Saturday, May 16, 2020

Despite significant partisan splits on most issues, Democrats and Republicans converge on widespread reluctance to use smartphone contact tracing apps

Zhang, Baobao, Sarah E. Kreps, and Nina McMurry. 2020. “Americans' Perceptions of Privacy and Surveillance in the COVID-19 Pandemic.” OSF Preprints. May 13. doi:10.31219/

Abstract: As COVID-19 continues to spread, public health authorities have implemented or plan to implement smartphone apps to supplement traditional contact tracing. Experts suggest that at least 60% of the public would need to use these apps for them to be effective at limiting the spread of COVID-19. Yet fears that these apps would violate users' privacy by expanding governments' and tech companies' surveillance capacity may limit adoption. We study Americans' attitudes toward smartphone contact tracing apps and public health surveillance policies using a large, nationally representative survey of U.S. adults (N=2,612). We find widespread reluctance among the public: support for contact tracing apps is lower than for expanding traditional contact tracing or introducing new measures like temperature checks and centralized quarantine. Using a conjoint analysis experiment embedded in the survey, we find that privacy-preserving features, including non-location tracking and decentralized data storage, increases the public's acceptance of contact tracing apps. Within the population, those with pre-existing health conditions or who know someone who had been COVID-19 positive were more likely to support the tool, suggesting that support will grow as cases increase. Despite significant partisan splits on most issues, Democrats and Republicans converge on levels of support for contact tracing apps, suggesting that bipartisan elite cues could work to augment support. Overall, we found sizable amounts of concern about privacy and misunderstanding about the technology used. Public education campaigns are much needed before states deploy contact tracing apps.

Pressure testing your research: On the need of having a red team

Pandemic researchers — recruit your own best critics. DaniĆ«l Lakens. Nature, May 11 2020.
To guard against rushed and sloppy science, build pressure testing into your research.

As researchers rush to find the best ways to quell the COVID-19 crisis, they want to get results out ultra-fast. Preprints — public but unvetted studies — are getting lots of attention. But even their advocates are seeing a problem. To keep up the speed of research and reduce sloppiness, scientists must find ways to build criticism into the process.

Finding ways to prove ourselves wrong is a scientific ideal, but it is rarely scientific practice. Openness to critiques is nowhere near as widespread as researchers like to think. Scientists rarely implement procedures to receive and incorporate pushback. Most formal mechanisms are tied to the peer-review and publishing system. With preprints, the boldest peers will still criticize the work, but only after mistakes are made and, often, widely disseminated.

An initial version of a recent preprint by researchers at Stanford University in California estimated that COVID-19’s fatality rate was 0.12–0.2% (E. Bendavid et al. Preprint at medrXiv; 2020). This low estimate was removed from a subsequent version, but it had already received widespread attention and news coverage. Many immediately pointed out flaws in how the sample was obtained and the statistics were calculated. Everyone would have benefited if the team had received this criticism before the data were collected and the results were shared.

It is time to adopt a ‘red team’ approach in science that integrates criticism into each step of the research process. A red team is a designated ‘devil’s advocate’ charged to find holes and errors in ongoing work and to challenge dominant assumptions, with the goal of improving project quality. The team has a role similar to that of ‘white-hat hackers’ hired in the software industry to identify security flaws before they can be discovered and exploited by malefactors. Similarly, teams of scientists should engage with red teams at each phase of a research project and incorporate their criticism. The logic is similar to the Registered Report publication system — in which protocols are reviewed before the results are known — except that criticism is not organized by journals. Ideally, there is a larger amount of speedier communication between researchers and their red team than peer review allows, resulting in higher-quality preprints and submissions for publication.

Even scientists who invite criticism from a red team acknowledge that it is difficult not to become defensive. The best time for scrutiny is before you have fallen in love with your results. And the more important the claims, the more scrutiny they deserve. The scientific process needs to incorporate methods to include ‘severe’ tests that will prove us wrong when we really are wrong.

An example of a large-scale collaboration that applies a red-team approach is the Psychological Science Accelerator (PSA), a global network of more than 500 psychology laboratories. The PSA has solicited research projects on questions related to the COVID-19 pandemic and has offered to assist with data collection. Projects range from effective risk communication to cognitive-reappraisal interventions. After researchers develop protocols, the PSA assembles a red team of experts in research ethics, measurement, data analysis and the project’s field to offer criticism and to allow researchers to revise their protocols.

I reviewed one of these protocols after it had been submitted to a journal. I later saw the PSA reviews and learnt that I had repeated many criticisms, such as the generalizability of the stimulus and flexibility of the data analysis, that the red team had made — and that the researchers had opted to ignore.

This shows that assembling a red team isn’t enough: research teams need to commit to addressing criticism from the outset. Sometimes, this is straightforward — items on checklists are absent from a proposal, or an independent statistical analysis yields different results, for example. Usually, it will be less clear whether criticism merits changing a protocol or including a caveat. The key is that, when results are presented, the team transparently communicates the criticism that the red team raised. (Perhaps incorporated criticism could be listed in the methods section of a paper, and unincorporated criticism in the limitations.) This will show how severely a claim has been tested.

Pushback on each step of a research project should be recognized as valuable quality control and adherence to scientific values. Ideally, a research team could recruit their own red team from group members not immediately involved in the project.

Incentives for red teams in science deserve special consideration. A red team might identify major flaws that mean a study should not proceed, so including a team member as a co-author on a future publication by the group would be a conflict of interest. In the computer-security industry, a red team is often paid if it uncovers serious errors. Computer scientist Donald Knuth famously gave out ‘bug bounties’ to people who uncovered technical errors in his published work. (Recipients often kept the small cheques as souvenirs, suggesting that social credit works as an incentive.) To investigate incentivized criticism, my group is now recruiting red-team members and offering financial rewards (

With research moving faster than ever, scientists should invest in reducing their own bias and allowing others to transparently evaluate how much pushback their ideas have been subjected to. A scientific claim is as reliable as only the most severe criticism it has been able to withstand.

This paper examines the impact of the U.S. fracking boom on local STI transmission rates and prostitution activity as measured by online prostitution review counts

Fracking and Risky Sexual Activity. Scott Cunningham, Gregory DeAngelo, Brock Smith. Journal of Health Economics, May 15 2020, 102322.

Abstract: This paper examines the impact of the U.S. fracking boom on local STI transmission rates and prostitution activity as measured by online prostitution review counts. We first document significant and robust positive effects on gonorrhea rates in fracking counties at the national level. But we find no evidence that fracking increases prostitution when using our national data, suggesting sex work may not be the principal mechanism linking fracking to gonorrhea growth. To explore mechanisms, we then focus on remote, high-fracking production areas that experienced large increases in sex ratios due to male in-migration. For this restricted sample we find enhanced gonorrhea transmission effects and moderate evidence of extensive margin effects on prostitution markets. This study highlights public health concerns relating to economic shocks and occupational conditions that alter the local demographic composition.

JEL classification: I12 I15 Q33 Q35

Sleepers Selectively Suppress Informative Inputs during REM: Informative speech is selectively processed over meaningless speech, & selectively suppressed during eye movements in REM

Koroma et al., Sleepers Selectively Suppress Informative Inputs during Rapid Eye Movements, Current Biology (2020),

* A neural decoder tracks speech processing in a cocktail party paradigm during sleep
* Speech is encoded in cortical activity during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep
* Informative speech is selectively processed over meaningless speech during REM sleep
* Informative speech is on the contrary selectively suppressed during eye movements within REM

SUMMARY: Sleep leads to a disconnection from the external world. Even when sleepers regain consciousness during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, little, if any, external information is incorporated into dream content [1–3]. While gating mechanisms might be at play to avoid interference on dreaming activity [4], a total disconnection from an ever-changing environment may prevent the sleeper from promptly responding to informative events (e.g., threat signals). In fact, a whole range of neural responses to external events turns out to be preserved during REM sleep [5–9]. Thus, it remains unclear whether external inputs are either processed or, conversely, gated during REM sleep. One way to resolve this issue is to consider the specific impact of eye movements (EMs) characterizing REM sleep. EMs are a reliable predictor of reporting a dream upon awakening [10, 11], and their absence is associated with a lower arousal threshold to external stimuli [12]. We thus hypothesized that the presence of EMs would selectively prevent the processing of informative stimuli, whereas periods of REM sleep devoid of EMs would be associated with the monitoring of external signals. By reconstructing speech in a multi-talker environment from electrophysiological responses, we show that informative speech is amplified over meaningless speech during REM sleep. Yet, at the precise timing of EMs, informative speech is, on the contrary, selectively suppressed. These results demonstrate the flexible amplification and suppression of sensory information during REM sleep and reveal the impact of EMs on the selective gating of informative stimuli during sleep.

Metaanalysis: Moderate effect of prosocial modeling in eliciting subsequent helping behavior; effect was larger after witnessing the model's generosity & in studies with higher percentage of females

Jung, H., Seo, E., Han, E., Henderson, M. D., & Patall, E. A. (2020). Prosocial modeling: A meta-analytic review and synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, May 2020.

Abstract: Exposure to prosocial models is commonly used to foster prosocial behavior in various domains of society. The aim of the current article is to apply meta-analytic techniques to synthesize several decades of research on prosocial modeling, and to examine the extent to which prosocial modeling elicits helping behavior. We also identify the theoretical and methodological variables that moderate the prosocial modeling effect. Eighty-eight studies with 25,354 participants found a moderate effect (g = 0.45) of prosocial modeling in eliciting subsequent helping behavior. The prosocial modeling effect generalized across different types of helping behaviors, different targets in need of help, and was robust to experimenter bias. Nevertheless, there was cross-societal variation in the magnitude of the modeling effect, and the magnitude of the prosocial modeling effect was larger when participants were presented with an opportunity to help the model (vs. a third-party) after witnessing the model’s generosity. The prosocial modeling effect was also larger for studies with higher percentage of female in the sample, when other people (vs. participants) benefitted from the model’s prosocial behavior, and when the model was rewarded for helping (vs. was not). We discuss the publication bias in the prosocial modeling literature, limitations of our analyses and identify avenues for future research. We end with a discussion of the theoretical and practical implications of our findings.

The meaning of meat: (Un)sustainable eating practices at home and out of home

The meaning of meat: (Un)sustainable eating practices at home and out of home. Gesa Biermann, Henrike Rau. Appetite, May 15 2020, 104730.

• Our findings suggest that few people eat sustainably in all settings.
• Eating practices at home and out of home differ in their environmental impact.
• The normative and emotive expectations of eating out and eating at home diverge.
• Meat and eating out are both associated with ‘special’ and ‘treating oneself’.
• Social setting matters: cooking for others at home coincides with increased use of meat.

Abstract: Many sociological accounts of life in the 21st century include reflections on the dissolution of distinctions between the public and private sphere, aided by social media and information technology. In this paper, we argue that everyday practices around the consumption of food continue to display strong home/out-of-home divisions, especially regarding the consumption of meat and its deeply rooted social meanings. Using data from a German online survey on food preparation and consumption practices, we report and critically examine empirical evidence of significant differences between public and private food consumption. In addition to divergent meanings, we pay particular attention to environmental impacts related to the resource implications of eating in or out. For many, eating out in a restaurant means to treat oneself to something special. Cultural links between eating meat and the celebration of special occasions, the role of meat as a signifier of hospitality, and meat consumption as an expression of high social status leads to considerable resource implications for the practice of eating out and hosting guests. This, in turn, throws up interesting questions regarding the (in)effectiveness of sustainable food campaigns, many of which have hitherto ignored the distinction between public and private consumption. We conclude by arguing for strategies that connect the consumption of plant-based dishes to already established social practices such as hosting guests, barbecuing or celebrating special occasions.

Keywords: Food consumptionMeatSustainable dietSocial meaning of foodPractice theoryBehavior change