May, 2010

May 10

Fines Can Make “Bad” Behavior Happen More Often (Instead Of Less Often)

From an article on daycares and late fees

The fines that most child-care centres now charge – typically $1 per minute – to discourage adults from being tardy may actually promote lateness, researchers have found.

“Certain cues can switch moral behaviour on or off,” says Samuel Bowles, director of the Behavioural Sciences Program at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico. “Charging for things often switches off moral behaviour.”

Bowles concluded that fines can undermine a parent’s sense of ethical obligation to be on time for the teachers. And lateness becomes “just another commodity” to purchase.

Bowles’s research assigns a moral measure to the incentive principle raised in Freakonomics, which cited a groundbreaking study on daycare fines in Israel. Shortly after six centres in Haifa began charging late parents, the experiment backfired spectacularly. Parents reacted by coming even later.

If you are interested in reading the paper this is based on it is "A Fine is a Price", by Uri Gneezy and Aldo Rustichini.

May 10

Monogamy, Polygyny and Mutations

A nice quote from Razib Khan

Mutations are as you know a double-edged sword. On the one hand mutations are the stuff of evolution [...] On the other hand mutations also tend to cause problems. In fact, mutations which are deleterious far outnumber those which are positive. It is much easier to break complex systems which are near a fitness optimum than it is to improve upon them through random chance.

[I]n a polygynous population a few healthy males with good genes could give rise to most of the next generation, and so providing the balance of selection to the background mutational rate. [While the rest of the males serve as a "dumping grounds of bad genes".]
In contrast monogamous populations will have less power to expunge mutations in this fashion because there is more genetic equality across males, the bad will reproduce along with the good, more or less.

May 10

Ambiguity Aversion

A nice quote from Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt

[Frank Knight] made a distinction between two key factors in decision making: risk and uncertainty. The cardinal difference, Knight declared, is that risk — however great — can be measured, whereas uncertainty cannot.

How do people weigh risk versus uncertainty? Consider a famous experiment that illustrates what is known as the Ellsberg Paradox. There are two urns. The first urn, you are told, contains 50 red balls and 50 black balls. The second one also contains 100 red and black balls, but the number of each color is unknown. If your task is to pick a red ball out of either urn, which urn do you choose?

Most people pick the first urn, which suggests that they prefer a measurable risk to an immeasurable uncertainty. (This condition is known to economists as ambiguity aversion.) Could it be that nuclear energy, risks and all, is now seen as preferable to the uncertainties of global warming?

If you are interested in reading the late Frank Hyneman Knight‘s "Risk, Uncertainty & Profit", you can read it here.

May 10

Naughty Fruit Bats Have Fellatio Too


Oral sex is surprisingly rare in the animal kingdom. Humans do it, of course. As do bonobos, our close relatives. But now researchers have observed the practice for the first time in a non-primate. During intercourse, female short-nosed fruit bats lick the genitals of their partner, a possible ploy to increase copulation time. The discovery suggests there may be a biological advantage to fellatio.

May 10

Decriminalization Of Abortions Like Homer Simpson’s Toasts

A nice quote from Steve Sailer

The most striking fact about legalized abortion, but also the least discussed, is its sizable pointlessness. Legalized abortion turned out to be a lot like Homer Simpson’s toast: "To alcohol! The cause of, and solution for, all of life’s problems."

Legal abortion is a major cause of what it was supposed to cure — unwanted pregnancies. [Steven D.] Levitt himself [co-author of "Freakonomics"] notes that following Roe, "Conceptions rose by nearly 30 percent, but births actually fell by 6 percent …" So for every six fetuses aborted in the 1970s, five would never have been conceived except for Roe!

Now, don’t interpret this quoting as an endorsement of the criminalizing of abortion. But it is meant to point out that abortion doesn’t seem to be the “silver bullet” some people make it out to be.

May 10

Killer Fungus


May 10

Language of the Priestly Castes

A nice quote from Andrew Stuttaford

A characteristic of many priestly castes is the use of esoteric language as a device both to befuddle their audience and to secure their own superior status as interpreters and custodians of the holy writ.

May 10

Internet Makes Some Happier?

“Put simply, people with IT access are more satisfied with life even when taking account of income,” said Michael Willmott, the scientist who authored the study.


H/T Tyler Cowen

May 10

Obesity Lowers Male Testosterone?

Does obesity lower male testosterone levels?

From a news release

Results of a study published online ahead of print in the journal Diabetes Care, conducted by University at Buffalo endocrinologists, showed that 40 percent of obese participants involved in the Hypogonadism in Males (HIM) study had lower-than-normal testosterone readings.

The percentage rose to 50 percent among obese men with diabetes. Results also revealed that as body mass index (BMI) — a relationship of weight–to-height — increased, testosterone levels fell.

“The effect of diabetes on lowering testosterone levels was similar to that of a weight gain of approximately 20 pounds,” says Sandeep Dhindsa, MD, an endocrinology specialist in the UB Department of Medicine and first author on the study.

Correlation is not causation, but if there is actually a causal relation here, then something like this can affect the psychology and behavior of a male.

H/T FuturePundit

May 10

Working Overtime Too Much Can Be Bad For Your Heart?

From the press release

Working overtime is bad for the heart according to results from a long-running study following more than 10,000 civil servants in London (UK): the Whitehall II study.

The research, which is published online today (Wednesday 12 May) in the European Heart Journal [1], found that, compared with people who did not work overtime, people who worked three or more hours longer than a normal, seven-hour day had a 60% higher risk of heart-related problems such as death due to heart disease, non-fatal heart attacks and angina.

Dr Marianna Virtanen, an epidemiologist at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Helsinki (Finland) and University College London (UK), said: “The association between long hours and coronary heart disease was independent of a range of risk factors that we measured at the start of the study, such as smoking, being overweight, or having high cholesterol.

For those interesting, the paper this is based on are…