- Tea and Teaching
- Ms Rogers’ Neighborhood
- Naming Variables
- Nannies and States
- Charlie Haden (1937-2014)
- Needs (One More Time)
- Replication and Bullshit
- Don’t Explain
- Medicare Advantage – the Private Option
- Soccer and Status Politics
- We Still Don’t Call It Football, But . . .
- And Then There Were Two
- Take Up the Rich Man’s Burden
- The Shabbos Goy – Solidarity or Shanda
- Unintended Insights
- Down These Mean Median Streets
- Marriage and Protection from Violence
- Goffman and Veritas
- The Belmont – No Place Like Place?
- Game, Set, Match.com
- Tide and Time
- Bourgeois False Consciousness
- Sell It! – American (Psychology) Hustle
- Health Execs – Doing Well by Doing Well by Well-Point
- Durkheim at Commencement
JULY 30, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ This is a picture of a young American in Japan being instructed in the proper way to drink the thick, green ceremonial tea. 職員旅行)or faculty trip. It’s an annual event at many schools in Japan, and I was reminded of it by Elizabeth Green’s article about math teaching in the Sunday New York Times Magazine (here), excerpted from her new book, _Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach It to Everyone_. The link from the _shokuin ryoko_ to what’s happening in math class is culture, a difference in how Japanese and Americans think about individuals and groups. Green’s article focuses on a Japanese math teacher, Akihiko Takahashi, who was inspired by new ideas for teaching elementary-school math, ideas which had been developed in the US. But while the new methods had flourished in Japan, back in the US, teachers were not learning them, at least not well enough to make good use of them. The difference seems to be that in Japan, teachers teach teachers to teach.
When Akihiko Takahashi arrived in America, he was surprised to find how rarely teachers discussed their teaching methods. . . . American teachers had almost no opportunities to watch one another teach.
In Japan, teachers had always depended on _jugyokenkyu_, which translates literally as “lesson study,” a set of practices that Japanese teachers use to hone their craft. A teacher first plans lessons, then teaches in front of an audience of students and other teachers along with at least one university observer. Then the observers talk with the teacher about what has just taken place. . . . Without jugyokenkyu, it was no wonder the American teachers’ work fell short of the model set by their best thinkers. Without _jugyokenyku_, Takahashi never would have learned to teach at all. Neither, certainly, would the rest of Japan’s teachers.
It seems like an obvious idea, but if “lesson study” has worked so well in Japan, why has US education has not been able or willing to incorporate it? The answer, I think, is that if your think of groups as primary and individuals as secondary, _jugyokenkyu_ comes easily. But if you think that individuals come first, _jugyokenkyu_ might be a problem.
The Japanese traditionally have stronger expectations of group loyalty. A group is not just a coalition formed for a specific purpose; it is something more permanent and encompassing. Compared with Americans, Japanese think of themselves and others more as parts of a group, less as individuals. They feel an obligation to work as a group for the success of that group. In schools, the more experienced teachers will work to improve the performance of the less effective teachers, who in turn are obligated to improve themselves. Both are acting for the interests of the group. A good group nurtures its individual members to become better teachers.
In the US, we would find that kind of group orientation much too confining and encroaching on our individuality. But more than that, we tend to think about teaching (and most other work) as an individual matter. Some people do it well, others are less effective. Rather than a good group making for better teachers, having lots of good individual teachers makes for better group results.
Even in our differences, we share that focus on individuals. Right now in the US, debates and lawsuits pit charter schools against public schools. The sides are especially contentious about the role of teachers’ unions. Defenders say that unions protect teachers so they can be assured of autonomy and remain relatively free from arbitrary and exploitative demands from administrators. Charter supporters say that schools will be more effective if we get rid of unions. That way, the schools can fire the bad teachers and give merit pay increases to the good ones.
Both these approaches see the teaching staff as a collection of individuals, some more talented than others. Neither conceives of the school as a real group – as people who mutually regulate and affect one another’s behavior.
American workers would probably find that kind of real group relationship to be an abridgement of individuality. We want to be able to choose who we get involved with. Or to put it another way, how many American schools have a _shokuin ryok_o? In America, people are free to separate their work relationships from the rest of their lives. But in Japan, the people you work with also the people you go drinking with after work. And comes _shokuin ryoko_ time, they are also the people you go on vacation with.*
Not all teachers go – most, in fact, do not – but enough do volunteer to make up a critical mass. In the trip illustrated above, out of a faculty of about fifty, perhaps a dozen signed up. But the actual number is less important than the recognized principle: the _shokuin ryoko_ is part of the institution, and teachers feel a collective obligation to make it a success, just as they feel a collective obligation to make their colleagues’ teaching more effective.
* Private-sector firms may have a similar trip for employees – the_ shain ryoko_.
## JULY 24, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Why are all these parents being arrested? That was the question raised by Ross Douthat’s recent column. It’s also the title of an article in The Week that Douthat links to in a follow-up blog post.* The author, Michael Brendan Dougherty, sees two causes. 1. A decline of neighborliness (Dougherty borrows this from Timothy Carney, The Washington Examiner (here Timothy Carney, a columnist for The Washington Examiner ). Neighborly adults look after an unsupervised kid who might be in need. Un-neighborly adults call 911. The State is less flexible in what it can do. Dougherty identifies the institutional and historical reasons that these agencies are quick to It use formal procedures and sanctions, The states guardianship functions were developed to handle only the most extreme cases of neglect or abuse. The incentives of those within these departments incline them to suspicion and dramatic intervention. “We only get called in an emergency, so this must be one.” 2. The encroachment of the State into areas that once belonged to Family, Neighbors, Church, or Community. The two are linked in a vicious cycle. Because people are less neighborly, they call the State. But this gives greater scope to State agencies, consequently narrowing the radius of neighborhood control, which in turn makes people less able to intervene as neighbors. There are some problems with this account. First, does this handful of newspaper stories indicate a real problem. The “good parents arrested” theme certainly seems to resonate with middle-class people, though it is almost certainly less well-off parents who are more vulnerable to being arrested or having their kids taken from them by the state. Even so, we have no idea how many of these cases there are. Besides, the newspaper stories report on the most egregious cases. If we actually tried to sort all state interventions into those we like and those we don’t, we would quickly find oursevles in murkier waters. Second, Douthat is writing about policy (so are the others, at least implicitly). Policies are not perfect; they improve some things for some people, and make some things worse for other people. That’s why policy is political – it’s about who gets what. If a policy improves the lives of many children and parents but has costs for a few others, we’d say that on the whole it’s a good policy, and we’d try to tinker with it to reduce the bad parts. Yes, one is too many, but in most cases (wrongful executions and the death penalty may be the clearest exception), that’s not a strong argument for scrapping the entire policy. You have only to spend a few days in a child welfare agency to see how many cases there are where state intervention, with all its flaws, is better than the alternatives. Third, are we really less neighborly? Americans started wringing their hands about the decline of community as early as 1650. Since then, these alarms have been sounded periodically Right and Left. In recent versions of this jeremiad (say in the last half century) the Right has blamed the government: by arrogating to itself traditional community and family functions, it weakened community. The Left blames the culture of capitalism: its emphasis on competition destroys cooperation. Unfortunately for the community-collapse theorists (but fortunately for community), systematic evidence for this decline is hard to come by. For decades now, Claude Fischer has done actual research on the topic and has found little to support the image of a land once rich in community now become a nation of isolated and unneighborly individuals. (See Chapter 4 of his excellent 2010 book _Made in America.)_ Dougherty’s personal recollection, with its echoes of Jane Jacobs, might be instructive. Often during this time, and especially in my own neighborhood, I was being silently and unobtrusively guarded by a community of people, many of whom knew my name, and knew something of my mothers situation. When I scratched someones car with my broken bike handle, I would be returned to my home, and the note explaining it would be addressed to my mother by name. Some of the nosy Italian ladies watched the streets, looking for gossip. But they could help a child who skinned his knee, or bring him inside for a few caramels and a soda if it was raining and the kid had left his key at home. Where are those Italian ladies today? Probably at work.The percentage of women who work outside the home has increased greatly – from about 40% in 1970 to about two-thirds today. The rates for women with children are not much different from the overall rates. Even women who spoke Italian at home are much more likely to be at work rather than keeping an eye on the neighborhood. (For “Italian,” I used “speaking Italian at home” rather than “claiming Italian as their primary ancestry. ” If I had used the latter, the rates would have been very close to the rates for all US women.) There are many reasons that more women have sought jobs in the paid labor force (one summary is here). I doubt that a decline in “neighborliness” or “community” is among them.** But one possible consequence is the decline in the number of neighbors who are around in the daytime. That’s not the only cause of changes in the who, where, and how of childcare in the US, but it’s an important part of this changing landscape*** of childhood. ----- * In his blog, Douthat is responding to criticisms from “many liberals.” But for some reason, of all the critiques in all the blogs in all the world, he wanders into mine. ** No doubt, some on the far right would argue that feminism poisoned the minds of American women and made them less neighborly and more selfish and ambitious, with the consequence that they abandoned their “natural” function of staying home and watching over the kids in the neighborhood. *** That changing landscape is literal as well as figurative. Seven years ago in a post (here)about concern for children’s safety, I reprinted a map showing the shrinking, over three generations in the same Sheffield family, of the range that children would wander.
JULY 21, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Variable labels – not the sort of problem that should excite much debate. Still, it’s important to identify your variables as what they really are. If I’m comparing, say, New Yorkers with Clevelanders, should I call my independent variable “Sophistication” (Gothamites, as we all know, are more sophisticated)? Or should it be “City” (or “City of residence”)? “Sophistication” would be sexier, “City” would more accurate. Dan Ariely does experiments about cheating. In a recent experiment, he compared East Germans and West Germans and found that East Germans cheated more. we found evidence that East Germans who were exposed to socialism cheat more than West Germans who were exposed to capitalism. Yes, East Germany was a socialist state. But it was also dominated by another nation (the USSR, which appropriated much of East Germany’s wealth) and had a totalitarian government that ruled by fear and mistrust. For Ariely to write up his results and call his independent variable “Socialism/Captialism,” he must either ignore all those other aspects of East Germany or else assume that they are inherent in socialism. The title of the paper is worth noting: “The (True) Legacy of Two Really Existing Economic Systems.” You can find it here.) The paper has been well received among mainstream conservatives (e.g., The Economist), who, rather than looking carefully at the variables, are glad to conflate socialism with totalitarian evils. Mark Kleiman at the Reality Based Community makes an analogy with Chile under socialist Allende and capitalist Pinochet. Imagine that the results had come out the other way: say, showing that Chileans became less honest while Pinochet was having his minions gouge out their opponents’ eyeballs and Milton Friedman was gushing about the “miracle of Chile”? How do you think the paper would read, and what do you think the Economist, Marginal Revolution, and AEI would have had to say about its methods?
JULY 20, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Ross Douthat is puzzled. He seems to sense that a liberal policy might actually help, but his high conservative principles and morality keep him from taking that step. It’s a political version of Freudian repression – the conservative superego forcing tempting ideas to remain out of awareness. In today’s column, Douthat recounts several anecdotes of criminal charges brought against parents whose children were unsupervised for short periods of time. The best-known of these criminals of late is Debra Harrell, the mother in South Carolina who let her 9-year-old daughter go to a nearby playground while she (Debra) worked at her job at McDonald’s. The details of the case (here among other places) make it clear that this was not a bad mom – not cruel, not negligent. The playground was the best child care she could afford. One solution should be obvious – affordable child care. But the US is rather stingy when it comes to kids. Other countries are way ahead of us on public spending for children.
(Click on the graph for a larger view._)Conservatives will argue that child care should be private not public and that local charities and churches do a better job than do state-run programs. Maybe so. The trouble is that those private programs are not accessible to everyone. If Debra Harrell had been in France or Denmark, the problem would never have arisen. The other conservative US policy that put Debra Harrell in the arms of the law is “welfare reform.” As Douthat explains, in the US, thanks to changes in the welfare system much lauded by conservatives, the US now has “a welfare system whose work requirements can put a single mother behind a fast-food counter while her kid is out of school.” That’s the part that perplexes Douthat. He thinks that it’s a good thing for the government to force poor women to work, but it’s a bad thing for those women not to have the time to be good mothers. The two obvious solutions – affordable day care or support for women who stay home to take care of kids – conflict with the cherished conservative ideas: government bad, work good. This last issue presents a distinctive challenge to conservatives like me, who believe such work requirements are essential. If we want women like Debra Harrell to take jobs instead of welfare, we have to also find a way to defend their liberty as parents, instead of expecting them to hover like helicopters and then literally arresting them if they don’t. As he says, it’s a distinctive challenge, but only if you cling so tightly to conservative principles that you reject solutions – solutions that seem to be working quite well in other countries – just because they involve the government or allow poor parents not to work. Conservatives love to decry “the nanny state.” That means things like government efforts to improve kids’ health and nutrition. (Right wingers make fun of the first lady for trying to get kids to eat sensibly and get some exercise.) A nanny is a person who is paid to look after someone else’s kids. Well-off people hire them privately (though they still prefer to call them _au pairs_). But for the childcare problems of low-income parents, what we need is _more_ of a nanny state, or more accurately, state-paid nannies.
JULY 12, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ At age 22, Charlie Haden was the bassist the original Ornette Coleman quartet. He had already been playing for a couple of years with bebop pianist Hampton Hawes. Ornette played music that, at the time (1959), was considered so far out that many listeners dismissed it as noise. (“They play ‘Some of These Days’ in five different keys simultaneously.”) Ornette became even freer, moving even further from the basic changes, and Charlie followed along. Haden was also a very melodic bass player. That’s especially clear in his duo work with guitarists like Pat Metheny and Egberto Gismonti and pianists Keith Jarrett, Hank Jones, Kenny Barron (“Night and the City” is one of my favorite albums). He remained rooted in bebop, notably as leader of Quartet West (with Ernie Watts, the man responsible for my giving up saxophone). He had polio as a child in Iowa, and in recent years suffered from post-polio syndrome. Here is a brief video made at the time Charlie recorded the duo album with Keith Jarrett, who does much of the talking here.
JULY 10, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Before I read Benjamin Schmidt’s post in the Atlantic (here) about anachronistic language in “Mad Men,” I had never noticed how today we use “need to” where earlier generations would have said “ought to” or “should.” Now, each “need to” jumps out at me from the screen.* Here is today’s example.Why not: “Even more proof health care records should go digital”? In a post a year ago (here), I speculated that the change was part of a more general shift away from the language of morality and towards the language of individual psychology, from what is good for society to what is good for the self. But now _need to_ has become almost an exact synonym for _should_. Just as with _issue_ replacing _problem_** – another substitution flowing from the brook of psychobabble – the therapy-based origins of _need to_ are an unheard undertone. Few people reading that headline today will get even a subliminal image of a bureaucratic archive having needs or of health care records going digital so as to bring themselves one Maslow need-level closer to self-actualization. It looks like _need to_ and _issue_ will stick around for a while. Other terms currently in use may have a shorter life. In the future (I mean, going forward), “because + noun” will probably go the way of “my bad.” And by me, its demise will be just groovy. I wonder if language scholars have some way of predicting these life-spans. Are there certain kinds of words or phrases that practically announce themselves as mayflies? Oh well, at the end of the day, the bottom line is that it is what it is. ------------------- * As Nabokov says at the end of Speak, Memory “. . . something in a scrambled picture — Find What the Sailor Has Hidden — that the finder cannot unsee once it has been seen.” ** In 1970, Jim Lovell would not have said, “Houston, we have an issue.” But if a 2014 remake of “Apollo 13” had that line, and if the original weren’t so well known, most people wouldn’t notice.
JULY 9, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ A bet is tax on bullshit, says Marginal Revolution’s Alex Tabarrok (here). So is replication. Here’s one of my favorite examples of both – the cold-open scene from “The Hustler” (1961). Charlie is proposing replication. Without it, he considers the effect to be random variation. It’s a great three minutes of film, but to spare you the time, here’s the relevant exchange.
After some by-play and betting and a deliberate miss, Eddie (aka Fast Eddie) replicates the effect, and we segue to the opening credits* confident that the results are indeed not random variation but a true indicator of Eddie’s skill.
But now Jason Mitchell, a psychologist at Harvard, has published a long throw-down against replication. (The essay is here.) Psychologists shouldn’t try to replicate others’ experiments, he says. And if they do replicate and find no effect, the results shouldn’t be published. Experiments are delicate mechanisms, and you have to do everything just right. The failure to replicate results means only that someone messed up.
Because experiments can be undermined by a vast number of practical mistakes, the likeliest explanation for any failed replication will always be that the replicator bungled something along the way. Unless direct replications are conducted by flawless experimenters, nothing interesting can be learned from them.
L. J. Zigerell, in a comment at Scatterplot thinks that Mitchell may have gotten it switched around. Zigerell begins by quoting Mitchell,
“When an experiment succeeds, we can celebrate that the phenomenon survived these all-too-frequent shortcomings.”
But, actually, when an experiment succeeds, we can only wallow in uncertainty about whether a phenomenon exists, or whether a phenomenon appears to exist only because a researcher invented the data, because the research report revealed a non-representative selection of results, because the research design biased results away from the null, or because the researcher performed the experiment in a context in which the effect size for some reason appeared much larger than the true effect size.
It would probably be more accurate to say that replication is not so much a tax on bullshit as a tax on those other factors Zigerell mentions. But he left out one other possibility: that the experimenter hadn’t taken all the relevant variables into account. The best-known of these unincluded variables is the experimenter himself or herself, even in this post-Rosenthal world. But Zigerell’s comment reminded me of my own experience in an experimental psych lab. A full description is here, but in brief, here’s what happened. The experimenters claimed that a monkey watching the face of another monkey on a small black-and-white TV monitor could read the other monkey’s facial expressions. Their publications made no mention of something that should have been clear to anyone in the lab: that the monkey was responding to the shrieks and pounding of the other monkey – auditory signals that could be clearly heard even though the monkeys were in different rooms.
Imagine another researcher trying to replicate the experiment. She puts the monkeys in rooms where they cannot hear each other, and what they have is a failure to communicate. Should a journal publish her results? Should she have even tried to replicate in the first place? In response, here are Mitchell’s general principles:
• failed replications do not provide meaningful information if they closely follow original methodology;
• Replication efforts appear to reflect strong prior expectations that published findings are not reliable, and as such, do not constitute scientific output.
• The field of social psychology can be improved, but not by the publication of negative findings.
• authors and editors of failed replications are publicly impugning the scientific integrity of their colleagues.
Mitchell makes research sound like a zero-sum game, with “mean-spirited” replicators out to win some easy money from a “a lucky lush.” But often, the attempt to replicate motivated by skepticism and envy. Just the opposite. You hear about some finding, and you want to see where the underlying idea might lead.** So as a first step, to see if you’ve got it right, you try to imitate the original research. And if you fail to get similar results, you usually question your own methods.
My guess is that the arrogance Mitchell attributes to the replicators is more common among those who have gotten positive findings. How often do they reflect on their experiments and wonder if it might have been luck or some other element not in their model?
* Those credits can be seen here – with the correct aspect ratio and a saxophone on the soundtrack that has to be Phil Woods.
** (Update, July 10) ** DrugMonkey, a bio-medical research scientist says something similar:
CHARLIEYou ought to take up crap shooting. Talk about luck!
EDDIELuck! Whaddya mean, luck?
CHARLIEYou know what I mean. You couldnt make that shot again in a million years.
EDDIEI couldn’t, huh? Okay. Go ahead. Set ’em up the way they were before.
EDDIEGo ahead. Set ’em up the way they were before. Bet ya twenty bucks. Make that shot just the way I made it before.
CHARLIENobody can make that shot and you know it. Not even a lucky lush.
_Trying _to replicate another papers effects is a _compliment_! Failing to do so is not an attack on the authors’ “integrity.” It is how science advances.
JULY 3, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Adam Kramer, one of the authors of the notorious Facebook study has defended this research. Bad idea. Even when an explanation is done well, it’s not as a good as a simple apology. And Kramer does not do it well. (His full post is here.) OK so. A lot of people have asked me about my and Jamie and Jeffs recent study published in PNAS, and I wanted to give a brief public explanation. “OK so.” That’s the way we begin explanations these days. It implies that this is a continuation of a conversation. Combined with the first-names-only reference to co-authors it implies that we’re all old friends here – me, you, Jamie, Jeff – picking up where we left off. The reason we did this research is because we care about the emotional impact of Facebook and the people that use our product. “We care.” This will persuade approximately nobody. Do you believe that Facebook researchers care about you? Does anyone believe that? Regarding methodology, our research sought to investigate the above claim by very minimally deprioritizing a small percentage of content in News Feed (based on whether there was an emotional word in the post) for a group of people (about 0.04% of users, or 1 in 2500) for a short period (one week, in early 2012). See, we inconvenienced only a handful of people – a teensy tiny 0.04%. Compare that with the actual publication, where the first words you see, in a box above the abstract, are these: WE SHOW, VIA A MASSIVE (N = 689,003) experiment on Facebook . . .[emphasis added] The experiment involved editing posts that people saw. For some FB users, the researchers filtered out posts with negative words; other users saw fewer positive posts. Nobodys posts were “hidden,” they just didn’t show up on some loads of Feed. Those posts were always visible on friends’ timelines, and could have shown up on subsequent News Feed loads. “Not hidden, they just didn’t show up.” I’m not a sophisticated Facebook user, so I don’t catch the distinction here. Anyway, all you had to do was guess which of your friends had posted things that didn’t show up and then go to their timelines. Simple. Kramer than goes to the findings. at the end of the day, the actual impact on people in the experiment was the minimal amount to statistically detect it That’s true. At the end of the day, the bottom line – well, it is what it is. But you might not have realized how minuscule the effect was if you had read only the title of the article:
EXPERIMENTAL EVIDENCE OF MASSIVE-SCALE EMOTIONAL CONTAGION through social network [emphasis added]On Monday, it was massive. By Thursday, it was minimal. Finally comes a paragraph with the hint of an apology. The goal of all of our research at Facebook is to learn how to provide a better service. Having written and designed this experiment myself, I can tell you that our goal was never to upset anyone. I might have been more willing to believe this “Provide a better service” idea, but Kramer lost me at “We care.” Worse, Kramer follows it with “our goal was never to upset.” Well, duh. A drunk driver’s goal is to drive from the bar to his home. It’s never his goal to smash into other cars. Then comes the classic non-apology: it’s your fault. I can understand why some people have concerns about it, and my coauthors and I are very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused. In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety. This isn’t much different from, “If people were offended . . .” implying that if people were less hypersensitive and more intelligent, there would be no problem. If only we had described the research in such a way that you morons realized what we were doing, you wouldn’t have gotten upset. Kramer doesn’t get it. Here’s whey I’m pissed off about this study. * First, I resent Facebook because of its power over us. It’s essentially a monopoly. I’m on it because everyone I know is on it. We are dependent on it. * Second, because it’s a monopoly, we have to trust it, and this experiment shows that Facebook is not trustworthy. It’s sneaky. People had the same reaction a couple of years ago when it was revealed that even after you logged out of Facebook, it continued to monitor your Internet activity. * Third, Facebook is using its power to interfere with what I say to my friends and they to me. I had assumed that if I posted something, my friends saw it. * Fourth, Facebook is manipulating my emotions. It matters little that they weren’t very good at it . . . this time. Yes, advertisers manipulate, but they don’t do so by screwing around with communications between me and my friends. * Fifth, sixth, seventh . . . I’m sure people can identify many other things in this study that exemplify the distasteful things Facebook does on a larger scale. But for now, it’s the only game in town. And one more objection to Kramer’s justification. It is so tone-deaf, so to the likely reactions of people both to the research and the explanation, that it furthers the stereotype of the data-crunching nerd – a whiz with an algorithm but possessed of no intepersonal intelligence. -------------- Earlier posts on apologies are here and here. The title of this post is borrowed from a Billie Holiday song, which begins, “Hush now, don’t explain.” Kramer should have listened to Lady Day. UPDATE, JULY 4: At Vox, Nilay Patel says many of these same things. “What were mad about is the idea of Facebook having so much power we dont understand — a power that feels completely unchecked when it’s described as ‘manipulating our emotions.’” Patel is much better informed about how Facebook works than I am. He understands how Facebook decides which 20% of the posts in your newsfeed to allow through and which 80% (!) to delete. Patel also explains why my Facebook feed has so many of those Buzzfeed things like “18 Celebrities Who Are Lactose Intolerant."
JUNE 29, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Healthcare stubbornly refuses to conform to conventional economic models, particularly the idea that competing private firms are more effective than government. Medicare Advantage may be the latest example of privatization not working out the way it’s supposed to. Medicare Advantage is part of George W. Bush’s Medicare Modernization Act (MMA) of 2003. Medicare, the original, is a single-payer system; the government pays doctors. Medicare Advantage is the private option – the government pays money to insurance companies, who in turn sell insurance plans for seniors. The theory behind this privatization of Medicare was that it would bring more insurance companies into the market, and the competition among those companies would result in better and cheaper medical coverage. Opponents of the MMA saw it as yet another instance of the Bush administration giving away money to business. Did the Medicare Advantage subsidies bring better results? We don’t have a randomized control study, but a provision of the MMA allows for a sort of natural experiment. Counties in areas with a population of 250,000 or more got subsidies that were 10.5% greater than counties in areas under 250,000. Three Wharton professors* compared the outcomes. One of the results comes right out of the Econ textbook: where subsidies were higher, more firms followed the money and entered the marketplace. They also enrolled more people. The first key takeaway is that a firm’s decision to enter a market is highly responsive to how much the government pays. When the government pays more for private health insurance through Medicare, more insurers compete to offer that coverage. But the important question is whether the money that brought companies into the marketplace went to cheaper and better medical care. And if not, where did the money go? Our findings indicate that we see more insurers enter and we see more people enroll, and we see MORE ADVERTISING EXPENDITURES. But we actually DON’T SEE MUCH BETTER QUALITY when you pay plans more. The question then naturally rises, “Where does the money seem to go?” And in a final empirical analysis, we try to see how much of it ripples through to PROFITS of health insurers. And we see that A QUITE SIGNIFICANT SHARE OF IT DOES. [emphasis added]. This is not really surprising. For-profit firms want to make a profit. In theory (classical economic theory), they should make that profit by providing a better product. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. A second takeaway is that, at least given the many quality measures that we can look at, we don’t find a ton of evidence that paying plans substantially more leads to much better quality. . . . We didn’t see a big improvement in quality. And we’re talking about billions of dollars in additional government spending as a result of this somewhat higher reimbursement in the places with a population of 250,000 or more. Under Obamacare, reimbursements to Medicare Advantage will shrink. Reimbursments to Medicare Advantage have been 14% higher than those in the traditional Medicare, and Obama care aims to reduce that difference. Obama opponents have run scare ads, and of course the insurance companies have lobbied heavily against the reductions. But according to the Wharton study, the reductions will have little impact on seniors. there are a number of changes that will take effect over the next several years as a result of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. Chief among them is a reduction in the generosity of reimbursement of Medicare Advantage plans… our evidence suggests that the costs of those reimbursement cuts for consumers might not be so great after all.. --------------------------------- *Mark Duggan, Amanda Starc, and Boris Vabson, NBER paper “Who Benefits when the Government Pays More? Pass-Through in the Medicare Advantage.” The interview with Duggan is here.
JUNE 27, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Ann Coulter nails it in her column on soccer. Not the part about the rising interest in soccer signalling America’s moral decay. That’s just her usual attempt to be provocative. What Coulter gets right is that soccer is part of the cultural divide. The question she raises is much bigger than whether soccer is an inferior sport to baseball or football. It’s “Whose country is this anyway?” Though she doesn’t say so explicitly, Coulter frames soccer is a matter of status politics – the struggle for recognition, respect, and prestige among different groups. She sees the soccer demographic as is a coalition of White liberals and immigrants of the past generation or two. The anti-soccer side comprises what Sarah Palin called “the real America” – non-urban, White, Protestant, nativist, Republican. That’s Coulter’s side, and she’s worried that in the long run, her side will lose. We’ve seen this match-up before. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Prohibition provided a vehicle for “real Americans” to assert the virtue and predominance of their way of life over that of the immigrant, non-Protestant groups. The opposition to Obamacare (and just about any Obama policy) had pretty much the same roster. (See an earlier post here.) In both cases, these groups felt a threat to their position of privilege. The anti-Obama crowd is explicit about this sense of loss and threat. America is “our” country, “they” have taken it away, and we are going to take it back. (See my “Repo Men” post from three years ago.) Coulter is absolutely open about her nativism and Xenophobia – none of this “America is a nation of immigrants” nonsense. Or as she says, “I promise you: No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer.” And one of the bullet points in her argument that soccer is a sign of moral decay is * Its foreign. Followed by * Soccer is like the metric system, which liberals also adore because its European. (The metric system is simpler and more logical. But it’s used in all those foreign countries, and it’s used universally in science – two reasons for conservatives like Coulter to give it the red card.) Maybe liberals do like soccer because it’s European, or more accurately international. But it’s equally true that conservatives fear things because they are foreign. They demand that the rest of the world become American. In 2006, John Tierney, a conservative/libertarian writing for the Times, said (here), “Instead of us copying the rest of the world, the rest of the world could learn from us. Maybe they love soccer because they haven’t been given better alternatives.” * To see what else the soccer soccer coalition liked, I went to Google correlates and entered “world cup.” Unfortunately, data for the current World Cup are not in, so most of the queries are from 2010. The map looks like what you would expect – the states where people Googled “World Cup” were the Northeast corridor and California. What’s more puzzling is that many of the highest correlates were for movies – Oscar nominees like “Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker,” but also movies liberals like – “Vicki Cristina Barcelona,” “Inception,” and “Eat, Pray, Love.” All these had correlation coefficients with “World Cup” of 0.87 or higher. Here are the results for “World Cup” and “Oscars 2010.”The other highly correlated cluster of terms had a different theme: * hanukkah 2010 (0.8989) * passover 2010 (0.8972) * yom kippur 2010 (0.8950) * chanukah 2010 (0.8874) Here are the graphics:here):
COULTER: Well, OK, take the Republican National Convention. People were happy. Theyre Christian. Theyre tolerant. They defend America, they —
DEUTSCH: Christian — so we should be Christian? It would be better if we were all Christian?
DEUTSCH: We should all be Christian?
COULTER: Yes. Would you like to come to church with me, Donny? . . . . .
COULTER: No, we think — we just want Jews to be perfected, as they say.
DEUTSCH: Wow, you didnt really say that, did you?
. . . . . .
DEUTSCH: Ann said she wanted to explain her last comment. So Im going to give her a chance. So you dont think that was offensive?
COULTER: No. Im sorry. It is not intended to be. I dont think you should take it that way, but that is what Christians consider themselves: perfected Jews.
Coulter didn’t mention soccer at the time, but perhaps that is yet another sign of the how Jews are imperfect compared to Christians – they live in places where soccer is popular, places where small-town and suburban WASP conservatives are not so dominant. For Coulter, that’s not just imperfect, that’s moral decay.
*In 2012, Marco Rubio, addressing the Republican convention, used nearly identical language – the same know-nothing arrogance – in speaking about Democratic proposals like Obamacare: “These are ideas that threaten to make America more like the rest of the world instead of making the rest of the world more like America.”
JUNE 26, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ How American is soccer now as a spectator sport? My totally unscientific indicator is the front page of New York tabloids. And today, they both had the US-Germany World Cup match.The inset in the Daily News picture is a letter written by coach Jurgen Klinsmann for workers to give to their employers: World Cup as excused absence.
(Someone ought to remind Coach Klinsmann that this is the US, not Europe. Employers here don’t even have to give workers a day off for childbirth.)Eight years ago, the World Cup was not front page news, perhaps because team USA went 0-2 in the first round. In 2010, soccer made it to the front page of the Post, when the US was knocked out of the tournament by Ghana.
JUNE 19, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Horace Silver died yesterday. He was 85. Great musicians have an unmistakable sound. Horace’s chord voicings were distinctive. Even if you hear him comping behind a horn solo, you know it’s Horace.
(Horace is at the left, Golson at the top of the steps, Sonny Rolllins just to the right behind Marian McPartland and Mary Lou Williams.)These were the musical heroes of my youth, and it’s strange to see them gradually disappear. Others in the photo are from a slightly earlier era – musicians whose names and sound were familiar, but I had no idea what they looked like. One night, probably in 1994 when a documentary film had given the Art Kane photo some popularity, I was walking up Amsterdam Ave. and saw the great pianist Tommy Flanagan looking in the window of a neighborhood store. Inside was the photo. I stopped, and we talked briefly. Tommy would point to the faces of those who had already passed on. “That’s Buck Clayton. There’s Red Allen.” And now, that’s Horace Silver.
JUNE 17, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Pity the wealthy. How their burden has increased. At least that’s what Mark Perry would have us believe. The income tax burden, he says in the title of this chart that he tweeted today, has become “more progressive.” It certainly looks as though the rich man’s burden has increased. Perry is careful not to say that “taxes” have become more progressive. That would mean that rates have increase more on the wealthy than on others. Instead he says that the “burden” has become more progressive.The _burden_ might have become more progressive, but did tax _rates_ on the wealthy increase? No.Except for the period from 1990 to 1993, tax rates fell or were level. Why then did the burden increase? Since it’s unlikely that the wealthy were voluntarily kicking extra bucks in to the IRS coffers, there’s only one explanation: the wealthy were getting an increasing share of income. This possibility seems not to have occurred to Perry. It has occurred to Piketty and Saez, who have been providing us with information on the income shares of those at the top. Here is a chart of the 10%.Their income share increased from 12% to 20% – a 67% increase. Their share of the tax burden increased by only 45%. According to the bio at the American Enterprise Institute website, “Mark J. Perry is concurrently a scholar at AEI and a professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigans Flint campus.” A scholar. Is this what passes for scholarly work at the AEI? I am not an economist or a finance expert. But even I know enough to see that the chart and its title are deliberately misleading. (And with apologies to Kipling) .
Take up the rich man’s burden, and shower him with praise, For at the AEI, this style of economics pays.
JUNE 14, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ The_ shabbos goy_ used to annoy me. I don’t mean the goy himself; I never met one. I mean the whole concept. The Bible says, “Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day” (Exodus 35:3). The _shabbos goy_ was the person Jews hired to light their ovens on the Sabbath so they could still cook without technically violating commandment. Strictly observant Jews extend the fire-kindling prohibition to anything that might start an electric current - turning on the lights, or pushing an elevator button. Somewhere today, no doubt, a _shabbos goy_ has gone into an Orthodox home, turned on the TV, and tuned it to ESPN for the World Cup. This legalistic ploy keeps the letter of the law while violating its spirit, and I always found it embarrassing. Is this what we want others to see in how Jews practice their religion? _A shanda fur die goyim. _It’s sort of like getting around “Thou shalt not kill” by hiring a hit-man goy. The purpose of the commandment, I thought, is to make everyday life more difficult so that Jews would spend their time worshiping God. Instead, they hire a _shabbos goy_ so they can have their sabbath cake and bake it too. It wasn’t just the hypocrisy that bothered me. It was the tone that accompanied it – at worst a smug satisfaction, more typically an amiable chuckle – as though there were virtue in tricking God. How unsociological. How could I not have remembered Durkheim? Religion – its rituals and rules – is not about suffering or self-denial or carrying out God’s wishes; it’s about group solidarity. The point of the laws is to draw the boundary lines of the group. Like the funny clothes and hair styles, these laws separate Us from Them. These are our laws. It doesn’t matter so much that we believers have also evolved ways to circumvent them. What reminded me of this was an article in the Atlantic (here) by Dominic Pettman. (“Dominic, Dominic,” I can hear my grandmother rolling the name around in her head – “interrogating” it, as we might now say - and finally asking point blank: “Is he Jewish?” I don’t know, Grandma.) Pettman lives in a building with a _shabbos_ elevator. It is programmed to stop at every floor so that the strictly Orthodox don’t have to push a button. Of course, if you live on a high floor, all those stops take forever. Jews must suffer. Sometimes. * I should add that I myself have never felt much solidarity with the Orthodox community.
JUNE 12, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Sometimes it’s hard to be a conservative, supporting a status quo that’s not working, at least not for large numbers of people. Brad Wilcox’s latest defense-of-marriage op-ed, “One way to end violence against women? Married dads” (here), carried the seeds of its own destruction (or at least deconstruction). It’s not just that Wilcox failed to control for things like age, social class, and time trend. The trouble was that while the article was, on its surface, a sermon on how marriage makes women safer, the subtext was a damning critique of the gender status quo. Wilcox did not make that critique explicit, nor did he intend the article to be a feminist document. Just the opposite: “So, women: if you’re the product of a good marriage, and feel safer as a consequence, lift a glass to dear old dad this Sunday.” But by pointing out the relative safety of married women, Wilcox was also calling attention to the dangers faced every day by unmarried women. The karaoke track Wilcox wanted was “Stand By Your Man” – clear support for the benefits of marriage. But what he wound up singing was “Stand By Your Man . . . Or Else.” This focus on threat was not accidental. The op-ed begins with the UC Santa Barbara shootings and the “millions of girls and women [who] have been abused, assaulted, or raped by men, and even more females fear that they will be subject to such an attack.” You could hardly blame his critics for homing in on the “Or Else.” Wilcox moved on to laud “_some other men_ [who] are more likely to protect women, directly and indirectly, from the threat of male violence: married biological fathers.” [Emphasis in the original.] It’s almost as though in response to Sandy Hook or other school shootings he had written an op-ed extolling the safety of home schooling. It may be true, but “Home school your child . . . or else” ignores the way most parents think about the problem and its possible solutions. It’s risky to point out dangers and then tell people to seek individual solutions. Urging those on the short end of the stick to keep holding on to it may work, but it may also lead them to the sociological insight that the problems are in the system. In the early years of this blog (here) I used “Stand By Your Man” as an example. National Review had put it among “the 50 greatest conservative rock songs.”* Yet despite the song’s ostensible support for the status quo, it is also telling women what a crummy deal marriage is for them. Imagine a Saudi version that began the same way – “Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman” – and went on to list problems like jealous co-wives, no driving, no going outside alone or clothed in anything but a black tent, and so on. The resounding refrain of “Stand by your man” might ring a bit hollow. ------------ * The song is not rock; it’s pure country. If you are unfamiliar with this Tammy Wynette classic, you can hear and see her lip-sync it here.
JUNE 11, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ For a quick illustration of the difference between mean and median, I often use the example of income. I choose a plausible average (mean) for the classroom population and review the math. “If Bill Gates walks into the room,” I say, “the average income is now in the billions. The median
hasn’t has hardly moved, but the mean has gone way up.” So has the Gini coefficient.
Here’s a more realistic and global illustration – the net worth of people in the wealthier countries. The US ranks fourth in average worth – $301,000 per person . . .
. . . but the median is far lower – $45,000, 19th out of the twenty nations shown. (The graph is from Credit Suisse via CNN ) The US is a wealthy nation compared with others, but “average” Americans, in the way that term is generally understood, are poorer than their counterparts in other countries. But as with so many things, most Americans are unaware of how life is lived in other countries. In our ignorance and arrogance, we just know that, although things may not be perfect here, they are in all respects better than anywhere else. As Sen. Marco Rubio put it at the 2012 Republican convention, speaking about Democratic proposals on things like inequality and health care, “These are ideas that threaten to make America more like the rest of the world instead of making the rest of the world more like America.” The key word, of course, is “threaten.” Affordable health care for all, a higher median net worth – are these a threat? Only in America – or, more accurately, Republican America.
JUNE 10, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ This was the original headline in the Post Everything op-ed by Bradley Wilcox and Robin Fretwell Wilson.Apparently, many outraged readers pointed out the “blame the victim” assumption in the headline. Or as Erin Gloria Ryan, at Jezebel translated it, “Violence Against Women Will End When You Sluts Get Married.” Others pointed out that the data did not support that claim. Wilcox, the lead author, tweeted.The new headline wasn’t much better.Offensive terms like “baby daddy” have been removed, but the idea is the same. And while Wilcox didn’t write those headlines, they do represent his thesis: marriage as protection. And, most fundamentally, for the girls and women in their lives, married fathers provide direct protection by watching out for the physical welfare of their wives and daughters, and indirect protection by increasing the odds they live in safe homes and are not exposed to men likely to pose a threat. So, women: if you’re the product of a good marriage, and feel safer as a consequence, lift a glass to dear old dad this Sunday. Philip Cohen (here) has looked at the data, which clearly shows the trend Wilcox has been wringing his hands about for a long time: marriage in the US is on the decline. Wilcox would predict that the fall in marriage rates would result in huge increases in violence against wives and girlfriends. But it hasn’t. In this same period, the data show, “intimate partner violence” has also declined. (Philip’s analysis requires a bit of statistical sophistication, but his discussion makes the data clear, and his post is well worth reading.) There are ecological-fallacy problems in the data, as Philip acknowledges. But such problems have not prevented Wilcox from drawing shaky conclusions about the broad benefits of marriage. Philip even provides a parody version of Wilcox’s strategy, though Philip uses the data to draw the opposite conclusions about marriage. We had reason to believe marriage was harmful, on average . . . as if marriage feeds off itself in a violence loop. . . . The bottom line is that intimate partner violence is much less common in years when marriage is more rare. Philip is kidding. Sort of. Underlying the traditional marriage – the one Wilcox takes as the ideal – is a power imbalance. For Wilcox, that’s a good thing. As he says, husband/fathers provide “protection,” both direct and indirect. But the marriage-as-protection trope reminded me of something Philip Slater wrote forty years ago: In relation to women, men have taken the stance assumed by the warrior-aristocrat toward the peasant: “If you feed me, I will protect you.” Before long, of course, every protection contract becomes a protection racket: “Give me what I want and I will protect you against me.
JUNE 9, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Slate ran an article by L.V. Anderson decrying the tendency of Ivy League graduates to be vague about their educaitonal credentials. Asked where they went to school, they say, “New Haven,” or “Boston,” or “New Jersey.” If . . . you refuse to tell someone you went to Harvard, that reflects poorly on you – it implies that, on some level, you buy into the overblown mythos of Harvard and the presumption of Ivy League superiority. Anderson’s course of study, wherever it was, must not have included even a paragraph of Goffman. One of the basic ideas of _Presentation of Self_ is that people seek to control the impressions others make of them, and they do this by controlling the information others get, for they what impression others are likely to make from that information. It’s not about what mythos Ivy Leaguers buy into. It’s about the mythos others have bought.Ivy Leaguers have a very good notion, usually based on experience, of the impression that “Harvard” or “Yale” creates in other’s minds. Alyssa Metzger in the Chronicle sets the record straight. When I would visit my former local bar in Philly . . . a reply of “In Boston” usually led to them returning to their beers with an “Oh cool … my friend’s sister goes to BU” . . . If I said, “At Harvard,” it tended to lead to them turning on their stools to face me, wide-eyed, with an “Oh wow … you must be really smart.” I wasn’t Allyssa, I was SMART PERSON (TM)— more object than person. Who wants to be seen as an exemplar of a stereotype? And stereotype we do, even those of us who should know better. A few years ago (here) I reported a conversation from my playground days. I had gotten to know another playground dad (we were a small n). Brad was Juilliard grad who was eking out a living as a conductor with a regional orchestra – five concerts a year.
One day we were sitting on the bench, and Brad asked me where I’d gotten my Ph.D. I guess we’d never talked much about higher education. Harvard, I told him.
“I didn’t know that,” he said, surprised, “and I’ve known you all this time.”
“Don’t be impressed,” I said.
“But I am,” he said. From his voice and the look on his face, I could see that he meant it. I wanted to convince him not to be.
“Oh Brad,” I said, my voice rising in mock awe, “You went to Juilliard?! You must be this really great and talented musician. Juilliard – wow!” Or something like that.
“See what I mean?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. Then a pause. “But I’m still impressed.”
Harvard grads don’t want to lie. So they tell the _veritas_, just not the whole _veritas._ Yalies may shade the _veritas_ in order to present themselves in the _lux_ that best fits the situation. But, as Goffman pointed out, that’s what we all do all the time.
JUNE 7, 2014 _Posted before post time by Jay Livingston_ At Freakonomics Steven Levitt argues for making “a place bet on California Chrome” mostly because the odds to win will be so low. When California Chrome won the Preakness, a $2 bet to win returned $3. A $2 bet to place also returned $3! . . . You can’t know with certainty what the place payout will be ahead of time because it depends on what other horse finishes in the top two, but if you watch the allocation of money in the place pool you can get a pretty good idea. Sometimes crazy things happen. When Big Brown won the Preakness, he paid $2.40 to win, $2.60 to place, an $2.40 to show! Levitt is right when he says that the place payout depends on which other horse finishes in the top two. But he’s wrong when he says that you can get a pretty good idea by watching the place pool. The Tote board at the track does show how much money is bet on each horse to win, to place, and to show. The place payout is determined by taking all the losing bets and dividing them up among people who bet on the winner and those who bet on the place horse. The reason Big Brown paid more to place than to win was that horse who finished second, Macho Again, at 40-1 was the second longest shot in the race. That meant more money in the place pool (all the money bet on the other ten horses) to be divided. So if you are betting a heavy favorite to place, you not only have to watch the place pool bets, but you also have to pray that the horses with big money bet on them finish no better than third. Levitt’s best bet is Commanding Curve to win. The odds will be attractive. A dollar on California Chrome, if he wins, will get you fifty cents; if you bet him to place, you might win only a dime. The morning line on Commanding Curve is 15-1, but I expect it will by lower by post time. Commanding Curve closed six lengths on California Chrome in final furlong of the Derby, an indication that he might have the stamina for the added quarter-mile of the Belmont. Commanding Curve also skipped the Preakness, giving him an extra two weeks of rest. My own long shot is Wicked Strong, another possible closer. The morning line is 6-1, but I predict it will be higher. He had some bad racing luck in the Derby and still got fourth. Finally, I cannot do a post on horse racing without reiterating my pet peeve about the incorrect use of “track record” that has become so widespread (see my earlier post here). In racing, where the term originates, it does not refer to a horses’ past performances. It refers to the record time at that track for a given distance. People don’t have track records, tracks do. The Belmont stakes is a mile and a half. The fastest time for that distance at Belmont – the track record – is 2:24. That’s way fast, and here’s what it looked like.In a sport where the difference between win and place is usually a fraction of a second, Secretariat is four or five seconds ahead of the rest. UPDATE: Both Levitt and I were wrong. The winner was Tonalist at 8-1, a horse who had raced only four times and only once against top horses, though he won that one (a grade-2 stakes). The place horse was an even longer shot, Commissioner at 20-1.
JUNE 5, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Usually, you want to match up with someone at about your level, or a little higher. The trouble is that many people overestimate their own level. Maybe that’s especially true of men. One summer many years ago at the tennis courts, a guy I didn’t know came over and asked me if I’d like to play. I hadn’t arranged a game with anyone, but I didn’t want to wind up playing some patzer. “Are you any good?” I asked. He paused. “Well, I’m not Jimmy Connors,” he said (I told this was many years ago), “but neither are you.” In chess and other games, serious players have ratings. Give a roomful of possible partners, they can sort through the ratings and find a match with someone at roughly the same level. It’s called assortative mating, though that term usually refers to the other kind of mating, not chess. It’s the basis of the conflict in this poignant scene from “Louie.” (The scene was also played on a recent “Fresh Air” interview with Louis C.K.) Vanessa is not a ten, neither is Louie. According to principles of assortative mating, the tens will wind up with other tens, the nines with nines, and so on down the attractiveness scale. One problem in the “Louie” scene is that Louie seems to have an inflated view of his own attractiveness. He’s aiming higher than Vanessa. That’s typical. So is the importance that Louie, the man, places on physical attractiveness. This excerpt begins with Louie telling Vanessa that she’s a really beautiful . . . . He can’t bring himself to say “girl”; hes probably going to say “person.” But he’s obviously not saying what he thinks. Or as Dan Ariely and colleagues concluded from their study of HotOrNot members (here)* [Men] were significantly more influenced by the consensus physical attractiveness of their potential dates than females were. [Men also] were less affected by how attractive they themselves were . . . In making date choices, males are less influenced by their own rated attractiveness than females are. Another dating site, OK Cupid, found a similar pattern when they looked at data about who gets messages (here).** They asked their customers to rate profile photos of the opposite sex on a scale of 0 to 5. They then tracked the number of messages for people at each level of attractiveness. The graph below shows what women thought and what they did – that is, how attractive they found men, and who they sent messages to.Men who were rated 0 or 1 got fewer messages than their proportion in the population. That figures. But even men who were only moderately attractive got more than their share. Generally, the fewer men at a level of attractiveness, the fewer total messages women sent. The 4s, for example, constituted only 2% of the population, and they got only 4% of all the messages. The Vanessas on OK Cupid are not sending a lot of inquiries to guys who look like George Clooney. But look at the men.Men are more generous in their estimates of beauty than are women. But they also ignore the Vanessas of the world (or at least the world of OK Cupid) and flock after the more attractive women. Only 15% of the women were rated as a 4, but they received about 26% of the messages. Women rated 5 received messages triple their proportion in the population. What about those with so-so looks? Women rated as 2s received only about 10% of the messages sent by men. But men at that same level received 25% of the messages women sent. The women seem more realistic. Vanessa too has no illusions about her own attractiveness. She refers to herself as “a fat girl,” and when Louie, trying to be kind, says, “You’re not fat,” she says: “You know what the meanest thing is you can say to a fat girl? [pause] ‘You’re not fat.’”*** But it’s only when she challenges Louie’s view of his own attractiveness that their relationship starts to change.
Y’know if you were standing over there looking at us, you know what you’d see?
That we totally match. We’re actually a great couple together.
She doesn’t explain what she means by “totally match.” It could be their interests or ideas or personalities, but the imaginary stranger looking at them from over there couldn’t know about any of that. What that generalized other could see is that they are at roughly the same place on the assortative mating attractiveness scale.
* Ariely discusses this research in his book _The Upside of Irrationality._
** OK Cupid was founded by Harvard math graduates. On the Website’s blog, they would post graphs like these – big data that could be very useful for the site’s members. A few years ago, they sold out to Match.com, and the data analyses ended.
*** This occurs early in the clip, at about 0:25. The entire 7and a half minutes is worth watching.
JUNE 4, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Survey questions, even those that seem simple and straightforward, can be tricky and yield incorrect answers. Social desirability can skew the answers to questions about what you would do – “Would you vote for a woman for president. . . .?” and even factual questions about what you did do. “Don’t ask, ‘How many books did you read last year?’‘ said the professor in my undergraduate methods course. “Ask ‘Did you read a book last week?’” There’s no shame in having been too busy to read a book in a seven-day period. Besides, people’s recall will be more accurate. Or will it? Is even a week’s time enough to distort memory? Leif Nelson (Berkeley, Business School) asked shoppers, “Did you buy laundry detergent the last time you went to the store?” Forty-two percent said yes.Nelson doesn’t question the 42% figure. He’s interested in something else: the “false consensus effect” – the tendency to think that others are more like us than they really are. So he asks, “What percentage of shoppers do you think will buy laundry detergent?” and he asks “Did you buy laundry detergent.” Sure enough, those who said they bought detergent give higher estimates of detergent buying by others. (Nelson’s blog post, with other interesting findings, is here.) But did 42% of those shoppers really buy detergent last time they were in the store? Andrew Gelman is “stunned” and skeptical. So am I. The average family does 7-8 washes a week. Let’s round that up to 10. They typically do serious shopping once a week with a few other quick express-lane trips during the week. This 50 oz. jug of Tide will do 32 loads – three week’s of washing.That means only 33% of customers should have said yes. And that 33% is a very high estimate since most families by in bulk, especially with items like detergent. Tide also comes in 100-oz. and 150-oz. jugs. If you prefer powder, how about this 10-lb. box of Cheer? It’s good for 120 loads.A family should need to buy this one in only one out of 12 trips. Even at double the average washing, that’s six weeks of detergent. The true proportion of shoppers buying detergent should be well below 20%. Why then do people think they buy detergent so much more frequently? I’m puzzled. Maybe if washing clothes is part of the daily routine, something you’re always doing, buying detergent seems like part of the weekly shopping trip. Still, if we can’t rely on people’s answers about whether they bought detergent, what does that mean for other seemingly innocuous suvey questions?
MAY 28, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Conservatives get upset when rich people push for policies that will help the poor and the less privileged. But why? It might be the threat to solidarity. It’s one thing if traditional opponents attack from the outside. But one of our own switching sides adds the insult of rejection to any injury. Besides, the defector’s actions and judgments can’t be dismissed as mere ignorance. He is an insider, he’s been there. So while we treat prisoners of war decently (they were just playing their part in the game), we get really upset at turncoats. Desertion and treason are punishable by death. In the 1930s, FDR was “a traitor to his class.” In more recent years, the conservative tone in these matters has changed from anger over betrayal to a kind of bemused condescension and questioning of motives as in Tom Wolfe’s “Radical Chic.” But whether the heretical rich are “traitors” or whether they are “limousine liberals,” the underlying assumption is the same: Rich people should pursue policies that help rich people. They should not make common cause with political movements created by and for the less privileged. Conservatives here are hauling out the old Marxist concept of “false consciousness” and applying it to the bourgeoisie rather than the proletariat. If these wealthy people had true class consciousness, they would remain true to rich people’s movements. The latest version of this reaction came yesterday in an NPR story about a meeting in London, a meeting of the very, very, very rich – 250 invited guests (including Prince Charles) – to talk about “inclusive capitalism.” Among things such capitalism might include are attention to the environment, to inequality, and to working conditions. LYNN FORESTER DE ROTHSCHILD: We have $30 trillion of assets under management in the room. So if this bulk of capital decides that they are going to invest in companies that arent only thinking about the short-term profit, then we will see corporate behavior change. It’s hard for conservatives to blatantly oppose those goals. Instead, their strategy is to belittle. The NPR story asked Scott Winship for his reaction. Winship, works for the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank (they get their money from Koch, Scaife, et al.). Winship’s statements are usually sensible and data based, but his contribution to the NPR story is just snark.
SCOTT WINSHIP: I suspect the return on investment in this conference is astonishingly low.
It sort of surprises me, I think, that you have a bunch of people in the investment community who apparently are viewing this as having a significant return on investment, in some way, whether the return is in people kind of patting them on the back and saying, thanks for caring about us, or in actual changes to policies.
Winship’s guiding principle here seems to be: If you can’t say something nasty, don’t say anything at all. Since he can’t demean the goals, he dismisses the participants’ motives (they are insecure egotists who want to be patted on the back) and says that for a bunch of investors, they’re making bad investment decisions – investing all that effort to get very little return.* Apparently, it’s better to do nothing than to try to ameliorate real problems.
Better still to devote that effort to making themselves still richer. At least that way, they’ll have conservatives patting them on the back and thanking them for being “job creators.”
*Maybe the NPR interviewer had prompted Winship to be critical. Maybe Winship made more substantive comments that were edited out of the piece. I certainly hope so.
MAY 23, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ The Rangers crushed the Canadiens convincingly in game one: 7-2. The question was whether that result could be replicated . . . three more times. Replication is hard (as the Rangers and their fans discovered in overtime at the Garden last night). That’s true in social science too. The difference is that the results of the Rangers’ failure to replicate were published. Social psychologists are now paying more attention to the replication question. In the Reproducibility Project, Brian Nosek and others have set about trying to replicate most of the studies published in three top journals since 2008. The first round of results was encouraging – of thirteen attempts, ten were consistent with the original findings. In one case, an “anchoring” study by Daniel Kahneman, the effect was stronger than in the original. What failed to replicate? Mostly, experiments involving “priming,” where subliminal cues affect people’s ideas or behavior. In the best known and now most controversial of these, participants were primed by words suggesting old age (wrinkles, bingo, alone, Florida). They were then surreptitiously timed as they walked down the hall. In the original study by John Bargh (the priming _primus inter pares_), participants who were primed walked more slowly than did the controls.* Many people have tried to replicate this study, and the results are mixed. One problem might be a “Rosenthal” effect, where the experimenters unintentionally and unknowingly influence the participants’ behavior so that it conforms with their expectations. Double-blind experiments, where the experimenters don’t know which participants have been primed, do not produce significant difference. (More here.) I had a different explanation: some guys can prime; some can’t. Maybe John Bargh and his assistants are really good at priming. Somehow, when they give participants those words mixed in among others, the sujects get a strong but still subliminal mental image of wrinkled retirees in Miami. But other psychologists at other labs haven’t got the same touch. There’s no independent measure of how effective the priming was, so we can’t know. I was delighted to see that Daniel Kahneman (quoted here ) had the same idea. The conduct of subtle experiments has much in common with the direction of a theatre performance . . . you must tweak the situation just so, to make the manipulation strong enough to work, but not salient enough to attract even a little attention . . . .Bargh has a knack that not all of us have. Many social psychology experiments involve a manipulation that the participant must be unaware of. If the person catches on to the priming (“Hey, all these sentences have words with a geezer theme,”), it blows the con. Some experiments require more blatant deceptions (think Milgram), and not all psychologists are good deceivers. What reminded me of this was Eliot Aronson’s memoir _Not by Chance Alone_. Aronson is one of the godfathers of social psychology experiments, and one of his most famous is the one-dollar-twenty-dollar lie, more widely known as Aronson and Carlsmith, 1963. Carlsmith was J. Merrill Carlsmith. The name seems like something from central casting, and so did the man – a polite WASP who prepped at Andover, etc. In the experiment, the subject was given a boring task to do – taking spools out of a rack and then putting them back, again and again, while Carlsmith as experimenter stood there with a stopwatch pretending to time him. The next step was to convince the subject to help the experimenter.
[Merrill] would explain that he was testing the hypothesis that people work faster if they are told in advance that the task is incredibly interesting than if they are told nothing and informed, “You were in the control condition. That is why you were told nothing.”
At this point Merrill would say that the guy who was supposed to give the ecstatic description to the next subject had just phoned in to say he couldn’t make it. Merrill would beg the “control” subject to do him a favor and play the role, offering him a dollar (or twenty dollars) to do it. Once the subject agreed, Merrill was to give him the money and a sheet listing the main things to say praising the experiment and leave him alone for a few minutes to prepare.
But Carlsmith could not do a credible job. Subjects immediately became suspicious.
It was crystal clear why the subjects weren’t buying it: He wasn’t selling it. Leon [Festinger] said to me, “Train him.”
Sell it. If you’ve seen “American Hustle,” you might remember the scene where Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) is trying to show the FBI agent disguised as an Arab prince how to give a gift to the politician they are setting up.
Aronson had to do something similar, and he had the qualifications. As a teenager, he had worked at a Fascination booth on the boardwalk in Revere, Masssachusetts, reeling off a spiel to draw strollers in to try their luck.
Walk right in, sit in, get a seat, get a ball. Play poker for a nickel. . . You get five rubber balls. You roll them nice and easy . . . Any three of a kind or better poker hand, and you are a winner. So walk in, sit in, play poker for a nickel. Five cents. Hey! Theres three jacks on table number 27. Payoff that lucky winner!
Twenty years later, Aronson still had the knack, and he could impart it to others. Like Kahneman, he thinks of the experiment as theater.I gave Merrill a crash course in acting. “You dont simply say that the assistant hasn’t shown up,” I said. “You fidget, you sweat, you pace up and down, you wring your hands, you convey to the subject that you are in real trouble here. And then, you act as if you just now got an idea. You look at the subject, and you brighten up. ‘You! You can do this for me. I can even pay you.’”
The deception worked, and the experiment worked. When asked to say how interesting the task was, the $1 subjects give it higher ratings than did the $20 subjects. Less pay for lying, more attitude shift. The experiment is now part of the cognitive dissonance canon. Surely, others have tried to replicate it. I just don’t know what the results have been.
* An earlier post on Bargh and replication is here.
MAY 18, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ When my primary care physician, a wonderful doctor, told me he was retiring, he said, “I just can’t practice medicine anymore the way I want to.” It wasn’t the government or malpractice lawyers. It was the insurance companies. This was long before Obamacare. It was back when President W was telling us that “America has the best health care system in the world”; back when “the best” meant spending twice as much as other developed countries and getting health outcomes that were no better and by some measures worse. (That’s still true). Many critics then blamed the insurance companies, whose administrative costs were so much higher than those of public health care, including our own Medicare. Some of that money went to employees whose job it was to increase insurers’ profits by not paying claims. Back then we learned the word “rescission” – finding a pretext for cancelling the coverage of people whose medical bills were too high. Insurance company executives, summoned to Congressional hearings, stood their ground and offered some misleading statistics. None of the Congressional representatives on the committee asked the execs how much they were getting paid. Maybe they should have. Health care in the US is a $2.7 trillion dollar business, and today’s Times has an article about who’s getting the big bucks. Not the doctors, it turns out. And certainly not the people who have the most contact with sick people - nurses, EMTs, and those further down the chain. Here’s the chart from the article, with an inset showing those administrative costs.
(Click on the chart for a larger view._)As fine print at the top of the chart says, these are just salaries - walking-around money an exec gets for showing up. The real money is in the options and incentives.
In a deal that is not unusual in the industry, Mark T. Bertolini, the chief executive of Aetna, earned a salary of about $977,000 in 2012 but a total compensation package of over $36 million, the bulk of it from stocks vested and options he exercised that year.I’m sure that there is some free-market explanation for these payment inequalities, and that all is for the best in this best of all possible health care systems. The anti-Obamacare rhetoric has railed against a “government takeover” of medicine. It is, of course, no such thing. Obama had to remove the “public option”; Republicans prevented the government from fielding a team and getting into the game. Instead, we have had an insurance company takeover of medicine. It’s not the government that’s coming between doctor and patient, it’s the insurance companies. Those dreaded “bureaucrats” aren’t working for the government of the people, by the people, and for the people. They’ve working for Aetna and Well-Point. Even the doctors now sense that they too are merely working for The Man.
Doctors are beginning to push back: Last month, 75 doctors in northern Wisconsin* [demanded] . . . health reforms . . . requiring that 95 percent of insurance premiums be used on medical care. The movement was ignited when a surgeon, Dr. Hans Rechsteiner, discovered that a brief outpatient appendectomy he had performed for a fee of $1,700 generated over $12,000 in hospital bills, including $6,500 for operating room and recovery room charges.That $12,000 tab is slightly under the US average. (For more on appendectomy costs, and especially if you remember _Madeline_, see this earlier post – here.) ----------------------------------- * Northern Wisconsin includes three blue counties (they voted to recall Gov. Walker). The doctors, like the majority of citizens there, may have been contaminated by their proximity to liberal places like Minnesota and Canada.
MAY 16, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ All these commencement speakers withdrawing because of student protests. Condoleezza Rice is the best-known, but in his Times op-ed today (here), Timothy Egan mentions several others. The title on Egan’s piece is “The Commencement Bigots,” but Egan’s name-calling doesn’t end at “bigots.” There’s “fragile,” (overly) “sensitive,” “strong-arm tactics,” “bully,” and “pressure tactics designed to kill opposing views.” That last one is a bit long for playground shouting, but I guess “poopooheads” wouldn’t pass the Times stylesheet, though “kill” is a nice touch. Egan concludes:Commencement is a ritual. It takes place in the realm of the sacred, apart from the everyday, “profane” world of getting and spending, debating and politicking. In the sacred world, we emphasize unity, solidarity, and similarity. That’s the symbolism of the event. No individual fashion statements, just everyone wearing the same plain caps and gowns. The stadium or auditorium or whatever is festooned with the school colors, the colors that represent all of us. The message is that we’re all here together, members of the Our Uni* community. There’s a time and place for provocative, challenging, and divisive speeches, preferably a setting where people can respond and ask questions. Graduation ain’t it. We accept this restriction at other rituals. At a funeral, we do not want the eulogist to challenge our positive views of the deceased. At a wedding, surely there are reasons to worry about fault lines in the terrain the couple is standing on, but we don’t want the best man, in his toast, to point out any inconvenient truths. Read Egan’s column and note the speakers he selects as some of the best from the recent past – Steve Jobs, David Foster Wallace, Stephen Colbert. None of these, to judge by the key quotes Egan selects, had a political edge or promoted one side of a controversial issue. They all offered something that the seniors could admire together, ponder philosophically together, or laugh at together. Since rituals are about group solidarity and the symbolism of unity, what the speaker says may be less important than who the speaker is. The university is not just asking someone to make a good speech, it is bestowing an honor. The question is not whether the person should be heard, it’s whether the university should honor that person on behalf of the entire community. As Egan says,I have heard some grumbling, especially among faculty in the English department. Their complaints have nothing to do with what Patterson might say. Instead, they are concerned that the school is honoring a writer whose presence would never grace their syllabi. Of course, there are worse things for graduation than a divisive speaker or an airport paperback author. Egan mentions “broiling sun.” Cold and rain can be just as bad.------------------------------------ * In _My Freshman Year_, Rebekah Nathan (aka Cathy Small) gives her school the pseudonym Any U, echoing its true identity, NAU (Northern Arizona University). My favorite made-up name for a generic school comes from Montclair prof David Galef: U of All People.
the lefty thought police at Smith, Haverford and Rutgers share one thing with the knuckle-dragging hard right in Oklahoma: They’re afraid of hearing something that might spoil a view of the world they’ve already figured out.Other commentators take the “I’m rubber and you’re glue” approach saying that it’s the speakers who are the cowards. They’re the ones who chickened out. As Egan says, almost in contradiction to his argument about who it is that’s afraid, Rice “canceled after a small knot of protesters pressured the university.” Brave Condi, who stood up to Saddam and other brutal tyrants, unwilling to speak to an audience that might have small knot of protesters. Durkheim would have had so much to contribute to this discussion, but alas, he has not been invited to speak.
The foreign policy that Rice guided for George W. Bush — two wars on the credit card, making torture a word associated with the United States — was clearly a debacle. Contemporary assessments were not kind, and history will be brutal.Rutgers students, if they are interested, can read her book or transcripts of her lectures. But surely we can understand why many graduates – maybe even more than a small knot – might not want their graduation ritual to extend her its benediction. For our graduation speaker this year, the administration chose author James Patterson.