The Data on Bar Fights

What happens when a fight breaks out at a bar? A Penn State sociologist gathered data from nightlife venues in Toronto to find out. From BPS Research Digest

Michael Parks and his colleagues trained dozens of observers who analyzed 860 aggressive incidents across 503 nights in 87 large clubs and bars in Toronto, Canada. Aggression was defined as anything from a verbal insult or unwanted physical contact to a punch or kick. Incidents were twice as likely to involve one-sided aggression as opposed to mutual aggression. The most common incident involved a man making persistent unwanted overtures or physical contact towards a female. Male on male aggression was the next most frequent category. All-female aggression was rare.

Third parties intervened in almost one third of these situations, and they were more than twice as likely to intervene in a non-aggressive way than to be aggressive themselves. Eighty per cent of third parties who got involved were men. Drunk third parties were more likely to be aggressive. Surprisingly perhaps, the most frequent kind of aggressive incident (male on female) was the least likely to provoke third party involvement. One-sided aggression between men also provoked few interventions. Parks and his team think this is probably because such incidents are judged to be non-serious and unlikely to escalate.

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)

Adventures in Ideas: Crowd Control — an Interview With Shaun Abrahamson

I recently read an engaging book on the use of crowds and crowd-based intelligence for generating innovation. Shaun Abrahamson is one of the authors of Crowdstorm: The Future of Innovation, Ideas, and Problem Solving.

I have to admit that I am not a big believer in leveraging crowds for change—I think there is a fetish of the role that masses play in idea formation. I do believe that intelligence is distributed, but I’m an old-fashioned proponent of formal organizations.

But after reading Shaun’s book, I changed some of my stubborn views. The book is a systematic (and critical) appraisal of the role that crowds can play in diverse organizational and personal settings. I think Freakonomics readers might benefit from hearing Shaun’s insights.

Q. Aristotle said that every new idea builds on something earlier by hiding/transforming it. What's old and what's "new" in crowdstorming? 

A. The main newness is the identification of patterns for finding and evaluating ideas. More specifically the identification of patterns that seem to deliver good or better results than if we were to working with smaller groups of people. 

“AI: Adventures in Ideas”: Getting to “Yes (I’ll Participate in Your Survey)”

Freakonomics readers may know that I’m not the most qualified person to talk about using surveys. My first attempt -- asking street gang members “How does it feel to be black and poor? Very bad, bad, good, …” -- was met with laughter, disbelief and, scorn. (I suppose it was all uphill from that point!)

A basic question social scientists confront is: Why would you want to participate in our survey? Interviews can be long and boring; who wants to sit on the phone or stand on a streetcorner answering questions? A few bucks may not be worth the time. In fact, you have likely already perfected methods of avoiding telemarketers and sidewalk interviewers. From a data standpoint, your skilled avoidance is our problem: the views of respondents can differ from non-participants. From political races to consumer habits to opinion polls ... we love numbers, and we need participation to get an accurate reading.

The Myth of Common Sense: Why The Social World Is Less Obvious Than It Seems

This is a guest post by Duncan Watts, a principal research scientist at Yahoo! Labs, and the author of Everything is Obvious: Once You Know The Answer.

The Myth of Common Sense: Why The Social World Is Less Obvious Than It Seems
By Duncan Watts

“Mankind, it seems, makes a poorer performance of government than of almost any other human activity.”
-Barbara Tuchman, The March of Folly

“This is not rocket science”
-Bill Frist on fixing health care, The New York Times

As these two quotes illustrate, there is something strangely conflicted about contemporary views on government and policy. On one hand, many people are in apparent agreement that government frequently accomplishes less than it ought to, sometimes embarrassingly so. Yet on the other hand, many of these same people are also of the opinion that the failings of government do not imply any great difficulty of the problems themselves—that they are not rocket science, as it were.

An Economist's Twitter Experiment Begins

I promised to give Twitter a real randomized trial. And so today, it begins. I woke up, flipped a coin, and it came up heads. Which means that today I’ll be tweeting. You can follow me @justinwolfers. What I do tomorrow is up to the coin.

I announced this experiment here three weeks ago, but wanted to spend some time getting used to this new medium. Here are eleven things I learned during my pre-experiment trial:

1. Twitter is fun. And addictive.

2. Information really does move at light speed. I find myself reading tomorrow’s newspaper, today. (But remember: tomorrow’s newspaper will be here in the morning.)

3. As a Twitter-virgin, I hadn’t previously realized how much more it is about sharing links than making glib statements. Hive-mind curation can be extraordinary.

Privilege: How Society's Elite Are Made

Columbia sociologist Shamus Khan went back to teach at his alma mater, the prestigious St. Paul's School, nine years after graduating. He's written a book about how society's elite are brought up, and what behaviors they carry through life.