Are Independents More Immune to Bias Than Liberals or Conservatives?

Dan Kahan's research at the Cultural Cognition Project has found that even very smart people fit their knowledge to their ideology. (He has appeared on this blog a few times, and in our podcast “The Truth Is Out There…Isn’t It?”) Kahan has a new working paper (abstractPDF) on political affiliations and bias, which argues that independents seem to show immunity to the bias that afflicts both conservatives and liberals:

Social psychologists have identified various plausible sources of ideological polarization over climate change, gun violence, national security, and like societal risks. This paper reports a study of three of them: the predominance of heuristic-driven information processing by members of the public; ideologically motivated cognition; and personality-trait correlates of political conservativism. The results of the study suggest reason to doubt two common surmises about how these dynamics interact. First, the study presents both observational and experimental data inconsistent with the hypothesis that political conservatism is distinctively associated with closed-mindedness: conservatives did no better or worse than liberals on an objective measure of cognitive reflection; and more importantly, both demonstrated the same unconscious tendency to fit assessments of empirical evidence to their ideological predispositions.

How a Microfinance Program Encouraged School Dropouts

A new working paper (abstractPDF) by Britta Augsburg, Ralph De Haas, Heike Harmgart, and Costas Meghir uses a randomized trial to assess a microcredit program in Bosnia:

[W]e randomly allocated loans to a subset of applicants considered too risky and “unreliable” to be offered loans as regular borrowers of a well established MFI [micro-finance institution] in Bosnia. Our group is poorer and generally more disadvantaged than regular borrowers. What is particularly interesting is that they have applied for the loan and thus believe they have a profitable investment opportunity; however, they were turned down. This is exactly the group we need to analyze if we are to understand whether alleviating liquidity constraints in this way can be an effective anti-poverty tool.

A Small Nudge For College Enrollment?

A new working paper by George Bulman, a Stanford Ph.D. candidate and former Teach for America teacher, looks at whether having an in-school SAT or ACT testing center affects test-taking and college enrollment: Because the additional cost of taking the exam at a neighboring high school is very small, standard economic models suggest that there […]

The Benefits of the Safety Net

A new working paper (abstractPDF) by Hilary W. Hoynes, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, and Douglas Almond examines the effects of in utero and childhood access to the social safety net, specifically food stamps:

A growing economics literature establishes a causal link between in utero shocks and health and human capital in adulthood. Most studies rely on extreme negative shocks such as famine and pandemics. We are the first to examine the impact of a positive and policy-driven change in economic resources available in utero and during childhood. In particular, we focus on the introduction of a key element of the U.S. safety net, the Food Stamp Program, which was rolled out across counties in the U.S. between 1961 and 1975. We use the Panel Study of Income Dynamics to assemble unique data linking family background and county of residence in early childhood to adult health and economic outcomes.

What's That Database Worth?

Laura Meckler of the Wall Street Journal investigates the value and possible future uses of President Obama's massive "data trove."  Here's a quick rundown of the data at stake:

Mr. Obama's campaign collected 13.5 million email addresses in the 2008 election, according to people who worked on the effort. Officials say the list has grown since then, but officials won't say by how much.

The campaign also has lists of volunteers, including the names of neighborhood team leaders who were the most active supporters. A donor database has names of millions of people who made small campaign contributions. Campaigns aren't legally required to report the names of people who give less than $200 total, and these donors haven't been made public.

Meckler reports that Obama's staff plans to enlist supporters' help in getting the President's agenda passed, but is still debating what to do with the data over the long-term.

FREAK-est Links

1. Did an "academic dream team" help Obama win the election?
2. Bond economics: which Bond villain plans are economically viable? (HT: V. Brenner)
3. Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde figures out how to create clouds indoors for an exhibition.

4. Candy for quietness: police in Durham gave drunk students candy to quiet them. (HT: V. Brenner)

5. The world's "poorest president": Uruguay's Jose Mujica lives on a farm.

How Vulnerable Is Our Power Grid?

A newly declassified report from the National Research Council analyzes the vulnerabilities of America's electric-power system. Douglas Birch of Foreign Policy explains:

[T]he formerly secret report to the Department of Homeland Security focuses more on the U.S. electric power system's older technology and lack of spare capacity, saying the "physical capabilities of much of the transmission network have not kept pace with the increasing burden that is being placed on it." As a result, it found, sophisticated physical assaults against key facilities could damage difficult-to-replace hardware and cause multiple cascading failures with catastrophic results.

Hurricane Sandy wasn't a "sophisticated physical assault," but it still did the job.

What Happens When You Get Rid of Affirmative Action?

A new working paper (abstract; PDF) by economists Peter Arcidiacono, Esteban Aucejo, Patrick Coate, and V. Joseph Hotz looks at the effects of California's Proposition 209 on university matching:

Proposition 209 banned using racial preferences in admissions at California's public colleges. We analyze unique data for all applicants and enrollees within the University of California (UC) system before and after Prop 209. After Prop 209, graduation rates of minorities increased by 4.4%. We characterize conditions required for better matching of students to campuses to account for this increase. We find that Prop 209 did improve matching and this improvement was important for the graduation gains experienced by less-prepared students. At the same time, better matching only explains about 20% of the overall graduation rate increase. Changes after Prop 209 in the selectivity of enrolled students explains 34-50% of the increase. Finally, it appears UC campuses responded to Prop 209 by doing more to help retain and graduate its students, which explains between 30-46% of the post-Prop 209 improvement in the graduation rate of minorities.

One caveat: the study doesn't address outcomes for students who didn't attend University of California schools as a result of the change.

Parsing the Times Paywall

In a new paper (abstract; PDF), psychologists Jonathan Cook and Shahzeen Attari surveyed users about the hotly debated New York Times paywall:

Participants were surveyed shortly after the paywall was announced and again 11 weeks after it was implemented to understand how they would react and adapt to this change. Most readers planned not to pay and ultimately did not. Instead, they devalued the newspaper, visited its Web site less frequently, and used loopholes, particularly those who thought the paywall would lead to inequality. Results of an experimental justification manipulation revealed that framing the paywall in terms of financial necessity moderately increased support and willingness to pay.

Patience and Crime

A working paper by Sergio BeraldoRaul Caruso, and Gilberto Turati looks at time preferences and their relation to crime over a five-year period in Italy. Using proxies for patience (some of which may strike some people as rather far-fetched), they found more crimes in areas where residents are more impatient and discount the future more:

In this paper we propose a first empirical test on the relationship between time preferences and crime using as a sample the whole set of Italian regions observed over the period 2002-2007. We consider both property and violent crimes. We proxy time preferences employing: 1) the amount of short-term debt to finance consumption (the consumer credit share); 2) the prevalence of obese people according to their body mass index (obesity); 3) 5 the willingness of individuals to engage in stable relationships (the marriage rate). In line with the theoretical prediction by Davis (1988), we find that where people are more impatient and discount the future more heavily, property and violent crimes are higher. In particular, the correlation between crime rates and time preferences is especially robust when time preferences are proxied both by the obesity and the marriage rates.