you see my point. Consequently, comparing survey's about how "happy" people say they are is not as clarifying as advocates of the Scandinavian economics would make it seem.
Stanford psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt recently recounted this conversation between her and her son:
I’m on an airplane with my son. And he looks up and he sees a black man, and he says, “Hey, that guy looks like daddy.”
And I look at the guy, he doesn’t look anything like my husband, and I notice he’s the only black guy on the plane. And he says, “I hope he doesn’t rob the plane.”
And I said, “Well, why would you say that?”
And he looked at me and he said, “I don’t know why I said that.”
And so we’re living with such severe racial stratification that even a 5-year-old can tell us what’s supposed to happen next.
As early as five years old, children (even black children!) learn that black men are suspect. One recent study showed that more than 40% of people think many or most black men are violent. It was 15% for white men and black women, and even lower for white women.
Another interesting study flashed a picture to a group of people. Two white men were fighting. One was holding a knife. When asked who had held the knife, most of the subjects gave the correct answer. A second picture featured a white man and a black man. The white man was holding the knife. When asked about this second picture, most people - black and white - incorrectly identified the black man as holding the knife. Deeply engrained biases actually alter what we see. What might this mean for law enforcement?
I have documented that the rate of justifiable homicide by law enforcement has been increasing since 2000, even as the rate of crime has been falling. I take this as a proxy indicator for more violence in general being used by law enforcement. I have also noted two possible contributing factors. First, “Broken windows” policing came into vogue in the wake of the of a crack cocaine epidemic twenty-five years ago. Minor violations were enforced in an effort to restore order in beleaguered neighborhoods. People wanted more aggressive policing. Second, 9/11 has moved our collective psyche toward viewing ourselves as continuously living with imminent threats. Policing tactics become more aggressive in an emergency and maybe this spills over into everyday policing. I would suggest a third factor upon more reflection. The collapse of the economy in 2008, has left many people with much less confidence in the government’s ability to work well and to protect them. Domestic events like Sandy Hook and international events like ISIS beheadings create a sense of world running amok.
These factors may explain why justifiable homicides have been increasing but why should this have a disproportionate impact on blacks killed by police relative the rate crime in their communities? Some activists see a calculated race war against African-Americans. Law enforcement is only one step removed from Bull Connor or the KKK. Studies suggest that upwards of about 25% of Americans have openly hostile attitudes about African-Americans. Law enforcement officers are drawn from society so there are no doubt represented among law enforcement. With 17,000+ law enforcement agencies in the U.S., I have no doubt particular law enforcement agencies can come under the sway of such attitudes. But the idea that law enforcement community is part of some orchestrated act of oppression goes much too far. All the evidence points to most police officers being highly dedicated people who genuinely want to serve all the public well. Does this then mean that apart from a few bad apples, that there is no racial component to what is happening?
As I listen to conversations about recent controversies, I hear a common refrain from many in the white community. If there was no explicit exclamation of racial animus by a police officer, then there was no racism. Any attempt to raise race as a piece of the problem is viewed as “reading things in,” or even worse, an attempt at race-baiting or playing the race card. This seeing racial bias purely in terms of conscious motivations of individual actors errors in another direction.
I think race is an issue in the rise of justifiable homicide rates in at least three important ways. First, look at the strategies and tactics we use. Neighborhoods most at risk from becoming bases of serious criminal activity are poorer neighborhoods. Minorities make up disproportionately high percentages of these neighborhoods. Any aggressive policing strategy, like broken windows, is going to have disproportionate impact on minorities. Confrontational interactions between law enforcement and citizens will rise, and more interactions mean more opportunities for lethal force. In some cases, our policing strategies set the stage for disproportionate negative impacts with police regardless of the motivations of any particular officers.
Second, we have deep-seated perceptions about black communities and black men. Officers have discretion as to use of lethal force when they feel threatened. Like the young black boy on the airplane, there will be a perception of a black man as a greater threat. The threshold for an officer to act or react will be lower. Without any willful malice toward black men, race will have had an impact in the death of some black men. Studies show that, with good training, officers can learn to ignore irrelevant issues like race but how widespread and effective is that training?
Third, there are bad or incompetent actors in law enforcement who do not belong there. Law enforcement is difficult disciplined work and, as with any human organization, there are going to be unqualified people who slip through even the best screening process. So let us not ignore that there are officers who do harbor ill will. Aggressive protocols give opportunity for expression of this will.
So even absent conscious malice by individual players, race is thoroughly “baked in” to the decisions we make about law enforcement. It is easy for me to be emotionally detached from this problem as a middle-aged white guy but when your whole life is peppered with what feels like constant harassment by law enforcement it is a different story. Marry to this frustration the living memory of once pervasive lynching and miscarriages of justice done with impunity toward the black community, and visceral reactions are not surprising. Justifiable homicide is just an extreme example of a more pervasive reality.
So I will conclude this series of three posts suggesting that what we have is not so much a law enforcement problem but a societal problem. There a bad apples and incompetent players in law enforcement, just as there are in any human institution, but law enforcement is made up mostly of dedicated people who want to serve well. The difference here is that when officers mess up people can get killed. Standards must be high. But law enforcement is also responsive to the public’s demands. And if our fearful demands lead to policies that have unintended negative consequences, should we be blaming law enforcement for those consequences? Better collection of data and reforming a process where the final determination on justifiable homicide is being made by law enforcement agencies and prosecuting attorneys who exist in a symbiotic relationship, are two reform measures that are being discussed. But even before that, I think we need to reflect on to what degree fear is driving us to make bad policy decisions.
But there is another societal problem. Racial perceptions pervade our society. As law enforcement draws it officers from our society, it ranks will be reflective of the views held by society as a whole. We certainly need to work to drive racial bias out of law enforcement behavior but foremost we need to work to drive bias out of society. That would in turn rectify law enforcement behavior. And to that end, I would suggest that white Americans need to stop looking to every excess by either rioting protestors or self-aggrandizing activists as a basis for being dismissive of black voices. I’m now moving out beyond the issue of justifiable homicide but we are kidding ourselves if we think we can solve problems like these with a narrow focus on reforming law enforcement.
The two previous posts:
Ivey Business Journal: Followership: The Other Side of Leadership
"... Followership is a straightforward concept. It is the ability to take direction well, to get in line behind a program, to be part of a team and to deliver on what is expected of you. It gets a bit of a bad rap! How well the followers follow is probably just as important to enterprise success as how well the leaders lead.
The label “excellent follower” can be a backhanded compliment. It is not a reputation you necessarily want if you are seeking higher corporate office. There is something of a stigma to followership skills. Pity because the practical reality is one does not reach progressively more responsible leadership positions without demonstrating an ability to follow and function effectively in a group. The fact is that in organizations everybody is both a leader and a follower depending on the circumstances which just adds to the paradox of the followership stigma.
Followership may take the backseat to leadership but it matters: it matters a lot! Quite simply, where followership is a failure, not much gets done and/or what does get done is not what was supposed to get done. Followership problems manifest themselves in a poor work ethic, bad morale, distraction from goals, unsatisfied customers, lost opportunities, high costs, product quality issues and weak competitiveness. At the extreme, weak leadership and weak followership are two sides of the same coin and the consequence is always the same: organizational confusion and poor performance. ..."
The Atlantic just ran an article called Have You Heard? Gossip Is Actually Good and Useful. The teaser was, "Talking behind other people's backs may not always be nice, but sometimes it can help promote cooperation and self-improvement." It is a very interesting read. You could discuss it from a number of different angles. This paragraph really caught my attention:
As the study explains, “by hearing about the misadventures of others, we may not have to endure costs to ourselves,” by making the same mistake. And because negative stories tend to stick better in the mind than positive stories, it makes sense that gossip about people who violated norms would be more instructive than gossip about people who are really great at norms. (What’s more, one study found that sharing a negative opinion of a person with someone is better for bonding with them than sharing a positive opinion.)
It strikes me that a considerable portion of political discourse plays a similar role. A small group of people are having a conversation when someone offhandedly makes a disparaging remark about a politician, a political party, or a public policy. Joe says, "Did you see the news today that this is the 17th straight year where global temps have not increased? So much for global warming." (Or "Did you see the news about the ice caps becoming 10% smaller over the last year? How does anyone deny global warming?") Though it may appear on the surface that the remark is inviting discussion, most often it is not. It is being deployed as means of reinforcing social cohesion. And woe to you if you are not discerning enough to know the difference.
The "appropriate" response is to affirm what has been said with your own comments. As members of the group hear each other express affirming remarks, group solidarity is built. And as the article suggests, affirming negative opinions seems more potent. Knowing that we all have a common view on this one topic builds a basis for cohesion as we move on to more interaction. It isn't just a philosophical excercise to challenge the remark, it is a threat to group solidarity.
That leaves a dissenter in a difficult place, espeically if he has been public at all with a differing view. If you join in with the affirming chorus, then you may soon be outed as a hypocrite. If you challenge the remark, then you will be seen as a troublemaker. If you say nothing, then your views may later be discovered and you will be percieved as being decietful. It is a bit of a minefield.
Another layer to this is that sometimes the person inititating the remark knows that a member(s) of the group has differing views. By making the disparaging remark, she signals others to rally to her flag with affirming remarks, putting the dissenter in an awkward or defensive posture. It is an attempt to dominate and enforce solidarity.
The idea that talking about others behind their backs and sharing a common disapproval of others generates social cohesion poses some challenging questions for discipleship. I once read that not every movement needs a god but every movement needs a Satan. I doubt it is possible to fully escape this dynamic. I have no easy answers. But I suspect if our aim is to love our neighbor as ourself, then maybe the first place to begin is by deeply listening to our casual conversations, conciously evaluating what we intend to accomplish with the views we express in any given context.
Business Insider: OK, Haters, It's Time To Admit It: The World Is Becoming A Better Place
The article includes this graph:
Then this one about poverty:
There are many other graphs that could be shown about a host of important social indicators but the article closes with the most important one: life expectancy. Improvements in life expectancy require that a wide range of variables move in a positive direction and for that reason an improvement in life expectancy is often a proxy for overall well-being.
The author closes with:
So complain all you want about how horrible everything is. There's certainly a lot left to fix. But as you complain, remember:
The world is getting better all the time.
Atlantic: The Illusion of 'Natural'
... The definition of toxin can be somewhat surprising if you have grown accustomed to hearing the word in the context of flame retardants and parabens. Though toxin is now often used to refer to man-made chemicals, the most precise meaning of the term is still reserved for biologically produced poisons. The pertussis toxin, for example, is responsible for damage to the lungs that can cause whooping cough to linger for months after the bacteria that produce it have been killed by antibiotics. The diphtheria toxin is a poison potent enough to cause massive organ failure, and tetanus produces a deadly neurotoxin. Vaccination now protects us against all these toxins.
Toxoid is the term for a toxin that has been rendered no longer toxic, but the existence of a class of vaccines called toxoids probably does not help quell widespread concerns that vaccination is a source of toxicity. The consumer advocate Barbara Loe Fisher routinely supports these fears, referring to vaccines as “biologicals of unknown toxicity” and calling for nontoxic preservatives and more studies on the “toxicity of all other vaccine additives” and their potential “cumulative toxic effects.” The toxicity she speaks of is elusive, shirting from the biological components of the vaccines to their preservatives, then to an issue of accumulation that implicates not just vaccines, but also toxicity from the environment at large.
In this context, fear of toxicity strikes me as an old anxiety with a new name. Where the word filth once suggested, with its moralist air, the evils of the flesh, the word toxic now condemns the chemical evils of our industrial world. This is not to say that concerns over environmental pollution are not justified—like filth theory, toxicity theory is anchored in legitimate dangers—but that the way we think about toxicity bears some resemblance to the way we once thought about filth. Both theories allow their subscribers to maintain a sense of control over their own health by pursuing personal purity. For the filth theorist, this means a retreat into the home, where heavy curtains and shutters might seal out the smell of the poor and their problems. Our version of this shuttering is now achieved through the purchase of purified water, air purifiers, and food produced with the promise of purity.
Purity, especially bodily purity, is the seemingly innocent concept behind a number of the most sinister social actions of the past century. A passion for bodily purity drove the eugenics movement that led to the sterilization of women who were blind, black, or poor. Concerns for bodily purity were behind miscegenation laws that persisted for more than a century after the abolition of slavery, and behind sodomy laws that were only recently declared unconstitutional. Quite a bit of human solidarity has been sacrificed in pursuit of preserving some kind of imagined purity.
If we do not yet know exactly what the presence of a vast range of chemicals in umbilical cord blood and breast milk might mean for the future of our children’s health, we do at least know that we are no cleaner, even at birth, than our environment at large. We are all already polluted. We have more microorganisms in our guts than we have cells in our bodies—we are crawling with bacteria and we are full of chemicals. We are, in other words, continuous with everything here on Earth. Including, and especially, each other. ...
... Most of the pharmaceuticals available to us are at least as bad as they are good. My father has a habit of saying, “There are very few perfect therapies in medicine.” True as it may be, the idea that our medicine is as flawed as we are is not comforting. And when comfort is what we want, one of the most powerful tonics alternative medicine offers is the word natural. This word implies a medicine untroubled by human limitations, contrived wholly by nature or God or perhaps intelligent design. What natural has come to mean to us in the context of medicine is pure and safe and benign. But the use of natural as a synonym for good is almost certainly a product of our profound alienation from the natural world.
“Obviously,” the naturalist Wendell Berry writes, “the more artificial a human environment becomes, the more the word ‘natural’ becomes a term of value.” If, he argues, “we see the human and the natural economies as necessarily opposite or opposed, we subscribe to the very opposition that threatens to destroy them both. The wild and the domestic now often seem isolated values, estranged from one another. And yet these are not exclusive polarities like good and evil. There can be continuity between them, and there must be.”
Allowing children to develop immunity to contagious diseases “naturally,” without vaccination, is appealing to some of us. Much of that appeal depends on the belief that vaccines are inherently unnatural. But vaccines are of that liminal place between humans and nature—a mowed field, Berry might suggest, edged by woods. Vaccination is a kind of domestication of a wild thing, in that it involves our ability to harness a virus and break it like a horse, but its action depends on the natural response of the body to the effects of that once-wild thing. ...
... All of us who have been vaccinated are cyborgs, the cyborg scholar Chris Hables Gray suggests. Our bodies have been programmed to respond to disease, and modified by technologically altered viruses. As a cyborg and a nursing mother, I join my modified body to a breast pump, a modern mechanism to provide my child with the most primitive food. On my bicycle, I am part human and part machine, a collaboration that exposes me to injury. Our technology both extends and endangers us. Good or bad, it is part of us, and this is no more unnatural than it is natural. ...
... Traditionally, people get around their houses, neighborhoods and cities with the help of an internal "cognitive map." But that system isn't much of a map at all. It's more like a personal library filled with discrete bits of knowledge, landmarks (a bus stop, a church, a friend's house), and routes. When faced with a new wayfinding task, the brain assembles a plan from those elements. It's hard work, and its exact mechanism remains a subject of dispute among neuroscientists.
Digital navigation is in some ways a radical break from the type of planning our parents did. "When people plan a route based on their mental representation, they have to form a sequence of these landmarks, and follow this plan by reaching landmark after landmark," Stephan Winter, a professor of geomatics at the University of Melbourne, tells me. "When people use navigation systems, they don't do this planning any longer."
Experts who study the issue are concerned that spatial thinking might be the next casualty of technological progress, another cognitive ability surpassed and then supplanted by the cerebral annex of the Internet. "Basically, people don't really learn their environments," says Haosheng Huang, who works at the Research Group in Cartography at the Vienna University of Technology. They worry we may become, as a society, what the Japanese call hōkō onchi—deaf to direction. ...
... In a handful of studies conducted over the last decade in the United States, England, Germany and Japan, researchers have shown that GPS navigation has a generally pernicious effect on the user's ability to remember an environment and reconstruct a route. ...
... Isn't it ironic: the easier it is for me to get where I'm going, the less I remember how I got there. ...
... "I think the parallel with the 19th century actually says the addition of the digital dynamic is going to expand context, make people more geographically literate," says David Rumsey, whose extensive map collection testifies to the cartographic trends of past generations. "I don't think it leads to a loss of spatial consciousness—I think it's exactly the opposite." ...
New York Times: The New Instability by Stephanie Coontz
... Meanwhile, women’s expectation of fairness and reciprocity in marriage has been rising even as men’s ability to compensate for deficits in their behavior by being “good providers” has been falling. Low-income women consistently tell researchers that the main reason they hesitate to marry — even if they are in love, even if they have moved in with a man to share expenses, and even if they have a child — is that they see a bad marriage or divorce as a greater threat to their well-being than being single.
Their fears are justified. Chronic economic stress is associated with an increased incidence of depression, domestic violence, alcohol or drug abuse and infidelity, all of which raise the risk of divorce. If a woman’s marriage breaks up or her husband squanders their resources, she may end up worse off than if she had remained single and focused on improving her own earning power.
If women lowered their expectations to match men’s lower economic prospects, perhaps marriage would be more common in low-income communities. But it would most likely be even less stable, and certainly less fair.
Turning back the inequality revolution may be difficult. But that would certainly help more families — at almost all income levels — than turning back the gender revolution.
When it comes to understanding inequality, the debate is frequently encumbered with a multitude of misunderstandings about data. When talking about wealth inequality, we see statements like “85 people own more wealth than the bottom half of humanity.” Wealth is routinely misunderstood to mean the money and things someone owns. It isn’t. Wealth is someone’s total assets minus their liabilities. It is common to have negative wealth. The peasant farmer in rural China who has managed to save $200 and is debt free, is “wealthier” than the high-income young M. D. who has a negative net worth due to substantial student loans (i.e., she owes more than she presently owns.) I recently wrote about this in The World’s Bottom 10%: 7.5% Live in North America and None Live in China … And Other True But Worthless Facts.
Then there is the constant citation of growing inequality in pre-tax and pre-transfer income in the U. S. (usually just stated as “income”), and the need to rectify it through redistribution. But if you only look at pre-tax and pre-transfer income, no amount of redistribution will have one penny of impact. We could transfer $100,000 to every household in the bottom half the income distribution and it wouldn’t matter because it would be income after taxes and after transfers. When we look at after-tax and after-transfer income, we see that there has been little change in inequality between those at the 95th percentile and those at the 20th percentile for the last twenty years. See my post, Is Income Inequality Really the Problem? It Depends on What You Call Income.
Today, Arnold Kling reviews Chasing the American Dream by sociologists Mark Robert Rank, Thomas A. Hirschl, and Kirk A. Foster. (See Kling's post: The Longitude of Well-Being) He cites a stat that shows that homeownership rates have remained fairly constant at about 67%. Kling then asks you what percentage of Americans aged 55 have owned a home? A) 50%, B) 70%, and C) 90%. Kling says he would have guessed 70% when in fact it is 90%. The 67% number is a cross-sectional piece of data, taking a “snapshot” of homeownership at a given point in time. The 90% number is a longitudinal piece of data, taking a “video” of homeownership for over a period of time.
… the question that I asked concerns what demographers refer to as longitudinal information. If you follow given individuals over a long period, what sort of cumulative outcomes will you observe? In particular, over a lifetime, how many people will at some point own a home? To answer a longitudinal question, you need to use longitudinal data. To instead use time-series cross-section data risks making serious errors.
Most of the conventional wisdom about relative economic well-being, including the famous studies by Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, commits the time-series cross-section fallacy. Rank, Hirschl, and Foster did not set out to debunk this fallacy or to attack the many economists guilty of it. Instead, they took what seemed to them a natural approach for studying the evolution of wealth and poverty: longitudinal data. The result, in my reading, is that, like the boy in the fable, they have in an innocent, unintended fashion exposed statistical nakedness among many economists who are regarded as experts on the topic of inequality.
Once you think about it, the truth about homeownership rates makes sense. At some point in our lives, nearly all of us have been renters. In addition, most of us are likely to "downsize" as we grow older, and in the process many of us may choose to rent.
Kling moves on to the authors’ discussion of how many years a household spends in poverty or in affluence between ages 25 and 60. Kling offers an interesting alternative.
I would be interested in what the data show if, rather than looking at the extremes, one does the opposite. That is, throw out each household's lowest and highest three years of income. For the remaining years of income, take the average relative to the poverty line. If this average is below 150 percent of the poverty line, call it low. If it is above 500 percent of the poverty line (which works out to about 200 percent of the median), call it high. Then calculate the proportion of households that have high, medium, and low incomes by this longitudinal measure.
This would produce a very different breakdown. For instance, suppose that, rather than quitting my job to start an Internet business, I had kept working and that my salary had continued to increase gradually until I reached age 50. In that case, under the authors' measure, our household would be in the bottom of the income distribution, because of the "poverty" of my graduate school years and my failure to achieve the income level that they require for "affluence." However, using my approach, my household would have been somewhere in the vicinity of the boundary between high-income and middle-income. That seems much more reasonable to me.
Overall, as with homeownership data, the longitudinal view of income paints a picture in which life-cycle variation and idiosyncratic factors play a role. This role is overlooked in discussions of inequality that commit the time-series cross-section fallacy.
As I read Kling’s piece, I began to wonder how many people have had pimples. My guess is that the answer approaches 100%. Yet we don’t see headlines about acne being experienced by more than 90% of people at least one year in their lives. We understand that for most people this is a temporary life-stage issue. The universe of people for whom acne is an ongoing problem is much smaller. The same is true with poverty. I’m intrigued by Kling’s idea of discarding outliers and looking at 90% of the data between the outliers.
The reality is that no one set of data, or particular lens, can tell us the whole picture about issues like poverty and inequality. We must look at the issues from multiple angles to get to the truth. But it is incumbent on us to be cognizant of what lens we are using at any given time and what that lens is actually showing; in this case, knowing the difference between a snapshot and a video.
Almost five years ago I did a series of posts on Bill Bishop's book The Big Sort. (Series here) Bishop explains that for at least thirty years we have been sorting ourselves into enclaves of polarized groups, even physically locating ourselves with others who think and live like us. But the big question is why?
Avi Tuschman has a piece in The Atlantic that has some interesting ideas, Why Americans Are So Polarized: Education and Evolution. The lead reads: "Improvements in learning—which correlates with stronger partisanship—and the tendency to choose likeminded mates may be helping to create divided politics."
"... The dynamics that fuel the Big Sort accelerated in the second half of the 20th century, coinciding with a massive increase in education. Between 1960 and 2008, for instance, the proportion of women with bachelor’s degrees nearly quintupled. The dramatic rise in educational attainment has a couple of unexpected side effects. For one, research shows that higher education has a polarizing effect on people: Highly educated liberals become more liberal, while highly educated conservatives grow more conservative. Second, people with college degrees enjoy greater freedoms, including social and geographic mobility. During the 1980s and 1990s, 45 percent of college-educated Americans moved to a new state within five years of graduation, compared with only 19 percent of their counterparts who had only a high-school diploma.
Meanwhile, evolutionary forces are pulling these more mobile, like-minded individuals together, because our political orientations play a key role in our choice of a mate. In society as a whole, spouses tend to resemble one another—at least a bit more than they would if coupling occurred at random—on most biometric and social traits. These traits include everything from skin color to earlobe size to income to major personality dimensions like Extraversion. Most of these statistical relationships are quite weak. But one of the strongest of all correlations between spouses by far is between their political orientations (0.65, to be precise). Spouses tend to have similar attitudes on moral issues like school prayer and abortion not because they converge over time, but rather because “birds of a feather flock together.” Biologists call this assortative mating. ...
I think he is on to something. I think he is also correct when he writes:
... The silver lining to these gloomy findings is that our ideological positions are not set in stone. Only about half of the variance in political orientations comes from genetic differences between individuals; the rest comes from the environment. So it’s certainly possible to transcend the attitudes that threaten to divide us. The first steps in doing so are to understand our political nature, develop realistic expectations about ideological diversity, and make a renewed commitment to pragmatism over ideology."
I think Tuschman is on to something. From my perspective, I find myself asking what role the church plays in all of this. Seems to me the church just mirrors what is happening in society and Christians on the left and right are quite content with that.
This is just fantastic! Hans Rosling pulls together many of his various presentations over recent years and melds them into a one hour long presentation about the astonishing way our world is improving while pointing to challenges that lie ahead. I know this long but if you watch this closely and learn, you will be well positioned to accurately reflect on the alarmist claims of environmentalists, neo-cons, and a host of other ideologies. If I were teaching a class on demography or economic development, this video would be the first hour of the first class of the semester.
Washington Post: 40 charts that explain the world
Our friend and colleague Max Fisher over at Worldviews has posted another 40 maps that explain the world, building on his original classic of the genre. But this is Wonkblog. We're about charts. And one of the great things about charts is that they show not just how things are -- but how they're changing.
So we searched for charts that would tell not just the story of how the world is -- but where it's going. Some of these charts are optimistic, like the ones showing huge gains in life expectancy in poorer nations. Some are more worryisome -- wait till you see the one on endangered species. But together they tell a story of a world that's changing faster than at arguably any other time in human history. ...
As the author notes, we have challenges but we hardly descending into some global dystopia. I think these charts give a pretty holistic view. Here are a three examples.
It was commonly believed that primitive societies were more peaceful and that modern civilization gave rise to unprecedented violence. This chart compares death rates by war in primitive societies as calculated by anthropologists to the death rates for Europe/USA in the 20th century.
And then there is this:
The graphs point to environmental protection and adaptation as the biggest problems in the days ahead. Those challenges are not insurmountable. Energy sources like natural gas and nuclear power can be used in the interim on the way to practical renewable technologies. Genetically modified crops can help to reduce water consumption, increase yield, and improve hardiness. Innovations in fields like biotechnology, nanotechnology, and 3-D printing hold the promise of revolutionizing the world economy into a less wasteful and more affordable human existence for everyone. There is work to do but there is also much reason for hope of a better world.
Jan 16, 2014 in Demography, Economic Development, Economics, Environment, Generations & Trends, Globalization, Health, Poverty, Religion, Science, Sociology, Technology (Biotech & Health), Technology (Digital, Telecom, & Web), Technology (Energy), Technology (Food & Water), Technology (Manufacturing & Construction)), Technology (Transportation & Distribution), Weatlh and Income Distribution | Permalink | Comments (0)
Public Discourse: Max Weber Was Wrong - Samuel Greg
... Second, the empirical evidence disproving Weber’s connection between Protestantism and the emergence of capitalism is considerable. Even Catholic critics of modern capitalism have had to concede that “the commercial spirit” preceded the Reformation by at least two hundred years. From the eleventh century onward, the words Deus enim et proficuum (“For God and Profit”) began to appear in the ledgers of Italian and Flemish merchants. This was not a medieval version of some type of prosperity gospel. Rather, it symbolized just how naturally intertwined were the realms of faith and commerce throughout the world of medieval Europe. The pursuit of profit, trade, and commercial success dominated the life of the city-states of medieval and Renaissance Northern Italy and the towns of Flanders, not to mention the Venetian republic that exerted tremendous influence on merchant activity throughout the Mediterranean long before 1517.
Since Weber’s time, much scholarly work has been done to illustrate the advanced state of market-driven economic development in the Middle Ages. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the Belgian scholar Raymond de Roover penned numerous articles illustrating that, during the Middle Ages, financial transactions and banking started to take on the degree of sophistication that is commonplace today. Likewise, The Commercial Revolution of the Middle Ages, by the Italian-American historian of medieval European economic history, the late Robert S. Lopez, shattered the historical claims that formed much of the background of Weber’s argument. Lopez demonstrated in great detail the way in which the Middle Ages “created the indispensable material and moral conditions for a thousand years of virtually uninterrupted growth.”
In recent decades, the historians Edwin Hunt and James Murray have illustrated just how much the medieval period was characterized by remarkable innovation in methods of business organization. They also suggest that the advent of modernity actually heralded the expansion of state economic intervention and regulation in an effort to constrain economic freedom. In a similar fashion, the sociologist Rodney Stark has gathered together disparate sources of historical and economic analysis to illustrate the origins of capitalism and major breakthroughs in the theory and practice of wealth creation in the medieval period. Central to Stark’s analysis is his highlighting of the way pre-Reformation Western Christianity saw the world as one in which humans were called upon to use their reason and innate creativity to develop its resources—including economically.
Here one could add that, before Adam Smith, some of the most elaborate thinking about the nature of contracts, free markets, interest, wages, and banking that developed after the Reformation was articulated in the writings of Spanish Catholic scholastic thinkers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Theologians such as Francisco de Vitoria OP, Martín de Azpilcueta, Juan de Mariana SJ, and Tomás de Mercado OP, anticipated many of the claims made by Smith two centuries later.
To be sure, much of this thinking occurred by way of side-effect rather than as a result of the systematic analysis undertaken by Smith. For as commercial relationships expanded throughout Europe in the centuries preceding and following the Reformation, there was a marked increase in the number of penitents asking their confessors for guidance about moral questions with a strong economic dimension. What was the just price? When was a person no longer obliged to adhere to a contract? When was charging interest legitimate? When did it become usurious? As a result, priests looked to theologians for guidance on how to respond to their penitents’ questions. Thus, as Jürg Niehans stressed in his History of Economic Theory:
The scholastics thus found it necessary to descend from theology into the everyday world of economic reality, of early capitalism, foreign trade, monopoly, banking, foreign exchange and public finance. What one knew about these things in the School of Salamanca was hardly less than Adam Smith knew two hundred years later, and more than most students know today.
Even when we consider modern capitalism’s emergence, a direct connection between this event and Protestantism is very open to question. ...
This is a really excellent piece on the history of capitalism.
They left BBQ off the list but other then that it is an interesting list
... 50 Social innovations that changed the world more or less in chronological order. Rank order in top 10 shown in [ ]
1. Irrigation that
2. created a structured bureaucracy, land measurement and administration in Egypt and Mesopotamia
3. mathematics 
4. creation of nations as workable structures
5. empires based on bureaucracy and military discipline
6. writing, instructions could be sent over distance – Incas used knots 
7. written rules and laws - the lawyers and courts as independent
8. alphabet 
9. agriculture and and animal husbandry skills that could be recorder and spread
10. history as peoples myths and lessons ...
... It remains to be found out how many people, if you asked them, would say that they had moved or wanted to move because of politics. Liberals threaten to every four years if the Republican presidential candidate wins, but few actually make good on it.
But other political scientists have noticed that Americans are tending to move into jurisdictions that share their worldviews and can become uncomfortable when they don't fit in.
"The structure of a place cannot only shape political attitudes. It can also attract very different kinds of people," Torben Luetjen, a German political scientist who has been studying liberal and conservative enclaves in Wisconsin. "America has split into closed and radically separated enclaves that follow their own constructions of reality."
Tufts Magazine: Up in Arms
... What’s less well appreciated is how much the incidence of violence, like so many salient issues in American life, varies by region. Beyond a vague awareness that supporters of violent retaliation and easy access to guns are concentrated in the states of the former Confederacy and, to a lesser extent, the western interior, most people cannot tell you much about regional differences on such matters. Our conventional way of defining regions—dividing the country along state boundaries into a Northeast, Midwest, Southeast, Southwest, and Northwest—masks the cultural lines along which attitudes toward violence fall. These lines don’t respect state boundaries. To understand violence or practically any other divisive issue, you need to understand historical settlement patterns and the lasting cultural fissures they established.
The original North American colonies were settled by people from distinct regions of the British Isles—and from France, the Netherlands, and Spain—each with its own religious, political, and ethnographic traits. For generations, these Euro-American cultures developed in isolation from one another, consolidating their cherished religious and political principles and fundamental values, and expanding across the eastern half of the continent in nearly exclusive settlement bands. Throughout the colonial period and the Early Republic, they saw themselves as competitors—for land, capital, and other settlers—and even as enemies, taking opposing sides in the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Civil War.
There’s never been an America, but rather several Americas—each a distinct nation. There are eleven nations today. Each looks at violence, as well as everything else, in its own way.
The precise delineation of the eleven nations—which I have explored at length in my latest book, American Nations—is original to me, but I’m certainly not the first person to observe that such national divisions exist. ...
I just ordered the book. Looks fascinating!
Conversation: Fewer people won’t save the planet, behaving better will
"... Does the earth have too many people for its own good? Can another three or four billion be added (the current United Nations projection for 2100) without fatally harming the planet?
The issue is not one of how many people the planet can support, but how wastefully and aggressively those people act.
Ten thousand years ago, with less than five million people on the Earth, large animals were already being hunted to extinction by aggressive humans. It was the domestication of plants and animals that filled the world with both humans and large herbivores. Today, with seven billion people, these herds of pigs and cattle satisfy our ever-growing demand for meat.
Untouched wilderness seems scarcer (although national parks in the US remain much as they were a century ago, once you leave the concession stands and roadside attractions). But true wilderness, untouched by humans, on Amazon rainforest and American plains ceased to exist thousands of years ago when human populations were a tiny fraction of what they are today. Native Americans burned, dug, and reshaped the forests and plains to suit their needslong before Columbus brought guns and horses to the New World.
Won’t too many people drain food supplies, produce poverty and damage the climate? Again, it is not the number of people but how they act that matters. Food supplies are fine – it is food distribution that is the problem. ...
... Fears of climate change now reverberate widely. But again, the problem is not too many people. ...
... People who fear overpopulation commit the fallacy of simply multiplying faults – they take the most harmful and wasteful actions of any set of people today and multiply it by the growing number of people in the world. ...
... Doing away with billions of people is no substitute for doing away with the vices in people’s behaviour. Instead we need to pursue cleaner, healthier, and more ecologically sound lifestyles and ways of satisfying our needs. For that we need more, not less, creative and passionate people to guide us to a better future. The planet can handle it, if we improve how we handle ourselves. ...
What an excellent essay!
WASHINGTON (AP) -- America's working mothers are now the primary breadwinners in a record 40 percent of households with children - a milestone in the changing face of modern families, up from just 11 percent in 1960.
The findings by the Pew Research Center, released Wednesday, highlight the growing influence of "breadwinner moms" who keep their families afloat financially. While most are headed by single mothers, a growing number are families with married mothers who bring in more income than their husbands.
Demographers say the change is all but irreversible and is likely to bring added attention to child-care policies as well as government safety nets for vulnerable families. Still, the general public is not at all sure that having more working mothers is a good thing. ...
This map comes from: How Survey Data Helped the Federal Reserve Make a Regional Map of the United States
Jerry Muller is one of my favorite economic historians. I think this piece offers an insightful analysis of inequality in advanced market economies. As I read this piece I kept thinking back to Robert Fogel's (another favorite economic historian) The Fourth Great Awkening and the Future of Egalitarianism, where he makes the case that the economic challenge of this century is going to be focused on human capital. I don't think the ideologies of the left or right have come to grips with this yet. Muller begins:
Inequality is increasing almost everywhere in the post-industrial capitalist world. Despite what many think, this is not the result of politics, nor is politics likely to reverse it. The problem is more deeply rooted and intractable than generally recognized.
Inequality is an inevitable product of capitalist activity, and expanding equality of opportunity only increases it -- because some individuals, families, and communities are simply better able than others to exploit the opportunities for development and advancement that today's capitalism affords. Some of the very successes of western capitalist societies in expanding access and opportunity, combined with recent changes in technology and economics, have contributed to increasing inequality. And at the nexus of economics and society is the family, the changing shape and role of which is an often overlooked factor in the rise of inequality.
Though capitalism has opened up ever more opportunities for the development of human potential, not everyone has been able to take full advantage of those opportunities or to progress very far once they have done so.
Formal or informal barriers to equality of opportunity, for example, have historically blocked various sectors of the population -- such as women, minorities, and poor people -- from benefiting fully from all capitalism offers. But over time, in the advanced capitalist world, those barriers have gradually been lowered or removed, so that now opportunity is more equally available than ever before. The inequality that exists today arguably derives less from the unequal availability of opportunity than it does from the unequal ability to exploit opportunity.
And that unequal ability, in turn, stems from differences in the inherent human potential that individuals begin with and in the ways that families and communities enable and encourage that human potential to flourish. ...
The bolded sentence is my doing. Read the whole thing. Thoughtful stuff.
Public Policy Polling: Conspiracy Theory Poll Results
On our national poll this week we took the opportunity to poll 20 widespread and/or infamous conspiracy theories. Many of these theories are well known to the public, others perhaps to just the darker corners of the internet. Here’s what we found:
- 37% of voters believe global warming is a hoax, 51% do not. Republicans say global warming is a hoax by a 58-25 margin, Democrats disagree 11-77, and Independents are more split at 41-51. 61% of Romney voters believe global warming is a hoax
- 6% of voters believe Osama bin Laden is still alive
- 21% of voters say a UFO crashed in Roswell, NM in 1947 and the US government covered it up. More Romney voters (27%) than Obama voters (16%) believe in a UFO coverup
- 28% of voters believe secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government, or New World Order. A plurality of Romney voters (38%) believe in the New World Order compared to 35% who don’t ...
1. Scientific American has some interesting thoughts on How Your Language Affects Your Wealth and Health
... Different languages have different ways of talking about the future. Some languages, such as English, Korean, and Russian, require their speakers to refer to the future explicitly. Every time English-speakers talk about the future, they have to use future markers such as “will” or “going to.” In other languages, such as Mandarin, Japanese, and German, future markers are not obligatory. The future is often talked about similar to the way present is talked about and the meaning is understood from the context. A Mandarin speaker who is going to go to a seminar might say “Wo qu ting jiangzuo,” which translates to “I go listen seminar.” Languages such as English constantly remind their speakers that future events are distant. For speakers of languages such as Mandarin future feels closer. As a consequence, resisting immediate impulses and investing for the future is easier for Mandarin speakers. ...
2.Fair Trade 2.0? Coffee’s Economics, Rewritten by Farmers
3. R. J. Moeller qutoes from John Mackey's (Whole Foods CEO) new book:
“Capitalism has a purpose beyond just making money. I think the critics of capitalism have got it in this very small box. That it’s all about money. It’s based in being greedy, selfish and exploitative. And yet, I haven’t found it to be that way. Most of the hundreds of entrepreneurs I know and have met did not start their business primarily out of a desire to make money. Not that there’s anything wrong with making money. My body cannot function unless it produces red-blood cells. No red-blood cells and I’m a dead man. But that’s not the purpose of my life.
Similarly, a business cannot exist unless it produces a profit . . . but that’s not the only reason it exists.”
4. David Henderson with thoughts on economic impact of marriage: "Get Married and Stay Married"
When I was writing a review of Dwight Lee's and Richard McKenzie's excellent book, Getting Rich in America: 8 Simple Rules for Building a Fortune and a Satisfying Life, I called Dwight to ask a question and we got talking about Rule #5: Get Married and Stay Married. Dwight pointed out that if you follow the other 7 rules but don't get married or stay married, you have a substantial probability of building a fortune and a satisfying life. But, he said, if you don't get married and stay married, you tend not to follow at least some of the other 7 rules.
5. With more thoughts on the economic impact of marriage, Glen Reynolds reflects on The other marriage inequality
While the upscale college-educated crowd continues to marry at very high rates, marriage rates are plummeting among those further down on the socioeconomic ladder.
6. Steven Pearlstein with a thoughtful essay: Is capitalism moral?
... A useful debate about the morality of capitalism must get beyond libertarian nostrums that greed is good, what’s mine is mine and whatever the market produces is fair. It should also acknowledge that there is no moral imperative to redistribute income and opportunity until everyone has secured a berth in a middle class free from economic worries. If our moral obligation is to provide everyone with a reasonable shot at economic success within a market system that, by its nature, thrives on unequal outcomes, then we ought to ask not just whether government is doing too much or too little, but whether it is doing the right things.
7. Matt Ridley with an interesting piece on how Obsidian chronicles ancient trade. This conclusion was interesting.
Instead, Dr. Butzer argues that Sargon's conquest itself caused the collapse of trade by destroying cities and disrupting what had till then been "an inter-networked world-economy, once extending from the Aegean to the Indus Valley." In other words, as with the end of the Roman empire, the collapse of trade caused the collapse of civilization more than the other way around.
8. Speaking of economic History, Rewriting Biblical history? Agriculture might be 5,000 years older than believed.
A new find suggests farmers in Bible lands built channels for irrigation long before historians thought they did, allowing for cultivated vineyards, olives, wheat and barley.
10. The New York Times on New Reasons to Change Light Bulbs. (To LEDs)
11. Science 2.0 on A Biological Basis For Gender Differences In Math?
... “Educational systems could be improved by acknowledging that, in general, boys and girls are different,” said University of Missouri biologist David Geary in their statement. “For example, in trying to close the sex gap in math scores, the reading gap was left behind. Now, our study has found that the difference between girls’ and boys’ reading scores was three times larger than the sex difference in math scores. Girls’ higher scores in reading could lead to advantages in admissions to certain university programs, such as marketing, journalism or literature, and subsequently careers in those fields. Boys lower reading scores could correlate to problems in any career, since reading is essential in most jobs.”
Generally, when conditions are good, the math gap increases and the reading gap decreases and when conditions are bad the math gap decreases and the reading gap increases. This pattern remained consistent within nations as well as among them, according to the work by Geary and Gijsbert Stoet of the University of Leeds that included testing performance data from 1.5 million 15-year-olds in 75 nations. ...
14. Mashable has great advice with 5 Alternatives to Unfriending Someone on Facebook
15. David Brooks with insight on How Movements Recover
... Two rival reform movements arose to restore the integrity of Catholicism. Those in the first movement, the Donatists, believed the church needed to purify itself and return to its core identity. ...
... In the fourth century, another revival movement arose, embraced by Augustine, who was Bishop of Hippo. The problem with the Donatists, Augustine argued, is that they are too static. They try to seal off an ark to ride out the storm, but they end up sealing themselves in. They cut themselves off from new circumstances and growth.
Augustine, as his magisterial biographer Peter Brown puts it, “was deeply preoccupied by the idea of the basic unity of the human race.” He reacted against any effort to divide people between those within the church and those permanently outside. ....
16. A great piece by someone who considers them unaffiliated with any religion. Every Christian and congregation needs to reflect on the insignificance of the church in this writers life. His tribe is growing: The significant insignificance of religion
Business Insider: Why The Rich Don't Give To Charity
... One of the most surprising, and perhaps confounding, facts of charity in America is that the people who can least afford to give are the ones who donate the greatest percentage of their income. In 2011, the wealthiest Americans—those with earnings in the top 20 percent—contributed on average 1.3 percent of their income to charity. By comparison, Americans at the base of the income pyramid—those in the bottom 20 percent—donated 3.2 percent of their income. The relative generosity of lower-income Americans is accentuated by the fact that, unlike middle-class and wealthy donors, most of them cannot take advantage of the charitable tax deduction, because they do not itemize deductions on their income-tax returns.
But why? Lower-income Americans are presumably no more intrinsically generous (or “prosocial,” as the sociologists say) than anyone else. However, some experts have speculated that the wealthy may be less generous—that the personal drive to accumulate wealth may be inconsistent with the idea of communal support. Last year, Paul Piff, a psychologist at UC Berkeley, published research that correlated wealth with an increase in unethical behavior: “While having money doesn’t necessarily make anybody anything,” Piff later told New York magazine, “the rich are way more likely to prioritize their own self-interests above the interests of other people.” They are, he continued, “more likely to exhibit characteristics that we would stereotypically associate with, say, assholes.” Colorful statements aside, Piff’s research on the giving habits of different social classes—while not directly refuting the asshole theory—suggests that other, more complex factors are at work. In a series of controlled experiments, lower-income people and people who identified themselves as being on a relatively low social rung were consistently more generous with limited goods than upper-class participants were. Notably, though, when both groups were exposed to a sympathy-eliciting video on child poverty, the compassion of the wealthier group began to rise, and the groups’ willingness to help others became almost identical.
If Piff’s research suggests that exposure to need drives generous behavior, could it be that the isolation of wealthy Americans from those in need is a cause of their relative stinginess? ...
... Wealth affects not only how much money is given but to whom it is given. The poor tend to give to religious organizations and social-service charities, while the wealthy prefer to support colleges and universities, arts organizations, and museums....
Atlantic Cities: The Geography of March Madness
While you're filling out your expertly analyzed bracket, you might want to take a look at how March Madness fandom is spread across the country with this map from Facebook (via Gizmodo). Michael Bailey of Facebook's Data Science team analyzed the way "likes" are spread through teams and conferences, across the country—in similar fashion to this Super Bowl map.
Here, for instance, Facebook looks at the conference divide. Bailey points out in his analysis how the ACC fan base is spread across the country, despite pockets of dominance for other conferences....
The article has other interesting maps as well.
1. The Economist has an interesting graph showing the captialism has led to greater happiness in member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (former Soviet Union countries excluding the three baltic countries.)
2. AEI has an informative piece on economic mobility in the United States: How’s the American Dream doing? Well, which one?
There are two ways to define economic mobility: 1) absolute mobility, whether each generation is financially better off than the one before; and 2) relative mobility, whether you can change your income rank vs. your parents. Most Americans probably think both measures important. We want to be more prosperous than mom and dad, but also be able to change our circumstances and make our dreams come true. ...
... A San Francisco Fed study – using data tracking families since 1968 — looks at both versions of the American Dream, finding one healthier than the other. Looking at absolute mobility, researchers Leila Bengali and Mary Daly find the United States “highly mobile.” Over the sample period, 67% of US adults had higher family incomes than their parents, including 83% of those in the lowest birth quintile, or bottom 20% (versus 54% for children born into the top quintile, or top 20%.) ...
3. Concerning gender income inequality, Mark Perry says ‘Studies’ that compare average wages by gender, without controlling for demographic factors, can’t be taken seriously
4. Clive Crook thinks an ownership society may be the answer to reducing wealth inequality: Liberals Should Embrace the Ownership Society
... It’s true that conservatives’ standard proposals for privatizing Social Security and voucherizing Medicare would shift risk onto beneficiaries -- but this plainly isn’t a necessary consequence of the basic principle. I agree with Konczal that adequate insurance against economic risk, underwritten by the government, is essential. I also agree that most conservatives aren’t interested in providing that guarantee. That’s exactly why liberals ought to take up the ownership society themselves.
Ownership entails risk, it’s true, but insurance can minimize it. Ownership also provides control, independence and self-respect -- things it wouldn’t hurt liberals to be more interested in. And when it comes to inequality and stagnating middle incomes, ownership can give wage slaves a stake in the nation’s economic capital.
Done right, an equity component in government-backed saving for retirement could be the best idea liberals have had since the earned-income tax credit (oh, sorry, that started out as a conservative idea as well). ...
5. Scientific American: Massive Open Online Courses, aka MOOCs, Transform Higher Education and Science
6.Scientific American also has interesting piece on how Brain Researchers Can Detect Who We Are Thinking About
FMRI scans of volunteers' media prefrontal cortexes revealed unique brain activity patterns associated with individual characters or personalities as subjects thought about them.
7. Gizmodo reports that Sex in Space Could Be Deadly.
Researchers already knew humans, animals and plants have evolved in response to Earth's gravity and they are able to sense it. What we are still discovering is how the processes occurring within the cells of the human and plant bodies are affected by the more intense gravity, or hypergravity, that would be found on a large planet, or the microgravity that resembles the conditions on a space craft.
According to estimations, engineers expect the the store to generate around 265,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year. Store operation will only require 200,000 kWh, so perhaps that extra wattage could be pumped back into the grid or used to power nearby utilities.
9. CNN reports on How online ruined dating ... forever
When people can browse potential dates online like items in a catalog, geo-locate hook-ups on an exercise bike just seven feet away, arrange a spontaneous group date with the app Grouper or arrange a bevy of blind dates in succession with Crazy Blind Date, it makes me wonder if all this newfound technological convenience has, in fact, made romance that much more elusive. Now, we may be more concerned with what someone isn't rather than what they are. And as that twenty-something entrepreneur reminded me over coffee, services like OkCupid, and even Facebook, sap a lot of the mystique out of those first few dates. So, sure, it may be easier than ever to score a date, but what kind of date will it really be?
10. Interesting piece on Why Do People Use Nope Even Though No Is Shorter?
11. Is the New Pope More Liberal Than the Last Two? Why It's Hard to Tell. Emily Chertoff offers some insightful analysis.
12. Michael Bird offer this quote from Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew's "The Drama of Scripture" in his post The Importance of the Narrative of Scripture.
Many of us have read the Bible as if it were merely a mosaic of little bits – theological bits, moral bits, historical-critical bits, sermon bits, devotional bits. But when we read the Bible in such a fragmented way, we ignore it’s divine author’s intention to shape our lives through its story. All humanity communities live out some story that provides a context for understanding the meaning of history and gives shape and direction to their lives. If we allow the Bible to become fragmented, it is in danger of being absorbed into whatever other story is shaping our culture, and it will thus cease to shape our lives as it should. Idolatry has twisted the dominant cultural story of the secular Western world. If as believers we allow this story (rather than the Bible) to become the foundation of our thought and action, then our lives will manifest not the truths of Scripture, but the lies of an idolatrous culture. Hence the unity of Scripture is no minor matter: a fragmented Bible may actually produce theologically orthodox, morally upright, warmly pious idol worshippers! (p. 12).
13. Scot McKnight has a great piece on what constitutes legalism: Legalism: Old and New Perspectives
14. Thom S. Rainer on Ten Things Pastors Wish They Knew Before They Became Pastors
Read the whole thing.
15. Joseph Sunde rates the 5 TV Shows That Demonstrate the Importance of Ordinary Work
The Atlantic: The Emotional Psychology of a Two-Party System
Defense mechanisms against emotional ambivalence incline us to fully embrace one side and fully reject the other -- which makes compromise nearly impossible.
... Such rhetoric reflects a black-and-white, us-versus-them approach that views each debate over taxation, social policy and the role of government not as a problem in need of a solution but a battle within an ongoing war. During warfare, our aim is of course to vanquish the enemy and emerge victorious; to reach out to your enemy makes you a villainous collaborator, a traitor to your cause. On the right, anyone with the temerity to suggest that Obama and the Democrats have some redeeming qualities is likely to be attacked from within the party. Just ask Chris Christie.
Propaganda during wartime typically dehumanizes the enemy. Our current political rhetoric likewise relies on two-dimensional caricatures to de-legitimize the opposition, encouraging us to hate "them." The process is more blatantly vocal on the political right, with the radio voices of conservatism inciting hatred for cartoon versions of President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, members of the liberal press, etc. Rush Limbaugh has gone so far as to compare Obama to Adolf Hitler, the epitome of unalloyed evil. While less obvious, the left has its own set of two-dimensional villains to hate: greedy and heartless bankers, evil corporations, gun-toting religious freaks.
For both sides, the Other often lacks true dimension. In propaganda, the enemy never has a legitimate point of view that needs to be taken seriously and balanced against our own views. Hating an enemy leaves no room for complex, ambiguous problems without an obvious solution. It eliminates the uncomfortable tension that arises from doubt and uncertainty amidst difficult choices. ...
I'm not convinced that "... process is more blatantly vocal on the political right ..." but other than that I think he is on to something.
... As the neurologist Robert Burton has noted , ambiguity or confusion is so difficult for many of us to bear that we instead retreat from it into a feeling of certainty, believing we know something without any doubts, even when we actually don't and often can't know. Those of us who have trouble with such discomfort often resort to black-and-white thinking instead. Rather than feeling uncertain or ambivalent, struggling with areas of gray, we reduce that complexity to either/or.
We may define one idea or point of view as bad (black) and reject it, aligning ourselves with the good (white) perspective. Feelings of anger and self-righteousness often accompany this process, bolstering our conviction that we are in the right and the other side in the wrong. Hatred for the rejected point of view keeps ambiguity and uncomfortable complexity from re-entering the field.
Black-and-white thinking reflects the psychological process known as splitting. When we feel unable to tolerate the tension aroused by complexity, we "resolve" that complexity by splitting it into two simplified and opposing parts, usually aligning ourselves with one of them and rejecting the other. As a result, we may feel a sort of comfort in believing we know something with absolute certainty; at the same time, we've over-simplified a complex issue.
On the emotional front, splitting comes into play when we feel hostile toward the people we love. Holding onto feelings of love in the presence of anger and even hatred is a difficult thing for most of us to do. Sometimes hatred proves so powerful that it overwhelms and eclipses love, bringing the relationship to an end. More often we repress awareness of our hostile feelings; or we might split them off and direct them elsewhere, away from the people we care about.
In other words, splitting as a psychological defense mechanism resolves emotional ambivalence -- love and hatred toward the same person -- by splitting off one half of those feelings and directing them elsewhere, away from the loved one. ...
And when you consider that a great many of the challenges we confront are polarities to be managed, not problems to be solved, our battles to be won, all sorts of dysfunction emerges from splitting. By analogy, try splitting inhaling from exhaling and see what happens. I think the same is true for many problems we face in social institutions and in society at large.
Poor nations have the highest proportion of people who identify as religious
The world's poorest nations are also some of its most religious – but does that mean religion can't flourish in a prosperous society?
Gregory Paul doesn't think it can. After constructing a "Successful Societies Scale" that compared 25 socioeconomic indicators against statistics on religious belief and practice in 17 developed nations, the Baltimore-based paleontologist concluded in a 2009 study that "religion is most able to thrive in seriously dysfunctional societies."
Gregory, who is a freelance researcher not affiliated with any institution, compiled data on everything from homicide rates and income inequality to infant mortality and teenage pregnancies and found that the societies that scored the best on socioeconomic indicators were also the most secular.
"The correlation between religiosity and successful societies is somewhere around 0.7. Zero is no correlation and one is a perfect correlation, so it's a really good correlation, and it's not just an accident," he told CBC News. ...
... Sociologists have argued that the social benefits of religion take on greater importance, the fewer resources and the less control people have over their own lives.
"Religion becomes less central as people's lives become less vulnerable to the constant threat of death, disease and misfortune," Norris and Inglehart write in their 2004 book, Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide.
"As lives gradually become more comfortable and secure, people in more affluent societies usually grow increasingly indifferent to religious values, more skeptical of supernatural beliefs and less willing to become actively engaged in religious institutions." ...
... "The United States is one of the wealthier societies, and yet, it's still quite religious," said Phil Zuckerman, a sociology professor at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., who has studied secularization in Scandinavian countries and wrote a book about it called Society Without God.
"I think it's when you have what we might call 'existential security' — so, wealth and prosperity are part of that, but by that we [also] mean the bulk of people in society have access to housing, health care, jobs. They live in a relatively stable, democratic society without much in the way of existential threats to their lives or their culture." ...
... "Europe and the United States seem to be going in very different directions," said Marcus Noland, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, D.C., who has written about religion and economic growth.
"One of the arguments is that the United States has a much livelier and open market for religion than do, say, countries in Scandinavia, where you have established churches." [Notably Rodney Stark]
But Zuckerman and other sociologists attribute the U.S.'s outlier status to socioeconomic inequality. ...
Black, White, and Gray: Trends in the Religious Unaffiliated, the “Nones,” by Age - Brad Wright
A lot has been written recently about the rise of the "Nones," people expressing no religious affiliation. Sociologist Brad Wright offers a fascinating insight by looking at the percentage of people at various stages of life report affliation. Young adults are not suprisingly the group with the highest percentage but Wright offers this chart.
Once again, the percentage of being unaffiliated increased in each group, but relatively speaking, it’s increased most among the middle-aged and the elderly. In both the percentage of the unaffiliated more than tripled, compared to the 2.5x increase in the young. There is some lagged effect, as the elderly are catching up the middle-aged in the past decade, but overall, the rise of the religious nones is something that spans all age groups. Thus it’s a societal-wide change more than just an age or generational change.
This data doesn't tell us why there is the rise but I have a theory: Church offers little for discerning significance in life.
A few random thoughts (mostly intuitive perceptions.) For many older adults who grew up in the church, there is disillusionment with church life. Young adults have who are interested in the church are out starting up independent congregations that are narrowly targeted to their particular age demographic. Older Christians feel rejected. As a traditional congregation tries to become more appealing to the younger demographic, long-time congregants experience a loss of rhythms and routines that were meaningful for them. With those gone, worship no longer seems meaningful. Some look for other congregations but I sense many see the work of integrating into a new community faith community as too much work. As the number of congregations with familiar patterns dwindle and close, they slip out the door into the ether.
Dr. Eileen Lindner, Deputy General Secretary for Research and Planning of the National Council of Churches USA, gave a presentation a saw a couple of years ago. She points out the fifty years ago congregations and denominations were engaged in a whole range of work that ministered to the world. Beginning the 1960s and 1970s, para-church organizations began to emerge to do the things congregations once did ... like Young Life and Habitat for Humanity. Many of the things churches once did have been replaced by nonprofit organizations that may not have an explicit faith connection. In one sense, the church is victim of its own success, having encultured values of service into the broader culture. But the downside is that it frequently feels like all we are left with is squabbles about internal politics. Congregations and denominations are struggling for an identity and purpose in relating to the world.
As I’ve written several times, conservative congregations typically respond by offering programming directed toward therapeutic healing, personal piety, or political action to stop the “barbarians at the gates.” Liberal congregations also offer therapeutic healing and personal piety, but also frequently include political action they discern is directed toward “social justice.” To me, much of it appears to a be a “me too” response to broader movements in the culture, hoping to leach off of the meaning people find in these movements rather than the church itself generating the meaning for congregants. Religion (right and left) becomes so captive to the categories and contours of cultural politics that theological understanding is lost. And if you want to do political action, there are far more dynamic venues than the church.
And that brings me back to my overarching theory: Church offers little for discerning significance in life. Too much of church is about a narrow personal piety (a niche market) while trying to make ourselves relevant to the culture with “me too” strategies from the periphery of culture. Until people see how daily life connects with God’s unending mission, I think the Nones tribe will continue to grow and prosper.
... The subject-area expert, the substantive specialist, will lose some of his or her luster compared with the statistician and data analyst, who are unfettered by the old ways of doing things and let the data speak. This new cadre will rely on correlations without prejudgments and prejudice. To be sure, subject-area experts won’t die out, but their supremacy will ebb. From now on, they must share the podium with the big-data geeks, just as princely causation must share the limelight with humble correlation.
This transforms the way we value knowledge, because we tend to think that people with deep specialization are worth more than generalists — that fortune favors depth.
Yet expertise is like exactitude: appropriate for a small-data world where one never has enough information, or the right information, and thus has to rely on intuition and experience to guide one’s way. In such a world, experience plays a critical role, since it is the long accumulation of latent knowledge — knowledge that one can’t transmit easily or learn from a book, or perhaps even be consciously aware of — that enables one to make smarter decisions.
But when you are stuffed silly with data, you can tap that instead, and to greater effect. Thus those who can analyze big data may see past the superstitions and conventional thinking not because they’re smarter, but because they have the data. (And being outsiders, they are impartial about squabbles within the field that may narrow an expert’s vision to whichever side of a squabble she’s on.) This suggests that what it takes for an employee to be valuable to a company changes. What you need to know changes, whom you need to know changes, and so does what you need to study to prepare for professional life.
Harnessing data is no guarantee of business success but shows what is possible.
The shift to data-driven decisions is profound. Most people base their decisions on a combination of facts and reflection, plus a heavy dose of guesswork. “A riot of subjective visions — feelings in the solar plexus,” in the poet W. H. Auden’s memorable words. Thomas Davenport, a business professor at Babson College in Massachusetts and the author of numerous books on analytics, calls it “the golden gut.” Executives are just sure of themselves from gut instinct, so they go with that. But this is starting to change as managerial decisions are made or at least confirmed by predictive modeling and big-data analysis.
As big data transforms our lives — optimizing, improving, making more efficient, and capturing benefits — what role is left for intuition, faith, uncertainty, and originality? ...
... Big data is not an ice-cold world of algorithms and automatons. What is greatest about human beings is precisely what the algorithms and silicon chips don’t reveal, what they can’t reveal because it can’t be captured in data. It is not the “what is,” but the “what is not”: the empty space, the cracks in the sidewalk, the unspoken and the not-yet-thought. There is an essential role for people, with all our foibles, misperceptions and mistakes, since these traits walk hand in hand with human creativity, instinct, and genius. ...
Christian Science Monitor: Why juvenile incarceration reached its lowest rate in 38 years
The juvenile incarceration in the US rate has fallen 41 percent in the past 15 years, reaching the lowest level since 1975, a new study finds. What is behind the rapid decline?
Fewer young people are behind bars than at any point since 1975, due in part to lower rates of juvenile crime and a shift away from interventions focused on long-term incarceration.
The number of young people in a correction facility on a single day dropped from a high of 107,637 in 1995 to 70,792 in 2010, according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation that used data from the US Census Bureau. The incarceration rate – the number of young people confined per 100,000 youths – dropped by 41 percent in the same period.
The trend might be stronger than the data show, says Bart Lubow, director of the foundation’s Juvenile Justice Strategy Group. Some of the biggest decreases in youth incarceration in some states have occurred in the past two years, and those numbers are not included in the report. ...
The main reasons behind the declining numbers:
... “Even with the drops we’re describing in this report, the US, compared to similarly governed countries like those in Western Europe, has a much, much higher [youth] incarceration rate than any of those places,” he says.
America’s incarceration rate for juveniles is 18 times greater than that of France, and more than seven times greater than that of Great Britain. It’s hard to even compare it with the juvenile incarceration rates in places like Finland or Sweden, where young offenders are seldom locked up. ...
New York Times: What Data Can't Do - David Brooks
... Data struggles with the social. Your brain is pretty bad at math (quick, what’s the square root of 437), but it’s excellent at social cognition. People are really good at mirroring each other’s emotional states, at detecting uncooperative behavior and at assigning value to things through emotion. ...
... Data struggles with context. Human decisions are not discrete events. They are embedded in sequences and contexts. The human brain has evolved to account for this reality. People are really good at telling stories that weave together multiple causes and multiple contexts. Data analysis is pretty bad at narrative and emergent thinking, and it cannot match the explanatory suppleness of even a mediocre novel.
Data creates bigger haystacks. This is a point Nassim Taleb, the author of “Antifragile,” has made. As we acquire more data, we have the ability to find many, many more statistically significant correlations. Most of these correlations are spurious and deceive us when we’re trying to understand a situation. Falsity grows exponentially the more data we collect. The haystack gets bigger, but the needle we are looking for is still buried deep inside. ...
... Big data has trouble with big problems. If you are trying to figure out which e-mail produces the most campaign contributions, you can do a randomized control experiment. But let’s say you are trying to stimulate an economy in a recession. You don’t have an alternate society to use as a control group. For example, we’ve had huge debates over the best economic stimulus, with mountains of data, and as far as I know not a single major player in this debate has been persuaded by data to switch sides.
Data favors memes over masterpieces. Data analysis can detect when large numbers of people take an instant liking to some cultural product. But many important (and profitable) products are hated initially because they are unfamiliar.
Data obscures values. I recently saw an academic book with the excellent title, “ ‘Raw Data’ Is an Oxymoron.” One of the points was that data is never raw; it’s always structured according to somebody’s predispositions and values. The end result looks disinterested, but, in reality, there are value choices all the way through, from construction to interpretation.
This is not to argue that big data isn’t a great tool. It’s just that, like any tool, it’s good at some things and not at others. As the Yale professor Edward Tufte has said, “The world is much more interesting than any one discipline.”
1. I love maps and charts. Naturally I was drawn to this: 36 Maps That Explain The Entire World. Here is just one example:
2. Roger Pielke, Jr., says It's Time to Bury the Easterlin Paradox.
"The Easterlin paradox suggest that in terms of human happiness -- a
squishy concept to be sure -- there is a limit to economic growth beyond
which there really is just no point in attaining more wealth. Further, a
decoupling between income and happiness at some threshold would imply
that GDP would not be a good measure of welfare, we would need some
A recent paper (PDF) by Daniel Sacks, Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers argues that the Easterlin paradox is also wrong. ..."
3. John Danforth thinks We Need Less Religion in our Politics and Less Politics in our Religion.
"Why isn't there more outrage about the president's unilateral targeted assassination program on the left?"
5. Arnold Kling with an interesting piece on the role of Jews in the rise of the modern urbanized economic order. The Unintended Consequences of God
"In those days, most people were farmers, for whom literacy’s costs generally outweighed its benefits. However, in an urbanized society with skilled occupations, literacy pays off. As urbanization gradually increased in the late Middle Ages, Jews came to fill high-skilled occupations. Botticini and Eckstein argue that literacy, rather than persecution, is what led Jews into these occupations."
6. New Geography wants to know Is Urbanism The New Trickle-Down Economics?
"But while progressives would clearly mock this policy [trickle-down economics], modern day urbanism often resembles nothing so much as trickle-down economics, though this time mostly advocated by those who would self-identify as being from the left. The idea is that through investments catering to the fickle and mobile educated elite and the high end businesses that employ and entertain them, cities can be rejuvenated in a way that somehow magically benefits everybody and is socially fair."
7. NPR has nice piece on mini-reacters. Are Mini-Reactors The Future Of Nuclear Power?
8. Mark Perry excerpts a quote from green libertarian John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market.
“Capitalism is the greatest creation humanity has done for social cooperation. It has lifted humanity out of the dirt. In statistics we discovered when we were researching the book, about 200 years ago when capitalism was created, 85% of the people alive lived on $1 a day. Today, that number is 16%. Still too high, but capitalism is wiping out poverty across the world. 200 years ago illiteracy rates were 90%. Today, they are down to about 14%. 200 years ago the average lifespan was 30. Today it is 68 across the world, 78 in the States, and almost 82 in Japan. This is due to business. This is due to capitalism. And it doesn’t get credit for it. Most of the time, business is portrayed by its enemies as selfish and greedy and exploitative, yet it’s the greatest value creator in the world.”
9. Economist Gavin Kennedy with some interesting thoughts on the relationship between the state and the economy in developing nations:
The problem is to achieve the right balance between a competitive market economy and an effective state: markets where possible; the state where necessary.
10. Climate Change: Key Data Points from Pew Research. Highlights some interesting shifts in the public's priorities.
11. Great piece about yet another way family life is changing. Yes, I’m a Homemaker
I’m a guy. My wife works. We’ve got no kids. I’m a stay-at-home dude.
"... What a sweet picture this conjures: the stay-at-home dad nurturing his children, looking after the house and helping support his wife in her budding career and shelving his own big ambitions for later. Now it gets a little awkward. There is no adorable kid, nor plans to have one. No starter home that needs knocking into shape. I'm not just doing this temporarily until I find something meaningful to do. I’m actually a full-time homemaker ... not stay-at-home dad but stay-at-home dude. A conversational pause. Where do you mentally file this guy? Usually I just change the subject. ..."
12. The Atlantic reports that Women Are Often Remarkably Reluctant to Ask for Help Around the House
A new study shows that high-earning women are more likely to let their houses be messy than to hire a housekeeper or get their husbands and kids to pitch in. ...
... "You can purchase substitutes for your own time, you can get your husband to do more, or you can all just do less," Killewald says. "Whether women outsource housework in particular has less to do with resources, but whether or not paid labor is viewed as an appropriate strategy for undertaking domestic work.
Doing less housework seems to be a popular option. ...
13. Business insider reports on a finding that comes as no shock to me: Men Really Do Have A Harder Time Reading Other People's Emotions.
Psychiatrists have concluded that males take longer to assess facial expressions as their brains have to work twice as hard to work out whether another person looks friendly or intelligent.
14. Daniel Kirk with a thoughtful piece Homosexuality under the Reign of Christ
In particular, researchers found that 40% of people say they would avoid someone who unfriended them on Facebook, while 50% say they would not avoid a person who unfriended them. Women were more likely than men to avoid someone who unfriended them, the researchers found.
... Libraries are responding to the decline of print in a variety of creative ways, trying to remain relevant – especially to younger people – by embracing the new technology. Many, such as New York’s Queens Public Library, are reinventing themselves as centers for classes, job training, and simply hanging out. In one radical example, a new $1.5 million library scheduled to open in San Antonio, Texas, this fall will be completely book-free, with its collection housed exclusively on tablets, laptops, and e-readers. “Think of an Apple store,” the Bexar County judge who is leading the effort told NPR. It’s a flashy and seductive package.
But libraries are about more than just e-readers or any other media, as important as those things are. They are about more than just buildings such as the grand edifices erected by Carnegie money, or the sleek and controversial new design for the New York Public Library’s central branch. They are also about human beings and their relationships, specifically, the relationship between librarians and patrons. And that is the relationship that the foundation created by Microsoft co-founder’s Paul G. Allen is seeking to build in a recent round of grants to libraries in the Pacific Northwest. ...
17. 3-D Printing just gets more amazing. A 3D Printer That Generates Human Embryonic Stem Cells
3-D printers can produce gun parts, aircraft wings, food and a lot more, but this new 3-D printed product may be the craziest thing yet: human embryonic stem cells. Using stem cells as the "ink" in a 3-D printer, researchers in Scotland hope to eventually build 3-D printed organs and tissues. A team at Heriot-Watt University used a specially designed valve-based technique to deposit whole, live cells onto a surface in a specific pattern.
Feb 09, 2013 in Capitalism and Markets, Culture, Economic Development, Economics, History, Male and Female, Politics, Public Policy, Religion, Social Media, Sociology, Technology (Biotech & Health), Technology (Digital, Telecom, & Web), Technology (Energy), Technology (Manufacturing & Construction)) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
The latest update of the Pew Research Center’s regular News IQ quiz uses a set of 13 pictures, maps, graphs and symbols to test knowledge of current affairs. (To take the quiz yourself before reading this report, click here.) At the high end, nearly nine-in-ten Americans (87%) are able to select the Star of David as the symbol of Judaism from a group of pictures of religious symbols. And when shown a picture of Twitter’s corporate logo, 79% correctly associate the logo with that company.
At the low end, just 43% are able to identify a picture of Elizabeth Warren’s from a group of four photographs of female politicians, among them Nancy Pelosi, Tammy Baldwin and Deb Fischer. And when presented with a map of the Middle East in which Syria is highlighted, only half are able to identify the nation correctly.
Overall, majorities correctly answer 11 of 13 questions in the new quiz, which was conducted online January 18-24, 2013, among a random sample of 1,041 adults by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.
The quiz includes several items about leading political figures. When shown a picture of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, 73% identified Christie from a list that included Newt Gingrich, Scott Walker and Rush Limbaugh. An identical percentage identified John Boehner in a question with a similar format. To see how each question was presented, see the attached survey topline.
Seven of the 13 items were answered correctly by two-thirds or more of the survey’s respondents. These included identifying the Star of David as the symbol for Judaism (87%), the corporate logo for Twitter (79%), the map of states won in 2012 by President Obama (75%), the photos of Christie and Boehner (73% each), a graph of the unemployment rate (70%) and the symbol for the Euro (69%).
About six-in-ten (62%) could identify the new secretary of state, John Kerry, from a photo lineup of four people. When shown a list of four state maps, and asked which of the states had approved the legalization of same-sex marriage last year, 60% correctly chose the state of Washington. But just 50% were able to identify Syria as country highlighted on a map of the Middle East.
On average, quiz takers correctly answered 8.5 of the 13 questions, a score of 65% correct when graded like a classroom test. ...
Several interesting tables presented in this article. Take a look.
American Interest: Religion As An Activity Engaged In By Consenting Adults In Private
Sociologist Peter Berger concludes this article with this observation:
... But I do want to make a general observation: In all these cases the authorities accused of violating the plaintiffs’ rights operate with a definition of religion as a private matter to be kept out of public space. There is here a general issue of government overreach, as clearly illustrated by the (still unresolved) attempt by the Obama administration to force Catholic institutions to provide contraception coverage in their employees’ health plans. Beyond that, though, there is a very ideological view of the place of religion in society. In other words, religion is to be an activity engaged in by consenting adults in private. The attorney for the Judeo-Christian side in the aforementioned American case had it quite right when he compared the treatment of his client’s religion with measures of disease control. This is not an attitude one would expect to find in a Western democracy. It is curiously reminiscent of policies toward religion in Communist countries and toward non-Muslims under Islamic rule.
An aggressive secularism seems to be on the march in all these cases. It seems more at home in Europe, which is far more secularized than America. Even in the United Kingdom, it seems, the drums of the French Revolution still reverberate. But how is one to explain this sort of secularism in the United States? The “nones”—that is, those who say “none” when asked for their religious affiliation by pollsters—are a very mixed lot. One theme that comes through is disappointment with organized religion. There is an anti-Christian edge to this, since Christian churches continue to be the major religious institutions in this country. Disappointment then, or disillusion—but why the aggressive hostility? There is yet another theme that comes through in the survey data: An identification of churches (and that means mainly Christian ones) with intolerance and repression. I think that this is significant.
Let me venture a sociological hypothesis here: The new American secularism is in defense of the sexual revolution. Since the 1960s there has indeed been a sexual revolution in America. It has been very successful in changing the mores and the law. It should not be surprising that many people, especially younger ones, enjoy the new libidinous benefits of this revolution. Whether one approves or deplores the new sexual culture, it seems unlikely to be reversed. Yet Christian churches (notably the Catholic and Evangelical ones) are in the forefront of those who do want to reverse the libertine victory. Its beneficiaries are haunted by the nightmare of being forced into chastity belts by an all too holy alliance of clerics and conservative politicians. No wonder they are hostile!
I suspect he is right.
Business Insider: More Proof That Money Can't Buy Happiness
"... University of Missouri Marketing Professor Marsha Richins looks at this phenomenon in a new paper in the Journal of Consumer Research, "When Wanting Is Better Than Having," where she compares high- and low-materialist shoppers. "High-materialist" consumers have much higher expectations of what a product will do for their overall happiness, which is why positive emotions peak and then fall again after a purchase.
According to research, materialists are "more likely to believe that acquisition will change the kind of person they are, improve their relationships with others, enable them to have more pleasure in their lives, and enhance the effectiveness with which they carry out daily tasks." They also experience "more negative emotions, such as anxiety, fear, and envy." ...
Our species can’t seem to escape big data. We have more data inputs, storage, and computing resources than ever, so Homo sapiens naturally does what it has always done when given new tools: It goes even bigger, higher, and bolder.
We did it in buildings and now we’re doing it in data. Sure, big data is a powerful lens — some would even argue a liberating one — for looking at our world. Despite its limitations and requirements, crunching big numbers can help us learn a lot about ourselves.
But no matter how big that data is or what insights we glean from it, it is still just a snapshot: a moment in time. That’s why I think we need to stop getting stuck only on big data and start thinking about long data.
By “long” data, I mean datasets that have massive historical sweep — taking you from the dawn of civilization to the present day. The kinds of datasets you see in Michael Kremer’s “Population growth and technological change: one million BC to 1990,” which provides an economic model tied to the world’s population data for a million years; or in Tertius Chandler’s Four Thousand Years of Urban Growth, which contains an exhaustive dataset of city populations over millennia. These datasets can humble us and inspire wonder, but they also hold tremendous potential for learning about ourselves.
Because as beautiful as a snapshot is, how much richer is a moving picture, one that allows us to see how processes and interactions unfold over time? ...
... Why does the time dimension matter if we’re only interested in current or future phenomena? Because many of the things that affect us today and will affect us tomorrow have changed slowly over time: sometimes over the course of a single lifetime, and sometimes over generations or even eons.
Datasets of long timescales not only help us understand how the world is changing, but how we, as humans, are changing it — without this awareness, we fall victim to shifting baseline syndrome. This is the tendency to shift our “baseline,” or what is considered “normal” — blinding us to shifts that occur across generations (since the generation we are born into is taken to be the norm). ...
I strongly resonate with this article. Trends and trajectories over extended periods of time are often far more useful than details of the latest twist or turn in societal development. It is so easy to get lost in the challenges of the moment. When you stand back and look at our moment in time from the standpoint of centuries and millennia, we are living in the most astounding age of human flourishing in the history of the planet. We are never without challenges but there is good reason to expect that flourishing will improve in coming generations.
The two groups I find the most insufferable are youth who believe their latest insights are the magic solution that brings utopia and grumpy old curmudgeons who mope about, complaining the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Neither has a sense of the longue durée. We need to spend less time with journalists and more time with historians.
Conversable Economist: Does Income Bring Happiness?
Back in 1974, Richard Easterlin published a paper called "Does Economic Growth Improve the Human Lot? Some Empirical Evidence" (available here and here, for example). Easterlin raised the possibility that what really matters to most people is not their absolute level of income, but their income level relative to others in society. If relative income is what matters, then an overall rise in incomes doesn't make me any better off relative to others, and so my happiness does not increase. Income becomes a sort of arms race: even as we all race to get more, it doesn't actually make us any happier. ...
He concludes with:
... For my own part, I confess that I find happiness surveys both intriguing and dubious. It seems to me that higher levels of income are typically correlated with more health, education, travel, consumption, and a higher quality of recreation, so it's not a surprise to me it seems to me that happiness rises iwth income. On the other side, it does seem to me that survey questions about life satisfaction are answered in the context of a particular place and time. If a person says that their life satisfaction was a 7 in 1960 on a scale of 0-10, and another person says that their life satisfaction is a 7 in 2013, are those two people really equally satisfied? To put it another way, if the person from 2013 was transported by a time machine back to live in 1960, with all their memories and knowledge of the technologies, medicines, foods, education, and travel available in 2013, would that time traveller really be equally happy in either time period? I suspect that when most people are asked to rank happiness on a scale of 0-10, they don't say to themselves: "Well, people living 100 years from now might have extraordinarily high levels of income and technology, so compared with them, I'm really no more than a 2." At best, survey questions on a scale of 0-10 seem like an extremely rough-and-ready way of measuring life satisfaction across very different countries or across substantial periods of time.
New York Times: The Collective Turn - David Brooks
David Brooks captures the essence of my perspective once again.
"... I am not a liberal like Obama, so I was struck by what he left out in his tour through American history. I, too, would celebrate Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall, but I’d also mention Wall Street, State Street, Menlo Park and Silicon Valley. I’d emphasize that America has prospered because we have a decentralizing genius.
When Europeans nationalized their religions, we decentralized and produced a great flowering of entrepreneurial denominations. When Europe organized state universities, our diverse communities organized private universities. When Europeans invested in national welfare states, American localities invested in human capital.
America’s greatest innovations and commercial blessings were unforeseen by those at the national headquarters. They emerged, bottom up, from tinkerers and business outsiders who could never have attracted the attention of a president or some public-private investment commission.
I would have been more respectful of this decentralizing genius than Obama was, more nervous about dismissing it for the sake of collective action, more concerned that centralization will lead to stultification, as it has in every other historic instance.
I also think Obama misunderstands this moment. The Progressive Era, New Deal and Great Society laws were enacted when America was still a young and growing nation. They were enacted in a nation that was vibrant, raw, underinstitutionalized and needed taming.
We are no longer that nation. We are now a mature nation with an aging population. Far from being underinstitutionalized, we are bogged down with a bloated political system, a tangled tax code, a byzantine legal code and a crushing debt.
The task of reinvigorating a mature nation is fundamentally different than the task of civilizing a young and boisterous one. It does require some collective action: investing in human capital. But, in other areas, it also involves stripping away — streamlining the special interest sinecures that have built up over the years and liberating private daring. ..."
The last sentence of this paragraph is the key.
"... Obama made his case beautifully. He came across as a prudent, nonpopulist progressive. But I’m not sure he rescrambled the debate. We still have one party that talks the language of government and one that talks the language of the market. We have no party that is comfortable with civil society, no party that understands the ways government and the market can both crush and nurture community, no party with new ideas about how these things might blend together.
But at least the debate is started. Maybe that new wind will come."
Very well said.!
A new paper reviews how psychology, biology, and neurology are ganging up on economics to prove that, when it comes to making decisions, people are anything but rational.
Daniel McFadden is an economist. But his new paper, "The New Science of Pleasure," shows the many ways economics fails to explain how we make decisions -- and what it can learn from psychology, anthropology, biology, and neurology.
The old economic theory of consumers says that "people should relish choice." And we do. Shopping can be fun, democracy is better than its alternatives, and a diverse and fully stocked grocery store ice cream freezer is quite nearly the closest thing to heaven on earth. But other fields of science tell a more complicated story. First, making a choice is physically exhausting, literally, so that somebody forced to make a number of decisions in a row is likely to get lazy and dumb. (That's one reason why stores place candy near the check-out aisle: They suspect your brain is too zonked to resist.) Second, having too many choices can make us less likely to come to a conclusion. In a famous study of the so-called "paradox of choice", psychologists Mark Lepper and Sheena Iyengar found that customers presented with six jam varieties were more likely to buy one than customers offered a choice of 24.
If you've read the work of Dan Ariely or Daniel Kahneman, you know exactly how far from perfectly rational we are when faced with a decision. Many of our mistakes stem from a central "availability bias." Our brains are computers, and we like to access recently opened files, even though many decisions require a deep body of information that might require some searching. Cheap example: We remember the first, last, and peak moments of certain experiences. So when we make a choice about how to spend a certain amount of time -- say, by going to Six Flags -- we forget that most of the time at an amusement park is spent waiting around doing nothing. Instead, we remember the thrill of the roller coaster. (This has been previously used to explain why people sometimes go back to disappointing old romantic partners, but that might be for another article.)
The third check against the theory of the rational consumer is the fact that we're social animals. We let our friends and family and tribes do our thinking for us. In a fascinating example, McFadden presents a study that shows Korean peasant women within the same village tend to use the same contraception -- even though there is "substantial, persistent diversity across villages." This pattern could not be explained by income, education, or price. Word-of-mouth explained practically all the difference.
In another corner of the ivory tower (or, more likely, across campus in a glassy lab), neurologists are finding that many of the biases behavioral economists perceive in decision-making start in our brains. "Brain studies indicate that organisms seem to be on a hedonic treadmill, quickly habituating to homeostasis," McFadden writes. In other words, perhaps our preference for the status quo isn't just figuratively our heads, but also literally sculpted by the hand of evolution inside of our brains.
A final example to show how other fields of science are ganging up on classical economics: The popular psychological theory of "hyperbolic discounting" says people don't properly evaluate rewards over time. The theory seeks to explain why many groups -- nappers, procrastinators, Congress -- take rewards now and pain later, over and over again. But neurology suggests that it hardly makes sense to speak of "the brain," in the singular, because it's two very different parts of the brain that process choices for now and later. The choice to delay gratification is mostly processed in the frontal system. But studies show that the choice to do something immediately gratifying is processed in a different system, the limbic system, which is more viscerally connected to our behavior, our "reward pathways," and our feelings of pain and pleasure.
And there's much more. To explain it, here's Daniel McFadden himself. The following transcript of our email conversation has been very lightly edited for clarity. ...
The Monkey Cage: Maybe “The Big Sort” Never Happened
Many readers will remember the book The Big Sort by Bill Bishop. It argues that Americans are increasingly clustered in like-minded political communities. If one categorizes a county by how its residents voted in presidential elections, as of 2004 nearly half (48%) of Americans lived in “landslide” countries where one presidential candidate got at least 60% of the vote. In 1976, that number was 27%.
A new article (currently and graciously ungated) by political scientists Samuel Abrams and Morris Fiorina challenges this account, however. Abrams and Fiorina argue that presidential voting is not a reliable indicator of partisanship, as voting may depend on idiosyncratic features of candidates. Better, they argue, is party registration, which more reliably measures people’s underlying partisan preference (if any).
When landslide counties are identified using party registration and this same 60/40 threshold, the trend is the complete opposite of a Big Sort. The fraction living in such counties was 50% in 1976; in 2008, it was 15%. This same conclusion emerges using thresholds lower than 60/40.
Abrams and Fiorina conclude: ...
I think Bishop's thesis is right. Still, it is interesting to hear some skeptical analysis.
Christian Science Monitor: Bad news is loud. Good news rules - John Yemma
If you look behind the often dire headlines and examine the long-term trends, you'll see that crime is falling, lifespans are increasing, and poverty is ebbing. In other words, there's solid evidence for hope.
There's much more good news than bad news. But bad news travels fast and commands attention. Good news is like water carving a valley or a tree gradually extending its branches. Good news is a child learning a little more each day or a business quietly prospering. We hardly notice it.
Examine the data over time, and you'l find irrefutable evidence of progress: the decline of war and violent crime, the increase in life spans; the spread of literacy, democracy, and equal rights; the waning of privilege based on race, gender, heredity, beliefs (Jina Moore and a team of Monitor writers say this much more specifically in our cover story: "Progress Watch 2012").
Every so often there are vivid scenes of good news -- Neil Armstrong bouncing onto the moon, revelers atop the Berlin Wall, Nelson Mandela walking out of Robben Island prison. But most of the time good news is incremental, which causes it to be taken for granted.
Not bad news. When we hear it, we sit up and ask, "What just happened?"...
... And when there's a shortage of bad news in the present, we can always turn to the future. Welcome to worry, dread, and pessimism. Sure, things seem OK now, but just over the horizon a disaster is brewing. Don't be a sap. Bad things are on the way.
They probably are. And they'll shock us and again make us wonder if life is out of control. But in this last issue of our news magazine for 2012, we're looking in the rearview mirror to see how things are going, and we're finding plenty of reason for hope. ...
We’re becoming a bit more Amish
I know. You own a slim titanium ultrabook computer, an eye popping LCD 3D HD television, an iPhone with a custom-designed carbon fiber cover, and a sports car with 360 horsepower under the hood. You don’t have anything in common with the Amish.
It’s possible. But there are a lot of us who are beginning to adopt some practices that are pretty close to the Amish. No, I’m not talking about the Amish belief in adult baptism or the importance of farming in daily life. I’m talking about the decisions the Amish make about technology. More and more of us have begun to think about the impact that technology has on our relationships with others and we’ve begun to alter our practices.
Contrary to many stereotypes, the Amish actually use a lot of technology. I’ve seen Amish ride in cars, use power tools, and fire up a 600 horsepower Rolls-Royce generator. But the Amish won’t use just any technology that is developed. And they don’t allow technologies to be used by anybody whenever they want. They have developed a complex set of unwritten rules that guide their daily decisions.
For instance, if you’re Amish: ...
I think he is on to something.
The Atlantic Cities has a piece about ten interesting maps from 2012. Year in Review: 2012's Year in Maps The map below is just one of them.
"Mayor Bloomberg's insistent support for the NYPD's Stop and Frisk policy has been the single most contentious policy of his tenure, and WNYC's illustration of where the stops occur makes clear why. For one thing, it gives a geographic base to the racially biased search data. As I wrote in August, the mix of those subjected to the humiliating procedure sometimes varies from population data by a factor of nine: "last year, black and Hispanic men between the ages of 14 and 24 accounted for 41.6 percent of stops, though they make up only 4.7 percent of the city's population." According to the same ACLU report from which that data comes, "the number of stops of young black men exceeded the entire city population of young black men (168,126 as compared to 158,406)."
Most importantly, though, the map shows that blocks with large numbers of searches don't yield more guns than blocks with fewer searches."
If the apocalypse doesn't come today, don't worry. It isn't the end of the world. ;-) Here are two stories about preditions of the end.
And this from Business Insider: 25 Doomsday Predictions, Most Of Which Were Wrong