Saturday, November 4, 2017

Fortifications & Democracy in the Ancient Greek World -- why elites supported democracy and were not more heavily taxed

Ober, Josiah and Weingast, Barry R., Fortifications and Democracy in the Ancient Greek World (October 23, 2017). Available at SSRN:

Abstract: In the modern world, access-limiting fortification walls are not typically regarded as promoting democracy. But in Greek antiquity, increased investment in fortifications was correlated with the prevalence and stability of democracy. This paper sketches the background conditions of the Greek city-state ecology, analyzes a passage in Aristotle’s Politics, and assesses the choices of Hellenistic kings, Greek citizens, and urban elites, as modeled in a simple game. The paper explains how city walls promoted democracy and helps to explain several other puzzles: why Hellenistic kings taxed Greek cities at lower than expected rates; why elites in Greek cities supported democracy; and why elites were not more heavily taxed by democratic majorities. The relationship between walls, democracy, and taxes promoted continued economic growth into the late classical and Hellenistic period (4th-2nd centuries BCE), and ultimately contributed to the survival of Greek culture into the Roman era, and thus modernity. We conclude with a consideration of whether the walls-democracy relationship holds in modernity.

Keywords: Democracy, Ancient Greece, Athens, Walls and Democracy, Taxation, War
JEL Classification: H11, H41, N43, O43, P51, P14, P16

Inflammatory Biomarkers and Risk of Schizophrenia. A 2-Sample Mendelian Randomization Study

Inflammatory Biomarkers and Risk of Schizophrenia. A 2-Sample Mendelian Randomization Study. Fernando Pires Hartwig et al. JAMA Psychiatry, doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.3191

Key Points

Question  What is the effect of increased inflammatory biomarkers on the risk of developing schizophrenia?

Findings  In this 2-sample mendelian randomization study using summary gene-biomarker association results estimated in pooled samples ranging from 1645 to more than 80 000 individuals, 2-fold increments in circulating levels of C-reactive protein and soluble interleukin-1 receptor levels were associated with a 10% reduction and a 6% increase in the lifetime odds of developing schizophrenia.

Meaning  We found that blockade of interleukin-6 effects and low C-reactive protein levels might increase schizophrenia risk, possibly due to increased susceptibility to early life infection.


Importance  Positive associations between inflammatory biomarkers and risk of psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, have been reported in observational studies. However, conventional observational studies are prone to bias, such as reverse causation and residual confounding, thus limiting our understanding of the effect (if any) of inflammatory biomarkers on schizophrenia risk.

Objective  To evaluate whether inflammatory biomarkers have an effect on the risk of developing schizophrenia.

Design, Setting, and Participants  Two-sample mendelian randomization study using genetic variants associated with inflammatory biomarkers as instrumental variables to improve inference. Summary association results from large consortia of candidate gene or genome-wide association studies, including several epidemiologic studies with different designs, were used. Gene-inflammatory biomarker associations were estimated in pooled samples ranging from 1645 to more than 80 000 individuals, while gene-schizophrenia associations were estimated in more than 30 000 cases and more than 45 000 ancestry-matched controls. In most studies included in the consortia, participants were of European ancestry, and the prevalence of men was approximately 50%. All studies were conducted in adults, with a wide age range (18 to >80 years).

Exposures  Genetically elevated circulating levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), interleukin-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1Ra), and soluble interleukin-6 receptor (sIL-6R).

Main Outcomes and Measures  Risk of developing schizophrenia. Individuals with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorders were included as cases. Given that many studies contributed to the analyses, different diagnostic procedures were used.

Results  The pooled odds ratio estimate using 18 CRP genetic instruments was 0.90 (random effects 95% CI, 0.84-0.97; P = .005) per 2-fold increment in CRP levels; consistent results were obtained using different mendelian randomization methods and a more conservative set of instruments. The odds ratio for sIL-6R was 1.06 (95% CI, 1.01-1.12; P = .02) per 2-fold increment. Estimates for IL-1Ra were inconsistent among instruments, and pooled estimates were imprecise and centered on the null.

Conclusions and Relevance  Under mendelian randomization assumptions, our findings suggest a protective effect of CRP and a risk-increasing effect of sIL-6R (potentially mediated at least in part by CRP) on schizophrenia risk. It is possible that such effects are a result of increased susceptibility to early life infection.

Beautiful Bugs, Bothersome Bugs, and FUN Bugs: Examining Human Interactions with Insects and Other Arthropods

Beautiful Bugs, Bothersome Bugs, and FUN Bugs: Examining Human Interactions with Insects and Other Arthropods. Nathan J. Shipley & Robert D. Bixler. Anthrozoƶs, Volume 30, 2017 - Issue 3, Pages 357-372.

ABSTRACT: Because the ostensible majority of incidental human–insect (and other arthropods) interactions are negative, any interest in non-pretty “bugs” appears to be inherently demotivated. Three complementary studies explored US college students’ perceptions, knowledge, and experiences of insects to better understand folk classifications and to identify potentially new ways to present them to motivate human interest. Study 1, an open-ended survey (n = 236), found that knowledge of insects is limited to a mean of 13 insects. Of these 13 insects, most were also dichotomized as liked (beautiful bugs) or disliked (bothersome bugs). The second study, using semi-structured interviews (n = 60), revealed similar categories as found in the first study, providing further details about positive and negative perceptions of, attitudes to, and types of experiences people have with, insects and other closely related arthropods. The last study (n = 200) used a paired forced-choice scale with 10 silhouettes of insects and related arthropods to replicate and expand the findings from the first two studies. This study tested whether respondents would report interest in novel and unknown arthropods over commonly known and preferred ones. The results indicate little knowledge of the diversity of insects among a young, elite, middle-class sample of college students and the existence of two robust but small folk categories of insects/arthropods (beautiful, bothersome). Results from the third study indicated there is a group of potentially fascinating unfamiliar (FUN) insects/arthropods/bugs that could evoke interest if people were simply exposed to them. Implications for informal recreation and educational programming and a research agenda are presented.

Keywords: bug, human dimensions of insects, human–insect interactions, insects, natural history, STEM

We often believe that omitting information is more ethical than telling a prosocial lie, whereas targets often believe otherwise

Levine, E., Hart, J., Moore, K., Rubin, E., Yadav, K., & Halpern, S. (2017). The Surprising Costs of Silence: Asymmetric Preferences for Prosocial Lies of Commission and Omission. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,

Abstract: Across 7 experiments (N = 3883), we demonstrate that communicators and targets make egocentric moral judgments of deception. Specifically, communicators focus more on the costs of deception to them—for example, the guilt they feel when they break a moral rule—whereas targets focus more on whether deception helps or harms them. As a result, communicators and targets make asymmetric judgments of prosocial lies of commission and omission: Communicators often believe that omitting information is more ethical than telling a prosocial lie, whereas targets often believe the opposite. We document these effects within the context of health care discussions, employee layoffs, and economic games, among both clinical populations (i.e., oncologists and cancer patients) and lay people. We identify moderators and downstream consequences of this asymmetry. We conclude by discussing psychological and practical implications for medicine, management, behavioral ethics, and human communication.

Implicit ambivalence of significant others: Significant others trigger positive and negative evaluations

Zayas V, Surenkok G, Pandey G. Implicit ambivalence of significant others: Significant others trigger positive and negative evaluations. Soc Personal Psychol Compass. 2017;11:e12360.

Abstract: Despite the rich literature on implicit partner evaluations, there has been scant attention to a defining feature of significant other mental representations—their affective complexity. Recent findings (Zayas & Shoda, 2015), however, provide an empirical demonstration that significant others automatically and simultaneously activate positive and negative evaluations—a phenomenon we refer to as implicit ambivalence. A primary aim of this paper is to extend extant theory by elaborating on the features of the dyadic context that may contribute to the formation of implicit ambivalence. Particularly, drawing from research from relationship science, social cognition, and social neuroscience, we focus on the ability of significant others to dynamically and simultaneously confer rewards and threats, the attunement of perceivers to potential social rewards and social threats, and aspects of sense-making of another person's mind that may give rise to implicit ambivalence. From this new perspective, implicit ambivalence is not a pathological or rare state. Quite the opposite, implicit ambivalence may be a normative, typical process, that is triggered even by people who are highly positive in one's network. We identify future directions for social cognition and relationship science.

Steven Koonin's Review of the Climate Science Special Report, Nov 2017

A Deceptive New Report on Climate.

True, the U.S. has had more heat waves in recent years—but no more than a century ago.
Wall Street Journal, Nov. 2, 2017

The world’s response to climate changing under natural and human influences is best founded upon a complete portrayal of the science. The U.S. government’s Climate Science Special Report, to be released Friday, does not provide that foundation. Instead, it reinforces alarm with incomplete information and highlights the need for more-rigorous review of climate assessments.

A team of some 30 authors chartered by the U.S. Global Change Research Program began work in spring 2016 on the report, “designed to be an authoritative assessment of the science of climate change.” An early draft was released for public comment in January and reviewed by the National Academies this spring. I, together with thousands of other scientists, had the opportunity to scrutinize and discuss the final draft when it was publicized in August by the New York Times . While much is right in the report, it is misleading in more than a few important places.

One notable example of alarm-raising is the description of sea-level rise, one of the greatest climate concerns. The report ominously notes that while global sea level rose an average 0.05 inch a year during most of the 20th century, it has risen at about twice that rate since 1993. But it fails to mention that the rate fluctuated by comparable amounts several times during the 20th century. The same research papers the report cites show that recent rates are statistically indistinguishable from peak rates earlier in the 20th century, when human influences on the climate were much smaller. The report thus misleads by omission.

This isn’t the only example of highlighting a recent trend but failing to place it in complete historical context. The report’s executive summary declares that U.S. heat waves have become more common since the mid-1960s, although acknowledging the 1930s Dust Bowl as the peak period for extreme heat. Yet buried deep in the report is a figure showing that heat waves are no more frequent today than in 1900. This artifice also appeared in the government’s 2014 National Climate Assessment, which emphasized a post-1980 increase in hurricane power without discussing the longer-term record. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently stated that it has been unable to detect any human impact on hurricanes.

Such data misrepresentations violate basic scientific norms. In his celebrated 1974 “Cargo Cult” lecture, the late Richard Feynman admonished scientists to discuss objectively all the relevant evidence, even that which does not support the narrative. That’s the difference between science and advocacy.

These deficiencies in the new climate report are typical of many others that set the report’s tone. Consider the different perception that results from “sea level is rising no more rapidly than it did in 1940” instead of “sea level rise has accelerated in recent decades,” or from “heat waves are no more common now than they were in 1900” versus “heat waves have become more frequent since 1960.” Both statements in each pair are true, but each alone fails to tell the full story.

Several actions are warranted. First, the report should be amended to describe the history of sea-level rise, heat waves and other trends fully and accurately. Second, the government should convene a “Red/Blue” adversarial review to stress-test the entire report, as I urged in April. Critics argue such an exercise would be superfluous given the conventional review processes, and others have questioned even the minimal time and expense that would be involved. But the report’s deficiencies demonstrate why such a review is necessary.

Finally, the institutions involved in the report should figure out how and why such shortcomings survived multiple rounds of review. How, for example, did the National Academies’ review committee conclude that the chapter on sea level rise “accurately reflects the current scientific literature on this topic”? The Academies building prominently displays Einstein’s dictum “one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true.”

Mr. Koonin was undersecretary of energy for science during President Obama’s first term and is director of the Center for Urban Science and Progress at New York University.

Should we love robots? – The most liked qualities of companion dogs and how they can be implemented in social robots

Should we love robots? – The most liked qualities of companion dogs and how they can be implemented in social robots. Veronika Konok et al. Computers in Human Behavior,

•    people’s attitude toward dogs is better than toward robots
•    having emotions, personality and showing attachment are the main advantages of dogs
•    respondents show high agreement about the behavioral manifestation of preferred qualities
•    we give a behavioral protocol for roboticists to design social robots


In the future, robots may live with users as long-term companions, thus it is important that some sort of attachment relationship develop between humans and agents. Man’s best friend the dog provides a model for investigating what makes a heterospecific companion a lovable social partner.

Thus, we studied people’s attitudes toward dogs and robots comparatively, with a special focus on those features in dogs that cause people to accept them in their homes and love them. Additionally, we explored from what kind of behaviors people infer these qualities.

We found that people’s attitude toward robots is much more negative than towards dogs. Having emotions, personality and showing attachment were the most frequently reported advantages of dogs. Respondents showed high agreement about the behavioral manifestation of these qualities, which are necessary for engineers to be able to implement such advantages into the social robots’ programs.

Based on our results, in the future roboticists may supply social robots with these preferred qualities, which will aid in the designing of successful social robots.

Keywords: human-robot interaction; dog; robot; attitudes; ethorobotics

When owners were asked about what they like least about their dog (Q4), the most frequent responses were stubbornness (28%), aggression (19%) and barking (10%). Interestingly, none of the owners would replace their own dogs with one from the same breed, age and sex, which is free from the unwanted features (Q5).

Group longevity as a function of its size in agricultural societies -- groups of 50, 150 and 500 people are near optimal

Optimising human community sizes. R.I.M. Dunbar, R. Sosis. Evolution and Human Behavior,

Abstract: We examine community longevity as a function of group size in three historical, small scale agricultural samples. Community sizes of 50, 150 and 500 are disproportionately more common than other sizes; they also have greater longevity. These values mirror the natural layerings in hunter-gatherer societies and contemporary personal networks. In addition, a religious ideology seems to play an important role in allowing larger communities to maintain greater cohesion for longer than a strictly secular ideology does. The differences in optimal community size may reflect the demands of different ecologies, economies and social contexts, but, as yet, we have no explanation as to why these numbers seem to function socially so much more effectively than other values.

Keywords: Small scale societies; Fractal layering; Hutterites; C19th utopian communities; Kibbutz