Methane Hydrate on the Ocean’s floor… For now

Methane is a problem on multiple levels for several years.  There are more and more emerging indicators that methane hydrate may be a ticking time bomb, with the critical heat absorption in the oceans setting the switch.

We don’t know how much heat the ocean needs to absorb  to set a feed forward system in motion, but there are multiple indicators that this may be a huge problem.

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Adapting to a warmer climate more expensive than thought

The longer we wait to mitigate and adapt to climate change, the more it will cost.  This new estimate from the United Nations, and reported by the Guardian, concludes it will cost even more than we thought.

Adapting to a warmer world will cost hundreds of billions of dollars and up to three times as much as previous estimates, even if global climate talks manage to keep temperature rises below dangerous levels, warns a report by the UN.

The first United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) ‘Adaptation Gap Report’shows a significant funding gap after 2020 unless more funds from rich countries are pumped in to helping developing nations adapt to the droughts, flooding and heatwaves expected to accompany climate change.

“The report provides a powerful reminder that the potential cost of inaction carries a real price tag. Debating the economics of our response to climate change must become more honest,” said Achim Steiner, Unep’s executive director, as ministers from nearly 200 countries prepare to join the high level segment of UN climate talks in Lima, Peru, next week.

“We owe it to ourselves but also to the next generation, as it is they who will have to foot the bill.”

Summer Jobs Reduce Crime Among Disadvantaged Youths

Not surprisingly, giving disadvantaged youth  summer jobs reduces violent crime (there’s no difference for property and drug crimes).

Youth employment programs have been studied in the past with mixed results. Most of the time, the program costs seem to outweigh the societal benefit. In this case, the program cost an estimated $3,000 per student ($1,400 for wages and $1,600 for administrative costs) while yielding around $1,700 in benefits from reduced crime. So the benefits did barely outweigh the administrative costs.

However, Heller insists that preventative programs like these are still more cost-effective than remediative punishment like prison.

“The results echo a common conclusion in education and health research: that public programs might do more with less by shifting from remediation to prevention. The findings make clear that such programs need not be hugely costly to improve outcomes for disadvantaged youth; well-targeted, low-cost employment policies can make a substantial difference, even for a problem as destructive and complex as youth violence.”

Game Theory, Evolution & Cooperation

With a new analysis of the Prisoner’s Dilemma played in a large, evolving population, they found that adding more flexibility to the game can allow selfish strategies to be more successful. The work paints a dimmer but likely more realistic view of how cooperation and selfishness balance one another in nature.

“It’s a somewhat depressing evolutionary outcome, but it makes intuitive sense,” said Plotkin, a professor in Penn’s Department of Biology in the School of Arts & Sciences, who coauthored the study with Stewart, a postdoctoral researcher in his lab. “We had a nice picture of how evolution can promote cooperation even amongst self-interested agents and indeed it sometimes can, but, when we allow mutations that change the nature of the game, there is a runaway evolutionary process, and suddenly defection becomes the more robust outcome.”

The Power of Social Inheritance – Social Mobility is a Myth

This article from Huff Post argues (persuasively) that social status is communicated more effectively than some genetic traits.

That is the depressing conclusion — or, if you’re already part of the social elite, the great news — of a new study by economists Gregory Clark of the University of California, Davis, and Neil Cummins of the London School of Economics. The hope that we can claw our way up from our low station to someplace fancier is a delusion for most of us, according to this study. We inherit social status from our parents just as much as, if not more than, our physical traits.

And this social status often persists across many, many generations. The title of the study — “Surnames and Social Mobility in England, 1170–2012” — gives you some idea of just how many generations we’re talking about here: 28 generations of 30 years each. The study looked at centuries of data on the social statuses of English families. It found that many of the families who were socially elite landowners in 1170 — your Montgomerys, Nevilles, and Percys — were still socially elite in 2012.

Voting for your “Team” more important than their policies

This article from the Washington Post discusses the psychology of voting one’s interest verses voting for ones’ party.

Alaska elected a Republican senator and passed a recreational marijuana initiative, along with an increase in the minimum wage. North Dakota elected a Republican congressman and rejected a Personhood amendment. Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota elected a Republican senator and governor, and passed a minimum wage increase.  This led Zachary Goldfarb to write: “Americans will vote for Republicans even though they disagree with them on everything.”

My research suggests a key reason why this happened: our partisan identities motivate us far more powerfully than our views about issues. Although voters may insist in the importance of their values and ideologies, they actually care less about policy and more that their team wins.

This “team spirit” is increasingly powerful because our party identities line up with other powerful identities, such as religion and race. Over the last few decades, Republicans have generally grown increasingly white and churchgoing, while Democrats have become more non-white and secular. This sorting of identities makes us care even more about winning, and less about what our government actually gets done.

Critical People Sound Smarter

This article, in Wired, called “A Sad Fact of Life: It’s Actually Smart to Be Mean Online” makes some interesting points regarding how much we criticize is related to how smart we are percieved to be.

The students thought the negative author was smarter than the positive one—“by a lot,” Amabile tells me. Most said the nastier critic was “more competent.” Granted, being negative wasn’t all upside—they also rated the harsh reviewer as “less warm and more cruel, not as nice,” she says. “But definitely smarter.” Like my mordant tweets, presumably.

This so-called negativity bias works both ways, it seems. Other studies show that when we seek to impress someone with our massive gray matter, we spout sour and negative opinions. In a follow-up experiment, Bryan Gibson, a psychologist at Central Michigan University, took a group of 117 students (about two-thirds female) and had them watch a short movie and write a review that they would then show to a partner. Gibson’s team told some of the reviewers to try to make their partner feel warmly toward them; others were told to try to appear smart. You guessed it: Those who were trying to seem brainy went significantly more negative than those trying to be endearing.

I must say that  I hate the title of this article, btw.

Denying Problems When We Don’t Like the Solutions

There’s been a lot of study over the last several years regarding how “conservatives” differ from “liberals”

This study/article from Duke looked at how solutions impact the persons evaluation of the problem.

There may be a scientific answer for why conservatives and liberals disagree so vehemently over the existence of issues like climate change and specific types of crime.

A new study from Duke University finds that people will evaluate scientific evidence based on whether they view its policy implications as politically desirable. If they don’t, then they tend to deny the problem even exists.

“Logically, the proposed solution to a problem, such as an increase in government regulation or an extension of the free market, should not influence one’s belief in the problem. However, we find it does,” said co-author Troy Campbell, a Ph.D. candidate at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. “The cure can be more immediately threatening than the problem.”

Sensitivity to Justice is Driven by Reason, Not Emotion

Psychologists have found that some individuals react more strongly than others to situations that invoke a sense of justice—for example, seeing a person being treated unfairly or mercifully. The new study used brain scans to analyze the thought processes of people with high “justice sensitivity.” – See more at:

Using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain-scanning device, the team studied what happened in the participants’ brains as they judged videos depicting behavior that was morally good or bad. For example, they saw a person put money in a beggar’s cup or kick the beggar’s cup away. The participants were asked to rate on a scale how much they would blame or praise the actor seen in the video. People in the study also completed questionnaires that assessed cognitive and emotional empathy, as well as their justice sensitivity.

But the brain imaging also yielded surprises. During the behavior-evaluation exercise, people with high justice sensitivity showed more activity than average participants in parts of the brain associated with higher-order cognition. Brain areas commonly linked with emotional processing were not affected.

From University of Chicago News.

We Are All Confident Idiots

I’ve come to think of the Dunning-Kruger effect as one of the foundational theories of human behavior (regrettably, including my own).  Doctor Dunning recently posted an interesting article on the topic, here

“What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.”

He continues, “A whole battery of studies conducted by myself and others have confirmed that people who don’t know much about a given set of cognitive, technical, or social skills tend to grossly overestimate their prowess and performance, whether it’s grammar, emotional intelligence, logical reasoning, firearm care and safety, debating, or financial knowledge. College students who hand in exams that will earn them Ds and Fs tend to think their efforts will be worthy of far higher grades; low-performing chess players, bridge players, and medical students, and elderly people applying for a renewed driver’s license, similarly overestimate their competence by a long shot.”

When I daughter and I discussed this, she said “oh, I understand!”… and winked.