Thursday, September 21, 2023

Chicago was once the "City of the Big Shoulders," the "Freight Handler to the Nation"

Chicago was the "City of the Big Shoulders" in 1914, the "Freight Handler to the Nation" [1]:

Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

Now, the supermarkets leave the city ("Grocery store closures," says his press statement), so the mayor wants the city to own a supermarket:

"All Chicagoans deserve to live near convenient, affordable, healthy grocery options," said Mayor Brandon Johnson in a statement [2]. "A better, stronger, safer future is one where our youth and our communities have access to the tools and resources they need to thrive. My administration is committed to advancing innovative, whole-of-government approaches to address these inequities. I am proud to work alongside partners to take this step in envisioning what a municipally owned grocery store in Chicago could look like."

"The impact of inadequate food retail reaches beyond food access. Grocery stores serve as anchors in communities by employing community members and acting as a catalytic business for nearby commercial activity. Grocery store closures, especially in areas that rely on one grocery store provider, force residents to leave their neighborhoods and spend money outside of their communities to find healthy, affordable, enjoyable food options."



1  Carl Sandburg's Chicago (1914):

2  Mayor Johnson Announces The Exploration Of A Municipally Owned Grocery Store: Exploring a municipally owned grocery store is part of the Johnson administration’s goal of promoting food equity and accessibility for all Chicagoans. Sep 13 2023.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Hopelessly optimistic despite the known evidence... "the remarkable durability of that error paints a more pessimistic picture of human reasoning than we were initially inclined to accept"

We knew this already, although we didn't pay attention, and Tversky & Kahneman certified this before 1974 (Nobel for Kahneman in 2000+ for that work)... The formation and revision of intuitions

Conclusion by these intelligent scholars... "the remarkable durability of that error paints a more pessimistic picture of human reasoning than we were initially inclined to accept"

Abstract: This paper presents 59 new studies (N = 72,310) which focus primarily on the “bat and ball problem.” It documents our attempts to understand the determinants of the erroneous intuition, our exploration of ways to stimulate reflection, and our discovery that the erroneous intuition often survives whatever further reflection can be induced. Our investigation helps inform conceptions of dual process models, as “system 1” processes often appear to override or corrupt “system 2” processes. Many choose to uphold their intuition, even when directly confronted with simple arithmetic that contradicts it – especially if the intuition is approximately correct.

5 Concluding remarks

When we began studying the bat and ball problem, we assumed respondents missed it because they didn't bother to check. Accordingly, we assumed that they'd be able to solve it if we directed their attention to the features of the problem that differentiate it from the problem we thought they were unwittingly solving instead (bat and ball “lite”) or to the constraint the typical answer violates (that the prices differ by 100).

We discovered instead that many respondents maintain the erroneous response in the face of facts that plainly falsify it, even after their attention has been directed to those facts. Although subjects' apparent sensitivity to the size of the heuristic error merits further research, the remarkable durability of that error paints a more pessimistic picture of human reasoning than we were initially inclined to accept; those whose thoughts most require additional deliberation benefit little from whatever additional deliberation can be induced.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Governmental chutzpah at a maximum: Before, insulation was a must, for the homeowner and for the planet; now, to qualify for a heat pump grant you don't need to install loft or cavity wall insulation

Press release: Boost to heat pump rollout with plans for cheaper and easier installation. Department for Energy Security and Net Zero and Lord Callanan, August 31 2023.

Simplified approach to qualifying for a heat pump grant could save consumers time and money, and variable grants will improve access.

Excerpts (my emphasis):

"Homeowners and small businesses could find it cheaper and easier to install heat pumps under new proposals set out today [...].

Proposed measures could mean varying the levels of grants that are made available, depending on the customer’s property type or existing fuel source.

This would make heat pump installations more affordable for even more households and small businesses, enabling them to benefit from low-cost and low-carbon heating.

Households could also save time and money through a simplified approach to qualifying for a heat pump grant by ***removing the need to install loft or cavity wall insulation first***.

These changes will help more homes and businesses move away from costly foreign fossil fuels and onto cleaner, cheaper homegrown energy [...] 


However, to make sure that new homes are zero carbon ready we plan to set the performance standard of the Future Homes Standard at a level which will effectively preclude new homes being built with fossil fuel heating."


My comments & my emphasis:

1  It is sad that the governments put in writing with such ease that they will set performance standards "***at a level which will effectively preclude*** new homes being built with fossil fuel heating," regardless of what the citizen wishes;

It is amazing that, first, your needs or preferences play no part at all on your future, and second, this is done with so much peace of mind and comfort by the bureaucrats.

2  It seems the writer have great confidence in our inability to sum two and two, but we all realize that this plan is an admission that the costs of those systems the lawmaker favors are higher than the old systems' costs. All this gibberish of moving "away from costly foreign fossil fuels and onto cleaner, cheaper homegrown energy" is just that.

You need to add costs in the future gas boilers (via the new performance rules) & reduce costs in the newest systems because if not the citizen and the builders would not make the transition, which will make homes more expensive.

3  Also, supposedly the insulation that until now was mandatory to have had installed before qualifying for the taxpayer discounts (vouchers) was a consumer protection and and environmental must. But now, at the stroke of a pen, with no new law, the requirement is cancelled. What about those non-insulated homes that will make costlier the heat? And what the excess energy spent means to Pachamama's health?

4  In addition, what happens to the grantees that first insulated their homes? Will the taxpayer compensate them for the unnecessary costs?

5  And last... Will someone's head roll for the past lies about how cheaper it was to be to transition to the new systems?

But this is how we humans are. Even more when in power and have the others' lives and freedom at our disposal to play with them, as if we were gods.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

The main reason why people—even introverted people—feel most authentic when they act extraverted is that it feels good

Why is authenticity associated with being and acting extraverted? Exploring the mediating role of positive affect. Joshua A. Wilt,Jessie Sun,Rowan Jacques-Hamilton & Luke D. Smillie. Aug 13 2023.

Abstract: Extraversion is linked to higher levels of authenticity. Why? Across four studies, we examined positive affect as a potential mediator. In Study 1 (N = 205), we tested our mediation model at the trait level. Then, focusing on the within-person state level: Study 2 (N = 97) involved a 10-week lab-based experience sampling protocol; Study 3 (N = 147) involved a preregistered week-long daily-life experience sampling protocol; and Study 4 (N = 129) involved a two-week naturalistic experience sampling protocol. In all four studies, positive affect explained moderate to high proportions of the effects of extraversion on authenticity (Study 1 = 29%, Study 2 = 38%, Study 3 = 87%, Study 4 = 86%). We discuss several theoretical interpretations.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Many studies tout interventions as effective when all that was observed was a rise in self-reported desire to learn more about how to reduce suicide or general knowledge about it; there is scant evidence that most suicide prevention strategies are effective, and the public doesn’t know

McCaffree, Kevin. 2023. “Pulling Back the Curtain on Suicide Research: Understanding Why People Die by Suicide Is a Harder Problem to Solve Than Most Social Scientists Admit.” SocArXiv. August 13.


Suicide researchers often present their research in misleading ways to the public. In this short piece, I pull back the curtain on this behavior and explore why it might occur, and what might be done to improve our knowledge on this critically important issue.

Chapter 9 - On the Randomness of Suicide

Chapter 9 - On the Randomness of Suicide. C. A. Soper , Pablo Malo Ocejo and Matthew M. Large. Current Perspectives on Evolution and Mental Health, pp. 134 - 152

Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022


Converging theoretical and empirical evidence points to suicide being a fundamentally aleatory event – that risk of suicide is opaque to useful assessment at the level of the individual. This chapter presents an integrated evolutionary and clinical argument that the time has come to transcend efforts to categorise peoples’ risk of taking their own lives. A brighter future awaits mental healthcare if the behaviour’s essential non-predictability is understood and accepted. The pain-brain evolutionary theory of suicide predicts inter alia that all intellectually competent humans carry the potential for suicide, and that suicides will occur largely at random. The randomness arises because, over an evolutionary timescale, selection of adaptive defences will have sought out and exploited all operative correlates of suicide and will thus have exhausted those correlates’ predictive power. Completed suicides are therefore statistical residuals – events intrinsically devoid of informational cues by which the organism could have avoided self-destruction. Empirical evidence supports this theoretical expectation. Suicide resists useful prediction at the level of the individual. Regardless of the means by which the assessment is made, people rated ‘high risk’ seldom take their own lives, even over extended periods. Consequently, if a prevention treatment is sufficiently safe and effective to be worth allotting to the ‘high-risk’ subset of a cohort of patients, it will be just as worthwhile for the rest. Prevention measures will offer the greatest prospects for success where the aleatory nature of suicide is accepted, acknowledging that ‘fault’ for rare, near-random, self-induced death resides not within the individual but as a universal human potentiality. A realistic, evolution-informed, clinical approach is proposed that focuses on risk communication in place of risk assessment. All normally sapient humans carry a vanishingly small daily risk of taking their own lives but are very well adapted to avoiding that outcome. Almost all of us nearly always find other solutions to the stresses of living.

Democratic Republic of Congo: CMOC, the Chinese operator of the Tenke-Fungurume mine, agreed in April to pay $800mn to the government to settle a tax dispute (plus an export ban for the previous 10 months)

The new commodity superpowers. Leslie Hook in London, Harry Dempsey in Lualaba Province, and Ciara Nugent in Buenos Aires. Financial Times, Aug 8 2023

In the first part of a series, countries that produce the metals central to the energy transition want to rewrite the rules of mineral extraction

The red-brown landscape of Tenke-Fungurume, one of the world’s largest copper and cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is covered by tens of thousands of dusty sacks.

The bags stacked up by the roadside and piled next to buildings contain a stash of cobalt hydroxide powder equivalent to almost a tenth of the world’s annual consumption — and worth about half a billion dollars.

The haphazard stockpiles of this bright green powder, a key ingredient in electric car batteries, point to how the DRC, the world’s largest producer of cobalt, is starting to flex its muscles when it comes to the metals needed for the energy transition.

CMOC, the Chinese operator of the Tenke-Fungurume mine, agreed in April to pay $800mn to the government to settle a tax dispute which had seen the company slapped with an export ban for the previous 10 months.

And now the DRC government is undertaking a sweeping review of all its mining joint ventures with foreign investors. “We’re not satisfied. None of these contracts create value for us,” says Guy Robert Lukama, head of the DRC’s state-owned mining company Gécamines. He would like to see more jobs, revenue and higher-value mineral activities captured by the DRC.

The new energy order

At the entrance to his office, a cabinet display of highly mineralised rocks makes his point about the riches on offer. Lukama also advocates government intervention to keep cobalt prices high: “Excess of supply needs to be organised properly. Some export quotas will be useful,” he says. 

The DRC is far from alone. As the world moves from an energy system built on fossil fuels to one powered by electricity and renewables, global demand for materials such as copper, cobalt, nickel and lithium is transforming the fortunes of the countries that produce them.

The mining of certain metals is highly concentrated among just a few countries. For cobalt, the DRC accounts for 70 per cent of global mining. In nickel, the top three producers (Indonesia, the Philippines and Russia) account for two-thirds of the market. While for lithium, the top three producers (Australia, Chile and China) account for more than 90 per cent. 

Demand is only going to grow in coming years. Under current plans, none of these key commodities will have enough operating mines by 2030 to build the infrastructure necessary to limit global warming to 1.5C above preindustrial levels, according to the International Energy Agency.

By the end of this decade, the nascent lithium market needs to triple in size, while copper supply will be short by 2.4mn tonnes, it says. 

The growing demand for these commodities is starting to shake up both the economics and the geopolitics of the energy world.

The supply chains for some of these metals are becoming entangled in the rising tensions between the west and China, which dominates processing capacity for lithium, cobalt and rare earths and is considering restricting exports of some materials. Governments from Washington to Brussels to Tokyo are assessing where they can reliably source critical minerals without going through Beijing’s orbit.

This shift is also transforming some smaller and historically under-developed countries into commodity superpowers. And their governments are now intent on rewriting the rules of mineral extraction.

Many are trying to capture more of the value of their minerals, by doing more processing and value-added manufacturing domestically. Some are also attempting to control the supply, by nationalising mineral resources, introducing export controls, and even proposing cartels.

Where once some of these resource-rich countries were victims of exploitation that can date back to colonial times, now they are becoming empowered to take back control of their fates.

Just in the past 12 months, Zimbabwe and Namibia banned exports of raw lithium; Chile increased state control over lithium mining; while Mexico plunged its nascent lithium industry into uncertainty with a new review of mining concessions. Meanwhile, Indonesia added export controls on bauxite (a key ingredient in aluminium) to its pre-existing ban on exports of raw nickel ore.

“Every government will seek a deal with the mining industry that’s a fair one, that is a winner for the country and the winner for the industry,” says Jakob Stausholm, chief executive of Rio Tinto, which has itself recently been to the negotiating table in Chile and in Mongolia.

While he dismisses the idea that rising “nationalism” is behind this, he does acknowledge there has been a change. “It’s probably going to be more and more difficult just to mine and extract and export; very often a nation wants to have some processing facilities associated with the mining.”

The subtle shift in power towards the producers of sought-after battery metals is similar to other commodities shifts of the past, like the rise of coal during 19th century or the rise of tin during the 20th. But how far will producers go to take advantage of this moment? And how long can they make it last?

Indonesia’s opportunity

The poster child for harnessing value from materials is Indonesia, which produces nearly half of the world’s nickel, a key ingredient in electric car batteries.

Years of export controls on raw nickel have already succeeded in building an extensive domestic smelting industry, as well as battery plants and several electric vehicle factories. 

After the country banned exports of raw nickel in 2014, it attracted more than $15bn of foreign investment in nickel processing, primarily from China. Today Indonesia has banned exports of everything from nickel ore to bauxite, with an export ban on copper concentrate coming into effect next year.

Not everyone agrees with these policies, however: the EU has challenged them at the World Trade Organization and won an initial hearing. Indonesia is appealing against the verdict.

But government officials say the country’s efforts to build domestic industry and encourage manufacturing are straight from the same playbook that western countries used a century ago.

“This is not something we are doing out of the blue,” says Investment Minister Bahlil Lahadalia. “We are learning from our developed country counterparts, who in the past have resorted to these unorthodox policies.”

He points to the way the UK banned exports of raw wool during the 16th century, to stimulate its domestic textile industry. Or the US, which used high import taxes during the 19th and 20th centuries to encourage more manufacturing to take place domestically.

Lahadalia wants to take things one step further, by creating an Opec-style cartel to keep prices high for nickel and other battery materials. “Indonesia is studying the possibility to form a similar governance structure [to Opec] with regard to the minerals we have,” he says.

Whether or not that happens, the rise of nickel has certainly given Indonesia a higher profile. When President Joko Widodo, or “Jokowi” as he is typically known, visited the US last year, he met both President Joe Biden in Washington and Tesla CEO Elon Musk in an out-of-the way stopover in Boca Chica, Texas.

Jokowi later said he encouraged Musk to build Tesla’s entire supply chain in the country, “from upstream to downstream.”

Window of opportunity

Not every country will follow the same trajectory as Indonesia, however.

A new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency finds that metals producers will be able to wield influence in the short term, while production is concentrated and demand is growing, but they are unlikely to have the kind of lasting geopolitical power enjoyed by oil and gas producers.

One challenge is that battery metals like lithium are well distributed around the globe — at least in terms of geological reserves, if not in actual mine production. Today’s high lithium prices are making it efficient to develop deposits that were previously too expensive to access, and fuelling the broader expansion of hard-rock lithium mining in places like China and Australia.

An example of how mineral production can shift is lithium mining in South America. Chile is today the region’s dominant producer, but neighbouring Argentina, which has more business-friendly mining policies, could eventually overtake it.

Argentina’s 23 provinces control their own natural resources and have enthusiastically courted mining business. With roughly $9.6bn of lithium investment announced in the past three years, and 38 projects in the pipeline, officials say Argentina’s production should go up six-fold over the next five years.

“Investment in lithium has never stopped and I think that has to do with the fact that we are open to private investment, and with uncertainty about the policies being rolled out in other countries,” says Fernanda Ávila, Argentina’s mining minister.

Argentina’s position as an anomaly among South American lithium-holding countries has helped it attract investment, even as it has dried up in other sectors of the economy amid triple-digit inflation.

While some politicians in South America’s “lithium triangle” — Chile, Argentina and Bolivia — have floated the idea of an Opec-style lithium cartel, Ávila is less than enthusiastic about the idea. Although “we have a very good relationship with our neighbouring countries”, she says, “that’s not a topic that’s on the agenda.”

This is another reason why producing battery metals is different from producing oil: it is very hard to form a successful cartel.

During the 20th century, several key commodities were controlled by cartels. Tin was managed through the International Tin Council from the 1950s to the 1980s — and Indonesia, Bolivia and the then Belgian Congo were all producer members. Likewise coffee producers banded together in a cartel during the 1960s and ‘70s; and natural rubber producers maintained a cartel until the 1990s.

John Baffes, head of the Commodities Unit at the World Bank, who has studied these groups, says successful cartels have three characteristics: a small number of producers, who share a well-defined objective, over a short timetable.

He thinks it will be difficult for battery metals producers to form cartels. “You may have some countries that come together, to create an environment that may be beneficial for them, such as keeping prices high,” says Baffes. “But that will be the seeds of failure, because more entities will come in, from outside of the group.”

The speed at which battery technologies are evolving, and their ingredients changing, could also undercut efforts at cartelisation.

Unlike oil, which is very hard to replace as a fuel source, battery metals have a much higher risk of substitution. The laboratories developing new battery chemistries are constantly evolving their formulas to use less of the metals that are expensive or hard to acquire.

This is already starting to happen with cobalt, which carmakers are trying to reduce in their batteries due to its high cost, as well as concerns about human rights in the DRC.

In a cautionary tale of how quickly the demand outlook can change, the use of cobalt-free batteries in China has surged from 18 per cent of the EV market in 2020, to 60 per cent this year, according to Rho Motion, an EV consultancy. Manganese-rich batteries are also on the horizon, which could further reduce cobalt use.

“One of the consequences of the rise in non-cobalt batteries is that shortages previously forecast for cobalt for around 2024 and 2025 may not materialise,” says Andries Gerbens, a trader at Darton Commodities. “It may suggest cobalt prices remain lower.”

The recent fall in prices of cobalt, nickel and lithium could damp efforts by producer countries to extract more rent and build up domestic manufacturing. After cobalt and lithium experienced a huge price rally in 2021 and 2022, driven primarily by demand from electric vehicle batteries, the market this year has been much calmer.

A slowdown in China’s production of electric vehicles, combined with an increase in production of cobalt hydroxide and lithium carbonate, has brought their prices down 30 per cent and 40 per cent, respectively, during the first six months of the year, according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. 

Veteran miners say this cycle has played out many times before. Resource nationalism tends to increase when commodity prices are high, or when elections are approaching, says Mick Davis, founder of Vision Blue Resources and former chief executive of Xstrata. 

During these times, “[politicians] inevitably try to capture more of the rent than they initially envisioned and agreed,” says Davis. “The result always ends in tears. It means that the development of their mineral resources takes longer and longer to happen.”

Carpe diem

Yet while the cycle still allows producer countries to flex their powers, they are intent on seizing the moment however they can.

Earlier this year Chile, the world’s second-largest lithium producer, announced a plan to semi-nationalise the industry: it will give greater control of two giant lithium mines in the Atacama Desert to a state mining company when the current contracts end in 2030 and 2043, with both those projects and all future ones becoming public-private partnerships.

Chilean President Gabriel Boric said the plan to increase state control of lithium is the best chance Chile has to become a “developed economy” and to distribute wealth in a more just way. “No more ‘mining for the few’. We have to find a way to share the benefits of our country among all Chileans,” he said. 

And many producers are succeeding in taking steps up the value chain, in a bid to create sustainable economic growth. In the DRC, construction of the country’s second copper smelter is under way near the Kamoa-Kakula copper mine.

Chile, meanwhile, is offering preferential prices on lithium carbonate to companies who set up value-added lithium projects in the country. The first taker is China’s BYD, one of the world’s largest electric vehicle manufacturers, which announced in April that it would build a lithium cathode factory in northern Chile, with 500 jobs expected in the investment phase.

Argentina is set to open a small lithium ion battery factory — Latin America’s first — in September, with a larger plant to follow next year. Owned by state energy research company Y-TEC, the plant in the province of Buenos Aires will use lithium mined in Argentina by US firm Livent to produce the equivalent of 400 EV batteries a year.

Indonesia’s attempts to build out an electric vehicle industry are bearing fruit at an even larger scale. Earlier this year, Ford announced an investment in a multibillion-dollar nickel processing facility. This summer, Hyundai broke ground on a battery plant, its second manufacturing facility in the country.

As the energy transition starts to recast the systems of power and wealth that dominated the 20th century, the new battery metals producers are just getting started. Many see this shift in the power dynamic as a welcome change.

“It is absolutely essential that we rewrite the legacy of the mining industry, so that mineral rich countries can capture more of the economic value,” says Elizabeth Press, director of planning at Irena, and author of the report on critical minerals. “We see a greater awareness from both sides that things cannot continue as they were."

Monday, July 17, 2023

People underestimated how often their romantic partner toyed with the idea of breaking up the relationship

When one's partner wants out: Awareness, attachment anxiety and accuracy. Kenneth Tan, Laura V. Machia, Christopher R. Agnew. European Journal of Social Psychology, July 5 2023.

Abstract: Can a person tell whether their romantic partner wants to break up and, if so, how is such accuracy associated with their own attachment anxiety? We examined these questions by proposing and assessing the construct of perceived partner dissolution consideration (PPDC), including its validity. We then assessed the extent to which partners were accurate in their perceptions of each other's dissolution consideration, focusing on the perceiver's attachment anxiety as a potential moderator. Specifically, in two studies involving couples, dyadic analyses of couple data showed that couple members significantly underestimated (negative mean-level bias) partner dissolution consideration and also projected their own dissolution consideration onto their partners. Couple members higher in anxiety were particularly accurate (tracking accuracy) in their assessments of dissolution consideration. Implications for partner perceptions and judgements of dissolution consideration on relationship functioning are considered.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

People cling to ideas they already know at the expense of fresh ideas, regardless of the true quality of the idea

Greul A, Schweisfurth TG, Raasch C (2023) Does familiarity with an idea bias its evaluation? PLoS ONE 18(7): e0286968, Jul 5 2023.

Abstract: Although many organizations strive for radical or disruptive new ideas, many fall short of their goals. We propose that a primary reason for this failure is rooted in the individuals responsible for innovation: while they seek novel ideas, they prefer familiar ones. While prior research shows that individuals are biased against ideas with high objective novelty, it has overlooked the role of subjective novelty, i.e., the extent to which an idea is novel or unfamiliar to an individual idea evaluator. In this paper, we investigate how such subjective familiarity with an idea shapes idea evaluation in innovation. Drawing on research from psychology and marketing on the mere exposure effect, we argue that familiarity with an idea positively affects the evaluation’s outcome. We present two field studies and one laboratory study that support our hypothesis. This study contributes to the understanding of cognitive biases that affect innovation processes.


Idea evaluation is a crucial step in the innovation process. Understanding the factors that systematically influence evaluation outcomes beyond true quality is key to reducing evaluation errors. We found that familiarity (the opposite of subjective novelty) positively affects idea evaluation–individuals assess ideas more positively if they have been exposed to them before.

Our recent study is in line with existing research on the mere exposure effect, a psychological phenomenon where repeated exposure to a stimulus leads to a more positive attitude towards it [20,32]. Like previous researchers, we find that familiarity, achieved through repeated exposure to a stimulus, increases individuals’ positive evaluations. This reinforcement of earlier findings underscores the robustness of the mere exposure effect across different domains.

What our study adds to this body of knowledge is the application of the mere exposure effect to idea evaluation. We found that individuals evaluate ideas more favorably when they have been exposed to them before. This suggests that the mere exposure effect, previously studied in the context of objects, people, and organizations, extends to abstract concepts such as ideas.

Our recent study extends the body of knowledge on biases in the idea evaluation process, particularly focusing on how the familiarity of ideas influences their assessment. We found that individuals assess ideas more positively if they have been exposed to them before. We built on the body of knowledge on biases in the idea evaluation process, which has pointed out that the uncertain nature of the idea evaluation process renders idea evaluation inaccurate. Since the true value of an idea is unknown, evaluators rely on other cues that are available, but that may introduce error and bias into idea evaluation. Existing literature has investigated different factors that represent relevant (and biasing) cues in idea evaluation [15], e.g., characteristics of the idea creator [e.g., 2426], the idea evaluator [e.g., 9,14,24,25,27,28], the idea evaluation context [e.g., 4,9,29,31], and the evaluation target [e.g. 24]. Our paper speaks to this last strand of research and demonstrates that familiarity, the opposite of subjective novelty, positively affects idea evaluation. This suggests that the mere exposure effect is applicable to idea evaluation processes, introducing a new perspective to the existing cues evaluators use.

Implications for research

Our findings inform prior literature in several ways. First, we contribute to the research into idea evaluation in innovation in general [e.g. 2,9,15] by shedding light on familiarity (or its conceptual opposite, subjective novelty) as an independent driver of individuals’ evaluation decisions. Idea familiarity is likely to be ubiquitous in organizational innovation processes, since new ideas evolve over time and are likely to be discussed repeatedly in partly overlapping groups. This makes prior idea exposure a key variable that has to date been largely overlooked in the research.

Second, we add to the body of research that has focused on collective/objective novelty, which describes a relationship between an idea and a collective, such as a firm, a panel, a body of knowledge, or a social system [2,12,13]. Drawing on [10], we have extended the prevailing notion of novelty by highlighting the subjectivity of idea novelty or familiarity [9]. Subjective novelty describes the relationship between an idea and an individual idea evaluator; thus, it differs between individuals.

Third, our findings that more familiar ideas are less likely to be devalued than unfamiliar ideas also bears on literature whereby individuals tend to reject ideas if they feel uncertain in evaluation situations [23]. Following this literature, uncertainty reduction may be a principal mechanism whereby idea familiarity leads to increased liking.

Finally, we suggest that familiarity is an underappreciated mechanism that explains some well-known phenomena. For instance, the not-invented-here syndrome [5,43] may partly be driven by a familiarity effect, since individuals are more likely to be familiar with internal than with external ideas and therefore positively inclined toward the former and biased against the latter. Also, organizational myopia leading to the lack of ability to come up with breakthrough ideas may be partly rooted in the fact that decision-makers favor familiar ideas over unfamiliar ones [44].

Implications for practice

Our study has important implications for practitioners. The bias toward familiar ideas that we have uncovered harms innovation success in organizations as it counteracts the goal to find, select, and implement highly novel ideas. Firms find it hard to overcome this bias, since it is often individual decision-makers who decide about the fate of ideas.

Based on our research, we advise that managers be more aware that they are subject to familiarity bias. It can be counteracted by putting evaluation panels in charge of particularly important decisions and by job rotation as it can offset the biasing effect of individual idea familiarity. Finally, distributed idea evaluation (e.g., internal crowdfunding [25]) is gaining in popularity as a new tool in the decision-making toolbox. It helps to overcome individual level familiarity biases, as long as subjective familiarity with an idea is differently distributed across evaluators: A more diverse group of evaluators is likely to have a broader range of familiarities with different ideas, reducing the overall bias in the decision-making process.

Viewed from a different angle, our findings also add to the toolbox of influence tactics [3], since employees can use sequences of prior exposure with ideas to convince supervisors of their ideas.

Limitations and future research

This study has several limitations, which also open up directions for future research.

First, we did not consider boundary conditions to our findings. Familiarity and subjective novelty may have differential effects depending on other key variables. That is, we would expect that familiarity’s effects may depend on the context (e.g. high vs. low uncertainty), the idea type (e.g. ideas with high vs. low collective novelty), the idea source (e.g. is the ideator inside or outside the firm), and evaluator characteristics (e.g. high vs. low openness to new experiences). Future research could benefit from investigating these contingencies.

Second, we did not measure the de facto mediating process by which idea familiarity leads to higher idea evaluation. We shed light on a number of potential candidates that may drive idea familiarity’s effects on idea evaluation, such as fluency or reduced uncertainty. We encourage researchers to be more explicit about the respective path and to identify under what conditions each path is likely to operate.

Third, we have investigated familiarity’s effects for single exposures only. For repeated exposure, familiarity’s effects may weaken or may even reverse. When we entered the quadratic term of familiarity in our factorial survey study, we found significant decreasing returns for familiarity, but the effect remained positive over the full range of responses. Future research should investigate whether this positive effect turns negative and leads to reduced evaluation for very high exposure levels.

Fourth, the field studies were conducted within a large automotive firm, which might limit the generalizability of the results to other industries and organizations. Future research should replicate the study in different industries and organization types, which will help validate the findings and increase the generalizability of the results.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Combining Human Expertise with Artificial Intelligence: Unless the documented mistakes can be corrected, the optimal solution involves assigning cases either to humans or to AI, but rarely to a human assisted by AI

Combining Human Expertise with Artificial Intelligence: Experimental Evidence from Radiology. Nikhil Agarwal, Alex Moehring, Pranav Rajpurkar & Tobias Salz. NBER Working Paper 31422, Jul 2023.

While Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms have achieved performance levels comparable to human experts on various predictive tasks, human experts can still access valuable contextual information not yet incorporated into AI predictions. Humans assisted by AI predictions could outperform both human-alone or AI-alone. We conduct an experiment with professional radiologists that varies the availability of AI assistance and contextual information to study the effectiveness of human-AI collaboration and to investigate how to optimize it. Our findings reveal that (i) providing AI predictions does not uniformly increase diagnostic quality, and (ii) providing contextual information does increase quality. Radiologists do not fully capitalize on the potential gains from AI assistance because of large deviations from the benchmark Bayesian model with correct belief updating. The observed errors in belief updating can be explained by radiologists’ partially underweighting the AI’s information relative to their own and not accounting for the correlation between their own information and AI predictions. In light of these biases, we design a collaborative system between radiologists and AI. Our results demonstrate that, unless the documented mistakes can be corrected, the optimal solution involves assigning cases either to humans or to AI, but rarely to a human assisted by AI.

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Observations of a wild colony of macaques over three years show same-sex sexual behavior among males is widespread and may be beneficial

Jackson Clive, Ewan Flintham, Vincent Savolainen. Same-sex sociosexual behaviour is widespread and heritable in male rhesus macaques. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 2023; DOI: 10.1038/s41559-023-02111-y

Abstract: Numerous reports have documented the occurrence of same-sex sociosexual behaviour (SSB) across animal species. However, the distribution of the behaviour within a species needs to be studied to test hypotheses describing its evolution and maintenance, in particular whether the behaviour is heritable and can therefore evolve by natural selection. Here we collected detailed observations across 3 yr of social and mounting behaviour of 236 male semi-wild rhesus macaques, which we combined with a pedigree dating back to 1938, to show that SSB is both repeatable (19.35%) and heritable (6.4%). Demographic factors (age and group structure) explained SSB variation only marginally. Furthermore, we found a positive genetic correlation between same-sex mounter and mountee activities, indicating a common basis to different forms of SSB. Finally, we found no evidence of fitness costs to SSB, but show instead that the behaviour mediated coalitionary partnerships that have been linked to improved reproductive success. Together, our results demonstrate that SSB is frequent in rhesus macaques, can evolve, and is not costly, indicating that SSB may be a common feature of primate reproductive ecology.


Popular version: Imperial College London. "Study shows same-sex sexual behavior is widespread and heritable in macaque monkeys." ScienceDaily, July 10 2023.

The team investigated several of these theories with their data, finding that, for this colony of macaques, SSB in males was strongly correlated with 'coalitionary bonds'. This means male pairs that regularly engage in SSB were more likely to back each other up in conflicts, providing them with an advantage in the group.

Heritable behaviours

The researchers also investigated whether SSB led to any fitness cost -- a reduction in the amount of offspring they have. In fact, they found the opposite -- males that engaged in SSB may be more successful in reproducing, potentially due to the benefits provided by more coalitionary bonds.

Why military elites fight in civil wars and on what side: In addition to home state, economic and professional interests were a major influence on West Pointers

Rebel, Remain, or Resign? Military Elites’ Decision-Making at the Onset of the American Civil War. Peter B. White. Journal of Conflict Resolution, June 23, 2023.

Abstract: A critical element in civil wars is military fragmentation. Yet, we have a limited understanding of why military elites fight in civil wars and on what side. In this article I develop a theory of the economic and professional motivations of military elites. I test this theory using the case of West Point graduates in the American Civil War. I argue that in addition to home state, economic and professional interests were a major influence on West Pointers. Graduates with connections to Southern cash crops were less likely to fight for the Union and more likely to fight for the Confederacy. Higher ranking graduates were more likely to fight for both sides, as they were better positioned to compete for promotion. I test this argument using a new dataset of more than 1000 West Point graduates’ wartime allegiances and antebellum careers and find strong evidence in support of my expectations.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

We find that, as Asian students arrive, white student enrollment declines in higher-income suburbs; fears of academic competition may play a role

White Flight from Asian Immigration: Evidence from California Public Schools. Leah Platt Boustan, Christine Cai & Tammy Tseng. NBER Working Paper, Jul 2023.

Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial group in the US but we know little about how Asian immigration has affected cities, neighborhoods and schools. This paper studies white flight from Asian arrivals in high-socioeconomic-status Californian school districts from 2000-2016 using initial settlement patterns and national immigrant flows to instrument for entry. We find that, as Asian students arrive, white student enrollment declines in higher-income suburbs. These patterns cannot be fully explained by racial animus, housing prices, or correlations with Black/Hispanic arrivals. Parental fears of academic competition may play a role.

Traditional beliefs: Commonly-used, but typically prohibitively expensive rituals, partially correct the beliefs about the risk of theft for sellers who report believing in the ritual’s efficacy, which allows for more inventory and larger sales

On the Importance of African Traditional Religion for Economic Behavior. Lewis Dunia Butinda, Aimable Amani Lameke, Nathan Nunn, Max Posch & Raúl Sánchez de la Sierra. NBER Working Paper 31430, July 2023. DOI 10.3386/w31430

Within the field of economics, despite being widespread, African traditional religions tend to be perceived as unimportant and ignored when studying economic decision-making. This study tests whether this presumption is correct. Using daily data on business decisions and performance of beer sellers in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, we study the importance of traditional religious beliefs for economic behavior and outcomes. Beer sellers perceive the risk of theft in their shops to be higher than it actually is, causing them to hold lower inventories, more frequent stock-outs, and reduced profits. We facilitate randomly-timed access to commonly-used, but typically prohibitively expensive rituals, which reduce the perceived risk of theft. We find that the rituals partially correct the beliefs about the risk of theft for sellers who report believing in the ritual’s efficacy. These sellers purchase more inventory, experience fewer stock-outs, and have larger sales, revenues, and profits. To distinguish the belief in the efficacy of the ritual from other incidental effects of participation, we analyze these outcomes for sellers who do not believe in the ritual. For these individuals, we find none of the observed effects. The findings provide evidence of the importance of African traditional religions, demonstrating that they can influence behavior and outcomes that are important for economic development.


Monday, July 10, 2023

Credit expansions to the non-tradable sector systematically predict growth slowdowns & financial crises; credit expansions to the tradable sector are associated with sustained output & productivity growth without a higher risk of a financial crisis

Credit Allocation and Macroeconomic Fluctuations. Karsten Müller & Emil Verner. NBER Working Paper 31420, Jun 2023. DOI 10.3386/w31420

Abstract: We study the relationship between credit expansions, macroeconomic fluctuations, and financial crises using a novel database on the sectoral distribution of private credit for 117 countries since 1940. We document that, during credit booms, credit flows disproportionately to the non-tradable sector. Credit expansions to the non-tradable sector, in turn, systematically predict subsequent growth slowdowns and financial crises. In contrast, credit expansions to the tradable sector are associated with sustained output and productivity growth without a higher risk of a financial crisis. To understand these patterns, we show that firms in the non-tradable sector tend to be smaller, more reliant on loans secured by real estate, and more likely to default during crises. Our findings are consistent with models in which credit booms to the non-tradable sector are driven by easy financing conditions and amplified by collateral feedbacks, contributing to increased financial fragility and a boom-bust cycle.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

In the case of the Aztec Empire, high inequality predates the Spanish–Aztec War; the richest 1% earned 41.8% of the total income, while the income share of the poorest 50% was just 23.3%

Income and inequality in the Aztec Empire on the eve of the Spanish conquest. Guido Alfani & Alfonso Carballo. Nature Human Behaviour, June 26 2023.

Abstract: Today, Latin American countries are characterized by relatively high levels of economic inequality. This circumstance has often been considered a long-run consequence of the Spanish conquest and of the highly extractive institutions imposed by the colonizers. Here we show that, in the case of the Aztec Empire, high inequality predates the Spanish conquest, also known as the Spanish–Aztec War. We reach this conclusion by estimating levels of income inequality and of imperial extraction across the empire. We find that the richest 1% earned 41.8% of the total income, while the income share of the poorest 50% was just 23.3%. We also argue that those provinces that had resisted the Aztec expansion suffered from relatively harsh conditions, including higher taxes, in the context of the imperial system—and were the first to rebel, allying themselves with the Spaniards. Existing literature suggests that after the Spanish conquest, the colonial elites inherited pre-existing extractive institutions and added additional layers of social and economic inequality.

Monday, July 3, 2023

People prefer natural medicines more when treating psychological than physical conditions, because they perceive natural drugs to be less likely than synthetic drugs to alter their true selves

Consumers prefer natural medicines more when treating psychological than physical conditions. Tianyi Li, David Gal. Journal of Consumer Psychology, June 24 2023.

Abstract: Consumers generally prefer natural to synthetic drugs; a phenomenon known as the “natural preference”. Through six experiments and one archival study, the current research shows that while consumers have a general preference for natural drugs over synthetic drugs, this preference is stronger when the goal is to treat psychological rather than physical conditions. Process evidence indicates an important mechanism that explains the amplified natural preference for treating psychological conditions: consumers are more concerned about their true selves being altered when treating psychological conditions, and they perceive natural drugs to be less likely than synthetic drugs to affect their true selves. The current research provides novel insights into the natural preference. It also offers policy and managerial implications for marketing natural remedies and pharmacological treatments for mental health conditions.

Self-reported pro-environmental behavior was highly exaggerated, especially by environmentalists

Identifying bias in self-reported pro-environmental behavior. Katharina Koller, Paulina K. Pankowska, Cameron Brick. Current Research in Ecological and Social Psychology, Volume 4, 2023, 100087.

Abstract: Research on pro-environmental behavior (PEB) informs social policies and interventions, so the quality of PEB measurement is critical. Self-reported PEB measures in surveys often contain non-negligible measurement error that can bias estimates and lead to incorrect findings. Given the potential presence of error, we hypothesize that changes to the way self-reported PEB is measured might lead to systematic measurement errors that affect the validity of results. Study 1 (N = 951) showed that priming participants with related scales like environmentalist identity did not substantively change reported behavior (all ds ≤ 0.12). To investigate the possibility of overreporting without priming, Study 2 (N = 385) measured littering prevention behavior using the Unmatched Count Technique. A standard questionnaire format led to much higher reported behavior compared to the more anonymous covert condition, d = 0.53, and this effect appeared driven by participants who reported a stronger environmentalist identity. These results may help to explain some of the observed error in PEB measures. We suggest that researchers could reduce measurement bias with indirect questioning techniques.

Keywords: Pro-environmental behavior; Measurement error; Question-behavior effect; Social identity; Social norms; Social desirability bias

The contribution of work experience and education to human capital accumulation and economic development might be equally important

Jedwab, Remi, Paul Romer, Asif M. Islam, and Roberto Samaniego. 2023. "Human Capital Accumulation at Work: Estimates for the World and Implications for Development." American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, 15 (3): 191-223. DOI: 10.1257/mac.20210002

Abstract: We (i) study wage-experience profiles and obtain measures of returns to potential work experience using data from about 24 million individuals in 1,084 surveys and census samples across 145 countries; (ii) show that workers in developed countries accumulate twice as much human capital at work as those in developing countries; (iii) use a simple accounting framework to find that the contribution of work experience and education to human capital accumulation and economic development might be equally important; and (iv) employ panel regressions to investigate how changes in the returns over time correlate with several factors such as economic recessions, transitions, and human capital stocks.

Sunday, July 2, 2023

Consistent with a plausible cultural mechanism, individuals whose origin place a high value on autonomy hold a comparative advantage in positions characterized by a low degree of routinization; this persists among immigrants' children

Cultural Values and Productivity. Andreas Ek. Journal of Political Economy, Jun 2023.

Abstract: This paper estimates differences in human capital as country-of-origin specific labor productivity terms, in firm production functions, making it immune to wage discrimination concerns.  After accounting for wage and experience, estimated human capital varies by a factor of around 3 between the 90th and 10th percentile.  When I investigate which country-of-origin characteristics correlate most closely with human capital, cultural values are the only robust predictor.  This relationship persists among children of migrants.  Consistent with a plausible cultural mechanism, individuals whose origin place a high value on autonomy hold a comparative advantage in positions characterized by a low degree of routinization.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Minimum wage increases lead to increased point-in-time homeless population counts; further analysis suggests disemployment and rental housing prices, but not migration, as mechanisms

Hill, Seth J. 2023. “Minimum Wages and Homelessness.” OSF Preprints. June 5. doi:10.31219/

Abstract: America's cities continue to struggle with homelessness. Here I offer a factor, the minimum wage, that adds to existing individual and structural explanations. If there are negative distributional consequences of minimum wages, they most likely harm the lowest-skill workers many of whom already face housing insecurity. To evaluate this argument, I study minimum wage changes in American cities and states 2006 to 2019. Using difference-in-differences methods for staggered treatments I find that minimum wage increases lead to increased point-in-time homeless population counts. Further analysis suggests disemployment and rental housing prices, but not migration, as mechanisms. Scholars and policymakers who aim to understand and combat homelessness should consider labor market opportunities. Distributional consequences of minimum wage laws also merit further inquiry.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Game Theory and the First World War

Myerson, Roger B. 2023. "Game Theory and the First World War." Journal of Economic Literature, 61 (2): 716-35. DOI: 10.1257/jel.20211571

Abstract: Books by Scott Wolford and Roger Ransom show how economic theories of games and decisions can be fruitfully applied to problems in World War I. This vital application offers fundamental insights into the analytical methods of game theory. Public random variables may be essential factors in war-of-attrition games. An assumption that nations can coordinate on Pareto-superior equilibria may become less tenable when nations are at war. Interpreting a surprising mistake as evidence of an unlikely type can have serious consequences. The ability of leaders to foster consistent beliefs within a cohesive society can create inconsistency of beliefs between nations at war.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Mineral and material commodities are essential inputs to economic production, but there have been periodical concerns about mineral scarcity

Pretis, Felix and Hepburn, Cameron and Pfeiffer, Alexander and Teytelboym, Alexander, Are We Running Out of Exhaustible Resources? (May 24, 2023). SSRN:

Abstract: Mineral and material commodities are essential inputs to economic production, but there have been periodical concerns about mineral scarcity. However, there has been no systematic recent study that has determined whether mineral commodities have become scarcer over the longer run. Here we provide systematic evidence that worldwide, near-term exhaustion of economically valuable commodities is unlikely. We construct and analyse a new database of 48 economically-relevant commodities from 1957–2015, including estimates of worldwide production, reserves and reserve bases, prices, and production, using publicly-available data and further data requested from the United States Geological Survey. We explore trends in prices, reserves-to-production ratios, and production itself, on a commodity-by-commodity basis, using econometric techniques allowing for structural changes, and further estimate overall trends robust to outlying observations. For almost all commodities, we cannot reject the null hypothesis of no trend in prices and exhaustion, while production has increased. Price signals appear to have guided consumption and provided incentives for innovation and substitution. Concerns about mineral depletion therefore appear to be less important than concerns about externalities, such as pollution and conflict, and ecosystem services (e.g. climate stability) where price signals are often absent.

Keywords: Resource extraction, resource price, reserves-to-production, trend, exhaustion

JEL Classification: Q02, Q30, Q32

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Exposure to and engagement with partisan or unreliable news on Google Search are driven not primarily by algorithmic curation but by users’ own choices

Users choose to engage with more partisan news than they are exposed to on Google Search. Ronald E. Robertson, Jon Green, Damian J. Ruck, Katherine Ognyanova, Christo Wilson & David Lazer. Nature, May 24 2023.

Abstract: If popular online platforms systematically expose their users to partisan and unreliable news, they could potentially contribute to societal issues such as rising political polarization1,2. This concern is central to the ‘echo chamber’3,4,5 and ‘filter bubble’6,7 debates, which critique the roles that user choice and algorithmic curation play in guiding users to different online information sources8,9,10. These roles can be measured as exposure, defined as the URLs shown to users by online platforms, and engagement, defined as the URLs selected by users. However, owing to the challenges of obtaining ecologically valid exposure data—what real users were shown during their typical platform use—research in this vein typically relies on engagement data4,8,11,12,13,14,15,16 or estimates of hypothetical exposure17,18,19,20,21,22,23. Studies involving ecological exposure have therefore been rare, and largely limited to social media platforms7,24, leaving open questions about web search engines. To address these gaps, we conducted a two-wave study pairing surveys with ecologically valid measures of both exposure and engagement on Google Search during the 2018 and 2020 US elections. In both waves, we found more identity-congruent and unreliable news sources in participants’ engagement choices, both within Google Search and overall, than they were exposed to in their Google Search results. These results indicate that exposure to and engagement with partisan or unreliable news on Google Search are driven not primarily by algorithmic curation but by users’ own choices.

Monday, May 8, 2023

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion has low correlation with gender and ethnic diversity in the boardroom, in senior management, and within the workforce; DEI exhibits no link with future stock returns

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Alex Edmans, Caroline Flammer & Simon Glossner. NBER Working Paper 31215. May 2023. DOI 10.3386/w31215

Abstract: This paper measures diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) using proprietary data on survey responses used to compile the Best Companies to Work For list. We identify 13 of the 58 questions as being related to DEI, and aggregate the responses to form our DEI measure. This variable has low correlation with gender and ethnic diversity in the boardroom, in senior management, and within the workforce, suggesting that DEI captures additional dimensions missing from traditional measures of demographic diversity. DEI is also unrelated to general workplace policies and practices, suggesting that DEI cannot be improved by generic initiatives. However, DEI is higher in small growth firms and firms with high financial strength. DEI is associated with higher future accounting performance across a range of measures, higher future earnings surprises, and higher valuation ratios, but demographic diversity is not. DEI perceptions among professional workers, such as R&D employees, are significantly correlated with the number and quality of patents. However, DEI exhibits no link with future stock returns.

We also study future innovation performance, since one of the main financial arguments for DEI is that it allows for a broader consideration of perspectives and stimulation of ideas which, in turn, may be driving increased innovativeness and financial performance. We find that DEI is unrelated to either the number of future patents or patent citations. However, the granular nature of our data allows us to stratify the survey responses by job category. We find that DEI perceptions of professionals, a job category that includes R&D staff, are positively and significantly correlated with both innovation measures, but there is no positive link with the responses from the three other categories: executives, managers, and hourly workers. This is consistent with the fact that innovation is most likely to stem from professionals.

Finally, we study future stock returns. Somewhat surprisingly, given prior results on profitability, innovation, and earnings surprises, we find no link between DEI and stock returns, after controlling for either firm characteristics in firm-level regressions or risk in portfolio regressions. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Manager quality in retail is generally hard to explain with the observables in our data, but is correlated with the ratio of full-time to part-time workers

Managers and Productivity in Retail. Robert D. Metcalfe, Alexandre B. Sollaci & Chad Syverson. NBER Working Paper 31192. April 2023.

Abstract: Across many sectors, research has established that management explains a notable portion of productivity differences across organizations. A remaining question, however, is whether it is managers themselves or firm-wide management practices that matter. We shed light on this question by analyzing store-level data from two multibillion-dollar retail companies. In this setting, managers move between stores but management practices are set by firm policy and largely fixed, allowing us to hone in on managers’ personal roles in determining store performance. We find: (i) managers affect and explain a large share of the variance of store-level productivity; (ii) negative assortative matching between managers and stores, which may reflect both firms’ decisions and a selection-driven bias that we characterize and argue might apply in other settings using movers designs; (iii) managers who move do so on average from less productive to more productive stores; (iv) female managers are less likely to move stores than male managers; (v) manager quality is generally hard to explain with the observables in our data, but is correlated with the ratio of full-time to part-time workers; (vi) managers who obtain high labor productivity also tend to obtain high energy productivity, revealing some breadth in managers’ skills applicability; (vii) high-performing managers in stable growth times are also high-performing during turbulent times; and (viii) exogenous productivity shocks improve the quality of initially low quality managers, suggesting managers can learn. We explain implications of these findings for productivity research.

Sunday, April 30, 2023

In Defense of Merit in Science

In Defense of Merit in Science. D. Abbot et al. Journal of Controversial Ideas, Apr 28 2023.

Abstract: Merit is a central pillar of liberal epistemology, humanism, and democracy. The scientific enterprise, built on merit, has proven effective in generating scientific and technological advances, reducing suffering, narrowing social gaps, and improving the quality of life globally. This perspective documents the ongoing attempts to undermine the core principles of liberal epistemology and to replace merit with non-scientific, politically motivated criteria. We explain the philosophical origins of this conflict, document the intrusion of ideology into our scientific institutions, discuss the perils of abandoning merit, and offer an alternative, human-centered approach to address existing social inequalities.

Keywords: STEM; Enlightenment; meritocracy; critical social justice; postmodernism; identity politics; Mertonian norms

4. The Perils of Replacing Merit with Social Engineering and Ideological Control
4.1. Lessons from History
The universalism of science does not preclude culture and politics from being involved in funding priorities. Funders, whether government or private, expect to receive a return on their investment. Yet politicians should not dictate how science is done, and political agendas should not replace Mertonian norms. History demonstrates the dangers of replacing merit­based science with ideological control and social engineering.16,17,19 In the Soviet Union (USSR), the aberrations of Trofim Lysenko had catastrophic consequences for science and society.17 An agronomist and “people’s scientist” who came from the “superior” class of poor peasants, Lysenko rejected Mendelian genetics because of its supposed inconsistency with Marxist ideology. Dissent from Lysenko’s ideas was outlawed and his opponents were fired or prosecuted. Lysenko’s ideologically infused agricultural ideas were put into practice in the USSR and China, where, in both countries, they led to decreased crop yields and famine.17 Today, biology is again being subjugated to ideology—medical schools deny the biological basis of sex, biology courses avoid teaching the heritability of traits, and so on.29,30 More examples of ideological subversion of science, relevant to physics and chemistry, were discussed in a recent viewpoint.19 Such analysis19 is often dismissed with vague deflections such as “everything is political” and “everyone is biased.” There is an element of truth to these declarations, which can help raise awareness of the potential of scientists to have biases, including biases on politicized topics, and help minimize such biases. However, those making these arguments often use them to impose their own ideological agendas on what can be studied and what kind of answers are permissible.31 It is this sense of the politicization of science that we categorically oppose.
4.2. The Damage Inflicted by Today’s Politicization of Science
The lessons from history are clear: ideological control of the scientific enterprise leads to its decline. The ongoing ideological subversion of STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine) education is particularly worrying. Ideological changes in the U.S., Canada, and New Zealand are already under way32–34 and are quickly influencing other democracies. The worst excesses of CSJ ideology are spreading to medicine, psychology, and global public health with worldwide implications.25,26,35–37 For example, in global public health, the ideology manifests in the Decolonize Global Health movement, which calls for dismantling global health, questions research­based knowledge, emphasizes intergroup and international antagonisms, and challenges universalism as an ideal for global health, humanitarian aid, and development assistance.37 CSJ­driven pedagogy can be pernicious, even when proposed innovations appear benign. For example, the proposed curriculum decolonization in pharmacology38 involves teaching about drugs developed from folk remedies and focusing on the contributions of non­Europeans. While such topics might be appropriate for a history of medicine course, centering the curriculum around them, as has been proposed, would be detrimental to training health professionals. The vast majority of today’s pharmacopeia is derived from the research and development efforts of the modern pharmaceutical industry; effective treatments derived from traditional medicine are rare, especially in the era of bio­ and immunotherapies. For example, of the over 150 anti­cancer drugs available today, only three are of natural origin (trabectedin, taxanes, and vinca­alkaloids).39 Decolonizing pharmacology also contributes to the public’s infatuation with traditional medicine, while health agencies report numerous therapeutic accidents involving herbal products not validated following “colonial” standards.40 Such pedagogy also reinforces mistrust toward “white medicine,” feeding conspiracy theories against the pharmaceutical industry, as exemplified by campaigns against COVID vaccines, which, sadly, disproportionately impacted minority groups.41 Scientific research requires dedication, intensive technical training, and a commitment to rigor and truth­seeking. Weakening merit­based admissions, created to identify and cultivate the best and brightest, will have long­lasting consequences for the scientific workforce, discouraging or preventing many promising students from entering the field. Signs of this are already evident. The weakening of the workforce in the U.S. has contributed to that country’s recent fall from the position of world leader in science.15 If the movement in North America to replace merit with ideology in funding42–45 and faculty hiring46–50 progresses, further deterioration in the ability to foster excellence in research in the U.S. is all but inevitable. This does not bode well for the future of science and society globally. Enforcing identity­based hiring is discriminatory,51–53 as it deprives some high­achieving individuals, including economically disadvantaged individuals who are not members of politically favored identity groups, of opportunities they have earned,54–57 thereby potentially damaging morale and engagement. In the U.S., this has resulted in the unfair treatment of Asian­American, Jewish, white, male, and foreign students.32,52,53,56–59 Ironically, replacing universalist principles with identity­based selection risks ultimately harming qualified underrepresented researchers by introducing doubt as to whether they merited their position or were hired for ideological reasons. Attempts to demonize, inflict reputational damage, or silence critics of social engineering practices by characterizing them as racists, white supremacists, or worse46,60–63 is particularly detrimental to the open intellectual environment in which scientific inquiry into difficult social problems thrives. For every incident in which a scientist is targeted, thousands get the message and self­censor.60,61,63 Besides directly impacting the scientific enterprise, the ideological capture of scientific institutions19,31,64 has broad consequences for society. Scientists and scientific institutions have a responsibility to enhance understanding and acceptance of the scientific consensus on matters of public importance. As seen with climate change and COVID­19, once a scientific topic becomes politicized, trust in science diminishes, laying the groundwork for science denial, conspiracy theories, and political opportunism.37 Research has consistently shown that public acceptance of a scientific consensus is driven not by scientific literacy (accepters are no more knowledgeable than deniers) but by political ideology and trust in scientific institutions.65 When scientific institutions issue political position statements and adopt identity­based policies, they alienate and lose the trust of large dissenting segments of the public.66 When prominent scientific journals promote these ideologies through editorials and perspective pieces, they magnify the alienation. Conflicting with the Mertonian principles of disinterestedness and universalism, these manifestos undermine the credibility of science as an objective, disinterested, and truth­seeking enterprise.67

5. The Genesis of the Current Attacks on Merit­based Science The ideological basis of the current attacks on science emanates from certain veins of postmodernism and the identity­based ideologies they have spawned: various CSJ theories, including Critical Race Theory (CRT), related theories of structural racism, and postcolonial theory.3–6,14 These ideologies are increasingly finding their way into politics, culture, and education and are negatively affecting science, medicine, technology, psychology, and global health.15,25,26,34,37 They are not imposed by totalitarian regimes, but spread by activists and abetted by university administrators and business leaders who fail to protect their institutions from these illiberal, regressive ideas.60,63,68 The genesis of these ideologies is often obscure to the public or even to their bearers—e.g., administrators trained in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)—who are unlikely to have read Gramsci, Derrida, Foucault, Bell, Crenshaw, and Delgado. But just as a Soviet apparatchik need not have read Das Kapital to have been an agent ensuring conformity to Marxist doctrine, one need not be fully versed in postmodern or CRT­inspired scholarship to be implementing the ideology. The problems emerge from doctrinaire implementation, not from deep knowledge of the scholarship. Critical Theory and CSJ conflict with the liberal Enlightenment. According to Delgado and Stefancic,5 their characteristic elements include anti­rationalism; anti­enlightenment; rejection of equal treatment, philosophical liberalism, and neutrality in law; standpoint epistemology and subjectivism as the basis of knowledge; and intersectionality. Recently, ideas that emerged from Critical Theory have been aggressively disseminated to the public, notably in books by DiAngelo and Kendi,69,70 now promoted as essential reading in many schools and universities. Critical Theories seek to fundamentally change the practice of science.10,14 Figure 3 contrasts CSJ epistemology with the ideas of the liberal Enlightenment.

CSJ is not an empirical theory, because its tenets are maintained despite their being either demonstrably false or unfalsifiable.3,6,7,10,14 The existence of objective reality, for example, which CSJ denies, is attested to by every successful engineering project, from bridges to satellites, from cell phones to electric cars, ever conducted. The fallibility of “lived experience” is attested to by a wealth of psychological research demonstrating errors and biases in self­reports.71 Yet, CSJ has found its way into STEMM, evoking parallels with the ideological corruption of science of past totalitarian regimes.19 As an illustration, The Lancet published a paper in 2020 titled “Adopting an Intersectionality Framework to Address Power and Equity in Medicine”72—a call to adopt CSJ ideology in medical education and practice. This is reminiscent of the ideological control of science16,17,19 and medicine18 in the USSR. In medicine, Marxist ideology manifested itself in “‘workerizing’ ... [the] apparatus [of medical care]” (i.e., selecting future doctors from the working class, rather than the intelligentsia by means of class­based quotas) and prioritizing medical care for citizens based on class (the proletariat was to be given higher priority than the farm workers; the farm workers, higher priority than the intelligentsia; and so on).18 The CSJ view—that institutions of knowledge, art, and law perpetuate systemic racism and, therefore, must be dismantled, and that merit­based criteria in hiring, publishing, and funding must be replaced with CSJ criteria—has been aggressively advanced by many of our academic leadership—university administrators, executive bodies of professional societies, publishers, etc. A search for “racism” in the titles of papers published by the Science and Nature Publishing groups returns hundreds of hits such as “NIH Apologizes for ‘Structural Racism,’ Pledges Change,”73 “Dismantling Systemic Racism in Science,”74 and “Systemic Racism in Higher Education.” This reflects the axiomatic ideological perspective of CSJ that systemic racism is indelibly etched into every Western institution. The perspective is taken as an article of faith, which is why some have argued that CSJ is more a secular religion than an evidence­based science.75 Below we discuss publications making unsupported claims of systemic injustices and attacking merit. Such publications rarely, if ever, provide evidence that observed disproportionalities in the race or gender distribution of a scientific field are the result of present­day structural or systemic racism. Whereas historical events, such as apartheid, slavery, and Jim Crow, are beyond dispute, the extent to which systemic racism influences STEMM or academia today is a contested question.76 Its existence cannot be established by proclamation. In the absence of compelling evidence, these assertions are not scientific; they are dogma. In his book Discrimination and Disparities, 76 Sowell takes to task the central axiom of CSJ—that disparate outcomes for various social groups emerge as a result of discrimination—and presents ample evidence illustrating its fallacy. Sowell’s arguments present compelling counterpoints to the standard set of arguments against meritocracy, such as those presented in The Tyranny of Merit 77 and The Meritocracy Trap.78 Space considerations do not permit a full evaluation of the arguments, many of which boil down to merit systems being imperfect; that is, that there are biases in judgments of merit, that they are not always implemented as promised, and that they risk creating hubris in the successful and despair among the unsuccessful. Our perspective is that, however valid these criticisms, merit­based systems are still immensely superior to alternatives that have either been tried before or are being proposed now.77 Communist systems, for example, which are vastly more egalitarian, produced misery on an unimaginable scale. Can newly proposed alternatives deliver better results? Let us consider an example. In The Tyranny of Merit, 77 Sandel proposes the following approach: identify some minimum standard that constitutes “qualified” for admission to Harvard or Stanford and use a lottery system to select among those. Specifically, he mentions cutoffs that would treat 50–75% of applicants as “qualified,” which stops short of abandoning merit altogether. He justifies these cutoff points by using anecdotal data about athletes who were overlooked by professional teams in early draft rounds, but who went on to have highly successful careers in their sport. But examples of a few overlooked individuals do not imply that merit­based selection is ineffective—indeed, players drafted early are much more likely to go on to professional careers.79 Sandel also seems to presume that identically capable college applicants will suffer if some end up attending lesser schools. However, in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), where education provides objectively assessable technical skills, attendance at a top university provides little advantage in students’ earnings potential. Measured 10 years post­graduation, a top­tier education provided no significant earnings advantage for science majors and at best a marginally significant one for engineering majors.80 Moreover, Sandel seems to be unaware that his strategy, by nature of being based on a lottery, guarantees that many candidates will end up in lesser schools than their equally qualified counterparts, an outcome that a merit system, by its nature, aims to minimize.