FREAK-est Links

1. Is male fertility declining? Or do we need more data?

2. The internet industry is considering adding over 1,000 new domains, but some are worried about infrastructure effects.

3. Harry Potter novelist J.K. Rowling's crime novel hits #1 on the Amazon bestseller list, less than a week after she was revealed as the book's author.

4. So you want to invest in the (legal) marijuana industry?

5. How long is the average PhD dissertation? Econ lands on the short side.  (HT: Eric Jones)

6. The new era of music: how much does Spotify pay its artists? Next to nothing.

Can You Change Your Destiny With Palm Surgery?

The Daily Beast reports that palm surgery is on the rise in Japan:

In Japan, where palm reading remains one of the most popular means of fortune-telling, some people have figured out a way to change their fate. It’s a simple idea: change your palm, change the reading, and change your future. All you need is a competent plastic surgeon with an electric scalpel who has a basic knowledge of palmistry. Or you can draw the lines on your hand with a marker and let him work the magic you want.

Missing a marriage line? That can be fixed. Wedding bells may ring.

Need some good fortune? Add a money-luck line and you might win the lottery or be promoted to vice president in your firm. For the smart shopper—one willing to undergo palm plastic surgery—the future isn’t what it used to be.

The surgery is evidently so popular that clinics don't need to advertise.  In fact, one clinic's brief advertising campaign resulted in so much demand they found themselves unable to keep up. "Maybe changing your palm won’t change your fate," says plastic surgeon Takaaki Matsuoka, "but if you have that much determination to try to change it—and are willing to endure a little pain for that chance—maybe you can change your life.”

(HT: Isabel McCann)

What Happens When You Teach Parents to Parent?

A new working paper (abstractPDF) by Paul Gertler, James Heckman, and several other co-authors examines the impressive long-term effects of a Jamaican program that taught low-income parents better parenting skills.  Here's the abstract:

We find large effects on the earnings of participants from a randomized intervention that gave psychosocial stimulation to stunted Jamaican toddlers living in poverty. The intervention consisted of one-hour weekly visits from community Jamaican health workers over a 2-year period that taught parenting skills and encouraged mothers to interact and play with their children in ways that would develop their children's cognitive and personality skills. We re-interviewed the study participants 20 years after the intervention. Stimulation increased the average earnings of participants by 42 percent. Treatment group earnings caught up to the earnings of a matched non-stunted comparison group. These findings show that psychosocial stimulation early in childhood in disadvantaged settings can have substantial effects on labor market outcomes and reduce later life inequality.

Do Rappers Exaggerate Their Wealth?

In his new album, rapper Jay-Z expresses skepticism about some of his colleagues' claims of extraordinary wealth, saying, "The truth in my verses, versus, your metaphors about what your net worth is."  So are your favorite rappers lying about how rich they are?  Bloomberg Businessweek straightens out the confusion with a great graphic comparing alleged vs. actual wealth.  Here's a preview: Nicki Minaj is not "mak[ing] a billi like a big goat." (HT: The Big Picture)

The Face of a CEO

We've blogged before about the influence that beauty can have on earnings and career choices. But what about the shape of a face? A new paper in the British Journal of Psychology looks at the faces of U.K. executives. Researchers Shuaa Alrajih and Jamie Ward found that CEOs have greater than average facial width-to-height ratios. The abstract:

The relative proportion of the internal features of a face (the facial width-to-height ratio, FWH) has been shown to be related to individual differences in behavior in males, specifically competitiveness and aggressiveness. In this study, we show that the Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of the leading UK businesses have greater FWHs than age- and sex-matched controls. We demonstrate that perceivers, naive as to the nature of the stimuli, rate the faces of CEOs as higher in dominance or success, and that ratings of dominance or success are themselves correlated with the FWH ratio. We find no association with other inferred traits such as trustworthiness, attraction or aggression. The latter is surprising given previous research demonstrating a link between FWH and ratings of aggression. We speculate that the core association may be between FWH and drive for dominance or power, but this can be interpreted as aggression only in particular circumstances (e.g., when the stimuli are comprised of faces of young, as opposed to middle-aged, men).

How Do Real Prisoners Play Prisoner's Dilemma?

Economists Menusch Khadjavi and Andreas Lange recently published a paper on how real prisoners play the Prisoner's Dilemma game:

We report insights into the behavior of prisoners in dilemma situations that so famously carry their name. We compare female inmates and students in a simultaneous and a sequential Prisoner's Dilemma. In the simultaneous Prisoner's Dilemma, the cooperation rate among inmates exceeds the rate of cooperating students. Relative to the simultaneous dilemma, cooperation among first-movers in the sequential Prisoner's Dilemma increases for students, but not for inmates. Students and inmates behave identically as second movers. Hence, we find a similar and significant fraction of inmates and students to hold social preferences.

(HT: Marginal Revolution)

Can Geography Be Radical?

Guernica recently interviewed "radical geographer" Denis Wood about his work and the power of map (a topic we've touched on before). Here's a particularly interesting excerpt:

But I’ve seen maps that I find completely terrifying. Maps of uranium mining and of various illnesses in the Navajo reservations—they’re just insane. They just make you furious. Bill Bunge’s map—which I still think is one of the great maps, the map of where white commuters in Detroit killed black children while going home from work—that’s a terrifying map, and that’s an amazing map. He knew that. They had to fight to get the data from the city. They had to use political pressure to get the time and the exact location of the accidents that killed these kids. They knew what they were looking for. I didn’t have anything to do with that project, so when I saw the map for the first time, it was like, “Oh my god.” It’s so powerful to see maps like that. That’s the power of maps, or one of the powers of maps: to make graphic—and at some level unarguable—some correlative truth. We all knew that people go to and from work. But to lay the two things together reveals something horrible.

(HT: The Daily Dish)

The Economics of Higher Education, Part 4: Worldwide Returns on College

We've discussed before -- in blog posts and a podcast -- the value of a college degree. Writing for the New York Times Economix blog, Catherine Rampell points out that college degrees are particularly valuable in the U.S. "According to a report released this week by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, across the developed world the average person who has graduated from college (either two-year or four-year) and has any earnings makes about 57 percent more than a counterpart with no more than a high school education," writes Rampell. "In the United States, the comparable earnings premium is 77 percent."  

Despite the value of a college degree in the U.S., college graduation rates in the U.S. are increasing at a much slower pace than in other rich countries.  And, as Rampell points out, it's not just individuals in the U.S. that benefit from a college degree: "[T]he average return to taxpayers [of tertiary education for the average man] is $230,722 in the United States, versus less than half that, $104,737, across the developed world." 

For more on "The Economics of Higher Education," see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Also: Oregon is thinking about letting students pay no college tuition, instead pledging a share of their future earnings. Lest you think this is straight out of Portlandia (like this is), know that Australia runs a similar college-tuition program

Further Evidence That Wine Tasting Is Wildly Subjective

A few years ago, we did a podcast on whether expensive wine tastes better. There is now further evidence that the answer to that question is no -- even for elite wine critics. Winemaker Robert Hodgson recently collaborated with the California State Fair wine competition on a little wine-tasting experiment:

Each panel of four judges would be presented with their usual "flight" of samples to sniff, sip and slurp. But some wines would be presented to the panel three times, poured from the same bottle each time. The results would be compiled and analysed to see whether wine testing really is scientific.

The first experiment took place in 2005. The last was in Sacramento earlier this month. Hodgson's findings have stunned the wine industry. Over the years he has shown again and again that even trained, professional palates are terrible at judging wine.

In July, Watch Out for Lightning

Our Freakonomics Radio podcast "Women Are Not Men" mentioned that roughly 80 percent of lightning fatalities in the U.S. are men. A new National Weather Service report, summarized by io9, offers further details:

  • Soccer players and fishermen are more likely to get hit by lightning than golfers.
  • Saturday is the worst day of the week for lightning fatalities.
  • July is by far the deadliest month for lightning deaths.

(HT: Eric M. Jones)