“You Are Not So Smart”

That’s the title of a new book by David McRaney. Here’s part of an excerpt from The Atlantic:

You rarely watch films in a social vacuum with no input at all from critics and peers and advertisements. Your expectations are the horse, and your experience is the cart. You get this backwards all the time because you are not so smart.

I would call this something like “the socialization of priors,” meaning that beliefs are informed by social group before they are informed by the (non-social) world around us. This is a topic that I am just beginning to consider, so I am far from having strong beliefs on it. So feel free to socialize my beliefs in the comments.

In particular, how does socialization impact the scientific process? Does it have any bearing on the implications that Michael Nielsen discusses here of the “new era of networked science”?

Iraq Casualties and Public Opinion, 2003

Here’s a very low-res, preliminary version of the animation I am working on to map casualties from the Iraq war with public opinion over time. The opinion variable is the percent of respondents from each state who approved of George W. Bush’s job performance that month (job approval was the most consistent measure asked across the whole survey period). The survey data source is the CBS/New York Times monthly poll series, available from ICPSR. Casualty data comes from the same source as the previous map.

The opinion data is a bit noisy at the moment, so I’m considered switching to a three-month weighted moving average. Suggestions for improvement are especially welcome.

Where did service members killed in Iraq come from?

Below is a map of the home cities of US service members killed in Iraq. Thanks to Adam Ozimek’s Stata geocoder and Hadley Wickham’s ggplot2 package for R, this took a grand total of 14 lines of code.

I suppose the biggest attention-getter to me was the density around the Great Lakes region. The high densities in California, Texas, and New York were not particularly surprising.

Possible updates may include per-capita figures. I will definitely want to see how these accumulated across time, and the ultimate plan is to connect them with public opinion data to see if there is an apparent effect. Other suggestions, questions, or criticisms are welcome.

Is there anything you notice in the graph that I missed?

Another Cartel Leader Arrested

Oliva Castillo, Zetas Cartel.

The three northeastern states that Oliva Castillo allegedly oversaw are some of the Zetas’ strongest-held territory. Authorities say that much of the violence registered in these states is the result of the Zetas fighting rival groups such as the Gulf cartel and Sinaloa cartel, for access to lucrative smuggling routes.

But the Zetas — especially in their strongholds — have branched out from drug trafficking and into extortion of businesses, kidnappings, and human smuggling.

The deadly attack that Oliva Castillo is accused of ordering is the casino arson in the city of Monterrey where 52 people died. Officials allege that the attack happened because the casino owners did not comply with payments to the cartel.

More is here.

Tips for Writers Block

Ten helpful tips, directed at fiction writers but applicable to other areas are here. Mild spoiler alert: I was disappointed to discover that the tenth type of writers block was not “You are reading too much,” which seems to me to be a common problem for people who are nominally writers. At the risk of self-delusion, I might suggest that the quality of this blog has improved since I vastly cut down the amount of reading that I do.*

Mike Munger–my favorite source for writing advice–addresses this point rather succinctly: “Don’t read. Write.”


* This probably doesn’t mean what it seems to, since I am still a voracious reader. To be more direct, I have modified the way in which I read. It will take more practice and thought before I am ready to address this in a post, though.

Moneyball Roundup

Something for everyone. Here are some links to supplement my previous posts on the topic.

For movie loversReview of the movie at New Raleigh:

Here’s the dirty little secret behind Moneyball that no one ever mentions. During the same time that Beane was throwing away the rule book and doing things his way and yada yada yada, there were a ton of other ball clubs already using sabermetrics to evaluate players. Here’s the catch: When Lewis called those clubs, no one wanted their methods printed for the world to see. Hence, a team like the Athletics became the focus of a book written by Lewis.

For statisticiansLessons from Paul DePodesta (whose real-life role roughly corresponds to that of Jonah Hill’s character in the movie):

In a presentation Tuesday at the Strata Summit in New York, DePodesta, who is now Vice President for Player Development for the New York Mets,  reflected on the role of performance analysis in baseball and lessons that can be applied to data-driven organizations. When he arrived in Oakland, DePodesta recalled, small-market teams like the A’s with limited budgets found themselves outgunned in bidding wars with wealthier teams in markets like New York and Boston.

“We had to come up with a different way,” said DePodesta. “It was like preparing a gourmet meal, but having to shop at 7-11.”

For students of economics and non-readers out there (not that those two overlap): Check out two of Russ Roberts’ podcasts, one with Michael Lewis on the Hidden Economics of Baseball and Football and another with Skip Sauer, The Economics of Moneyball. There are additional links on both pages if you are interested.

For students of politics: John Sides guest-blogging at 538 on “The Moneyball of Campaign Advertising”:

[T]he effects of television advertising appear to last no more than a week — a “rapid decay,” write the eggheads. A study of the 2000 presidential election finds the same decay. Campaigns may be wasting millions of dollars running ads weeks if not months before election day, only to have any effects of those ads dissipate. Case in point: the approximately $20 million that Bill Clinton spent in advertising between July 1995 and January 1996 — months before the 1996 election. The mastermind of this strategy, Dick Morris, wrote that “the key to Clinton’s victory was his early advertising.” But there is little evidence that the ads mattered at all….

Campaigns are spending a lot of money, but they are not playing Moneyball.

For baseball fans: Beyond the Box Score, recently named one of the 50 best statistics blogs of 2011, has fun charts like this:

I have ordered these in roughly the order that I think they relate to the movie, including consciously placing baseball fans last. I apologize for the fact that this post is essentially one long run-on sentence.

Bus Schedules as Micro-Institutions

Train schedule

EJ Marey's French Train Schedule, c. 1880 in Tufte (2001) via Marlena Compton

Like many other universities, Duke has a lack of parking in close proximity to its class buildings, and so it operates a free shuttle service to take students and employees from remote lots to their desired locations. Today I parked my car as the shuttle was pulling up to the lot. The driver did not wait. It would have been easy for me to selfishly have become angry, but I didn’t. Why not? Certainly it is not because I am an unusually patient or moral person. It is because I appreciate institutional constraints.

What was the institutional constraint in this case? The bus schedule: the driver was not refusing to pick me up, he was sticking to his schedule. He went on to pick up other people who were already waiting at their stops, rather than making them wait an extra minute for me. If there was even one person waiting, this balanced out on net. If there was more than one person waiting, everyone benefited from him leaving me behind. Everyone? Even me? Yes, because I knew that he would be back less than 10 minutes later, and so I was able to wait. Everyone’s expectations were clear, and everything worked out fine.

How can we generalize this to other cases? Through the development of a theory about institutions. In general, I would suggest that an institution does the following:

Clarifies priorities. The priorities of a bus schedule are regular and timely service. By making these explicit and clear, both the bus driver and I knew what to expect from our interaction. He did not have to feel guilty about leaving me behind, because he would be back in a few minutes and there were other stops on other routes that I could go to instead. I did not have to get frustrated, because I knew those same two facts.

Delineates roles. The bus schedule makes it clear who is doing what and when. It is not my job to drive the bus, but to be on time. This clear delineation of roles made it clear who or what was responsible for each contingency. If I miss the bus, it is my fault. If I make it onto the bus, it is because I was on time. But if I make the bus late by causing it to wait for me, other passengers will blame the bus driver and not me. The delineation of roles then, helps with accountability and fairness.

Depersonalizes interactions. You may have noticed that I keep using the phrase “bus driver.” Is it rude of me not to know his name? I don’t think so. I encounter at least a dozen different bus drivers a week, so while it might be polite of me to say “please” and “thank you” (as I do), it requires a lot of memory to get to know all of their names. They know this, and do not expect it. No matter which driver it is, though, I expect to get to my destination on schedule and they expect a modicum of politeness. They neither get certain people there faster due to VIP status, nor refuse service to individuals because they are, say, preoccupied Ph.D. students.

One important caveat to the last suggestion is that the same person performing a number of different roles over time can re-personalize them. If the bus driver does only that, I do not get mad at him for sticking to the schedule. But if I encounter him next week as a server at a restaurant, and next year as a student, my attitude toward him will depend more on the quality of my interactions with him than the institutional constraints. That is, I am more likely to get mad at him if he is rude to me every time than to attribute his rudeness to an institutional constraint. This is how Robert Gates went from being a virtually anonymous CIA employee to a very recognizable, political personality by the time he retired.

How general and how valid do my thoughts about institutions seem to you?

Three Senior Cartel Members Arrested

Source: Houston Chronicle

While not as thought-provoking as Jim’s post, here is more on Mexico from BBC. The article gives an idea of how someone progresses to the leadership ranks of a cartel, something that interests me greatly:

Noel Salgueiro Nevarez is accused of running the Sinaloa cartel’s operations in the northern state of Chihuahua, where drug violence is rampant….

Prosecutors said Mr Salgueiro Nevarez started his criminal career 15 years ago, producing marijuana for the Sinaloa cartel.

Nevarez is not alone:

The arrest was made on the same day as that of Martin Rosales Magana, who is accused of leading the La Familia gang….

Until the beginning of this year, La Familia ran much of the methamphetamine trade in Mexico. It claimed to protect local communities and promote family values, but also engaged in gruesome violence. The security forces say it has been almost entirely dismantled, with its top leaders either in jail or dead.

More here. My thoughts are that these captures are likely to lead to less violence than if state forces had killed the leaders, but given the level of corruption in the Mexican judiciary who knows how their trials will progress. Perhaps the US should be exporting legal advice rather than drones or handguns.