Monthly Archives: November 2009

Do Men Hurt More?

Added Oct ’13: Warning: The topics of this post are disturbing to many.

I wrote:

Biologically, cuckoldry is a bigger reproductive harm than rape, so we should expect a similar intensity of inherited emotions about it.  If 2+% of women were raped and we had a reliable cheap way to identify the guilty party, don’t you think we’d require that?

Many were offended at my suggesting cuckolding hurts a man remotely as much as rape hurts a woman.  Reasons I heard:

  • what the cuckold doesn’t know can’t hurt him
  • lots of men don’t mind raising genetically unrelated kids
  • rape victims are more socially disapproved of
  • rape has direct physical effects, while cuckoldry does not
  • rape victims are more often diagnosed “post traumatic stress”
  • rape victims they know seem more expressively upset

Let’s consider these last two arguments.  We all know that women tend to be more expressive about their complaints – you can’t beat ’em for wailing and gnashing of teeth.  But the fact that men act more stoic and complain less doesn’t mean they hurt less.  To economists, the relevant standard is willingness to pay, and by this standard new results suggest men hurt more from most harms:

What’s a marriage worth? To an Aussie male, about $32,000. That’s the lump sum Professor Paul Frijters says the man would need to receive out of the blue to make him as happy as his marriage will over his lifetime. An Aussie woman would need much less, about $16,000.  But when it comes to divorce, the Aussie male will be so devastated it would be as if he had lost $110,000. An Aussie woman would be less traumatised, feeling as if she had lost only $9000. …  The lifetime boost to happiness that flows from a birth – for the mother around $8700, for the father $32,600. …  The death of a spouse or child causes a woman $130,900 worth of grief. … It costs a man $627,300.

HT to Katja Grace.  I’d bet that male willingness to pay to avoid cuckoldry is not much less than female willingness to pay to avoid rape.

Added 10:30p: I’d prefer to be raped rather than cuckolded; any other men have a preference?

Added 6:30p: Here is data on men being more stoic.

Added 3Dec: Roissy did a poll of his male readers; over 3/4 prefer rape to cuckoldry.

GD Star Rating
Tagged as: ,

Monogamy Is Human

It easier to maintain pair bonding in larger primate social groups if males can’t easily tell when females are fertile.  In turn, monogamy makes it easier to keep the peace in larger groups.  And since folks in large groups have more uses for big brains, and more resources to pay for them, monogamous social apes should have bigger brains.  So monogamy encouraged by hidden female fertility may have been the key to humans succeeding far beyond other apes.

Why might we think this?  Chimps are humans’ closest living relatives, splitting apart 5-7 million years ago.  The Ardipithecus ramidus proto-humans of 4.4 million years ago were bipeds with a broad diet in woods and grasslands, and with a brain

about the same size as a modern bonobo or female common chimpanzee brain … The less pronounced nature of [their] upper canine teeth … has been used to suggest that the last common ancestor of homonids and African apes was characterized by relatively little aggression between males and between groups.

A recent Science article persuasively elaborated this argument:

Elimination of the [upper canine teeth] in hominids is unique among all higher primates and occurred long before Australopithecus. … Available evidence now suggests [it] was, as is theoretically most likely, a social adaptation … consistent with a strategy of increasingly targeted provisioning. …. Males would benefit from enhanced male-to-male cooperation …. Foraging could be achieved most productively by cooperative male patrols … Provisioning would reduce female-to-female competition … and would improve (or maintain) social cohesion. …

A large brain is not our most unique characteristic. … The combination of [upper canine teeth] elimination, habitual bipedality, and reproductive crypsis (each in itself an extreme rarity) is unique among all known mammals. Conversely, simple brain enlargement is readily explicable in myriad ways.

They plausibly suggest that these three key uniquely human features appeared together over 4 million years ago, leading over time to our uniquely large human social groups and brains, and all else they imply.

If monogamy is this essential to human success, that does make me a bit more concerned about current trends away from monogamy.  Of course hunter-gatherer monogamy may only have been for 4+ year periods, and we are in some ways moving more toward that.  But still, it gives me pause.

GD Star Rating
Tagged as:

Academia Is Aging

Eric Drexler dissaproves of this NIH awardee aging trend:

NIH grants vs. investigator age, compared to Darwin's age during his formative research.

It has become increasingly difficult for young U.S. researchers to win funding for their ideas. … Both Darwin and Einstein were in their 20s when they discovered principles that revolutionized human thought.

He’s probably right that this trend is bad, though it isn’t obvious what is the best funding age distribution.  What seems more obvious:  we didn’t have the optimal age distribution in both 1980 and 2006.   Since it is hard to believe the optimal age for researchers has changed that much in 26 years, one of these eras probably failed to fund the right age folks.

How could an academia optimized for research progress get such an obvious parameter that wrong?  Most likely, academia is nowhere near such precise optimization; it has at best only crude tendencies to promote research progress.  Academia serves other functions.

GD Star Rating
Tagged as:

Status Quo Institution Bias

New studies show existence and positive purpose biases.  First, we presume that what exists is better that what is not:

People treat the mere existence of something as evidence of its goodness. Studies 1 and 2 demonstrate that an existing state is evaluated more favorably than an alternative. Study 3 shows that imagining an event increases estimates of its likelihood, which in turn leads to favorable evaluation; the more likely that something will be, the more positively it is evaluated. Study 4 shows that the more a form is described as prevalent, the more aesthetically attractive is that form. … Mere existence leads to assumptions of goodness; the status quo is seen as good, right, attractive, tasty, and desirable.

Second, we presume the universe is designed to achieve broad positive purposes:

Children in first, second, and fourth grades were asked whether rocks are pointy because they are composed of small bits of material or in order to keep animals from sitting on them. The children preferred the teleological explanation. … Recent work suggests that it’s not just children: [researchers] found the same tendency to ascribe purpose to phenomena like rocks, sand, and lakes in uneducated Romany adults. They also tested BU undergraduates who had taken an average of three college science classes. When the undergrads had to respond under time pressure, they were likely to agree with nonscientific statements such as “The sun radiates heat because warmth nurtures life.”

For social institutions, these biases combine into a perfect storm: we assume our social institutions are well designed to achieve laudable broad purposes, rather than being more accidental arrangements where we each achieve private purposes holding constant others’ behavior.

Yes things that we have adapted to our needs are probably better than random other things that could be there instead.  I’d rather keep the current parts in my car than replace them with other random objects.  And yes when institutions have varied from place to place the better ones have probably spread further.

But even so we seem far too eager to believe that our current institutions are so well designed that there is little reason to consider alternatives.  This error is encouraged by the above biases, and by the fact that we can show loyalty to our local culture by believing it has superior institutions.  But be warned: it is nevertheless an error.  (And yes, I’ll tediously argue yet again that prediction markets could help correct this error.)

GD Star Rating
Tagged as: , ,

Require Baby Paternity Test

The most extensive and authoritative report … concluded that 2 percent of men with “high paternity confidence” — married men who had every reason to believe they were their children’s father — were, in fact, not biological parents. Several studies indicate that the rate appears to be far higher among unmarried fathers. …

At a federally convened symposium on the increase in paternity questions, a roomful of child-welfare researchers, legal experts, academics and government administrators agreed that much pain could be avoided if paternity was accurately established in a baby’s first days. Several suggested that DNA paternity tests should be routine at birth, or at least before every paternity acknowledgment is signed and every default order entered.  …

The same care that hospitals take ensuring that the right mother is connected to the right newborn — footprints, matching ID bands, guarded nurseries, surveillance cameras — should be taken to verify that the right man is deemed father.

More here, and HT to Roissy, who supports mandatory paternity testing at birth, as do I. After all:

Most states … have their own mandatory newborn screening programs … Almost all states now screen for more than 30 disorders.

Most of those disorders are much rarer than 2%, and we have a far stronger reason to expect market failure for paternity testing than for the other required tests.  Men are clearly reluctant to request a paternity test at birth because doing so sends a bad signal: Continue reading "Require Baby Paternity Test" »

GD Star Rating
Tagged as: , ,

It’s News On Academia, Not Climate

Electronic files that were stolen from a prominent climate research center and made public last week provide a rare glimpse into the behind-the-scenes battle to shape the public perception of global warming.  …

“I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report,” Jones writes. “Kevin and I will keep them out somehow — even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!”  In another, Jones and Mann discuss how they can pressure an academic journal not to accept the work of climate skeptics with whom they disagree.. … “I will be emailing the journal to tell them I’m having nothing more to do with it until they rid themselves of this troublesome editor.” …

Horner … [said] the e-mails have “the makings of a very big” scandal. “Imagine this sort of news coming in the field of AIDS research,” he added. … some likening the disclosure to the release of the Pentagon Papers during Vietnam.

More here.  Joel Achenbach comments:

This is not a scandal so much as a window on real scientists working on a politicized issue. … “Gravity isn’t a useful theory because Newton was a nice person.” I agree. But isn’t it also true that Newtons antipathy towards Hooke and his use of his position in control of the Royal Society, ensured that the concept of an achromatic lens for a telescope … had to wait until after [Newton’s] death.

Yup, this behavior has long been typical when academics form competing groups, whether the public hears about such groups or not.  If you knew how academia worked, this news would not surprise you nor change your opinions on global warming.  I’ve never done this stuff, and I’d like to think I wouldn’t, but that is cheap talk since I haven’t had the opportunity.  This works as a “scandal” only because of academia’s overly idealistic public image.

It is a shame that academia works this way, and an academia where this stuff didn’t happen would probably be more accurate.  But even our flawed academic consensus is usually more accurate than its contrarians, and it is hard to find reliable cheap indicators saying when contrarians are more likely to be right.

If you don’t like this state of affairs join me in trying to develop a more reliable consensus mechanism on such topics: prediction markets. It just takes time or money.  Prefer instead to act shocked, just shocked, when the other side is shown to do this stuff, while reserving your side’s ability to do the same?  Then I have little respect for you.

Added 23Nov:  Tyler basically agrees.  Bryan too, mostly.  Nate Silver riffs.

GD Star Rating
Tagged as: , , ,

Byron vs. Wordsworth

[Lord Byron] chose to be noisily “immoral” not because he was any worse (or any better) than the average aristocrat of his time but as a weapon against the moralism of Wordsworth. I don’t mean “moralism” in a normative sense – God no. I remember sifting through the elderly Wordsworth’s letters looking for any comment at all on the Great Famine which was extirpating the Irish, and finding only one remark, in which the great moralist earnestly prays that England will not weaken, ie provide any aid whatsoever.  It’s one of the curiosities of English literary history that you’ll never find the least particle of compassion for the Irish in “moral” poets like Wordsworth.

Only the “mad, bad and dangerous” Byron mentioned the slaughter of 1798, attacking the PM, Castlereagh, for “dabbling [his] sleek young hands in Erin’s gore” and, as Pope would have recommended, delivering an extra kick to his enemy’s corpse in this epitaph: “Posterity will never survey a nobler grave than this: here lie the bones of Castlereagh: stop, traveler, and piss.”

More here.  Why is it that those who seemed at the time to most emphasize morality often end up later looking the least moral?

Hat tip to Paul Gowder.

GD Star Rating
Tagged as: ,

Smile Till It Hurts

Kate Tuttle reviews Bright-Sided:

When Barbara Ehrenreich was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, the sharp-eyed social critic found herself nearly as discomfited by the “pink ribbon culture” surrounding the disease as by the illness itself. Relentlessly upbeat, cloyingly inspirational, the breast cancer world, as Ehrenreich describes it, is a place where anger, fear and depression — all perfectly reasonable responses to a potentially mortal diagnosis — are frowned upon and the cancer itself is lauded as a great opportunity for spiritual growth. … Why do so many of us seem so willing to discount reality in favor of vague wishes, dreams and secrets? …

Ehrenreich’s examination of the history of positive thinking is a tour de force of well-tempered snark, culminating in a persuasive indictment of the bright-siders as the culprits in our current financial mess. … The author deploys her sharpest tone to eviscerate the business community’s embrace of positive thinking. Offered as a sap to those facing layoffs, used as a spur to better performance by those workers who remain. … “American corporate culture had long since abandoned the dreary rationality of professional management for the emotional thrills of mysticism, charisma, and sudden intuitions.”

We are naturally happy when times are good and sad when times are bad.  Since we prefer to associate with folks having good times, we prefer associates who act happy.  So we tend to be biased to act happier than our hidden info about our circumstances justifies.  Of course when things go really bad we may switched to acting depressed, to realistically assess our prospects, and to perhaps induce more assistance.

But going too far signaling your confidence via happiness can interfere with signaling your intelligence – you might just seem too stupid to notice how bad things are.  Since Ehrenreich has much intelligence to signal, it makes sense for her to show snarkiness instead of happiness.  But it is not clear why business deserves more criticism than any other part of society on this – the clearer harm here seems the meds wasted on faint hopes.

Added 11a:  In case there are any doubts, yes of course the recent panel advice to reduce breast cancer testing is right, and yes this bodes ill for US med spending.

GD Star Rating
Tagged as:

Praise Results

I am deeply honored by Tyler Cowen’s blog post “In praise of Robin Hanson.” My first instinct is to respond in kind, but doing so now would seem forced; better to wait until no one expects it.  Instead let me use this opportunity to make a point about signaling: the world would be better if we praised folks more for what they did than who they are.

Most eulogies, introductions, reviews, etc., whether in praise or criticism, tend to discuss what a person has done mainly as clues to what sort of person they are.  For example, music reviews talk about what a new album says about how the musician has developed, instead of how that music can brighten the lives of listeners.

Very small acts are often mentioned, if they seem telling.  And we often hear that someone was head of an organization, or had a credential, without hearing much about what they did with such influence.  We often hear they were part of some project without hearing the difference they made, and the differences we do hear about are often merely due to others knowing of their association with the project.

Because the usual focus is on inferring how smart, strong, creative, caring, charismatic, determined, etc. people are, the incentives are more to do things that suggest good things about your character.  If instead we focused on describing the differences a person has actually made to the world, we would get more folks trying harder to actually make a difference.  And they would focus more on acquiring the features that produce results, instead of features that are easy to see.

And when we evaluate the difference someone made, we should correct for the opportunities they had.  For example, if they saved lives as a doctor, we should ask if they saved more than if someone else had been allowed to be a doctor in their place.  If they rose from rags to riches, we should ask who helped them along the way.  If they headed an group that did a great thing, we should wonder whether that group would have done something similar with someone else in charge.

If we praised results instead of character, maybe we will get more of both.

Added 7p: Will Wilkinson comments here.

GD Star Rating
Tagged as: ,

Movies As Detached Detail

Precious and An Education were the last two movies I saw on a big screen, and both seemed to me to support the idea that movies are basically believable detail intended to be processed in near mode, combined with an overall story arc intended to be processed in far mode.  Both movies get high marks for believable environment and actor micro-expression detail, and a lot of relatively realistic setting and character features.  But the overall story arcs are rather predictable and not especially believable – they affirm standard morals and myths of modern viewers.  While in real life believable near detail adds evidential support to related far claims, the “detached detail” of fiction breaks this connection.  As I said for science fiction:

Grand historical arcs must be described in the story, but since they are processed by readers mostly in far mode, readers are not very critical about how plausible are those arcs.  The near details of the lives of the major characters, in contrast, are processed more in near mode, so SF writers must make those seem more realistic.  (Of course we don’t process even these in as near a mode as details of our own lives now – it is still fiction after all.)  This all supports my detached detail warning: don’t assume that because the character lives described are compelling, the historical arcs are as plausible.

GD Star Rating
Tagged as: ,