Friday, August 30, 2019

Evidence from San Francisco's 1994 change in law about Effects of Rent Control Expansion: Rent control prevents displacement of incumbent renters in the short run, but there was a loss of housing supplyin the long run

Diamond, Rebecca, Tim McQuade, and Franklin Qian. 2019. "The Effects of Rent Control Expansion on Tenants, Landlords, and Inequality: Evidence from San Francisco." American Economic Review, 109 (9): 3365-94. DOI: 10.1257/aer.20181289

Abstract: Using a 1994 law change, we exploit quasi-experimental variation in the assignment of rent control in San Francisco to study its impacts on tenants and landlords. Leveraging new data tracking individuals' migration, we find rent control limits renters' mobility by 20 percent and lowers displacement from San Francisco. Landlords treated by rent control reduce rental housing supplies by 15 percent by selling to owner-occupants and redeveloping buildings. Thus, while rent control prevents displacement of incumbent renters in the short run, the lost rental housing supply likely drove up market rents in the long run, ultimately undermining the goals of the law.

Fear in infancy: Lessons from snakes, spiders, heights, and strangers

LoBue, V., & Adolph, K. E. (2019). Fear in infancy: Lessons from snakes, spiders, heights, and strangers. Developmental Psychology, 55(9), 1889-1907.

Abstract: This review challenges the traditional interpretation of infants’ and young children’s responses to three types of potentially “fear-inducing” stimuli—snakes and spiders, heights, and strangers. The traditional account is that these stimuli are the objects of infants’ earliest developing fears. We present evidence against the traditional account, and provide an alternative explanation of infants’ behaviors toward each stimulus. Specifically, we propose that behaviors typically interpreted as “fearful” really reflect an array of stimulus-specific responses that are highly dependent on context, learning, and the perceptual features of the stimuli. We speculate about why researchers so commonly misinterpret these behaviors, and conclude with future directions for studying the development of fear in infants and young children.

Check also Are Humans Prepared to Detect, Fear, and Avoid Snakes? The Mismatch between Laboratory and Ecological Evidence. Carlos M. Coelho et al. Front. Psychol. Aug 28 2019, doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02094.

It’s Not the Media, Stupid: Many in the Western world strongly believe things that are barely ever mentioned in the mainstream media, just as many firmly reject or ignore some of the messages that are repeated incessantly by them

It’s Not the Media, Stupid. Kenneth Newton, August 29 2019. The Political Quarterly,

Abstract: It is commonly believed that the general public is heavily dependent on the media for its political news and views and that, as a consequence, the media exercise a strong influence over public opinion and behaviour. However, many millions in the Western world strongly believe things that are barely ever mentioned in the mainstream media, just as many millions also firmly reject or ignore some of the messages that are repeated incessantly by them. This confirms sixty years of experimental psychology research showing that most individuals are capable of preserving their beliefs, even in the face of overwhelming evidence, argument and logic to the contrary. Consistent with this, political science research finds little evidence of strong media influence on the party voting, political attitudes and election agendas of citizens. They have their own ways of gathering political information about the world around them, and they do not necessarily believe what they read in the papers, unless they are so inclined to start with. Consequently, media influences on mass opinion and behaviour are weaker than commonly assumed and, such as they are, their effects are more beneficial than harmful for democracy.


Surveys in the USA and UK estimate that some 15 per cent of the population pays little or no attention to the news media, although this may not prevent them from holding strong opinions about the issues of the day. Those who receive news will not necessarily believe it, and those who believe it will not necessarily interpret it in the same way. Those who interpret it in the same way will not necessarily act upon it in the same way. Added to this is the fact that different media present different news in different ways and from different perspectives, so there is no single, common set of media effects but a variety of them, some negative, some positive, some weak, some strong, some reinforcing consumer opinion, some used by consumers to reinforce their own opposing views. Moreover, the news media are not the only source of news and opinion, and in some cases may not be the most important, the most trusted or have the biggest impact. In other words, there is a long chain of causation running between what the media produce and public opinion and behaviour, and in many instances, the links are broken or splay out along different paths, with different consequences. The result is millions of news avoiders, accepters, deniers and ignorers, which turns the spotlight on what people do with the news they receive according to their pre‐exiting values, opinions, backgrounds and circumstances.
The result is that media effects on political attitudes and behaviour are usually, not always, weak and patchy or too small to measure. What turns up in most media effects research are the factors of the standard model of the social sciences that explains most forms of public attitudes and behaviour. The standard model usually includes age, sex, education, income, social status, ethnicity and employment status. Where politics are concerned, it also includes political interest and values, which, in turn, influence how much attention citizens pay to the news, what news sources they prefer and, most important, how they react to the news they receive see, hear and read. When the variables of the standard model are taken into account, media effects are usually, but not always, found to be insubstantial, statistically insignificant or weak.
None of this will come as a surprise to a large battalion of psychologists who have conducted laboratory experiments on belief preservation and cognitive bias, nor to an army of other social scientists who use the standard model, rather than media variables, to explain public opinion and behaviour. On top of this, while we depend upon the news for some sorts of political information, having no first‐hand experience of the matter, there are many other aspects of public policy and public services which we rub up against in everyday life. Some research suggests that real‐world experience, including political talk with others, has a bigger impact on what people think and do—either on its own or in conjunction with media reports about it. However, because it is so readily assumed that we depend upon the news for our news, there is rather little research on other sources of news and opinion.
The claims made about media influence in this article are of more than academic interest, for as long as we continue to shoot the messengers, we will not come to grips with the real drivers of mass attitudes and behaviour. In general, it makes little sense to blame the media for the ills and ailments of modern government and politics, in spite of all the self‐evident deficiencies of large parts of the news media. Just as President Clinton pointed to the state of the American economy to explain his election success, so also and for the same reasons, the media are not the main drivers behind Trump, Brexit, racism, sexism, populism, xenophobia, intolerance, greed, self‐centredness and materialism. These things cannot be tackled as long as we continue to assume that others believe everything they read in the papers. For better or worse, the public has its own way of making up its mind about many of the most important issues of the day, and this way is rooted in the social backgrounds, present circumstances and opinions of individuals and groups in society. As Clinton might have said, ‘It’s the economy, not the media, stupid’.

Effects of the personality characteristics of Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy (the Dark Triad) on political ambition: Those traits are significantly related to ambition

The Dark Triad and nascent political ambition. Rolfe Daus Peterson & Carl L. Palmer. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, Aug 29 2019.

ABSTRACT: This research considers the effects of the personality characteristics of Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy (labeled the Dark Triad) on political ambition. Research on nascent ambition has shown that individuals who express political ambition differ by social background, gender, and personality. Using original survey research, our analyses find that Dark Triad traits are significantly related to ambition. Respondents who score higher in Machiavellianism are more likely to have higher political ambition, more likely to enjoy the specific aspects of campaigning, and more likely to predict they will be successful candidates. While narcissism is related to feeling qualified and thinking about running for political office, individuals scoring higher in narcissism are less likely to express interest in the specific work of political campaigning. The results have implications for understanding the traits that drive political ambition and how the body politic gets the politicians it needs, though possibly not the politicians it wants.

Since MODIS began collecting measurements we found a decrease in the total area burned each year: Between 2003 & 2019, that number has dropped by roughly 25 pct

Building a Long-Term Record of Fire. Adam Voiland. NASA, August 21, 2019.

[full text, graphs, links, etc., at the link above]

Editor’s Note: Read more about studying Earth’s fires with satellites in Part 1. This story was written as part of the 20th anniversary celebration of this website.

The control of fire is a goal that may well be as old as humanity, but the systematic monitoring of fire on a global scale is a much newer capability.

In the 1910s, the U.S. Forest Service began building fire lookout towers on mountain peaks in order to detect distant fires. A few decades later, fire-spotting airplanes flew onto the scene. Then in the early 1980s, satellites began to map fires over large areas from the vantage point of space.

Over time, researchers have built a rich and textured record of Earth’s fire activity and are now able to analyze decadal trends. “The pace of discovery has increased dramatically during the satellite era,” said James Randerson, a scientist at the University of California, Irvine. “Having high-quality, daily observations of fires available on a global scale has been critical.”

The animation above shows the locations of actively burning fires on a monthly basis for nearly two decades. The maps are based on observations from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. The colors are based on a count of the number (not size) of fires observed within a 1,000-square-kilometer area. White pixels show the high end of the count—as many as 30 fires in a 1,000-square-kilometer area per day. Orange pixels show as many as 10 fires, while red areas show as few as 1 fire per day.

[December 1, 2014 - August 31, 2015]

The sequence highlights the rhythms—both natural and human-caused—in global fire activity. Bands of fire sweep across Eurasia, North America, and Southeast Asia as farmers clear and maintain fields in April and May. Summer brings new activity in boreal and temperate forests in North America and Eurasia due to lighting-triggered fires burning in remote areas. In the tropical forests of South America and equatorial Asia, fires flare up in August, September, and October as people make use of the dry season to clear rainforest and savanna, as well as stop trees and shrubs from encroaching on already cleared land. Few months pass in Australia without large numbers of fires burning somewhere on the continent’s vast grasslands, savannas, and tropical forests.

But it is Africa that is truly the fire continent. On an average day in August, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometers (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua and Terra satellites detect 10,000 actively burning fires around the world—and 70 percent them happen in Africa. Huge numbers of blazes spring up in the northern part of continent in December and January. A half year later, the burning has shifted south. Indeed, global fire emissions typically peak in August and September, coinciding with the main fire seasons of the Southern Hemisphere, particularly Africa. (High activity in temperate and boreal forests in the Northern Hemisphere in the summer also contribute.)

[Photo August 29, 2018]

The second animation underscores how much fire activity shifts seasonally by highlighting burning activity during December 2014, April 2015, and August 2015. The satellite image above shows smoke rising from the savanna of northern Zambia on August 29, 2018, around the time global emissions reach their maximum.

Though Africa dominates in the sheer number of fires, fires seasons there are pretty consistent from year-to-year. The most variable fire seasons happen elsewhere, such as the tropical forests of South America and equatorial Asia. In these areas, the severity of fire season is often linked to cycles of El Niño and La Niña. The buildup of warm water in the eastern Pacific during an El Niño changes atmospheric patterns and reduces rainfall over many rainforests, allowing them to burn more easily and widely.

[animation Aug 2015]

Despite the vast quantities of carbon released by fires in savannas, grasslands, and boreal forests, research shows that fires in these biomes do not generally add carbon to the atmosphere in the long term. The regrowth of vegetation or the creation of charcoal typically recaptures all of the carbon within months or years. However, when fires permanently remove trees or burn through peat (a carbon-rich fuel that can take centuries to form), little carbon is recaptured and the atmosphere sees a net increase in CO2.

That is why outbreaks of fire in countries with large amounts of peat, such as Indonesia, have an outsized effect on global climate. Fires in equatorial Asia account for just 0.6 percent of global burned area, yet the region accounts for 8 percent of carbon emissions and 23 percent of methane emissions. On October, 25, 2015, the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera aboard the DSCOVR satellite acquired an image (below) of heavy smoke over Indonesia; El Niño was particularly active at the time.

[photo October 15, 2015]

One of the most interesting things researchers have discovered since MODIS began collecting measurements, noted Randerson, is a decrease in the total number of square kilometers burned each year. Between 2003 and 2019, that number has dropped by roughly 25 percent.

As populations have increased in fire-prone regions of Africa, South America, and Central Asia, grasslands and savannas have become more developed and converted into farmland. As a result, long-standing habits of burning grasslands (to clear shrubs and land for cattle or other reasons) have decreased, explained NASA Goddard Space Flight scientist Niels Andela. And instead of using fire, people increasingly use machines to clear crops.

“There are really two separate trends,” said Randerson. “Even as the global burned area number has declined because of what is happening in savannas, we are seeing a significant increase in the intensity and reach of fires in the western United States because of climate change.”

[global burned area 2003 - 2015]

When researchers began using satellites to study the world’s fires in the 1980s, they were just sorting out the basics of how to detect fires from space. Now after mining MODIS data for nearly two decades, scientists are looking ahead to other satellites and technologies that they hope will advance the study of fire in the coming years.

A series of follow-on sensors called the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP and NOAA-20 satellites now make near-real time observations of emissions that are even more accurate than those from MODIS because of improved fire detections along the edge of the edges of images, noted Andela.

Meanwhile, the launch of satellites with higher-resolution sensors is also helping. “The Landsat 8 and Sentinel satellites, in particular, are contributing to a revolution in our ability to measure the burned area of small grassland and forest fires,” said Randerson. “And we are going to need additional detection capabilities in the coming years to track increasingly destructive mega fires during all times of day and night.”

NASA Earth Observatory images by Lauren Dauphin, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS/LANCE and GIBS/Worldview. Story by Adam Voiland.

References & Resources

    Andela, N. et al. (2017) A human-driven decline in global burned area. Science, 356 (6345), 1356-1362.
    Chen, Y. et al. (2017) A pan-tropical cascade of fire driven by El Niño/Southern Oscillation. Nature Climate Change, 7, 906-911.
    Giglio, L. et al. (2006) Global distribution and seasonality of active fires as observed with the Terra and Aqua Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensors. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences 111, G2.
    Giglio, L. et al. (2006) Global estimation of burned area using MODIS active fire observations. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics 9, 957-974.
    Jones, S. et al. (2017) Advances in the Remote Sensing of Active Fires: A Review. Accessed August 20, 2019.
    Korontzi, S. et al. (2006) Global distribution of agricultural fires in croplands from 3 years of Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) data. Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 2 (20).
    NASA Earthdata (2019, August 7) Wildfires Can’t Hide from Earth Observing Satellites. Accessed 20, 2019.
    Turetsky, M. et al. (2015) Global vulnerability of peatlands to fire and carbon loss. Nature Geoscience, 8, 11-14.
    Van der Werf, G. et al. (2017) Global fire emissions estimates during 1997-2016. Earth Syst. Sci. Data, 9, 697-720.

The Earth Observatory is part of the EOS Project Science Office at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

The Relationship Between Individual Differences in Gray Matter Volume and Religiosity and Mystical Experiences: A Pre‐registered Voxel‐based Morphometry Study

The Relationship Between Individual Differences in Gray Matter Volume and Religiosity and Mystical Experiences: A Pre‐registered Voxel‐based Morphometry Study. Michiel van Elk, Lukas Snoek. European Journal of Neuroscience, August 29 2019.

Abstract: The neural substrates of religious belief and experience are an intriguing though contentious topic. Here we had the unique opportunity to establish the relation between validated measures of religiosity and gray matter volume in a large sample of participants (N = 211). In this registered report we conducted a confirmatory Voxel‐Based Morphometry (VBM) analysis to test three central hypotheses regarding the relationship between religiosity and mystical experiences and gray matter volume. The preregisterered hypotheses, analysis plan, preprocessing and analysis code, and statistical brain maps are all available from online repositories. By using a region‐of‐interest (ROI) analysis, we found no evidence that religiosity is associated with a reduced volume of the orbito‐frontal cortex and changes in the structure of the bilateral inferior parietal lobes. Neither did we find support for the notion that mystical experiences are associated with a reduced volume of the hippocampus, the right middle temporal gyrus or with the inferior parietal lobes. A whole‐brain analysis furthermore indicated that no structural brain differences were found in association with religiosity and mystical experiences. We believe that the search for the neural correlates of religious beliefs and experiences should therefore shift focus from studying structural brain differences to a functional and multivariate approach.

Conspiracy theorists are less engaged in traditional left-right politics, have a less clear picture of “what goes with what”; & are associated with antigovernmental orientations and a lack of political efficacy

Conspiratorial Thinking and Political Constraint. Adam M Enders. Public Opinion Quarterly, nfz032, August 26 2019,

Abstract: Recent research on conspiracy beliefs reveals that the general predisposition to believe conspiracy theories cuts across partisan and ideological lines. While this may signify that political orientations have no bearing on conspiratorial reasoning, it also may suggest that conspiracy theorists are simply less engaged in traditional left-right politics. In this manuscript, I consider the relationship between conspiratorial thinking and political constraint, or the extent to which individuals have a clear picture of “what goes with what” with respect to the various objects of the political world. Using the 2012 American National Election Study, I construct a measure of conspiratorial thinking, as well as several operationalizations of both ideological and group-based constraint and ideological thinking. Results show that individuals prone to conspiratorial thinking are less politically constrained—when it comes to both thoughts about issues and feelings about political groups—than their less conspiratorial counterparts. Moreover, conspiratorial thinking is positively associated with antigovernmental orientations and a lack of political efficacy, with conspiracy theorists perceiving a governmental threat to individual rights and displaying a deep skepticism that who one votes for really matters. These findings suggest that conspiratorial thinking may have broader implications for individuals’ basic conceptualization of politics.

Smartphone Nonusers: Associated Sociodemographic and Health Variables

Smartphone Nonusers: Associated Sociodemographic and Health Variables. Eduardo J. Pedrero-Pérez, Sara Morales-Alonso, Ester Rodríguez-Rives, José Manuel Díaz-Olalla, Blanca Álvarez-Crespo, and María Teresa Benítez-Robredo. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, Aug 29 2019.

Abstract: Smartphone abuse and the associated consequences have been intensely studied. However, little attention has been given to the group of people who have a smartphone and yet barely use it. One might think that they are at the opposite end of abuse, both behaviorally and in relation to the consequences. This study aims to establish sociodemographic variables and health indicators for smartphone nonusers. A population survey through random stratified sampling in a large city (Madrid, Spain) obtained 6,820 people between 15 and 65 years who own a smartphone. About 7.5 percent (n = 511) stated they do not use their smartphone regularly. This group comprised more of men than of women with a higher mean age, underprivileged social class, residence in less-developed districts, and a lower education level. They showed worse mental health indicators, lower perceived quality of life relating to their health, more sedentarism, and greater tendency toward being overweight/obese and a higher feeling of loneliness. When looking at all these variables together, the regression model showed that in addition to sex, age, social class, and education level, the only significantly associated health indicator was a feeling of loneliness. Mobile phone abuse is associated with health problems, but nonregular use does not reflect the opposite. It is important to study the group of nonusers and explore the reasons and related consequences, particularly the role of perceived loneliness, which is paradoxical as a smartphone is a tool that can foster interpersonal contact.

From 2002: Same-Sex Sexual Partner Preference in Hormonally and Neurologically Unmanipulated Animals

Same-Sex Sexual Partner Preference in Hormonally and Neurologically Unmanipulated Animals. Paul L. Vasey. Annual Review of Sex Research, Volume 13, 2002 - Issue 1, Pages 141-179.

Abstract: Proximate and ultimate biological theories for understanding sexual behavior predict that sexual dimorphism in sexual partner preference should be ubiquitous in the animal kingdom. A review of the literature found evidence for same-sex sexual partner preference in a small number of species (female pukekos, cows, domestic rams, female Uganda kobs, female Japanese macaques). Thus, theoretical predictions concerning the development and evolution of sexual partner preference appear to hold true except for a handful of exceptional species. Why individuals in some animal species exhibit same-sex sexual partner preference remains the object of debate. At a proximate level, domestic rams that exhibit same-sex sexual partner preference have been shown to differ in certain aspects of their neurobiology and physiology from rams that do not exhibit such a preference. It remains unclear, however, as to whether these differences are produced by sex-atypical perinatal exposure to androgens and their estrogenic metabolites. At an ultimate level, numerous functional hypotheses for same-sex sexual partner preference have been tested in female Japanese macaques but have failed to receive support. Understanding why same-sex sexual partner preference evolves in some species may involve abandoning a strictly functional perspective and, instead, approaching the issue from the perspective of each species' unique evolutionary history.

Key Words: animals, development, evolution, sexual partner preference