Monthly Archives: June 2011

Me on Freakonomics

For five minutes near the end (48:45 to 53:45) of this hour long Freakonomics radio show on “The Folly of Prediction,” I discuss promising applications of prediction markests. We end it this way:

Dubner: So that sounds very logical, very appealing; how realistic is it?

Hanson: Well it depends on there being a set of customers who want this product. So, you know, if prediction markets have an Achilles heel it is certainly the possibility that people don’t really want accurate forecasts.

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: ,

Words Show Lies

We humans communicate a great deal via our facial expressions and body language. While I usually assume that most such behavior is adaptive – evolved in detail to achieve important ends, some argue that much of this in unwanted leakage – that such expressions reveal stuff about ourselves often against our interests. Studies of liars, however, suggest that there is much less unwanted leakage than most people think:

Contrary to popular belief, liars don’t readily give themselves away with their facial expressions or body language and most of us are easily duped by a determined liar. … When [researchers] pulled together the findings of more than 100 studies looking for cues to deception, they found none that consistently stood out. … “There are no behaviours that always occur when people are lying and never occur when they are telling the truth,” … The idea that liars leak information about their true emotional state through so-called “micro-expressions” is not very helpful either. … “What makes the expert [lie detector] an expert isn’t the ability to watch non-verbal behaviour,” he says, “it’s the ability to ask the right question.” (more)

So why are we more overconfident in our ability to read non-verbal than verbal clues? Is it more important for us to believe in our covert homo hypocritus skills than our overt talking and thinking skills? Some ways that help to detect liars: Continue reading "Words Show Lies" »

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as:

Priceless Fertility

Our falling fertility problem is worse than I thought:

We analyze a staged expansion of subsidized child care in Norway. … There is little, if any, causal effect of subsidized child care on maternal employment, despite a strong correlation. Instead of increasing mothers’ labor supply, the new subsidized child care mostly crowds out informal child care arrangements, suggesting a significant net cost of the child care subsidies. (more)

It is harder than you might think to pay people in cash to have more kids. Alas paying them in status is much harder to arrange.

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: ,

Who Is Consistent?

Young rich well-educated men make more consistent choices. Family structure, risk tolerance and personality type don’t matter:

We conduct a large-scale field experiment … to test subjects choices for consistency with utility maximization. … High-income and high-education subjects display greater levels of consistency …, men are more consistent than women, and young subjects are more consistent than older subjects. We also find that consistency with utility maximization is strongly related to wealth: a standard deviation increase in the consistency score is associated with 15-19 percent more wealth. This result conditions on socioeconomic variables including current income, education, and family structure, and is little changed when we add controls for past income, risk tolerance and the results of a standard personality test used by psychologists. (more)

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: , , , ,

Cheated-On Personalities

Ron Guhname took a dataset of ~1500 people, and predicted which people said their spouse cheated on them from the victim’s five-factor personality, as well as his or her age, social class, religiosity, and body mass index. He found less cheating on religious people, on older and less agreeable men, and on conscientious and closed-to-experience women. These personality effects are much bigger than the religion effect!

More on agreeableness:

Agreeableness is a tendency to be pleasant and accommodating in social situations. … empathetic, considerate, friendly, generous, and helpful. … believe that most people are honest, decent, and trustworthy. People scoring low … may … be suspicious and unfriendly. … Agreeableness [has a] positive association with altruism and helping behavior. … In the United States, midwesterners and southerners tend to have higher average scores on agreeableness than people living in other regions.

More on openness:

Openness involves active imagination, aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, preference for variety, and intellectual curiosity. … Closed to experience … [people] tend to be conventional and traditional in their outlook and behavior. They prefer familiar routines … [and] have a narrower range of interests. … Openness to experience correlates with creativity … [and] crystallized intelligence, but not fluid intelligence. … People who are highly open to experience tend to be politically liberal and tolerant of diversity. As a consequence, they are generally more open to different cultures and lifestyles. They are lower in ethnocentrism. … People living in the eastern and western parts of the United States tend to score higher on openness to experience than those living in the midwest and the south.

I am puzzled by many things here. It makes sense that older people are better able to detect cheating, but then why doesn’t this effect work for women? It makes sense that suspicious people are cheated on less, but then why no agreeable effect for women. It makes sense that conscientious people are cheated on less, as they should be more careful in watching for cheating. But why no such effect for men? Could all women be suspicious enough, and all men conscientious enough?

And what is going on with openness, and why does it only influence women? Open vs. closed personality seems to correlate both with more of a forager than farmer mentality (art, travel, rich, liberal, intellectual, female promiscuity), and also with more of a far than a near mental mode (creative, larger social groupings). Makes me wonder how much forager mentality and far mode correlate.

Added 3p: I read that chart way wrong! Sorry – have edited the above greatly to correct my error.

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: , , , ,

NYC Meetup Tuesday 7p

I’ll be in New York City this Tuesday evening 7-11p, at 60 West 23rd Street, Apt. 904. Katja Grace of Meteuphoric will atttend and my esteemed ex-co-blogger Eliezer Yudkowsky, now at Less Wrong, plans to join us later. Please join us if you can.

Added 29June: Meetup was great; thanks to all ~50 of you for coming, and to our hosts for hosting.

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as:

New Is Not Better

“As a non-American, I don’t completely understand it, but there is a phenomenon in the U.S., the latest and the greatest. … There was a patient demand to get these implants on the misconception that the latest was the best.” …“The vast majority of the ‘innovations’ on which we have spent money with respect to orthopedics over the past two decades have not resulted in improved patient outcomes.” (more; HT Tyler)

Assuming no side-effects, if users gain from innovations then innovators must gain less than the social value of their innovations, which risks their having insufficient incentives to innovate. This effect can be countered, however, by giving extra social status to the creators and users of innovative products, services, and behaviors.

United States culture gives such extra status to creators and users of innovations, and so probably deserves some credit for encouraging innovation. But alas much of this is wasted via merely rewarding things things that are new, rather than innovative. And if your reaction to reading that was “what is the difference?,” that just shows the depth of the problem.

Innovative things must be new, but new things need not be innovative. To be usefully innovative is to be better some how. Innovators try many new things, most of which are not better, but a few of which are. On average new things are w0rse, but those that are eventually retained are hopefully on average better. And with the right incentives, the retained better things are so much better that they pay for all the other new worse things.

If our culture waited until it was clear which new things were actually better, and gave more status to the creators and early adopters of those things, culture would promote innovation. But alas culture instead mainly showers status on those who merely create and use new things, regardless of whether they are better. While in small amounts even this status effect can promote innovation, in larger amounts it can hurt. After all, when there is too little added reward for creating or using something that is both new and better, relative to something that is just new, people will mainly focus on the new part.

The problem comes from an excess focus on current behavior, relative to past track records. In enforcing social status norms, it is relatively easy to just see that someone is today affiliated with with something that is new today, and give that person credit for their newness. It is much harder to remember that a person was once affiliated with something that was then new, and which later turned out to actually be better. A mechanism that made it easier to collect and view such track records could be of great social value, at least if combined with new matching social norms on who deserves social credit for being “innovative.”

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: , , ,

Selection Is Slow

If you imagine that a 25% cost advantage would let your firm quickly displace all rivals, think again. Yes more efficient firms and plants eventually displace less efficient ones, but it is easy to overestimate the strength and speed of this effect. For example, in a US manufacturing industry with five plants in use, the best plant will typically produce about twice as much with the same inputs (including materials, land, labor, etc.) as the worst plant. In India and China, it will make five times as much:

[The median] four digit SIC industr[y] in the U.S. manufacturing sector [has] a TFP ratio of … 1.92. … This … says … the plant at the 90th percentile of the productivity distribution makes almost twice as much output with the same measured inputs as the 10th percentile plant. Note that this is the average 90–10 range; … several industries see much larger productivity differences among their producers. U.S. manufacturing is … if anything … small relative to the productivity variation observed elsewhere. … [Researchers] find even larger productivity differences in China and India, with average 90–10 TFP ratios over 5:1.

These figures are for revenue-based productivity measures; i.e., where output is measured using plant revenues (deflated across years using industry-specific price indexes). TFP measures that use physical quantities as output measures rather than revenues actually exhibit even more variation than do revenue-based measures as documented. …

Another robust finding in the literature—virtually invariant to country, time period, or industry—is that higher productivity producers are more likely to survive than their less efficient industry competitors. …

Aggregate productivity growth in the U.S. retail sector is almost exclusively through the exit of less efficient single-store firms and by their replacement with more efficient national chain store affiliates. … Why is within-store productivity growth so small on average in retail, but not manufacturing? (more)

Yes, some of these large differences may be due to unmeasured quality differences.

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: ,

Live Long Or Wide?

One of my favorite science fiction novels is Kiln People, by David Brin in 2003. Not so much for its characters or plot, but because it takes an interesting future/tech scenario seriously. Most fiction with artificial intelligence describes a world with only a few of them, yet one of AI’s most important features is its easy of copying.

In Kiln People, Brin takes seriously this idea of cheaply copying intelligent agents. The key assumption is that in a few minutes and for a modest cost one can copy a person’s mind into a new clay body that lasts about a day. That copy’s memories of its day can also be added back into the original at the day’s end. Brin imagines many details of how this would change society. While he gets some things wrong, and an economist would get more right, Brin does far better than most science fiction.

Assume for the sake of argument that you came to accept that such clay copies really were “you.” So that if on Monday you made six copies and merged them all back in at the end of Monday, and then you slept the rest of the week, you would have lived just as much as an ordinary person in a normal week. You’d remember having lived for seven days that week.

Now imagine that this copy technology is improved let copies last ten years. Then compare two ways to stretch your life:

  • Time Stretched Life: You are able to live for another 110 years before dying.
  • Space Stretched Life: You make nine copies now, and the ten of you live for ten years. Then you merge the memories of all these copies back together, and live for another ten years before dying.

I suspect most people would admire the life stretched across time more than the life stretched across space, similar to the way most people admire a time stretched civilization more than a space stretched one, and to the way they accept time genocide more than space genocide. I again attribute this to the future seeming more far:

The far future seems more far … than situations far away in space, or in the far past. The near/far distinction was first noticed in how people treated the future differently, and our knowing especially little detail about the future makes it especially easy to slip into abstract thought about the future. … We are less practical, more idealistic, and more uncompromising in far mode.

Added 8a:  The time stretched life lets you see more of human history, but the space stretched life lets you help yourself more (e.g., the ten of you could start a business together), is better able to prevent your death, and trades later for earlier decades of your life cycle. As most people seem to discount the future and to prefer earlier life decades, these factors seem to favor space-stretching overall.

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: , ,

Only Do Math Homework

Following an identification strategy that allows us to largely eliminate unobserved student and teacher traits, we examine the effect of homework on math, science, English and history test scores for eighth grade students in the United States. Noting that failure to control for these effects yields selection biases on the estimated effect of homework, we find that math homework has a large and statistically meaningful effect on math test scores throughout our sample. However, additional homework in science, English and history are shown to have little to no impact on their respective test scores. (more)

So does anyone think that once this result becomes better know, they’ll stop assigning all but math homework? Me neither. Yes, maybe homework helps kids to learn things that their tests do not test. But more likely, homework functions to get kids used to doing a lot of work, in preparation for their future industry era jobs. Learning seems secondary.

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: