Bias: it’s not a bug, it’s a feature

“Kahan’s argument about the woman who does not believe in global warming is a surprising and persuasive example of a general principle: if we want to understand others, we can always ask what is making their behaviour ‘rational’ from their point of view. If, on the other hand, we just assume they are irrational, no further conversation can take place.”

How to inspire people with prize money


Would you put in more effort if you thought you could win a large cash prize?

What about if that prize was broken up into a series of smaller prizes – how hard would you work then?

‘In praise of big prizes’ at the Freakonomics site, had some advice for a professor at the University of Texas who changed his practice of handing out cash prizes to students in favour of a more level system.

In Praise of Big Prizes

The author writes that actually,

“larger top prizes and a steeper prize gradient will elicit more effort than a flatter gradient, one with more prizes of smaller amounts (Lazear and Rosen, 1981).”

He suggests that a large amount of prize money is what motivates top sports people such as Tiger Woods, and that perhaps the professor could adapt and use this approach in an educational setting:

“he would get better written work if he went back to the old system, just as Tiger Woods is better motivated by a big winning prize for a whole tournament than he would be by small prizes for having the best score in a particular round.”

In a previous post on Fourcultures about Fatalist development aid I noted how schemes to randomly assign cash handouts to poor people seem to work quite well. According to the Economist, though, there are situations in which conditional handouts work better. In one example, would-be aid recipients were required to submit a business plan before going into the lottery.

Perhaps these schemes using contrived randomness, a Fatalist strategy, would be better if they used high value tournaments instead – a very Individualist strategy.

One small problem is that the prize money that seems to motivate Tiger Woods to get out of bed is slightly higher than that available in college classes or in development aid programmes.

First prize for the 2013 US Masters  tournament was $1,440,000. That’s quite a lot of money. Even the 50th placed golfer still won $20,160.

In contrast, the top University of Texas student paper won $1,500. In even starker contrast, Kenyan villagers identified by the charity Give Directly receive $200.

“We send each recipient household a total of $1,000 over one to two years, or $200 per household member for the average household. Our analysis suggests that this amount is fair, well-understood, and potentially transformative.”

When Individualism can provide a US Masters level of money to colleges and to poor villages in Africa, maybe then its policy prescriptions will be more credible.

See also: Fatalist development aid

[image credit: public domain, pixabay]

Fatalist development aid

The Economist evaluates a scheme to give poor people cash handouts at random, instead of through traditional aid programmes. Mixed results…

Fatalism, as described by Grid-Group Cultural theory, is more than merely the worldview that blind fate rules our lives. It takes this as a given and then seeks to make the world even more random. This has been termed ‘contrived randomness’. It has a strong pedigree as a tool for public policy (for example, random assignment of jury service, random alcohol checks on drivers, etc.) Taken to further lengths it can be used in ‘aleatory democracy’ – harnessing contrived randomness to benefit democratic organisation.

See also: How to be a fatalist

A Simple Primer on Cultural Cognition

A Simple Primer on Cultural Cognition

The New Republic has a short summary of the cultural cognition project: how to talk to climate change deniers.

Those who ‘deny’ climate change aren’t mad, deluded or evil – they’re just paying close attention to the community to which they owe allegiance. Various groups make use of publicly held views to create a kind of ‘badge of membership’. That’s why, for example, conservatives rarely wax enthusiastic about climate change policy. The issue has been polarised. The communal viewpoint is strong, which means that for individuals there’s little to be gained and much to be lost in opposing it. It’s all-important, in Margaret Thatcher’s timeless phrase, to remain ‘one of us’.

A great example of this is the case of former Congressman Bob Inglis. He’s a bona fide conservative who came unstuck in 2010 when the Tea Party decided it didn’t like his stance on climate change. Since losing his seat, far from giving up and toeing the line, he’s set up an initiative that aims to construct a conservative dialogue on climate and energy policy: ‘Putting free enterprise to work on energy and climate’. He’s proof that there’s little or nothing inherently liberal about climate change. Imaginative policy makers should be able to work with almost any kind of raw material. This American Life had a great piece on the issue.

Ignorance may be bliss but it’s not democracy

Ignorance may be bliss but it’s not democracy

The basis of democracy is an informed public. Voters don’t have to be clever or well-meaning for this to work – but ensuring they are duped amounts to breaking the system and replacing it with something else. 

Jay Rosen asks:

Can there even be an informed public and consent-of-the-governed for decisions about electronic surveillance, or have we put those principles aside so that the state can have its freedom to maneuver? 

The really real reason why banks have so many scandals

“Since we have not more power of knowing the future than any other men, we have made many mistakes (who has not during the past five years?), but our mistakes have been errors of judgment and not of principle.” J.P. Morgan Jnr, 1933
A couple of months ago I was toying with the idea of writing a post about how the commercial finance sector in the UK and the US seems to be incorrigably broken as a result of the dominant sentiment that it’s only a crime if you get found out. I saw this as evidence of an over-reliance on the Individualist cultural worldview.
But it seemed too extreme. I didn’t want to promote a sweeping  “indictment of banking as an inherently evil industry filled with shysters that are intent on fleecing anyone they can.” Surely they weren’t all corrupt. All generalizations are wrong, (especially this one, as the saying goes). Surely I was over reacting. So the post never got written.
Then the Barclays Libor scandal broke in London…