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My friend and Berkeley grad school classmate Gary Charness posted this on Facebook:

It has finally happened. This could be a world record. I now have 63 published and accepted papers at the age of 63. I doubt that there is anyone who *first* matched their (positive) age at a higher age. Not bad given that my first accepted paper was in 1999. I am very pleased !!

Note that Gary is setting a very strict test here.  Draw a graph with age on the horizontal axis and publications on the vertical.  Take any economist and plot publications by age.  It’s already a major accomplishment for this plot to cross the 45 degree line at some point.  Its yet another for it to still be above the 45 degree line at age 63.  But its absolutely astounding that Gary’s plot first crossed the 45 degree line at age 63.

(Yes Gary was my classmate at Berkeley when I was 20-something and he was 40-something.)

  1. Facebook’s business problem is that it is the social network of people you see in real life.  All the really interesting stuff you want to do and say on the internet is stuff you’d rather not share with those people or even let them know you are doing/saying.
  2. What is the rationale for offsides in soccer that doesn’t also apply to basketball?
  3. If the editors of all the journals were somehow agreeing to publish each others’ papers what patterns would we look for in the data to detect that?
  4. I need to know in advance the topic of the next 3 Gerzensee conferences so that I can start now writing papers on those topics in hopes of getting invited.

Suppose you are writing a referee report and you are recommending that the paper be rejected. You have a long list of reasons. How many should you put in your report? If you put only your few strongest arguments you run the risk that the author (or editor) finds a response to those and accepts the paper.

You will have lost the chance to use your next few strongest arguments to their full effect, even if there is a second round. The reason has to do with a basic friction of rhetoric.  Nobody really knows what’s true or false, but the more you’ve thought about it the better informed you are. So there is always a signaling aspect to rhetoric. Even if the opponent can’t find a counterargument, when it is known that you rank your argument low in terms of persuasiveness, your argument will as a result be in fact less persuasive.  Your ranking reveals that you believe that the probability is high that a counterargument could be found, even if by chance this time it wasn’t.

On the other hand you also don’t want to put all of your arguments down. The risk here is that the author refutes all but your strongest one or two arguments. Then the editor may conclude that your decision to reject was made on the basis of that long list of considerations and now that a large percentage of them have been refuted this seals the case in favor. Had you left out all the weak arguments your case would look stronger.

It may even be optimal to pick a non-interval subset of arguments. That is you might give your strongest argument, leave out the second strongest but include the third strongest. The reason is that you care not just about the probability that any single one of your arguments is refuted but the probability that a large subset of your arguments survive. And here correlation matters. It may be that a refutation of the strongest argument is likely also to partially weaken the second-strongest. You pick the third because it is orthogonal to the first.

One of my favorite subjects is woven through the highly entertaining This American Life segment about Emir Kamenica.  I highly recommend listening.  Unrelated to the main story, at the very beginning Michael Lewis details a very nice defense of plagiarism:

The concept was alien to me, I mean I just thought it was an odd concept because you repeat what other people say all the time, I was just repeating what someone else said, it was a very intelligent thing to repeat. And I thought I was saving us a lot of trouble… save him the trouble of having to read something really awful and I wouldn’t have to write a boring book report or even read the boring book and so I was doing both of us a favor.  And it seemed sortof counterintuitive to have to generate a thing that had already been done.


Martin Osborne, the first Managing Editor of Theoretical Economics has just completed his term and handed the reins to George Mailath.  Martin is the last of the original co-editors to complete his final term and on the (private) TE Editorial Message Board he offers this reflection on the making of the journal.

TE has been—and continues to be—very much a collaborative project. With a few days to go before my term as editor ends, I want to acknowledge the contributors and outline their role in the development of the journal for those of you who may not be aware of the journal’s history.

TE emerged from a project initiated by Manfredi La Manna. In the late 1990s (or maybe the early 2000s—I have been unable to find a record), Manfredi proposed starting low-cost economics journals to compete one-on-one with a long list of high-priced Elsevier offerings. His plans were extremely (even absurdly) ambitious, and although many economists signaled their support, none was willing to commit to work on the project. None, that is, until Manfredi found David Levine and George Mailath. Manfredi had been looking for someone to act as an editor of a journal he hoped would compete with JET. As I understand it, David and George suggested instead that they form an Executive Board with the aim of searching for an editor. David and George soon recruited Drew Fudenberg, Patrick Bolton, and Ariel Rubinstein (with whom Manfredi had been in touch previously) to join the Board.

In October 2002, after no doubt getting turned down by their top picks, they asked me if I would become the editor. We quickly recruited Bart Lipman, Narayana Kocherlakota, and Georg Nöldeke to serve as coeditors, and for two years worked with Manfredi on the “Review of Economic Theory”. For a variety of reasons, we parted ways with Manfredi in mid-2004 and started designing and setting up an Open Access journal. The team initially consisted of Patrick Bolton, Drew Fudenberg, David Levine, George Mailath, Bart Lipman, Georg Nöldeke, and myself, and was soon augmented by Ted Bergstrom, Jeff Ely, Preston McAfee, and Ariel Rubinstein (who re-joined the group, having left the La Manna project before the rest of us). A huge amount of work was involved; everyone played an important role.

One of the major tasks in starting TE was setting up a nonprofit corporation to run it. This task was handled by Bart and David. David had previously set up such a corporation to run his “Not A Journal”, but even with the benefit of that experience, a huge amount of work was involved. In Bart’s role as Treasurer, he also conducted the tricky negotiations necessary to get a credit card authorizer to deal with us. Eventually he found a company that specialized in small operations. Although that company appeared a bit disorganized—at some point it has us down as “Theological Economics”—it served us flawlessly during our pre-ES days.

Another major task was soliciting papers. That involved finding papers, reading them, discussing them, and selecting the ones that were potentially publishable. And then, usually, finding out that the authors had submitted them to Econometrica. Bart, Jeff, and Drew were particularly active in evaluating papers. Collectively, we read over 250 papers; Bart alone posted comments on more than 200 of them.

A final task that proved to be especially difficult was the choice of a name. The list we considered was long; it was very hard to find a reasonable name that was not close to the name of another journal or book series and also had an acronym not close to the acronym of another journal. Dozens of creative titles were proposed. Three of the more colorful were Theoretical Economics Arsenal (acronym TEA, proposed by Jeff Ely), Ecotheoretica, and Ekonomiko (both proposed by Preston McAfee; Ekonomiko is Esperanto for economics). One thousand three hundred and thirty messages after I opened a thread to decide on a name, we voted for “Theoretical Economics” (which, incidentally, was one of the two options I suggested in my original message).

We were extraordinarily fortunate that just as the journal was starting, a new version of the Open Journal Systems software became (freely) available. This superb system allowed us to automate almost all the the “administrative” tasks of running a journal (tasks that, I might add, are still performed manually at many other journals). You may think that software quality is an incidental issue that has little bearing on the activities of a journal. I disagree. In fact, because it obviates the need for an editorial assistant, superb software like the OJS system allows Open Access journals to be financially viable—even ones without a rich aunt like the Econometric Society.

Once we started publishing, the generosity of another group of people came into play—authors. We owe the success of the journal in no small part to the generosity of the authors who submitted to TE papers that could have been published in Econometrica. Submitting a paper to TE now is, I hope, a natural step for the author of a outstanding paper. But despite the commitment of the coeditors that the project would succeed, submitting a paper to TE in 2005 entailed some risk, and we are certainly grateful to the authors who took that risk in order to support Open Access. Submitting a paper to TE in 2004, when we were not yet certain we would go ahead, entailed a much greater risk; we were certainly encouraged that Bill Zame was willing to take that step.

A key determinant of the reputation that the journal has earned is the quality of its editorial work. The decision letters written by the first group of coeditors—Jeff Ely, Ed Green, and Bart Lipman, joined by Debraj Ray in 2008—were better than any others I have seen. Even rejected papers received very close attention. The efforts of this initial group of brilliant coeditors were critical in establishing a reputation for the journal.

One measure of the extent to which the initial group worked together is the number of postings on this Message Board. Between 2004 and July 2009 (when the journal was taken over by the Econometric Society), the coeditors (Jeff Ely, Ed Green, Bart Lipman, Debraj Ray, and myself) and the other members of the Executive Board (Ted Bergstrom, Drew Fudenberg, David Levine, George Mailath, Preston McAfee, Ariel Rubinstein, and Joel Sobel) posted over over 5,000 messages here.

Finally, the coeditors who have served since TE’s takeover by the Econometric Society—Gadi Barlevy, Faruk Gul, Johannes Hörner, and Nicola Persico—have upheld TE’s standards of editorial excellence with enviable energy, and our outstanding Associate Editors have provided us with high-quality evaluations within timeframes matched by few other journals.

It has been a great pleasure to coordinate this very hard-working group, which has transformed TE from an idea to the success it is today. I am delighted to hand over my role to George Mailath, who will surely lead the journal to new heights!

Martin Osborne was a truly outstanding Editor.  He vastly understates his own role in building the editorial software that makes the journal run so smoothly.  In my opinion the open source software that we use for free and that Martin painstakingly customized is far superior to the commercial systems used by all of the major journals in economics.  Do not believe it when it is said that open access journals can only survive on large fees by authors.  TE is a top-class journal and it is incredibly cheap to run.  Do not believe it when it is said that a new open access journal faces a chicken and egg problem.  The people behind TE believed in it and made it happen.  People wishing to start open access journals would do well to copy what TE did.

(photograph taken by Ariel Rubinstein.  More photos here.)

"On Committees" by Itty and Bitty


How much did I add to the cost of the student edition when I disposed of it into a randomly chosen grad student’s mailbox?  Should I have recycled it instead?  (Textbook authors’ names hidden to protect their reputations.)

Coonskin coil:  Scott Ogawa.

Non-peer reviewed, inaccessible data, and punditry that can’t tell the difference between P&P and a regular AER article can’t be good for the reputation of the journal, the AEA, or the profession.

Oliver Sacks on the social costs of plagiarism stigma:

Helen Keller was accused of plagiarism when she was only twelve.2 Though deaf and blind from an early age, and indeed languageless before she met Annie Sullivan at the age of six, she became a prolific writer once she learned finger spelling and Braille. As a girl, she had written, among other things, a story called “The Frost King,” which she gave to a friend as a birthday gift. When the story found its way into print in a magazine, readers soon realized that it bore great similarities to “The Frost Fairies,” a children’s short story by Margaret Canby. Admiration for Keller now turned into accusation, and Helen was accused of plagiarism and deliberate falsehood, even though she said that she had no recollection of reading Canby’s story, and thought she had made it up herself. The young Helen was subjected to a ruthless inquisition, which left its mark on her for the rest of her life.

There is a subtle defense of plagiarism in the connection he draws with false memories, and the value of ignoring the source.

Indifference to source allows us to assimilate what we read, what we are told, what others say and think and write and paint, as intensely and richly as if they were primary experiences. It allows us to see and hear with other eyes and ears, to enter into other minds, to assimilate the art and science and religion of the whole culture, to enter into and contribute to the common mind, the general commonwealth of knowledge. This sort of sharing and participation, this communion, would not be possible if all our knowledge, our memories, were tagged and identified, seen as private, exclusively ours. Memory is dialogic and arises not only from direct experience but from the intercourse of many minds.

Kepi kiss:  David Olson.

Look at married female academics and whether or not they use their maiden name. See how this depends on

1. Which of the two names comes earlier in the alphabet.

2. Whether their field uses the lexicographic convention of ordering authors names.


The paper doesn’t seem to exist yet but here are slides from talk by Raj Chetty, Emmanual Saez and Lazlo Sander.  They randomly altered the incentives for referees at the Journal of Public Economics to see what it takes to get referees to give timely reports.  Some referees were offered cash.  Some were simply given shorter deadlines with no carrots.  Still others were threatened with public shame if they did not submit reports on time.  Not surprisingly the threat of humiliation caused many referees to refuse the contract altogether.  Perhaps less surprisingly, cash didn’t do much better than simply shortening the deadline.  The latter did help a bit.

Kofia krumple:  Tobias Schmidt

Cory Doctorow getting tangled up:

I know lots of people who disagree about when and whether it’s OK to reproduce creative works without permission. There are long, thoughtful debates about how long copyright should last; whether publicly funded works should be treated the same as privately created ones; whether scientific and scholarly works should be freely available; what sort of works qualify as “creative”, and, of course, what fair dealing/fair use should and should not allow.

But while I know plenty of proud pirates, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of someone standing up for the good, old fashioned plagiarism.

Interesting idea.  But no:

When this happens, a consensus quickly emerges that the culprit is a bad person, that the attention has been misappropriated. The real artist has been wronged – she didn’t get the upvotes, attention and good feeling she deserved. But so has anyone who was conned into believing the misattribution, and so missed the chance to discover more works by the real artist.

For me, the most interesting thing about plagiarism is that even though it’s legal, companies and people who do it get into real trouble for it.

Even without a law, doing something that is so universally reviled has genuine, lasting consequences. There’s a lesson in there for people looking to find the right balance for internet copyright: a law without public support will be widely flouted, but things that the social consensus rejects out of hand be automatically, widely enforced.

  1. When you turn a bottle over to pour out its contents it is less messy if you do the tilt thing to make sure there is a space for air to flow back into the bottle. But which way of pouring is faster if you just want to dump it out in the shortest time possible? I think the tilt can never be as fast.
  2. I aspire to hit for the cycle:  publish in all the top 5 economics journals. But it would be a lifetime cycle. Has anyone ever hit for the cycle in a single year?
  3. If you know you’ll get over it eventually shouldn’t you be over it now? And if not should you really get over it later?
  4. The efficient markets hypothesis means that there is no trading strategy that consistently loses money. (Because if there were then the negative of that strategy would consistently make a profit.)  So trade with abandon!
  5. I predict that in the future the distinct meanings of the prepositions “in” and “on” will progressively blur because of mobile phone typos.

Drawing:  Scatterbrained from (yaaay she’s back.)

Classic Tyler:

I say the deadweight loss here is not so large.  Most art exhibitions are not self-financing from the side of the viewers, which suggests that the demand to see the pictures is not higher than the costs of mounting the exhibit.  Arguably you can throw in philanthropic support as another part of “market demand,” but I consider that a separate valuation issue.  Maybe our current artistic institutions are under-providing marketing opportunities for businesses and foundations, but that still won’t get you a major pent-up demand to view the pictures, again not relative to cost.  The very popular pictures, such as the good works by the Impressionists and post-Impressionists, are shown quite frequently, including in traveling exhibitions.

Context matters a great deal in this setting.  Currently most of the Louvre is not being viewed at any point in time, as the crowds tend to cluster in a few very well-known areas.  Many people would want to go see anything they are told they ought to go see.  What is underfunded is some kind of “demand for participation in a public event,” not the viewing of art per se.  If only they could create more hullaballoo around the more obscure Flemish painters.

Almost all museums have large stretches of empty walls.  I would put up many more pictures there, as indeed I do in my own home.  That museums do not do this I find striking and indicative.  Nor do I see viewers and visitors demanding this, if anything the unspoken feeling might be to wish for a bit less on the walls, so that one may have the feeling of having seen everything without exhaustion.

The costs of storing art are high.  Perhaps the Louvre should sell some of its lower-tier works to private collectors.  But the general public just doesn’t want so much more art to see, not if they have to pay for it and maybe even if they don’t.


But I can’t help but ask what was the deadweight loss of all of Tyler’s ideas lost to the world pre-blogosphere? Is MR self-financing? How good a measure is the price (free) of the consumers’ surplus it generates now?

I just hope this doesn’t make me a Flemish painter.

Free as in liberated.  Here’s the opening paragraph:

I wrote this paper with the recognition that it is unlikely to be accepted for publication. There is something liberating about writing a paper without trying to please referees and without having to take into consideration the various protocols and conventions imposed on researchers in experimental economics (see Rubinstein (2001)). It gives one a feeling of real academic freedom!

The paper reports on long-running experiments relating response times to mistakes in decision-making.

Architectural plagiarism:

Sound the alarms: Another instance of “architectural plagiarism” is quickly developing in China. As Zaha Hadid begins work on her 11th building in China this year–the Wangjing Soho shopping center–a group of Chongqing developers is hurrying to complete a shopping complex that parrots the proportions and facade of the Soho almost exactly. The controversy has resulted in a bizarre competition that pits the original author against the copycat architects in a race to see who can complete the structures first.

Chilote chuck:  Courtney Conklin Knapp

For law journals at least:

IT IS A COMMON PRACTICE among law review editors to demand that authors support every claim with a citation. These de- mands can cause major headaches for legal scholars. Some claims are so obvious or obscure that they have not been made before. Other claims are made up or false, making them more diffi- cult to support using references to the existing literature.

Legal scholars need a source they can cite when confronted with these challenges. It should be something with an impressive but ge- neric title. I offer this page, with the following conclusion: If you have been directed to this page by a citation elsewhere, it is plainly true that the author’s claim is correct. For further support, consult the extensive scholarship on the point.1

The footnote, of course points to the article itself.

Mortarboard motion:  Justin Wolfers

By Ivo Welch.  Here is the abstract:

This paper analyzes referee recommendations in two settings: The first setting is a prestigious finance conference, in which a computer algorithm matched referees to papers based only on shared expertise. The second setting is the standard journal process, with data from eight prominent economics and finance journals (ECMTA, JEEA, JET, QJE, IER, RAND, JF, RFS). Despite referee selection differences, the data suggest similar referee behavior in both settings. First, referees display only modest consensus. Second, referees disagree not only about scales (a referee mean effect), but also about the relative ordering of papers. Third, the bias measured by the average generosity of the referee on other papers is about as important in predicting a referee’s recommendation as the opinion of another referee on the same paper.

In sum, the typical referee report consists roughly of one part signal of some referee- agreeable objective attribute of the paper and two parts (referee-specific) noise. In turn, the noise itself consists roughly of one part referee-mean effect (bias) and two parts unidentified effects or noise.

The random selection of referees removes this potential objection.

In 1797 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe had completed a new poem Hermann and Dorothea, and he was interested in knowing and publicizing its “true worth.”  So he concocted a scheme with his lawyer Mr. Bottiger and wrote this in a letter to his publisher:

I am inclined to offer Mr. Vieweg from Berlin an epic poem, Hermann and Dorothea, which will have approximately 2000 hexameters…. Concerning the royalty we will proceed as follows: I will hand over to Mr. Counsel B6ttiger a sealed note which contains my demand, and I wait for what Mr. Vieweg will suggest to offer for my work. If his offer is lower than my demand, then I take my note back, unopened, and the negotiation is broken. If, however, his offer is higher, then I will not ask for more than what is written in the note to be opened by Mr. Bottiger.

To understand this scheme first consider the alternative scenario where the publisher is told the amount demanded.  Then the publisher will say yes or no depending on whether his willingness to pay (the poem’s “true worth”) exceeds or falls short of the demand.  But then Goethe would never know exactly the poem’s true worth, just an upper or lower bound for it.

With the demand kept secret, the publisher’s incentives remain the same:  he wants to agree to a demand that is below his willingness to pay and refuse a demand that exceeds it.  Without knowing what that demand is, there is one and only one way to ensure this.  The publisher should offer exactly the poem’s true worth.

Goethe had devised what is apparently the first dominant-strategy incentive compatible truthful revelation mechanism.  The Vickrey auction is based on exactly this principle and so Goethe’s mechanism makes for a great starting point for teaching efficient auctions.

(quote is from “Goethe’s Second-Price Auction” by Moldovanu and Tietzel.  Mortarboard mosey:  Markus Mobius.)

From Nature news.

Calcagno, in contrast, found that 3–6 years after publication, papers published on their second try are more highly cited on average than first-time papers in the same journal — regardless of whether the resubmissions moved to journals with higher or lower impact.

Calcagno and colleagues think that this reflects the influence of peer review: the input from referees and editors makes papers better, even if they get rejected at first.

Based on my experience with economics journals as an editor and author I highly doubt that.  Authors pay very close attention to referees’ demands when they are asked to resubmit to the same journal because of course those same referees are going to decide on the next round.  On the other hand authors pretty much ignore the advice of referees who have proven their incompetence by rejecting their paper.

Instead my hypothesis is that authors with good papers start at the top journals and expect a rejection or two (on average) before the paper finally lands somewhere reasonably good.  Authors of bad papers submit them to bad journals and have them accepted right away.  Drew Fudenberg suggested something similar.


From an interview in Rolling Stone:

Oh, yeah, in folk and jazz, quotation is a rich and enriching tradition. That certainly is true. It’s true for everybody, but me. There are different rules for me. And as far as Henry Timrod is concerned, have you even heard of him? Who’s been reading him lately? And who’s pushed him to the forefront? Who’s been making you read him? And ask his descendants what they think of the hoopla. And if you think it’s so easy to quote him and it can help your work, do it yourself and see how far you can get. Wussies and pussies complain about that stuff. It’s an old thing – it’s part of the tradition. It goes way back. These are the same people that tried to pin the name Judas on me. Judas, the most hated name in human history! If you think you’ve been called a bad name, try to work your way out from under that. Yeah, and for what? For playing an electric guitar? As if that is in some kind of way equitable to betraying our Lord and delivering him up to be crucified. All those evil motherfuckers can rot in hell. 

  1. Is it that women like to socialize more than men do or is it that everyone, men and women alike, prefers to socialize with women?
  2. A great way to test for strategic effort in sports would be to measure the decibel level of Maria Sharapova’s grunts at various points in a match.
  3. If you are browsing the New York Times and you are over your article limit for the month, hit the stop button just after the page renders but before the browser has a chance to load the “Please subscribe” overlay.  This is easy on slow browsers like your phone.
  4. Given the Archimedes Principle why do we think that the sea level will rise when the Polar Caps melt?

David Levine’s essay is all grown up and now a full-blown book.  His goal is to “set the record straight” and document the true successes and failures of economic theory.  Here is a choice passage:

One of the most frustrating experiences for a working economist is to be confronted by a psychologist, political scientist – or even in some cases Nobel Prize winning economist – to be told in no uncertain terms “Your theory does not explain X – but X happens in the real world, so your theory is wrong.” The frustration revolves around the fact that the theory does predict X and you personally published a paper in a major journal showing exactly that. One cannot intelligently criticize – no matter what one’s credentials – what one does not understand. We have just seen that standard mainstream economic theory explains a lot of things quite well. Before examining criticisms of the theory more closely it would be wise to invest a little time in understanding what the theory does and does not say.

The point is that the theory of “rational play” does not say what you probably think it says. At first glance, it is common to call the behavior of suicide bombers crazy or irrational – as for example in the Sharkansky quotation at the beginning of the chapter. But according to economics it is probably not. From an economic perspective suicide need not be irrational: indeed a famous unpublished 2004 paper by Nobel Prize winning economist Gary Becker and U.S. Appeals Court Judge Richard Posner called “Suicide: An Economic Approach” studies exactly when it would be rational to commit suicide.

The evidence about the rationality of suicide is persuasive. For example, in the State of Oregon, suicide is legal. It cannot, however, be legally done in an impulsive fashion: it requires two oral requests separated by at least 15 days plus a written request signed in the presence of two witnesses, at least one of whom is not related to the applicant. While the exact number of people committing suicide under these terms is not known, it is substantial. Hence – from an economic perspective – this behavior is rational because it represents a clearly expressed preference.

What does this have to do with suicide bombers? If it is rational to commit suicide, then it is surely rational to achieve a worthwhile goal in the process. Eliminating ones enemies is – from the perspective of economics – a rational goal. Moreover, modern research into suicide bombers (see Kix [2010]) shows that they exhibit exactly the same characteristics of isolation and depression that leads in many cases to suicide without bombing. That is: leaning to committing suicide they rationally choose to take their enemies with them.

The book is published as an e-Book by the Open Book Publishers. You can download a PDF for a nominal fee or even read it for free on the website.  Here’s more from David, writing about Kahnemann’s Thinking Fast and Slow.

Have you been following the Jonah Lehrer self-plagiarism flap?  Here’s a backgrounder.

At a superficial level this is an absurdity. Recycling an idea is good if it speeds up the spread of the idea. Plagiarism is an offense only if it harms the original creator.  If Jonah Lehrer is the original creator then whatever harm he is causing himself (i.e. none) he fully internalizes.  No exernalities here, move on. You get the sense that journalists are mindlessly misapplying a norm they apparently don’t fully understand.

But at a level deeper, Jonah Lehrer’s self-plagiarism is basically the same as plagiarism.  Because he recycled material he wrote for one publisher into new material written for a different publisher.  The original publisher had a role in the creative process.  They selected Jonah Lehrer as an author, they edited and ultimately approved his work.  They invested in it.  The new publisher probably has an implicit agreement with other publishers not to infringe on their creative output. Because Jonah Lehrer did not inform the new publisher of his self-plagiarism he led them to violate that agreement.

But let’s go the final level deeper.  When we recognize the equivalence what we really should conclude is that policing plagiarism is just as absurd as policing self-plagiarism.  Ideas are useless if they are not spread and the value of an idea is independent of who created it.  To put a halt to the spread of an idea just because of a dispute about somebody’s long-ago sunk cost is a pure social waste.

To discover in the course of research some engaging detail we know can be put into a story where it will do some good can hardly be classed as a felonious act– it is simply what we do. The worst you can call itis a form of primate behavior. Writers are naturally drawn, chimpanzee-like, to the color and the music of this English idiom we are blessed to have inherited. When given the choice we will usually try to use the more vivid and tuneful among its words. I cannot of course speak for Mr. McEwan’s method of proceeding, but should be very surprised indeed if something of the sort, even for brief moments, had not occurred during his research for Atonement. Gentian violet! Come on. Who among us could have resisted that one?

From Letters of Note, again.

NPR’s marquee show This American Life recently polished its journalistic credentials by using an entire episode to cajole Mike Daisey into a point by point retraction of his made-up FoxConn muckraking.  Now the show’s host, Ira Glass is facing some soul searching as NPR tries to decide whether favorite son David Sedaris should be subjected to the same scrutiny.

Alicia Shepard, NPR’s former ombudsman and a visiting journalism professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, had a similar view. “David Sedaris has never been presented as a journalist,” she said. “He’s a storyteller. I do think there are different expectations. It’s acknowledged that he’s making things up.”

In fact, listeners would be unlikely to know this by the way NPR and “This American Life” present Sedaris on the air. NPR introduced its last rebroadcast of Sedaris reading “SantaLand” in December by calling it “a ‘Morning Edition’ holiday tradition.” It has used similar language in each of its rebroadcasts.

“This American Life” rebroadcast an old Sedaris monologue on May 5 — a nearly 15-minute piece about his family’s pets — without any hint that parts of it might have been untrue.

In an interview, Glass said no one at his program was concerned about Sedaris before the Daisey episode. “We just assumed the audience was sophisticated enough to tell that this guy is making jokes and that there was a different level of journalistic scrutiny that we and they should apply,” he said.

But the Daisey debacle has brought about a reassessment. Glass said three responses are under discussion: fact-checking each of Sedaris’s stories to ensure their accuracy, labeling them to alert the audience that the stories contain “exaggerations” or doing nothing.

At the moment, Glass said, he thinks the best course is to check Sedaris’s facts to the extent that stories involving memories and long-ago conversations can be checked. The New Yorker magazine subjects Sedaris’s work to its rigorous fact-checking regime before it publishes his stories.

Oh, dear me, how unspeakably funny and owlishly idiotic and grotesque was that “plagiarism” farce! As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism! The kernel, the soul—let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances—is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily use by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing.

From the wonderful Letters of Note.

I remember the first time I saw a session at a conference under the heading of Neuroeconomics. I thought it was some kind of joke. Well it certainly wasn’t a joke, it has turned out to be a big deal, bringing a new kind of data to economics. Genetic data is the next new kind of data and Genoeconomics is the newest non-joke.

Koellinger didn’t see it that way. Four year later, he is part of a group of young economists saying it’s time for their field to jump into the gene pool with both feet. In a series of papers, including one forthcoming in the Annual Review of Economics and another in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Koellinger, along with a team headed by Cornell economist Daniel Benjamin, David Laibson and Edward Glaeser from Harvard, Union College psychologist Christopher Chabris, Cesarini, and others, is heralding the arrival of a new discipline—“genoeconomics.” They say economists are missing something important by ignoring the genetics underlying things like risk-taking, patience, and generosity. If we could grasp how our genes influenced such economic traits, they argue, the knowledge could be transformative.

I saw David Cesarini last week present an introduction to Genoeconomics. From what I can tell Genoeconomics has made one major contribution already: demonstrating that so far there is no reliable statistical correlation between genes and economic behavior. The picture I got was some kind of Gresham’s law for p-values. Because there are so many genes, there is vast scope for data mining and so journals are insisting on significance levels of 1 – 10^{-some god awful exponent}.

From The Chronicle of Higher Education

If you’re a psychologist, the news has to make you a little nervous—particularly if you’re a psychologist who published an article in 2008 in any of these three journals:Psychological Science, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,or the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition.

Because, if you did, someone is going to check your work. A group of researchers have already begun what they’ve dubbed the Reproducibility Project, which aims to replicate every study from those three journals for that one year. The project is part of Open Science Framework, a group interested in scientific values, and its stated mission is to “estimate the reproducibility of a sample of studies from the scientific literature.” This is a more polite way of saying “We want to see how much of what gets published turns out to be bunk.”

We should do this in economics.  But there is a less confrontational way to do it. Top departments in experimental economics attract PhD students who want hands on experience in the lab. These are departments like NYU and CalTech. They would benefit the profession, their students, and the reputation of their PhD programs, i.e. everybody concerned, if they were to add as a requirement that every student receiving a PhD must pick one recently published experimental article and attempt to replicate it.

Thanks to Josh Gans for the pointer.

Here are the paths between me and Lones Smith.  Some other numbers:

  1. My Erdos number is 4
  2. My Ken Arrow number is 5
  3. My Tyler Cowen number is 4. (I am not sure I believe all of these paths but some of them are true and interesting.)
  4. My Barack Hussein Obama number is 4 and the shortest path goes through Hilary Clinton.

Josh Gans gives a handy benchmark model where the answer is no.

MODEL 1: Wholesale Pricing

Suppose that a book publisher charges a price of p to a retailer. Then, based on this, the retailer sets a price to consumers of P and earns (P – p)(a – P).

In this case, the retailer’s optimal price is:

P* = (a + p)/2

Given this, the publisher’s demand is Q = a – P* or Q = (a-p)/2. The publisher chooses p to maximize its profits of pQ which results in a price of p* = a/2. This implies that the final equilibrium price under the wholesale pricing model is:

P* = 3a/4

MODEL 2: Agency

Under an agency model, the publisher sets P directly while the retailer receives a share, s, of revenues generated. The publisher, thus, chooses P to maximize its profits of (1-s)PQ. This generates an optimal price of:

P* = a/2


Regardless of s, the price under the agency model is lower than the price under a wholesale pricing model. The reason is that the agency model avoids double marginalization. The comment here does not reflect other effects arising from ‘most favored customer’ clauses that can apply in both wholesale pricing and agency models and are discussed further in Gans (2012).

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