I have been applying for grants that so far I do not get, but I have summarized the idea that I want to test, so I am putting the gist of it here, extracted from the last proposal submitted (in collaboration with David Rand at Yale).
Democracy is a human invention, a "design" that serves certain functions. But citizens do not understand it very well, and, as a result, they often fail collectively to take full advantage of what it can do. Here is what many people don't unde
An NPR interview this morning made two interesting points about the recent report on torture by the CIA, the first of which I had thought of myself. This was that it is possible that some authors of the report, or perhaps just those who summarize it, are engaging in belief overkill. They are saying that the extreme methods of interrogation never did any good. They don't need to say this. They could just say, more cautiously, that the amount of good done was so small as not to justify
The following (slightly revised) was a letter to the Public Editor of the New York Times, written on 9/15/2014.
I was upset at the Times's coverage of foreign contributions to U.S. think tanks such as Brookings. I was reminded of this by the recent edition of The Economist, which points out how attacking these institutions for accepting contributions could make it seem more acceptable when authoritarian regimes elsewhere try to block contributions to NGOs that might threaten them (p
This column by Thomas Friedman reminded me of an issue that has been on my mind for a while, the inter-relatedness of world problems. I discussed it in the book for which this blog is named, especially the chapter on population.
The world today has a long list of inter-related problems: food, fresh water, energy production, biodiversity, rising oceans from higher temperatures (resulting in shrinking coastal lands where many people live), health, unemployment of the young, catastroph
Political disputes about abortion usually involve repetitions of bad arguments, empty slogans, and upsetting images. The assumption seems to be that reason is irrelevant and the important thing is to motivate those who are already convinced. It is as if everyone has accepted the theory that moral reasoning is post-hoc rationalization and that moral disputes in are intellectually no different from sports events in which fans cheer for one side or the other.
In the current (March 22?) issue of Psychological Science, DeScioli et al. report a nice demonstration of how people take punishment into account in choosing how they will go about hurting someone else.*
In the main study, subjects could divide a dollar as (90,10), (10,90), or (85,0). The first number represents the divider's outcome, and the second represents another person's outcome, in cents. The (85,0) condition was the result of letting a timer run out, hence doing nothing. Th
The recent shootings in Tucson have called attention to the lack of civility in politics, and the use of intemperate rhetoric, especially by right-wing politicians and media personalities, sometimes to the point of advocating violence ("second amendment remedies" Sharron Angle). One more culprit should be mentioned: my-side bias.
My-side bias is a group of psychological processes that defend beliefs and choices against arguments on the other side. These processes include s
Bennis, Medin, and Bartels have an article on "The costs and benefits of calculation and moral rules" in Perspectives in Psychological Science (vol. 5, no. 2, 2010), which I just became aware of. Bazerman and Green have a nice reply in the same issue. I want to say a few things that I think were not in the reply.
The paper concerns demonstrations such as omission bias, in which subjects in experiments using hypothetical cases often prefer harmful omissions to less harmful
This article is one of many that complains about the inhibiting effect of uncertainty on business investment and other good things. Business people are supposed to be used to the idea of taking risks. The biggest risk they take is the decision to start a business at all, given the number that fail. For small risks, like variations in tax rates, it would seem that expected-utility theory is the way to go. You judge the probabilities, multiply them by the outcomes of various options, and pick
Judge Henry E. Hudson has just said that the insurance mandate of the new health-care law is unconstitutional. The center of the opinion, as I understand it, is that the constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce extends to economic "activities" but not to omissions of economic actions, such as not purchasing health insurance. It seems that Hudson's reasoning on this is empirical, namely, that prior court decisions on the scope of the commerce power have all concerned actions
Paul Krugman and many other Democrats are saying that President Obama and the Democrats made a mistake by putting off until now the question of what to do about the Bush tax cuts. Clearly - as David Leohhardt, Nate Silver, and others have argued - the Democrats are not in a strong bargaining position now that the Republicans have threatened utter chaos (hold up all the other legislation, kill all extensions of all tax cuts, etc.) unless the Democrats extend the unproductive and unfair tax cuts
Medicare will now pay for Provenge, which costs $93,000 and prolongs life for about four months, although this is the median not the mean. This comes to about $279,000 per year, and probably more for a quality-adjusted life year. At the hearing where this was decided, may objected to the possibility that Medicare would consider costs, calling it "rationing". What precedent does this set, and what else could Medicare cover if it were to value life so highly?
I keep reading about problems that are best solved at the world level, or at least at some level that involves many nations: climate change; overfishing; illegal drugs (if they are a problem); deforestation (which is related to the importation of wood); trade; protection of endangered species like whales; terrorism; and on and on. One of the lessons that Howard Raiffa, Max Bazerman and others have taught us is that negotiation about several issues at once allows log-rolling, that is, trade-off
This interesting article shows how the Court accepted a distinction between action and omission as relevant. Harm caused by omission becomes a matter of "positive liberty", which is apparently not protected by the Constitution. In particular, even after a child welfare agency involved itself in a case, the agency cannot be sued for failing to protect the child from terrible harm. Of interest is that this is not the sort of omission that anyone can commit; the agency was already involve
I was supposed to be in a video for a group that advocates direct democracy (initiative and referendum at the national level in the U.S., among other things). I said I had doubts. ("You see Switzerland. I see California.") But they wanted to do it anyway. In the end we couldn't schedule it. I had thought about what I would say, and here it is.
My first worry comes from my work (with Ed McCaffery) on the isolation effect. When people are asked about a given proposal by itse
Although presumed consent for organ donation
may not be a panacea, it does seem to help. (Showing that presumed consent is correlated with other determinants of high donation rates does not determine the direction of causality.) Why not do the same for certain kinds of research?
A case in point is the use DNA samples for research on the genetics of disease. In a recent case, the University of Arizona returned DNA samples to a Native American tribe, the Havasupai, and paid them
An article in today's (4/20/10) New York Times on-line edition ("A difficult path in Goldman case") discusses Goldman Sachs's likely defense against the fraud suit against it, outlined in two letters written by the company: "... The letters went on to argue that, contrary to the S.E.C.’s assertions, Goldman disclosed all information about the deal that was material. In particular, the letters drew a sharp distinction between information about the security, which the company said i
A recent news article in Science (2/19/2010, vol. 237, pp. 936-938) reviews the issues concerning breast-cancer screening for women between 40 and 50. What seems clear is that NOBODY involved in this controversy has done even the most rudimentary decision analysis, yet the question is obviously a good one for such analysis.
According to the article, the major issues are these:
1. Many cancers detected by mammograms in younger women will be detected anyway, even without