Thursday, April 16, 2009

Different kind of overload

I have way, way too much going on, so I'm giving up on this blog for now. Maybe I will return to it later, I don't know. In any case, I'll keep the site up.

Now off to do other things...

Friday, April 3, 2009


From Wired:
A brain-scanning study of people making financial choices suggests that when given expert advice, the decision-making parts of our brains often shut down.

The problem with this, of course, is that the advice may not be good.

Of course.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Guide to economics bloggers

Survey here. It looks like econ bloggers have fairly standard economic views. Maybe a bit more libertarian than the average economist (though I don't have much to compare this with).

Analysis of blogs here. Apparently, econ bloggers are fairly agreeable, while econ commenters are not.

HT: Tyler Cowen.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The experts on government control

Interestingly, seven-out-of 10 government workers (70%) do not believe a financial institution will run better under government control

From here.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Gnxp covers a study finding correlations between intelligence and cortical thickness.

Ben Goldacre at Bad Science writes about the Werther effect, the tendency of suicides in the media to spur more suicides.

Jesse Bering discusses another aspect of the psychology of religion.

New technology not changing the different political participation rates of different socioeconomic classes (according to a forthcoming study), says Thomas Sander at his Social Capital Blog.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Intuitive creationism and intuitive socialism

Jesse Bering explains some of the psychological barriers to understanding evolution at Scientific American.

In short, humans intuitively expect order to be the result of a conscious design.

I find this subject especially interesting because it parallels my favorite topic-- the widespread denial of basic economics.

Like evolution, markets create order without the guidance of a conscious designer. Despite the overwhelming consensus on this, many laymen still believe that the economic order is controlled by rapacious businessmen who set monopoly prices (in competitive markets), exploit third world workers (by "forcing" them to accept low wages), etc. And the solution, of course, is to change the designer, usually to the government.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Intellectual history of the money illusion

A post at gnxp looks at the data, and gives a nice summary of the history.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009

More on the religious (sort of) boom

From the Pew Research Center, here's the data:

This doesn't necessarily contradict David Beckworth's theory. More people could be joining evangelical protestant churches, while others are leaving other types of churches.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


My Free State Project activities have been keeping me very busy lately.

In any case, the plan is to keep this blog going, regardless. Hopefully, the week-long gaps between posts will be few and far between.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Genetics and culture

Razib Khan (from gnxp) and Greg Cochran discuss the relationship:

Saturday, February 28, 2009

How science bloggers are like used car dealers

Seed has a nice article up about the effect of science blogging on science diffusion.

One quote from Ed Deiner stuck out to me:
how can we guarantee quality in what is sent around? The internet is full of wonderful information — but it is also full of disinformation and errors. How can readers know whether what they are reading is solid information?
This problem can be solved in the blogosphere the same way it can be solved in the used car market. George Akerlof's famous paper "The Market for Lemons" formally introduced the problem of asymmetric information. Used car dealers and bloggers alike guarantee the quality of their products with their reputation.

If a used car dealer sells bad cars, he loses his good reputation and because of that he loses money (which is presumably his reason for selling cars). If a science blogger posts unscientific drivel masquerading as good science, eventually some people will find out and he loses his good reputation, and because of that he loses his blogger status (which is presumably his reason for blogging).

Friday, February 27, 2009

Information Overload

Media Matters reports that economists make up only 6% of guest appearances discussing the economic stimulus on cable shows.

Gnxp covers a study of porn subscriptions. A hilarious finding: church attenders have similar levels of porn subscriptions to the general populace, but avoid subscribing on Sundays.

Sales of Atlas Shrugged are "soaring", according to the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights. “Americans are flocking to buy and read ‘Atlas Shrugged’ because there are uncanny similarities between the plot-line of the book and the events of our day.”

The Pain Is Worth the Gain-- social discomfort helps college students overcome groupthink.

Who are macro experts?, from Overcoming Bias.

Frank McAndrew explains the science of gossip.

Obama's popularity is... about normal, really.

Ben Goldacre at Bad Science, Vaughan at Mind Hacks, and Jeremy Dean at PsyBlog have been going back and forth recently about Facebook and media scares.

Monday, February 23, 2009

IQ and bias

An excerpt from a 2008 paper by Stanovich and West:
The framework in Figure 1 illustrates why rationality will not be uniformly related to intelligence. Instead, that relationship will depend upon the degree that rational responding requires sustained cognitive decoupling. When the heart of the task is recognizing the need for heuristic override but the override operation itself is easily accomplished, no sustained decoupling is necessary and rational thinking will depend more on the operations of the reflective mind than on those of the algorithmic mind (Stanovich, 2008a, 2008b). Thus, relationships with intelligence will be attenuated. Additionally, as Kahneman (2000) has argued, when detecting the necessity for override is very difficult (Parameter 2 is low), performance overall will be quite low and no relationships with cognitive ability will be evident.
In other words, smarter people can be less biased— but only when they're paying attention to the relevant biases.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Pinker and Caplan on the anti-market bias

In his book The Myth of the Rational Voter, Bryan Caplan documents that non-economists have systematic economic biases, one of which he call the anti-market bias. People tend to think of markets as exploitative rather than empowering. (Economists generally agree that they are empowering, and exploitation disappeared from serious economics, along with the labor theory of value, more than 100 years ago.)

Where did this bias come from?

According to Steven Pinker, our minds have a built in system of intuitive economics:
It is based on the concept of reciprocal exchange, in which one party confers a benefit on another and is entitled to an equivalent benefit in return.


The most common kind of exchange is what [Alan] Fiske calls Equality Matching. Two people exchange goods or favors at different times, and the traded items are identical or at least highly similar or easily comparable. The trading partners assess their debts by simple addition or subtraction and are satisfied when the favors even out. The partners feel that the exchange binds them in a relationship, and often people will consummate exchanges just to maintain it. For example, in the trading rings of the Pacific Islands, gifts circulate from chief to chief, and the original giver may eventually get his gift back. (Many Americans suspect that this is what happens to Christmas fruitcakes.) When someone violates an Equality Matching relationship by taking a benefit without returning it in kind, the other party feels cheated and may retaliate aggressively. Equality Matching is the only mechanism of trade in most hunter-gatherer societies. Fiske notes that it is supported by a mental model of tit-for-tat reciprocity, and Leda Cosmides and John Tooby have shown that this way of thinking comes easily to Americans as well. It appears to be the core of our intuitive economics. [from The Blank Slate]
The bias results from the application of this mindset to modern economies. As Caplan explains, this knowledge suggests we should rely less on demoacracy.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

To balance the other post...

Razib at gnxp reports that younger people, beyond being less Christian, are more accepting of evolution.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Economic Depressions and Religious Booms

From a recent New Scientist editorial:
A 2007 study showed that the growth rate of evangelical churches in the US jumps 50 per cent with the downturn of each economic cycle. The global downturn is no different: church leaders (and psychics) are now reporting brisk business.
From an older New York Times article:
In “Praying for Recession: The Business Cycle and Protestant Religiosity in the United States,” David Beckworth, an assistant professor of economics at Texas State University, looked at long-established trend lines showing the growth of evangelical congregations and the decline of mainline churches and found a more telling detail: During each recession cycle between 1968 and 2004, the rate of growth in evangelical churches jumped by 50 percent. By comparison, mainline Protestant churches continued their decline during recessions, though a bit more slowly.


Dr. Beckworth, a macroeconomist, posited another theory [to explain the differences between evangelical and mainline Protestant churches]: though expanding demographically since becoming the nation’s largest religious group in the 1990s, evangelicals as a whole still tend to be less affluent than members of mainline churches, and therefore depend on their church communities more during tough times, for material as well as spiritual support. In good times, he said, they are more likely to work on Sundays, which may explain a slower rate of growth among evangelical churches in nonrecession years.
Beckworth's paper can be found here.

Friday, February 13, 2009


Vaughan at Mind Hacks has a response to one of the links I posted earlier. Some excerpts:

The 'modern technology is hurting our brain' argument is widespread but it seems so short-sighted. It's based on the idea that before digital communication technology came along, people spent their time focusing on single tasks for hours on end and were rarely distracted.

The trouble is, it's plainly rubbish, and you just have to spend time with some low tech communities to see this is the case.


If you think twitter is an attention magnet, try living with an infant.


The difference between this, and the "oh isn't email stressful" situation, is that you can take a break from email and phone calls. You can switch everything off for an hour so you can concentrate. You can tell people you won't be available.


In other words, the ability to focus on a single task, relatively uninterrupted, is the strange anomaly in the history of our psychological development.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Information Overload

MRIs document that "readers build vivid mental simulations of narrative situations".

More on religious psychology from New Scientist.

Robin Hanson discusses the role of signaling in communication. Don't miss the comments section, which gets unusually interesting.

Maggie Jackson says digital overload is frying our brains.

Tyler Cowen weighs in on economics and selection bias in the media.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Friday, February 6, 2009

Are political orientations genetically transmitted?

-is the title of a 2005 paper by Alford, Funk, and Hibbing. The abstract:
We test the possibility that political attitudes and behaviors are the result of both environmental and genetic factors. Employing standard methodological approaches in behavioral genetics—–specifically, comparisons of the differential correlations of the attitudes of monozygotic twins and dizygotic twins—–we analyze data drawn from a large sample of twins in the United States, supplemented with findings from twins in Australia. The results indicate that genetics plays an important role in shaping political attitudes and ideologies but a more modest role in forming party identification; as such, they call for finer distinctions in theorizing about the sources of political attitudes. We conclude by urging political scientists to incorporate genetic influences, specifically interactions between genetic heritability and social environment, into models of political attitude formation.
Because IQ is thought to be partially determined by genetics, this probably has some relation to the correlations between IQ and political ideology.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Name changing

This blog was not originally a culture/memetics blog. When it started, it didn't have anything in the way of a unified theme, and the title still reflects that.

Preferably, a blog title should hint at what the blog is about. "The Spiral" no longer does that. At the same time, changing the title could lead to some confusion. So I have a few polls:

foreign exchange Flash Poll

casino online Web polls

If anyone has other name suggestions, let me know.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The economics of science

Article by Terence Kealey in an old issue of Scientific American:
It's a myth that science is a public good. Science is constructed in "invisible colleges"--small groups of people who understand each individual discipline. So the number of people who can really understand the scientific papers is few. To become a member of this club, you have to pay a very high entrance fee. [The late] Ed Mansfield, an economist at the University of Pennsylvania, showed empirically that the average cost to one company of copying the science of another company is 70 percent. But it's worse than that because you've also got to pay for the costs of information. The company has got to have enough scientists out there to read the papers, to read the patents, to go to the conferences, so that you actually know what people are discovering, so you know how to copy it. Add that to the 70 percent, and add the premium you pay in the scientist's salary for all the training he's gone into, and the costs of copying and the costs of doing things originally come out exactly equal. That's in Mansfield, and others have shown this as well.
Compare this to the recent paper by Gans and Stern.

Hat Tip to GV.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Short-term memory

Scientists at the UT Southwestern Medical Center have discovered that brain cells in the frontal cortex can store trace amounts of memories on their own, for as long as an entire minute. The study, which will appear in the February issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience, details for the first time portions of the brain that are involved in non-permanent memory storage, and is also the first to explain how small bits of memory are kept for short periods of time.

The new find has potential far-reaching implications in understanding various medical conditions and coming up with a way of addressing them. It could offer insight into the establishment of addictions, as well as attention disorders and stress-induced memory loss. A thorough analysis of all brain portions involved may yield a better understanding of the total number of mechanisms associated with retaining memory, and might offer even potential solutions to the various problems.

“It’s more like RAM [random access memory] on a computer, than memory stored on a disk. The memory on the disk is more permanent and you can go back and access the same information repeatedly. RAM memory is rewritable temporary storage that allows multitasking,” UT Southwestern psychiatry assistant professor Dr. Don Cooper, who is also the senior author of the new research that has focused on studying the brains of innocent mice, explains.

“If we can identify and manipulate the molecular components of memory, we can develop drugs that boost the ability to maintain this memory trace to hopefully allow a person to complete tasks without being distracted. For the person addicted to drugs, we could strengthen this part of the brain involved with decision-making, allowing them to ignore impulses and weigh negative consequences of their behavior before they abuse drugs,” he adds.

The team at UT Southwestern says that calcium is the main chemical used to store minute traces of memory in single neuronal cells. That means that the information that is stored is divided in tiny strands, which make their way to single cells in the frontal cortex. After about a minute, they either disappear, or they move to cells that hold them on a permanent basis.

From this site linked to at K21st.