Confessions of a Paid Line-Sitter

Racked interviews entrepreneur and professional line-sitter Robert Samuel.  Samuels started his line-sitting venture, Same Old Line Dudes (SOLD Inc.), as the iPhone 5 was launched:

I was an employee at AT&T, and I lost my job. I wanted to supplement my income because I used to sell iPhones, and this time I wasn't going to be able to sell them and make a big commission check. I live a few blocks from the Apple store on 14th Street, so I said, "Let me wait in line for somebody else and make them happy."

The guy that hired me cancelled and said he wasn't going to use me—he was just going to get it online but that he was still going to pay me. He paid me $100 and I resold the spot and made another $100, and then I called my friends and told them to come on down, because I just made $200 standing in one spot on a weekday afternoon.

Any Tips for Dealing With People You Can't Stand?

A friend writes:

In my job, I have to deal with a few people I really can't stand. Most of my co-workers are fine, and they are good at their jobs. The people I can't stand aren't good at their jobs but they are good at ingratiating themselves with the top bosses. When I say I "can't stand" them, I should explain that this feeling started out professionally. I got frustrated at how lazy and sloppy and stupid they are in their work. But then my feelings snowballed and now I can't stand them personally either. But it's not that big of a company and I have to deal with all of them all the time, especially in meetings. I would love to hit them in the faces with frying pans but I don't think that is a good idea. Any useful and hopefully peaceful suggestions?

This note caught my attention because we have just begun working on a podcast about spite. I am eager to hear your suggestions.

Sure, I Remember That: A New Marketplace Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called "Sure, I Remember That." (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player in the post, or read the transcript below.) It's about false memory, particularly in the political realm, and how we are more capable of "remembering" an event that never happened if the event happens to synch up with our political ideology.

Daniel Kahneman Calls for Change

Nobel laureate and frequent Freakonomics visitor Daniel Kahneman (author of Thinking, Fast and Slow)  has written an open letter to psychologists who work on social priming, calling for them "to restore the credibility of their field by creating a replication ring to check each others’ results." Here's an excerpt:

My reason for writing this letter is that I see a train wreck looming. I expect the first victims to be young people on the job market. Being associated with a controversial and suspicious field will put them at a severe disadvantage in the competition for positions. Because of the high visibility of the issue, you may already expect the coming crop of graduates to encounter problems. Another reason for writing is that I am old enough to remember two fields that went into a prolonged eclipse after similar outsider attacks on the replicability of findings: subliminal perception and dissonance reduction.

(HT: BPS Research Digest)

Do the Bacteria in Your Gut Also Influence Your Mind?

Last year, we put out a podcast called "The Power of Poop," which looked at the use of fecal transplants (a.k.a. "transpoosions") to treat everything from multiple sclerosis to Parkinson's disease. A fascinating Scientific American article explores how gut bacteria may have even further-reaching functions:

In the past few years scientists have been discovering that these microscopic inhabitants of our body may be subtly altering our moods, emotions and perhaps even our personalities. Gut microbiota appear to alter gene activity in the brain and the development of key regions involved in memory and learning. These denizens of our intestines could help explain why psychiatric symptoms vary among individuals, as well as their responses to medications. Gut microbes could also account for some of the differences in mood, personality and thought processes that occur within and among individuals.

(HT: Market Design)

The Status Quo

If you ever travel to Israel (which, BTW, is a phenomenal place to visit regardless of your attitudes toward religion or Middle Eastern politics), you’ll certainly see the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on what many believe is the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. But you might come away a bit disappointed; the church has something of a disorganized and ramshackle feel.

The problem is not that the site isn’t considered sacred, but that it’s considered too sacred. Thanks to its obvious import, it is shared—and has been for thousands of years—by multiple religious denominations, including the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Ethiopian Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox sects. (Sorry, Protestants, since Luther’s 95 Theses were not posted until 1517 you are Johnny-come-latelys and don’t get a piece of the action.)

Is "Statistically Significant" Really Significant?

A new paper by psychologists E.J. Masicampo and David Lalande finds that an uncanny number of psychology findings just barely qualify as statistically significant.  From the abstract:

We examined a large subset of papers from three highly regarded journals. Distributions of p were found to be similar across the different journals. Moreover, p values were much more common immediately below .05 than would be expected based on the number of p values occurring in other ranges. This prevalence of p values just below the arbitrary criterion for significance was observed in all three journals.

The BPS Research Digest explains the likely causes:

The pattern of results could be indicative of dubious research practices, in which researchers nudge their results towards significance, for example by excluding troublesome outliers or adding new participants. Or it could reflect a selective publication bias in the discipline - an obsession with reporting results that have the magic stamp of statistical significance. Most likely it reflects a combination of both these influences. 

"[T]he field may benefit from practices aimed at counteracting the single-minded drive toward achieving statistical significance," say Masicampo and Lalande.

On Not Following Your Own Advice

A Bloomberg article by Michael J. Moore shows that finance and investment employees frequently commit the cardinal sin of failing to diversify their personal holdings by holding too much of their own company's stock:

Current and former Morgan Stanley employees, who receive company shares to match their 401(k) contributions, held 24 percent of retirement assets in the firm's stock before last year's decline, the highest percentage of any of the banks. They lost $570 million in 2011 as the shares plunged 44 percent.

Bank of America Corp. (BAC) employees lost the most, $1.37 billion, as the lender's stock dropped 58 percent last year. Workers at JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and Citigroup Inc. (C), both based in New York, also lost hundreds of millions of dollars.

JPMorgan employees, some of whom received stock in the company until last year to match retirement contributions, devoted 18 percent of their funds to the lender's shares at the end of 2010. Bank of America employees put 13 percent of their assets in the bank's stock, while the figures for Citigroup and New York-based Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) were 8 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

FREAK-est Links

1. Is the Chicago law and economics program too successful?

2. The Judgment of Princeton: more wine economics if you liked our wine podcast.

3. An elaborate bad customer service prank (video) from Belgium. (HT: Julian Morrow)

4. Some ambient noise improves creative cognition. (HT: JCB)

5. How Americans spend on alcohol: more at bars than at liquor stores.

6. Will rising temperatures bring more violent crime?

Paying for "Transparently Useless Advice"

According to a new study, people do. Even when they know that the advice is useless.

Researchers Nattavudh Powdthavee and Yohanes E. Riyanto investigated why people pay for advice about the future, particularly since the future is generally unpredictable (see our  "Folly of Prediction" podcast on this topic). Their starting point:

Why do humans pay for advice about the future when most future events are predominantly random? What explains, e.g., the significant money spent in the finance industry on people who appear to be commenting about random walks, payments for services by witchdoctors, or some other false-expert setting?