Monthly Archives: February 2010

Do Larks Repress Owls?

Richard Chappell suggests morning larks treat night owls unfairly:

Scheduling maintenance work on campus housing for 7:45am somehow doesn’t strike the university as grossly inconsiderate, the way that scheduling it for 11pm surely would. … It should be common knowledge that there’s a fair bit of variation in the sleep schedules of graduate students. …. Perhaps [early-risers] think that any grad student who’s still asleep at 8am is just “sleeping in”, the way that they themselves might do on a lazy weekend. … Perhaps the inconsistent treatment is thought to be justified by early-riser moralizing: really (the thought goes), people ought to wake early. Those on later sleep schedules must just be lazy.

Intrigued, I dug:

A higher degree of eveningness in more impulsive subjects. more

Morningness was stable before age 35 and increased afterwards. more

College freshmen who kept night-owl hours had lower GPAs. more

Evening-types are more likely to have higher intelligence scores. more

Late risers tire less quickly. … Those who rise later tend to be both cleverer and richer.  more

Night workers more likely to be evening type and the unemployed less likely to be moderately morning type … Evening types were 2.5 times more likely to report that their general health was only poor or fair. more

Owls had the largest mean income and were more likely to have access to a car. There was also no evidence that larks were superior to those with other sleeping patterns with regard to their cognitive performance or their state of health. more Continue reading "Do Larks Repress Owls?" »

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Mate Racism

The latest Time:

My Race-Based Valentine. Why online dating is the last refute of overt racial preferences.

This Valentine’s Day … relatively few women on mainstream dating sites will bother to respond to overtures from men of Asian descent. Likewise, black women will be disproportionately snubbed by men of all races. … requires users to identify their ethnicity; like eHarmony, it considers members’ racial preferences when suggesting matches. lets users filter their searches by race. The site’s profiles include space to indicate interest (or lack thereof) in various racial and ethnic groups. …

Among the women, 73% stated a [racial] preference. Of these, 64% selected whites only, while fewer than 10% included East Indians, Middle Easterners, Asians or blacks. … 59% of [men] stated a racial preference. Of these, nearly half selected Asians, but fewer than 7% did for black women. … In October, [], 80% of whose members choose to input their race, studied the messaging patterns of more than a million users and concluded on its official blog that “racism is alive and well.” …

But do racial preferences amount to racism? Or is overlooking an entire ethnicity as innocuous as filtering out redheads or people under a certain height? “Just because you take race into consideration in your dating preferences and are aware of race doesn’t make you racist,” says Dr. Nicole Coleman, a psychology professor at the University of Houston. Minorities who prefer to date within their own race or ethnicity — and who look for potential mates on niche sites like and — would probably agree with her.

So dating is our last refuge of overt racism because … preferring people based on race isn’t racism if its for dating, especially if minorities do it?!

Of course its racism, if anything is.  But is it good racism?  The obvious reason to allow mate racism is that people better enjoy mating when they better like their mates, and people think they care about the race of their mates.  But this same reason suggests allowing racism by firms, schools, and clubs.  Firms are full of people, including employees, customers, suppliers, and investors, any of which might care about the race of folks they must deal, mingle, associate, etc. with.  At schools, the teachers, students, and ultimate employers of those students may also care about race.

Yes people may be mistaken about how much they care about the race of their associates, and perhaps this justifies government policies forbidding overt racism at firms, schools, or clubs.  But why doesn’t this apply just as well to mating?  Sure it is impossible to legislate away all racism in dating, but the same is true for hiring etc.  Why don’t we at least forbid overt mating racism, such as race-based searches?  We could even collect stats on the race of folks that people contact at dating sites, just as we check now on rates rates in hiring at firms, etc.

One explanation is that we naively think that imposing rules on firms only hurts those abstract entities, not the people associated with them.  Or we think such rules only hurt investors and managers, who we don’t care about.   Perhaps we only dislike racism that changes incomes, not happiness — yet mates often change income a lot.  Another explanation is that we only don’t care about racism in the “personal” sphere, though this just changes the question to what exactly is “personal” and why do we care differently about such things.  What do you think?

Added: The UN definition supports the “personal” theory:

“Racial discrimination” shall mean any … preference based on race … which has the … effect of … impairing the … enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of … fundamental freedoms in … any … field of public life.

Added 25Feb: A Post article encouraging black women to date white men.

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Mysticism’s Function

For our ancestors, mysticism functioned mainly to offer “higher” and stronger motives and excuses to do what they had more practical reasons to do.  In war:

Anthropologists universally reported one “spiritual” factor as being among the most prominent causes of warfare among hunter-gatherers, as well as among primitive agriculturalists.  This was fears and accusations of sorcery. … Accusations of sorcery … do not appear randomly.  They generally arise and are directed against people whom the victim of the alleged sorcery feels have reasons to want to harm him. … Chagnon’s account … of sorcery among the Yanomamo:

No two villages that are within comfortable walking distance from each other can maintain such a [neutral] relationship indefinitely: They must become allies, or hostility is likely to develop. … A death in one of the villages will be attributed to the malevolent hekura sent by shamans in the other village, and raids will eventually take place between them. …

Trespassing was often regarded in hunter-gatherer societies as an offense against a group’s sanctified territory.  In other cases, an act of sacrilege against the clan’s totem was regarded as an insult to the clan itself. … The Dugum Dani … who fought for pigs, women, and land … [also felt] they had to placate their ghosts who became angry with them if a killing … was not avenged. … Similarly, the Gebusi of Lowland New Guinea had the highest homicide rates recorded anywhere. The reason given for the killings was retribution for sorcery, but … there remains a striking correlation in Gebusi society between homicidal sorcery attribution and lack of reciprocity in sister exchange marriage …. Gebusi sorcery attribution is about unresolved and even unacknowledged improprieties in the balance of marital exchange.

In “peace”:

During the witch trials in Europe the accused were precisely those persons who had somehow aroused the suspicion that they were envious and hence desirous of harming others.  Gradually, however, the envious man himself became the accuser, the accused being people who were good-liooking, virtuous, proud and rich. … This double role played by envy in witchcraft is again apparent among primitive peoples.  The outsider, the cripple, anyone at all handicapped, is suspected. ….

Of 222 cases of accusation of [Navaho] witchcraft … 184 involved adult males, 131 of these being of great age.  All the females  accused were also very old.  The Navaho are usually so afraid of the sorcery of old people that they do their best to propitiate them with lavish hospitality and the like, even though the person concerned may be extremely unpleasant. … [They are] suspicious of all persons in extreme positions – the very rich, the very poor, the influential singer, the extremely old. …

The Zuni Indians share with the Hopi a distaste for competitive behavior and open aggression, and sacrifice individuality to the collective.  Bu this does not eliminate envy.  Both very poor and particular rich Zuni can be suspected of witchcraft.  The constant accusation of witchcraft serves to maintain social conformity. … A deceived husband or a jilted lover is described in Zuni legend … as a man to whom it is intolerable that he alone should be unhappy. …

If an old [Comanche] man failed to adapt himself with good grace to the role of peaceable old age, he was suspected of envious magic.  He might even be killed by the relatives of someone who suspected him of being a witch.

Can’t bring yourself to slaughter a nearby village, or a long-time associate?  Mysticism can help you believe they already attacked you first, and that the stakes are so much higher than your personal gain.

We similarly self-deceive today to give ourselves higher and stronger excuses to do what baser motives require.  Beware: if you won’t accept and act on your baser motives, your subconscious may well get you to achieve similar ends via self-deceptive delusions.  For a better chance at believing the truth, accept your ignoble desires.

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Function of Stat Academia

Imagine an academic arguing:

Some say academics are lost in their “ivory tower” trying to impress each other and so aren’t very useful to the wider world.  But this is ridiculous.  Every academic paper cites previous papers the author found useful in writing this paper, and academics are very eager to be cited.  The most cited papers are the most celebrated papers.  So of course academics try to be useful.  If huge areas of academia seem pretty useless that is just because those academics just happen to be quite ignorant about to be useful – it doesn’t mean they aren’t trying to be useful.

See the flaw in that argument?  Right – being useful to other academics in trying to impress each other isn’t at all the same as being useful to the wider world.  Now consider a recent exchange between Seth Roberts and Andrew Gelman (with whom I discussed this in July.)  Seth:

Graphs and transformations are low-status. They are low-status because graphs are common and transformations are easy.  Anyone can make a graph or transform their data. I believe they were neglected for that reason.  To show their high status, statistics professors focused their research and teaching on more difficult and esoteric stuff — like complicated regression.  That the new stuff wasn’t terribly useful (compared to graphs and transformations) mattered little.  Like all academics — like everyone — they cared enormously about showing high status.  It was far more important to be impressive than to be useful.


This is, in my experience, ridiculous. Seth … says that useful statistical research work is generally low status. No, no, no, no! It’s hard to be useful! Just about everybody in statistics tries to do work that is useful.

OK, I know what Seth is talking about. I used to teach at Berkeley (as did Seth), and indeed the statistics department back then was chock-full of high-status professors (the department was generally considered #1 or #2 in the world) who did little if anything useful in applied statistics. But they were trying to be useful! They were just so clueless that they didn’t know better. … It’s certainly true that they didn’t appreciate graphical methods or the challenges of getting down and dirty with data. (They might have dismissed such work as being insufficiently general and enduring.) … Continue reading "Function of Stat Academia" »

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Uncritical Science News

In Nature, Colin Macilwain says science reporting is too uncritical:

[Science journalism] converts original scientific findings, via a production line of embargoed press releases from journals and universities, into a steady stream of largely uncritical stories. … In stark contrast to proper investigations of issues such as public corruption, corporate maleficence or industrial health and safety — essentially silly stories about science continue to fill newspapers and news broadcasts.  Some science reporters are uneasy about this situation, but most accept it. … Most [scientists] seem to be largely content with a system that disguises the very human process of scientific discovery as a seamless stream of ingenious and barely disputed ‘breakthroughs’. Like other elites, researchers feel no great yearning to be held to account by the press. ….

There is a need for dedicated newspaper sections, radio and TV programmes, more akin to existing sports coverage, that can provide detailed, critical assessment of the scientific enterprise for people who really like science.  Reporters and editors could then engage with sets of findings and associated issues of real societal importance in the news pages, asking the hard questions about money, influence and human frailty that much of today’s science journalism sadly ignores. …

The machine … serves the short-term interests of its participants. … Researchers, universities and funding agencies get clips that show that their work has had ‘impact’. And readers get snippets, such as how red or white wine makes you live longer or less long, to chat about at the water-cooler. … Science is being misrepresented as a cacophony of sometimes divergent but nonetheless definitive ‘findings’, each warmly accepted by colleagues, on the record, as deeply significant. The public learns nothing about the actual cut and thrust of the scientific process.

Yes, science reporting is less critical than political, business, or sports reporting.  Since the media is very competitive, readers/viewers must prefer it that way.  But why?

First, we are far more suspicious of bids for dominance-status than for prestige-status.  We see politicians and businesses as threatening to dominate us and so we are eager to watch out for illicit power grabs.  In contrast, we see science, arts, literature, etc. as only awarding prestige, not power, and we are less worried about illicit prestige grabs.  We mainly care about prestigious stuff as ways to see who is more impressive, and a tricky “illicit” prestige grab is itself pretty impressive, so little harm done.

Also, we like some critical reporting on sports, music, and literature because we are expected to choose sides in these areas as part of our identity.  We are supposed to have our favorite band, team, or author, and so we appreciate news rehearsing arguments we might offer for or against such things

But we are not supposed to have favorite positions on science disputes.  Science is more like our communal religion, something that distinguishes us advanced insiders from those ignorant outsiders, and we are eager to signal being part of us and not them.  It is like how, aside from worrying about power-grabs by our military leaders, we are not each supposed to have a different favorite war strategy for our troops – that would be divisive and we prefer to show that we are united against them.

Sciences of politics or business are of course the obvious exception, as we suspect illicit power in politics or business might be supported by illicit scientists.  So we do see critical reporting in these sort of sciences.

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Two Kinds Of Status

The conceited, arrogant feeling of pride has been called the deadliest of the seven deadly sins. Yet pride can also be noble. We all know the contented sense of achievement and self-worth that comes with having done well at something, whether it be achieving a promotion, building something, winning a race or figuring out a cryptic crossword clue. That’s why Jessica Tracy, … one of the few psychologists focused on pride, makes the distinction between what she calls “hubristic pride” and “authentic pride”.

Pride may manifest itself in two different ways, but we cannot tell these apart by their outward appearance, she says.  Both types cause people to tilt their heads back, extend their arms from their body and try to look as large as possible. …

When people see pride expressed they associate it with high status. So pride motivates us to do well so that we gain respect. …  Status can take two forms. … The first is based on dominance and commonly seen in non-human primates, whereby bigger and stronger individuals are revered because they could overwhelm or kill others. The human equivalents include the playground bully and officious boss.  The second kind of status is prestige. In this case, respect and power is gained through knowledge or skill.

More here. I was skeptical at first, but now am convinced: humans see two kinds of status, and approve of prestige-status much more than domination-status.  I’ll have much more to say about this in the coming days, but it is far from clear to me that prestige-status is as much better than domination-status as people seem to think.  Efforts to achieve prestige-status also have serious negative side-effects.

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One Book To Save Them

William Grassie has a fuzzy-headed far view on surviving catastrophe:

Imagine a major planetary catastrophe, … something in the order of the Mt. Toba supervolcano … some 73,000 years ago. … Humanity was reduced to some 1000-to-10,000 breeding pairs. … One of the thirty or so supervolcanos … is the Yellowstone Basin. … The United States disappears in the course of a few days. … The survivors would be reduced to subsistence farming, gathering, hunting, and fishing in areas around the earth’s equator. … Let’s say that humanity is again reduced to some 10,000 breeding pairs. …

What knowledge from today would be most valuable to these survivors as they tried to rebuild their lives and repopulate the earth? … You get to choose one book. …  Stockpiling food and weapons in the mountains of Idaho would be a silly and small-minded emergency plan. … Instead of focusing on the survival of my tribe, my family, or myself, we need to focus on the survival of civilization. ….  And the only way to do this with assurance is to distribute the most valuable and practical knowledge as widely as possible across the planet today in anticipation that unfortunate day. …

The book I would chose is Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History. … It is the combined history of the universe, our creative planet, and our restless species. …. Catastrophic collapses, however, are part of the big story. … Civilizations do not last forever. Farmlands become deleted. … Continue reading "One Book To Save Them" »

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What Med Theory Matt?

Matt Yglesias:

A few points on the insurance status and mortality debate:

— Normally we require overwhelming empirical data to overturn a principle that has strong theoretical support.

— The empirical data to support the “insurance status doesn’t impact mortality” conclusion is not overwhelming. [Matt lists contrary studies] …

— I don’t believe that the people touting these studies really believe them; if widespread beliefs about the desirability of health insurance are totally wrong, this should have dramatic policy implications that should be explored.

Strong theoretical support?!  Here’s what our theories actually say: Continue reading "What Med Theory Matt?" »

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Drunk Is Near

Malcom Gladwell talks about how drunks act very differently in different cultures.  If you remember that sex is near, love is far, you shouldn’t be surprised to learn the key:

If you are good-looking and the world agrees that you are good-looking, drinking doesn’t make you think you’re even better-looking.  Drinking only makes you feel you’re better-looking if you think you’re good-looking and the world doesn’t agree.  Alcohol is also commonly believed to reduce anxiety.  … Put a stressed out drinker in front of an exciting football game, and he’ll forget his troubles.  But put him in quiet bar somewhere, all by himself, and he’ll grow more anxious. …

We’ve misread the effects of alcohol on the brain.  Its principle effect is to narrow our emotional and mental field of vision.  It causes, they write, “a state of short-sightedness in which superficially understood, immediate aspects of experience have a disproportionate influence on behavior and emotion.”

Alcohol makes the thing in the foreground even more salient and the thing in the background disappear.  … The drinker is … at the mercy of whatever is in front of him. …. Psychologists …went into a series of bars and made the patrons .. imagine that they had met an attractive person … ended up in bed – only to discover neither of them had a condom.  The subjects were then ask to respond on a scale of one (very unlikely) to nine (very likely) to … “I would have sex.”  … Drunk people came in at 5.36. … Sober people came in at 3.91.  … But [they] went back to the bars and stamped the hands of some of the patrons with the phrase “AIDS kills.”  Drinkers with the hand stamp were slightly less likely than the sober people to want to have sex in that situation.

So do we drink to make ourselves think more nearly, and so bond more closely to those around us?  Or is it only about showing that our bodies are strong enough to withstand chemical overdoses?  And why wouldn’t we have evolved to think just as nearly as was useful to think?

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New Paleolithic Mating

Two women on modern mating.  Lori Gottlieb:

A couple of years ago, I wrote an essay for the Atlantic titled “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough,” in which I said that having found myself still single at 40 … had I known when I was younger what would make me happy when it came to marriage and family, I would have made very different choices in my dating life. … The majority of single women who responded to a survey I sent out said that getting 80 percent of what they wanted in a mate would be “settling.” The majority of single men said finding a woman with 80 percent of what they wanted would be “a catch.” …

Many single women — mostly those in their 20s — went wild with rage and disdain for my confession: … I’d happily take the 80 percent, if only it was as available to me as it had been when I was 30. …  Suddenly I was “ageist,” “sexist” and “anti-feminist.” … I’ll admit, just a few years earlier, I might have been one of the women bashing this Lori Gottlieb chick for saying the unthinkable. I, too, felt that women should “have it all” (whatever unrealistic ideal I took that to be) and that anyone who suggested otherwise was out of touch, offensive or just plain off her rocker. Compromise? No way. That would mean not being true to myself.  A lot of women my age and younger grew up thinking this way. … We’re supposed to have high standards, and if a guy doesn’t meet them, we should be gloriously fulfilled on our own. … According to some readers, I was an affront to the entire women’s movement … I remember watching a group of young women on the “Today” show discussing my article and the fact that they’d rather be single than with Mr. Good Enough. …

It’s probably no accident that once women adopted this “I don’t need a man” attitude, many were left without men. According to the Census Bureau, the percentage of never-married women ages 25 to 44 more than doubled between 1970 and 2006. …  Another woman proudly said she could easily get her sexual needs taken care of without marriage. So what? … 4 percent of women said what they wanted most from marriage was sex, while 75 percent said it was companionship.

Charlotte Allen:

The very day, March 17, 2005, that Scott Peterson—sentenced to death in California for killing his wife and unborn son and throwing their remains into San Francisco Bay—took up residence on San Quentin’s death row, he received three-dozen phone calls from smitten women, including an 18-year-old who wanted to become his second wife. According to an April story in People, Peterson is still being flooded with letters from female admirers almost five years later, many of the mash notes containing checks to pay for his commissary charges. That’s par for the course on death row, where the rule is: The more notorious the killer, the more fan mail and marriage proposals. The most fan-mail-saturated killer in San Quentin is Richard Allen Davis, who in 1993 kidnapped 12-year-old Polly Klaas at knifepoint from her home in Petaluma, Calif., killed her, and buried her in a shallow grave. … Continue reading "New Paleolithic Mating" »

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