|San Diego Education Report
|Some teachers simply aren't very smart. This lesson might have worked if the
teacher asked white students to volunteer to play the slaves. It would have let kids
see the whole issue in a new light. But the way it was done was damaging and, in
addition, just plain stupid. This teacher doesn't understand the terrible role of
racism and slavery in our heritage.
Va. teacher holds mock slave auction
By Kevin Sieff
April 11, 2011
Trying to bring a Civil War history lesson to life, teacher Jessica Boyle turned her
fourth grade Norfolk classroom into a slave auction: She ordered black and mixed
race students to one side of the classroom. Then, the white students took turns
The Washington Post's Anqoinette Crosby gives you the story on reporter Kevin
Sieff's article about a Va. teacher who had her black and mixed race students
'sold' to her white students in a mock slave auction and Jodie Foster sits down with
The Post's Jen Chaney to talk about her new film starring Mel Gibson. Plus, Civil
War re-enactors at Fort Sumter where the first shots of the war were fired.
Video: The Washington Post's Anqoinette Crosby gives you the story on reporter
Kevin Sieff's article about a Va. teacher who had her black and mixed race
students 'sold' to her white students in a mock slave auction and Jodie Foster sits
down with The Post's Jen Chaney to talk about her new film starring Mel Gibson.
Plus, Civil War re-enactors at Fort Sumter where the first shots of the war were
Parent complaints began rolling in shortly after the April 1 lesson, and the principal
at Sewells Point Elementary School, Mary B. Wrushen, wrote to parents last week
that Boyle had gone too far.
“The lesson could have been thought through more carefully, as to not offend her
students or put them in an uncomfortable situation,” Wrushen wrote.
Lessons on the Civil War have long been among the most sensitive topics in
Virginia classrooms, many located near the grounds of the Confederacy’s
bloodiest battles. And the role that slavery played in the conflict’s origins has been
Boyle’s attempt to drive home the connection between slavery and war took place
in an elementary school named for one of Virginia’s earliest Civil War skirmishes,
the Battle of Sewells Point, which was fought within sight of campus grounds, near
the mouth of Hampton Roads. Boyle taught her lesson less than two weeks before
the 150th anniversary of the conflict.
“She had not conducted a mock slave auction in class before,” Norfolk public
schools spokeswoman Elizabeth Thiel Mather wrote in a statement. She added
that “appropriate personnel action is being taken” but would not discuss the
Boyle has been teaching in Norfolk for six years.
Sewells Point’s fourth grade class is about 40 percent black and 40 percent white.
Calls made to Boyle through the school’s communications department were not
Last month, an Ohio television station reported that a teacher at an elementary
school near Columbus divided a fourth grade class into slaves and masters.
Thinking impaired by
Extreme Fear blog
by Jeff Wise
Jeff Wise is a New York-based
science writer and author of
Extreme Fear: The Science of
Your Mind in Danger
April 20, 2010
How the Bravest Are Different
...So what have researchers
found? Well, that the brave are
different from you and me. Elite
troops like Navy SEALs show
different patterns of brain
activation when they deal with the
stress of SERE. And it's not, as
you might expect, that their stress
hormones become less elevated.
On the contrary, their cortisol and
noradrenaline levels shoot much
higher than an average soldiers'
does. This probably helps them
take on the physical and mental
demands of the situation.
Crucially, once the crisis is past,
their hormones quickly return to
their baseline levels.
The elite soldiers' brains also
responded differently to the
surge of hormones when it was
occurring. Along with high levels
of a chemical called DHEA that
seems to mute the more negative
aspects of stress, Navy SEALs
have elevated concentrations of
a neurotransmitter called
Neuropeptide Y, which binds to
synapses in the frontal cortex
and modifies the way it responds
to noradrenaline. The effect is
likely to prevent some of the
undesirable effects of
noradrenaline, such as
dissociation and cognitive
narrowing, while allowing it to
keep amping up performance in
other parts of the brain. Reports
the New Scientist:
Less-resilient individuals, on the
other hand, seem to have a lower
capacity for NPY production.
What is more, their smaller surge
of the neurotransmitter during
SERE training seems to deplete
their reserves, causing NPY
levels to drop below baseline for
at least 24 hour.
Right now, researchers affiliated
with the US Navy are planning
experiments to determine
whether it will be possible to
boost the performance of SERE
trainees by giving them nutritional
neuro-enhancing chemicals. If
that works, it's a strategy that we
all could easily adopt: DHEA, at
least, is widely available in health
In the meantime, those of us who
want to be more brave right now
can ponder the lesson of another
recent SERE study, which found
that soldiers who adopted an
active coping style fared better
than those who took a passive or
emotion-focused approach. In
other words, when the going gets
tough, you can mimicking the
brain activity of the bravest
performers by adopting their
mindset: look on the bright side
and take decisive action.
Thinking and decision-making
Are decision-makers in schools engaging in
"Many times in business we keep trying to fix something that isn't
working simply because we've spent a lot of time and energy on the
project. Admitting defeat is hard, but having the restraint to fold
ultimately protects you and keeps you in the game--and this is a skill
you don't necessarily learn in business school."
Who said the above?
a. Jack Welch, former CEO of GE;
b. Babette Pepaj, film producer;
c. Bill Gates, Microsoft founder Click HERE for answer.
The 5 Big Education Stories to Watch in 2011
December 30, 2010
by Emily Alpert
...The Battle over School Reform
This year, San Diego Unified started cobbling together a new vision of what
schools need to succeed this year. It's calling it "community-based school
reform," a decentralized system where educators at each school work together
to come up with ideas.
It also emphasizes critical thinking, parent involvement and using data to help
teachers improve instruction. And the teachers union has also hinted that it
wants to expand schools' reach beyond the classroom, taking on students'
emotional and health needs.
The plan is being posed as an alternative to controversial changes backed by
the Obama Administration, such as tying test scores to teacher evaluation and
closing faltering schools. The San Diego Unified school board, which is strongly
backed by the teachers union, has steered clear of those ideas, calling them
disruptive and unproven. Putting forward its own ideas is a sort of salvo in the
battle over school reform.
Now the question is whether it will work. So far much of the plan is theory rather
than practice, but San Diego Unified has also continued to improve on
standardized tests. To prove itself, the new reform model will need to keep
showing results and get backing from parents and community members.
It'll also be important to see how theoretical ideas, such as pushing more critical
thinking, really play out in classrooms. The success or failure of this brand of
school reform will also reflect back on the school board. And that, in turn, could
impact the campaign to change how the school board is chosen...
Maura Larkins comment:
The teachers union wants teachers to do critical thinking? That's almost
as hard to swallow as claims by administrators that they want teachers to
be able and willing to think analytically. Schools have been designed for
the comfort of adults. Most teachers are happy NOT doing much critical
thinking beyond the narrow confines of student texts, and that's exactly
the way that administrators and unions like it.
Any significant reform requires destroying the basis of the current system:
every one stays quiet, every one stay is his or her place. School boards pay
lawyers plenty to keep employees quiet.
Reform requires teacher buy-in. You can't stuff it down their throats.
Teachers do need to be drawn toward the joys of critical thinking, but it
won't be the union that does that, nor will it be the administrators and
their pals at San Diegans 4. I think Obama is offering the best bet for real
“Everything in their system is built to
build consensus slowly,” said one
American official who would not be
quoted by name because of the
delicacy of discussions with Japan.
“And everything in this crisis is
about moving quickly. It’s not
--American official to New York
Times regarding March 2011
meltdown at nuclear plant
Dearth of Candor From Japan’
The Japanese are frustrated by
officials' failure to communicate
By HIROKO TABUCHI, KEN
BELSON and NORIMITSU ONISHI
New York Times
March 16, 2011
With all the euphemistic language
on display from officials handling
Japan’s nuclear crisis, one
commodity has been in short
When an explosion shook one of
many stricken reactors at Japan’s
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant on
Saturday, power company officials
initially offered a typically opaque,
and understated, explanation...
American schools are run like
A Tale of Two Schools Thinking Deeper
May 4, 2011
by Emily Alpert
"The Rainbow Fish" is a beautiful tale: A shimmering fish gives away its glittery scales one by one
to befriend others. It's often seen as a parable about sharing and selfishness.
But one kid at Torrey Pines Elementary pointed out in an essay that there was something fishy
"The adult writers did not realize that they were teaching kids an immoral way to make friends,"
the fifth grader wrote of "The Rainbow Fish" and two other books. The child said giving someone
a gift the way the fish did might strengthen a bond of friendship, but couldn't actually create one.
Such sophisticated arguments might not seem so surprising at Torrey Pines, perched on all-but-
oceanfront real estate in La Jolla. But across town in the refugee hub of City Heights, Joyner
Elementary is doing just the same thing with classes of poor children still mastering English.
These two dramatically different schools are prodding kids to think deeper and analyze texts,
instead of just understanding the words. They are trying to take critical thinking — a skill usually
associated with college seminars and Plato — all the way down to elementary school and "The
The San Diego Unified school board has enshrined critical thinking as one of its reform goals,
principles rooted in the idea that schools can come up with their own ways to improve
themselves. But San Diego Unified is also setting out ideals that it wants schools to strive for, like
fostering deeper thinking.
It mirrors a national push to deepen lessons so that kids learn to synthesize and evaluate
information, crafting their own arguments and debunking others. Deputy Superintendent Nellie
Meyer called it "an expansion of the definition of success beyond the standardized cookie-cutter
"We're preparing them for a world where they can easily have access to information via Google,"
said Michelle Nieto, a literacy teacher who helps Torrey Pines. "They need to know what to do with
all that information. How do you make meaning of it?"
Joyner and Torrey Pines aren't testing out these reforms because the school board said so.
They've used these strategies for years, working with two educators, Nieto and Michelle Montali,
who they dub "the Michelles." Nieto used to work at Joyner; both now work part-time at Torrey
Their consulting business brings the same training to teachers from Sacramento County to
Coronado. At Torrey Pines, it was a quest to challenge kids who came to kindergarten already
reading. Joyner wanted to ensure English learners didn't decode words without understanding.
What is new is that the school district has started urging other schools to visit and see what
they're doing. That means that Joyner and Torrey Pines could become a blueprint for how to ramp
up critical thinking in San Diego Unified, an appealing idea that can be slippery for educators and
parents to actually pin down — and sometimes difficult to juggle with the demands of state tests.
"Every school thinks they're teaching critical thinking," Joyner Principal Gilbert Gutierrez said. "The
hard part is defining it. What does it look like in kindergarten?"
Here is what it looks like at Joyner. Instead of just asking kids to identify characters or answer
questions to show they understood a story, teachers draw swooping black arcs on posters to
follow the drama of a story — conflict, climax and resolution — and help kids tease out big ideas
from all the details.
Before, "we didn't discuss the ideas that come from these stories," said Wendy Gillespie, who
teaches second grade at Torrey Pines. "I don't know that we even really talked about them except
on an emotional level. ‘Wasn't Cinderella brave? Wasn't that sister mean? How did it make you
Teachers spend less time talking and telling and more time listening and coaxing. They push
students to go beyond a simple word like "mad" to sort out more complicated ideas like
"frustrated" or "controlling." Even kindergartners are urged to find the main idea in a story. And
while teachers help kids name the abstract ideas they're describing, teachers don't come up with
the ideas themselves.
"The teacher is just holding the pen," said Noemi Vizcarra, a resource teacher at Joyner.
First graders follow one arc from a story about a lightning bug that includes the detail, "Leo will
keep trying to make a light and not give up." A bright arrow veers off to declare he was
"determined." The idea is to take kids beyond the tiny details to see the concepts they illustrate,
from heroism to resilience.
In one class at Joyner, third graders chewed the ends of their pencils, trying to dissect a short
story. "I think the turning point was when her stepmom knew how she felt," one boy offered up.
The six children conferred about how to describe the way the little girl in the story felt. Someone
"We can't just use happy or sad!" another boy insisted. Vizcarra has even heard older kids
reminding each other to move beyond literal thinking to inference or interpretation.
When they get to fifth grade, kids at these two schools take the next step beyond understanding
the themes and message in a story to debating whether they agree and lining up evidence. At
Torrey Pines, fifth graders pen complex reports like "Urban Sprawl: a Multifaceted Controversy."
"I didn't do anything like that until I was in high school or college!" Torrey Pines Principal Jim Solo
While both schools have fared well on state tests, outscoring schools with similar challenges or
advantages, both complain the tests don't measure some of the advanced skills they're teaching.
Fifth-grade teachers at Joyner hunkered down together with sample questions for the looming
"No. 2 is ‘What's the main problem?' They'll nail that. It's conflict," said teacher Tim Marking as
they paged through the questions. Another question that asked students to suss out a theme
made him scoff. "That's an advanced question? Are you joking? For our school, that's not
But other questions could throw their kids a curveball. Marking groaned over a question that
asked students why a writer had mentioned creaking stairs in a story. The right answer was the
house had held several generations. Teachers feared kids would instead answer the house
needed to be fixed.
"It feels like they're trying to trip people up," Vizcarra lamented. "We've been teaching them to think
all along. Now it's about, ‘How do we look past all these little tricks on the test?' "
Those worries might be eased if the tests change. A national push to deepen thinking has led
states to sign up for new, shared standards: the skills that kids should master each year. While
California is often lauded for having unusually good standards, the new list would be shorter,
allowing schools to delve deeper than they do now. That, in turn, will lead to new tests to measure
"For a long time we've believed you just can't measure this stuff," said Michael Kamil, an
education professor at Stanford University. "Well, unless you set forth the goal, you never get
That state shift is still years away. As testing season swirled around them, teachers at Joyner and
Torrey Pines said it was a battle to keep focusing on critical thinking. In the days leading up to the
test, principals sometimes struggled to find examples of it in classes as teachers turned to test
"We have a million measures of fluency. We have a million measures of spelling," Montali said.
"We need a measure of their thinking."
July 30, 2012
The Case for Lying to Yourself
Some Self-Deception Can Boost Power and Influence; Starts as Young as Age 3
By SUE SHELLENBARGER
Lying to yourself—or self-deception, as psychologists call it—can actually have
benefits. And nearly everybody does it, based on a growing body of research
using new experimental techniques.
Lying to yourself -- or self-deception, as psychologists call it -- actually has
benefits sometimes. Based on a growing body of research using new
experimental techniques to induce and analyze self-deception, researchers are
finding that most people lie to themselves at least some of the time. Sue
Shellenbarger explains on Lunch Break.
Self-deception isn't just lying or faking, but is deeper and more complicated, says
Del Paulhus, psychology professor at University of British Columbia and author of
a widely used scale to measure self-deceptive tendencies. It involves strong
psychological forces that keep us from acknowledging a threatening truth about
ourselves, he says.
Believing we are more talented or intelligent than we really are can help us
influence and win over others, says Robert Trivers, an anthropology professor at
Rutgers University and author of "The Folly of Fools," a 2011 book on the
subject. An executive who talks himself into believing he is a great public speaker
may not only feel better as he performs, but increase "how much he fools people,
by having a confident style that persuades them that he's good," he says.
Researchers haven't studied large population samples to compare rates of self-
deception or compared men and women, but they know based on smaller studies
that it is very common. And scientists in many different disciplines are drawn to
studying it, says Michael I. Norton, an associate professor at Harvard Business
School. "It's also one of the most puzzling things that humans do."
Researchers disagree over what exactly happens in the brain during self-
deception. Social psychologists say people deceive themselves in an
unconscious effort to boost self-esteem or feel better. Evolutionary psychologists,
who say different parts of the brain can harbor conflicting beliefs at the same
time, say self-deception is a way of fooling others to our own advantage.
In some people, the tendency seems to be an inborn personality trait. Others may
develop a habit of self-deception as a way of coping with problems and
Behavioral scientists in recent years have begun using new techniques in the
laboratory to predict when and why people are likely to deceive themselves. For
example, they may give subjects opportunities to inflate their own attractiveness,
skill or intelligence. Then, they manipulate such variables as subjects' mood,
promises of rewards or opportunities to cheat. They measure how the prevalence
of self-deception changes.
In an unpublished study earlier this year, young women were asked to stand in
front of a sheet of brown paper and sketch outlines of their bodies. Some were
then asked to read a story about dating to put them in a romantic mood. The
others were asked to read about buildings and architecture, says Carrie Keating,
a psychology professor at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., who led the
When the women were asked later to outline their bodies again, those who had
read about dating sketched themselves as slimmer, with narrower waists,
compared with their earlier drawings, reflecting an effort to "block out any
negative information about their bodies" and succeed at the dating game, Dr.
Keating says. The women who read about buildings didn't much change their
As early as age 3, children have what researchers call a "positivity bias"—a
tendency to see themselves as smart regardless of their abilities, and to
exaggerate positive traits in others, says a 2010 study in the journal Child
Development Perspectives. By adolescence, one-fourth of college-bound
students rate themselves in the top 1% in their ability to get along with others,
In a separate study, female students who take leadership positions on campus
score higher on measures of self-deception, based on recent research by Dr.
Keating. Women who aspire to leadership may have to "conveniently forget about
some negatives," such as the fact that "women who behave in a dominant fashion
may be perceived as more masculine," Dr. Keating says.
Many people have a way of "fooling their inner eye" to believe they are more
successful or attractive than they really are, Dr. Trivers says. When people are
asked to choose the most accurate photo of themselves from an array of images
that are either accurate, or altered to make them look up to 50% more or less
attractive, most choose the photo that looks 20% better than reality, research
Many people deceive themselves to avoid making difficult changes. For years,
Greg Duval piled on pounds while telling himself "I just needed to go for a run" to
take off extra weight, he says. A former high-school quarterback, "I had that 'man
up' mentality: 'Guys don't need personal trainers,'" says Mr. Duval, a Dallas sales
executive. The rationale helped him feel as if he was in control, but gave him an
excuse to put off exercise. Recently, as he approached age 50, he decided, "No
more playing games with myself," he says. Working with a trainer, Mallory
Mansour Dubuclet, he has taken off 53 pounds since last winter. In the realm of
health and fitness, Ms. Dubuclet says, "many people kid themselves about how
much they can eat, or how much exercise they are doing."
It takes a certain amount of self-discipline to keep self-deception from becoming a
hindrance on the job or in relationships. Getting too wrapped up in achievements
or public image is one danger sign. Dodging a chronic problem by telling yourself
you'll solve it in the future is another.
The trick, Dr. Norton says, is finding the line. While "a little bit of self-deception
isn't an unhealthy thing, a lot is an extremely unhealthy thing." Benefits tend to
come, research shows, when people simply block out negative thoughts, envision
themselves enjoying future successes or take an optimistic view of their abilities—
all of which tend to improve performance or persuasive ability.
For some people, self-deception becomes a habit, spinning out of control and
providing a basis for more lies. In research co-written by Dr. Norton and published
last year in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, college students
who were given an answer key to an intelligence test, allowing them to cheat,
scored higher than a control group. They later predicted, however, that they also
would score higher on a second test without being allowed to cheat. They were
"deceiving themselves into believing their strong performance was a reflection of
their ability," the study says.
Giving them praise, a certificate of recognition, made the self-deception even
worse: The students inflated their predicted future scores even more.
Just as phony war heroes come to believe they actually won medals for valor,
cheaters come to believe their own lies, Dr. Norton says. "They forget very
quickly," he says, "that there were situational factors that propelled them forward."
How Honest Are You With Yourself?
Answer on a seven-point scale, with 1 being 'not true,' 4 being 'somewhat true,'
and 7 being 'very true.'
1. My first impressions are always right.
2. I don't care to know what other people really think of me.
3. Once I've made up my mind, other people can seldom change my opinion.
4. I am fully in control of my own fate.
5. I never regret my decisions.
6. I am a completely rational person.
7. I am very confident of my judgments.
—ANSWER KEY: For each question, give yourself one point for answering 6 or 7.
The higher your score, the more self-deceptive you tend to be.
—SOURCE: Del Paulhus, University of British Columbia
|San Diego Education Report
The Five Habits of Highly Effective Hives
by Thomas Seeley
Harvard Business Review
November 11, 2010
One of the popular misconceptions about honey bees is that their lives are ruled
by a queen — or perhaps by even some more fanciful system. But in the forty
years that I've spent studying bees, I've learned that their colonies are remarkably
complex, in many ways comparable to an animal brain, despite being individually
...Even though an individual bee is not particularly intelligent, the
collective intelligence of the group produces impressive results. Almost
always — about 90 percent of the time in my experiments — the swarm
chooses the best of the options it has found.
For millions of years, the scouts on honey bee swarms have faced the task of
selecting proper homes. Evolution by natural selection has structured these insect
search committees so that they make the best possible decisions. What works well
for bee swarms can also work well for human groups. We can learn from the bees
the following five guidelines for achieving a high collective IQ.
1. Remind the group's members of their shared interests and foster
mutual respect, so they work together productively. The scout bees know
instinctually that their interests are aligned toward choosing the optimal home site,
so they work together as a team. There are no clashing curmudgeons in a bee
2. Explore diverse solutions to the problem, to maximize the group's
likelihood of uncovering an excellent option. The scout bees search far and wide
to discover a broad assortment of possible living quarters.
3. Aggregate the group's knowledge through a frank debate. Use the power
of a fair and open competition to distinguish good options from bad ones. The
scout bees rely on a turbulent debate among groups supporting different options
to identify a winner. Whichever group first attracts sufficient supporters wins the
4. Minimize the leader's influence on the group's thinking. By functioning as
an impartial moderator rather than a proselytizing boss, a leader enables his
group to use its combined knowledge and brainpower. The scout bees have no
dominating leader and so can take a broad and deep look at their options.
5. Balance interdependence (information sharing) and independence
(absence of peer pressure) among the group's members. Only if ideas are
shared publicly but evaluated privately will the group be good at exploring its
options and making good choices. Scout bees share freely the news of their finds,
but each one makes her own, independent decision of whether or not to support a
I've used these methods in running my own groups, and they can be remarkably
effective at building consensus and producing good decisions. Let the bees show
you that with the right organization, democratic groups can be remarkably
intelligent, even smarter than the smartest individuals in them...
Thomas Seeley is a Professor of Biology in Cornell University's Department of
Neurobiology and Behavior. He's the author of three books, most recently
Is our political view
really encoded in our
4 December 2012
...The idea that political
views have a genetic
component is now widely
accepted – or at least
widely accepted enough
to become a field of study
with its own name:
genopolitics. This began
with a pivotal study, which
showed that identical
twins shared more similar
political opinions than
fraternal twins. It
suggested that political
opinion isn't just
influenced by dinner table
conversation (which both
kinds of twins share), but
through parents' genes
(which identical twins
have more in common
than fraternal twins). The
strongest finding from this
field is that the position
people occupy on a scale
from liberal to
conservative is heritable.
The finding is surprisingly
strong, allowing us to use
genetic information to
predict variations in
political opinion on this
scale more reliably than
we can use genetic
information to predict,
say, longevity, or
...For instance, a study
showed that American
volunteers who started to
sweat most when they
heard a sudden noise
were also more likely to
punishment and the Iraq
War. This implies that
people whose basic
emotional responses to
threats are more
pronounced end up
developing a constellation
of more right-wing political
opinions. Another study,
this time in Britain,
showed differences in
brain structure between
liberals and conservatives
– with the amygdala, a
part of the brain that
responses, being larger
in conservatives. Again,
this suggests that
differences in political
beliefs might arise from
differences in emotional
Don’t Believe the Big Data Hype: How Obama Really Beat
By Matthew Dowd
Feb 1, 2013
Confirmation bias is the sociological condition where we, as human beings, seek out
information that confirms what we already believe or think and ignore (or don’t seek
out) information that disputes our opinions.
It makes us more comfortable to find “facts” that agree with our already held opinions
or theories, and it makes us uncomfortable to discover information that might prove
our theories wrong. But the path to the truth is most often an uncomfortable one
where we must confront our own false narratives or myths.
As I have often said in the past, myths consistently get set in stone in politics. Why is
this? First, the winners most often write the history, and campaign operatives have
an incentive to repeat the story that what they did was the reason a campaign won.
Many times this just isn’t true, but it serves their purposes.
Second, confirmation bias by the media plays a part because as they explain what
happened, they look for information that confirms their theory of the race. Again,
many times this only confirms a false theory or a misguided rationale.
There has already been much written and discussed about why President Obama
won this race. Various theories have been presented for the reason the president
beat Mitt Romney.
Let’s take a little pop quiz at this point to see what has settled into the pundit
What made the difference in this 2012 presidential race and gave Obama the
The Big Data and cutting-edge technological approach the Obama campaign used in
target states on voter contact and turnout;
The millions of dollars of advertising expenditures in target states;
Presidential candidate visits and events in target states;
All of the above;
None of the above.
The correct answer is “E.” None of the above.
Yes, these things had some effect, but not the impact that has now become part of
the common wisdom. Let’s start with a premise I think everyone should agree with: If
these three Obama advantages from Big Data to advertising to presidential visits all
were determinative of victory, then the difference between the results in target states
vs. non-target states should be profound.
A major point on confirmation bias that has fed this is the statistic that while turnout
from 2008 to 2012 dropped in the non-target states, turnout was actually up in the
12 target states. And so, therefore, the Big Data technological edge of the Obama
campaign made the difference or the targeted advertising or campaign visits. What
this cause-and-effect attribution error ignores is that nearly every bit of both
campaigns (Obama and Romney) was concentrated in these 12 target states. The
12 states, of course, got all the attention in this past year’s presidential race.
The more telling statistic to look at is what happened to President Obama’s vote
percentage from 2008 to 2012. President Obama’s national vote percentage
dropped 1.73 percent between his first campaign and his re-election. One would
expect that his drop would be smaller in the target states because of the three
advantages mentioned above.
Interestingly, there is no significant difference between the president’s drop in the 12
target states and all the other non-target states where these three factors were not a
play. Indeed, the president’s margin in the 12 target states dropped by 1.85 percent
and in the non-target states by 1.67%. Surprisingly, Romney did slightly (only
slightly) better in the target states than he did in the rest of the country. All the
advantages the Obama campaign had in the target states made no real difference in
the vote totals when you compare it to all the other non-target states.
If I had to pick the three factors that mattered most in this election, it would be: 1) A
flawed opponent (Romney) from the beginning who had serious issues with
authenticity and connection with middle-class voters, and one where the Obama
campaign did an effective job nationally on big message exploiting this (the success
of the Obama national convention vs. the failure of the Romney convention was a
major part of this); 2) A macro environment of a recovering economy that helped
drive up President Obama’s job approval number; and 3) Hurricane Sandy, which
showed Obama as an effective strong leader amid a terrible disaster...
How Modern Finance Promises to Break the Cycle of
By Paul Solman
A new type of financial investment being pioneered in the United Kingdom may be
the key for breaking the cycle of recidivism -- and it could be coming soon to a
prison near you.
Paul Solman visits Riker's Island penitentiary in New York to meet participants in a
program aimed at reducing the likelihood of reincarceration. Private investors fund
the intervention through a private contractor and the government pays the
contractor only if the program meets its goals. Photo by Kevin Cloutier/NewsHour.
Paul Solman: In an upcoming PBS NewsHour report, we focus on a potentially
breakthrough cognitive therapy program for young offenders at New York's Riker's
Island jail, which holds 88,000 prisoners every year as they await trial. The
program is being financed by a new financial instrument known as a "social impact
One of its champions is Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation. In a
recent interview with her, she explained the workings of this new piece of financial
What Is a Social Impact Bond?
Paul Solman: What is a social impact bond?
Judith Rodin: A social impact bond is a new way of bringing financing into social
and environmental support issues. And [it's meant to help finance] either
preventive or rehabilitation services that the government is providing and paying
What [society] does is look for very well-proven, well-demonstrated, data-driven
social interventions. Then it looks for private sector financing to support those
interventions [that have been proven effective] based on performance.
So it's a triple win because the government gets a proven intervention, the
organization giving the intervention gets to take it to scale, and the investor -- the
buyer of the bonds, whether it's an individual investor or an endowment or some
kind of private wealth fund -- gets a chance to have a double bottom line
investment: something that can produce quite a significant financial return, but at
the same time produce social returns as well.
So there's a financial return on the social impact bond, but there's also a social
return because they are supporting a proven intervention, they are helping the
government to deliver more effective services at lower costs.
Paul Solman: What's in it for me as an investor?
Judith Rodin: In the U.K., it was young investment bankers who were talking to
wealthy clients who didn't want to separate their philanthropy from their investing.
The bankers wanted to respond to what they saw as a potentially growing market
where affluent individuals wanted to do well and also have a financial return.
The individuals were asking: "Isn't there anything innovative? Isn't there a new way
that I could fulfill both my social concerns and my financial obligations?"
So that led to the creation of the social impact bond. It's like any other debt. It's a
bond paying between 2 percent and 9 percent. The payback is based on the
performance of the social organization.
So if I'm to reduce homelessness or prevent criminal recidivism among juveniles, I
have to generate empirical data that shows my success rate. The eventual
payment is based on that.
Paul Solman: So if I'm the organization that's receiving the money, I will have to pay
a higher or lower interest rate depending on how well I meet my goals?
Judith Rodin: No, it's the government which is paying the bond, not the
organization. The organization gets a flat fee for achieving the goals. If they don't
achieve the goals, they get no more money for further interventions. And the
government for which the service is being provided -- a criminal justice system,
say, where the goal is to reduce recidivism -- doesn't have to pay if the intervention
doesn't work. So the investor doesn't get paid out. The innovation here is around
the financial instrument not the social delivery organization.
Paul Solman: The first experiment was in Peterborough County in England, where
investors backed a nonprofit with a track record in reducing criminal recidivism. If
recidivism was reduced, the county would pay the investors interest on the bonds.
If not, it wouldn't, correct?
Judith Rodin: In this initial Peterborough experiment, the recidivism rate they were
trying to reduce was 60 percent: 60 percent of the offenders went in and out of
prison within the first two months over two or three times. And it was costing the
money of the reincarceration, plus all of the costs to society of re-offending,
because these people don't get put back in prison for doing nothing.
How Governments Save Money
Paul Solman: I see why it costs a fortune. How does the social impact save the
Judith Rodin: There are these great small social programs, many of which have
been collecting very, very good data over a number of years showing how they
intervene and how they actually can reduce the rate of people going through that
turnstile over and over again.
Paul Solman: So there are good, but very small, localized programs that can do a
better, less expensive job than bureaucratic, unwieldy government?
Judith Rodin: Yes. And those that stand out often work with reoffenders, with
homelessness, with workforce development programs. That's why we call this other
sector the NGO sector -- the non-governmental organizations that are much more
nimble, typically smaller, and often far more rigorous in collecting data about what
works and what doesn't.
Paragons of Efficiency
Paul Solman: So since government is spending the money anyway and not doing a
very good job of it, and there are other people who are doing a good job, can we
somehow change the system so that the people who do a good job get the money?
Judith Rodin: That's innovation No.1. Innovation No. 2 is a win for the local
organization. It gets to scale up its efforts because government is buying its
services wholesale rather than supporting little boutique programs.
The social organization that is successful and has good evidence base is now able
to go to scale with the government as their buyer, the government as their client.
Paul Solman: And that's a sustainable pool of income?
Judith Rodin: Totally. Win No. 3, government. It is always seeking new sources of
capital and this is a particularly rough time for many governments, especially in the
West, where the resources to run social programs and the challenges about the
efficacy of social programs are quite significant.
Government Finally Gets New Capital
Paul Solman: So win No. 3 is government getting capital to solve social problems it
hasn't been able to?
Judith Rodin: Correct, and maybe allows government to deploy some of the money
it was spending towards other things that would be harder to fund from the outside.
Paul Solman: Because if the program supported by the social impact bonds is
successful, the government would save money?
Judith Rodin: Correct. The fourth win is for the investors. There is a growing cadre
of investors who would like to not only make a financial return but also produce a
social return. "Do well by doing good" is the mantra for this category of investor.
Paul Solman: That's an old mantra.
Judith Rodin: It's an old mantra but with a new flavor in the bottle. And because you
can allow many different kinds of social impact bonds, the degree of risk and the
pricing for the return can vary actually considerably. So an investor can get a bond
that is likely to pay out 2 percent in financial return but have a massive social
return, or get one that's paying 9 percent financial return but doesn't have the
same sort of walloping social impact.
Paul Solman: I'm imagining people would be thinking: "Hey, I can get 9 percent and
do social good? What investment is that?"
Judith Rodin: That was the Peterborough experiment. We haven't yet seen the
payout but that bond was sold and priced on the basis of the success rate of that
service organization. It showed that the government could pay 9 percent because
the recidivism rate would be reduced so significantly, they can gain more money by
paying out at 9 percent than the cost to them for never going into this in the first
Paul Solman: In other words, government was so inefficient that if this provider
came in it would so lower the cost and achieve better outcomes then Peterborough
could afford to pay investors 9 percent a year?
Judith Rodin: Absolutely.
Paul Solman: Is this a next step in the realm of what's been called, for the past
decade or more, "venture philanthropy"?
Judith Rodin: It's a different form of venture philanthropy, with almost the opposite
emphasis. Venture philanthropy is investing in a lot of innovative things and seeing
what works, then doubling down and bringing to scale.
Paul Solman: Enlarging it so that it applies in lots of places?
Judith Rodin: Exactly. That's venture philanthropy operating in the same way a
venture capital fund would. This is taking a very traditional investment vehicle, the
bond, and making it adventuresome, making it innovative, and socially relevant.
Innovative finance, Paul, I think, is the next big step in solving social problems.
Cancer Research-Backed Securities
Paul Solman: We'll be doing this story with Andrew Lo, a finance professor at MIT's
Sloan School. He wants to set up a diversified fund to back cancer research and
sell shares of that fund to the public: not mortgage-backed securities, but cancer
Judith Rodin: Interesting.
Paul Solman: And we're going to do a story with him because I suspect you may be
right: there may be a huge potential for innovation using the techniques of modern
finance which have become so stigmatized that they're not being used at anywhere
near the rate they might be to achieve positive goals.
Judith Rodin: I think those ideas are critical: bringing the positive tools of Wall
Street to Main Street. CDOs didn't work out right but there are lots of securities that
are much less risky and could be important social innovations, whether cancer
research-backed securities or climate securities. Insurers are developing Cat
bonds against catastrophes. There are ways to develop bond structures to
promote good things like healthy behaviors.
Paul Solman: And with social impact bonds, to promote good things for society as a
whole? Things that are in everybody's interest, like keeping criminals from
repeating their crimes, which, in the sense of promoting a safe society, is good for
the investors as citizens, not just as people looking for a financial return?
Judith Rodin: I think that people ought to be thinking about social returns and
environmental returns on their investments and we are absolutely seeing that more
Paul Solman: Because it's in their interest?
Judith Rodin: It's in their interest. We ultimately will not be a sustainable society
unless we solve some of these problems. So it is with an entirely self-interested
lens that I could take the view, "It's worth me investing in this in order to protect my
environment, to protect my overall health, etc."
Again, this is a whole system and so we've got to really get everybody engaged in
new and different ways. Enabling government to act creatively is in everyone's self
How Beer Gave Us Civilization
By JEFFREY P. KAHN
The New York Times
March 15, 2013
HUMAN beings are social
animals. But just as important,
we are socially constrained as
We can probably thank the
latter trait for keeping our
fledgling species alive at the
dawn of man. Five core social
instincts, I have argued, gave
structure and strength to our
primeval herds. They kept us
safely codependent with our
fellow clan members, assigned
us a rank in the pecking order,
made sure we all did our chores,
discouraged us from offending
others, and removed us from
this social coil when we became
a drag on shared resources.
Thus could our ancient
forebears cooperate, prosper,
multiply — and pass along their
DNA to later generations.
But then, these same
lifesaving social instincts didn’
t readily lend themselves to
experimentation — the other
human drives that make for a
To free up those, we
needed something that
would suppress the
rigid social codes that
kept our clans safe and alive.
We needed something that, on
occasion, would let us break
free from our biological herd
imperative — or at least let us
suppress our angst when we
Colorado's wrongful conviction of
Robert Dewey holds lessons
Lawyer: Colorado should
compensate the innocent
By Jason Kreag
NEW YORK — During the nearly
18 years he was incarcerated for
a rape and murder that DNA
evidence finally proved he didn't
commit, Robert Dewey coped by
imagining that he was riding a
motorcycle. In his own words, "I'd
hop on and ride in my mind."
Eighteen years is a long time to
fantasize about being on a bike,
but it would have likely been an
even longer ride had the
Colorado state attorney general's
office and the Mesa County
district attorney's office not been
willing to work with the Innocence
Project and Dewey's long-time
counsel, Danyel Joffe, to reopen
its investigation of the crime.
Dewey became a suspect in the
1994 rape and murder largely
because the police found his
actions suspicious. Although DNA
testing done at the time excluded
Dewey as the source of semen at
the crime scene, pretrial DNA
testing of his shirt seemed to
indicate the presence of the
victim's blood on it. Even this
evidence was not particularly
strong; the analyst testified at trial
that the blood on Dewey's shirt
was consistent with approximately
45 percent of the population.
That was good enough for the
jurors, who convicted Dewey
despite any other substantial
evidence of guilt.
Read more: Colorado's wrongful
conviction of Robert Dewey holds
lessons - The Denver Post
Teaching Doctors How to Think
Clinical decision-making will always be imperfect. But there are ways to make it
JUL 8 2013
"He who thinks he knows doesn't know. He who knows that he doesn't know,
knows." -- Joseph Campbell
I have made clinical errors, also known as mistakes, at various points in my
40-year career. Fortunately, I don't think there have been many. One of them
resulted in a long-settled malpractice suit where six different neurologists, including
me, missed the diagnosis of rare disease. Presented with the same facts, I admit
that I might make the same mistake again. I classify my mistakes in three broad
Mistakes that didn't cause the patient any harm.
Mistakes that resulted in serious problems.
The mistakes I still don't know about because I either never recognized the error or
the patient went someplace else.
All doctors make mistakes, because it is impossible for an individual to be perfect -
any endeavor that involves humans will involve errors. The man who has the wrong
leg removed at surgery makes the headlines of the six o'clock news, but the larger
problem resides in the 10 to 15 percent of times where the doctor fails to make the
I have always taken pride in the fact that I can trust my clinical judgment, almost
always making the right decision at the right time. I sometimes get frustrated
watching physicians paralyzed by their indecision. But an article in the New
England Journal of Medicine last month has forced me to reconsider my
decision-making process. Dr. Pat Crosberry from Dalhousie University in Canada
explains that most of our everyday thinking is flawed, and that doctors are no
different than the average person. It is not a lack of knowledge (15 years of higher
education followed by continuing education requirements take care of that end).
The problem lies in the manner in which we approach "clinical thinking."
There are two major ways in which we process information, "intuitive (type I)" and
"analytic (type II)" Our Intuitive approach is automatic, and happens at an
unconscious level. Crosberry describes this as the "Augenblick diagnosis" or that
which is made in the blink of an eye. You see it on television all of the time. The
narcotic-popping curmudgeon Dr. House is a great example. No one can figure out
what is wrong with the patient, but, through the blur of his own over-medicated
psyche, Dr. House instantly makes the rare diagnosis and the day, if not the
patient, is saved.
There is a real danger in thinking this way, to zero in on a specific diagnosis or
problem and fail to consider other possibilities. The fact is that most physicians
who trust their intuition are right most of the time. The vast majority of people
coming to my office with a headache will have migraine headaches. My bias will be
that you most likely suffer from migraine headaches. I will be right most of the time,
but not always - and this automatic, unconscious mode leaves me vulnerable to
make a mistake.
The other mode of clinical thinking is Type II, the Analytic process. This is a
conscious, slower, and deliberate process that is usually more reliable than the
Intuitive process. In this process, we take time to analyze all of the information,
order confirmatory tests, consult with colleagues and consider all of the
possibilities. Although reliable, it requires a great deal of resources like CT and
MRI scans, coronary angiography and numerous vials of blood. In truth, it is just
not practical for every patient. We must trust our clinical, intuitive judgment
because we cannot order a nuclear cardiac scan or coronary angiogram on every
patient with chest pain. However, I know many physicians who order far too many
tests. Some claim it is to protect them from a malpractice suit, while others just
don't want to miss a diagnosis.
But where is the correct balance between using one's "intuitive" clinical judgment
and ordering too many tests under the banner of being an "analytic"
diagnostician? It would be inappropriate for me to order an MRI scan of the brain
on every patient with a headache. But, I also must get off the autopilot of intuitive
thinking and reexamine how I evaluate patients. This is more difficult than it sounds
because we are not born to be critical thinkers who can turn off our unconscious
intuitive reactions and analyze a situation in a "timely" manner. Dr. Crosberry
suggests that medical schools and post graduate medical education need to teach
critical thinking as part of their formal curriculum. Doctors must recognize when
their biases creep into their decision making and learn to move from their intuitive
mode to their analytic mode. This is the elusive "sweet spot" of critical thinking.
Even if I find the balance between intuitive and analytical thinking, I will still make
an occasional error and miss a more serious problem, but it should happen less
frequently. As hard as it is to accept, the laymen have to understand that bad
outcome does not always equal malpractice and that clinical thinking is an
imperfect cognitive process.
Dr. Crosberry believes that "all clinicians should develop the habit of conducting
regular and frequent surveillance of their intuitive behavior. To paraphrase
Socrates, the unexamined thought is not worth thinking."
Does Science Show What 12 Steps Know?
August 9, 2013
...Newberg said that "large-scale, existential-type crises" such as Wilson's
can bring instant changes to the brain. New neuronal pathways are
activated or reactivated. This instant rewiring, Newberg said, generates a
sudden and intense "aha" moment.
Newberg speculates that such an event may occur because of differences
between the brain's left and right hemispheres, which approach problems
differently. The left side struggles to work through a problem from an
analytical, black-and-white perspective.
But the right side may suddenly kick in and apply a very different, more
holistic solution. In such a moment, the neurons of the brain are
immediately realigned, spurred on by intense emotion relating to the
This same experience, sometimes described as a "eureka!" moment—or a
cognitive insight phenomenon—is often referenced in relation to creative
breakthroughs.One 2008 study found that when the left side of the person's brain
dwells on a problem, it produces an excessive amount of obstructive gamma
waves. The more the person ruminates on the problem, the harder it becomes to
Conversely, when concentration is relaxed—or as Newberg said, when
the person manages to quiet the left side of the brain and involve the
right—the sudden appearance of new answers and insights can feel
The Assassination of an Atheist
Battling Superstition, Indian Paid With His Life
Manpreet Romana for The New York Times
By ELLEN BARRY
Published: August 24, 2013
PUNE, India — For nearly three decades, an earnest man named Narendra
Dabholkar traveled from village to village in India, waging a personal war against
the spirit world.
If a holy man had electrified the public with his miracles, Dr. Dabholkar, a former
physician, would duplicate the miracles and explain, step by step, how they were
performed. If a sorcerer had amassed a fortune treating infertility, he would
arrange a sting operation to unmask the man as a fraud. His goal was to drive a
scientist’s skepticism into the heart of India, a country still teeming with gurus,
babas, astrologers, godmen and other mystical entrepreneurs.
That mission ended Tuesday, when two men ran up behind Dr. Dabholkar, 67,
as he crossed a bridge, shot him at point-blank range, then jumped onto a
motorbike and disappeared into the traffic coursing through this city.
Dr. Dabholkar’s killing is the latest episode in a millenniums-old wrestling match
between traditionalists and reformers in India. When detectives began putting
together a list of Dr. Dabholkar’s enemies, they found that it was long. He had
received threats from Hindu far-right groups, been beaten by followers of angry
gurus and challenged by councils upholding archaic caste laws. His home state,
Maharashtra, was considering legislation he had promoted for 14 years, banning
a list of practices like animal sacrifice, the magical treatment of snake bites and
the sale of magic stones.
In the rush of emotion that followed Dr. Dabholkar’s death, the state’s governor
on Saturday signed the so-called anti-black magic bill into force as an ordinance.
But Dr. Dabholkar never put stock in sudden breakthroughs, said his son, Hamid
Dabholkar, as mourners filtered through the family’s home. “He knew this kind of
battle is fought across the ages,” he said. “The journey we have chosen is one
that started with Copernicus. We have a very small life, of 70 to 80 years, and
the kind of change we will see during that time will be small.”
At Police Headquarters in Pune, the crime branch’s reception area was
decorated with a painting of the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesh, bedecked
with garlands of fresh flowers and a revolving, multicolored flashing light. There
was a slight smell of incense. The lead investigator in the Dabholkar case had
been working until 4 a.m., the inspector on duty said, so he would not be in until
noon. “Round-the-clock,” he repeated, reassuringly, when asked about the
The killers left behind a few pieces of evidence. Surveillance cameras show two
men lurking around a bridge for nearly an hour before intercepting Dr.
Dabholkar on his post-yoga morning walk. Friends and family described threats
Dr. Dabholkar had received over the years from hard-line Hindu organizations.
The founder of one such group, Sanatan Sanstha, noting that he did not
condone the killing, did not bother to feign sorrow over Dr. Dabholkar’s death.
“Instead of dying of old age, or by surgery, which causes a lot of suffering, the
death Mr. Dabholkar got today was a blessing from God,” the leader, a former
hypnotherapist now known as His Holiness Dr. Jayant Athavale, wrote in an
editorial in the organization’s publication, Sanatan Prabhat.
With his unfashionable glasses and mild smile, Dr. Dabholkar fell into his region’s
tradition of progressive social movements. An atheist, he quit practicing medicine
at 40 to devote his life to activism. The room where he worked was bare but for a
framed quote from Mahatma Gandhi. His wife, Shaila, recalled that her family had
offered her an array of young men they considered marriageable, and she had
chosen him for his idealism.
“We thought only about society, and that was what we spoke about,” she said.
“Even though we were married, there was nothing like romance, or anything like
that. Both of us were patriots of idealism. We wanted a good society.”
He was active on many fronts, from women’s rights to environmentalism, but the
guru-busting received the most attention. A German scholar who wrote a book
about Dr. Dabholkar’s group, the Committee for the Eradication of Blind Faith,
described a traveling road show in which activists lay on beds of nails, set
coconuts on fire and told crowds, “Just remember, miracles can never happen.”
“The rationalists do not shy away from challenging and provoking the gods,
deities and spirits, ridiculing the people capable of controlling black magic and
deliberately doing the most inauspicious things,” the scholar, Johannes Quack,
wrote in his study “Disenchanting India.” “Some villagers told me that the
rationalists would live to regret such behavior.” ...
A Fed love story: Janet Yellen meets her match
By Marilyn W. Thompson and Jonathan Spicer
Sep 29, 2013
(Reuters) - Janet Yellen found love at the Federal Reserve. She met him at a
luncheon in 1977, launching a whirlwind romance that led to marriage in less than
In connecting with George Akerlof, then on a temporary assignment at the Fed's
research division in Washington, Yellen discovered not just a soul mate but an
intellectual equal with similar views about the societal impact of economic policy.
Together, they formed one of the pre-eminent power couples of modern
economics. They collaborated on ambitious research while holding increasingly
demanding jobs and raising a son who grew up to share their academic passion.
Yellen, who is currently the No. 2 official at the Fed, is expected to win nomination
from President Barack Obama to become its next chairman, replacing retiring Ben
Bernanke. If approved by the Senate, her appointment would crack one of the
highest U.S. glass ceilings and make her the first woman to head the central bank
in its 100-year history.
But the influence of her husband in shaping her thinking and professional success
cannot be overestimated, say those who have known the couple for decades.
Yellen and Akerlof declined interview requests.
The support went both ways. Yellen helped Akerlof maintain the focus that
distinguished his academic work, highlighted in 2001 when he shared a Nobel
Prize in economics. He later wrote in an autobiography for The Nobel Foundation
(posted on Nobelprize.org) about happily collaborating with his wife for more than
a decade....In London, Yellen and Akerlof both had identity problems. "We were
Americans, not English," he later wrote. After two years, they returned to Berkeley,
where Yellen was hired to teach in the business school.
Yellen twice won a coveted Berkeley teaching award. And she and Akerlof,
sometimes in partnership with others, collaborated on research that benefited from
their different styles, colleagues said.
"George was less disciplined, more artistic and perhaps creative; Janet was more
grounded, sensible, and a paragon of common sense," said Andrew K. Rose, who
was hired by Yellen and now serves as associate dean of Berkeley's Haas School
of Business. Rose collaborated with the couple on several papers, including a year
of research on the East German economy.
Jim Adams, a University of Michigan economics professor who has known Yellen
since 1973 and also did research with her, said her relationship with Akerlof shows
"how mature they are that they can be so deeply in love as people who are so
different from each other."
"George is an incredibly creative person," Adams said. "He just has such unusual
ideas by the standards of a very buttoned-down discipline where there is
conformism, as is economics these days. He is not afraid to be unorthodox and
off-beat in the service of real intellectual exploration."
Yellen, he said, "champions what is known as 'slow-thinking' - really thinking
through things carefully and their implications."
The couple's first paper together was inspired during a Berkeley visit from Yellen's
Yale mentor, Keynesian economist James Tobin. Tobin had advanced a line of
thinking that government intervention could avert recession. He urged the couple
to study why, and, as Akerlof put it, they discovered "sticky prices and wages
would explain why monetary policy would be effective: if the money supply
increased, real balances, which determine real demand, would rise."
Their later research focused on poverty and policy, including on unemployment
and a paper on the costs of out-of-wedlock childbearing.
Yellen returned to the Fed in 1994 with her appointment to the central bank's
board, and Akerlof commuted between Washington and Berkeley, continuing to
teach. When Yellen moved to the President Bill Clinton's Council of Economic
Advisers, Akerlof took leave.
He tended the household and helped raise their son, but his main support for
Yellen while she was at the White House was "providing psychological support in
the daily political storms," he wrote. Yellen maintained balance, friends say, with
mothering and gourmet cooking.
In 1999, the couple returned to Berkeley, their son having followed their paths to
Yale. She was named head of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco in 2004
and nominated to be vice chair of the Fed in 2010.
Akerlof won the Nobel prize in October 2001. In media coverage, he posed for
photos with Yellen as the family cat sashayed through the room.
Now, as Yellen anticipates yet-another promotion, their friends say she is bound to
make the Fed a stronger organization.
"She's the kind of person who makes everyone around her better," Adams said...
Don't Send Your Kid to the Ivy League The nation's top
colleges are turning our kids into zombies
By William Deresiewicz
July 21, 2014
...I taught many wonderful young people during my years in the Ivy League—
bright, thoughtful, creative kids whom it was a pleasure to talk with and learn
from. But most of them seemed content to color within the lines that their
education had marked out for them. Very few were passionate about ideas. Very
few saw college as part of a larger project of intellectual discovery and
development. Everyone dressed as if they were ready to be interviewed at a
Look beneath the façade of seamless well-adjustment, and what you often find
are toxic levels of fear, anxiety, and depression, of emptiness and aimlessness
and isolation. A large-scale survey of college freshmen recently found that self-
reports of emotional well-being have fallen to their lowest level in the study’s 25-
|News, information and ideas about our
by Maura Larkins
“So wrong about so much”: Paul Krugman blasts
newly empowered GOP
The economist asks how a party that's gotten every major policy question wrong
could do so well at the ballot box
Nov 7, 2014
How did the Republican Party — with a favorability rating significantly worse than
the Democratic Party’s – manage to trounce the Democrats on Tuesday?
The obvious answer is that midterm elections witness a substantial dropoff in
turnout by core Democratic voters; the dynamics of this year’s contest simply
favored the GOP. But as New York Times columnist and economist Paul Krugman
emphasizes this morning, voters awarded Senate control and an historic House
majority to a party that has gotten every major policy question of the last several
years woefully wrong.
Take the financial crisis and its aftermath. “According to
conservative dogma, which denounces any regulation of
the sacred pursuit of profit, the financial crisis of 2008 —
brought on by runaway financial institutions — shouldn’t
have been possible,” Krugman writes. But Republicans
refused to rethink their reflexive opposition to robust
regulation, he notes, and they badly bungled the response to the ensuing
Great Recession. Denouncing deficit spending and championing austerity,
GOPers like House Speaker John Boehner prescribed policies that actually
exacerbate economic slumps. Though the GOP’s knee-jerk opposition to
government spending didn’t stop the enactment of President Obama’s 2009
stimulus, the party did preside over a drastic cut in crucial investments like
infrastructure after it captured control of the House of Representatives in 2010,
and those spending cuts have held back the economic recovery.
On health care reform, meanwhile, the party’s predictions of peril haven’t panned
out. Krugman notes that the GOP forecast “minimal enrollments, more people
losing insurance than gaining it, [and] soaring costs.” The reality? More people
than expected are enrolling in health care plans; the number of Americans without
health insurance has substantially decreased; premiums are “well below
expectations”; and the rate of health spending growth has slowed.
But the GOP’s “most important wrongness of all,” Krugman
argues, is on climate change. “As late as 2008, some Republicans
were willing to admit that the problem is real, and even advocate serious policies
to limit emissions — Senator John McCain proposed a cap-and-trade system
similar to Democratic proposals,” he observes. Now, however, the GOP has
entered the era of “I’m not a scientist” — and steadfastly refuses to act on the
threat to our planet. “Now these people will be in a position to block action for
years to come, quite possibly pushing us past the point of no return,” Krugman
So how did the GOP triumph among the few voters who turned out Tuesday?
Krugman points to the GOP’s effort to shroud its unpopular positions and — most
important — the party’s successful bet that obstructionism is a winning political
Part of the answer is that leading Republicans managed to mask their true
positions. Perhaps most notably, Senator Mitch McConnell, the incoming majority
leader, managed to convey the completely false impression that Kentucky could
retain its impressive gains in health coverage even if Obamacare were repealed.
But the biggest secret of the Republican triumph surely lies in the discovery that
obstructionism bordering on sabotage is a winning political strategy. From Day 1
of the Obama administration, Mr. McConnell and his colleagues have done
everything they could to undermine effective policy, in particular blocking every
effort to do the obvious thing — boost infrastructure spending — in a time of low
interest rates and high unemployment.
This was, it turned out, bad for America but good for Republicans. Most voters
don’t know much about policy details, nor do they understand the legislative
process. So all they saw was that the man in the White House wasn’t delivering
prosperity — and they punished his party.
Nov 8, 2014 05:00 AM PST
This is your brain on outrage:
How political rhetoric is
making us crazy
Should we expect
conservatives' big win on
Tuesday to make them any
less angry? Definitely not,
and here's why
...As history shows all too
clearly, political rhetoric
never sleeps. John Lennon
once asked us to imagine a
world without religion. That’s
not going to happen anytime
soon, if ever. But what if we
lived in a world without
rhetoric? It’s definitely
possible to imagine, but I’m
afraid it has about the same
chance of happening as a
world without religion.
I believe this because the
loves to indulge in a specific
type of rhetoric, the rhetoric
of outrage. What’s worse,
they even seem to enjoy it.
“Rhetoric” is one of those
words everyone throws
around, usually pejoratively,
without knowing its original or
even its full meaning. It hasn’t
always had this bad
reputation—as William Penn
opined in 1682: “There is a
Truth and Beauty in
Rhetorick.” And the concept
of rhetoric goes at least as
far back as Socrates in
Around the time of Socrates’s
career as public gadfly, a
new profession emerged:
The Sophists were self-
educators who toured the
Greek world offering
instruction in a wide range of
subjects, with particular
emphasis on skill in public
speaking and the successful
conduct of life.” Socrates
didn’t much care for them,
though. It wasn’t the fact that
they were ostensibly offering
an increase in knowledge for
their “clients,” something
Socrates himself was
dedicated to, it was more the
Sophist’s emphasis on the
powers of persuasion that
bugged him—in other words,
rhetoric. People who sought
out the Sophists were
primarily interested in
furthering their political
Socrates didn’t think that
rhetoric itself was bad—after
all, he utilized it in order to
cajole and enlighten the
good citizens of Athens—but
he did denigrate the kind of
rhetoric that just sought to
flatter instead of educate.
And that’s just what the likes
of Fox News and the rest of
affrontosophere are doing—
pandering to their base’s
biases and stirring the pot of
But what is most perplexing
to me is this apparent
enjoyment of outrage, of
willingly putting oneself in a
perpetual state of
indignation. It just doesn’t
seem healthy. From time
immemorial, the sages of the
ages have all claimed that
human behavior is defined by
a pursuit of pleasure and an
avoidance of pain. So how
can this orgy of outrage be
A study from 2007
investigated the seemingly
paradoxical notion that
people enjoy negative or
aversive stimuli. The study
focused on people who get
their kicks from watching
horror flicks, with the authors
concluding that “horror movie
viewers are happy to be
unhappy.” Though they
conceded that their work didn’
t directly address the
mechanisms of this
phenomenon, they did offer
some speculations based on
the results of their studies.
They said one
possibility is that
represent “a reliable
source of arousal,
one that can be
positive affect as
long as people place
themselves within a
Thursday, Sep 15, 2016 01:59 AM PST
Are Americans nicer in Spanish? How morality
changes in a foreign language
Fascinating ethical shifts come with thinking in a different language
Julie Sedivy, Scientific American
This article was originally published by Scientific American.
What defines who we are? Our habits? Our aesthetic tastes? Our memories? If
pressed, I would answer that if there is any part of me that sits at my core, that is an
essential part of who I am, then surely it must be my moral center, my deep-seated
sense of right and wrong.
And yet, like many other people who speak more than one language, I often have the
sense that I’m a slightly different person in each of my languages — more assertive in
English, more relaxed in French, more sentimental in Czech. Is it possible that, along
with these differences, my moral compass also points in somewhat different directions
depending on the language I’m using at the time?
Psychologists who study moral judgments have become very interested in this
question. Several recent studies have focused on how people think about ethics in a
non-native language — as might take place, for example, among a group of delegates
at the United Nations using a lingua franca to hash out a resolution. The findings
suggest that when people are confronted with moral dilemmas, they do indeed
respond differently when considering them in a foreign language than when using their
In a 2014 paper led by Albert Costa, volunteers were presented with a moral dilemma
known as the “trolley problem”: imagine that a runaway trolley is careening toward a
group of five people standing on the tracks, unable to move. You are next to a switch
that can shift the trolley to a different set of tracks, thereby sparing the five people, but
resulting in the death of one who is standing on the side tracks. Do you pull the switch?
Most people agree that they would. But what if the only way to stop the trolley is by
pushing a large stranger off a footbridge into its path? People tend to be very
reluctant to say they would do this, even though in both scenarios, one person is
sacrificed to save five. But Costa and his colleagues found that posing the dilemma in
a language that volunteers had learned as a foreign tongue dramatically increased
their stated willingness to shove the sacrificial person off the footbridge, from fewer
than 20 percent of respondents working in their native language to about 50 percent
of those using the foreign one. (Both native Spanish- and English-speakers were
included, with English and Spanish as their respective foreign languages; the results
were the same for both groups, showing that the effect was about using a foreign
language, and not about which particular language — English or Spanish — was
Using a very different experimental setup, Janet Geipel and her colleagues also found
that using a foreign language shifted their participants’ moral verdicts. In their study,
volunteers read descriptions of acts that appeared to harm no one, but that many
people find morally reprehensible — for example, stories in which siblings enjoyed
entirely consensual and safe sex, or someone cooked and ate his dog after it had
been killed by a car. Those who read the stories in a foreign language (either English
or Italian) judged these actions to be less wrong than those who read them in their
Why does it matter whether we judge morality in our native language or a foreign one?
According to one explanation, such judgments involve two separate and competing
modes of thinking — one of these, a quick, gut-level “feeling,” and the other, careful
deliberation about the greatest good for the greatest number. When we use a foreign
language, we unconsciously sink into the more deliberate mode simply because the
effort of operating in our non-native language cues our cognitive system to prepare
for strenuous activity. This may seem paradoxical, but is in line with findings that
reading math problems in a hard-to-read font makes people less likely to make
careless mistakes (although these results have proven difficult to replicate).
An alternative explanation is that differences arise between native and foreign tongues
because our childhood languages vibrate with greater emotional intensity than do
those learned in more academic settings. As a result, moral judgments made in a
foreign language are less laden with the emotional reactions that surface when we use
a language learned in childhood.
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There’s strong evidence that memory intertwines a language with the experiences and
interactions through which that language was learned. For example, people who are
bilingual are more likely to recall an experience if prompted in the language in which
that event occurred. Our childhood languages, learned in the throes of passionate
emotion — whose childhood, after all, is not streaked through with an abundance of
love, rage, wonder and punishment? — become infused with deep feeling. By
comparison, languages acquired late in life, especially if they are learned through
restrained interactions in the classroom or blandly delivered over computer screens
and headphones, enter our minds bleached of the emotionality that is present for their
Catherine Harris and her colleagues offer compelling evidence for the visceral
responses that a native language can provoke. Using the skin’s electrical conductivity
to measure emotional arousal (conductivity increases as adrenaline surges), they had
native Turkish speakers who had learned English late in life listen to words and
phrases in both languages; some of these were neutral (table) whereas others were
taboo (shit) or conveyed reprimands (Shame on you!). Their participants’ skin
responses revealed heightened arousal for taboo words compared to neutral ones,
especially when these were spoken in their native Turkish. But the strongest
difference between languages was evident with reprimands: the volunteers responded
very mildly to the English phrases, but had powerful reactions to the Turkish ones, with
some reporting that they “heard” these reprimands in the voices of close relatives. If
language can serve as a container for potent memories of our earliest transgressions
and punishments, then it is not surprising that such emotional associations might color
moral judgments made in our native language.
The balance is tipped even further toward this explanation by a recent study published
in the journal Cognition. This new research involved scenarios in which good
intentions led to bad outcomes (someone gives a homeless person a new jacket, only
to have the poor man beat up by others who believe he has stolen it) or good
outcomes occurred despite dubious motives (a couple adopts a disabled child to
receive money from the state). Reading these in a foreign language rather than a
native language led participants to place greater weight on outcomes and less weight
on intentions in making moral judgments. These results clash with the notion that
using a foreign language makes people think more deeply, because other research
has shown that careful reflection makes people think more about the intentions that
underlie people’s actions rather than less.
But the results do mesh with the idea that when using a foreign language, muted
emotional responses — less sympathy for those with noble intentions, less outrage for
those with nefarious motives — diminished the impact of intentions. This explanation is
bolstered by findings that patients with brain damage to the ventromedial prefrontal
cortex, an area that is involved in emotional responding, showed a similar pattern of
responses, with outcomes privileged over intentions.
What then, is a multilingual person’s “true” moral self? Is it my moral memories, the
reverberations of emotionally charged interactions that taught me what it means to be
“good”? Or is it the reasoning I’m able to apply when free of such unconscious
constraints? Or perhaps, this line of research simply illuminates what is true for all of
us, regardless of how many languages we speak: that our moral compass is a
combination of the earliest forces that have shaped us and the ways in which we