Monday, September 1, 2014

The behavior-shaping power of a cultural consensus

Sometime in the recent past, I posted about an essay that was commenting on the inappropriateness of applying the lessons learned from the decade long anti-smoking campaign to other social pathologies. IIRC smoking has declined from 50% of the population to 20% or so today and through a mixture of taxation, education, social policy, etc. In that essay, the author was pointing out that taking those lessons learned and trying to apply them to education was a doomed effort, even though many advocates were doing just that.

Here is a related example from Teen Births and the Complexities of Culture by Ross Douthat. The teen birth rate has fallen nearly 40% in the six years between 2007 and 2013. Great news. How did that happen and can we replicate it for out-of-wedlock births, another social pathology with gargantuan consequences? Douthat suggests that the circumstances leading to reduced teen births cannot be replicated for out-of-wedlock births.
This seems like a suitably-humble read on the available data, but as you’d expect I have a few less-immediately-measurable theories about what’s going on here. The first is that we shouldn’t underestimate the behavior-shaping power of a cultural consensus: We live in a society that’s deeply, anxiously divided over issues related to sexual activity and childbearing, but the idea that we should (and, just as importantly, can) reduce the teen birth rate unites just about every faction in American politics and culture, from abstinence pledgers to Bloombergist technocrats to left-wing sex educators, and done so has more or less since the teen birth rate spiked in the 1980s. (Even in Hollywoodland, where permissiveness generally rules the day, quickie divorces and unwed baby bumps are unremarkable, but pregnant teenage starlets and heartthrob baby daddies − for sound careerist reasons, of course − are vanishingly rare.)

True, this consensus’s “red” and “blue” variations, emphasizing chastity and contraception, are very different on the extremes (and the influence of pro-life sentiment may play an interesting role that’s too complicated to get into here) … but they blur together in many contexts, and even when left and right promote radically different means the basic message and sought-after end is much the same: However you manage to avoid getting pregnant as a teenager, avoid it you definitely should. And as Kliff notes, both emphases have seen results: teen contraceptive use has increased overall since the ’80s and teen sexual activity has been increasingly delayed, more high schoolers are virgins, etc.
One take-away from this essay is the suggestion that too often we divide ourselves and argue to the point of inaction based on the means to an end when we both agree on the end. If our political leaders would spend more time exploring where there is agreement on the goals and then exploring the means to achieve those ends, we might be far better off. We also too quickly fall into false-choices. Does it matter which strategy, abstinence or contraception, is the best mitigator when both work well under different circumstances?

The problem is that there is money in focusing on the means and there is very little soft corruption in focusing on the goals. There are plenty of motivated actors who have a stake in the means to solving a problem as opposed to figuring which problems to solve and openly-mindedly figuring out how to solve them.

The other take-away is that all the different, complex, dynamic social pathologies have different attributes and different root causes from one another and over time. Its not an engineering problem where a static problem can be solved, the solution tested, and then deployed for uniform outcomes. With social policies, there are probably some very generic macro-lessons to be learned, but most likely there is relatively little knowledge that can be effectively transferred from one arena to another. I suspect that what we often refer as an inability to scale (what ones on a small scale does not work on a large scale) might really be masking the fact that there actually different problems.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Revivifying history

I just finished Three Empires of the Nile by Dominic Green which I highly recommend as wonderful narrative history as well as insightful analysis that subtly draws parallels to today's headlines.

From the blurb-
A secular regime is toppled by Western intervention, but an Islamic backlash turns the liberators into occupiers. Caught between interventionists at home and fundamentalists abroad, a prime minister flounders as his ministers betray him, alliances fall apart, and a runaway general makes policy in the field. As the media accuse Western soldiers of barbarity and a region slides into chaos, the armies of God clash on an ancient river and an accidental empire arises.

This is not the Middle East of the early twenty-first century. It is Africa in the late nineteenth century, when the river Nile became the setting for an extraordinary collision between Europeans, Arabs, and Africans. A human and religious drama, the conflict defined the modern relationship between the West and the Islamic world. The story is not only essential for understanding the modern clash of civilizations but is also a gripping, epic, tragic adventure.

Three Empires on the Nile tells of the rise of the first modern Islamic state and its fateful encounter with the British Empire of Queen Victoria. Ever since the self-proclaimed Islamic messiah known as the Mahdi gathered an army in the Sudan and besieged and captured Khartoum under its British overlord Charles Gordon, the dream of a new caliphate has haunted modern Islamists. Today, Shiite insurgents call themselves the Mahdi Army, and Sudan remains one of the great fault lines of battle between Muslims and Christians, blacks and Arabs. The nineteenth-century origins of it all were even more dramatic and strange than today's headlines.

In the hands of Dominic Green, the story of the Nile's three empires is an epic in the tradition of Kipling, the bard of empire, and Winston Churchill, who fought in the final destruction of the Mahdi's army. It is a sweeping and very modern tale of God and globalization, slavers and strategists, missionaries and messianists. A pro-Western regime collapses from its own corruption, a jihad threatens the global economy, a liberation movement degenerates into a tyrannical cult, military intervention goes wrong, and a temporary occupation lasts for decades. In the rise and fall of empires, we see a parable for our own times and a reminder that, while American military involvement in the Islamic world is the beginning of a new era for America, it is only the latest chapter in an older story for the people of the region.
That's a somewhat adequate description but not quite complete.

There were actually four empires involved - There was the Egyptian Empire consisting of Egypt and its conquests in what are today Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea. There was the Ottoman Empire to which Egypt was bound. There was the British Empire, most of whose leaders desperately wished to remain disentangled from Egypt on principled grounds (Prime Minister Gladstone) and/or pragmatic grounds (Prime Minister Salisbury) but who, despite their best efforts, ended up with Egypt as a colony. And then there was the putative empire of the new Caliphate sought by the Mahdi which was intended to encompass the whole world.

There is tragedy all around, missed opportunities, fecklessness, maniacal altruism, determined pursuit of self-interest, ignorance, and naive optimism. There are Turks in Constantinople, the Turkish aristocracy and landholders in Egypt, the local Egyptian landed gentry, the emerging Egyptian reformers of the middle class, the British adventurers, chancers, anti-slavers, mercantilists, Imperial strategists, the Egyptian fellahin, the secularists, the moderate Islamic practitioners, the Dervishes, the millennialists, the Christian do-gooders, the urbanists, the militant Islamists, the innumerable African tribes with ancestral enmities, the slavers, military reformers, etc.

Everyone had an interest, some were well intended, some felt like they were pragmatic realists, and almost nothing went the way anybody hoped.

Reading this is like seeing some of the restored Renaissance paintings after the grime of centuries has been removed. After becoming accustomed to the dark filtering of accumulated crud, you are suddenly seeing a picture as it was once seen in all its depth and vividness. We have become accustomed to two-dimensional cardboard representations of complex history in which bad Europeans do evil things to innocent natives; Men suppress women; Modern economies undermine wonderful traditions; Whites practice racism against everyone else but no one else does; Technology conquers all; Outcomes were always obvious; etc. But it was never so. Some parts of that are true, many parts not true, and by far the biggest problem is that most of what was happening is left out completely.

It is interesting to contrast this book to the only two other accounts that any in the mainstream reading public are likely to have read regarding the tragedy of Sudan in the 19th century - Winston Churchill's My Early Life and his The River War. Neither of these are inaccurate per se but they are both accounts rendered from a particular perspective. That perspective, vivid and exciting, has a lot more in common with H.G. Henty than a deeply methodical academic study.

Green manages to retain much of the adventure and sense of wonder while rounding out the perspective. He has done an astonishing job of uncovering contemporary accounts by and about the Mahdi, the Egyptian nationalists, the reformers, The Ottomans, the Turkish aristocracy, etc. It is amazing to me because the whole Mahdi movement was essentially a preliterate society, and the nationalists and reformers were often outlawed and spied upon, making written testimonials extremely dangerous and therefore rare.

Likely, Three Empires on the Nile is revelatory to most who have been fed only the modern monocular pablum informed by colonial studies, critical race theory, and gender studies. But for the rest of us, it is a gripping, vivid, well-rounded story of great complexity and tragedy. For all that, it is also incredibly topical. ISIS, Boko Haram, Arab Spring, the Rotherham tragedy, they are all present in Three Empires - different names but the same actions and the same forces. This is a story with roots that are 150 years old and yet is still roiling on with no diminishment and with no clear outcome.

Climate science - We simply aren't there yet.

Two different articles on different subjects but both related to our understanding of global climate change. They illustrate, I think, why there is such a gap between the small, vocal band of self-interested advocates (UN IPCC) and the broader mass of the informed public (meteorologists and everyone else). Advocates like to characterize everyone else as science deniers, knuckle dragging apologists for polluting industrialists. The reality, I think, has always been more complex.

The fundamental challenge is that environment and climate are two knowledge frontiers where we are still discovering fundamental knowledge at a fairly rapid clip. The skeptics, other than the few true knuckle dragging apologists, accept that there is climate change. Climate is a dynamic system and is always changing. Their question is not about whether climate is changing or even whether or to what degree human activities are a material contributor to change. Their question is whether our body of knowledge allows us to make useful and informed decisions. Do our models and the data reconcile with one another (no)?, can our models make usefully accurate forecasts or backcasts (no)? and are we still discovering elements of causation which materially affect our understanding of the dynamics of climate (yes).

Examples:

From Davy Jones’s heat locker from The Economist.
Over the past few years one of the biggest questions in climate science has been why, since the turn of the century, average surface-air temperatures on Earth have not risen, even though the concentration in the atmosphere of heat-trapping carbon dioxide has continued to go up. This “pause” in global warming has been seized on by those sceptical that humanity needs to act to curb greenhouse-gas emissions or even (in the case of some extreme sceptics) who think that man-made global warming itself is a fantasy. People with a grasp of the law of conservation of energy are, however, sceptical in their turn of these positions and doubt that the pause is such good news. They would rather understand where the missing heat has gone, and why—and thus whether the pause can be expected to continue.

The most likely explanation is that it is hiding in the oceans, which store nine times as much of the sun’s heat as do the atmosphere and land combined. But until this week, descriptions of how the sea might do this have largely come from computer models. Now, thanks to a study published in Science by Chen Xianyao of the Ocean University of China, Qingdao, and Ka-Kit Tung of the University of Washington, Seattle, there are data.
It is too early to know if Dr. Tung and Dr. Chen's results are correct or to what degree they are correct but it hardly matters. They illustrate how primitive is our understanding of the relative influences on climate. There is much, much more to be known.

From Models challenge temperature reconstruction of last 12,000 years by Scott K. Johnson.
Climate records, like tree rings or ice cores, are invaluable archives of past climate, but they each reflect their local conditions. If you really want a global average for some time period, you’re going to have to combine many reliable records from around the world and do your math very carefully.

That’s what a group of researchers aimed to do when (as Ars covered) they used 73 records to calculate a global overview of the last 11,000 years—the warm period after the last ice age that's called the Holocene. The Holocene temperature reconstruction showed a peak about 7,000 years ago, after which the planet slowly cooled off by a little over 0.5 degrees Celsius until that trend abruptly reversed over the last 150 years. That behavior mirrored the change in Northern Hemisphere summer sunlight driven by cycles in Earth’s orbit.

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and led by the University of Wisconsin’s Zhengyu Liu delves into a problem with that pattern—and it’s not what climate models say should have happened.

The researchers used three different global climate models to run a series of computationally intensive simulations spanning the last 21,000 years. The simulations were responding to the orbital change in sunlight and the documented increase in greenhouse gases.

The global average temperature in the models did not peak and decline, however, unlike the Holocene temperature reconstruction. The models show that warming out of the last ice age slowed down markedly around 12,000 years ago, but still continued gradually—temperatures increased by about another 0.5 degrees Celsius before the last couple millennia. That puts the peak of the Holocene reconstruction about 1 degree Celsius higher than the temperatures in the models reach.

So, the models and reconstruction of historic temperatures don't agree. Understanding why requires thinking about that orbital change in a little more detail.
I think the challenge is not that anybody really disagrees that change is happening. Its that no one agrees what the change is or, most importantly, how it is happening.

Even if everyone agreed about the reality and direction of change, we still can't do all that much until we have a reasonably robust knowledge of causation. We simply aren't there yet.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Facts versus convenient narratives

Two different articles within the last week but both exhibiting the dangers of epistemological closure owing to ignorance or ideological commitment.

First there was The Kennewick Man Finally Freed to Share His Secrets by Douglas Preston. After years of government obstruction and obfuscation, the eventual application of science to archaeological remains yielded interest new knowledge.
The discovery of Kennewick Man adds a major piece of evidence to an alternative view of the peopling of North America. It, along with other evidence, suggests that the Jōmon or related peoples were the original settlers of the New World. If correct, the conclusion upends the traditional view that the first Americans came through central Asia and walked across the Bering Land Bridge and down through an ice-free corridor into North America.

Sometime around 15,000 years ago, the new theory goes, coastal Asian groups began working their way along the shoreline of ancient Beringia—the sea was much lower then—from Japan and Kamchatka Peninsula to Alaska and beyond. This is not as crazy a journey as it sounds. As long as the voyagers were hugging the coast, they would have plenty of fresh water and food. Cold-climate coasts furnish a variety of animals, from seals and birds to fish and shellfish, as well as driftwood, to make fires. The thousands of islands and their inlets would have provided security and shelter. To show that such a sea journey was possible, in 1999 and 2000 an American named Jon Turk paddled a kayak from Japan to Alaska following the route of the presumed Jōmon migration. Anthropologists have nicknamed this route the “Kelp Highway.”

“I believe these Asian coastal migrations were the first,” said Owsley. “Then you’ve got a later wave of the people who give rise to Indians as we know them today.”

What became of those pioneers, Kennewick Man’s ancestors and companions? They were genetically swamped by much larger—and later—waves of travelers from Asia and disappeared as a physically distinct people, Owsley says. These later waves may have interbred with the first settlers, diluting their genetic legacy. A trace of their DNA still can be detected in some Native American groups, though the signal is too weak to label the Native Americans “descendants.”
Then today there is New Study Offers Clues to Swift Arctic Extinction by Joshua A. Kritsch.
Seven hundred years ago, the Dorset people disappeared from the Arctic. The last of the Paleo-Eskimos, the Dorset had dominated eastern Canada and Greenland for centuries, hunting seal and walrus through holes in the ice and practicing shamanistic rituals with ornate carvings and masks.

Then, they promptly ceased to exist. Modern archaeologists have scoured troves of Arctic artifacts, searching for clues to the Dorset’s sudden extinction. Did they assimilate when the Thule, ancestors of the modern Inuit, advanced from the Bering Strait with dog sleds, harpoons and large skin boats? Or did they die out, victims of either an unfortunate epidemic or a violent prehistoric genocide?

Now, scientists have begun to chip away at this and other mysteries of the New World Arctic. In a paper published Thursday in the journal Science, researchers analyzed 169 ancient DNA samples to study the origins and migration patterns of early Arctic cultures. The results point to a single, genetically distinct Paleo-Eskimo population that thrived in isolation for more than 4,000 years, only to vanish in a matter of decades.
What's the connection? A strong dose of anti-scientism when science comes up against preferred ideological positions. The spirit of curiosity and exploration, so manifest in the Age of Enlightenment and Rationalism lives on but it has to perpetually battle against trolls seeking to amass power in a zero-sum game against others.

I saw a similar manifestation out in Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde where all the park signs and education documents wanted to emphasize the role of climate change and environmental despoliation as causes of the relative sudden disappearance of Pueblan populations. They couldn't completely ignore violence, conflict and invasion, but they did their best to do so. There seemed such a strong desire to maintain the myth of the peaceful noble savage that it was standing in the way of honest representation of the known information.

The Kritsch article betrays the same desire to make inconvenient facts fit a preferred narrative. Obviously there is still much we don't know about the peopling of the Americas other than that we know our current knowledge is probably materially incomplete. Regardless of our level of certainty, there are still some facts and Kritsch does his best to disguise or subordinate those that are inconvenient. As quoted above, he does acknowledge that the paleo-Eskimo disappearance might be the result of "violent prehistoric genocide" but that is the only place in the nearly 1,000 word article where that possibility is mentioned. The discussion is about inbreeding or climate change as the primary theories for their disappearance even though both theories are weak. There is no discussion about the not improbable possibility of simple displacement by destruction. Animal and human, that is not an infrequent outcome.

What seems to be at the heart of the issue is that we have a popular (at least in academic and political circles) narrative of peaceful native Americans living an Edenic and pacific existence before the intrusion of disruptive and wilfully genocidal Europeans. The science does not support that narrative at all, it is far more nuanced and contradictory and complex with no good guys and no bad guys. But if your objective is current-day advocacy for Native Americans, then a simple morality tale is very convenient.

Were it to become widely known that Native Americans were not simple children of nature without original sin, that they also conquered and killed others who had become before them, then the morality tale for advocacy purposes is shot to pieces. It is a lot easier to complain about subjugation if you did not in turn subjugate.

I don't think stripping away myth from reality is such a bad thing. As long as we relegate people to fairy tale status, we covertly deprive them of agency and the capacity for full humanity. Crimes were committed and tragedies endured. Those are realities that have to be faced and sometimes addressed. But to distill it into a binary of childlike innocence suffering at the hands of evil is a disservice to the facts and to all individuals involved.

Chinese Politburo - Tell me what you are concerned about but leave it up to us to fix

Well this is very interesting. Study of Internet censorship reveals the deepest fears of China's government by Mara Hvistendahl.
Behind China’s vaunted Internet censorship are throngs of specialized police officers, fake commentators, and ever-changing technologies. But China watchers have puzzled over the system’s modus operandi. Some posts are swiftly culled, whereas others on seemingly more sensitive topics are left untouched. In the most revealing study yet of Chinese censorship, researchers describe today how they peered behind the curtain to find out what China’s censors—and presumably the government officials operating behind the scenes—fear most.

When political scientist Gary King of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University and Ph.D. students Jennifer Pan and Margaret Roberts began examining censorship in China in 2011, many scholars assumed that calling for policy changes, criticizing government leaders, and raising sensitive topics like the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 were verboten. To test that assumption, the trio downloaded millions of social media posts from more than 1300 sites between January and July 2011, then selected roughly 127,000 of them to examine in more detail. They watched in real time as posts were taken down. Censorship in China, King says, is “like an elephant tiptoeing around. It leaves big footprints.”

In most cases, censors reacted swiftly, deleting messages within a day of posting. They also seemed to follow a surprising logic. The researchers found that posts on topics they themselves classified as highly sensitive were only slightly more likely than average to be deleted—24% of posts, versus 13% overall. That was “completely unexpected,” King says. They next looked at bursts of posts following significant events. During events with potential for collective action, the vast majority of posts were censored—regardless of whether they supported or criticized the state.
However,
That study, published in American Political Science Review in May 2013, was blind to posts that never went online in the first place because they were snagged in an automated censorship filter. To truly understand what is censored in China, King and colleagues realized, they would need to write their own posts. And that meant creating an unprecedented participatory experiment on China’s blogs, microblogs, and forums—one that “probes much deeper than earlier studies,” says Noah Smith, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who was not involved with the study.

Over three 1- to 2-week periods last year, the researchers oversaw assistants in China and the United States who opened 200 user accounts at 100 sites and then authored 1200 unique posts. Some commented on events involving collective action, such as volatile demonstrations over government land grabs in Fujian province. Others responded to events involving no collective action, like a corruption investigation of a provincial vice governor. For each event, the assistants authored both pro- and antigovernment posts. Posts created by the team advocating collective action were between 20% and 40% more likely to be censored than were posts not advocating it, the team reports online today in Science. Posts critical of the government, on the other hand, were not significantly more likely to be censored than supportive posts—even when they called out leaders by name. “Criticisms of the state are quite useful for the government in identifying public sentiment, whereas the spread of collective action is potentially very damaging,” Roberts explains.
I love this. I spend a lot of time carping and complaining about poorly designed experimental work generating cognitive pollution. This is a delightful example of smart work adjusting to its own weaknesses to yield useful information.

The upshot is that the government (local or central) is much more concerned about efforts at collective action than they are about criticism per se. Indeed, I am guessing that they are being quite smart about not just using criticisms to identify "public sentiment" but probably also using such criticism to shape the government agenda. The increasing focus and public demonstrations of punishment for corruption are incompatible with individual elite members but are wholly compatible with a strategic desire to maintain elite power.


Friday, August 29, 2014

The class blindness of the clerisy

What exactly is the root error in this argument made in Is Everyone a Little Bit Racist? by Nicholas Kristof that concludes that
racial stereotyping remains ubiquitous, and that the challenge is not a small number of twisted white supremacists but something infinitely more subtle and complex: People who believe in equality but who act in ways that perpetuate bias and inequality.
The bulk of the article is a dog's breakfast of assorted sociology/psychology studies without providing the necessary context that most sociology/psychology studies are withdrawn or cannot be replicated. The problem is especially acute in the field of bias research where 70% of findings among major papers cannot be reproduced.

Kristof is eager to find that everyone is influenced by stereotypes, that those stereotypes influence people's actions and that those actions have disproportionately negative consequences on particular populations. All true up to a point but not true in the way Kristof is trying to get to.

What is stereotyping? Stereotyping - Expecting a member of a group to have certain characteristics without having actual information about that individual. Stereotypes are a cognitive solution to the empirically inescapable truth that we do not know everything about everything and everybody. In the absence of detailed specific knowledge, we substitute averages and other proxies such as past experience. Dog bit you once? You are probably instinctively hesitant of all strange dogs for some period afterwards without knowing anything about the particular dog.

Some stereotypes are well founded on averages, some are inadequately founded on unrepresentative experiences. It doesn't matter how they originate, the mind conjures them with the scraps of epistemological evidence it has and then refines the rules as it goes along. Are stereotype unfair? Certainly. Are they avoidable? No. They are a necessary function in the context of our limitations. All you can do is be conscious of them and modify them as evidence accumulates for or against a given stereotype and to avoid stereotypes completely when evidence about the individual is readily available.

Stereotyping has nothing in particular to do with race. It is something we do about everything about which we know too little. Last time you came over to Aunt Mae's she gave you some freshly baked bread which was horrendously salty. She may or may not be a terrible baker but if that one loaf (versus all her baked goods) is all you you have to go on, then that is the template you have to work with.

Kristof is eager to look down on everyone else with their noxious sotto voce stereotypes and biases without recognizing that he has committed the Fundamental Attribution Error - The tendency for people to over-emphasize personality-based explanations for behaviors observed in others while under-emphasizing the role and power of situational influences on the same behavior. Far easier to look down one's moral nose at the shortfalls of others than to understand that the absence of knowledge is the source of the stereotype. He does violence to common sense and logic in his pursuit of moral certitude and purity.

You are asleep in your home. You wake and hear someone knocking around downstairs. The first stereotype is that there is someone up to no good. Ockham's Razor prevails. There are all sorts of alternate scenarios with putatively innocent causes. But absent any other information than knowing that someone is where they shouldn't be, it is not unreasonable to assume that that unexpected guest is less than well-intended.

Kristof is one of those flawed pundits who have created a world where everyone earns a couple hundred thousand dollars, has never had a run in with the law, is well educated, never overindulges in the grape, or makes mistakes. In that world, and it does exist (selectively) the stereotypes that exist can afford to be ignored because there are few consequences. You wake to the noise and you know it can't be someone because your $100/month alarm system is turned on. You don't have to worry your sheltered head. For others, that is not the case.

The refusal to recognize that stereotypes are a coping mechanism in a world of incomplete information where decisions can be both momentous and need to be made near instantaneously is a huge class issue for the clerisy and they muddy the waters by ignoring it in their ever continuing efforts to cultivate moral rectitude.



Friend - someone who would help you move a body

From Is it really true that “three quarters of whites don’t have any non-white friends”? by Eugene Volokh. Volokh is dissecting the faulty mathematics underpinning an absurd claim, "three quarters of whites don’t have any non-white friends". Not only is the methodology flawed in the underlying study, and not only has the author of the article then also misinterpreted the already faulty conclusions. As if that were not bad enough, there is a complete failure to define what constitutes a friend. Given residential assortation, a fundamental result of people's freedom to choose, I do suspect that there are significant skews on different criteria for any particular population. However, this study, as Volokh demonstrates, does not support that conclusion.

Volokh's article is a reasonably good skewering of cognitive pollution. The real value is in the comments where one commenter clarifies the importance of definitions, particularly the definition of "friend".
Unless you can nail down the definition of "friend", there's nothing to discuss.

English is particularly poor in single words describing relationships between people. I tend to reserve the word "friend" for "would help you move a body" relationships. My wife will use "friend" to describe someone she's spoken to twice and doesn't know the full name of.

He's taking the slow train

An interesting example of pseudoscience and epistemological closure. As usual in the field of Psychology. From How Do Liberal and Conservative Attitudes About Obedience to Authority Differ? The Surprising Result of My Study by Jeremy Frimer.
As far as I was concerned, bible-thumping social conservatives were like obedient robots. When Uncle Sam called them to arms, heels clicked and hands met temples. When the preacher demanded chastity, zippers ascended toward belt-buckles. When the boss told them to fire an employee, conservatives reached for a pink slip. Social conservatives asked no questions, even when the command was arbitrary or the cause indecent.

The way I saw it, this slavish obedience to authority and tradition on the part of conservatives was the true source of the culture war between liberals and conservatives over foreign war, abortion, same-sex marriage, gun control, and racial inequality. They way I saw it, conservatives clung to old, near-sighted ways of thinking and fell in line with the dictates of the "man in charge." If only conservatives would think for themselves -- like liberals do -- the war would be over and we could get on with life, governance, and progress. Or so I thought.
Frimer is rather heavy handedly setting himself up for praise for abandoning a gross stereotype that had no foundation.

Without providing any of the details of his experiment (probably meaning that it lacks scientific rigor), Frimer reports that he and his team discovered that both liberals and conservatives are equally obedient to authorities that they view as legitimate. So obedience to authority is a function of legitimacy rather than an independent trait.

What is missing is any sort of exploration of all sorts of other attendant issues. Some people will obey authority on a tactical basis in order to undermine it on strategic basis (or vice versa). Some people obey authority, not because they like authority, or view the authority as legitimate, but because they believe it is in their own self-interest. And on and on. Surviving most your professional life on a profoundly shallow and objectively incorrect stereotype would seem to disqualify one from continuing long in the profession. But that's the beauty of the university. You don't have be either right or useful to be employed.

This faux confessional approach to science grates. The contrast to Jonathan Haidt's work is marked.

I have spoken of Haidt's experimental work in which he discovered to his surprise that conservatives and liberals were equally committed to fairness, the difference being that conservatives define fairness as rule of law (equal application of the law to everyone) whereas liberals tend to define fairness as equality of outcomes. Finding a useful distinction and clarification is quite a useful advance (Haidt). Finding that your personal stereotypes and prejudices were unfounded is less useful.

Frimer may be travelling the same path to Damascus as Haidt but he's taking the slow train.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

62% of men, for example, said that only the winning players should be awarded trophies

As reported in Should Only Winners Get Trophies? by Alex Tabarrok.

A poll asked: "Do you think all kids who play sports should receive a trophy for their participation, or should only the winning players be awarded trophies?"

You can see right off the bat an unexamined assumption that likely will skew the results: "Do you think winning players are rewarded with trophies on a fair basis?"

With that caveat, the results:
Overall, an estimated 57% Americans said that only the winning players should be awarded trophies but there were big differences according to gender, race, politics, education and income. 62% of men, for example, said that only the winning players should be awarded trophies compared to 52% of women. These results are consistent with experiments in which women tend to shy away from competition (perhaps with long-run consequences in the workforce). Whites opt for trophies to the winners-only at 63% compared to African Americans at just 44% and Hispanics at 39%. A whopping 80% of libertarians say that trophies should go only to the winners compared to conservatives at 63% and liberals and progressives both at 53%. More educated respondents were more likely to opt for trophies for only the winners. Trophies for the winners also increased strongly in income which could be because people with high income feel that they are winners or perhaps because people with high incomes are the types of people who enjoy competition.
Certainly intriguing.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

They told me it was all about patriarchy and now I find out its about hierarchy.

From From Assortative to Ashortative Coupling: Men's Height, Height Heterogamy, and Relationship Dynamics in the United States by Abigail Weitzman and Dalton Conley.
Drawing on two different cohorts from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the authors show that (1) height-coupling norms have changed little over the last three decades, (2) short, average, and tall men’s spouses are qualitatively different from one another (3) short men marry and divorce at lower rates than others and (4) both men’s height relative to other men and their height relative to their spouse are related to the within-couple distribution of household labor and earnings. These findings depict an enduring height hierarchy among men on in the spousal marriage market. Further, they indicate that at least one physical characteristic commonly associated with physical attraction influences the formation, functioning, and stability of longer-term relationships.
Emphasis added.

They told me it was all about patriarchy and now I find out its about hierarchy.