Discover more from The Exformation Newsletter
Half a hundred insights, or 50 things I've learned recently
Noise in plants, gooey corn, a metal alloy lost to the ages, and other interesting bits I've learned recently.
ICYMI: I pulled together a public policy cheatsheet for myself and my students. I also wrote about state fiscal notes reform. Cities are changing, and everyone wants to know the impact, so I made an urbanism faq. For everything else, check out WillRinehart.com.
Plants are green because it reduces noise in photosynthesis. They ignore the most energy-rich part of sunlight because stability matters more than efficiency.
Neupane and Adhikari's (2022) study is a must-read on permitting costs. These two researchers modeled the costs of 11 geothermal projects in California, Nevada, and Utah and then calculated the compliance impacts. Longer CEQA/NEPA review timelines result in a 4% to 11% increase in the simplified levelized cost of electricity (sLCOE). Extended review timelines led to revenue losses of $64 million to $227 million. In other words, slow permitting could sink a geothermal project.
The tomato variety found in U.S. grocery stores was selected because the variety was hard and could be picked by machine.
Sierra Mixe is a rare variety of maize that has evolved a way to make its nitrogen, which could revolutionize farming. I cannot describe how cool I find this gooey corn. Extra: The Wiki entry on fertilizer is stacked.
Yikes: "Residential segregation alone explains more than 100 percent of school segregation in the U.S.” Tomás E. Monarrez (2022)
Why are some stories more successful? Semantic progression might explain it: “Movies and TV shows that move faster are liked more, TV shows that cover more ground are liked less. Academic papers that move faster are cited less, and papers that cover more ground or are more circuitous are cited more.”
Research finds that searches for school bullying and cyberbullying are good proxies for the real behavior, and they dropped 30-35 percent as schools shifted to remote learning in spring 2020.
Preference cascades might explain why public opinion changes so rapidly. Glenn Reynolds: “Average people behave the way they think they ought to, even though that behavior might not reflect their own personal feelings. Given a sufficient ‘A-HA!’ moment when they discover that their personal feelings are shared by a large portion of the population their behavior may change dramatically.”
Consciousness exists at the knife edge (of near criticality): "We show that the electric activity of the cortex is indeed poised near the boundary between stability and chaos during conscious states and transitions away from this boundary during unconsciousness and that this transition disrupts cortical information processing."
The U.S. economics profession constantly overstated the growth rates of the Soviet Union. In their best years, Soviet growth was 4%, much below the predicted rates. See Nintil - The Soviet Union: GDP growth and Soviet Economic Growth: 1928-1985
Do heart attacks make you eat avocados? I like the way that Josh Dean flipped the correlation/causation idea, what he calls Correlational/Causal claim Turing test: “If you're not willing to flip the order of your ‘association’ (e.g. Heart Attacks predict consuming avocados), you're making an implicitly casual claim and should either knock it off or be up front about it.”
Geniuses of the past were aristocratically tutored. Could AI tutors bring back an age of geniuses?
Is behavioral economics having a reckoning? PNAS: “Our results show that choice architecture interventions overall promote behavior change with a small to medium effect size of Cohen’s d = 0.43 (95% CI [0.38, 0.48]). In addition, we find that the effectiveness of choice architecture interventions varies significantly as a function of technique and domain.”
Dare Obansanjo: "The 'Cash me ousside, how bout dah? girl from the viral Dr. Phil video from a few years ago made $52M from OnlyFans in one year ($42M after fees). This is another business category I simply wouldn’t have believed possible if someone told me about it five years ago." I am fascinated by the new creator/attention economy.
Top income taxation reduces everyone’s income, not just those at the top. If we bake in some simple assumptions about innovation, then increasing top income taxation reduces everyone’s income, not just income at the top. Enomist Chad Jones’ newish paper relies on three assumptions: (i) new ideas drive economic growth, (ii) the reward for successful innovation is a top income, and (iii) innovation cannot be perfectly targeted by a research subsidy. Combined, these three forces sharply constrain both revenue-maximizing and welfare-maximizing top tax rates.
Americans now work 50 percent more than do the Germans, French, and Italians. But that wasn’t true fifty years ago. Edward Prescott (2004): "The surprising finding is that [the marginal tax rate’s effect on labor income] accounts for the predominance of the differences at points in time and the large change in relative labor supply over time with the exception of the Italian labor supply in the early 1970s."
People dramatically undervalue the Covid-19 vaccine. NBER: “The willingness to pay for initial vaccination is around $50, only 2% of the WTP implied by standard VSL calculations…While standard economic models imply that vaccines are undervalued because of their large externalities, we interpret the finding that WTP estimates are well below the VSL benchmarks as evidence that internalities play a substantial role.”
A poll from New York Times and Siena College found that voters choose climate change as their top policy priority around 1 percent of the time. “Just 1% of voters named climate change as the most important issue facing the country, far behind worries about inflation and the economy. Even among voters under 30, the group thought to be most energized by the issue, that figure was 3%.”
The widespread cultural diffusion of knowledge started 400,000 years ago. Different groups of hominins probably learned from one another much earlier than was previously thought, and that knowledge was also distributed much further. "To date it was always thought that cultural diffusion actually started only 70,000 years ago when modern humans, Homo sapiens, started to disperse. But the record for the use of fire now seems to show that this happened much earlier," archaeologist and researcher Katharine MacDonald explains.
Are commercially oriented societies more virtuous? It seems so. In 543 experiments across 13 villages in Greenland, more market participation meant more moral behavior towards others and more universalism in moral decision-making.
You know that look of Art Deco steel, which has a dull finish? That is called Monel. The Nickel Institute has this interesting piece, "Historic Monel: the alloy that time forgot." The Wiki is good as well.
The cube root rule is an observation in political science that the number of members in the lower house tends to be the cube root of the population being represented. Under this rule, the U.S. House should have around 637 members.
Radiologists: “Variation in skill can explain 39% of the variation in diagnostic decisions, and policies that improve skill perform better than uniform decision guidelines.”
Military innovations, like cavalry and iron weapons, enabled societies to over-power rivals and build strong, bureaucratized states, according to new research.
Why batteries are horrible to eat: "The accumulation of hydroxide ions rapidly increases the surrounding tissue environment to a local tissue pH of 12 to 13. This highly alkaline environment then creates an ensuing liquefactive necrosis..."
Expanding the size of the police force saves Black lives, reduces the number of arrests for serious crimes, and reduces the number of serious crimes. But, it increases arrests for petty crimes.
Same data, different conclusions: Seventy-three independent research teams used identical cross-country survey data to test an established social science hypothesis: that more immigration will reduce public support for government provision of social policies. But instead of convergence, teams’ numerical results varied greatly, ranging from large negative to large positive effects of immigration on public support. Similar results were found in studies of gender and professional status on verbosity during group meetings, whether soccer referees are more likely to give red cards to dark-skin-toned players than to light-skin-toned players, and how the same MRIs were analyzed by different teams.
The Equality Paradox: richer kids are sadder kids. Analysis of 2018 PISA data from nearly half a million 15-year-olds across 72 countries indicates a negative log-linear relationship between per-capita GDP and adolescent life satisfaction. The effects were more pronounced for girls than for boys. Another paper using this same dataset found that gender equality enhances boys’ but not girls’ subjective well-being. It seems that greater gender equality may facilitate social comparisons across genders.
Eye contact marks the rise and fall of shared attention in conversation: “Eye contact may be a key mechanism for enabling the coordination of shared and independent modes of thought, allowing conversation to both cohere and evolve.”
Amazon Alexa is a “colossal failure.” The division lost $10B in 2022.
Daisugi is an ancient Japanese forestry technique in which planted cedars are pruned in a special way to produce "shoots" that eventually become perfect, straight, knot-free lumber.
The U.S. highway system was partly advocated because policymakers worried about nuclear attacks, according to the official history of the FHWA.
Pants are a combinatorial innovation: “Inventing pants was a matter of combining different weaving techniques from cultures thousands of kilometers apart.”
Apparently, “Most of the association between age and social conservatism is accounted for by parenthood.”
Being agnostic is different than being atheist: “Agnostics were more neurotic, but also more prosocially oriented and spiritual, and less dogmatic.” They “compose a distinct psychological category and are not just closet atheists.”
The past is a foreign place. "The East India Company traded about 50 tons of tea a year at the start of the nineteenth century and 15,000 toward the end of it." Large ships today can carry ~25,000 tons, on their own. From The End of the World Is Just the Beginning.
Children and young adults aged 7 to 29 can multitask. Adults cannot. In older participants, there is a cost for multitasking.
D-Day was all about logistics. Only 14% of the D-Day force were infantry, and 6% were tank crews. The rest were "rear area functions,” including logistics, medical staff, and all the functions to make war possible, according to Adam Tooze.
Public lawns get about the same weekly hours of use as tennis courts. The top-use spaces are gyms (688 hours), pools (301 hours), and walking loops (345 hours).
Over two-thirds (67.4%) of US regulations have never been updated since they were first passed. We need to refactor our regulatory codebase.
Deep Blue likely won against Kasparov because it chose a random move deep in gameplay. Kasparov interpreted the move as some artful tactic and lost his momentum.
Economist David Autor and coauthors found that Paycheck Protection Program loan guarantee was expensive at $170-257K/job-year retained, regressive in that 3/4 of funds went to the top 5th of households, and badly targeted since 25-34% went to workers who would've otherwise lost jobs.
A lot of places around the US require buildings to have two staircases, even for small apartment buildings.
Yo-Der Song and Tomaso Aste found in their paper “The Cost of Bitcoin Mining Has Never Really Increased” that, “Despite a 10-billion-fold increase in hashing activity and a 10-million-fold increase in total energy consumption, we find the cost relative to the volume of transactions has not increased nor decreased since 2010.” More evidence that the cost of energy constrains Bitcoin.
The Great Orme copper mine in Whales was so productive that by 1600BC, there were no other copper mines left open in Britain.
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