The wealthy work harder?

In response to a Conor Friedersdorf post on hard-working high earners I decided to look around for some data on the differences between socioeconomic categories in terms of hours worked weekly. In the GSS I found a modest association between higher income and more hours, but the N’s were rather modest as well. Looking through google scholar I stumbled onto a different issue. Below the fold is a table from The Overworked American or the Overestimated Work Week?

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Evolution and trustworthiness

Evolution of trust and trustworthiness: social awareness favours personality differences (Open Access):

Interest in the evolution and maintenance of personality is burgeoning. Individuals of diverse animal species differ in their aggressiveness, fearfulness, sociability and activity. Strong trade-offs, mutation-selection balance, spatio-temporal fluctuations in selection, frequency dependence and good-genes mate choice are invoked to explain heritable personality variation, yet for continuous behavioural traits, it remains unclear which selective force is likely to maintain distinct polymorphisms. Using a model of trust and cooperation, we show how allowing individuals to monitor each other’s cooperative tendencies, at a cost, can select for heritable polymorphisms in trustworthiness. This variation, in turn, favours costly ‘social awareness’ in some individuals. Feedback of this sort can explain the individual differences in trust and trustworthiness so often documented by economists in experimental public goods games across a range of cultures. Our work adds to growing evidence that evolutionary game theorists can no longer afford to ignore the importance of real world inter-individual variation in their models.

The fact that evolutionary psychology traditionally focuses on universal traits which are genetically fixed while behavior genetics is preconditioned on heritable variation of similar traitshas been a distinction which has been brought to light by skeptics of any biological component to human behavior. In John Horgan attempted to throw cold water on the rise of neuro and cognitive sciences precisely using this sort of tactic. Though I think many critics of evolutionary psychology argue in bad faith, at the end of the day some of their criticisms land on target because of the huge sample space of laugh-out-loud “theorizing” by scholars fixated on an outmoded paradigm.

Humans are not the same. We vary. And we vary in part because of heritable biological factors. Some evolutionary psychologists, Satoshi Kanazawa comes to mind, work under an old model where deviations from their expectation of human modal behavior is treated simply as trivial holdovers along the transient from the ancestral to the derived phenotype, or noise introduced by environmental factors. Because of he elegant simplicity of their model evolutionary psychologists of this school are expert verbal showmen.

Certainly there are plenty of human universals. But there are plenty of non-universals. We are familiar with the Red Queen hypothesis in relation to our immune systems. This model arose in large part because of the necessity for constant evolution in the forever war with parasites. If humans are a cultural animal par excellence for whom the flexibility of their behavioral toolkit is essential, should it surprise us if frequency dependent evolutionary dynamics result in a large number of morphs constantly cycling? Perhaps H. sapiens is the environment of evolutionary adaptedness of H. sapiens?

Related: Heritability of the Ultimatum Game, Altruism and Risk-Taking: Kinda Heritable and Variation as the ultimate.


I’ll yank this up from the comments:

…Would it really be worse to have a future civilization full of ultra-intelligent robotic minds pushing science forward tirelessly than the Jerry Springer-esque Idiocracy that we are careening towards?

So did anyone root for the AIs in The Galactic Center Saga? In the Dune universe there was an explicit emphasis on keeping tech relatively low because of the fear of Thinking Machines (though the post-Frank Herbert sequels did have a “happy ending” in the man vs. machine conflict). In the Foundation universe (specifically the sequels not written by Asimov) one element of the back story which emerged was that benevolent robots actually created diseases which made the average human less intelligent than they would have otherwise been because that was the only way that social equilibrium could be maintained (Hari Seldon was brilliant in part because he was never infected).

This is the sort of post which brings out a lot of opinions because it is explicitly designed to smoke out norms and values. Frankly, I think most of the human race would prefer the Idiocracy. The minority who would be more ambivalent, or even prefer the idea of intelligence which is not tied to our particular human substrate, are likely to be non-modal in their psychology. Additionally, the non-modals are more likely be in research positions where they could forward the project of post-human sentience. To be explicit, I wonder if post-human sentience would simply be the apotheosis of the Nerd. Movies like Twelve Monkeys play on the idea of a Doomsday Cult which releases a deadly pathogen which kills most humans, but what about the possibility of a group of social outcasts intent on giving rise to a species which better encapsulates the set of values which reflect the priorities of nerds?

Disease driven human evolution?

Gene Expression Profiles during In Vivo Human Rhinovirus Infection (also, ScienceDaily summary):

Rhinovirus infection significantly alters the expression of many genes associated with the immune response, including chemokines and antivirals. The data obtained provide insights into the host response to rhinovirus infection and identify potential novel targets for further evaluation.


About those viruses:

Epidemiologists have established minimal population size and density thresholds for particular diseases (such as measels, mumps, rubella, smallpox, influenza, rhinovirus) to survive and spread. In small hunter-gatherer groups or even small farming villages, such diseases would have been incapable of spreading very far and woul have disappeared (Black 1975). This implies that many diseases must be recent.

There’s a reason that some of the cites for the adaptive acceleration theory use microbial models; here are lot’s of them and they breed fast. Microbiologists are fond of reminding people that on the order of 90% of the cells in your body are bacteria resident in your gut; but I wonder if the last 10,000 years might not have been a boon for a whole host of virulent less friendly microbes which “tag along” with H. sapiens.

Related: Toxoplasma gondii & human culture, Obesity germs, thrifty genes, Another Nobel for the New Germ Theory of disease and Toxoplasma gondii’s South American origins and its influence on culture.

Princeton Univeristy Press blog

Princeon University Press now has a weblog. It looks like a good idea in terms of getting publicity for authors of academic books (and ideally, you get some value-add in terms of insight and experience). I wonder if Andrew Gelman’s editor has tried to figure out how many extra copies of were pushed because of he blogospheric publicity? Of course his sort of publicity will start to be less powerful once most academics start to publicize their work ahead of publication via web communication channels.

Race as a function of name

mrname.jpgDienekes has a interesting, if not surprising, post on how names can mold how we perceive people. I’ve posted on this before. The most extreme illustration of this tendency I’ve ever read is the fact that during segregation some southern hotels allowed international travelers from African countries with obvious black ancestry to check-in. I believe it is important to study and properly define the nature of the social construction of ethnic and racial identity, because it is just as important as the biological reality of race and ethnicity.

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Where is Obama overperforming?

There has been a lot of talk of Barack Obama “expanding the map” this cycle for the Democrats. In mid-September when John McCain was at his polling-peak many were assuming that had just been a pipe-dream, and that the traditional Democratic strategy of winning big blue states was back in play. But with the Obama bounce not so fast! So where is Obama exactly expanding he map? Below is a map generated by Andrew Gelman comparing Kerry’s 2004 election results with current averaged poll numbers.

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Indian American ethnicity

There was a comment below on Indian American ethnicity in terms of proportion. By “ethnicity,” I mean the dominant language-based groups which serve as the organizing unit of many Indian states. The usual figures I see quoted are that 50% of Indian Americans are Gujarati, 25% Punjabi, with the balance a host of other groups (e.g., Bengalis, Tamils, Assamese, etc.). Digging around, I found these data:

In 2006, 26.3 percent of Indian immigrants age 5 and older reported speaking Hindi at home. Gujarathi (14.1 percent) was the next most popular language, followed by English (10.1 percent), Panjabi (10.0 percent), Telugu (9.7 percent), Tamil (6.7 percent), Malayalam (6.1 percent), Urdu (3.4 percent), Marathi (3.1 percent), Bengali (2.2 percent), and Kannada (1.7 percent).

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Rise of the zombies?

shuffle-06-1.jpgWilliam Saletan has an article out on the tendency for many Americans today to always be “hooked in” to technology through mobile devices (cell phones, iPods, etc.). I recall a woman loudly talking about her boyfriend leaving her, and the consequent emotional devastation, in front of me in the supermarket checkout line once. Only after 5 minutes did I notice the very subtle ear piece she was wearing (this was not the express line, so yes, 5 minutes). This was 3-4 years ago. Today my first hypothesis would likely be that she had an ear piece, not that she was schizophrenic, which is what I was wondering then. I always carry my cell phone on my person and have my iPod shuffle ear buds handy when I’m out & about doing errands and what not. I’m not speaking here as an outsider to this phenomenon. I do think that there are downsides, and Saletan highlights some of the more obvious ones (usually having to do with transportation). But I also think that we don’t have a good grasp of the impact on overall productivity of this sort of thing. After all, if you’re in the supermarket checkout line browsing the web via your iPhone, isn’t that a more productive use of time than just standing around, which after all doesn’t exactly require much conscious explicit cognitive functions? How often are you going to be in an “emergency” situation in a supermarket checkout line where you need to be able to hear the clerk talk to you before it’s your turn to be rung up?
Note: Someone should really ask about what it means that many obese are starting to ride around in scooters in lieu of walking. I see this more and more, and I don’t live in Mississippi.

Which countries does the NYT cover most and least?

Greg Cochran left the following comment in a Matt Yglesias blog entry:

What you need is a map of the world in which the sizes of the countries are adjusted to the number of column-inches they get in the New York Times and the Washington Post. I think it would be illuminating.

Well, I’ve done something close enough. I only looked at the NYT, and I made a bubble chart instead of one of those distorted cartograms. Also, I used number of articles rather than column inches — but these must correlate highly. It’s not as if Tonga gets a few 10,000-word articles, while Iraq gets many 50-word articles. At any rate, let’s see what the results look like.

Here are the results for the 192 members of the United Nations. Move the mouse over an unlabeled blob to see who it is, or search for a specific country. The results cover 2000 to the present, and are standardized by dividing by the number of articles for the entire period. To ensure that the graphing algorithm would pick up order-of-magnitude differences, I multiplied the fractions — which ranged in order from 10^(-5) to 0.1 — by 10^5, so that they range in order from 1 to 10,000. Some countries I had to estimate rather than get the exact number, since their names are shared with other things, like Turkey (see Note).

The first thing you notice is a few big blobs and lots of tiny blobs, in accord with a Power Law. Rather than futz around with getting my pictures to post here, I’ll simply list the frequency distribution, where the first column is the fraction of all NYT articles devoted to some country, binned by order of magnitude:


The one country in the 0.1 bin is the US. Everyone else is lucky to get something on the order of a percent in coverage. Still, the modal country gets mentioned on the order of once every thousand articles — not too shabby if you’re Qatar. Here is the full dataset, in case you want to download and play around with it yourself.

How do we infer the level of insanity in our foreign policy implied by these data? Looking at the countries from greatest to least emphasis, the low-ranking ones make sense — they belong to the parts of the world you’ve never heard of, and will not have reason to hear about within your lifetime, such as Tuvalu and Bhutan.

But there are some funny ones at the top. For example, it takes the top 9 to discover all 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council. The remainder of the top 9 are Germany and Japan — which at least are G8 countries — but also Iraq and Israel. Speaking of the G8, it takes the top 12 to discover them, which adds another lesser country to this elite list — Mexico (China is not G8 but is still important). Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan also rank pretty high.

This is a perfectly rational outcome — our foreign policy may obsess over these places, but by placing criteria on them like “permanent member of UN Security Council” or “member of G8,” we can see which ones don’t deserve the attention. They represent the parts of the world, like Iraq, where we’re wasting a bunch of money to squat over an over-glorified sandbox, hoping that our colonial piss will transform it into a lush oasis. Or they’re the places, like Mexico, where we’re importing a large illiterate peasant underclass from. This seems like a useful way to change our foreign policy: see who we’re obsessed with, but who don’t really matter, and cut them loose (relatively speaking).

By the way, the Many Eyes website has a global map feature, but it only allows an additive scale for bubble size, with the three smallest orders-of-magnitude collapsed into one bubble-size. So it didn’t look very good. Maybe at some point I’ll screen-capture the bubble chart, and cut and paste each bubble onto a picture of a world map, but that probably won’t happen.

Note: I used the common English names for countries — e.g., Syria rather than Syrian Arab Republic — and made the following modifications to make sure I picked up the country rather than something else by that name:

Chad: added “Africa” to search
Georgia: added “Tbilisi” — probably an undercount, but not my much
Guinea: subtracted “Equatorial Guinea,” “Guinea-Bissau,” and things like “guinea pig”
Jordan: added “Israel” — again, an undercount, but not by much
Palau: subtracted “Barcelona” and “Catalonia” (it means “palace” in Catalan)
Turkey: subtracted “Thanksgiving” — probably an overcount, but not by much
United States: searched “America,” and subtracted “Latin America,” “South America,” and “Central America”