Unrelated to all that, 11/30 edition

The Superiority of Economists

We begin by documenting the relative insularity of economics, using bibliometric data. Next we analyze the tight management of the field from the top down, which gives economics its characteristic hierarchical structure. Economists also distinguish themselves from other social scientists through their much better material situation (many teach in business schools, have external consulting ac- tivities), their more individualist worldviews, and in the confidence they have in their discipline’s ability to fix the world’s problems. Taken together, these traits constitute what we call the superiority of economists, where economists’ objective supremacy is intimately linked with their subjective sense of authority and entitlement…

Economists command some of the highest levels of compensation in American arts and science faculties, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. In fact, they even “earn more and have better career prospects” than physicists and mathematicians (Freeman, ibid.); only computer scientists and engineers do better. Unlike many academics in the theoretical sciences and humanities, many prominent economists have the opportunity to obtain income from consulting fees, private investment and partnerships, or from membership on corporate boards…In this essay, we explore the shifting relations between economics and the other social sciences in four specific dimensions. First, we document the relative insularity of economics and its dominant position within the network of the social sciences in the United States…

Economists, by contrast, tend to see institutionalized hierarchies as emergent, truthful indicators of some underlying worth, and consequently are obsessed with them. It is worth noting that in no other social sciences can one find the extraordinary volume of data and research about rankings (of journals, departments, and individuals) that economists produce, not to mention RePEc (a research archive) and the continued existence of a substantial, if marginalized, subfield focused on the history of economics.

Hilarious. Also reinforces my “even if economics are a science, they are not one of ‘the sciences'” view; it is too insular and lacks participation in the broader intellectual trajectory of Science. via Claudia Sahm

Feminists wrestle with testosterone: Hormones, socialization and cultural interactionism as predictors of women’s gendered selves

Sociology of gender has developed beyond a personality-centered idea of ‘‘sex-roles’’ to an approach that stresses interaction and social structure. At the same time, there has been a concurrent development in the psychological sex-differences and medical literatures toward including the biological bases of sex-typed behavior and gender identities. In this paper, while we conceptualize gender as a social structure, we focus only on the individual level of analysis: testing the relative strength of (maternal circulating) prenatal hormones, childhood socialization, and the power of expectations attached to adult social roles (cul- tural interactionist) as explanations for women’s self-reported feminine and masculine selves. Our findings are complex, and support some importance of each theory. Prenatal hormones, childhood socialization, and cultural interactionism were all influential factors for gendered selves. While cultural expectations predicted only feminine selves, prenatal hormones were more robust predictors of masculine sense of self. While personality may be a relatively stable characteristic influenced by the body and childhood socialization, our results reinforce the importance of studying how the social world responds to and reinforces gendered personality.

…What is most striking and consistent in these data is the power of socialization. Women in this sample who describe themselves as masculine as adults remember having been so as children, and remember being socialized to be so. Self- descriptions of feminine selves are stable from childhood memories, adolescent measures, and adulthood. And this is true even after we have controlled for the influence of prenatal hormonal factors. Although our expectation that cultural inter- actionist theory would be most strongly supported by these data was not confirmed, the findings here are also complex. Adult social roles appear to matter a great deal for how women describe themselves as feminine and yet are not as influential as remembered childhood characteristics. But again, the real story here is the consistency with which childhood socialization (as remembered by respondents) is important for our respondents’ sense of self as masculine or feminine.

via NeuroSkeptic

Why is Behavioral Political Economy so bad?

I came away horribly disappointed. Not with the paper, but with the state of the literature that the authors ably summarize. I notice a lot of theory rather than fact. Stigler and company were deeply empirical. That theory seems focused almost entirely on individual perceptual and decision-making biases, rather than how people in groups produce bad decisions.

I was expecting (hoping?) for things like, “XYZ study the FAA’s perplexing inability to write rules allowing commercial use of drones, analyzing meeting schedules, showing that PDQ’s theories of small group dynamics account for the pattern of indecision,” or “ABC study data collection by Federal Agencies and how the agencies use control of the data to influence academics to write articles supportive of the agency’s goals.” I was hoping even for some good stories of how bureuacratic decisions, lobbying results, bill writing, or anything political/economic can be understood by psychology — or anything else. Alas, no.

The (changing) ecology of snow

Snow has unique physical properties that make it particularly important, compared to equivalent amounts of precipitation. It stores energy and water. It insulates the soil underneath it, buffering it from cold temperatures and slowing its eventual re-warming. Snow limits light to the plants underneath it, reducing photosynthesis, and drastically cutting primary productivity during its stay. In addition to these physical properties, the sheer weight of snow has to be considered. Plants beneath a pile of snow risk compression, breakage, and deformation.

A heavy blanket of snow, variable in its depth and consistency, changes the matrix and thus significantly alters movement: snow can ease dispersal, make it much more costly, or even prevent it altogether. Ease of movement in snow is in turn is tied to foraging and predation success. For example, small, lightweight vertebrates such as shrews become active underneath the snow, tunnelling in search of food and constructing nests under deep cover. For them, snow cover may aid winter survival. On top of the snow, some animals (hares, fox, etc.) enjoy ease of movement. If individuals are light enough to travel over the top of the snow, snow can reduce landscape complexity, burying brambles and filling hollows. However, for larger species, snow may come at a cost. Moose or reindeer for example, with their large masses and long, slender legs are at risk when snow depths are too high or a hard crust covers the snow. In these conditions, they may sink, slowing their escape from lighter predators.

All in the family: hierarchical social and genetic structure in the Old World monkey Theropithecus gelada

Geladas form complex, hierarchical societies. At the lowest level, ‘units’ consist of one dominant male gelada, up to 5 subordinate males, and one to 12 female geladas. The social structure of geladas is dynamic such that units may fission (i.e. split) into two daughter units or two units may fuse… At the next level up is the ‘team,’ an aggregation of two or more units that associate with each other at least 90% of the time, although not all units form teams. Above the level of the team is the ‘band,’ a group of units that spend 50%-90% of their time together, and finally, at the highest level of hierarchical structure is the ‘community,’ a set units with overlapping home ranges that spend at least 50% of their time together. Unattached males form groups loosely associated with bands (i.e. the bachelors).

Native Intelligence

As Tisquantum’s later history would make clear, he regarded himself first and foremost as a citizen of Patuxet, one of the dozen or so shoreline settlements in what is now eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island that made up the Wampanoag confederation. The Wampanoag, in turn, were part of an alliance with the Nauset, which comprised some 30 groups on Cape Cod, and the Massachusett, several dozen villages clustered around Massachusetts Bay. All of these people spoke variants of Massachusett, a member of the Algonquian language family, the biggest in eastern North America at the time.

British fishing vessels may have reached Newfoundland as early as the 1480s and areas to the south soon after. In 1501, just nine years after Columbus’ first voyage, the Portuguese adventurer Gaspar Corte-Real abducted more than 50 Indians from Maine. Examining the captives, Corte-Real found to his astonishment that two were wearing items from Venice: a broken sword and two silver rings.

Europeans, Indians told other Indians, were physically weak, sexually untrustworthy, atrociously ugly and just plain smelly. (The British and French, many of whom had not taken a bath in their entire lives, were amazed by the Indian interest in personal hygiene.) A Jesuit reported that the “savages” were disgusted by handkerchiefs: “They say, we place what is unclean in a fine white piece of linen, and put it away in our pockets as something very precious, while they throw it upon the ground.”

Great introduction to the political situation surrounding Thanksgiving from the historical Native American perspective.

Everything you wanted to know about poo and sewage

To beat malaria, we need to see it as a social problem

But malaria is also an ecological problem. Mosquitoes aren’t static, unchanging targets. They move around. They mate. They breed in some areas and not in others. Their populations swell and contract throughout the year. They bite at varying times of day. We need to understand these subtle quirks of mosquito life, because they all have a huge impact on our strategies for fighting malaria.

Consider the Sahel—a belt of land that stretches across Africa’s waist, with the Sahara to the north and savannahs to the south. In this region, half a million people die from malaria every year—which is puzzling. Every year, between December and June, the Sahel goes through an intense dry season. Rain hardly falls. Stagnant pools and puddles, in which mosquitoes lay their eggs, evaporate. The adults ought to die before they can start a new generation. And yet, when the rains return, so do malarial mosquitoes, in huge numbers. How do they survive?

The Myth of the Caliphate

Centuries after the fact, the Ottomans decided that they needed to make the whole process look a little more respectable, so royal historians began to assert that the final heir to the Abbasid caliphate, living in exile in Cairo centuries after losing his throne, had voluntarily bestowed his title on Selim. More practically, the Ottomans buttressed their claim to Islamic leadership by serving as guardians of the hajj and sending an elaborately decorated gilt mantle to cover the Kaaba each year…

Of course, Enver’s own star faded, too, with the Ottoman defeat at the end of World War I. Ataturk quickly emerged as a new hero by leading a successful campaign to drive French, Italian, British, and Greek armies out of Ottoman Anatolia. Quickly, some of the same politically attuned Muslims who had supported Abdulhamid’s anti-imperial caliphate found even more to admire in Ataturk’s armed defiance of European might. In Palestine, for example, Muslims who had once turned to the Ottoman caliph for protection against Zionist settlers and British occupiers began to cheer Ataturk, leading one suspicious British officer to worry that the Turkish figure had become “a new savior of Islam.”

Vocalizations in male mice are modulated by social context

To assess whether this extends to mice, the Jarvis lab exposed adult male mice to different social contexts and developed a new approach of analyzing their USVs based on songbird syntax analysis (they’re a songbird lab). They found that male mice modify their syntax, including specific sequences, length of sequence, repertoire composition, and spectral features, according to the social context. For example, when exposed to a live or anesthetized female, male mice emit longer and simpler sequences of syllables. However, when they are presented with fresh female urine, they emit more complex sequences of syllables. Interestingly, females can detect and are responsive to these changes, as playback experiments showed that the females prefer the complex songs over the simpler ones.

The horrifying Anglerfish

10 things you probably didn’t know about the Middle Ages

2) People had the vote

Well, some people at least. Not a vote for national, representative government – because that really wasn’t a medieval thing – but a vote in local politics. In France, in the 12th and 13th centuries and beyond, many towns and villages were run at a local level as a commune, and there were often annual elections for ‘consuls’ and ‘councillors’, where most of the male inhabitants could vote.

A more complex form of election and government was used in the city states of north Italy, with more tiers of elected officials. Women could not usually stand as officials, nor vote, but some of them were noted in the agreed charters of ‘liberties’ that French towns proudly possessed.


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