Tag Archives: money

Brilliant: Elites are more likely selfish and less equality minded


Who, me? Share?

A new study published in Science Magazine demonstrates something you might very well have predicted, elite individuals place greater value on themselves in general, and when there is cost involved in sharing, they are more likely to ‘charge’ that cost to others.

Somehow this article reminds me of a similar look into the way that drivers of ‘valuable’ cars tend to ignore laws regarding yielding to pedestrians than drivers of less valuable cars described in my ‘Greed is Good‘ blog article.

In the current study, three groups of individuals were asked to play the dictator game. This is a simple ‘game’ where one person is given all the power and then asked how much they want to share. It is typically done with food for children and animals (chimps) or money for adults. Here is the game explained:

In this article, the three groups were Yale Law Students (Labeled as ‘elites’), Berkeley Undergrads (Labeled as ‘intermediate elites’) and a group of randomized Americans. Each group was assessed in two ways, first was their generosity: How fairly did they share?

They were classified as either ‘fair-minded’, ‘intermediate’, or ‘selfish’

Second, was how their generosity was affected by adding a cost to sharing.

This classified them as either ‘equality-focused’ if they split the cost of sharing evenly or ‘efficiency-focused’ meaning that they charged the cost of sharing to the one being shared with.

Here are the data:

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Interestingly, it appears that the ‘Intermediate Elite’ were the most selfish – although both elite groups were much more selfish than the ‘American Adults’. But, when charged a price to share, the Law Students were the most likely to pass that cost along.

In general though, I see both groups of elites acting a lot like todlers…

Here’s an example of the game being played with a two year old girl and her dad using goldfish crackers.

What I would like to say is, hey – those of you for whom life is going pretty well, don’t forget to share a little – oh, and yield for pedestrians.


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Posted by on September 17, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Undisclosed Funding – or – How to Look Like You have Something to Hide

Apparently disclosure of funding sources does not seem to be a important to some researchers. In Paul Offit’s Autism’s False Prophets, Andrew Wakefield’s failure to disclose $800,000 given to him by Richard Barr’s law firm to link MMR vaccine to Autism is a major factor contributing to his decline and fall. In Wakefield’s case, he failed to disclose any conflicts of interest as required by the journal, The Lancet, where he published his work.

The Lancet’s Author Instructions state clearly what may constitute a conflict of interest and that anything giving the impression of a conflict should be reported to the editor.

A conflict of interest exists when professional judgement concerning a primary interest (such as patients’ welfare or validity of research) may be influenced by a secondary interest (such a financial gain). Financial relationships are easily identifiable … A conflict can be actual or potential, and full disclosure to the Editor is the safest course.

At the end of the text, under a subheading “Declaration of interests”, all authors must disclose any financial and personal relationships with other people or organisations that could inappropriately influence (bias) their work.

Wakefield’s failure to report the potential conflict of interest both to the journal and also to his collaborators. Unsurprisingly, both groups were upset when they learned about the money. Eventually, along with alleged ethical violations, Wakefield had his license to practice medicine revoked and his paper retracted.

524990main_FAQ10_fullOne would think that this would serve as a warning to those with similar perceived conflicts, suggesting the best course of action to be one of full disclosure. In the end, it is often easier to defend a potential conflict that the author puts forward him or herself, rather than having to retroactively explain why information was withheld and then try to demonstrate that any conflicts did not impact the quality or findings discovered.

Nevertheless, The New York Times has published an account of a very similar situation in climate science today. In their article, Deeper Ties to Corporate Cash for Doubtful Climate Researcher, the case of Wei-Hock Soon, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who claims that variations in the sun’s energy can largely explain recent global warming is being investigated for the influence of cash on his findings.

The crux of the times article is that Soon…

… accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers. At least 11 papers he has published since 2008 omitted such a disclosure, and in at least eight of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work.

The disclosure of Soon’s funding does not mean that his data were influenced by the money, however, keeping it hidden definitely leads to questions. Not the least of his problems comes from using terminology such as ‘deliverables’ to describe his papers and preparations for congressional testimony in communication with his supporters. The term ‘deliverable’ is defined by business as a “Report or item that must be completed and delivered under the terms of an agreement or contract.”

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Click here to see other great Calvin comics at go

Although these articles are not within the timeframe of the financial contributions alleged in the Times, these help to clarify Soon’s position on climate science. These publications include:

“Recent Warming is not Historically Unique”.  Callie Baliunas & Willie Soon (2001.04.17)Capitalism Magazine. In which he concludes “The facts are simple. The Little Optimum and Little Ice Age were real. They were also widespread over the globe. The twentieth century is not the least bit climatically unusual. So why the recent media hysteria that the twentieth century is the warmest of the last 1,000 years?”

“Variable solar irradiance as a plausible agent for multidecadal variations in the Arctic-wide surface air temperature record of the past 130 years” Volume 32, Issue 16. August 2005. Geophysical Research Letters. As the title suggests, this article attributes recent climate data to “features that are highly correlated with the Sun’s intrinsic magnetic variability especially on multidecadal time scales.”

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Posted by on February 25, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Numbers – and Other Obfuscations (corrected)

ImageI’m afraid this is going to be something of an incomplete post.

Yesterday, on the local NPR station, several Kansas State Legislators were questioned about plans for this new year. One question that did elicit some discussion concerned the State Education Budget. Here in Kansas, there is some debate about the budget (not unlike the rest of the country). One specific item was how the state was budgeting for education. Currently, there is a dispute where schools are challenging the legislators in the courts over insufficient budgeting.

This is a big mess because now the Judicial branch is hearing a challenge about financial matters that are clearly within the jurisdiction of the Legislative branch – but this is not what interested me.

My interest was piqued when one Legislators were asked about whether they felt that the school budget was sufficient or not to meet educational standards. One Kansas Congressman (I don’t know who because information regarding this show is not yet available online) responded that Kansas is among the top 4 states in funding education. He then quickly added that this was based on the percentage of total State Budget going to Education.

In graduate school, a statement like this would bring a conversation to a halt. ‘What does that mean?’, ‘Is percentage of state budget an appropriate way to gauge spending?’, ‘what does it translate to in absolute numbers?’, ‘What is the best way to measure education spending?’, ‘How can we compare this to other states / countries?’, ‘Are these comparisons important? i.e. does spending correlate to results?’

I could go on for some time on just this question.

The only thing to do is to go find the real answers, which might lead into muddy water. What numbers should we even look for? I think the best place to start is to consider what the standard is for comparison between schools in terms of budget. The most common and apparently sensible answer to this is to look at spending per pupil. This should normalize other variables fairly well – who cares what the actual state budget is? I don’t even care what the educational budget is. If we were going to ask what dollar amount is sufficient to feed a school full of students, we would want to know whether we are feeding 1000 kids or just 10. Admittedly, there are economies of scale, but at least this gets us somewhere.

I got my numbers from National Center for Education Statistics. Also note that the data I found were from 2010, so a little ways back, but necessary if we want to make any comparisons. Using this site’s data, we can immediately see that Kansas ranks 26th of the 50 states in terms of spending per pupil. This is not exactly top 4, but that’s not to say the legislator was lying, just using numbers to his advantage.

Does it matter how much we spend on education? To answer that, we have to look for some data on school performance, grouped by state, from 2010. Luckily, there is a Pew-funded study that does just this giving us a fairly simple number grade from 1-100 (100 being best). I’m not sure if this is the best way to do this, but for a back-of-the-envelope it’ll suffice.

Using these data together, I grouped the states in order of spending per pupil and graphed that against the state’s grade provided by the Pew report. This gave a pretty predictable looking graph.


I had hoped to see something definitive, but despite the trend, the line these data make, gives an r-square value of 0.2. This is the number that tells us how predictive our line will be in the future as well as how well it accounts for the data presented.

This raises the question of whether we should have confidence in the line or not. In this case, r2 = 0.2 means that this line accounts for only  20% of the data. We would like to see this number as close as possible to 1.0, the number indicating that the line fits 100% of the data points and we should be confident of its predictive power.

Here, I have to admit that I am not a dyed in the wool numbers guy. I wish I was, but my faculty with math is weakening with each passing year since my undergraduate studies. I’m going to have to do some investigating into what we can interpret from these data. The trend is clear, the significance of this trend is not.

(Note – this post was corrected, I initially posted it with an incorrect conclusion due to late night foggy thinking)

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Posted by on January 7, 2014 in Uncategorized


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“Greed is Good” -or it least it feels that way to some people


Hey buddy, watch the paint!

An interesting article appeared in PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, last year: “Higher Social Class Predicts Increased Unethical Behavior.” Thank you to Xenophilius for posting a link to this. Basically, the paper reports the behavior of motorists based on the ‘status level’ of the car they drive. “[W]e used observers’ codes of vehicle status (make, age, and appearance) to index drivers’ social class.” Unfortunately, this is all that was said in the article and its supplementary material about how ‘vehicle status’ was calculated.

I can’t say that the results of this study are surprising, but it does provide some support for the feeling that people in ‘rich’ cars act more callously towards people than those who drive more common vehicles. The data presented here shows the likelihood of a car yielding to a pedestrian at a crosswalk (something mandated by California State Law.Image


I have always remained convinced that BMWs are the only cars on the road where blinkers come as optional equipment.



Posted by on July 25, 2013 in Uncategorized


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It’s Christmastime – Spend a little money on someone you love, it’ll make you HAPPY.


Can’t Buy Me Love

Can money buy you love?

Maybe, maybe not. But it turns out that it can buy happiness if you are spending it on someone else. This kind of spending, termed pro-social spending, has the capacity to make you feel better and feel happier than spending it on yourself. But don’t take my word for it. In a Science paper that couldn’t be more about the Christmas spirit, Dunn and Aknin of the University of British Columbia and Norton of the Harvard School of Business show that, “experimental results provide direct support for our causal argument that spending money on others promotes happiness more than spending money on oneself.”1

In the 2008 paper, “Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness”, the authors suggest that the problem people have with money is that they expect the wrong things from it and don’t know how to spend it best to make themselves happy. Whereas spending money on yourself does not increase happiness, “higher prosocial spending was associated with significantly greater happiness (β =0.11, P < 0.01).” 

So, if you want to give yourself a treat this Christmas, go ahead and shop. Just shop for someone else, not yourself.


1. Science 21 March 2008: Vol. 319 no. 5870 pp. 1687-1688

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Posted by on December 14, 2012 in Uncategorized


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