Saturday, May 31, 2008

Fat is Good

Dietary fat, that is, not your own fat. The more I read on diet, the more I'm convinced of this. Consider a recent New York Times piece about how to cook and eat vegetables:
What accompanies the vegetables can also be important. Studies at Ohio State measured blood levels of subjects who ate servings of salsa and salads. When the salsa or salad was served with fat-rich avocados or full-fat salad dressing, the diners absorbed as much as 4 times more lycopene, 7 times more lutein and 18 times the beta carotene than those who had their vegetables plain or with low-fat dressing.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Asch Experiment Video

Via the Situationist, here's a video of one of the most famous social psychology experiments: Solomon Asch's work on group conformity:

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Isaac Lidsky

I think this has got to be the most impressive and inspiring person who ever acted on Saved by the Bell II. (Or the original Saved by the Bell, for that matter.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Aggressive Discipline

From BPS comes a report of a new study:
Harsh discipline makes aggressive children worse

Parents should avoid harsh, combative ways of disciplining their aggressive children. That's according to psychologists whose new research shows that harsh parenting makes children more aggressive in the long run.
But, as often is the case with such research, there's a hitch:
A weakness in the research, acknowledged by the authors, is that all their measures were from mothers' self-report. One implication of this is that the observed associations could simply come from the fact that mothers who use more aggressive discipline are more likely to report their children's future behaviour as aggressive.
A weakness indeed. Moreover, as Judith Rich Harris is fond of pointing out, there's an enormous amount of scholarly literature purporting to show how parents affect children, but most of it misses the fact that 1) children's own behavior influences how their parents treat them, and 2) parents and children typically share the same genes, background, and environment, which means that their similar behavior could spring from something else (i.e., it wouldn't be that the children are just little lumps of clay being molded solely by their parents).

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Falling in Love

Movies and popular culture often celebrate "falling in love." I'd suggest, however, that outside of physical ailments (including everything from cancer to starvation), "falling in love" is ultimately responsible for maybe half of all the misery experienced by the human race.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, I'm not saying this because of any personal experience. It's rather a commentary on how many people I've seen who messed up their lives by dating or marrying the wrong person just because they "fell in love," as well as people who threw away a perfectly good marriage and abandoned their kids because they thought they "fell in love" with someone else.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Older = Wiser

Science (at the mention of which all readers will please bow their heads in a moment of silence) has now confirmed that older people tend to be wiser.

In other news, people tend to fear death.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Things You Hear Your Wife Say . . .

when there's a three-year-old in the house:

"Get that plunger out of your mouth!"

Eat Salt

Turns out that eating a low-salt diet is associated with higher death rates.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Religious Freedom

Southern Appeal has a good post about the religious freedom implications of a Senate investigation into various "prosperity gospel" ministers.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Coase and the First Amendment

Rick Hills asks:
It seems odd that the law distrusts the judgments of citizens in ordinary commercial transactions so much more than their judgments in political transactions. The law stringently regulates the quality of drugs, food, cars, and consumer products generally on the theory that consumers are not capable of accurately evaluating these products for themselves. But the First Amendment prohibits similar regulation of the political marketplace, apparently on the theory that ignorance can more easily be tolerated with matters like nuclear war and fiscal crisis than with matters like the purchase of a tube of toothpaste.

At the very least, should the law sanction blatantly misleading political statements more aggressively? Should there be an FTC of political ads?
Ronald Coase once wrote an essay with precisely the same theme: "The market for goods and the market for ideas," in the American Economic Review (May 1974). The essay is reprinted in the book "Essays on Economics and Economists."

After pointing out the stark contrast between government regulation of the economy (widespread) and government regulation of speech and ideas (rare and difficult to sustain), Coase asks:
The paradox is that government intervention which is so harmful in the one sphere becomes beneficial in the other. The paradox is made even more striking when we note that at the present time it is usually those who press most strongly for an extension of government regulation in other markets who are most anxious for a vigorous enforcement of the First Amendment prohibitions on government regulation in the market for ideas.

What is the explanation for the paradox? . . . The market for ideas is the market in which the intellectual conducts his trade. The explanation of the paradox is self-interest and self-esteem. Self-esteem leads the intellectuals to magnify the importance of their own market. That others should be regulated seems natural, particularly as many of the intellectuals see themselves as doing the regulating. But self-interest combines with self-esteem to ensure that, while others are regulated, regulation should not apply to them.
Coase goes on to argue that there is no logical or systematic reason to take a different approach in the idea market, which is subject to many of the same informational asymmetries, biases, rational ignorance, and market failures that characterize any other market:
In fact, if we do this and use for the market for ideas the same approach which has commended itself to economists for the market of goods, it is apparent that the case for government intervention in the market of ideas is much stronger than it is, in general, in the market for goods. For example, economists usually call for government intervention . . . when the market does not operate properly -- when, that is, there exist what are common referred to as . . . 'externalities.' If we try to imagine the property rights system that would be required and the transactions that would have to be carried out to assure that anyone who propagated an idea or a proposal for reform received the value of the good it produced or had to pay compensation for the harm that resulted, it is easy to see that in practise there is likely to be a good deal of 'market failure.' . . .

Or consider the question of consumer ignorance, which is commonly thought to be a justification for government intervention. It is hard to believe that the general public is in a better position to evaluate competing views on economic and social policy than to choose between different kinds of food. Yet there is support for regulation in the one case but not in the other.

Or consider the question of preventing fraud, for which government intervention is commonly advocated. It would be difficult to deny that newspaper articles and the speeches of politicians contain a large number of false and misleading statements; indeed, sometimes they seem to consist of little else. Government action to control false and misleading advertising is considered highly desirable. Yet a proposal to set up a Federal Press Commission or a Federal Political Commission modeled on the Federal Trade Commission would be dismissed out of hand.
In a later interview, Coase made clear that he was playing devil's advocate here:
TH [Tom Hazlett]: What about your article on the market for goods and the market for ideas in the American Economic Review in 1974? You created quite a stir with this and were interviewed by Time magazine. What did you say in that article, and why was it so controversial?

RC: It was controversial because I said that the arguments for regulation of the market for goods and the regulation of the market for ideas are essentially the same, except that they’re perhaps stronger in the area of ideas if you assume consumer ignorance. It’s easier for people to discover that they have a bad can of peaches than it is for them to discover that they have a bad idea.

TH: So if you think that the consumer, ignorant as he is, ought to be protected by a government regulator, then you should really believe that the government regulator ought to step in and police the speech of professors or politicians or pundits.

RC: That’s right. If the government is competent to do the one, it’s competent to do the other.

TH: Then there ought to be a federal philosophy commission.

RC: That’s right. The press was horrified by the idea. If the argument is exactly the same for regulating the press as for regulating peaches, this meant that I was arguing for regulation of the press.

TH: You have to be careful with reductio ad absurdum arguments.

RC: As they assumed that all regulation in the market for goods was fine, it never struck them that the argument was really the other way around.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Lincoln Douglas Debates

The Fox News graphics people evidently failed American History:

But at least they got the right century. It could have been worse:

Friday, May 02, 2008

Weight Loss

This was funny:
The story of the formely 400-pound Arkansas inmate now suing the county because he lost 100 pounds in jail that only lets him eat about 3,000 kcal/day . . . has been making the rounds recently. Now, it is certainly astonishing how the physical world behaves the way that the laws of physics predict it does, and thermodynamics is no exception. There are quite a few fat people out there who claim, in all apparent seriousness, that food consumption has no causal relationship to their weight and that they maintain their bulk by eating maybe only 1,500 kcal/day. However, none of these people has ever been able to do this under controlled conditions where they can't sneak in snacks. . . . . And of course doing so would be an instant Nobel prize in both physics and medicine (and Randi prize, and what else) for establishing that a human body is able to generate energy out of thin air, so I'm pretty confident to be that none of these guys will ever do it.