Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Luck and Creative Production

A nice recent On the Media story on a new book Magic Hours about the randomness of what books actually get published, and how works by authors like Kafka, Emily Dickenson and Melville were only published through sheer luck, suggesting that much creative output that we think is great, is only a small fraction of the potential of what may be out there.

Although luck is essential for success in most careers, it is especially evident in creative works like books, movies, music. Duncan Watts has a nice Music Lab experiment where he created a number of disjoint online communities but fed them all the same music. He found that what became popular in each sub-community was essentially arbitrary once a certain minimum quality threshold was met.

Malcolm Gladwell makes the point more generally in Outliers, that success in general in any field depends more on luck than people generally appreciate.

The fact that we normally don't think about the luck is just another example of the fundamental attribution error, and just suggests that we should both be more reserved in lauding success and in looking down on failure both in others but also ourselves.

Monday, November 26, 2012

New Paper and my New Erdos Number: 5

Our new paper published on Health Inequality which came about because of a discussion thread on facebook, the best part is that this gives me an Erdos number of 5 through my co-author, Sita Nataraj Slavov's paper with my old adviser, Doug Bernheim.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Presidential Contenders 2016 Oddity

Not sure what to make of the fact that of the 13 Time Magazine Contenders for the Presidency in 2016, all the Democrats are white (mostly white men, admittedly one white hispanic) while all but 1 of the republicans are minorities (and I guess if you count obese as a minority in politics, then all the Republicans are minorities), a black woman, two hispanics, one sikh woman, one indian.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Told ya so: Citizens United didn't matter

For what its worth, as I have argued here and in class since the Citizens United ruling that reduced spending restrictions for campaigns, the ruling wasn't going to matter. Lots of studies find that most corporations don't really spend that much to influence elections and weren't really constrained by the old laws (Ansolbehere, de Figuereido and Snyder ) and that money spent on elections really doesn't matter too much (Levitt).

Campaign spending was a whopping 13% higher in 2012 than in 2008, barely outpacing inflation, and by and large, we got pretty much the same electoral outcome as before too. Yay when social science works. Too bad neither pundits nod the media really care what social science says about elections. Even stats guru Nate Silver mostly ignores the literature to just do ad hoc statistics.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Why Bloomberg's endorsement is wrong and Nixon going to China

In Bloomberg's endorsement of Obama today, he cites climate change as a key factor in favoring Obama over Romney. Yet as Romney's record in Massachusetts shows, he has largely the same personal views on climate change as Obama. Sure Romney has tacked right on that issue in the past 4 years to appease his party, but so too has Obama, largely ignoring the issue for the past 4 years and all throughout the campaign.

And actually if you really do care about climate change, Romney may have a better chance of getting something passed. There's an old Vulcan Proverb: only Nixon can go to China, referring to the fact that Nixon was able to Nixon was better able to restore relations with China than say the Democrats because of his anti-communist reputation. Similarly, Clinton was able to get welfare reform passed by bringing Democrats over to a Republican issue. In the same way, Romney may have a better chance pulling together a bipartisan majority of Republicans (who will follow because he's a republican) and Democrats (who care deeply on the issue) on the issue of climate change than a Democratic president could.