Monday, November 25, 2013

The repugnance of high salaries: Switzerland

Swiss Voters Reject High-Pay Initiative

Seems like there is something something to study about the repugnance of high pay,... Though in the end the swiss didn't vote in favor of curtailing it...

"ZURICH—Swiss voters overwhelmingly rejected an initiative that would have restricted executive salaries to 12 times that of the lowest-paid employee.

Roughly 65% of Swiss voters Sunday opposed the 1:12 Initiative for Fair Pay, according to results from all of the country's 26 cantons reported by Swiss television. Another 34% supported the proposal, which was named for the organizers' belief that no one in a Swiss company should earn more in a month than someone else makes in a year."

and this is disappointing

"The youth wing of the Social Democratic Party of Switzerland, which organized the initiative, said the country had missed an opportunity to curb executive pay that it sees as spiraling out of control.

"We're obviously disappointed at the result, but we were faced by opponents who ran a high-profile fear campaign," said David Roth, the president of the youth wing, which is known as Juso. "One positive from the campaign, however, is that the issue of fair pay and a fair economy has been placed in the public domain."

HT: Sandro Ambuehl had told me about this referendum

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Girls or Women and Science: commercials

Guillaume Frechette alerted me to the following article in Stale: "This Awesome Ad, Set to the Beastie Boys, Is How to Get Girls to Become Engineers"

The ad is here

Compare this to the somewhat failed commercial by the European Commission about "Science: It's a Girl Thing"

Check out the following article in the NYTimes: "Why Are There Still So Few Women In Science"

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Inducements for Kidney Donation

Al Roth and I have a paper forthcoming in Law & Contemporary Problems, 77:3, 2014 on  Philanthropically Funded Heroism Awards for Kidney Donors?” 

The premise of the paper is the sad fact that:

"There are about 100,000 people on the waiting list for a deceased donor kidney transplant in the United  States, a number that grows from year to year despite advances that have increased the availability of kidney transplantation.  About 35,000 patients joined the waiting list in 2012, though only about 11,000 deceased donor transplants were performed, along with about 6,000 transplants from living donors. So the modal  kidney  donor  in the United  States  is  now  a  living  donor,  even though there  are more transplants from deceased donors, who donate two kidneys. While kidneys from deceased donors are allocated by UNOS to patients on the waiting list according to strict rules, living donors typically give a kidney to a relative or loved one in need. In this paper we explore possible ways to increase the number of living donors.  

We say
The  present  paper  explores  another  way  to  possibly  ease  the  path  towards  non‐directed kidney  donation  among those  inclined to  make such  a  donation  by  combining the appreciations  of  both  philanthropy  and  heroism[..]. Specifically  we consider an award that recognizes a non‐directed donor as a hero and comes with a prize of $50.000.  We report a brief preliminary survey designed to assess public reaction to various forms of heroism awards for non‐directed kidney donors.

and conclude

"While the survey we report here provides very limited ability to determine causes, it does suggest that payments to non‐directed kidney donors would meet with more approval and less strong disapproval when included in awards for heroism, and when paid from a private foundation [added: with time delay after donation]. Consequently this may be an avenue worth further exploration in the effort to increase donation and relieve the shortage of kidneys and the burden of kidney disease.   

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

AEA: RCT Registry

AEA E-mail Announcement
Dear AEA member:

The AEA has launched a new site to register randomized control trials (RCTs). The AEA encourages all
investigators to register new and existing RCTs. Registration is entirely voluntary and is not currently linked
to or required for submission and publication in the AEA journals.

The site is available at

On this site, you can register your forthcoming, ongoing, or even completed RCTs, with as little or as many
details as you wish. The site will also permit you to store and make publicly-available additional information
on your RCTs (reports, articles, data, and code). We believe that this will prove to be a very valuable resource
for investigators to share their work and the site will be widely used by those who wish to find out about
on-going and completed studies.

The registry is characterized by:

1) Simplicity and flexibility: Registering a trial is straightforward with only a minimal number of required fields.
There is considerable flexibility to provide additional material at the time of registration or at any point in the
life of the study. Materials can also be hidden from public view until completion of the study, or be made
accessible only with the permission of the PI.

2) Adjustability and memory: Any registry entry can be amended by the PI at any point, but the registry keeps
track of all versions.

3) Ability to work as a research portal for your RCTs: The registry can serve as an access point for
collaborators, other scholars, students, and the general public providing links to data sets, survey 
instruments, experimental findings, and experimental protocols.

To register a trial, the PI simply needs to enter the following information: PI name, project title, study
location, project status, keyword(s), abstract, trial start and end dates, intervention start and end dates, 
proposed outcome(s), experimental design, whether the treatment is clustered, planned number of 
clusters, planned number of observations, and IRB information. Optional fields allowing the PI to 
customize and enhance the information made available include details on sponsors and partners, 
survey instruments, an analysis plan, and other supporting documents. Help is available if the PI 
encounters any problem.

The AEA registry system will provide the PI with reminders to update the registration of an RCT at
appropriate points in the trial's lifecycle. For example, the submitted end date will trigger an email
asking the PI to enter post-trial information. If the trial has been extended, the PI can update the
trial with the new end date.

We encourage you to explore the registry and to register your RCTs.

The committee on the registry for social experiments
Larry Katz (chair)
Esther Duflo
Pinelopi Goldberg
Duncan Thomas

I talked about this before here

Monday, November 18, 2013

Identifying Predictable Players

Giving a talk at Duke today about "Identifying Predictable Players: Relating Behavioral Types and Predictable Subjects".

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Theory of Good Intentions

Paul Niehaus alerted me to his new paper while I was at UCSD, "A Theory of Good Intentions".

The abstract reads:

Why is other-regarding behavior often misguided? I study a new explanation grounded in the idea that altruists want to think they are helping. Frictions arise because perception and reality can diverge ex post when feedback is limited (as for example when donating to international development projects). Among other things the model helps explain why donors have a limited interest in learning about effectiveness; why intermediaries may market based on need, effectiveness, or neither; and why beneficiaries may not be able to do better than accept this situation. For policy-makers, the model implies a generic tradeoff between the quantity and quality of generosity.

In the Intro he writes

Economists have predominantly taken the view that funders want to be effective but find it difficult to learn how. [..] This paper examines an alternative (and complementary) interpretation: funders do not want to be more effective. Instead, they want to think that they are effective. Yet perception and reality can diverge. To illustrate the core premise, consider donating to help feed malnourished African children. This induces agreeable thoughts of children eating. Now suppose you learn that the charity in question is ineffective -- perhaps an expose reveals serious fraud. Presumably this reduces your satisfaction. What is more interesting is the counterfactual: if you had not learned of the fraud, you would have continued to experience “warm glow” (Andreoni, 1989) thinking about your impact even though in reality no such impact existed. Your altruistic preferences cannot literally be over children’s outcomes as these occur on another continent, outside of your experience. Instead, perceptions count. This raises the question: how and how well will learning work in a market where perceptions are the product?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Friday, November 15, 2013

Escaping Statistical Discrimination

From geekcutlture: (Had to put it here, so I could find it again). HT: Aaron Roth

I remembered it as: Now: The other dog answers: Not only do they know you're a poodle, but also that you're dating a black labrador... I like my version better, but here's the original...

If someone has some drawing skills, it'd be great to get a nicer version of this great joke, maybe corrected for my misremembering of what those dogs looked like in the first place:)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Strong Women in Movies

The Guardian write about "Joss Whedon: why are his strong women characters still so unusual?"

They write

"You may say that the fact that he is about to be honoured again at next week's inaugural Make Equality Reality event in Beverly Hills is a slim pretext for airing a seven-year-old speech. And you would be right. But the fact that he could plausibly make the same speech again seems a good enough reason to run it again. For, really, which one of the points he makes is no longer valid?"

They go on

In his speech, Whedon imagines himself at an imaginary press conference answering the same "dumb question" he is asked "400 times" by reporters – to whit, why does he write strong women characters? Starting off with the anodyne answer that it was due to his "strong mother", his "engaged father", the fact that female characters are allowed emotions, or just because "women are hot", Whedon finally shouts: "Why aren't you asking the 100 other guys why they don't write strong female characters?"

He goes on, in a speech that should act as a rebuff to every Seth MacFarlane boob "gag" at awards ceremonies, to point out: "Equality is not a concept, not something we should be striving for, equality is like gravity … misogyny is life out of balance and it sucks something out of the soul of every man and women confronted with it."

His final answer to why he writes about strong women? "Because you are still asking me the question."

Here is the link to the video

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A different kind of unraveling

The economist writes about "Who will sing Aida?"

"Today lots of young singers take roles that are far too big for their voices. 
Agents cheer them on, eager for their clients to enter the spotlight. Casting directors increasingly 
hire them, keen for comely faces. And opera houses looking to keep expenses low are grateful for the 
cheaper talent.

But whereas a young violinist can accept a prestigious gig without reservation, a young singer has to 
consider his vocal cords. If used in roles that are too heavy, the vocal cords thicken, producing a less 
attractive sound. They can even tear, leaving the singer virtually voiceless. "I've seen so many young 
singers take on big roles and damaging their voices," says Stephen Costello, a 31-year-old tenor who 
made a splash with his Metropolitan Opera debut when he was 26. "Everybody has seen it."


"The vocal maturity necessary for bigger roles tends to come when singers are in their late 30s and early 40s. Birgit Nilsson, a legendary soprano, remained in formidable vocal shape well into her 60s, and she continued to portray youthful heroines such as Wagner's Isolde and Verdi's Turandot when she was well into middle age. But more exacting demands for how stars look have left some opera houses reluctant to cast ageing opera stars in youthful roles."

and finally

"Opera singers have a reputation for acting like prima donnas. But if they hope to have long careers they may have to become more prima-donna-like still: they will have to learn to say no."

Monday, November 11, 2013

Sweden: Women in Movies

The guardian writes that "Swedish cinemas take aim at gender bias with Bechdel test rating"

"You expect movie ratings to tell you whether a film contains nudity, sex, profanity or violence. Now cinemas in Sweden are introducing a new rating to highlight gender bias, or rather the absence of it.

To get an A rating, a movie must pass the so-called Bechdel test, which means it must have at least two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man."


"The state-funded Swedish Film Institute supports the initiative, which is starting to catch on. Scandinavian cable TV channel Viasat Film says it will start using the ratings in its film reviews and has scheduled an A-rated "Super Sunday" on 17 November, when it will show only films that pass the test, such as The Hunger Games, The Iron Lady and Savages."

I wrote about the Bechdel test here, and women in movies here

Sunday, November 10, 2013

France: Criminalizing Prostitution

Selma James writes in the guardian on "Sex workers need support – but not from the 'hands off my whore' brigade"

The article states that

"The 343 French intellectual men who signed a statement – "Hands off my whore" – defending their right to buy sexual services has infuriated women and caused wide controversy. Not only does it tell us what they think of sex workers, but of women generally and particularly what they think they can get away with saying publicly at this moment in time.

I have just signed a feminist statement opposing France's attempt to criminalise clients. The proposed law would impose a €1,500 fine on those paying for sex, double for a second offence. My motive for opposing it is entirely different from that of these men – not men's sexual freedom but women's ability to make a living without being criminalised and deprived of safety and protection."

The article ends with

"French sex workers must have the last word. Morgane Merteuil, general secretary of Strass (Syndicat du Travail Sexuel), which campaigns for decriminalisation, told the men claiming to defend them: "We are nobody's whores, especially not yours … If we fight for our rights it is largely to have more power against you, so we can dictate our terms … "

A similar post appeared at Al's Market Design blog yesterday, I guess from the somewhat more conservative telegraph, which is probably closer to the US view on prostitution...

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Gender and the Society for Neuroscience Conference

On Sunday, I'll give a talk at the Society For Neuroscience Conference in San Diego, in a special session on Gender Bias: Facing the Facts for the Future of Neuroscience.

Sunday, Nov 10, 2013, 8:30 AM -11:00 AM

To address the daunting challenges in neuroscience, we must effectively utilize the best scientific talent. Recent studies suggest that gender bias is limiting our ability to do this. In this symposium, leading social scientists will present data on the prevalence of gender bias, its influence on our decisions, and its effects on the career paths of women. Interventions to reduce gender bias in the scientific workplace will be discussed.
Jennifer Raymond

106.01. Introduction
  106.02. Can institution-wide interventions ameliorate unconscious bias: Evidence beyond observational studies
H. Valantine;
Sr Assoc Dean, Diversity and Leadership, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA.
  106.03. Redefining merit to justify discrimination
E. Uhlmann;
Management and Human Resources Dept, HEC Paris - School of Management, Jouy-en-Josas, FRANCE.
  106.04. But I thought I was being nice: How benevolent sexism undermines women's advancement
P. Glick;
Dept Psychology, Lawrence University, Appleton, WI.
  106.05. Gender, competitiveness, and career choices
M. Niederle;
Dept Economics, Stanford University, Stanford, CA.
  106.06. Closing Remarks

Friday, November 8, 2013

Ha! again...

BBC news has the following article: "Physicists probe urination 'splashback' problem"  by James Morgan

They write:

The work is led by Prof Tadd Truscott and Randy Hurd of the "Splash Lab" at Brigham Young in Provo, Utah, who jokingly refer to themselves as "wizz kids".

Before that:

"In response to harsh and repeated criticisms from our mothers and several failed relationships with women, we present the splash dynamics of a simulated human male urine stream," reads their conference abstract.

""It turns out you are five times as far away when you stand up - and that's a pretty significant difference in impact velocity for those droplets of urine," said Mr Hurd.

Impact with the toilet water is captured  in a video  by the team.

"You can see the droplets create a large cavity in the water, which then collapses, causing even greater splashback. The amount of splash is considerable," Mr Hurd explained.

"It seems that sitting down is the best sure-fire way to avoid unwanted splashing in a traditional toilet."

See also my former blogpost on this...

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Incentives for donations...

Bob Slonim, about whose work on blood donation I talked about here, sent me the following email:

"In our work examining the role of incentives to motivate blood donations, it is remarkable how little (and difficult) it is to have a conversation about, and factor in, the benefits to potential recipients. As Economists, and especially with regards to bone marrow and organ donations, I think it is critical to remain diligent about the benefits in the improvement in the quality of lives, and the lives saved, when incentives (or anything else) can effectively improve supply.  If we allow the debate to center solely on the effects to the donors, without any consideration for the recipients, we have a very steep mountain to climb to influence policy, and evidence will continue to take a back seat, indeed may not even get onto the table, compared to other considerations."

It certainly looks that way... 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Incentives for Bone Marrow Donations

Nicola Lacetera, Mario Macis and Sarah Stith "Removing Financial Barriers to Organ and Bone Marrow Donation: The Effect of Leave and Tax Legislation in the U.S." Journal of Health Economics, forthcoming.

This seems like a particularly important topic, especially in light of my post two days ago

Their abstract reads:

"In an attempt to alleviate the shortfall in organs and bone marrow available for transplants, many U.S. states passed legislation providing leave to organ and bone marrow donors and/or tax benefits for live and deceased organ and bone marrow donations and to employers of donors. We exploit cross-state variation in the timing and passage of such legislation to analyze its impact on organ donations by living and deceased persons, on measures of the quality of the organs transplanted, and on the number of bone marrow donations. We find that these provisions did not have a significant impact on the quantity of organs donated. The leave legislation, however, did have a positive impact on bone marrow donations. We also find some evidence of a positive impact on the quality of organ transplants, measured by post-transplant survival rates. Our results suggest that these types of legislation work for moderately invasive procedures such as bone marrow donation, but may be too low for organ donation, which is riskier and more burdensome to the donor."

In light of this see the recent controversy on paying bone marrow donors at Al Roth's blog here, and here is another post detailing that actually it turns out that some government agency decides what an organ is, and hence to what body parts the NOTA (National Organ Transplant Act) applies to, and hence which transactions make it a felony to include monetary payments. Recently it was decided that bone marrow is an organ (independently on how it gets collected)..:(

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Money and Blood Donation

 Nicola Lacetera, Mario Macis and Robert Slonim "Economic Rewards to Motivate Blood Donations"
Science 24 May 2013:  Vol. 340 no. 6135 pp. 927-928

To set the stage they write that (taking out citations..)

"The position and guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO) and several national blood collection agencies for nearly 40 years have been based on the view that offering economic incentives to blood donors is detrimental to the quantity and safety of the blood supply. The guidelines suggest that blood should be obtained from unpaid volunteers only. However, whether economic incentives positively or negatively affect blood donations (and other prosocial activities) has remained the subject of debate since the positions were established.''

They conclude

"These studies inform, yet limit, policy implications. First, because rewards were only offered one time or occasionally in all of the studies, we cannot infer the effect of offering rewards all the time. Nonetheless, the success of one-time or sporadic rewards is important because rewards can be offered at a specific time of greatest need, as shortages often occur at predictable times (e.g., winter). [..]


Third, items offered are framed as gifts or rewards rather than “getting paid.”


Fourth, rewards are not provided for making a blood donation, but rather for showing up to donate, which removes the incentive for people to provide false information so that they qualify to donate and consequently obtain the rewards. This practice may be critical for blood safety when incentives are offered.

Fifth, the evidence discussed so far comes from wealthy countries.


Finally, although we focused on studies of the effects of economic rewards, other mechanisms should be investigated. For instance, symbolic rewards and social recognition have enhanced donations among some groups, but not all."

It is important to replicate things we all "knew" are true...

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Nalini Ambady

I just heard the sad news that Nalini Ambady didn't find a bone marrow donor and passed away..

I remember taking a class in my first year at Harvard from her, Social Psychology for Psych Ph.D.'s, it was a great class. She generously agreed to have 5 of us econ students be part of the class, since there were only 15 Psychology students, I think we changed the class a lot. This class still influences me, and I recommend all behavioral students to take a psychology class...

Stanford News writes that

"Of the roughly dozen people who were potential matches for Ambady, however, half turned out to be incompatible or only superficial matches.

The others chose not to donate, a result that is common in bone marrow transplant cases. There are many reasons people ultimately decide not to donate, including cultural taboos or fears of pain or inconvenience. (Donating bone marrow is only slightly more complex than donating blood, though it requires multiple visits.) Some people's contact information simply falls out of the system, especially the case with college-age donors who frequently change addresses.

Eberhardt and Markus said that SPARQ will partner with bone marrow registries to develop strategies for enrolling more people, and especially minorities, to participate in cheek swab tests, and also to encourage people to actually donate later on when they are identified as a match."

It may be time for us economists to think more about how to use incentives and encourage donations, or why there is such a big pushback from using monetary incentives...

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Google autocomplete

The guardian has a funny article on google autocomplete: "Google's autocomplete spells out our darkest thoughts"

"It is a truth algorithmically acknowledged that a man needs to ejaculate and a woman needs to be put in her place.

Perturbed by the prejudice of the previous sentence? You should be. But don't shoot the messenger, particularly as that messenger is from the United Nations. An ad campaign developed for UN Women, reveals just how pervasive discrimination against women is through the use of genuine Google search suggestions."

Friday, November 1, 2013

What can we gain from the Implicit Association Test

There is a new meta-study (the psychologists really like those) on "Predicting ethnic and racial discrimination: A meta-analysis of IAT criterion studies." by Oswald, Frederick L.; Mitchell, Gregory; Blanton, Hart; Jaccard, James; Tetlock, Philip E. that appeared in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 105(2), Aug 2013, 171-192.

The abstract reads:

"This article reports a meta-analysis of studies examining the predictive validity of the Implicit Association Test (IAT) and explicit measures of bias for a wide range of criterion measures of discrimination. The meta analysis estimates the heterogeneity of effects within and across 2 domains of intergroup bias (interracial and interethnic), 6 criterion categories (interpersonal behavior, person perception, policy preference, microbehavior, response time, and brain activity), 2 versions of the IAT (stereotype and attitude IATs), 3 strategies for measuring explicit bias (feeling thermometers, multi-item explicit measures such as the Modern Racism Scale, and ad hoc measures of intergroup attitudes and stereotypes), and 4 criterion-scoring methods (computed majority–minority difference scores, relative majority–minority ratings, minority-only ratings, and majority-only ratings). IATs were poor predictors of every criterion category other than brain activity, and the IATs performed no better than simple explicit measures. These results have important implications for the construct validity of IATs, for competing theories of prejudice and attitude–behavior relations, and for measuring and modeling prejudice and discrimination."

A sentence from the conclusion

"Overall, simple explicit measures of bias yielded predictions no worse than the IATs".

I remember the first time I heard about IAT, I thought it was clever and it would help us make predictions. But, as always, this was an empirical question, not one where what matters are beliefs...