Over-imitation as Norm-Learning [...]

These verbal measures do not support the hypothesis that children over-imitate primarily because they encode unnecessary actions as causing the goal even in causally transparent systems. In a causally transparent system, explanations for over-imitation fitting the results are that children are ignorant of the unnecessary action’s purpose, and that they learn a prescriptive norm that it should be carried out. In causally opaque systems, however, for children and for adults, any action performed before achieving the goal is likely to be inferred as causally necessary—this is not over-imitation, but ordinary causal learning. (Source)

“Over-imitation” in Humans [...]

A strange finding — children, unlike apes, tend towards replication of all actions when copying action sequences, even when those actions are obviously irrelevant to the outcome. An example of an irrelevant action might be tapping the side of a jar from which you will extract a prize with a stick.

Here’s an example of the behavior in a small child:

Interestingly, chimps only copy the relevant actions, making them seem, in this instance, better primed for learning.

There are three main accounts.

“Causal Confusion” accounts propose that children wrongly see such actions as causal, and necessary to the outcome.

“Affiliation” accounts propose that the child executes the non-necessary pieces of the routine to be more like the model.

“Normativity” accounts propose that the child executes the uneccessary actions because it is seen as “playing by the rules”. In this account the child knows the actions are not causally necessary, but believes they must be socially necessary.

In my own opinion, the easiest way to explain this is Relevance Theory, which cuts across all three accounts to explain why a child even needs to explain the behavior.

Some more detail:

Horner & Whiten (2005) discovered that unlike chimpanzees, which, as noted above, copied less of a model’s actions when they appeared causally irrelevant, young children, surprisingly, copied these with high fidelity. These results have been replicated for a larger sample of 3-year-old children by McGuigan et al. (2007). Moreover, McGuigan et al. extended the study to include 5-year olds, suspecting that as children mature cognitively, the susceptibility to blanket copying would decline. Results were to the contrary: 5-year olds were even more likely than the 3-year olds to copy all they saw, even with the transparent box.

Lyons et al. (2007) have replicated these results with a similar task, as well as others that incorporate both causally relevant and irrelevant actions, the latter transparent to view. Lyons et al. checked that the children’s responses are not merely to please the experimenter, both by allowing the child to complete the task while the experimenter was out of the room (see also Horner & Whiten 2005), and then asking the child to check the reward object had been put in place for the next child. A strong tendency to copy the irrelevant modelled actions remained evident even in this more rushed, ‘real-world’ context (figure 5). Lyons et al. further demonstrated how surprisingly inflexible is young children’s conformity, which the authors dubbed over-imitation. Children were exposed to a training programme in which the experimenter extracted reward objects from eight transparent containers, in each case using both relevant and irrelevant actions, and asking the child which actions the experimenter ‘had to do’ and which were ‘silly and unnecessary’ (e.g. tapping the side of a container with a feather). Children were effusively praised for correctly identifying irrelevant actions. Nevertheless, these children continued to over-imitate when tested later. With Lyons et al.’s version of the Horner and Whiten test box, children copied the irrelevant actions in over 90 per cent of cases versus under 10 per cent in baseline tests. (Source)

The mystery is an old one:

The mystery of overimitation has been a long-standing one in developmental psychology. How is it that young children, who are able to learn and reason in so many impressively agile ways, can be utterly stumped by something as simple as the transparent Puzzle Box shown above? Specifically, when kids see an adult getting a prize out of that box in a way that adults – and even chimpanzees – can easily identify as clumsy and inefficient, they seem to lose the ability to figure out how to open the box “correctly”. Watching an adult doing it wrong, in other words, effectively blocks children from figuring out how to do it right. Children become stuck overimitating – or copying the adult’s wasteful strategy, even when doing so leads to bad outcomes. (Source)

Lifeboat Socialism [...]

The final distinguishing characteristic of these left-wing survivor politicians, who have been thrust into leadership, is that they tend towards an individualistic, lone-wolf approach to politics. Bernie Sanders has spent decades as the only party-independent member of congress (despite caucusing with Democrats). Corbyn was content to tend his London district until he reluctantly agreed to pursue what he thought would be a doomed protest candidacy for Labour leader. And what other course would have been available, during a period when New Labour and the Democratic Leadership Council were loudly and fiercely denouncing the politics of a Corbyn or Sanders as out of date, out of style, and beyond the boundaries of respectable politics? (This is, perhaps, a neglected interpretation of Sanders’ initial difficulties when confronted by Black Lives Matter activists: it wasn’t just that he had some blind spot about racism, but that he was generally not used to being held accountable by a mass movement.)

And so it is that we enter a period of renewed left organizing with men like this as our figureheads. Their particular combination of idealism, ruthlessness, and iconoclasm made them well suited to the dark years of “lifeboat socialism” that they survived. These traits do not, however, make them particularly well-matched to the period we are now entering. And so we will need to find new leaders from the ranks of organizers who have been radicalized over the past decade. (Source)

Negro Motorist’s Green Book [...]

While automobiles made it much easier for black Americans to be independently mobile, the difficulties they faced in traveling were such that, as Lester B. Granger of the National Urban League puts it, “so far as travel is concerned, Negroes are America’s last pioneers.”[13] Black travelers often had to carry buckets or portable toilets in the trunks of their cars because they were usually barred from bathrooms and rest areas in service stations and roadside stops. Travel essentials such as gasoline were difficult to purchase because of discrimination at gas stations.[14] To avoid such problems on long trips, African Americans often packed meals and carried containers of gasoline in their cars.[3] Writing of the road trips that he made as a boy in the 1950s, Courtland Milloy of the Washington Post recalled that his mother spent the evening before the trip frying chicken and boiling eggs so that his family would have something to eat along the way the next day.[15] Wikipedia

A half-century ago, classified ads lawfully stated “male help wanted” to indicate women were unwelcome. Black travelers needed the Negro Motorist’s Green Book to find lodging that did not legally exclude them. The 1960s feels like a world away, but discrimination hasn’t disappeared. Women are less likely than men to be shown targeted online ads for high-paying jobs, while Airbnb guests with Black-sounding names are 16 percent more likely to be refused lodging than guests with white-sounding names. Discrimination is still an evil we need to fight, particularly online. (Source)

See also Policy Through Bridge Height

Trends [...]

I work pretty hard to avoid knowing much about trends, other than how to buck them. I mean, it’s become far too rare that a trend is “Read more Latin American literature.” It’s more usually, “Buy adult coloring books” or “Buy 50 Shades of Grey” or “Buy 50 Shades of Grey adult coloring books”—in other words, the kind of bottom-line corporate dreck that my wife and I set up Melville House to counter, because we thought it was overwhelming a more meaningful book culture. (Source)

Improving Fluid Intelligence [...]

Can fluid intelligence be improved? And under what circumstances?

Here, we present evidence for transfer from training on a demanding working memory task to measures of Gf. This transfer results even though the trained task is entirely different from the intelligence test itself. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the extent of gain in intelligence critically depends on the amount of training: the more training, the more improvement in Gf. That is, the training effect is dosage-dependent. Thus, in contrast to many previous studies, we conclude that it is possible to improve Gf without practicing the testing tasks themselves, opening a wide range of applications. (Source)

Is this result merely the effect of IQ Expectations?

Brain Training rounds up arguments against brain training claims.

Not So True Grit finds that consistency doesn’t matter to grit, although perseverance does.

Grit’s 6% argues that intelligence as a relatively stable trait predicts almost half of performance in various measures.

Fluid Intelligence [...]

Fluid intelligence is generally seen as one of the most important inputs into professional and educational success.

Fluid intelligence (Gf) refers to the ability to reason and to solve new problems independently of previously acquired knowledge. Gf is critical for a wide variety of cognitive tasks, and it is considered one of the most important factors in learning. Moreover, Gf is closely related to professional and educational success, especially in complex and demanding environments. Although performance on tests of Gf can be improved through direct practice on the tests themselves, there is no evidence that training on any other regimen yields increased Gf in adults. Furthermore, there is a long history of research into cognitive training showing that, although performance on trained tasks can increase dramatically, transfer of this learning to other tasks remains poor. (Source)

Dawes Rolls [...]

Those rolls were compiled by the U.S. government from 1893 to 1914 to enumerate Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, Oklahoma Seminole, and some Florida Seminole. Nobody has found a Warren ancestor on the Dawes Rolls. That doesn’t mean there isn’t one there.

More than a quarter-million people applied to be included when the Dawes Commission began its work. Fewer than 100,000 actually were enrolled as Indians. People were chosen to be listed on or left off the rolls by white bureaucrats who inspected their appearance. In some cases a brother was included and another brother or sister was not.

One unstated goal of the rolls was to exterminate Indian identity after the period of actual slaughter had ended. Thus, many who legitimately claimed Indian blood were denied a listing out of a desire to reduce the count. As with all the other ethnic cleansing undertaken to eliminate Indians, this one was highly successful. (Source)

Our Selfish Desires [...]

Following modern traditions of zoo design, Harambe’s enclosure was separated from the public by a metal and wire fence of just three feet, though that sat atop a more severe 15-foot ledge. According to a 2015 video released by the Cincinnati Zoo, Harambe’s home was “the world’s first barless outdoor gorilla exhibit” when it opened in 1978. While it now seems this decades-old decision doomed Harambe, at the time of construction, the barless design was likely praised as a more “humane” way to house captive animals. It’s an odd adjective under the circumstances: Animals don’t care about bars—they care about boundaries, and even barless enclosures limit their range.

We tend to think of faux-habitats like the Cincinnati Zoo’s gorilla pen as somehow better for the creatures they house, when in fact they are most likely just the product of our own selfish desires. (Source)

Degree Assortativity [...]

In human networks, a principle called ” degree assortativity” is the norm. It turns out to be resistant to viral effects, and that may have evolutionary roots in survival.

Let me give you an example. This is very visual and, given this format, I’m not supposed to use visuals, but I’m going to cheat and use one slide in a moment. Let’s say you had 1,000 people, and, on average, they each have five connections, so you have 5,000 ties between them. Mathematically, you could construct a number of ways in which you could organize these networks. You could have a random network where people are jumbled together; you could have a big ring network; you could have a kind of “scale-free” network; you could have the kind of network that we humans actually make (which has a variety of properties). It turns out that if you were designing the network from mathematical principles so that the network would be the most resistant to pathogens taking root within it; so, you say, “I want to organize these people in such a fashion that this group, when so organized, resists epidemics;” whereas, if they’d been organized some other way, these same people who otherwise were identical—had the same immune systems, the same biology—this group no longer resisted epidemics so well. If you wanted to give the group the epidemic resistance property, the way you would organize the people is to give them a property in network science known as degree assortativity. You would make popular people befriend popular people and unpopular people befriend unpopular people. You could give them this property, it would make the network as a whole resistant to germs being able to make inroads.

And I can cultivate this intuition by asking you to think about the airport network in this country. The airport network is degree disassortative. Chicago is connected to lots of small airports but, in the small airports, you can’t fly from one to the other; they are disconnected from each other. Whereas people don’t have that property. Popular people befriend popular people, and unpopular befriend unpopular. Now, think about which of those two networks, if you were a bioterrorist and you wanted to seed a germ in, which network would the germ spread more rapidly? In the airport network, right? If you start any random node, like an isolated small town, it will go to Chicago, and, in the next hop, it will reach the whole nation. But if you had the hubs and the spokes or the peripheral airports connected to each other, it would be relatively more impervious to a pathogen spreading.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that of all the kinds of ways human beings could organize themselves into networks, that’s what we do. We evince degree assortativity, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we do that. We assemble ourselves into groups, the group now has this property, this germ- resistance property, which is a property of the group, but which, as it turns out, also benefits and affects us. Now, being a member of that group, we are less likely to acquire pathogens. (Source)

In order to bypass Degree Assortativity, contagions must be Complex Contagions

The tendency for things to be simple contagions may be a problem. See Sanders Filter Bubble

A Social Science of Connections [...]

So, the question I’m asking myself lately is: What would a social science of connections, rather than a social science of individuals, look like? What would it mean to take connections as the focus of inquiry and to think about the individuals as the spaces between the connections who are not so important? And then we begin to think about all the dyadic interactions between individuals, which are themselves natural phenomena, just like we are. I’m an object of the natural world, but so are my connections between me and all the other people, so are those connections objects of the natural world which warrant an explanation and a kind of deep and profound—in my judgment—study. (Source)

Cellular Communalism [...]

MIT researchers have found that cells in a bacterial colony grow in a way that benefits the community as a whole. That is, while an individual cell may divide in the presence of plentiful resources to benefit itself, when a cell is a member of a larger colony, it may choose instead to grow in a more cooperative fashion, increasing an entire colony’s chance of survival. (Source)

Eight Points of Reference for Commoning [...]

Elinor Ostrum identifies some necessities for a commons to truly work. You need spaces for conflict resolution, clear identification of who maintains what, and a method of punishing violations.

Commons do not exist in a perfect world, but rather in one that is hostile to commons. Therefore it is important that commoners be aware of the treasure they hold in their hands, to preserve it and help it flourish. (Source)

Retweeted Corrections [...]

Bartosz Milewski said “Guilty as charged!”. Wow. Much Respect. But notice that, as of this update, The correction has been retweeted 1/25th as often as the original tweet. People want to believe there’s evidence their position is superior. People don’t want to believe the evidence is murky, or even possibly against them. Misinformation people want to believe spreads faster than information people don’t want to believe. (Source)

Hedonic Treadmill [...]

From NYT:

The evidence comes from an influential paper in 1978 reporting that lottery winners were not any happier than their neighbors or more optimistic about the future. In fact, they weren’t any more optimistic about their future happiness than a group of people who had been in accidents that left them paralyzed.

It was one of the first studies testing the theory that we’re all stuck on a “hedonic treadmill,” a term coined by the paper’s lead author, Philip Brickman, for the idea that good or bad events don’t permanently affect our levels of happiness. The theory remains popular with many psychologists, and the lottery study is still one of the prime pieces of supporting evidence.

But the study involved only 22 lottery winners, and it didn’t reveal whether their happiness changed. It measured their feelings at just one point in time, typically within a year of hitting the jackpot, and it compared them at that point with neighbors whose names were chosen from a phone book. Dr. Brickman and his co-authors noted the limitations and urged more rigorous research tracking winners’ feelings over time. (He died in 1982.)

It has taken a few decades, but that research has finally been done. The findings are good news for those who hit the jackpot — and for the rest of us who want to get off that hedonic treadmill.

The feelings of hundreds of lottery winners were tracked in two separate studies, both drawing on a British national survey of adults who were extensively interviewed annually about their states of mind and about events in their lives.

Continue reading the main story

Continue reading the main story
One of the studies, by Bénédicte Apouey and Andrew E. Clark of the Paris School of Economics, found that people tended to drink and smoke a little more after winning the prize, but that their overall physical health remained the same. Their levels of stress declined over two years while their positive feelings increased, so that their general psychological well-being was significantly higher two years after winning than it had been beforehand.

The other study, by Jonathan Gardner and Andrew J. Oswald of the University of Warwick in England, found that winners’ psychological well-being dipped slightly the year they won the prize, but more than rebounded the next two years. The winners ended up much better off psychologically, and also better off than both the general population and a sample of lottery players who hadn’t won a significant prize.

Myth of Hedonic Adaptation [...]

The same thing applies to positive events. While it’s “common knowledge” that winning the lottery doesn’t make people happier, it turns out that isn’t true, either.

In both cases, early cross-sectional results indicated that it’s plausible that extreme events, like winning the lottery or becoming disabled, don’t have long term effects on happiness. But the longitudinal studies that follow individuals and measure the happiness of the same person over time as events happen show the opposite result – events do, in fact, affect happiness. For the most part, these aren’t new results (some of the initial results predate Daniel Gilbert’s book), but the older results based on less rigorous studies continue to propagate faster than the corrections. (Source)

Dunning-Kruger Reality [...]

In two of the four cases, there’s an obvious positive correlation between perceived skill and actual skill, which is the opposite of the pop-sci conception of Dunning-Kruger. A plausible explanation of why perceived skill is compressed, especially at the low end, is that few people want to rate themselves as below average or as the absolute best. In the other two cases, the correlation is very close to zero. It could be that the effect is different for different tasks, or it could be just that the sample size is small and that the differences between the different tasks is noise. It could also be that the effect comes from the specific population sampled (students at Cornell, who are probably actually above average in many respects). If you look up Dunning-Kruger on wikipedia, it claims that a replication of Dunning-Kruger on East Asians shows the opposite result (perceived skill is lower than actual skill, and the greater the skill, the greater the difference), and that the effect is possibly just an artifact of American culture, but the citation is actually a link to a editorial which mentions a meta analysis on East Asian confidence, so that might be another example of a false citation. Or maybe it’s just a link to the wrong soure. In any case, the effect certainly isn’t that the more people know, the less they think they know. (Source)

Chatbot Lawyer [...]

An artificial-intelligence lawyer chatbot has successfully contested 160,000 parking tickets across London and New York for free, showing that chatbots can actually be useful.

Dubbed as “the world’s first robot lawyer” by its 19-year-old creator, London-born second-year Stanford University student Joshua Browder, DoNotPay helps users contest parking tickets in an easy to use chat-like interface.

The program first works out whether an appeal is possible through a series of simple questions, such as were there clearly visible parking signs, and then guides users through the appeals process.

The results speak for themselves. In the 21 months since the free service was launched in London and now New York, Browder says DoNotPay has taken on 250,000 cases and won 160,000, giving it a success rate of 64% appealing over $4m of parking tickets. (Source)

From Know to Feel [...]

An interesting dynamic that also played out in the primary election with Clinton.

But that was the whole point. I did not wish that my book were Eat, Pray, Love. As the only journalist to live undercover in North Korea, I had risked imprisonment to tell a story of international importance by the only means possible. By casting my book as personal rather than professional—by marketing me as a woman on a journey of self-discovery, rather than a reporter on a groundbreaking assignment—I was effectively being stripped of my expertise on the subject I knew best. It was a subtle shift, but one familiar to professional women from all walks of life. I was being moved from a position of authority—What do you know?—to the realm of emotion: How did you feel? (Source)

Country Music and Suicide [...]

This article assesses the link between country music and metropolitan suicide rates. Country music is hypothesized to nurture a suicidal mood through its concerns with problems common in the suicidal population, such as marital discord, alcohol abuse, and alienation from work. The results of a multiple regression analysis of 49 metropolitan areas show that the greater the airtime devoted to country music, the greater the white suicide rate. The effect is independent of divorce, southernness, poverty and gun availability. The existence of a country music subculture is thought to reinforce the link between country music and suicide. Our model explains 51% of the variance in urban white suicide rates. (Source)

Globalization Requires a Domestic Agenda [...]

The view expressed by Chang and others I talked to represents nothing less than a Copernican shift. Dani Rodrik, a professor of political economy at Harvard, says, “The conversation in the last ten years has really turned from saying, ‘The effect of globalization on insecurity and inequality is rather minimal and therefore you need the least amount [of social safety net] that’s politically required to get your trade agreements passed.’ Now, it’s: ‘Globalization is probably contributing a lot more to these problems and therefore a healthy globalization requires a domestic agenda.'” Fred Bergsten, director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, agrees, saying that the proper response to the anxieties about globalization “lies in changes in our domestic policy: universal portable health insurance, portable pensions, much better unemployment insurance. … We just have to do a better job of dealing with the downsides, and the costs, and the losers.” (Source)

Summers on Welfare State [...]

And, if free-trade advocates have given lip service to the idea of strengthening the welfare state in order to offset uncertainty and inequality, they’ve spent little political capital doing so. Which is why it is interesting to see that Lawrence Summers, who served as President Clinton’s treasury secretary during the headiest days of free-trade enthusiasm, is now having some very public second thoughts. Writing in the Financial Times, he noted that “[e]ven as globalisation increases inequality and insecurity, it is constantly and often legitimately invoked as an argument against the viability of progressive taxation, support for labour unions, strong regulation and substantial production of public goods that mitigate its adverse impacts.” But Summers argued that such an attitude was a political non-starter, particularly as globalization “encourages the development of stateless elites whose allegiance is to global economic success and their own prosperity rather than the interests of the nation where they are headquartered.” In a subsequent column, he concluded that the “domestic component of a strategy to promote healthy globalisation must rely on strengthening efforts to reduce inequality and insecurity. The international component must focus on the interests of working people in all countries, in addition to the current emphasis on the priorities of global corporations.” (Source)

Ikea Recall [...]

The company said it had also received reports of at least 41 cases of Malm chests and dressers tipping over, resulting in a total of six deaths and 17 injuries to children. In addition, it received 41 complaints about other models of chests and drawers that also claimed the lives of three children and injured 19 others.
One of those, in July 1989, involved a 20-month-old girl from Mt. Vernon, Va. who died after an unanchored GUTE four-drawer chest tipped over and pinned her against the footboard of a youth bed, the commission said in a statement.

“Every two weeks a child in the U.S. is killed in a tip-over related incident involving furniture or TVs,”  Elliot Kay, chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, said in a statement. “These are tragic numbers.” (Source)

Risks Digest [...]

There are obviously a lot of good books about shipping software and managing the inherent risks: Everyone knows The Mythical Man Month, or Code Complete. But one great resource that doesn’t get enough press is The Risks Digest, an online news summary of software and technology risks that goes back to August 1985. Risks is a catalog of failure and problems with software and hardware—30+ straight years of screwups, malicious hacks, dumb mistakes, mistaken good intentions, and corruption. (I find myself drifting back to it every few weeks, because it’s such a universal document of the technology industry—it’s contrarian and pessimistic, because it cares.) (Source)

Looking for Helium [...]

Helium doesn’t just make your voice squeaky – it is critical to many things we take for granted, including MRI scanners in medicine, welding, industrial leak detection and nuclear energy.  However, known reserves are quickly running out. Until now helium has never been found intentionally – being accidentally discovered in small quantities during oil and gas drilling.

Now, a research group from Oxford and Durham universities, working with Norway-headquartered helium exploration company Helium One, has developed a brand new exploration approach. The first use of this method has resulted in the discovery of a world-class helium gas field in Tanzania.

Their research shows that volcanic activity provides the intense heat necessary to release the gas from ancient, helium-bearing rocks. Within the Tanzanian East African Rift Valley, volcanoes have released helium from ancient deep rocks and have trapped this helium in shallower gas fields. The research is being presented by Durham University PhD student Diveena Danabalan at the Goldschmidt geochemistry conference in Yokohama, Japan. (Source)

The Soul of Japan and Fascism [...]

It may come as an even greater surprise that bushido once received more recognition abroad than in Japan. In 1900 writer Inazo Nitobe’s published Bushido: The Soul of Japan in English, for the Western audience. Nitobe subverted fact for an idealized imagining of Japan’s culture and past, infusing Japan’s samurai class with Christian values in hopes of shaping Western interpretations of his country.

Though initially rejected in Japan, Nitobe’s ideology would be embraced by a government driven war machine. Thanks to its empowering vision of the past, the extreme nationalist movement embraced bushido, exploiting The Soul of Japan to pave Japan’s way to fascism in the buildup to World War II.

And so too The Last Samurai exploits Inazo Nitobe’s depiction of bushido, renewing movie-going audiences’ admiration for a venerable concept and glorified past that never truly existed. But as bushido’s precarious history proves, the truth often takes a back seat to more fashionable depictions, whether it be to change Western perceptions, fuel a fascist war agenda, or sell movie tickets. (Source)

Google’s Single Repository [...]

This article outlines the scale of that codebase and details Google’s custom-built monolithic source repository and the reasons the model was chosen. Google uses a homegrown version-control system to host one large codebase visible to, and used by, most of the software developers in the company. This centralized system is the foundation of many of Google’s developer workflows. Here, we provide background on the systems and workflows that make feasible managing and working productively with such a large repository. We explain Google’s “trunk-based development” strategy and the support systems that structure workflow and keep Google’s codebase healthy, including software for static analysis, code cleanup, and streamlined code review. (Source)

Heart of the Sulk [...]

At the heart of a sulk lies a confusing mixture of intense anger and an equally intense desire not to communicate what one is angry about. The sulker both desperately needs the other person to understand and yet remains utterly committed to doing nothing to help them do so. The very need to explain forms the kernel of the insult: if the partner requires an explanation, he or she is clearly not worthy of one. We should add: it is a privilege to be the recipient of a sulk; it means the other person respects and trusts us enough to think we should understand their unspoken hurt. It is one of the odder gifts of love. (Source)

Red Team Switch [...]

Empathy can switch quickly after team re-assignment.

In 2013, Van Bavel told me of a trick that sounded so simple and hopeful. Sometimes he’ll switch a red-team participant to the blue team and vice versa. “We say, ‘Listen, there’s been a mistake, you’re actually on the other team,’ ” he told me then. “And the moment we do, we completely reverse their empathy. Suddenly they care about everybody who is in their new in-group.”

That might be simple in the lab, but in the real world, these feelings are more deeply entrenched. But even in the real world, experimenters are showing there are ways to reduce bias. (Source)

Empathy is almost always bounded by group identification. See Group-Boundedness of Empathy

Write Your Own Name In Every Time [...]

If real world impacts of elections don’t matter, why vote for a third-party candidate at all? Why not just write in your own name?

In his interview, Nader goes on to defend his idiosyncratic belief that people are under no obligation to consider real-world impacts in their voting behavior. Vote for a third-party candidate, write in a candidate, follow your own conscience: “I think voters in a democracy should vote for anybody they want, including write in or even themselves. I don’t believe in any kind of reprimand of voters who stray from the two-party tyranny.” Why should people vote for candidates at all? Since, by definition, the person we most closely agree with is ourselves, why not just write your own name in every time? (Source)

Nader Impact [...]

Everyone but Nader voters and Nader know that he was, more than any single individual, responsible for the election of George W. Bush.

The facts of Nader’s impact are fairly clear. His candidacy helped Bush in three ways. First, by insisting Bush and Al Gore were ideological twins, “Tweedledee and Tweedledum,” he aided Bush, who was trying to mute the ideological dimensions of the election, cast himself as a successor to Clinton’s agenda, and win on personal character. Second, he forced Gore to devote resources to defending otherwise solid Democratic states. And, third, he won enough votes in Florida to put the state into recount territory, allowing Bush to prevail.

Nader could defend this decision — by, say, making the case that keeping the Democrats from moving too close to the center requires throwing the occasional election to the Republicans. Instead, he persists in simply deflecting the issue away from his own behavior. Blaming his candidacy is a “politically bigoted comment,” he tells Hobson, because “They are assigning a second-class citizenship to the third party.” (Actually, they are merely recognizing the fact that third parties do not have a chance to win the election, but can impact which of the two major-party candidates does win.) Nader likewise ticks through his well-worn list of non-Nader factors that helped Bush win:

What about 250,000 Democratic voters voting for Bush in Florida in 2000? What about all the shenanigans that distorted honest vote counting in Florida? What about Mr. Gore not getting his home state of Tennessee? What about the political decision, 5-4 of the Supreme Court, which should never have made that decision, to block the Florida Supreme Court’s ongoing recount in Florida?

It is true that lots of factors made a difference in the outcome. Gore lost his home state of Tennessee, which is a common occurrence when the nominee comes from a state loyal to the opposing party. But his list of factors is merely a banal description of a reality in which Democrats and Republicans did everything within their power to win the election. This has no bearing on Nader’s decision to use his own power in a way that in fact swung the election to Bush.
Nader himself once cited a poll showing that only 38 percent of his supporters would have voted for Gore, against 25 percent for Bush, and the remainder staying home. Nader presented this as evidence in his own defense. But if we apply it to the results in Florida, it clinches the opposite conclusion. Ninety-seven thousand Floridians voted for Nader. By his own figures, he swung a net of more than 12,000 votes from Gore, many times larger than Bush’s margin of victory. (Source)

Gaiman on Net Culture [...]

What I tend to see happening more and more is people retreating into their own corners. People seem scared to get things wrong or be shouted at so they form villages in which they agree with every other member, and maybe they go out and shout at the people in the next village for fun, but there’s no interchange of ideas going on. I think we have to encourage the idea that you’re allowed to think things. I have thought a great many stupid things over the years, and I can tell you that there’s not one stupid thing that I ever thought where I changed my mind because someone shouted at me or threatened to kill me. On the other hand, having great discussions with good friends, possibly over a drink, has definitely changed my mind and made me try to do better. You’re allowed to do better, but we have to let people do better. (Source)

Keeping Complexity in the Frame [...]

Frame 394 follows a young man from Toronto who entangles himself in one of America’s most high-profile police-involved shootings.

Department of Agriculture ERS Chart of the Day [...]

Research office of USDA produces/curates an interesting chart of the day. It’s awesome. (Link)

Foreign Accent Syndrome [...]

Fewer than 100 people worldwide have been diagnosed with foreign accent syndrome over the last century, according to experts at Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital.

Foreign accent syndrome is most often caused by brain damage from a stroke or traumatic brain injury, but it’s also been linked to multiple sclerosis and other health issues. In some cases, no clear cause has been pinpointed, according to experts at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Alamia’s neurologist, Dr. Toby Yaltho, put her through a battery of tests trying to answer the how’s and why’s of her strange condition. So far, it remains a mystery.

British pop singer George Michael reported in 2012 having a similar problem. After a life-threatening bout of pneumonia that left the then-48-year-old former “Wham!” frontman in a coma, he awoke with what he described as a “West Country accent.”

“There’s nothing wrong with a West Country accent but it’s a bit weird when you’re from north London,” Michael told London’s LBC radio at the time, the news agency AFP reported. (Source)

Homophily [...]

Similarity breeds connection. This principle—the homophily principle—structures network ties of every type, including marriage, friendship, work, advice, support, information transfer, exchange, comembership, and other types of relationship. The result is that people’s personal networks are homogeneous with regard to many sociodemographic, behavioral, and intrapersonal characteristics. Homophily limits people’s social worlds in a way that has powerful implications for the information they receive, the attitudes they form, and the interactions they experience. Homophily in race and ethnicity creates the strongest divides in our personal environments, with age, religion, education, occupation, and gender following in roughly that order. Geographic propinquity, families, organizations, and isomorphic positions in social systems all create contexts in which homophilous relations form. Ties between nonsimilar individuals also dissolve at a higher rate, which sets the stage for the formation of niches (localized positions) within social space. We argue for more research on (Source)

Rivals Monotheism [...]

Still, Heffernan believes that we are living through a revolution. “The Internet is the great masterpiece of civilization,” she says. “As an idea it rivals monotheism.” And: “If it’s ever fair to say that anything has ‘changed everything,’ it’s fair to say so about the Internet.” Analog is dead. To understand the new regime, she argues, we need a new aesthetics, “a new hierarchy of values.” This is what she proposes to provide. (Source)

Reviews Are J-Shaped [...]

Reviews tend to be asymmetrically bimodal; they form a J-shaped distribution, with many high ratings, a smaller number of low ratings, and not much in between. The higher number of high ratings may reflect “positivity bias.” Studies show that if the first review is a rave subsequent reviews are more likely to be positive. If you are selling a product online, it makes all the sense in the world for you to have a friend post a positive review the instant the page goes up. We can often tell—shopping for books on Amazon, for example—when someone has taken this wise precaution.

One explanation for the low proportion of mid-range ratings is that the tiny fraction of customers who bother to write reviews do it because they had either an exceptionally good experience or an exceptionally bad one—which is, by statistical definition, not the experience you are going to have. Reliability is also compromised by the phenomenon of ratings inflation, the result of allowing sellers to review buyers as well as vice versa, as happens on services like eBay and Uber. It’s all a mess. But, assuming the wisdom of crowds, it’s probably not that much more untrustworthy than the advice of the salesman in the store, and it beats staring at the label. (Source)

Taste Is Like Traffic [...]

Vanderbilt is intrepid; he is also fair. He desperately wants to find a non-circular account of preferences, something better than “People like this kind of thing because this is the kind of thing that they—or people around them, or people who are supposed to know—like,” but he has to admit defeat. There is no place outside the swirling galaxy of taste formation on which to rest a philosophical lever. “Taste is like traffic, actually,” he acknowledges, “a large complex system with basic parameters and rules, a noisy feedback chamber where one does what others do and vice versa, in a way that is almost impossible to predict beyond that at the end of the day a certain number of cars will travel down a stretch of road, just as a certain number of new songs will be in the Hot 100.” (Source)

The Outlier Is Essential to the Type [...]

Understanding how traffic works is made exponentially more complicated by the fact that it’s not just one person who is barely paying attention; all the drivers on the road are barely paying attention, and they’re also reacting to each other. The same is true of taste. The reason stuff you don’t like is out there is that other people do like it. The continuously shifting array of “like” arrows emanating from you is reproduced billions of times across the planet and configured differently each time. Vanderbilt points out that someone who says, “I don’t want Thai food. I had some yesterday,” is forgetting that in Thailand people eat Thai food every day.

You can aggregate tastes, but only so far. Once you start lumping—once you declare that all x prefer y—you create the condition for splitting, since there will always be at least one x who is determined to stand apart from the herd. “Tastes can change when people aspire to be different from other people,” Vanderbilt says. “They can change when we are trying to be like other people.” Somewhere in America, there is a college professor who will never buy a Prius. The outlier is not extraneous to the type; the outlier is essential to the type. The outlier marks a boundary. Tastes are, by definition, things not universally shared. (Source)

Seventeen Seconds [...]

Maybe “toasted” trumped “foraged.” Likes and dislikes can be triggered by random associations and can form in a split second. We make choices before we’ve had time to weigh the options. Vanderbilt tells us that the median amount of time spent looking at a work of art at the Met is seventeen seconds. Shopping for clothes, we say, “Oh, I love that!” before we have the first coherent idea about what it is that makes us love it. (Source)

iOS Game Model [...]

To give some idea of just how awful iOS was for us, the first non-iOS game I did after spending two years on iOS, released on a Sony handheld that many describe as being “obscure”, generated literally thousands of times more income for us than two years and ten games on iOS with its potential billions of users. In the face of that I would have been absolutely daft to spend any more time at all on iOS. (Source)

IQ Expectations [...]

The conclusion is that brain-training games don’t really do anything to increase intelligence and that brain-training research should be rigorous. But that sure seems like it’s burying the lead. If this research is reliable, it tells us that a mere expectation of brain training will increase your IQ by a whopping five points. And I don’t mean “whopping” in a sarcastic sense, either. An IQ of 100 means you’re smarter than half the population. Raising that to 105 makes you smarter than 63 percent of the population. All that from mere expectations. (Source)

Ad Share of GDP [...]

Advertising and Attention

Despite all of the upheaval caused by the Internet, there are two truths about advertising that have remained constant:

Advertising’s share of GDP has remained consistent for 100 years 

TV’s share of advertising, after growing for 40 years, has also remained consistent at just over 40% for the last 20 years

Those twenty years have seen the emergence of digital advertising generally, and, over the last five years, mobile advertising: while this emergence is likely responsible for the halt in growth for TV, the real victims have been radio, magazines, and especially newspapers, which have shrunk from a nearly 40% advertising share to about 10%. (Source)

Is Inifinity Real? [...]

Euclidean geometry has a way of turning mathematically inclined students into lifelong math lovers, and I was no exception. But a primitive assumption has always troubled me: The definition of a “geometric point” refers to something that has position, but no dimensions, so there can be an infinite number of them in any given line segment. While you can imagine such a thing in the abstract world of mathematics, it cannot be realized at a physical level by a real-world object.

When we see the multitude of reflections in two parallel mirrors, we loosely say that it goes on forever, but in reality the images get smaller and smaller. At some physical limit, the image information is lost: We are all familiar with the pixelation in digital images. (Source)

Minimum Viable Organism [...]

Peel away the layers of a house — the plastered walls, the slate roof, the hardwood floors — and you’re left with a frame, the skeletal form that makes up the core of any structure. Can we do the same with life? Can scientists pare down the layers of complexity to reveal the essence of life, the foundation on which biology is built?

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That’s what Craig Venter and his collaborators have attempted to do in a new study published today in the journal Science. Venter’s team painstakingly whittled down the genome of Mycoplasma mycoides, a bacterium that lives in cattle, to reveal a bare-bones set of genetic instructions capable of making life. The result is a tiny organism named syn3.0 that contains just 473 genes. (By comparison, E. coli has about 4,000 to 5,000 genes, and humans have roughly 20,000.)

Yet within those 473 genes lies a gaping hole. Scientists have little idea what roughly a third of them do. Rather than illuminating the essential components of life, syn3.0 has revealed how much we have left to learn about the very basics of biology.

“To me, the most interesting thing is what it tells us about what we don’t know,” said Jack Szostak, a biochemist at Harvard University who was not involved in the study. “So many genes of unknown function seem to be essential.” (Source)

Emotional Control [...]

In contrast, being exposed to the reform was associated with lower emotional control. To interpret the possible differential impact on emotional control in children from different socioeconomic backgrounds, one must consider that the reform had different implications for different social groups. The reform’s impact on years of education suggests that a majority of sons of farmers and manual workers would not have studied during the year between 15 and 16 years of age, had it not been mandatory. For these cohorts, jobs were readily available even at age 15. If the extra mandatory year in school typically replaced a year at work, the reform’s positive effect on intelligence and negative effect on emotional control may reflect that work, for these boys, was on average a worse promoter of intelligence but a better promoter of emotional control. Perhaps work provided a more structured environment than school.

For sons of entrepreneurs, non-manual workers and professionals, in turn, the reform had no clear effect on intelligence, but we found suggestions of a negative effect on emotional control. The results on years of education suggest that without the reform, a majority of these boys would have been studying anyway, but in another type of school: the old junior secondary school. The signs of a detrimental effect on emotional control in those of higher socioeconomic position may suggest that in this respect and for these boys, the new school form was worse than the old one, at least initially. It is possible that teachers, when faced with a new curriculum and a new class composition, ran into problems structuring the learning environment.

Our observational data suggest that emotional control was an even stronger predictor of all-cause mortality than were intelligence and social background, a finding that is in line with previous findings.13 In light of that result and of the possible detrimental effect of education on emotional control in our sample, it seems that socio-emotional skills should be taken into as serious consideration in epidemiological research as their cognitive counterparts. (Source)

Blackfeet Bison Famine [...]

I think back to an interview I had a few years ago with Woody Kipp, a journalist, teacher, and member of Montana’s Blackfeet tribe. Generations ago, the average Blackfeet man ate 3 to 7 pounds of bison a day, supplemented with chokecherries, turnips, and wild berries. “There was no want, no hunger,” Kipp said. “We didn’t grow any grains. No grains.” But then, things changed. As non-Native settlers expanded westward, millions of bison were killed. A particularly harsh winter left thousands of Blackfeet—and bison—starving. And that was it, Kipp said. “The diet changed so rapidly overnight.”

Outsiders began shipping foods up the Missouri River—“flour and bacon, things we weren’t used to,” Kipp said. This was part of a century-long process “to turn us into white people.” The Blackfeet diet was never the same, and neither was the mentality. The loss of bison was far more than the loss of meat. (Source)

Differential Preservation [...]

The differential preservation of perishable versus nonperishable materials in the archaeological record means that many Stone Age societies appear, on the basis of artifacts alone, to have greatly emphasized stone technologies at the expense of perishable technologies. Such differential preservation conveniently informed and reinforced mid-20th-century “Man the Hunter” interpretations of Stone Age cultures: Men hunt, women tend camp, and children are archaeologically invisible. How suburban. How middle-class American. And how wrong. (Source)

Deviant Globalization [...]

The underworld operates openly in Carteland, but its covert networks reach everywhere illegal commodities are bought and sold. These transactions connect underworld producers to upper-world consumers in a complex transnational economy that has recently undergone tremendous expansion. The historian Nils Gilman has called this process “deviant globalization,” meaning that the same innovations in banking, communications, and technology that facilitated the globalization of regular commerce during the 1990s and early 2000s have also benefitted drug gangs and other underworld entrepreneurs. The result? Rapid territorial expansion, economies of scale, and outsourcing have become the norm in underworld enterprises as well. (Source)

Rothstein’s Gambit [...]

This is a problem because thieves like to rob other thieves. Arnold Rothstein, a famous bootlegger in the 1920s, allegedly made a fortune when he sold his entire fleet of rum-running ships to rival gangsters and then repeatedly hijacked their cargoes of contraband liquor. In other words, he successfully offloaded the maintenance and overhead expenses of his shipping fleet to rivals and then turned around and stole their profits. (Source)

Social Class of Kiss [...]

To go by today’s popular Western culture you would think the romantic kiss is a pleasurable human universal. Many people, including evolutionary and social psychologists, have suggested as much. It seems a natural conclusion: Even chimpanzees and bonobos kiss—including with open mouths and tongues. But clearly not everyone kisses. In fact, in our recent study, published in July 2015, less than half of the cultures we sampled engage in the romantic kiss.

We looked at 168 cultures and found couples kissing in only 46 percent of them. Societies with distinct social classes are usually kissers; societies with fewer or no social classes, like hunter-gatherer communities, are usually not. For some, kissing seems unpleasant, unclean, or just plain weird. Kissing is clearly a culturally variable display of affection. (Source)

Context Collapse [...]

Social media sites collapse multiple discrete social context into one massive unforgiving context, with many bad effects.

The ethnographer danah boyd (who spells her name with lowercase letters), one of the earliest researchers of social lives online, refers to “social convergence” in social networking sites. Social convergence, she argues, occurs when multiple social worlds merge. This results in “context collapse,” meaning social media sites bring together different social contexts simultaneously. It’s like trying to comfortably chat with your mother, bar buddy, work colleague, and ex-boyfriend at the same time. Boyd, who founded Data & Society, is a principal researcher with Microsoft Research and the author of It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. (Source)

Is the problem of context collapse the reason why Face-to-Face Beats Social

Partially because of context collapse, online communities engage in Homophilous Sorting

Aggregating Deviation Doesn’t Work [...]

Even Isaac Newton seems not to have appreciated this. While he was Warden of the London Mint, coins were weighed in batches to assess them for consistency: the weight deviation permitted per coin was multiplied by the quantity in the lot. As a result, quality control was an order of magnitude looser than intended. A shrewder (and less scrupulous) warden could have made a fortune playing the statistics. (Source)

Lance Armstrong Conspiracy Test [...]

Is this conceivable? In 50 years! You, an intelligent Quoranian, know that it’s not. Consider Lance Armstrong. One man with a small team. Could he keep his doping secret?

Yet the MLDs would have you believe that not one of NASAs thousands blabbed for big bucks in all this time. C’mon! It just isn’t credible, is it? (Source)

Great Library at Alexandria Died Through Budget Cuts [...]

All of these violent events left their wear and tear on the library, and no doubt diminished its collections — as well as its reputation as a center of scholarship. But as library historian Heather Phillips notes in an essay on the library at Alexandria, the destruction was gradual — and it had more to do with government spending cuts than it did with a great fire. Writes Phillips:

Though it seems fitting that the destruction of so mythic an institution as the Great Library of Alexandria must have required some cataclysmic event . . . in reality, the fortunes of the Great Library waxed and waned with those of Alexandria itself. Much of its downfall was gradual, often bureaucratic, and by comparison to our cultural imaginings, somewhat petty. For example, the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus suspended the revenues of the Mouseion, abolishing the members’ stipends and expelling all foreign scholars. Alexandria was also the site of numerous persecutions and military actions, which, though few were reported to have done any great harm to the Mouseion or the Serapeum, could not help but have damaged them. At the very least, what institution could hope to attract and keep scholars of the first eminence when its city was continually the site of battle and strife?
What’s interesting here is Phillips’ emphasis on how the decline of the library rested as much on its reputation as a learning center as it did on the number of books in its collection. What made the Museum and its daughter branch great were its scholars. And when the Emperor abolished their stipends, and forbade foreign scholars from coming to the library, he effectively shut down operations. Those scrolls and books were nothing without people to care for them, study them, and share what they learned far and wide. (Source)

Predicting vs. Expressing [...]

In the tight 2004 campaign, the polls that asked Americans which candidate they supported — all the way up to the exit polls — told a confusing story about whether President George W. Bush or Senator John Kerry would win.

But another kind of polling question, which received far less attention, produced a clearer result: Regardless of whom they supported, which candidate did people expect to win? Americans consistently, and correctly, said that they thought Mr. Bush would.

A version of that question has produced similarly telling results throughout much of modern polling history, according to a new academic study. Over the last 60 years, poll questions that asked people which candidate they expected to win have been a better guide to the outcome of the presidential race than questions asking people whom they planned to vote for, the study found. (Source)

Education and Shortcuts [...]

Surveys conducted in the weeks before showed that many people didn’t understand what the alternative system was or what would change were it adopted. Yet many voted anyway, led by their perceptions of party leaders – whether they thought them competent or likeable, for example.

This is the kind of cognitive shortcut that psychologists have found we all use in the face of overwhelming or uncertain information. Being well informed doesn’t inure us. Studies have shown that people who are knowledgeable about politics are more likely to use such shortcuts: the more you know, the more you realise how complex the issues are so you console yourself that you are better off making an intuitive judgement.

The problem is that such shortcuts aren’t necessarily accurate and may be completely irrelevant. (Source)

A Perfect Gun Control Match [...]

Watts only had 75 friends on her personal Facebook page, but she remembers watching the likes on this new page go from the hundreds to the thousands to the tens of thousands. “It was amazing,” she says. Eventually a million wasn’t big enough, and Watts changed the name to “Moms Demand Action.”

As the group grew, Watts caught the notice of Michael Bloomberg. The billionaire former mayor of New York was already active in gun control and was getting ready to launch Everytown for Gun Safety with a pledge of $50 million. But for all the group’s funding and political influence — Everytown grew out of “Mayors Against Illegal Guns” and today has 100,000 donors — it lacked foot soldiers. (Source)

Not So True Grit [...]

Grit believers believe that a combination of perseverance and consistency work together as “grit” a teachable orientation towards the world that can predict success. But consistency is turning out to not be predictive, and perseverance looks suspiciously like “conscientiousness” from the Big Five Traits in psychology, and conscientiousness is not malleable (that’s why it is in the Big Five).

Credé and colleagues analyzed 88 experiments on grit reported in 73 papers, using data from 66,808 individuals. The results of their meta-analysis raise a few important questions about grit.

The tests that assessed grit break down into two sub-concepts: perseverance (the tendency to continue working hard in the face of setbacks) and consistency (directing that hard work toward a single goal over a long period of time). Credé and colleagues note that it’s not actually clear whether these two traits operate in tandem—whether they’re components of an overall trait.

In fact, the meta-analysis suggests that while perseverance seems to play a reasonably substantial role in predicting measures of success (like GPAs), consistency doesn’t seem to be nearly as important. Perseverance on its own actually turned out to be a better predictor than grit, they write.

A bigger problem is the degree to which grit is related to success. In her 2013 TED talk, Duckworth says that “One characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. And it wasn’t social intelligence. It wasn’t good looks, physical health, and it wasn’t IQ. It was grit.” This flies in the face of a large body of evidence that finds a very strong role for intelligence in certain forms of success, explaining about half of people’s differences in “performance in academic and work settings,” the authors write.

The meta-analysis found that grit does correlate, modestly, with academic performance and drop-out rates. The difference is small, but, as the authors point out, even small differences can have a big impact. For example, a small change to college drop-out rates—as little as a single percentage point—could change the lives of thousands of students. Duckworth told NPR that she doesn’t disagree with this and that the impact of grit is in the “small-to-medium” range. Perhaps the TED talk was just performance hyperbole. (Source)

Brain Training Bunk [...]

In a study designed to assess the experimental methods of earlier brain-training studies, researchers found that sampling bias and the placebo effect explained the positive results seen in the past. “Indeed, to our knowledge, the rigor of double-blind randomized clinical trials is nonexistent in this research area,” the authors report. They even suggest that the overblown claims from brain training companies may have created a positive feedback loop, convincing people that brain training works and biasing follow-up research on the topic.

“The specter of a placebo may arise in any intervention when the desired outcome is known to the participant—an intervention like cognitive training,” the authors note. Coupled with evidence that “people tend to hold strong implicit beliefs regarding whether or not intelligence is malleable” and that those beliefs may skew research findings, the authors conclude that past research is basically bunk. (Source)

How to Drive with a Backup Camera [...]

So how should you drive with a backup camera? Ironically, you need to change your driving habits back to what they were before you got a backup camera. That is, you should treat it as simply another window. Don’t obsess over it. Crane your neck and check all your windows and your rearview mirror and your backup camera. In other words, drive just like you used to except with one additional window. Too many people treat backup cameras as a substitute for all their other windows, instead of an addition to them. (Source)

TiVo and Ad Blockers [...]

I’d like to make fun of this, but it’s actually decent advice. The current hysteria over ad blockers reminds me of the hysteria over TiVo when it first arrived in 1999—which itself was just an updated version of the hysteria over VCRs back in the 80s. If people can record shows, they’ll skip the ads! We’re doomed!

But no. TV ad revenue has been surprisingly stable since 1999 despite a decline in viewership. The big problem, it turns out, isn’t the ad skippers, it’s the number of people watching TV in the first place. I suspect the same is true of online journalism. Ad blockers aren’t the problem, readership is. Provide a well-targeted audience and advertisers will pay for it. The folks who skip the ads probably weren’t very good sales prospects anyway. (Source)

Bodies Go Meh [...]

We become bored when presented by urban design that doesn’t change as we walk down the street.

In 2011, Ellard led small groups on carefully planned Lower East Side walks to measure the effect of the urban environment on their bodies and minds. Participants recorded their response to questions at each stopping point and wore sensors that measured skin conductance, an electrodermal response to emotional excitement. Passing the monolithic Whole Foods, people’s state of arousal reached a nadir in Ellard’s project. Physiologically, he explained, they were bored. In their descriptions of this particular place, they used words like bland, monotonous, and passionless. In contrast, one block east of the Whole Foods on East Houston, at the other test site — a “lively sea of restaurants with lots of open doors and windows” — people’s bracelets measured high levels of physical excitement, and they listed words like lively, busy, and socializing. “The holy grail in urban design is to produce some kind of novelty or change every few seconds,” Ellard said. “Otherwise, we become cognitively disengaged.” The Whole Foods may have gentrified the neighborhood with more high-quality organic groceries, but the building itself stifled people. Its architecture blah-ness made their minds and bodies go meh. (Source)

Mosquitoes Like High Metabolic Rates [...]

Unfortunately, a big part of the reason some people get more mosquito bites than others comes down to genetics.

“One reason, we know, is that people vary greatly in their metabolic rates — and the higher the metabolic rate, the more carbon dioxide you’re releasing,” Day says. “People also naturally vary in the amount of the secondary attractants they release.” (Source)

SAT Benchmark [...]

A few numbers help clarify the nature and scope of the problem. The College Board has suggested a “college readiness benchmark” that works out to roughly 500 on each portion of the SAT as a score below which students are not likely to achieve at least a B-minus average at “a four-year college”—presumably an average one. (By comparison, at Ohio State University, a considerably better-than-average school ranked 52nd among U.S. universities by U.S. News & World Report, freshmen entering in 2014 averaged 605 on the reading section of the SAT and 668 on the math section.)

How many high-school students are capable of meeting the College Board benchmark? This is not easy to answer, because in most states, large numbers of students never take a college-entrance exam (in California, for example, at most 43 percent of high-school students sit for the SAT or the ACT). To get a general sense, though, we can look to Delaware, Idaho, Maine, and the District of Columbia, which provide the SAT for free and have SAT participation rates above 90 percent, according to The Washington Post. In these states in 2015, the percentage of students averaging at least 500 on the reading section ranged from 33 percent (in D.C.) to 40 percent (in Maine), with similar distributions scoring 500 or more on the math and writing sections. Considering that these data don’t include dropouts, it seems safe to say that no more than one in three American high-school students is capable of hitting the College Board’s benchmark. Quibble with the details all you want, but there’s no escaping the conclusion that most Americans aren’t smart enough to do something we are told is an essential step toward succeeding in our new, brain-centric economy—namely, get through four years of college with moderately good grades. (Source)

The Rise of the Meritocracy [...]

The Rise of the Meritocracy is a satirical essay by British sociologist and politician Michael Young which was first published in 1958. It describes as dystopian society in a future United Kingdom in which intelligence and merit have become the central tenet of society, replacing previous divisions of social class and creating a society stratified between a merited power holding elite and a disenfranchised underclass of the less merited. The essay satirised the Tripartite system of education that was being practised at the time.
Meritocracy is the political philosophy in which political influence is assigned largely according to the intellectual talent and achievement of the individual. Michael Young coined the term, formed by combining the Latin root “mereō” and Ancient Greek suffix “cracy”, in his essay to describe and ridicule such a society, the selective education system that was the Tripartite system, and the philosophy in general.
The word was adopted into the English language with none of the negative connotations that Young intended it to have and was embraced by supporters of the philosophy. Young expressed his disappointment in the embrace of this word and philosophy by the British Labour Party under Tony Blair in the Guardian in a commentary in 2001.
It is good sense to appoint individual people to jobs on their merit. It is the opposite when those who are judged to have merit of a particular kind harden into a new social class without room in it for others.[1]
Journalist and writer Paul Barker points out that “irony is a dangerous freight to carry” and suggests that in the 1960s and 70s it was read “as a simple attack on the rampant meritocrats”, whereas he suggests it should be read “as sociological analysis in the form of satire”.[2] (Source)

Late! [...]

This app, called “late!” tracks the total number of minutes that your friends have kept you waiting. It also sends texts to your friends who are late for an event. “Kristi is a bad friend.” (Source)

The Problem of “Code as Contract” [...]

This is amazing. Under the “smart contracts” of the recently hacked DAO (a blockchain-based investment project), the “code” is seen as the contract between users and the site — what the code allows is what is legal. What we usual think of as the contract — what the user agrees to — is just a description of what the code allows. But taken to its logical conclusion this means that hacks are impossible — hacks just reveal previously unexplored aspects of the contract.

The descriptions didn’t matter; only the code did. The descriptions didn’t allow for today’s hack, but the code did. (By definition! If the code could be hacked, the code allowed for the hack.) Any vulnerabilities in the DAO’s code were not flaws in the code; they were flaws in the descriptions — which were purely for entertainment purposes. The DAO’s websites failed to explain to investors that the code allowed a hacker to take $60 million by using a “recursive splitting function.” But the recursive splitting function itself is part of the DAO’s code, and therefore part of the DAO. Using it isn’t a “hack,” and using it to take money isn’t a “theft”; it is just using the DAO as intended. Where the only measure of intent is what is allowed by the “immutable, unstoppable, and irrefutable” code.

The words “hack” and “theft” make human, normative presumptions about how you’re supposed to use the DAO code. But the code doesn’t care. The code can’t be “hacked.” It can only be used; its use has no normative implications. As one person put it on Twitter: “So it’s an arbitrage?”

This is of course childish and silly. It isn’t how human institutions operate. But it is very much how “smart contract” utopians want future institutions to operate, or how they think they want those institutions to operate. “Immutable, unstoppable, and irrefutable”; free of human bias and stupidity and intervention; a utopia of coldly logical code. Human expectations are irrelevant, except to the extent that they are correctly translated into code. (Source)

This thinking invades more than just contracts in Silicon Valley. Systems are built to achieve specific aims, but then the algorithms that produce results are claimed as neutral. The belief is that if the system is allowed to “just run” without human intervention, this will produce results that are fair by definition.

Silicon Valley’s Blank Slate perverts the approach that Valley investors take in politics.

JPMorgan and the Limits of the Law [...]

One more story, one of my all-time favorites. The California electric grid operator built a set of rules for generating, distributing and paying for electricity. Those rules were dumb and bad. If you read them carefully and greedily, you could get paid silly amounts of money for generating electricity, not because the electricity was worth that much but because you found a way to exploit the rules. JPMorgan read the rules carefully and greedily, and exploited the rules. It did this openly and honestly, in ways that were ridiculous but explicitly allowed by the rules. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission fined it $410 million for doing this, and JPMorgan meekly paid up. What JPMorgan did was explicitly allowed by the rules, but that doesn’t mean that it was allowed. Just because rules are dumb and you are smart, that doesn’t always mean that you get to take advantage of them. (Source)

Searching for Open Materials (Lib as Lead) [...]

One of the top functions of people who support open education is finding OER. There are a lot of ways to search for open materials, and there are a lot of repositories that house open materials. I believe that experience searching repositories is very important, but it is just as important to remember that the best searches for OER start with smart reference interviews and good planning. Like any search for materials, your search for OER will be more successful if you start by defining what you need. (Source)

Toxic Fandom [...]

“Shipping” — the process of fans writing abut imagined pairings of characters and actors — has been around for a long while. But in an age of Twitter, where stars can be accessed directly, things are going wrong.

The idea that the mere practice of shipping crosses a line is not typical; traditionally, fans have clung to an actual imaginary line between fandom and creators. This divide, known in fandom as the fourth wall, was once part of a strict code of public silence that fans implemented in order to keep their fandom activities hidden and unknown from creators, both so they wouldn’t embarrass the creators and so the creators couldn’t attack or mock them. Historically, fans saw it as a very bad idea for creators and fans to “break the fourth wall” and start interacting with each other to any degree — let alone to start talking about shipping or fanfic.

But social media platforms like Twitter, which allow fans to interact directly with creators, have totally obliterated fandom’s fourth wall. Newer fans have none of the inherent shame that used to accompany female-dominated fandoms like Outlander’s, shame that led fans and non-fans alike to treat fandom as a secret to be hidden from the rest of the world. Modern fans who generally see shipping as a totally normal hobby have no qualms about publicly voicing their support for their ship — even if the members of the ship, as is the case with Outlander, happen to be dating other people.

These kinds of interactions between shippers and the subjects of their ship occasionally get really awkward. But in Outlander fandom, they’ve spawned an outright ideological war. Fans from both “sides” of the debate between the Sam/Cait shippers and those who oppose them have repeatedly accused one another of harassing, doxing and threatening to dox fans from the other side, while sometimes actually threatening to dox one another. Each side accuses the other of being the more abusive one; meanwhile, the back-and-forth between them is vicious. To an extreme degree, the two factions seem to have utterly lost the ability to simply leave one another alone.

Put bluntly, despite the enthusiasm that many Outlander fans have for the show, its fandom has become an incredibly toxic environment. (Source)

IPR In China [...]

China’s intellectual property law is dealt with by a two track system of local and national authorities.

Civil enforcement of IPR in China is a two-track system. The first is the administrative track, whereby an IPR holder enlists the aid of a local government agency office (see Chinese Agencies Involved in IPR Enforcement). The second is the judicial track, whereby complaints are filed through the court system.

Those who take the administrative route are almost exclusively Chinese. Set up in the provinces and some cities, these local government offices operate as a quasi-judicial authority and are staffed with people who specialize in their respective areas of IP law. If they are satisfied with an IPR holder’s complaint, they investigate. The authorities can issue injunctions to bring a halt to the infringement, and they can even enlist the police to assist in enforcing their orders. But agency officials do not have the authority to award monetary damages. Also, there is no established appeal procedure, so if a party is dissatisfied with the agency’s decision, it has to take the case to court to change the result. (Source)

Asteroid 2016 HO3 [...]

A small asteroid has been discovered in an orbit around the sun that keeps it as a constant companion of Earth, and it will remain so for centuries to come.

Hacking the Freeze Frame [...]

Early online video project LonelyGirl15 figured out to hack the YouTube freeze frame so they could get the best cover photo for the episode.

They also mathematically figured out at what point in the video YouTube’s algorithm would scrape the preview image. Flinders said it made a huge difference. “If it was a good freeze frame, you would get like 100,000 more views.

“Miles figured out the algorithm – from then on we could choose our freeze frame. We could make a freeze frame that was thematically connected to the episode.” (Source)

Comment Hacking Lonelygirl15 [...]

If you replied to comments on YouTube in the early days, your replies counted towards getting you on the most commented list.

Behind the scenes, Beckett was obsessing over how YouTube worked. How did a video get on the most viewed section? How did it climb the charts? When they realised YouTube counted every single comment including the ones you made yourself, they would make it their mission to reply to every single one – so they appeared in the most commented section constantly, boosting their profile, adding more views. (Source)

Inevitability of LonelyGirl15 [...]

LonelyGirl15 creators threw up the project quickly partially because they knew a project like this was inevitable, and they wanted to be the first.

The first couple of videos they put up didn’t feature Bree at all – they were video replies to some of the site’s biggest stars, designed to take advantage of the close-knit community feel YouTube had at the time. They did the job, piquing people’s interests as they encouraged Lonelygirl15 to post more.

As far as Beckett was concerned, it was a race against time before someone else pipped them to the post.

He said: “Somebody was going to create a scripted show on YouTube that uses the vlogger format and if they were marketing savvy they would make it feel real so there would be talk about it.

“If we didn’t do it, then somebody else would.” (Source)

IL-22 [...]

Parasites can sometimes have benenficial effects. A protein called interleukin-22 may be behind some of them.

Loke agreed to monitor Vik, a decision that would alter the course of his own research. Over the following four years, Vik relapsed twice. Whenever his whipworms grew old, the colitis flared. Then he drank more eggs, and his disease came back under control. A gastroenterologist periodically examined Vik’s colon, taking tissue samples. And when Loke and his colleagues analyzed which genes were expressed during flares and remission — an indicator of immune activity — they discovered a pattern that may change how scientists think about ulcerative colitis.

When the disease was quiescent, production of one protein in particular, called interleukin-22, increased. IL-22 encourages intestinal mucus to flow. In inflammatory bowel disease, the protective mucous layer is often eroded. Scientists think this allows native microbes, usually held at a slight remove from the intestinal wall, to get closer to the gut wall, leading to inflammation and further impeding the flow of mucus. Vik’s whipworms apparently interrupted that vicious cycle by restoring the mucus barrier. Parasites, it seemed, could heal the gut. (Source)

Women Exiting Engineering Due to Role Assignments [...]

It’s been easy to blame women leaving the engineering workforce to balance the demands of family, but is that really it? Many have said there’s a culture problem, but what exactly does that mean?

It turns out, according to a recent study, that at least a big part of it happens when women are in mixed groups that need to divide chores. Typically, the division pushes the routine or boring work at the women, the challenging or interesting work at the men. (Source)

Median Voter Theorem [...]

In general, elections in a “first past the post” system will tend to favor centrist positions.

The median voter theorem states that “a majority rule voting system will select the outcome most preferred by the median voter”.[1]

The median voter theorem makes two key assumptions. First, the theorem assumes that voters can place all election alternatives along a one-dimensional political spectrum.[2] It seems plausible that voters could do this if they can clearly place political candidates on a left-to-right continuum, but this is often not the case as each party will have its own policy on each of many different issues. Similarly, in the case of a referendum, the alternatives on offer may cover more than one issue. Second, the theorem assumes that voters’ preferences are single-peaked, which means that voters choose the alternative closest to their own view. This assumption predicts that the further away the outcome is from the voter’s most preferred outcome, the less likely the voter is to select that alternative.[3] It also assumes that voters always vote, regardless of how far the alternatives are from their own views. The median voter theorem implies that voters have an incentive to vote for their true preferences. Finally, the median voter theorem applies best to a majoritarian election system. (Source)

Wedge Issues [...]

As The New Republic’s Brian Beutler notes, “wedge issues” have a long and storied history. Richard Nixon, for example, famously used crime in 1968 to split black voters and blue-collar whites, two key Democratic voting blocs. George W. Bush used issues like terrorism and gay marriage in 2004 to put Democrats on the defensive with conservative swing voters. In the next election, Barack Obama used the Iraq War’s unpopularity to do the same with Republicans. (Source)

Human Scale Technology [...]

To me, the idea of human scale is critical. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that every idea must scale. That thinking is distracting, closes us off from great opportunities, and invites unnecessary complexity.

Turn down the amplifier a little bit. Stay small. Allow for human correction and adjustment. Build for your community, not the whole world.
At this scale, everybody counts. (source)

Clinton Wins High Gini States [...]

Earlier this year, we noticed a pattern in which states were voting for Hillary Clinton and which were voting for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic nominating contests. Sanders tended to win the states that had the highest income equality (as measured by the Gini index, a widely used measure of inequality), and Clinton tended to win states that were the most unequal.

Now that the primaries are over, we decided to look again. The trend held relatively well, as it turns out: With her win in the District of Columbia primary on Tuesday, Clinton won the most-unequal place in the nation, according to the Gini index. Sanders, meanwhile, tended to dominate among the more-equal states. (Source)

Culture of the Provisional [...]

“I heard a bishop say some months ago that he met a boy that had finished his university studies, and said ‘I want to become a priest, but only for 10 years.’ It’s the culture of the provisional. And this happens everywhere, also in priestly life, in religious life,” he said.

“It’s provisional, and because of this the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null. Because they say “yes, for the rest of my life!” but they don’t know what they are saying. Because they have a different culture. They say it, they have good will, but they don’t know.” (Source)

Silicon Valley’s Blank Slate [...]

In short, Ford and Ziade argue, tech companies spend their first several years either creating a wholly new space in the world (like social media did) or “dropping an atomic bomb” on another industry, as Ziade puts it (like Uber and Airbnb have been). Once companies have triumphed, tech titans resent entering into other spheres of power (like politics or the media) where the space isn’t empty and the other players can’t be disrupted away.

In this particular case, some of the resentful people in question have millions of idle dollars to spend on their discontent. (Source)

Punched in the Mouth [...]

Of all the famous quotations Mike Tyson has spawned over the past quarter century, my favorite is this:

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

In advance of the former heavyweight champion’s appearance Saturday night at the Seminole Coconut Creek Casino, where he will perform his one-man stage show, “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth,” I asked Tyson if he remembered the origins of that quote.

“People were asking me [before a fight], ‘What’s going to happen?,’ ” Tyson said. “They were talking about his style. ‘He’s going to give you a lot of lateral movement. He’s going to move, he’s going to dance. He’s going to do this, do that.’ I said, “Everybody has a plan until they get hit. Then, like a rat, they stop in fear and freeze.’ ” (Source)

Discretionary Monitoring [...]

Yikes! For officers who kept the cameras rolling all the time, use-of-force fell 37 percent. That’s not just huge, it’s positively gargantuan. Use-of-force only increased among officers who turned their cameras on and off. In other words, the real headline result is: keep the cameras rolling all the time and use-of-force plummets. So why on earth does the headline suggest that body cameras have no effect? In fact, their effect ranges from -37 percent (rolling all the time) to zero (control groups) to +71 percent (cameras on and off). That’s gigantic beyond belief. (Source)

Narcissistic Rage [...]

Kohut explored a wide range of rage experiences in his seminal article ‘Thoughts on Narcissism and Narcissistic Rage’ (1972).[17] He considered narcissistic rage as one major form among many, contrasting it especially with mature aggression.[18] Because the very structure of the self itself is weakened in the narcissist, their rage cannot flower into real assertiveness;[19] and they are left instead prone to oversensitivity to perceived or imagined narcissistic injuries resulting in narcissistic rage.[20]
For Kohut, narcissistic rage is related to narcissists’ need for total control of their environment, including “the need for revenge, for righting a wrong, for undoing a hurt by whatever means”.[21] It is an attempt by the narcissist to turn from a passive sense of victimization to an active role in giving pain to others, while at the same time attempting to rebuild their own (actually false) sense of self-worth. It may also involve self-protection and preservation, with rage serving to restore a sense of safety and power by destroying that which had threatened the narcissist.[21]
Alternatively, according to Kohut, rages can be seen as a result of the shame at being faced with failure.[22] Narcissistic rage is the uncontrollable and unexpected anger that results from a narcissistic injury – a threat to a narcissist’s self-esteem or worth. Rage comes in many forms, but all pertain to the same important thing: revenge. Narcissistic rages are based on fear and will endure even after the threat is gone.[23]

To the narcissist, the rage is directed towards the person that they feel has slighted them; to other people, the rage is incoherent and unjust. This rage impairs their cognition, therefore impairing their judgment. During the rage they are prone to shouting, fact distortion and making groundless accusations.[24] In his book The Analysis of the Self, Kohut explains that expressions caused by a sense of things not going the expected way blossom into rages, and narcissists may even search for conflict to find a way to alleviate pain or suffering.[25] (Source)

Joke Cocoon [...]

Cocoon of familiarity is a phrase I’ve heard in a number of contexts, this is one.

Most jokes are novelty within a cocoon of familiarity — @NewYorker cartoon Editor Bob Mankoff, speaking at @SPXcomics #SPX2014 (Source)

High Participation Systems Increase Inequality [...]

Higher education systems that have high participation rates (e.g. 50%) may exacerbate inequality more than ones that have low participation rates (15%). New research is cited.

Academics may be proud to be part of this massive expansion in access to learning. But according to new research by an expert on international higher education, the advent of “high-participation systems” may actually reinforce existing inequalities, making it harder for youngsters to climb the ladder of social mobility.

“In a system with 15 per cent participation, there is less competitive pressure and less stratified outcomes than a system with 50 per cent participation,” explains Simon Marginson, professor of international higher education at University College London.

In an environment where just 15 per cent enter higher education – Britain in the 1970s, for example – “it is possible to have a successful middle-class life without going to university”, he says. Those who do go to university get a real benefit regardless of where they attend, he says.

But in today’s world, where about half of youngsters go to university, “the whole middle class is in the system and pursuing the success of its children”, he says. There is far more intense competition for places at “elite” universities, because “participation in non-elite [universities] no longer generates guaranteed professional jobs”. (Source)

Brown Mackie Closing [...]

For-profit weakness in the medical assisting market.

“We’re seeing a lot of consistent nursing market strength and that’s the one bright spot in the vocational school market, but the market for medical assisting, which is what Brown Mackie does, has been really weak,” Urdan said.
Brown Mackie’s overall enrollment has been falling; it has dropped to 7,773, Greenlee said. In 2013 the colleges reportedly had approximately 17,000 students, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. (Source)

120 Years of Electronic Music [...]

120 Years of Electronic Music* is a project that outlines and analyses the history and development of electronic musical instruments from around 1880 onwards. This project defines ‘Electronic Musical Instrument’ as an instruments that generate sounds from a purely electronic source rather than electro-mechanically or electro-acoustically (However the boundaries of this definition do become blurred with, say, Tone Wheel Generators and tape manipulation of the Musique Concrète era).

The focus of this project is in exploring the main themes of electronic instrument design and development previous to 1970 (and therefore isn’t intended as an exhaustive list of recent commercial synthesisers or software packages.) As well as creating a free, encyclopaedic, pedagogical resource on the History of Electronic Music (and an interesting list for Synthesiser Geeks) my main interest is to expose and explore musical, cultural and political narratives within the historical structure and to analyse the successes and failures of the electronic music ‘project’, for example; (Source)

Ars Minor [...]

The Ars Minor was a Latin grammar by Donatus for use in school instruction. It was one of the first books, after the Bible, to be printed by Gutenberg’s new printing press.

Vagal Tone [...]

Vagal tone is an indicator of performance under stress.

In the first experiment, she monitored the heart rate of 200 low-income 2-year-olds. The monitoring allowed her to approximate each child’s vagal tone — a measure of the activity of the vagus nerve, which has been shown to indicate how well a given individual performs under stress (i.e., reads social cues, reacts to environmental contexts, and adjusts behaviors). High vagal tone is good: it suggests a heightened ability to act relatively calmly under stress. Low vagal tone is bad: it suggests just the opposite. (Source)

Marshmallow Scarcity [...]

Time and again, poor children have performed significantly worse than their more fortunate counterparts. A 2011 study that looked at low-income children in Chicago noted how poor children struggled to delay gratification. A 2002 study, which examined the physical and psychological stresses that accompany poverty, did too. And so have many others.

The realization has sparked concerns that poverty begets a certain level of impulsiveness, and that that tendency to act in the moment, on a whim, without fully considering the consequences, makes it all the more difficult for poor children to succeed. But there’s an important thing this discussion seems to miss. Poor kids may simply not want to delay gratification. Put another way, their decisions may not reflect the sort of impulsive nature we tend to attribute them to.

“When resources are low and scarce, the rational decision is to take the immediate benefit and to discount the future gain,” said Melissa Sturge-Apple, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester who studies child development. “When children are faced with economic uncertainty, impoverished conditions, not knowing when the next meal is, etc. — they may be better off if they take what is in front of them.” (Source)

The experimenters used vagal tone to look at performance under stress and found low-SES inverted decision making for those with high vagal tone — in other words, maybe they weren’t impulsive — maybe they were acting just like they intended.

Horizontal Comparison [...]

Related to choral explanations — horizontal comparison allows better decisions in hiring at less cognitive load. Applicants answer a series of questions, and the questions are then looked at in turn rather than the individual applicants presentations.

Because the questions can be read horizontally it prevents some of the bis one gets reading an application from top to bottom, where the narrative you build up early can prejudice later judgement.

The second one was around how are we actually assessing rather than thinking about recruitment the way we usually do, which is I start with your CV and read top to bottom. There’s a real risk that if I really like what you said on page one, it’s very hard for me to objectively assess your page two or page three. Alternatively, if you’ve got a spelling error on page one, it’s very hard for me to not feel subconsciously like maybe you’re not the candidate I’m looking for. Now, a spelling error in certain jobs might be a huge indicator of whether you are a good person. Attention to detail can matter, but we don’t want it to disproportionately matter. We have built in a bunch of different aspects to horizontal comparison — which not only accounts for reducing the halo effects on comparing answers to questions across one another, but I’m also reducing the cognitive load. So I’m getting you to say, “Who’s got the best answer to question No. 1?” (Source)

Medical Mistrust and Tuskegee [...]

We find that the historical disclosure of the study in 1972 is correlated with increases in medical mistrust and mortality and decreases in both outpatient and inpatient physician interactions for older black men. Our estimates imply life expectancy at age 45 for black men fell by up to 1.4 years in response to the disclosure, accounting for approximately 35% of the 1980 life expectancy gap between black and white men.

That is pretty astounding — think about how a life-expectancy drop of 1.4 years translates across the millions of black men who have lived and died since then. And when you consider all the other factors that contribute to the life-expectancy gap between black and white men — all the factors that contribute to institutionalized racism and inequities in health and health-care access, basically — for a full third of that gap to be traceable back to the disclosure of the Tuskegee experiment is shocking. (Source)

Stereotype Threat and Police Exams [...]

From an interview on the World Economic Forum site (which is surprisingly good). A description of how a small change to an invitation email increased pass rates on police recruitment exam for the London police force:

Small, contextual factors can have impacts on people’s performance. In this particular case, there is literature to suggest that exams for particular groups might be seen as a situation where they are less likely to perform at their best. We ran a trial where there was a control group that got the usual email, which was sort of, “Dear Cade, you’ve passed through to the next stage of the recruitment process. We would like you to take this test please. Click here.” Then for another randomly selected group of people, we sent them the same email but changed two things. We made the email slightly friendlier in its tone and added a line that said, “Take two minutes before you do the test to have a think about what becoming a police officer might mean to you and your community.” This was about bringing in this concept of you are part of this process, you are part of the community and becoming a police officer is part of that — trying to break down the barrier that they are not of the police force because it doesn’t look like them.


Interestingly, if you were a white candidate, the email had no impact on your pass rate. Sixty percent of white candidates were likely to pass in either condition. But interestingly, it basically closed the attainment gap between white and nonwhite candidates. It increased by 50% their chance of passing that test, just by adding that line and changing the email format. That was an early piece of work that reminded us of the thousands of ways that we could be re-thinking recruitment practices to influence the kind of social outcomes we care about.

There’s a lot to take away from this. The finding they have applied here originally comes from educational research, and the obvious and most important parallel is in how we approach our students in higher education. How often do we provide the sort of emotionally supportive environment for our at-risk students need?

The larger pattern I see here with design is just how much small things matter. There’s a reason why no major extant community uses out-of-the-box software. If you’re Reddit, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. and you want to encourage participation, or minimize trolling, or reduce hate speech you have to have control of the end-to-end experience. Labeling something a “like” will produce one sort of community, and labeling it “favorite” will produce another.

We get hung up on “ease-of-use” in software, as if that was the only dimension to judge it. But social software architectures must be judged not on ease of use, but on the communities and behaviors they create, from the invite email to the labels on the buttons. If one sentence can make this much difference, imagine what damage your UI choices might be doing to your community.

Data can be used to construct more welcoming communities. See Analytics of Empathy

Reducing Abuse on Twitter might be possible with some simple steps.

Tax Nudge [...]

An example of how norming via nudges can change action.

One of our biggest early wins was about looking at a group of people who hadn’t paid their taxes on time. We thought, is there some way we could nudge them into paying their tax and paying off what they owe to government? We tested a bunch of different types of interventions, largely around how you talk to them in the letters the government was already sending to them. We found that by telling people who haven’t paid their tax on time that they’re in a minority, it gets them to pay their taxes on time. (Source)