Things that are not wars.

1.  Cupcakes.

2.  Restaurants.

3.  Pawn shops.

4.  football.

5.  Scrabble.

6.  junkyards.

7.  sororities, blogs, 6th grade, cliques.

8.  Parking your car.

9.  any sort of food, really.

10.  Decorating your house.

This meme has gotten really old and it bugs me.  War sucks.  Cupcakes do not suck.  Even losing a competition does not suck as much as war.  Grr.

(Still acceptable is Iron Chef‘s use of “battle” to refer to their secret ingredient.  Because it’s awesome, that’s why.)

#2:  I think I saw a Daily Show riff on this recently…  Ah yes, how Fox News was making the argument that the war on women is overblown and not really a war… and yet…

Grumpy readers:  what is the stupidest kind of “war” you have seen lately?

Good vs. bad research

Just because some research says X is good and some says X is bad, doesn’t mean we don’t know if X is good or bad.

Research quality is also important.

Correlation is easy to measure.  When X and Y are related, there are many methods we can use to figure out how much they’re related, how much they covary.  Causation is not so easy.   Is it X causing Y, Y causing X or some third factor Z that causes both?

The gold standard of getting at causation is the randomized controlled experiment.  When done well, randomized controlled experiments are internally valid.  In the setting tested, we can say that X causes Y if when X is varied, Y varies as well.

Randomized controlled experiments may not be externally valid.  The subject pool may not act the same as all people who aren’t undergraduate psychology majors.  The general equilibrium effects may be different if adding money for one intervention takes away money from another intervention, rather than leaving everything else the same.  Additionally, an intervention may work great on a small set of people but may flounder with a much larger set (ex.  training out of work people to be welders– great when it’s a small number or people, not so good when every unemployed person can now weld).

We can’t always do a randomized controlled experiment.  Sometimes the interventions would be illegal, unethical, inappropriate for a lab, or just too expensive.  Social scientists have a number of ways to get at causality when that’s the case.  Notably, economists use “natural experiments” — exogenous shocks to the treatment that, with some fancy math, can be used to isolate the causal mechanism from what is correlational but not causal.  Popular methods include something called “differences-in-differences” which is a way to subtract out bias by using two (or more) imperfect treatments (changing state laws over time are popular), and “instrumental variables” in which you use a Z variable that is related to your X variable but is only related to your Y variable through X, so you know that the Z part of X is causally affecting Y.  There are other techniques that can be used such as regression discontinuity design or propensity score matching that have various positives and drawbacks.

It doesn’t matter if 20 published education papers find that X and Y are related and then make the claim that X causes Y.  That doesn’t mean that X causes Y.  Standards of publication for causal claims are different in different fields.  But if the same claim is published in a high quality psychology journal, then you can be pretty sure that they did a randomized controlled experiment to figure out causation, and they probably got it right, at least from an internal validity standpoint.

If the same claim is published in a high quality economics journal, then they may not have done a randomized controlled experiment, but they probably did the best that can be done with a high quality quasi-experiment or natural experiment.  (Ignoring the subset of theory papers that can prove anything and are still published in high quality journals…)  These economics findings may be more likely to be externally valid than the psychology findings, but it will depend on what kind of natural experiment the authors exploited.  If they only studied teen moms, then the findings may not be relevant to single men over the age of 50.

So just because research is mixed on a topic doesn’t mean we don’t actually know the answer.  If some of the research is crap, and some of it is good, then you can ignore the crap part and just focus on what is good.  How can you tell what is good?  Well, that’s a bit harder, but keeping in mind that correlation is not causation and looking hard for what the authors are actually measuring is a good first step.

Do you get frustrated when reporters report on research without having any idea about the quality of the research?  How do you winnow out the wheat from the chaff?

Why do you give to charity?

House of peanut notes in her recent review of All the money in the world that her reasons for giving to charity are different than the ones in Vanderkam’s book.

Vanderkam, she says, talks about the “selfish joy” that giving gives to people.  However, house of peanut “couldn’t relate to the idea of getting personal satisfaction or pleasure out of giving to charity.”

Instead, house of peanut says she gives to charity because it is the “right thing to do.”

Economists have many theories for why people give to charity.  From my reading of the Vanderkam chapter, she subscribes to the “warm glow” theory of charitable giving.  In this theory, people give to charity because it makes them feel warm and fuzzy to do so.

Another theory is altruism– that people want a specific level of public goods to be provided, and if they government isn’t providing, then they step up.  (Under this theory, people would *prefer* taxes to charitable giving, because charitable goods are under-provided because of the free-rider problem, but in reality, they don’t tend to prefer taxes.)

Prestige is another theory– people give because they want people to know that they give because it makes them feel superior.  Related to this idea is one of social cohesion– you give because it provides a sense of community with other people interested in that cause.  Giving greases social wheels, so to speak.

Yet another theory is one in which people give because they expect something back.  This idea is part of “social insurance”.  The idea is that if you give to your church when times are good, they will give back to you when times are bad.

And, of course, there’s giving because it provides power and helps you shape agendas.  You can see a lot of that this year with the SuperPACs funding campaign ads and controlling local elections from a national scale.

There are many many other theories of charitable giving, not just from economics but from other social science disciplines.  We haven’t nailed this one down yet, though there is ample evidence for the “warm glow” theory and not so much for pure altruism.  But in reality the reasons are probably multi-faceted.

I give to charity for several reasons:
1. I’m a soft touch when it comes to stories about hungry kids or kids not getting education or kitties not having homes. Giving money helps the crying stop (is that feeling warm glow?)
2. Sometimes our donations actually make a difference (see local private school)
3. Sometimes donating is in our best selfish interest (see: donating to alma mater to get USNews rating up, donating to DC’s class to get extra activities)

Update:  eemusings with her reasons.

If you give, why do you give?

Quick note to the most amazing person in my world

Everything I said last year is still true… except we’ve added another year and another child on the way.  I cannot tell you how much I love you.  Every day is better because you’re in it.

Thank you for:

taking such good care of me
being the most awesome daddy
making yummy ice cream
being warm at night when it’s cold
talking me down (and giving me food) when I’m irritated
being able to fix anything
feeding me when I’m hungry
listening to me when I need to think something out
suggesting things when my mind is gone
reminding me to exercise
being fun to talk with and be with
reminding me to take my lunch
being the kind of guy who regularly calls his grandma
being tall, dark, and handsome, and having a great chin
helping me get up
telling horrible puns: No wait, not that one
always being there when I need you

Like DC says, I love you *this* much, where *this* is as wide as my arms can go.  But it’s even more than that.  Like infinity.  :)

Link Love

An old post but a good one from funny about money on the following your passion myth.

More on the 64oz soda kerfuffle, this time from roxie’s world.   I like saying kerfuffle.

We were in this week’s carnival of personal finance.

Apple pie and the universe would like some suggestions for summer meals.

If you know Taylor the Latte Boy and its sad sequel, part 3 is AWESOME.

Cherish the scientist talks about what to do when school isn’t working out for your kid.

Check out this book review from feral homemaking.

Truths about student loans from a couple of fantastic economists.

Google Questions Answered

Q:  how much did you pay for graduate school

A:  Nothing.  Except, of course, opportunity costs and sanity.

Q:  how easy is it to change a paid off mortgage into someone elses name if the current owner still has other debra

A:  If the mortgage is paid off, it no longer exists… Perhaps you mean changing the title to the house?

Q:  what would you do if you didn’t have school

A:  Apparently the answer is:  Work!

Q:  if i have my house paid off, will i be protected from a depression?

A:  Nope!  Ya still gotta eat.

Q:  do masters grades matter?

A:  Yes and no.  It depends on what you want to do afterward.  If you’re doing an MA because your BA grades were not good and you want to get into a PhD program, then yes, your grades matter.  If you just want a job… probably not.  What does matter is what you learn on the program and your ability to think critically once you graduate.

Q:  are vertical blinds still in style

A:  Sadly, no.

Q:  how do people live after they pay off their mortgage

A:  Oxygen in, Carbon Dioxide out, regular ingestion of water and nutrients (followed by expulsion of waste)…

Q:  when baby start food without lying

A:  Usually babies are capable of starting food before they are capable of lying (generally between 6-12 months– and they’ll let you know by being interested in food and not having a tongue thrust reflex).   Unless you mean being prone, in which case solid food should not be fed to babies who are lying down.  (Milk from the tap is ok, milk or formula from the bottle should also be fed in an upright position.)

Q:  are teachers notified about comments they receive on rmp

A:  No, thank goodness.

Q:  can you email professors over the summer

A:  Nope.  It’s absolutely impossible.  If you try, you cause rifts in the space-time continuum and make it easier for the great monster Gathuzula to get through to carry out his sinister plans to destroy the earth and all we hold dear.  (Note:  this is not true if you are also a professor yourself, especially if you are my coauthor.  Radio silence is not cool!)


  • This kerfuffle with the GSA spending seems bizarre and ridiculous because the last few government-sponsored conferences I went to, the organizers paid out of their own pockets for things like power-bars from Costco for breakfast because the gov’t under Obama has been so afraid of looking bad spending-wise.  They also complain that they can’t have group meals because they can’t pay for them directly, but they’re also not allowed to collect conference fees to pay for them like they could if it were a private conference.  I wonder if they knew that this 2010 thing was going to blow up.
  • Sometimes we consider commenting on someone else’s blog post and then decide the post is just too crazy.  So we don’t.
  • Kale chips are a big hit with the resident 5 year old.  So yay CSA.
  • Dear School,  I don’t care how adorable those orphaned kittens are.  We do not want any.  Well, we want them, but we are not going to get one.  I sure hope you find homes for them.  Spay and neuter your pets, people!
  • DC has come around to the idea of a new sibling and enjoys talking to hir and patting hir via mommy’s sizable belly.
  • For some reason this pregnancy doesn’t seem to be as emotionally draining as the first one was.  Part of it seems to be that I’m not getting any hypoglycemia.  I’ll get famished starving, but that doesn’t seem to come with the maudlin… I’m basically just hungry, not weepy.
  • Big bang theory started out as Penny was supposed to make them less nerdy… what happened?  They turned Penny into a nerd.  Victory!
  • Partner is watching live action The Tick on Netflix streaming.  I just don’t know what to say.  But man, Arthur sure looks like Arthur.  Except he has too much hair on his head.
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