We’ve blogged before about the (relatively small) effect of birth month on athletic excellence. But how does birth location affect a potential athlete? In The New York Times, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz calculated the probability of getting to the N.B.A. by Zip code. He found that players like LeBron James, born to a low-income teenage mom, are the exceptions to the rule:
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I recently calculated the probability of reaching the N.B.A., by race, in every county in the United States. I got data on births from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; data on basketball players from basketball-reference.com; and per capita income from the census. The results? Growing up in a wealthier neighborhood is a major, positive predictor of reaching the N.B.A. for both black and white men. Is this driven by sons of N.B.A. players like the Warriors’ brilliant Stephen Curry? Nope. Take them out and the result is similar.
We’ve blogged quite a bit about suicide and put out an hour-long podcast on the topic. The podcast featured an interview with Matt Wray, a sociologist who studies America’s “suicide belt.” He described the type of American most likely to kill himself:
WRAY: So, yes the Inner Mountain West is a place that is disproportionately populated by middle-aged and aging white men, single, unattached, often unemployed with access to guns. This may turn out to be a very powerful explanation and explain a lot of the variance that we observe. It’s backed up by the fact that the one state that is on par with what we see in the suicide belt is Alaska.
DUBNER: All right, so now you can get a picture of the American who’s most likely to kill himself: an older, white male who owns a gun, probably unmarried and maybe unemployed, living somewhere out west, probably in a rural area.
The New York Times reports that Etsy, the website that sells handmade artisanal products, will now allow its sellers to manufacture products. The reason for the shift? It’s too hard to scale up when everything’s handmade:
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But last month, Etsy announced new policies that would allow sellers to apply to peddle items they produced with manufacturing partners, as well as to hire staff and use outside companies to ship their goods — all provided that the sellers demonstrated the “authorship, responsibility and transparency” intrinsic to handmade items.
Psychologists have long argued about the power of priming, i.e the power of subtle cues and reminders to influence behavior. For instance, there are a number of academic papers that find that if you make a woman write down her name and circle her gender before taking a math test, she will do substantially worse than if she just writes her name. The idea is that women perceive that they are not good at math, and circling their gender reminds them that they are women and therefore should be bad at math. I’ve always been skeptical of these results (and indeed failed to replicate them in one study I did with Roland Fryer and John List) because gender is such a powerful part of our identities that it’s hard for me to believe that we need to remind women that they are women!
In an interesting new study, ”Bad Boys: The Effect of Criminal Identity on Dishonesty,” Alain Cohn, Michel Andre Marechal, and Thomas Noll find some fascinating priming effects. They went into a maximum security prison and had prisoners privately flip coins and then report how many times the coin came up “heads.” The more “heads” they got, the more money they received. While the authors can’t tell if any one prisoner is honest or not, they know that on average “heads” comes up half the time, so they can measure in aggregate how much lying there is. Before the study, they had half the prisoners answer the question “What were you convicted for?” and the other half “How many hours per week do you watch television on average?” The result: 66 percent “heads” in the treatment where they ask about convictions and “only” 60 percent “heads” in the TV treatment. Read More »
Our latest podcast is called “Who Runs the Internet?” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)
It begins with Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt talking about whether virtual mayhem — from online ranting to videogame violence — may help reduce mayhem in the real world. There is no solid data on this, Levitt says, but he hypothesizes:
LEVITT: Maybe the biggest effect of all of having these violent video games is that they’re super fun for people to play, especially adolescent boys, maybe even adolescent boys who are prone to real violence. And so if you can make video games fun enough, then kids will stop doing everything else. They’ll stop watching TV, they’ll stop doing homework, and they’ll stop going out and creating mayhem on the street.
This episode then moves on to a bigger question about the Internet itself: who runs it? As Dubner asks: “Who’s in charge of the gazillions of conversations and transactions and character assassinations that happen online every day?” Read More »
This month, Moscow is offering free subway rides to passengers who can do 30 squats. It’s part Olympic fever, part healthy-lifestyle promotion, via the Wall Street Journal (and be sure to check out the pictures):
Moscow city officials are now offering free rides on the subway to any passenger who does 30 squats before crossing the ticket barrier to enter the metro in an effort to promote physical fitness and sports, according to Russian state media reports.
Each squat will be counted by a special machine marked with the Olympic logo that will be placed next to electronic ticket vending machines.
“We wanted to show that the Olympic Games is not just an international competition that people watch on TV, but that it is also about getting everyone involved in a sporting lifestyle,” Alexander Zhukov, president of the Russian Olympic Committee, was quoted by state-run news wire RIA-Novosti as saying.
That is what the headline of this fascinating article says. Here is a quote from the news report:
In lay language,” [Samah] El-Tantawy said in a U of T news release, “the [traffic lights] act as a team of players cooperating to win a game — much like players in a soccer match, where each player endeavors to score, but at the same time considers the ultimate goal of the entire team which is winning the match.
According to the article, travel times were reduced by 26 percent, which is fantastic, and which is what matters.
This doesn’t, however, seem to have much to do with game theory. Game theory is about one of two things: strategic behavior or finding sustainable equilbria. But the traffic lights don’t care about their own private utility. There is no sense in which they are actors at all, as traffic lights just do what you tell them to do. In economic terms, there is a central planner who sets the rules which the traffic lights obey. This new scheme provides a new and better set of rules (which, again, I emphasize is great), but I don’t think game theory should get the credit!
(Related: see our “Jane Austen, Game Theorist” podcast.)
Friday’s labor-force data brought liberal outcries, and a comment from Ben Bernanke, that the drop in labor-force participation indicates unemployment is really much higher, and the economy in worse shape, than the 7.3 percent unemployment rate might indicate. It is true that participation for men is at a postwar low and has decreased by 3-1/2 percentage points since the 2007 cyclical peak; and women’s participation stopped rising in 1999 and has fallen by 2 percentage points since the peak.
Is this so bad? Yes, if labor-force leavers are desperate to work and just get discouraged. But perhaps no; perhaps it has taken the Great Recession to get Americans to realize that we shouldn’t be working harder than people in other rich countries and should be enjoying more leisure. If this is so, perhaps there’s a silver lining in what so many people view as the economic doldrums of the last three years.
The rest of the world likes to say that everything in America is big: the cars, the CO2 emissions, the buildings, even the hamburgers. The farce at the U.S. government’s website for enrollment in health insurance under the so-called Affordable Care Act (ACA) shows that we also supersize our transaction costs.
In a news report from NPR, Alaska Public Radio Network, and Kaiser Health News, even a computer programmer who had also created websites needed many attempts over many weeks to use the site to enroll for health insurance. And she still awaits the enrollment confirmation (with luck in the new year, said the radio version of the report). If it arrives, she gets affordable health insurance ($110 instead of $1200 per month), but then still has the joy of dealing with an insurance company and the claim paperwork. Read More »