A Motu Top 10 on festive giving ideas; gender, nature and nurture; lost Einsteins; how Nazis are made; paywalls; potatoes and productivity, Mugabe's lottery win & climate change in the USian mind

Today's Top 10 is a guest post from Kate Preston, Shakked Noy, Nathan Chappell and Sally Owen of the Motu public policy and research institute.

As always, we welcome your additions in the comments below or via email to david.chaston@interest.co.nz.

And if you're interested in contributing the occasional Top 10 yourself, contact gareth.vaughan@interest.co.nz.

See all previous Top 10s here.

1) GiveWell’s top charities for 2017.

If you’re feeling in the mood for festive giving, GiveWell is a nonprofit which rigorously evaluates charities. They try to examine the good done per dollar spent, rather than the overhyped focus on administrative costs. To give an extreme example: if only 5% of your donation is lost to administrative costs but the charity has no impact, then it’s not worth donating. If 30% of your donation is lost to administrative costs but the remaining 70% transforms people’s lives, then it’s worth donating.

In the link, GiveWell lists their top nine charities for 2017. The causes include giving anti-malaria nets, deworming tablets, direct cash transfers, and helping poor farmers get to the cities while waiting for crops to come in. See the blog for details, including the different types of benefits of each intervention (e.g. saving lives vs. increasing income). For those interested in riskier systemic change, check out the Open Philanthropy Project, where you can encourage criminal justice or animal welfare reform, reduce pandemic risks, etc.

2) On gender differences, no consensus on nature vs. nurture.

A survey by Pew Research Centre in the United States digs into the differences in how men and women view each gender’s place in society. This report highlights the findings of the survey in elaborate detail and sums things up with several graphical representations of the findings. We learn that most Americans think men and women are different along the lines of how they express their feelings, their physical abilities, hobbies and interests, and their approaches to parenting. But interestingly, men are more likely to attribute these differences to biology, while women tended to think they arose from societal expectations.

Survey respondents also saw large differences in the pressures placed on men versus women. 76% or respondents think men face a lot of pressure to support their family financially, while only 40% think women face the same level of pressure. On the other hand, 71% think women face a lot of pressure to be physically attractive compared to just 27% who think this is the case for men. A very interesting section compares the views of men and women on how children should be raised, depending on the gender of their child. 80% of women and 72% of men think it’s good for parents of young girls to encourage them to play with toys or participate in activities typically associated with boys.

But breaking gender norms for boys is relatively less accepted, with 71% of women and 56% of men agreeing that it is good for parents to encourage young boys to play with toys or engage in activities typically associated with girls.

3) America’s lost Einsteins.

New research, led by Stanford economist Raj Chetty, argues there may be millions of ‘lost Einsteins’ in the US – people who would have become inventors and innovators if they’d grown up in different neighbourhoods. By linking patent data with tax records and math test scores, they show that children from high-income (top 1%) families are ten times as likely to become inventors as children from below-median income families, with similarly large gaps by race and gender. This is not driven by differences in ability, as the gaps remain after accounting for primary-school test scores.

They also show the importance of role models – kids growing up with more inventors are more likely to become inventors, and girls especially benefit from being around women inventors. These results hold even when looking at patent inventions within 445 narrowly-defined technology subclasses, showing that it’s a neighbourhood effect and not an ability effect. We know that innovation drives economic growth. Chetty notes that even people uninterested in equity/fairness should care about these results – equal opportunity may boost innovation and growth.   

4) The Making of an American Nazi.

The New York Times recently faced a sustained backlash over their publication of a disturbingly sympathetic profile of an American neo-Nazi. In this piece, The Atlantic shows them how it's done, with a long profile of the editor of The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website. The article is frightening, fascinating, and bizzare, as it covers topics from the cyber-intimidation tactics of the modern alt-right to the months-long retreat into the Philippines wilderness of its subject.

5) It’s gonna get a lot easier to break science journal paywalls.

Most scientists would like a revamp of the way research is published, but despite its optimistic title the key messages of this article are much more grim. We learn that:

  1. Over three quarters of journal articles are only available behind a paywall.
  2. In the 1970s, the top five scientific publishers published around 20% of all journal articles. This has since risen to as much as 50%.
  3. In 2010, Elsevier (one of the world’s largest academic publishers) reported $1 billion of profit.
  4. 65 of the 100 most cited articles ever are behind paywalls. In the end, there is a sliver of hope - free versions of publications are increasingly cropping up online and several tools have been produced to help us find them.

6) Productivity and employment: A cautionary tale.

This blog, drawing on potatoes, roads and the Irish, is well worth a read. First, Frances Coppola brings the reader up to speed on the concept of productivity and measures of output. She then articulately explains the link between capital investment and conventional productivity increase, using the aforementioned example of road building for the Irish. Using these concepts, Coppola eloquently explains her worries for the direction of the UK labour market. One memorable conclusion was that the combination of "everyone must work" with "work must pay" inevitably results in increasingly harsh treatment of those who are unable to work. A well-argued cautionary tale here for policymakers focusing on productivity: to not forget to consider investment levels and to keep the wellbeing of their workforce top of mind. 

7) UN commits to stop ocean plastic waste.

Good news alert! The United Nations have agreed that the world needs to completely stop plastic waste from entering the oceans. Granted, this resolution has no timetable and is not binding, but nonetheless: there is reason to feel hopeful this week. Read on to discover who the major polluters are, where resistance is coming from and which nations already have bans on single use plastic bags.

8) "We are not recommending you give to Texas per se": GiveDirectly's bold disaster-relief experiment.

GiveDirectly is an unorthodox charity which rejects the standard charitable model of buying various goods - food, bed nets, or immunisations - and giving them to people in poverty. Instead, GiveDirectly just gives direct, no-strings-attached cash transfers to people in extreme poverty, primarily in East Africa. Recently, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, GiveDirectly decided to expand their operations to Texas with an experimental scheme. This article provides an overview of the difficult tradeoff that GiveDirectly faces between effectiveness ($100 goes a lot further in East Africa than in Texas) and other considerations, like attracting more donors, or drawing public attention to the practice of direct cash transfers as a form of charity.

9) Climate change in the American mind.

This report, based on a nationally representative survey, summarises American views on climate change. Only 13% realise that almost all climate scientists (90+ percent) think human-caused global warming is happening. Spreading the word about this scientific consensus would surely affect the 42% of Americans who don’t believe global warming is mostly human caused. Amazingly, 40% think there is at least a 50% chance that global warming will cause the extinction of humans. And 71% think there is at least a 10% chance of extinction. If people care about all the future generations that would be lost, shouldn’t global warming dwarf all other political issues?

10) Mugabe hits the jackpot.

With the recent coup in Zimbabwe, it seems that Robert Mugabe's luck has run out. It seems that he reached peak luck in 2000, when he mysteriously won the national lottery.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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23 Comments

97% CONSENSUS? NO!
GLOBAL WARMING MATH, MYTHS & SOCIAL PROOFS.

To gain public acceptance for carbon taxes and renewable energy subsidies, several studies claim a 97% scientific consensus on global warming, implying that the human causes are all about carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases; but a closer look reveals a lot of mathematical manipulation goes into arriving at 97% - a psychological ploy that plays on our primal emotions, ‘herd mentality’ and fear of being the odd man out.

Few people know that the Dutch government has called for the IPCC to be overhauled stating: “..limiting the scope of the IPCC to human-induced climate change is undesirable, especially because natural climate change is a crucial part of the total understanding of the climate system..”

Not only is the 97% claim faulty, the climate predictions of the IPCC exclude an estimated 65% natural factor influence.

https://friendsofscience.org/assets/documents/97_Consensus_Myth.pdf

Thats the thing when you hang out with models. Nothing is real!

Ha ha, but within the assumptions of the model *every* result (extrapolation of those assumptions) must be by definition *real*.

#9. Yep we can work it out that climate change is going to mean no great grandchildren. And we don't change behaviour. A wonderful example of our species genetic disposition to short term thinking.

Yes very sad. A combination of short term thinking and the incredible power of denial when someone doesn't want something to be true.
This is why scientists need to make the most important environmental decisions not politicians.

yes we are completely predisposed to discounting the possible future ill effects of anything for any short term benefit. Turns out we were just animals after all

Almost as if we were matching the results of https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbQgXeY_zi4 [Lone Digger, Caravan Palace song, warning contains some violence, electroswing and um nude animals]

And 71% think there is at least a 10% chance of extinction. If people care about all the future generations that would be lost, shouldn’t global warming dwarf all other political issues?

Yeah, nah. Climate change is ultra-political.

The policy adopted by the EU and backed by the UN has been one of localised emission reductions. Effectively this means giving tax credits to outsource emissions to the developing world and then importing those goods from the developing world. For every 100 parts of emissions reduced in the EU there has been a 130 parts of emissions created elsewhere and during resulting importation.

The EU driven process is excellent for multi-nationals wanting to get $million subsidies for out-sourcing production and for preening virtue signalling EU politicians.

But the EU policy is killing the planet faster.

Perhaps it will be biologists that will save us. "Another life sciences prizewinner, Joanne Chory at the Salk Institute in San Diego, was honoured for three decades of painstaking research into the genetic programs that flip into action when plants find themselves plunged into shade. Her work revealed that plants can sense when a nearby competitor is about to steal their light, sparking a growth spurt in response. The plants detect threatening neighbours by sensing a surge in the particular wavelengths of red light that are given off by vegetation.
"Chory now has ambitious plans to breed plants that can suck vast quantities of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in a bid to combat climate change. She believes that crops could be selected to absorb 20 times more of the greenhouse gas than they do today, and convert it into suberin, a waxy material found in roots and bark that breaks down incredibly slowly in soil. “If we can do this on 5% of the landmass people are growing crops on, we can take out 50% of global human emissions,” she said."

#3 Is something I experienced being poor. A lot less opportunities to learn, less resources and you have to be persistent as people try to drag you down to what they understand (which is often very little). Small town versus city living is also worlds apart.

Me too, I look back now and am shocked at how I was held back by people with influence and/or control. this actually includes my own parents as well. I have achieved my greatest success when I ignored the advice and commentary of those i respected, those who considered themselves my betters, and just the nay sayers. To quote a friend of mine when I enquired how he got into a particular, and profitable position he was in - "I was too stupid to realise I wasn't supposed to be able to do that!"

The biggest mistake I ever made was coming home with a young wife and working for family. Mind you I don't think I would have been a genius, just more learning, less hassle and wasted opportunity.

"We know that innovation drives economic growth... equal opportunity may boost innovation and growth."

complete bollc$%KS of course. Part of the "we can all create growth by thinking harder".
Burning resources faster creates growth.
Thats it.
Of course you can think of ways to burn resources faster ....

Perhaps read the article and consider how much you are locked into your perception. Spending time hanging out with inventors and creative designers would expand your worldview.

Of course nuclear fusion is not a form of combustion (burning) at all but releases enormous quantities of energy.

Of course were I silly enough to take this advice I might mistakenly burn down my house as a way of increasing my salary - assuming we accept a house as a resource. Given that assumption, and that this is an economics web site perhaps I should restrict my arson to business premises and factories for "maximum growth".

Or perhaps you are inferring I will personally be taller after the fire?

P.S. I see now the flaw in my thinking - all the tools I was planning to use for these activities were "invented" at some stage by some evil innovator - which is (apparently) strictly verboten.

Clearly time to stamp out the intelligentsia, with all these inventions around me innovative thought must be rampant.

.. he said whilst posting on the internet .. oh the horror (rolls eyes).

Good to see some people finally calling out the ham n eggs patent nonsense.

Meet his nemisis:

Julian Simon

The Doomslayer

#3
Reminds me of a song, and not politically influenced: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Yhyp-_hX2s [Lose Yourself]

It was funny being into craft foods the partner and I were talking with a developer friend about our small scale production which was met with a few chilli plants, a sausage maker and a few nice infused items inc. liquors. He had recently dropped a few millions in one of his smaller pet developments in Auckland, (earning quite a chunk on massive sections for sale), and suggested to us that we should get some Chinese manufacturers to mass produce some of the recipes for sale in NZ, a step he employed often with his other ventures dropping a few hundred thousand in starting capital... Suffice to say anything is possible but often the speed and chances of taking large steps towards any innovation is always influenced by the amount of backing for a project and the business network you can employ for free. With our current annual $300 supplies budget I think we were not in the position to overreach in a risky venture into a flooded market when most of that cash would be immediately wiped in just getting a "sample" and even then the network for investment for that venture is outside of our own network. If we had 100k to burn it would be a simple matter to build on both for an opportunity & wider run but until then the production capability would be small and return likewise (but still tasty). Even with all the return fed back into the business and with full time applications for investment, growth would be incredibly slow (if not backwards in a bad season).

There is no doubt that the potential for ideas may be spread more equally amongst the many, but the capability to enact them and at a large scale, is very limited to a much smaller percentage. Just a shame that small percentage given far more resources often cannot understand what they would miss without those same resources (and I mean more than just the money and time but the other myriad of factors as well). Hence often to generate more innovative business ventures there are, (very limited), scholarships, competitions, startup houses like the Icehouse and Lightning Lab (which offer time, space, money and mentoring), university funding & similar startup houses, trust applications, the very rare government industrial R&D award funds, even local government funds for projects etc. Often they offer the capital to assist with some of the largest impediments to the initial steps and will assist in building a venture to a point where angels and other investors are interested. Even then there is a large drop off for projects between the two stages and going from a successive small business to a potentially global & larger scaled one can often trip businesses up and into downward spirals. Just as well there has been a bit of luck in a couple compared to the larger amount of failures.

However considering my own position it is likely my partner and I will be hunkered down for a few years while completing a couple of major time chewing projects. Having seen and worked for a few it was interesting how often a startup idea for a web service would stall completely because they did not have the capital or understanding to actually spec it and build it. A bit of a shame but that is often why starting with a much smaller and easily micro charged idea can help instead of trying to capitalise on the larger idea to larger audiences at once. You have to burn resources, (money), to make money. [I hope I have been sufficiently vague in personal details for a few friends and colleagues there, quite a few succeeded epically and bombed horribly, however development in Auckland has been growing in value a lot faster than most].

#4 Reading the article about Andrew Anglin and The Daily Stormer I see this:

Since 2014, he has taken in about $250,000 worth of bitcoin, the cryptocurrency, from unknown sources

All revenue sources for the web site were shut down in recent years which forced Mr Anglin to ask for donations in bitcoin. This must have turned out to be very fortuitous. Funny how things work out sometimes.

#5 And not related to the conspiracy theorists above there is a particularly nice example:
https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2014/nov/25/journal-accepts-p... [brief summary news article]

Yes that was a paper titled and written as "Get me off your fucking email list" with figures and a rather self explanatory abstract. Paid for by the author, published in the Journal. No amendments requested by the reviewers.
http://www.scs.stanford.edu/~dm/home/papers/remove.pdf [paper on Stanford site, I recommend the scatter plot]

It is not just the pay to publish harming science but the lack of peer review and even editorial review leading to more acceptance of junk studies. Of course journals have been suffering an extreme loss in income & push of internet competition so they have remodelled themselves accordingly (much like other industries). An Extreme drop in standards and throwing stones litigiously. The competitors however have no barriers for entry so it is a losing competition and unfortunately there may need to be a revival in quality science research & calling out error in public media instead to bring those standards back in line and trust in the general public. Often nowadays you can see research about how much of a mire is out there by testing the waters of acceptance. However funnily enough those research papers did get peer review. The results from all (a few every year), were not pretty on the pay to publish side.
Other examples of junk papers also included (computer generated dribble and a few more laughs):
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_scholarly_publishing_hoaxes

One of the favourites from the list, perhaps appropriate to many of the above topics:
'The paper came to an absurd conclusion that the conceptual penis is a "driver behind much of climate change"'.

#4 It's pretty irresponsible to show a video clip of a car trying to run down people on a bridge considering recent events. Perpetrators of these actions in London, Sweden and New York over the past months felt they were justified in doing this too.

Climate change: 2 problems with wanting to leave it up to scientists to determine the science: Firstly - scientists seldom do. Scientific institutions are funded to conduct research by governments and other interested parties which are frequently politically driven. Secondly, scientists that dare to oppose the dogma of the day will likely find there is no funding for their work and any reseach likely to contradict the work of their superiors is not tolerated. Honest scientists tend to be corrupted by the system or are frequently bullied out. The glorified world of science is very very sick.

If it gets any worse Robt we might arrive at a situation where the scientific method gives way to the scientific survey. Think of all the money we could save. Shut down actual science, attach funding to political organisations like the UN and ask those we fund to "vote" on whether they feel a thing is probably true or not.