Thursday, February 25, 2010

Places to purchase particularly pleasing pizza

A list of officially (!) recognized good pizza restaurants from the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana.

Who knew that Seattle is the capital of good pizza?

Hat tip: Sue Dynarski

IHS Summer Seminars

This post is intended for the undergraduates who read my blog.

The Institute for Humane Studies offers summer seminars on classical liberal (e.g. John Locke, Adam Smith - think moderate libertarian in current parlance) ideas. I attended one of these back in my college days and really enjoyed it (and not only because of Joy, the libertarian journalist I met). The seminar provided pretty much non-stop discussion about ideas among the students and the faculty with debates on topics - e.g. minarchist versus anarchist, isolationist versus interventionist in foreign policy - that one does not get a chance to participate in every day.

You do not have to be a classical liberal sort of person to attend, but you should be open minded and interested in learning about a different view.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

NCAA investigation of UM football

Here is a piece from and here is the university's view.

I am surprised a bit by how public university president Mary Sue Coleman's involvement has been.

I think Rich Rod may not have been briefed as well as he should have been about the cultural differences between UM and WVU.

I also think this is yet more evidence that Washington got a lot more for a lot less in hiring Steve Sarkisian.

Adventures with hair

This is the form from my visit to Salon Vox earlier this week to have my hair cut. I scanned it in because I just like the way it forms part of the whole experience, what with all the exciting adjectival options such as "does it all" spray and "reactivating mist". Sadly for the patient Salon Vox staff, I am not much of a product person. I let them put bits on me at the Salon but I always resist their entreaties to take some home with me.

Ann Arbor: adventures in monetary policy

Should Ann Arbor have its own currency to promote local business?

The mind boggles at how one will define local for the purposes of access to the local currency. Is a locally-owned store selling national brands local? What about a national chain that sells local products? What about a Michigan-only chain like Kilwin's?

Decision costs will be lower for whose face gets on the $1 bill: can it be anyone but Bo? Of course, figuring that out will require another grant!

Methinks the DDA's $6000 could have been better spent.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Assorted links

1. More evidence, as if any more were needed, that successful people can do amazingly stupid things in their personal lives.

2. Kyria Abrahams goes to the Apple Store.

3. Don Boudreaux (whom I met once long ago and who told a funny story about a student in an economics class at Auburn asking is she needed to simplify "8 / 4") skewers the WaPo on their obit of porkmeister John Murtha.

4. The life of a pay phone (they still have those?) in Queens.

5. Top 25 journalists of "the right", which oddly includes libertarians.

On being a discussant

Chris Blattman offers up some generally good advice on how to be a good discussant.

I heartily agree with most of what he has to say. The main exception is that I think it is usually a bad idea to summarize the paper. The audience has just heard the paper. Hearing it again is boring. The only exceptions are when the presenter is either incoherent (it happens) or when you have a different way of framing the meaning of the paper (rare, but happens too). Otherwise, when a discussant spends time summarizing the paper I assume it was because they could not think of anything original to say.

I particularly like the bits about saving the minor comments to share with the author via email or by handing him/her a marked up copy of the paper. I once had a discussant remark to the audience at a conference about the size of the font in one of my papers. This is the sort of comment, along with minor details about citations and such like, that the audience should be spared.

I would add one other caution. The role of a discussant is to discuss the paper that was presented, not an opportunity for a short infomercial on the discussant's own research. I've seen that too.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Nominal grade illusion

Newly employed ECONJEFF reader and UM gradual student Osborne Jackson points me to this paper on the real effects of grade inflation by Philip Babcock of UCSB.

Looks interesting. But what about the general equilibrium effects? Would effort go up in all classes if all professors get tough, or does one tough professor just reallocate effort? Onto the "to read" pile it goes.

Our town - isn't it just the best?

Some Ann Arborish self-loving from

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Men, new media, and divorce

Today I learned that a friend of mine is divorced (not getting divorced but all the way divorced) because he changed his Facebook status to single.

The Facebook bit is odd enough but I am perplexed that I managed not to notice something was amiss during the entire process. The male of our species can be mighty clueless at times.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Academic salary voyeurism

This site appears to present all of the salaries of full professors at the University of Ottawa for 2008.

The most startling feature of the table is the low variance, both within and across disciplines. I suspect this is due to faculty unionization, which is fairly common even at decent universities in Canada

More on economist (and general professor) salaries on Dan Hamermesh's gossip page.

As an aside, if you poke around on the internet you can find salaries (with names) for most pubic universities in the US, including UM. I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Hat tip: administrator friend (who berated me for being too tough on the dean of LU a few days ago).

Tough times in municipal government

How tough are they in Ann Arbor? The city is actually thinking about privatizing its money-losing, rich-people-subsidizing golf course.

I would really enjoy listening to someone explain (1) in what sense a golf course is a public good and (2) why the city should subsidize the hobbies of high income people.

London, Ontario went through this same phase when I lived there.

Mesurement error is everywhere ...

... and we usually do not worry about it enough.

In this case, the measurement error is in radio station ratings.

Addendum: a reader writes to note that I neglected to mention that this is non-classical measurement error. :)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Can states secede?

It always has seemed to me that the (sainted) Founders made a mistake by not including a formal exit provision in the constitution. Perhaps it seemed like a good idea at the time as a way to discourage exit or perhaps they assumed the possibility under some common law of contract in place at the time. In any case, their failure led to the great human disaster that was the Civil War.

Over at the Volokh conspiracy, there is a debate going on about whether the Civil War settled the legal question, including a link to a letter from Justice Scalia indicating that he thinks it did. Should wars settle legal questions? We don't assume that other choices made in the 1860s settled constitutional questions?

Moreover, the fact that the South was wrong on the question of slavery does not imply that they were wrong on the question of a right to secession. These are (completely) different issues.

The constitution, though we have mostly put this fact in the memory hole, was a contract between states, not a contract to set up a state. It was originally much more like the EU (or some hybrid of the EU and NATO) than we think about it today.

I worry sometimes, as some political scientists have, about the similar absence of an explicit exit mechanism in the laws that underlie the EU.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Just the thing for a belated V-Day gift

I don't think I'll be able to get one in time for my visit to MSU on Wednesday.

Hat tip: Dan Marcin

Assorted links

A favored reader complained about the "assorted links" so I did not do them for a while, but they are actually a very good way of quickly sharing links that do not need or at least do not inspire any comments on my part. So they are back.

1. Generational humor.

2. What happens when you love yourself too much, at least in France.

3. Christopher Hitchens in top form on North Korea.

4. Home and castle in the UK.

5. Abebooks Weird Book Room

Statistics question

What is the sampling distribution of the r-squared value from a regression?

Russians mock the Snowpocalypse

As reported in the NYT, which gets in some snarky comments of its own toward the end.

Hat tip: Anya Chung

Sunday, February 14, 2010

What's Jessica Cutler been up to?

I'm sure you've all been wondering, like I have, what famous sex blogger and courtesan Jessica Cutler, a.k.a. the "Washingtonienne", has been up to.

It turns out that after those wild years, she has succumbed to domesticity, married a bankruptcy lawyer - presumably hers - and had a kid.

Hmmmm ....

Social capital inside the beltway

The Atlantic provides a brief meditation on the fact that lots of folks in Georgetown (one of the older and more expensive parts of DC) do not bother to shovel the snow on their sidewalks, despite a law requiring them to do so and despite the costs this imposes on pedestrians, most of whom are presumably their neighbors.

The author of the Atlantic piece reaches a different implicit conclusion about the cause of this behavior than I do, as she emphasizes car ownership and high incomes.

In contrast, my sense is that the behavior she complains of is merely a special case of the general observation that DC does not have a lot of what sociologists call social capital. If you drive in DC, you will observe that the locals pass up pretty much every opportunity to improve the lives of other drivers, or of pedestrians, even when the cost to them would be quite low.

Why might this be, in the city famously said to combine northern charm and southern efficiency? One good candidate is high population turnover. Relative to other cities, a lot of people live in the DC area only for a short time. High house prices and bad schools also encourage a lifecycle pattern of coming to DC single, horny and full of idealism in one's 20s and then leaving for somewhere with lower house prices and better schools in one's 30s with a spouse, some kids, and a lot less idealism. Others come for a few years to serve in government.

I think an explanation based on low social capital resulting from high population turnover fits the data better, where data here means casual observations by me and by the author of the magazine article, but someone should collect some real data and do a serious study.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Deadly faculty meetings

I have been to many faculty meetings that were deadly dull, but never one that was just plain deadly.

This is really sad. Tenure is not that important in the scheme of things.

Hat tip: Pierre Leget (or Pierre Light as one of my UWO colleagues used to say) on FB

When random assignment yields implausible estimates

Consider the following educational treatment, as described on the Department of Education's What Works Clearinghouse:
Seventh graders were placed at random into intervention and comparison groups near the start of the school year.

Both groups were given structured writing assignments three to five times during their seventh- and eighth-grade years.

The intervention group wrote about their personal values (e.g., relationships with friends and family, religious values) and why these were important to them.

The comparison group wrote about neutral subjects, such as their daily routine, or why values they considered unimportant might be important to others.

The result? The WWC summarizes the findings:

Among African-American students, completing writing exercises about their values increased their average seventh- and eighth-grade GPA by a quarter of a letter grade (0.24 points), a change that was statistically significant. The intervention did not have a statistically significant effect on the academic outcomes of European-American students.

Among low-achieving African-American students, the effect was somewhat larger, an increase in average seventh- and eighth-grade GPA of 0.41 points. In addition, the intervention reduced the likelihood that low-achieving African-American students were assigned to a remedial program or were retained in grade.

Is this plausible? Both 0.24 and 0.41 GPA points are large impacts, particularly given that the support of the GPA distribution at many schools is largely confined to 2.0 to 4.0 or even 2.5 to 4.0.

What could go wrong? Like most educational interventions, this one is not double-blind. It may not be single-blind either, if the teachers know which students ended up in the treatment and control groups. On the other hand, given that all students wrote essays it may not have been clear to the students what the "treatment" was in some sense.

One might also worry that one of the alternative essay topics, namely "why values they considered unimportant might be important to others" is not really "neutral" and instead might have its own treatment effect. In this regard, it would be nice to have a no-essay control group along with the "other essay topic" second treatment arm. A no-essay control group has its own issues, of course, because it makes the nature of the treatment clearer to the students, but it would shed at least some light on concerns that one of the alternative essay topics may reduce GPAs rather than the other increasing them or some combination of the two.

Also, one would like a compelling theory of why such a modest treatment should have such a gigantic effect.

Interesting, and puzzling, and a good illustration of why one study is rarely definitive and, not unrelated, why good science involves both exact replications and small perturbations of provocative results.

I should have gotten one of my ECON 490 students to do their literature survey on such treatments.

Obama administration on trade

Some thoughts on trade policy from Scott Lincicome. The current administration could be doing much better in this area than the mushy mercantilism they have adopted, and the "doubling exports" bit in the State of the Union Address was just silly, even by the standards of that event.

And one should always note in these contexts that trade policy is anti-poverty policy as pretty much all really poor people in the world live in other countries, many of whose products we tax or otherwise exclude in order to protect politically influential American producers. Compassion is a bit more compelling when you do not receive votes in return.

College and health care

What colleges would be like if they priced like hospitals.

This piece is interesting in both directions. In thinking about health care, I have often wondered to what extent the administrative oddities of the health care industry are the result of antitrust rules (preventing development of common intake forms and the sharing of data) and other regulations. Are there state or federal regulations that limit changes in pricing strategies? I expect so.

In terms of higher education, we do in fact charge different prices for different groups: public universities charge different tuition for in-state and out-of-state residents, for students of different ability levels and family backgrounds, for graduate and professional students and so on. Some of these price differences are public information, others, like scholarship offers, are not. So it is not quite the one-price-fits-all industry implicit in the article. And some places, mostly business schools, do use types of pricing mechanisms to allocate slots in high-demand courses and such. Other times there is rationing at random or by waiting or by major, as with my ECON 406 undergraduate econometrics course.

If I had an alter ego, he might well be a health economist. There are so many interesting questions to study.

Hat tip: Ken Troske

See houses you like

This site is very cool indeed. You type in an address and there you are, able to look in all directions, to progress up and down the street in either direction, to zoom and to un-zoom.

A couple of observations based on my explorations this morning:

1. It even works in Canada!

2. My grandmother would be really pissed at how the current owners of her old house have let the yard go.

3. They do not cover my particular street in Ann Arbor but they cover most of the rest of the neighborhood. Odd, that, though the entrance to our street does look a bit like a road to nowhere.

Hat tip: my fine mother-in-law!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Pork, Sex and Argentina

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez on why it is good to subsidize the pork industry:
"I didn't know that eating pork improved sexual activity," Fernandez said in a meeting with representatives of the swine industry late Wednesday. "It is much more gratifying to eat some grilled pork than to take Viagra."

She even joked that "it was all good" after she enjoyed some pork with her husband, former President Nestor Kirchner.

There is more from the head of Argentina's Association of Pork Producers:

The head of the association of pork producers, Juan Luis Uccelli, supported Fernandez's speech by saying that Denmark and Japan have a much more "harmonious" sexual life then the Argentines because they eat a lot of pig meat.

"In Osaka, Japan, there is a village in which the people who reached 105 years old and ate a lot of pork had a lot of sexual activity," he told radio Mitre.

And,there is the implicit (and delicious) pun lurking behind all of this, for subsidies to the pork industry are, of course, themselves pork.

Joking aside, these subsidies are a complete waste of the Argentine taxpayers money, unless, perhaps, the president gets so distracted from all the pork-induced sexual activity that she does less governing.

Hat tip: Lars Skipper

The ebullient moment

Of all the many public relations offerings that UM produces, I like the bits about the history of the place the best. This one describes a famous Life magazine photo related to UM's marching band.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Obama at UM

Well, look what some clever person in the administration managed to do! President Obama is delivering the commencement address here at Michigan this spring. One hopes the additional donations this generates from enthusiastic democrat parents, students and alumni outweigh the donations lost from non-democrat parents, students and alumni plus the cost of all the additional security and such like.

It could be better. At Chicago, where I did my graduate degrees, they get professors who are also good lecturers to deliver a 20-minute mini-lecture about some aspect of their research that is of general interest at commencement. We had law professor Richard Epstein at one of my two graduations, as I recall. No actors, no comedians, no politicians and no pandering. Just the life of the mind. It warms my heart just thinking about it.

It could also be worse. At Washington, where I did my undergraduate degrees, the tradition was to have the president of the university give the commencement address. I think the president when I was there was called Gerberding. I am sure he must have had some exceptional talent for something or other, maybe PR or fund-raising, but he was not particularly talented at either public speaking or economic policy analysis. Nonetheless, the assembled graduating masses (and they are masses at UW) were treated to 30 minutes (or was it an hour, it sure seemed like it) about how "we" should do more to emulate Japanese industrial policy. Ooops.

Hat tip: Angela Wyse (on FB)

Addendum: official UM announcement

Economics job market

The "junior" markt of newly minted Ph.D. economists (most of whom are actually not yet fully done with their doctorates) market has begun to move. Three of the five students I wrote letters for from Michigan this year have offers in hand as does at least one of our other students on the market, out of eleven total on the market from Michigan this year. This is despite a lot of disrupted flyouts due to the Snowpocalypse in DC.

Michigan, including the economics department, the Ford School and ISR, has also started making offers of its own.

I like this exciting time - it is fun to see the hard work of our students rewarded with good jobs and it is fun to get new colleagues.

On letters of recommendation (or why deans are often unpopular)

I have a story about letters of recommendation that I have been meaning to blog about.

It has to do with the immense irritation I feel when asked to write a letter for someone that has already been offered a job, just so that some dean can check off a bureaucratic box. This happened to me last month (and has happened on other occasions as well).

I got an email from a dean at Leading University (LU) asking for a letter for a senior job candidate (i.e. not a newly minted Ph.D.) within a pretty short time frame. I sat on it for a few days trying to decide whether to do it or not. I did not not really have the time but the candidate was someone whose work I like and who is something of a friend. Let's call the candidate Delbert.

After about a week, and before having replied to the LU dean's initial email, I got an email from a friend at another university, let's call it Spurned University (SU), telling me that Delbert turned SU down to take a job at LU. The friend was not trying to cause trouble, but rather was just passing along information about someone whose job market adventures were of some mutual interest.

This information left me a bit puzzled and sort of ready to be irritated and so I decided to stir the pot a bit. When the dean at LU emailed me to follow up on the letter request I adopted a pose of great innocence and asked in my reply about this odd rumor I had heard about Delbert already having accepted an offer at LU. I also asked if perhaps my letter was no longer necessary, given that a decision had already been made.

There was about a day of email silence and then I got a somewhat stern email from the LU dean saying that my information was wrong, and that they really, really needed my letter in order to engage in thoughtful discourse about Delbert, whom they most certainly had not yet made an offer to.

The dean's email seemed a bit desperate (must check off all those boxes!) and so I poked around a bit more. After not very much poking I was reading a forwarded email from Delbert (who ought to know!) to a third party that indicated that Delbert had already accepted a job at LU.

Now, I could have really, really misbehaved and sent the forwarded email from Delbert along to the LU dean with just a row of question marks as the text of my message. But that could have ended up hurting Delbert, which I did not want to do. Instead, I emailed the LU dean indicating that I did not have time to sit down and read a bunch of papers in order to write a fully informed letter but that I would be happy to write a few paragraphs about my views based on what I already knew from reading some of Delbert's papers in the past, seeing Delbert present at conferences, sitting next to Delbert during a truly wretched policy talk by someone from a beltway "think tank" (that was salvaged only by Delbert's ongoing stream of sarcastic asides) and so on.

On a couple of earlier occasions deans at other schools who had not yet already made offers and were actually still trying to make a decision really appreciated even a couple of paragraphs when offered. I never heard back from the dean at LU despite explicitly asking for a reply with either a yes or a no.

If I had not heard about Delbert already having accepted the offer at LU I could have spent essentially a whole day of my time writing a letter about Delbert for LU, all so that some lying dean could put it (unused and maybe even unread) in Delbert's file and then check off another bureaucratic requirement in the hiring process.

This kind of thing is really a waste of the profession's time and makes me think that letters at the senior level should be compensated at the letter-writer's consulting rate.

Oh, and though I was tempted, I did not forward all this information to the provost at LU along with a rant about their dean lying to senior faculty at peer institutions. Maybe I should have.

On Peyton Manning

As instapundit would say, heh.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Toxic wives and the business cycle

From the Daily Telegraph, sad stories of women who love the easy life more than they love their husbands. Here's a long snip from the start of the article:
You loser!" screamed Katie, aiming a vase at her husband. "You've destroyed my life,'' she continued, hurling it. "Just look at my hair, look at my nails! You loser, you jerk, you nobody."

Katie's husband, Jack, whose property portfolio disintegrated in the financial crash, had just told his wife that she would have to cut back on her thrice-weekly visits to Nicky Clarke, the nail salon in Harvey Nichols, and the oxygen facials, chemical peels and seaweed wraps at Space NK.

Not only that, but they no longer had the money to pay for an army of bullied Eastern Europeans to wait on her hand and foot.

Worse was to come – the brow-lift would have to be cancelled; her black Amex card would have to be snipped in half; and there was no way, he told her, that he could carry on spending £28,000 a year on Henry's school fees at Eton.

Chloe, too, would have to leave the marginally cheaper (only £25,000 pa) Wycombe Abbey immediately.

Such was the aggression and verbal and physical abuse that followed that Jack was left with cut lips and blood streaming from a broken nose.

Their eight-year-old child, not yet at boarding school, sat cowering in a corner and dialling 999. When they arrived, they had to restrain Katie forcibly from attacking her husband.

An extreme and isolated example of the global economic meltdown hitting the £1 million home? Sadly no. When the super-rich feel the pinch, inevitably, the Toxic Wife heads off.

One wonders once again why long-term prostitution, which is what this sort of marriage really is, is perfectly legal in the US, while the short term sexual rental market is not. Perhaps the reverse arrangement would be welfare-improving?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Super Bowl

Dan Drezner says most of what I wanted to say about the commercials in his post. They were remarkably disappointing. He fails to mention the whole portfolio of stupid Doritos commercials. We agree on Coke and Simpsons - that was probably my favorite of the evening. And we agree about the self-criticizing Audi commercial, which appeared to say that you should buy an Audi because it is green and you want to please the greens because they are fascists. A winning formula? I am guessing not.

I laughed hardest at what I think was a local commercial for Metro PCS featuring the two Indian (as in from India) guys doing a "tech talk" show and, for reasons unclear, a German man dressied in Lederhosen providing a dunce cap to the caller trapped in a bad cell phone contract.

I would be a bit less hard on the Who than Drezner. Their voices have not held up so well with age but man can they still play and, as with William Shatner, they get points for so obviously having a good time.

Oh, and there was a football game too, and New Orleans won. Good for Drew Brees, who has gotten a lot better since his Purdue team lost to Washington in the 2001 Rose Bowl.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Winter Warriors versus Snowmageddon

The wussies at the WaPo are now calling DC's mid-sized snowstorm "snowmageddon". Please. Places like Syracuse and Rochester get snowfalls this size all the time without whining or expecting national news coverage.

Meanwhile, in Ann Arbor, "winter warriors" dined and drank outside in a special promotion to boost the downtown business area.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Architectural failure

A slide show of architectural failures from Slate.

I actually like the Stata Center (no relation to the statistical package) at MIT. I've walked by it a few times in transit between the NBER and the Sonesta. Falling Water is amazing, despite the issues in the slide show, and well worth a visit even if you are not a Frank Lloyd Wright groupie.

Hat tip: the Agitator

Snow comes to Beltwayland

Mocking the wussies inside the Beltway, who think that a few inches of snow is just a millimeter or two away from the apocalypse.

Hat tip: the consumerist (!)

Buckfast for breakfast

A (legal) drug scare in Scotland around a mix of wine and caffeine produced by Benedictine monks and called Buckfast.

Best bit:
Nor, he said, is wine-making a sign that the monks of Buckfast Abbey have strayed from the teachings of St. Benedict, an accusation recently leveled by an Episcopal bishop.

“It’s always wise to remember that Jesus turned water into wine,” the spokesman, Jim Wilson, said in an interview.

Amen to that!

Good to see, too, that religious competition is alive and well in Scotland between the Episcopalians and the Catholics!

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

The Guardian discovers length-biased sampling

One of the reasons that I cover duration models in my graduate applied econometrics course, even though they are not used that widely in the literature (other than, oddly, in the Netherlands and Denmark) is so that I can cover length-biased sampling.

If you take a random section of spells - hospital stays, welfare receipt, marriage or whatever - you will over-sample long spells relative to their proportion of all spells because they are more likely to be in progress at the time you draw your sample.

The duration literature calls this length-biased sampling and it is another manifestation of the same basic point rediscovered in this column in the Guardian, which explains why your friends will, on average, have more friends than you do, and why, on average, you will be less fit than the other people at your gym (if you have a gym).

Hat tip: Good s**t blog

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Advances in popular culture: underwear edition

A new line of children's lingerie from Miley Cyrus' little sister.

This works on so many levels it is hard to count them all.

Hat tip: the agitator

Giant new Chinese restaurant in Ypsilanti

Another new restaurant, this one in Ann Arbor's next door neighbor, Ypsilanti.

I particularly liked this bit from the piece:
Hong Kong-style food is like when Europeans talk about French cooking," she [a friend of the owners] said. "It’s the best. And it's much lighter.”
Nothing say "light" like French cooking! More cream sauce anyone?

A great mystery was solved for me a couple of years ago when I went to Beijing for a conference. I had always wondered why Chinese restaurants in North America had such garish decor. I discovered that in fact restaurant decor is even more garish in China! So what I thought for years was decorative fakery is in fact a realistic part of the cultural experience.

Signing day

Yesterday was signing day in college football.

Washington and Michigan both took in highly rated classes of recruits.

Michigan dipped into the market segment consisting of young scholar-athletes charged with (but not convicted of!) multiple felonies in high school. This should help keep up the flow of police-blotter related stories out of south campus here in Ann Arbor.

You can view the rankings here courtesy of the Dawgman. They have UW just above Michigan but some of the other rankings I looked at had the reverse order (and some had both down in the lower teens or upper 20s rather than the upper teens).

It would be an entertaining exercise to try and explain all this to a European.

Adventures in working paper misbehavior

Regular readers of ECONJEFF will have heard me rant before about media outlets (like the NYT) that write articles about working papers, which have not yet been peer reviewed, rather than published papers, which have been peer reviewed.

An astute but anonymous reader forwarded me this piece on something called "Seeking Alpha" that excerpts (and so publicizes) a paper that hasn't even been released yet as a working paper. Right there at the bottom it says:
[Excerpt from a paper coming out in two weeks]
Of course, it only gets better, for the author of the excerpt on Seeking Alpha is also the author of the as-yet-unreleased paper.

One suspects that better feedback on the paper would be forthcoming, and the discussion of the paper's analysis and conclusions might be more elevated, if the publicity campaign for the paper began after the paper was available to readers, rather than before.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Silvio's grows

My wife and I are big fans of Silvio's Organic Pizza in Ann Arbor, located just north of the "diag" on the University of Michigan's central campus. As reported by Silvio has just doubled the size of his restaurant by incorporating the space next door formerly occupied by a clothing store.

At the same time, the decor has changed from organic granola frumpy to Italian modern. It is quite nice indeed, and the food remains delicious.


Obama as populist

A history-filled reflection on Obama's somewhat implausible recent attempts to repackage himself as a populist by Jesse Walker of Reason (but published in the WSJ).

I hope Jesse finds his way back to Ann Arbor. It was fun having him around.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Whining overachievers at Princeton

The NYT chronicles the sad tale of grade deflation at Princeton.

We have a lot of grade inflation here at Michigan too. I cringe at the fraction of students in my undergraduate econometrics course who get As, which is around 40 percent. Almost no one gets a C or a D. But I am just following the norms set by my predecessor in the course, whose grade distributions I reviewed before setting my own the first time I taught it and, more broadly, the standard grading patterns in my department and in the university as a whole.

Also, as an individual professor, holding the line on my own can only hurt me. My teaching ratings would sink relative to other professors not fighting the good fight. Even at the department level we do not have an incentive to resist, as our departmental funding depends on how many bottoms we put in seats in our courses. If we hold the line, we will lose students and funding to less disciplined disciplines.

So you really need university level action, which seems unlikely, particularly given that the administration is presently preoccupied (as they should be) with the financial crisis and the rest of the time is preoccupied with construction projects, the basketball and football teams, and demographic diversity.

Perhaps more realistic is a proposal to put class ranks on transcripts both for every individual class (e.g. ECON 406 A 25/70) as well as within major GPA ranks (e.g. BA Econ 225/700). While we're at it, why not report individual level SAT/ACT scores on the transcripts, along with the average SAT/ACT among graduates in the student's major? That would provide information on how to adjust for sorting by major.

For those who want to learn more - and isn't that really all of us - here is the page about grade inflation alluded to, but not fully described, in the NYT piece. The statistics are pretty amazing.

Hat tips: Dan Black and Brian McCall

Lifetime versus Spike

The NYT offers a light-hearted comparison of the Lifetime cable network and the Spike! cable network.



This month Lifetime offered a new movie called “The Pregnancy Pact,” an earnest film inspired by a spate of pregnancies among high school girls in Gloucester, Mass., in 2008. The movie, which stars Thora Birch, takes a forthright look at serious issues like peer pressure, the lack of opportunities for young people and the role schools should play in providing sex education and birth control. It is a commendable effort to educate about and generate discussion of a subject with far-reaching implications for teenagers and society as a whole.

The Spike version of this semi-public-service programming is a show called “Manswers.” It too seeks to educate about and generate discussion of certain subjects, but those subjects have no far-reaching implications for anyone. Each episode answers (in a voice-over that is screamed like a used-car commercial) a half-dozen or so questions that probably didn’t need asking. These, for instance:

¶What is the biggest strip club — strippers again! — in the world? (Answer: Some joint in Las Vegas.)

¶How many nonalcoholic beers (which have a smidgen of alcohol in them) would you have to drink to get legally drunk? (About 40.)

¶Is a rayon, lambskin or cotton cloth best for drying a car? The research on this one was done by three buxom women in halter tops — one top made out of each material — who rubbed their breasts over a wet car, then wrung out the halter tops to see how much water they had absorbed. Winner: Cotton.

Botom line: men are slime, but you knew that already.