Thursday, February 28, 2013

Is sociology going to the dogs?

Papers from the Animals and Society Section of the American Sociological Association.

Some of these sound reasonable enough, others, perhaps less so.

What do you do after you run for governor (and don't win)?

You join a great big law firm.

Congrats to Rob McKenna on the new gig.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Interivew with Justin Wolfers

This interview is from our department web page.

I prefer to think of economics as a "way of thinking" rather than a set of tools, but both formulations emphasize the breadth and generality of the discipline.

The interviewer is Emily Chiu, ace honors undergraduate and, like yours truly, an afficianado of Harold's Chicken Shack in Hyde Park.

Addendum: link fixed - hopefully I get a kickback from the CEA for sending people to their conference website for a few hours.

Information and medicine

Someone did a study that allowed patients to see their doctor's notes. The sky did not fall.

What is missing from the write-up is impacts on health outcomes. The other thing that is missing is a cost-benefit analysis.

There are also external validity issues. I don't know about the other two study sites, but Harborview is Seattle is a high end medical center. Things might be different at, say, an urban hospitial serving a lot of Medicaid patients.

More broadly, the study is one more reminder of the astounding backwardness of medical IT.

Via MR.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Sheldon Danziger to Russell Sage

My friend and Ford School colleague Sheldon Danziger is leaving us to become the president of the Russell Sage Foundation.

Congratulations to Sheldon, who will be much missed around here!

Movie: Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook was much, much better than I expected given the smarmy title. There is still a big load of sugar at the end, and a perhaps over-sentimentalized vision of working class life, but there is much more than those things as well.

Strong performances by all, especially Robert DeNiro and Jennifer Lawrence.

NYT liked it too.


Assorted links

1. Markets in everything: daydreamer desk.

2. Local ruin porn: the abandoned pre-historic forest. I have driven by this a couple of times and been very tempted to wander through it.

3. When captial constraints limit hiring: theatrical edition.

4. How come Whitman gets Eric Idle and Michigan gets stuck with politicians and Sanjay Gupta?

5. Can licensing save Playboy?

6. Can there be anything sadder than a clothing line from the post office?

Hat tip on #1 and #3 (link and joke) to Charlie Brown, on #2 to Angela Wyse and on #6 to ASAK.

Special issue of Empirical Economics

The special issue of the journal Empirical Economics on program evaluation that I co-edited with my friends Bernd Fitzenberger and Michael Lechner is now published.

Thanks again to our many (very patient) authors for all their hard work.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Movie: The Quartet

The Quartet is a delightful bit of highbrow BBC fluff, full of famous British actors, beautiful settings and lucious music.

Put differently, I completely agree with the characteriziation in the NY Times review but I am happier about it than they are.

Recommended if you have been missing Masterpiece Theater.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Buckeye confusion

Yahoo! Sports frames this story of an older couple getting pulled over by hyperactive cops acting out their SWAT team fantasies as just a humorous anecdote, which I suppose it is on some level.

At the same time, it is not illegal to have a sticker of a marijuana leaf on your car, and such a sticker surely does not constitute probable cause for pulling someone over. It is also very illegal for the police to suggest that the people remove the sticker from the car when they have every right to display it, whether it be buckeye or weed. If the poor buckeyes could remember which police department pulled them over, they could probably make some well-deserved money in a lawsuit, while also teaching the locals a lesson or two.

Scary, sad and stupid, all at once.

Hat tip: Scott Wood

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Krugman on confirmation bias

Paul helpfully illustrates what a really strong case of confirmation bias looks like in practice.

In point of fact, both teams suck at the evidence thing, though there is something to the point that the blue team likes to create evidence and ignore it, while the red team prefers not to create it at all. Probably that has something to do with the usual team affiliation of evidence creators.

Hat tip: Pam Smock

Assorted links

1. Snow plow ride-along from

2. More ruin porn.

3. 24 hour coffee shop now on a trial run on the UM campus. I was shocked to learn that there is nothing else closer than Arborland (a couple of miles away) that was open all night.

4. Remarks on being a New Englander in Norway, from the FT

5. Mark Steyn on the royal state of the union.

#2 via marginal revolution, #5 via instapundit.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Book: Emerson by Lawrence Buell

Buell, Lawrence. 2003. Emerson. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

I had been meaning to learn more about American literary icon Ralph Waldo Emerson for some time. When we made the choice to send our daughter to the Emerson School in Ann Arbor, I decided it was time to actually read something. What I read was this book by Harvard professor Lawrence Buell.

This is not the ideal first book to read about Emerson to be sure; the reader walks into the middle of a rich, old, academic conversation about Emerson as a literary figure, a religious figure, an historical figure, a social reformer and a philosopher. The book also includes a short biography at the start to set the stage.

I was fascinated throughout, particularly by the bits about Emerson's life on the lecture circuit, which was the TED talks equivalent of the time. Emerson's famous essays are largely based on the lectures he would give in cities and towns around the country. I actually read one of the essays (as directed by Buell at the start of one of the chapters) and found it tough sledding, in part because people just talked and wrote differently at the time when trying to convey complex ideas and in part because, reflecting its origins as a speech, it was more coherent at the paragraph level than as a whole.

Overall, while ex post I wish I had read this book second (or third), it is well worth reading at any point if you have an interest in American intellectual life in the middle of the 19th century.

School safety

Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution posted a fine letter that he wrote to the principal of his son's high school. I liked it enough that I forwarded it to the principal of my daughter's elementary school.

Lurking in the background is the question that Alex implicitly raises, which is why parents in general are much more freaked out about the safety of their children than they used to be, when in fact their children are far safer than they used to be. Social science should have an answer to this, but so far as I know it does not.

Movie: Side Effects

Side Effects is great fluffy fun. The performance by Rooney Mara is especially memorable.

A.O. Scott likes it too.


Monday, February 11, 2013

America's top colleges and their "massive" distortion

The Atlantic offers up and mis-interprets some descriptive statistics comparing the racial/ethnic composition of the US population with the racial/ethnic composition of the undergraduates at several top US universities, including Michigan.

First off, there is some very basic sloppiness here in that it is never made explicit what age range is covered in the US population numbers nor is it made explicit whether or not the student numbers include graduate students. I will assume that the US numbers include all ages and that the student numbers are only undergraduates.

Second, and more deeply, why does this comparison make any sense at all? Most of those who attend university do so in their late teens and early twenties. A more sensible comparison would thus focus not on the entire US population, but on the US population in the relevant age range. But of course not everyone in the relevant age range meets the admissions criteria for a top undergraduate institution. That is not the fault of the top undergraduate institutions, but rather of the K-12 school system and of parents. Thus, a still more sensible comparison would focus only on those in the US pouplation in the relevant age range with scores on standardized tests that would put them at risk of admission to top colleges. Delving deeper into the details, state schools like Michigan differentially admist in-state students. Thus, for Michigan, the relevant comparison group is a weighted average of the relevant comparison group, with a weight of about 2/3 assigned to Michigan residents and a weight of 1/3 assigned to the remainder of the US (which could itself be reweighted to reflect the fact that Michgian does not draw at random from other states). There is a footnote abuot this issue but the Atlantic is too lazy to incorporate the information into the figures. Finally, Michigan, and most likely some of the other schools as well, sell university educations to foreigners, many of them from China. A comparison that made the point that the Atlantic claims to want to make but does not would take out the foreign students.

I suspect that the Atlantic columnist had a deadline to meet and emitted this disaster to meet it. I give it an F.

The Lumpy Economist

I have been meaning for a while to add Rudi Bachmann's biliingual blog "The Lumpy Economist" to the blog roll at the right and have finally gotten to it.

My favorite post, of the sub-sample I have read, is this one.

The year in celebrity sideboob

This photo essay is from the Huffington Post and was linked to by instapundit, and so necessarily represents a shining example of bi-partisan cooperation on matters of national importance.

Walking in Obama's shoes

Nick Gillespie at reason mocks the journalistic defenders of the president's claimed right to order killings of US citizens without limit or oversight.

IHS summer seminars

The Institute for Humane Studies runs summer seminars on classical liberal themes for undergraduates and graduate students. 

I did one of these back in my undergraduate days and really enjoyed it.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

UM grad student on Steve Landsburg's blog

Steve Landsburg describes UM grad student Susan Godlonton's job market paper on his blog.

I will confess that I must have had my "economics blinders" on, because I was quite surprised at the results. But they are sound and I give Susan a lot of credit for pushing on this line of research.

I should note that I do not blog about Michigan flyouts because many of my colleagues hold the erroneous belief that we somehow benefit from trying (and largely failing) to keep them a secret.

IZA Young Labor Economist Award

Congratulations to Scott Carrell and Mark Hoekstra for winning the IZA Young Labor Economist Award for 2013!

Details at the IZA website.

Assorted links

1. What Lady Gaga likes backstage.

2. The Atlantic on the future of Barnes and Noble.

3. Pictures of a brothel. Why so tacky? [SFW]

4. Letter from a freed slave.

5. Put the phone on vibrate before you hide it.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

German education minister steps down

Just days after being stripped of her doctorate, the German education minister has been replaced. Rudi Bachmann provides links and some remarks on "title arousal" in Germany.

I do miss having Rudi around, particularly at job talks.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Signing day

Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times on the Husky football recruiting class.

Sports writer discovers Bayes Rule. Film at 11.

A fine rant about doping in pro sports from Bill Simmons at Grantland.

I only disagree one bit, which is that, in my view, the president (of the US, one assumes) should not be involved. He has other things to do. He is not our dad or our boss, contrary to the views of noted constitutional scholar Chris Rock. He is just a manager, with certain assigned duties, and running pro sports leagues is not among them.

Also, I have no particular views about doping per se. I just think that we should make some rules and then enforce them, in preference to the current regime of rampant hypocricy. I have no really strong opinion about whether the best rules are no rules or some rules or an absolute insistence that on mimicing the biomedical environment of 1930. Whatever. But get rid of all the lying.

Hat tip on the article and the title: Dan Black

Movie: Rust and Bone

Rust and Bone is gritty and rough and real and well worth seeing.

I liked this like from A.O. Scott's review:

If this is a love story, it is also a combat picture, in which the principal characters are at war with themselves, each other and the cruelty of the world.

Warning: the review contains some spoilers.

The background class politics, and the tension between order and chaos and how it intersects with social class, are deftly handled and give the viewer even more to think about.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Noah Smith on depression

Former UM gradual student Noah Smith has a thoughtful (one might even say moving) post on dealing with depression.

Oh, you mean I have to write my dissertation myself? Scheisse!

Germany's Minister of Education (!) has been stripped of her doctorate due to plagiarism.

Maybe they should check all of the doctorates, and maybe they should do it at the time, rather than decades later ....

Addendum: Scheisse! I spelled Scheisse incorrectly ... it is fixed now, thanks to Rudi. Plus you can find more links at Rudi's blog e.g. here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Assorted links

1. On the history of German restaurants in Ann Arbor. Mainly because it is not within walking distance of campus, I have yet to make it to Metzger's.

2. Ruin porn: luxury hotel in Mozambique edition.

3. The University of California rebranding controversy makes it to the NYT.

4. UM tries to avoid a local version of the Manti T'eo scandal.

5. An excellent comic about the felon in all of us.

Hat tip on #4 to Charlie Brown. #5 via instapundit.

Craig Ferguson on addiction

I found this rather moving.

Noble agriculturalists

Unlike Paul Harvey, when I think of farmers I think of the public-spirited growers of tomatoes, using their friends - how much did that cost? - in the government to raise their prices and, yes, the morally superior sugar farmers who do the same.

Of course, Chrysler, which makes the Ram trucks featured in the Paul Harvey super bowl ad, itself counts government assistance as a recurring and important part of its business plan. Birds of a feather ...


MIT Technology Review provides an interesting puff piece on economist Josh Angrist.

Highlights: the reporters noble but still unsuccessful attempt to explain local average treatment effects and the indirect criticism of a certain famous co-author of mine.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Super Bowl Ads

Can there be any question but that the first Go Daddy ad was the winner?

Biggest losers: the Dodge Ram ad featuring the late populist radio announcer Paul Harvey and his sickly sweet peaen to farmers. I assumed until the very last minute that it would an ad for some agri-business welfare queen like ADM rather than for trucks. And the Budweiser "black crown" ads. It does not actually matter how many black-clad pretty people you you trot out; Bud will just never be cool.

I also liked the Gangnam pistachio ad and the Taco Bell party seniors.

The whole list, with videos, here.

Addendum: some interesting background on "The Kiss" from the Daily Mail.65 takes!

Hat tip on the addendum: Charlie Brown

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Movie: Trouble with the Curve

This doesn't happen often, but A.O. Scott, writing at his best, liked this one better than I did.

Still, at the end of the day, Clint - locals will know there is a picture of him in my office, courtesy of a postcard sent years ago by one of my best graduate school friends - outshines the smarmy story, making this one recommended by me as well.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

A new new bookstore for Ann Arbor's downtown

You probably have to be nuts to open a bookstore of any sort these days, but doing so in downtown Ann Arbor, which is presently without a general interest new bookstore due to the closing of both Shaman drum and Borders #1, is probably less nuts than opening one in many other places.

The owners have - of course - a blog describing their progress with the new store.

Good luck to them!

Assorted links

1. Emma Watson on American boys.

2. One of my very favorite Emo jokes.

3. Avoiding police encounters from Slate's new crime blog.

4. 10 ways water can kill you, courtesy of a UM professor.

5. Crab lice holocaust, and what you can do about it.

#1 is via instapundit. .

War on drugs: DC edition

Mike Riggs at reason remarks on the very different consequences of the marijuana front of the war on drugs for people of different social classes. This is, of course, just one of the many offensive features of American's deeply conflicted and often puritanical fascination with recreational chemistry.

FT on Sidney Rittenberg

The FT interviews Sidney Rittenberg, an American who was in Mao's inner circle during the early years of the People's Republic.

We unfortunately missed the movie when it passed (very quickly) through Ann Arbor.