- Bloggiversary (Now We Are Eight)
- Corporations and Friends
- When Thiago Met Daleyza
- Religious Knowledge, Religious Feeling
- Reality Football
- Hackers and Voyeurs
- Old Book, Old Line
- Ordeal or No Deal
- Cops vs. Man With Knife
- Frederick Douglass’s Agitation
- The Last Time I Saw Betty Joan Perske
- Sports, Markets, and Ficitons
- Writing Corporate Tax Law – How Else?
- Who’s Covering Up?
- Folk Festival
- 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
SEPTEMBER 20, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ This blog began in September 2006, eight years and 1341 posts ago. As I’ve said before, around this season I hear the CarGuys-like voice in my head saying, “Well, you’ve wasted another perfectly good year blogging.” Anyway, here are a few from the past year that I’ve sort of liked. 1. Separate Ways Sociology falls out of love with Malcolm Gladwell. 2. It’s Not About Obamacare and the companion piece Fearing Democracy Anti-Obamacare as symbolic politics, again. 3. The Revenge Fantasy - “Django Unchained” and “12 Years a Slave” This one got noticed at other places, including a website for screenwriters. 4. The Wars on Christmas A Dec. 25 post. “Happy Holidays” goes back farther than I (or Bill O’Reilly) thought. 5. Losing Their Religion - And So . . .? Brad Wilcox says that the decline in religion the cause of less civic engagement. Some data suggests otherwise. 6. Game. Set, Match.com Louis CK and assortative mating. The embedded video clip is from the “Louie” episode that won an Emmy. 7. LOL The many meanings of laughter. Includes a clip of Terry Gross and her apologetic laugh. 8. How to Misread a Graph (It’s Not Easy, but The Heritage Foundation Finds a Way) The title is neither succinct nor elegant, but it conveys the idea.
SEPTEMBER 17, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ “Corporations are people, my friend.” If Mitt Romney winds up in the quotations books and URLs, this will be his contribution. I’m not sure what Romney meant – probably that corporations were staffed by people, and perhaps that they were owned by people. It’s possible that he was referring to Supreme Court decisions that gave corporations some of the same rights as people. Whatever he meant, the statement still rings false because a corporation is so obviously not an individual person. Corporations have no social or emotional attachments to others. As economist Greg Mankiw explained recently (here), their primary responsibility, maybe their only responsibility, is to make as much money as they can. If Burger King can avoid paying US taxes by claiming that it’s a Canadian company, it’s just doing what it’s supposed to be doing. As that socialist rag Fortune put it, “The possibility exists that the company will be able to reassign the fees from its U.S. franchises to Canada and pay no U.S. tax on this income. Other taxpayers here in the U.S. will have to shoulder the burden and make up this shortfall in tax revenue.” Corporations do not have a responsibility to society or country, and they certainly don’t have a responsibility to any person. My friend. Still, corporations pretend otherwise and try to create the Romneyesque fiction that they are indeed people, people with feelings, people who are our friend.. Last week, several corporate PR offices Tweeted messages about 9/11.
ADFREAK: What makes these tweets feel so icky?
SEAN BONNER: Its simple. Brands are not people. Brands do not have emotions or memories or condolences or heartbreak. People have those things, and when a brand tries to jump into that conversation, its marketing.
Unfortunately, some corporations blow their patriotic cover and make the marketing aspect blatant. Intimacy Box, a company that sells lingerie, sent forth this tweet.
As comedian Robert Klein said decades ago about Presidents Day, “I’m sure that the father of our country would be pleased to know that he’s being honored with a mattress sale.” These corporate tweets, whether they have discount coupons or pictures of flags, have the same underlying message: we want you to feel good about us so that you will buy more of our products. Dunkin’ Donuts, Beretta, and the rest leave the “buy more” message unsaid. After all, they are trying to convey the Romney idea that they are people. Only Intimacy Box makes it explicit, and that company was soon shamed into apologizing for its honesty. ---------------------- *The irony of the Beretta tweet – the company is part of an industry whose product each year kills ten times as many Americans as died on 9/11 – was probably lost on Beretta’s Twitter followers. HT: Dan Hirschman
(Click to enlarge)_I would guess that most people accepted these as sincere.* But not everybody. People in the PR and branding biz saw this patriotic tweetery for what it was – marketing. At AdWeek, the AdFreak page interviewed Sean Bonner.
SEPTEMBER 16, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Fashions in names are like fashions in clothes in at least one respect – they change more quickly for females than for males. When it comes to naming a boy, the same old styles will do, and very few seem out of date. But with girls, it’s easy to think of names like Ethel, Edna, Shirley, Doris – popular at one time, but today, nobody’s would give that name to their daughter. But William, Richard, and Robert stick around generation after generation . . . at least until now. That gender difference seems to be changing. Even as recently as 1980, six of the top 10 boys names had been in the top 10 a decade earlier. For girls, only four remained in that group.This was in the reign of Jennifer and Michael. Michael had been in #1 or #2 from 1954 through 2008. The Jennifer era was shorter, not 55 years but 15 – from 1970 through 1984. That was then. In the most recent decade, the turnover in the Top 10 has been more rapid for boys than for girls. Six girls names but only four boys names stayed on that list through the decade.The old reliable boys names – William, John, Robert, James – are being replaced by more faddish entries. Jacob and Joshua may have hung around near the top for 20 or 30 years, but James and Robert stayed for 60 years or more. My guess is that in ten years or less, newcomers like Jayden, Mason, Noah, and Liam will no longer be in the top 10, nor will the fading old-timers like Michael and Daniel, though their drop in popularity will not be as precipitous. Generally, the faster they rise, the faster they fall. Among the less common names, volatility is much greater. The biggest leaps upward in rank occur far down on the list. Here are the biggest movers in 2013.The small numbers make for greater volatility. With only two hundred Thiagos born in 2012, an additional hundred in 2013 made for a jump in rank of 374 places. It’s also worth noting that several of the names on the list are inspired by figures in the media – Thiago and Forrest (mixed martial arts), Daleyza (reality TV), Jayceon (music), and probably others I’m too lazy to look up. Usually, fashions in names spread via influence within the population. The rise in popularity starts gradually. Parents-to-be get wind of a cool name by hearing what parents around them have chosen. The next year still more parents see kids with that name, and the trend grows. By contrast, the influence of distant figures in the media is more sudden. A graph of changes in popularity – steep or gradual – can give you a good idea as to whether the influence is coming from outside or from within the population, even if you’ve never heard of “Larrymania.” (See this post from two years ago, inspired by Gabriel Rossman’s writings about how songs become hits.) If fashions in boys names are changing almost as rapidly as changes in girls names, what are we to make of this convergence? We’re moving away from those once durable names – the Roberts and the Williams – and we’re putting more value on less frequent and more nearly unique names. Philip Cohen (here) speculates that the trend towards more individual baby names reflects a change in how we think about children. In contrast to 19th-century assumptions about children, we now see each child as a unique individual, important to us for her or his special personality. The child’s place in the family is all about interpersonal relations rather than economic contributions. In Viviana Zelizer’s famous phrase about this change (roughly in the period from the 1870s to the 1930s), the child has become “economically worthless but emotionally priceless.” Gender differences might be following a similar pattern, with more attention paid to the emotions and social life of boys, their unique personalities, rather than simply their economic abilities and prospects. We see a movie like “Boyhood,” nod our heads appreciatively, and say, “Yes, that is what boyhood is all about.” It’s hard if not impossible to imagine a similar story told in 1850 and based on 1850s ideas and assumptions about boys. It would be similarly difficult for Americans of 1850 to understand Linklater’s film (which if you havent seen, you should). A century ago, a good father could be emotionally distant so long as he was a reliable breadwinner. Now, we expect dads to take part in the emotional life of the family, once pretty much a female preserve. Maybe the trend in boys names is a further sign of the gradual erosion of old and rigid distinctions between boys and girls, men and women. If so, I wonder if the people who most object to Jayden and Landon and Grayson* and to the greater variety and variability of boys names are also those who insist most strongly on maintaining those traditional gender-role boundaries. -------------------- * Boys names ending in “n” have had an impressive rise in popularity. The final “n” now dwarfs names ending in the other 25 letters. For graphs, see this 2009 post.
SEPTEMBER 10, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Robin Hanson has a “it isn’t about” list (here). It begins * FOOD ISN’T ABOUT NUTRITION * CLOTHES AREN’T ABOUT COMFORT Also on the list is * CHURCH ISN’T ABOUT GOD Maybe church isn’t about religious ideas either. I was reminded of this recently when I followed a link to a Pew quiz on religious knowledge (here). It’s a lite version of the 32-item quiz Pew used with a national sample in 2010. One of the findings from that survey (the full report is here) was that people who went to church regularly and who said that religion was important in their lives didn’t do much better on the quiz than did those who had a weak attachment to church and religion.The committed may derive many things from their church attendance and faith, but knowledge of religion isn’t one of them. To be fair, the quiz covers many religions, and people do know more about their own religion than they do about others. “What was Joseph Smith’s religion?” Only about half the population gets that one right, but 93% of the Mormons nailed it. Mormons also knew more about the Ten Commandments. Catholics did better than others on the transubstantiation question. But when it came to knowing who inspired the Protestant Reformation, Protestants got outscored by Jews and atheists.Overall, onbelievers, Jews, and Mormons did much better than did Protestants and Catholics.
One reason for their higher scores might be education – college graduates outscore high school or less by nearly 8 points out of 32.These same majority-minority differences apply in politics as well. A lifetime Democrat or Republican can get by on general principles without having to worry about the details of policies or candidates’ positions. Socialists and Tea Partistas are more likely to devote more time and thought to those issues.
SEPTEMBER 5, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Over at Scatterplot , Jeremy Freese posts this excerpt from _Season of Saturdays_, by Michael Weinreb, a sports writer.
Maybe you don’t understand at all: Maybe you attended a liberal arts college in New England, or maybe you grew up in a city where the athletes were professionals (New York, say, or Boston, or Chicago, or London). . . . Maybe the thought of a university’s morale being tied to its football team strikes you as a fundamental failing of American society. Maybe you hear stories about corrupt recruiting and grade-fixing, and maybe you cannot understand how a sport with a long history of exploitation and brutality and scandal can still be considered a vital (and often defining) aspect of student life. Maybe you see it as a potentially crippling frivolity, or as a populist indulgence, and maybe the threat of football encroaching on the nation’s educational system makes you wonder how someone could possibly write an entire book extolling its cultural virtues.
And the thing is, I would like to tell you that you’re wrong, but I also know that you’re not entirely wrong.
Jeremy, a long-time Big Ten fan (Iowa and now Northwestern), admits to his own increasing ambivalence about the game. Me, I’m more like those “maybe” people Weinreb imagines. In the town where I grew up, many adults felt towards the high school football team the way college team fans feel about their team. They went to all the games (sometimes even the away games), they knew the team’s history and would compare individual players to those of five or ten or more years earlier. And this wasn’t Odessa, TX.; it was a white collar, WASP suburb of Pittsburgh. I wondered what was wrong with these grown men. Many of them didn’t even have kids in the school. The phrase “get a life” hadn’t been invented yet, but if it had, that’s what I would have said.
I had the same feeling some years later when I went to a Princeton game – the alums in their tweed sport coats and striped ties shouting “Go Tiger” while we – grad students and young faculty – regarded the whole scene with stoned irony.
Over the years, I grew less critical about the fans, mostly because of sociology, which taught me to look at institutions, not just individuals. Some of the men in my town really liked school football. Others (my father, for example) liked to play bridge. So what? But those accusations of brutality, exploitation, and corruption that Weinreb mentions – those are more than just “not entirely wrong.” They are accurate and important. But the fault lies with institutions like the NCAA, not with the fans and athletes.
SEPTEMBER 3, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Two brief thoughts on the theft and distribution of Jennifer Lawrence’s private photos. 1. The “Don’t take nude selfies” response is both self-evident and stupid. As Lena Dunham said, it’s the equivalent of reacting to rape by saying, “She was wearing a short skirt.”* You expect this blame-the-woman reaction from nonentity Facebookers and Tweeters. But Nick Bilton is a New York Times columnist whose Twitter has 231,000 followers.Bilton later claimed that his tweet was “meant as a larger point about state of the Web and insecurity,” and maybe it was. Still, I wonder: if someone had hacked Bilton’s bank and brokerage information – account numbers and passwords – and looted his savings, would his response be, “1. Don’t use online financials. 2. Don’t use online financials . . . ”? 2. Why is seeing a nude picture of Jennifer Lawrence such a big deal? Not because of the inherent eroticism in a picture of an attractive nude female. Those are so commmonplace that it’s hard to avoid them. What makes it special is that it’s a celebrity and that she did not want the pictures seen. That’s true of most paparazzi shots that fill the celeb mags even when the celebrities are going about their daily life fully clothed. The voyeurism driving the JLaw pictures is similar though more explicit about its sexual interest. More important, woven in with that sexual interest is a nasty form of power – the power to violate. The hacker/voyeur is successful only if his act is a violation of the woman’s privacy. Is the picture badly lit and out of focus? No matter. What’s important is that he is seeing something she did not want him to see. Better if the victim is a celebrity, but a neighbor or ordinary woman in the street will do, so long as she is someone who we can assume does not want her naked body on display. In her short-skirt comment, Lena Dunham did not use the word _rape_, but the parallel is obvious. ---------------- * The LA Times responded to Dunham’s remark in an offensive and belittling way with the headline, “Jennifer Lawrence’s nude photos have FBI, Lena Dunham on the case.”
AUGUST 31, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ In the 1970s, it seemed that every undergraduate who had gone within twenty yards of Career Services was carrying a copy of _What Color Is Your Parachute_. I hadn’t seen anyone with the book in a long time, so I assumed that _Parachute_ had long since fallen to earth and lay forgotten in some distant meadow. I was wrong. The Times business section has an article (here) about the book, now out in its 2015 edition.Six years ago, I exploited the title for a blog post about photo retouching in celeb mags. This was back in the day when Madonna and ARod were newsworthy. Never afraid to recycle my garbage, I reprint the post in full. ********************************** July 16, 2008 Posted by Jay Livingston Sociological musings in the checkout line at the Publix. Two lovers, two magazines. Same story. But why is A-Rod so much darker on the In Touch cover than on Us?I did not buy the magazines to see if the stories too were different. I didnt even buy the Star to see if Mary Kate was going back to rehab. ************************** The title of the post was WHAT COLOR IS YOUR PARAMOUR. I liked it, but I’ve always wondered if anyone got the allusion
AUGUST 24, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Students in my criminal justice class were often incredulous when I described the trial by ordeal. The worth of a person’s testimony is determined by his or her ability to successfully undergo some ordeal.
“But what does floating or sinking have to do with whether the person committed a crime or whether what they say is worth believing?” students would ask. Exactly. Some students even suggest that there’s more than a touch of sadism in this irrational inflicting of suffering. For it is irrational, as my students quickly see. The underlying assumption – the equation of worthiness and ordeal – is ridiculous. We enlightened folks in 21st century America would never use such logic, right?
You can see where this is going.
THE ORDEAL OF COLD WATERAn ancient method of testing the guilt or innocence of the common sort of people. The accused, being tied under the arms, was thrown into a river. If he sank to the bottom, he was held to be guiltless, and drawn up by the cord; but if he floated, the water rejected him, because of his guilt. [source]
(Jimmy Fallon and Lindsay Lohan)The logic of the ice-bucket challenge is nothing new. Walkathons and bikeathons rest on the same idea: the worthiness of a charity – how much money I will donate – must be based on someone else undergoing an ordeal. Walking or biking some distance are the popular default ordeals. The person entering the event makes a deal with me, a potential contributor. The longer the ordeal, the more I must contribute. Presumably, if the person winds up not walking, then our deal is off, and I need not contribute a penny. The charity is not worthy of my money. These and other “thons” are now so common that they no longer get much attention. The ice bucket challenge is different mostly in its degree of success, which is considerable. That success owes much to the involvement of actors, sports stars, and the like. Celebrities still endorse products, but somewhat less directly – all those jocks sporting the Nike logo or Britney dancing in a video with lots of Pepsi – not quite the same as Ronald Reagan telling us straight out to smoke Chesterfields or O.J. Simpson talking up Hertz car rentals. So when celebrities speak in favor of something, especially something that they have no financial stake in, we pay attention. The underlying logic of endorsements is also not quite in keeping with enlightened rationality. Are the opinions of high-status people and their willingness to undergo an ordeal valid indicators of a charity’s virtue? Yet we seem to think that if Lindsay Lohan is willing to have Jimmy Fallon dump a bucket of ice water on her, ALS must be a more worthy cause than others I could write a check to. The other interesting thing about the ice bucket challenge is that it seems not to have been planned. It was not an ad campaign cooked up and widely promoted by some PR firm hired by the ALS foundation. Instead, it seems to have been a lucky accident, unplanned and unpredicted. It started small and grew gradually until it eventually went viral.* Through it all, a few observers have pointed out the logical fallacy in the ice bucket assumption. I refer of course to the Enlightenment rationalist Charlie Sheen, who dumped a bucket of room-temperature greenbacks on himself, challenging us to admit what the game was really about – money for a charity – and that the ice water was irrelevant. And then there was Sheen’s fellow _philosophe_ Patrick Stewart who made the same point, though with more style. -------- * In an earlier post (here), I used Gabriel Rossman’s ideas about exogenous and endogenous influences in the spread of ideas. If we could see a graph of contributions to ALS or even of videos and tweets, we would have a better idea of whether the popularity of the ice bucket was centrally planned or whether it followed the endogenous person-to-person model.
AUGUST 21, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Despite the cellphone video of two police officers killing Kajieme Powell, there is some dispute as to what happened. (See this account in The Atlantic.) Was Powell threatening them; did he hold the knife high; was he only three or four feet away? The video is all over the Internet, including the Atlantic link above. I’m not going to include it here. The officers get out of the car, immediately draw their guns, and walk towards Powell. Is this the best way to deal with a disturbed or possibly deranged individual – to confront him and then shoot him several times if he does something that might be threatening? Watch the video (you can find it in the Atlantic link above and elsewhere).Then watch London police confronting a truly deranged and dangerous man. (The video is from 2011. I’m surprised it hasn’t been recycled this week.) Powell had a steak knife, and it’s not clear whether he raised it or swung it at all. The man in London has a machete and is swinging it about.Unfortunately, the London video does not show us how the incident got started.* By the time the person started recording, at least ten officers were already on the scene. They do not have guns. They have shields and truncheons. The London police tactic used more officers, and the incident took more time. But nobody died.I’m sure that the Powell killing will elicit not just sympathy for the St. Louis police but in some quarters high praise – something to the effect that what they did was a good deed and that the victims got what they deserved. But righteous slaughter is slaughter nevertheless. A life has been taken. You would think that other recent videos of righteous slaughter elsewhere in the world would get us to reconsider this response to killing. But instead, these seem only to strengthen tribal Us/Them ways of thinking. If one of Us who kills one of Them, then the killing must have been necessary and even virtuous. ------------------ * I don’t know how the St. Louis incident got started. Who called the police, and what did they say? In the video, Powell is not menacing anyone, and the bystanders seem bemused rather than fearful.
The police in and around Ferguson have shot and killed twice as many people in the past two weeks (Mr Brown plus one other) as the police in Japan, a nation of 127m, have shot and killed in the past six years. Nationwide, America’s police kill roughly one person a day.The quote above is from this an article in this week’s Economist (here), which includes this graphic:
AUGUST 14, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ I hate to see a good word fade and get folded into another word that doesn’t mean quite the same thing. A Twitter link yesterday took me to a sociology blog whose post consisted entirely of a quotation from Frederick Douglass. It contained this sentence: Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. _Depreciate_ agitation? Surely Douglass must have said “deprecate.” That little “i,” a slender stroke and dot barely noticeable, makes a difference. Or at least it used to. In Douglass’s time, to _deprecate_ meant to disapprove strongly, and _depreciate_ meant to reduce in value. We depreciate assets. We deprecate sin. “Deprecate” as a percentage of both words took a dive starting around 1970, falling from 40% to 20%.Today, the distinction between the two is fading to the point that many readers and writers either do not know the difference or are simply unaware of the word _deprecate_. Authors have rewrite Douglass’s words; their books now become sources for other books and blogs. The sound of _deprecate_ grows fainter and fainter. If you search Google for the Douglass quote, the first screen gives you a chance of finding the right word.Language evolves. But it’s one thing for that evolution to make for changes as we move forward in history; it’s quite another for us to make those changes retroactive. I fear that in the next edition of Frederick Douglass’s writings, some alert copy editor will see “deprecate agitation,” assume that it’s a typo, and insert the “i.” And Douglass will turn over in his grave knowing that his powerful language has been depreciated.
(Depreciate_ is circled in red, _deprecate_ in blue. Click on the graphic for a larger view. )Still, when I searched for both kinds of agitation, Goggle returned more than three times as many “depreciates” as “deprecates.”
AUGUST 13, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ One late autumn day about five years ago, I had come out of Central Park and was walking east on W. 72nd St. Dusk on a weekday. The entrance to the Dakota was free of tourists. Nobody leaning forward to peer in through the vertical bars to see the spot where John Lennon died – just the silent doorman in his gray coat.
Lauren Bacall 1924 - 2014[I used this story in an earlier post about names. Until the late 20th century, performers with ethnic or difficult names changed them (or had them changed by Hollywood studios) to something more “American.” Now, they are more likely to stick with what they’ve got. I’m all for being multicultural, but I still think that Lauren Bacall is a perfect name for her. I have a hard time imagining what Betty Joan Perske would look like.]
AUGUST 11, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ It’s not “laughing out loud” any more. Or not just “laughing out loud.” The meaning has seeped out of that narrow box and is now broader and thinner, a generic sign of connection.* “Lol creates a comfort zone by calling attention to sentiments held in common.” (John McWhorter in the New York Times.) I have a hunch that this LOL-as-connection is a not guy thing. I don’t know the research on texting and gender, but I would expect that it is mostly women who are dropping these LOLs into their texts. Laughter itself – the kind you hear, not the kind you text LOL – also has multiple meanings and uses. And the question of whose laughter and what it means has a lot to do with gender. Mark Liberman, at the Language Log, posted recently about speech and gender – men and women, and what they say. Not surprisingly, they talk about different topics, and they use different words – when was the last time you heard a man say something was “adorable”? But they also differ in the not-word sounds that punctuate their conversations – especially laughter. These tables show the frequencies per million words (MW) and the log odds of male and female use, of what people say in conversations. (See Liberman’s post, here.)
(Click on the chart for a slightly larger view_.)(The markers (( and )) indicate sounds – starting or ending – that the transcribers couldn’t make out; _i-_ and_ th-_ are false starts – words the speaker started but then changed.) Number one among female-dominated items is_ [laughter]_. Liberman, who is usually a great source of insight on language, has disappointingly little to say: Its less clear why women should laugh 60% more often than men do — are women on average happier, or more overtly sociable? Or do men feel constrained not to express positive emotions? Is that all – happiness and sociability? Surely there are other kinds of female laughter – from a tween’s embarrassed, conspiratorial giggle to Phyllis Diller’s aggressive guffaw. Somewhere on that axis lies the female apologetic laugh, the one designed to take the edge off any sharpness in what a woman is saying. When Terry Gross, in her “Fresh Air” interviews, asks a question that might put her guest on the spot, she will often insert this kind of laugh. Here are two examples. In the first, she suggests to Hillary Clinton that Clinton might have tried to sneak in under the radar with changes in the State Department’s internal LBGT policies. In the second, she asks QuentinTarantino about the violence in his films.** The trouble is that when the transcript shows “[laughter],” you cannot know what kind of laugh it is. Sometimes you can’t know even when you hear it. Sociologist Freed Bales spent years developing a schema for classifying interactions in small groups, years in which he listened to countless hours of group discussion. The result was Interaction Process Analysis or IPA (in 1950, craft breweries were not even a speck on the horizon). It had twelve categories – six paired opposites: * Shows Antagonism / Shows Solidarity * Asks for Orientation / Gives Orientation and so on. Laughter was coded as “Shows Tension Release”; its counterpart was “Shows Tension.” True, some laughter showed tension release, but much did not, and twenty years later, in a revised IPA, Bales put laughter in the category “Shows Tension” under the general heading of “Negative and Mixed Actions.” Still, much laughter doesn’t fit into that box. Sometimes we ourselves don’t know what our laughter means. In Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments, subjects often laughed when the learner-victim cried out in pain. Clearly, this was nervous laughter. But when, in the famous film of the experiment, Milgram asks one subject why he laughed, the man says, “I thought it was funny, I guess.” ---------------------- * To avoid ambiguity, when texters want to indicate “I got the joke,” instead of “LOL,” they use “haha.” ** Gross, especially in the Tarantino excerpt, uses the word _like_. A lot. This may be a sign of her nervousness at asking a tough question. Or it just may be the way she usually speaks.
AUGUST 9, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Owners of money-making operations can make more money if they pay their workers less. But they paying less is possible only if others are not offering to pay more. This often requires that the business form a cartel – an agreement among owners not to compete. That way, they can all pay their workers less than market value. As Adam Smith pointed out long ago, businesses don’t really want competition. What’s interesting political conservatives who are not in business, despite their talk about freedom and capitalism and the free market, often want to shelter hugely profitable business from competition. Thus it was that yesterday Claudia Wilken, a liberal judge appointed by Bill Clinton, told the NCAA it would have to start paying their workers. The NCAA and its affiliated businesses (sometimes known as “universities”) didn’t just pay their workers less. They didn’t pay them at all. Even better. Of course, the NCAA claims that the football and basketball players are not workers creating a product that the NCAA sells for huge amounts of money. No, these are “scholar athletes.” And for years, the courts have gone along with this fiction. With yesterday’s court ruling as a start, that may soon change. The ruling, which would take effect in 2016, does not mandate that players be paid. But it could allow universities to engage in bidding wars for the best athletes, though the N.C.A.A. would probably try to prevent that by capping payments, which Judge Wilken said was permissible. [NYT] We’ve been here before. In sport, the courts have long been slow in recognizing what was obvious to everyone else. In 1922, the Supreme Court exempted major league baseball from the Sherman Anti-trust Law, ruling that baseball was an “amusement,” not a business. Another fiction. Even in 1969, when the Court admitted that baseball was a business, the conservatives on the Court still continued to allow teams to enforce the “reserve clause,” which prevented players from seeking a better deal with another club. If Mickey Mantle didn’t like the contract the Yankees offered, his only option was to retire. Dissenting were three of the Court’s great liberals – William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, and William O. Douglas. The reserve clause finally disappeared, not because of a court ruling but because the players had formed a union. In negotiations with the owners, the union was strong enough to force them to give up the reserve clause. College athletes have never been able to form a union. Recently, athletes at Northwestern voted to form a union. In April, the NLRB ruled that the athletes were employees and could unionize. Of course, those who were getting rich off the atheletes’ unpaid labor – the university and the NCAA – objected. Just last month, they filed briefs arguing against the NLRB decision. Still, it may be hard for college athletes to form unions given the short tenure of each member. And I expect that the NCAA and its universities will, like admittedly for-profit corporations, do everything they can to prevent or bust the unions. So for now, the courts are the only hope for bringing any real pay, let alone competitive wages, to college atheletes. So for now the courts are the workers’ only hope. Yesterday’s ruling offered that hope. So when it comes to money-making athletics, who’s for competition? Liberal judges and unions.
AUGUST 7, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ We refer to Senators and Congressional representatives as “lawmakers.” We democratically elect these people so that they can write and enact laws. But every so often the curtain parts, and we get a glimpse of who’s writing the laws, though these are usually laws that don’t make headlines. There was that time during the Bush years when corporate lobbyists were sitting right next to elected representatives - mostly Republican – at a committee hearing, telling them what to say. The GOP defenders got all huffy at those who had pointed out who was really running the legislation show. It reminded me of the Amazing Mr. Ballantine, the deliberately inept comic magician. He would do a levitation effect where the floating object was held by an obvious “invisible” thread. “Well, if you’re gonna look that close . . .” he would say to the audience. And then, “How else?” here) about efforts to close loopholes in corporate tax laws. Three-quarters of the way through the story, we get this paragraph: Elaine C. Kamarck, the co-chairwoman of a bipartisan coalition of businesses and organizations that support a tax overhaul, says THE ONLY WAY A TAX BILL WILL PASS is to use any savings derived from closing corporate loopholes solely to lower the overall corporate tax rate. The companies that have joined the coalition, which include Boeing, AT&T, Verizon, Walmart and Walt Disney, HAVE AGREED TO PUT EVERY LOOPHOLE ON THE TABLE, she said, because they believe “a low enough basic tax rate is worth giving up exemptions.” [emphasis added] The message is clear: our elected representatives can change the law only if a handful of corporations agree. Ms Kamarck tells us that these corporations have selflessly allowed their tax dodges to be put “on the table.” Presumably, had they not been so magnanimous, these corporations would not allow Congress to change the law. She also implies that if the tradeoff – fewer exemptions but lower rates – doesn’t benefit the corporations, they’ll take their loopholes off the table and stop our elected representatives from changing the law. Nice. I happen to think that educators are so valuable to society that their income should not be taxed. But that table Ms Kamarck mentions – the one where you tell Congress which tax rules you’ll accept – I can’t get anywhere near it. So I pay my taxes. In fact, last year, I paid more in taxes than did Verizon and Boeing combined. They, and several other huge corporations, paid zero. I am, of course, naive to think that it was really Congress that wrote the laws that allow these corporations to pay nothing, and not the corporations themselves. How else?
AUGUST 4, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ What should we make of changes in fashion? Are they the visible outward expression of new ways of thinking? Or do fashions themselves influence our sentiments and ideas? Or are fashions merely superficial and without any deeper meaning except that of being fashionable? It’s summer, and once again magazines and newspapers are reporting on beachwear trends in France, proclaiming “the end of topless.” They said the same thing five years ago.*As in 2009, no systematic observers were actually counting the covered and uncovered chests on the beach. Instead, we are again relying on surveys – what people say they do, or have done, or would do. Elle cites an Ipsos survey: “In 2013, 93% of French women say that they wear a top, and 35% find it ‘unthinkable’ to uncover their chest in public.” Let’s assume that people’s impressions and the media stories are accurate and that fewer French women are going topless. Some of stories mention health concerns, but most are hunting for grander meanings. The Elle cover suggests that the change encompasses issues like liberty, intimacy, and modesty. Marie-Claire says,
Et en dehors de cette question sanitaire, comment expliquer le recul du monokini : nouvelle pudeur ou perte des convictions féministes du départ ?
_But aside from the question of health, how to explain the retreat from the monokini: a new modesty or a loss of the original feminist convictions? _[my translation, perhaps inaccurate]
The assumption here is that is that ideas influence swimwear choices. Women these days have different attitudes, feelings, and ideologies, so they choose apparel more compatible with those ideas. The notion certainly fits with the evidence on cultural differences, such as those between France and the US.
Americans are much more likely to feel uncomfortable at a topless beach. But they are also much less likely to have been to one. (Northern Europeans – those from the Scandinavian countries and Germany – are even more likely than the French to have gone topless.) (Data are from a 1913 Harris survey done for Expedia.) This second graph could also support the other way of thinking about the relation between fashion and ideas: exposing your body changes how you think about bodies. If people take off their clothes, they’ll become more comfortable with nudity. That is, whatever a woman’s original motivation, once she did try going topless, she would develop ideas that made sense of the experiences, especially since the body already carries such a heavy symbolism. She would not have to invent these topless-is-OK ideas all by herself. They would be available in the conversations of others. So unless her experiences were negative, these new ideas would add to and reinforce the thoughts that led to the original behavior. This process is much like the general scenario Howie** Becker outlines for deviance. Instead of deviant motives leading to deviant behavior, it is the other way around; the deviant behavior in time produces the deviant motivation. Vague impulses and desires – ... probably most frequently a curiosity . . . are transformed into definite patterns of action through social interpretation of a physical experience. [_Outsiders_, p. 42] With swimwear, another motive besides “vague impulses” comes into play: fashion – the pressure to wear something that’s within the range of what others on the beach are wearing. Becker was writing about deviance. But when the behavior is not illegal and not all that deviant, when you can see lots of people doing it in public, the supportive interpretations will be easy to come by. In any case, it seems that the learned motivation stays learned. The_ fin-du-topless_ stories, both in 2009 and 2014, suggest that the change is one of generations rather than a change in attitudes. Older women have largely kept their ideas about toplessness. And if it’s true that French women don’t get fat, maybe they’ve even kept their old monokinis. It’s the younger French women who are keeping their tops on. But I would be reluctant to leap from that one fashion trend to a picture of an entire generation as more sexually conservative.
Obligatory picture of a French beach_
In summer, the city of Paris spreads sand on the quais turning them _ _into urban beaches. At Paris Plage, le topless is interdit. _---------------------------- * I was somewhat skeptical (see this blog post from August 2009 ) since the basis for the stories – apart from the usual journalistic impressions and quotes – was a single French survey that turned out to have no data on who was actually wearing what at the beach. ** Becker says that nobody calls him Howard.
AUGUST 2, 2014 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Folks used to be simple, ordinary people. They were the folks of folk music – not urban and certainly not urbane. Folks were down-homey – the folks who live in my hometown. Or folks were literally homey; they were family – parents – as in “We’re spending the holidays with my folks.” One of these paintings of has folks in it, the other has just people.Folks do not wear neckties or high heels. That was then (“Saying Grace” is from 1951, “Nighthawks” 1942). Now it seems that anyone can be folks.Here are two of the folks we tortured.Abu Zubaydah, waterboarded 83 times, and Khalid Sheikh Muhammed, 183 times. I don’t think that Obama planned to use the word _folks_ rather than people. That’s just the way it came out. He obviously did plan to use the word _torture_. He wasn’t going use bureaucratic language to paper over what has been clear to everybody. He wasn’t going to do a Dick Cheney and say something like, “We may have used enhanced interrogation techniques on known terrorists.” Obama was speaking plainly, and it doesn’t get much plainer than just plain folks. It’s not just Obama. Bush too used folks in the same way and for the same people.
We’re going to get the folks who did this. [Sept. 11, 2001]
[The US is engaged in] a war against a extremist group of folks, bound together by an ideology, willing to use terrorism to achieve their objectives.
Other public figures are less folksy. I doubt that John Kerry or Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan would use the term so freely. Nor would Hillary; Bill didn’t. But the trend is general, as Google Ngrams data from books shows.
(Click on the graph for a larger view_.)Through the 1940s and 50s, _folks_ seemed to go out of fashion. Then in the 80s, _folks_ began to come back into public discourse. It’s very tempting to jump from this one bit of data on linguistic trends to a broad characterization of the changing American psyche, but I’ll leave that for other folks.
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 for the arrests. 1. A decline of neighborliness (Dougherty borrows this from Timothy Carney, The Washington Examiner (here Timothy Carney, a columnist for The Washington Examiner ). When adults are neighborly, they look after an unsupervised kid who might be in need. Un-neighborly adults call 911, bringing in the State, which is less flexible in what it can do. Official agencies are quick to use formal procedures and sanctions, Dougherty explains: 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. These two factors – less neighborliness and a more intrusive State – 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. Newspapers report on the most egregious cases. We have no idea how many of these “good parents arrested” cases there are. And many of those will have far less moral clarity than the cases that make for good news stories. Sorting state interventions into those we like and those we don’t becomes a murkier task. Second, Douthat is writing about policy. 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. The benefits outweigh the costs, even though in some cases, the policy leads to a bad outcome. Yes, one bad outcome is too many, but in most cases that’s not a strong argument for scrapping the entire policy (wrongful executions and the death penalty may be the clearest exception). 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.