American Gods and European Atheism

This  study has two parts.  First, the  study finds that while most Americans believe in one God, they don’t all believe in the same god. In fact, they believe in several different versions of God:

While most Americans say they believe in God, Americans really believe in four very different kinds of Gods. Some Americans (31.4 percent) believe in an “Authoritarian God” who is very angry with the sins of the world and regularly supernaturally intervenes in the affairs of the world. You might think of this as Pat Robertson’s God. Another group (23 percent) believes in a“Benevolent God” who also regularly supernaturally intervenes in the affairs of the world, but is less wrathful and more of a positive influence. You might think of this as Oprah’s God. Another group (16 percent) believes in a “Critical God” who is not happy about the affairs of the world, but doesn’t intervene, preferring to mete out rewards and punishments in the next life. You might think about this as the “Wait until your father gets home!” God. Finally, another group (16 percent) believes in a“Distant God.” Individuals who believe in this sort of God tend to think of God as a cosmic intelligence which set the law of nature in motion at the beginning of time, but neither intervenes in the affairs of the world nor cares about them. You might think of this as Thomas Jefferson’s God.

The second , seemingly separate point is  that religion doesn’t  go away by pointing out that  its  wrong or bad.  Instead, it argues that making the world better will diminish religion.

If we’re truly concerned about some of religion’s negative effects in this world, let’s try to figure out to the best of our ability the root causes of these negative effects. It seems to be that the best evidence suggests they result from fear, from hopelessness, from despair, from need, and it doesn’t seem that simply labeling them as irrational or delusional is the best course of action.


The Evolution of the Dog

I’ve  seen several studies over the last few years on the  how and when of canine divergence from wolves.

This study  argues that cooperation and ritual feeding evolved in wolves, before they were  domesticated by humans:

“Based on findings that in intraspecific contexts wolves are at least as socially attentive and tolerant as dogs, the Canine Cooperation Hypothesis postulates that dog-human cooperation evolved on the basis of wolf-wolf cooperation. In contrast to many domestication hypotheses, it suggests that dogs did not need to be selected for a general increase in their social attentiveness and tolerance. ” Continue reading

Hostile Boss? Study Finds Advantages to Giving it Right Back

In what both the researchers and I found to be a surprise, it seems that when dealing  with a hostile boss, there are ways that its better to push back.  The  study found:

“The best situation is certainly when there is no hostility. But if your boss is hostile, there appears to be benefits to reciprocating. Employees felt better about themselves because they didn’t just sit back and take the abuse.”

“Hostile bosses were ones who did things like yell at, ridicule and intimidate their workers.”

“These are things that bosses don’t like and that fit the definition of hostility, but in a passive-aggressive form,” Tepper said.Employees who returned hostility did it by ignoring their boss, acting like they didn’t know what their bosses were talking about, and giving just half-hearted effort.

“I expect that you don’t have too many employees yelling and screaming at their bosses.”


Median Income now same as it was in 1979

There are many ways to slice and  dice the  numbers in the economy.  Here are two that I find troubling.

After adjusting for inflation, median earnings at the end of 2013 were equivalent to $334 in 1982 dollars, no higher than they were in 1999, and just slightly below the $335 that the median worker earned in the summer of 1979.

The median household income has increased slightly — 5% since 1979 — but only because more families are relying on Mom’s wages.

This is even worse than it sounds, because  there are far more women in the workforce now than there were 35 years ago.

What makes this statistic completely  shocking however, is that  productivity has doubled during  that time.  That means that none of the productivity  gains have gone to the median worker.

More Guns, Less Crime? (Probably Not)

There’s  an interesting article on the correlation between gun  availability (as in “Right To Carry –RTC laws) and crime.  The first answer is “Its Complicated”.  While the results are complicated, the  paper makes  two important points:

  • No matter the model specification, they can find no evidence to support the “more guns, less crime” claim.  On the contrary, the evidence suggests that the effects of RTC laws on crime are positive, meaning that adopting RTC laws appears to result in crime increases.  This effect is strongest and most consistent for aggravated assault.
  • “Different models yield different estimated effects”: while no model shows that RTC laws decrease crime, the impact of RTC laws varies from model to model.  In some models, RTC laws are associated with substantial and statistically significant crime increases across multiple crime categories.  In others, the extent of the crime increase is more modest, or observable only in one crime category.  In other words, the results are not robust to model specification.




Properly Pricing the Cost of Carbon

There are many who think that putting a  price on carbon will solve the Earth’s Carbon Dioxide problem.  One  challenge is calculating what the “social cost of carbon dioxide is.  This  article suggests that the social cost is far  higher than the current market rate for  CO2 avoidance.  The current government calculation is that  the social cost is $37/ton, while the  article estimates that the social cost is $220/ton.

The central flaw in current pricing models, researchers say, is that the prediction mechanisms account only for the effects of environmental damages of economic output — not economic growth.

or 20 years now, the models have assumed that climate change can’t affect the basic growth rate of the economy,” Moore said. “But a number of new studies suggest this may not be true. If climate change affects not only a country’s economic output but also its growth, then that has a permanent effect that accumulates over time, leading to a much higher social cost of carbon.”

The study’s authors are quick to point out where their research is lacking. Their prediction models doesn’t account for the economic impact that climate change mitigation efforts might, and it’s not ideal for trying estimate when and how less developed countries — that may be more vulnerable to climate change — should employ mitigation strategies. Per usual, more research is needed to work out such details.

A carbon tax might not work for many reasons, but  its clearly  not  going to  work if  the cost we use is  far lower than  the social  cost.

US needs harm-reduction approach to drug use

Treating drug abuse as a health issue rather  than a law enforcement issue would reduce costs and increase productivity.  This  paper argument argues that this is the case for incarceration reasons:

The rate of federal inmates incarcerated for drug offenses hovered at just under 50 percent in 2011, and in 2013 the Obama administration’s budget asked for $25.6 billion to fight the drug war, $15 billion of which was directed toward law enforcement. In addition, by some estimates, state and local governments spend a combined total of $51 billion per year on drug-related law enforcement efforts, which suggests they have a lot to gain by investing in treatment options.

A harm-reduction approach recognizes the permanence of drugs in society and, instead of trying to eradicate drug use, focuses on minimizing harm associated with drug use for the individual and society,” she said. “This encompasses a variety of objectives, including preventing individuals from using drugs, treating individuals who want to stop using drugs, preventing drug use where it increases the chances of negative outcomes such as driving while on drugs, and helping individuals who want to continue using drugs do so in a way that does not further compromise their health or the health of others.” This last objective is often achieved through needle-exchange programs intended to prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C and is more controversial than other policies.




Providing Free Contraception Reduces Teen Birth Rate

As part of ObamaCare, Colorado has been  giving free  contraception to low-income teens since 2009.  The result is  a drop of  35% in the teen birthrate, and an associated savings of more than $40 million  per year.

Of course, because some of this contraception is  handed out without parental approval, some are  concerned about  the abrogation of  parental rights.