Monthly Archives: April 2008

Find out if you’re trustworthy

A new website called Facestat, enables you for free to upload a picture of yourself and have random individuals (what some call *crowd sourcing*) evaluate your photo for your trustworthiness. (They also guess your wealth, intelligence, age, martial status, ethnicity, weight, political orientation, state of drunkenness at time photo was taken, gender, attractiveness, and humorousness) Facestat uses an Amazon.com service called Mechanical Turk that hires individuals for a few cents per piece of work to evaluate a relatively easy task (Mechanical Turk was used to help map the surface of Mars and determine which were craters).

For a fuller story see the WSJ blog story “Do people think you look trustworthy?

Across countries, where social trust is high, crime and corruption are low

A Pew Global Attitudes Study found markedly different rates in social trust across countries of the world (ranging from 79% in China down to 25% in Kenya or 27% in Kuwait or 28% in Peru). The U.S. was 5th at 58% trusting, behind the Chinese, Swedish (78%), Canadian (71%), and British (65%). [The question is an agree-disagree item: "Most people in this society are trustworthy."]

They found that trust had noticeably fallen in formerly Communist, Eastern Europe, down to levels of Southern Europe (like Spain, Italy). Russia showed the highest levels of trust at 50% but its Eastern European neighbors had levels of trust between 42% and 48%.

Crime: They also found a connection of trust with crime. “In countries with high levels of trust, people are generally less likely to say crime is a very big problem for their country (the correlation coefficient for responses to the two questions is -.56). Most of the countries surveyed fit the overall pattern, including the United States, where concerns about crime are about where one would expect, given the relatively high degree of social trust.

Trust and Crime

“There are, however, some outliers. For example, South Africans — who have been plagued by crime in recent years — are more concerned about crime than would be expected, based solely on their level of social trust. Meanwhile, crime fears are even less common in Sweden and China than their high levels of trust would have predicted.”

Corruption: “[T]he relationship between trust and corruption resembles the one between trust and crime. The percentage of people rating corrupt political leaders as a very big problem tends to be lower in countries that have high levels of trust such as Sweden, Canada, and Britain (the correlation coefficient is -.54). On the other hand, in nations such as Nigeria and Lebanon, trust is rare and concerns about political corruption are widespread.

Trust and Corruption

“Again, there are outliers. Kuwait is both a low trust and low corruption society. Indonesia is a high trust, high corruption country. And the Swedes are once again even less concerned about corruption than their high score on the trust measure would predict (the question about political corruption was not asked in China, the only country to top the Swedes on trust). Meanwhile, Americans — who have witnessed more than a few high profile political scandals over the last few years — were slightly more concerned about corrupt politicians than would have been expected, based on their reasonably high degree of social trust.”

Do people notice an art masterpiece on the street?

I blogged earlier about the fascinating story of a world class violinist playing in the Washington Subway (“Pearls Before Breakfast: can one of the nation’s great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour? Let’s find out” (Washington Post, 4/8/07, p. w10, Gene Weingarten) The story was indirectly about the cocoons that we live in such that 1000 commuters in Washington, DC, almost without exception, didn’t hear or stop to listen to the sublime beauty of violin virtuoso Joshua Bell who was busking in the Washington Metro as an experiment. One has to assume that these cocoons affect not only hearing Joshua Bell but also our ability to connect with friends and strangers.

Now comes a related experiment. If you put up a world class painting (by Tuymans) on a pedestrian street in Antwerp (in Belgium) will people stop to notice it?

See the results:

The art experiment either also indicates the cocoons we live in, or indicates that we only recognize true ‘art’ when someone tells us it is art by hanging it in a museum.

Video spoof of e-harmony called e-neighbor

Keith Hampton alerted me to this one.

I hope that Vivek Hutheesing of rBlock and Keith (of i-neighbors), who both have created very useful software to help us meet and get to know our neighbors, are not taking this personally. As people in the ad business say, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

Robert and Lara Putnam on America’s growing class gap

Robert D. Putnam and daughter Lara Putnam (historian at Pitt) comment on the kerfuffle regarding Barack Obama’s inartful description of poor whites being bitter and clinging to religion in response to their bleak economic circumstances.

They note that, while much of the debate has focused on small town vs. big city respondents, the issues really relate to class gaps within the white community not city v. rural.

They asserts that the “growing disparity in formative experiences portends a more caste-like America, in which children’s life chances are increasingly dictated by their parents’ social class. The playing field is tilted more and more against the have-nots.”

As the Putnams note: “The real question is not ginned-up outrage over Barack Obama’s choice of words to describe the very real hardships facing many Americans in towns and cities of all sizes. The real question is whether his optimistic insistence that “Yes We Can” will resonate in those still-struggling Pennsylvania cities and towns that suffered a body blow with the loss of steel mills and factories a generation ago. Mr. Obama’s work as a community organizer on the streets of Chicago was predicated on the belief that even in communities beset by disinvestment, job loss and chronic frustration, self-confidence can be restored, collective bonds can be rebuilt and political efficacy regained.” They indicate that we’ll know soon enough if this message of hope resonates among white working class residents in these devastated PA communities.

The Op-Ed, which appeared Sunday (4/20/08) in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, called “The Growing Class Gap” can be found here.

Netherlands study also finds diversity challenging for social capital in short-term

Confirming one portion of Robert Putnam’s much discussed *E Pluribus Unum* study, a researcher (Jaap Dronkers, Chair of the Social Stratification and Inequality Program at the European University Institute in the
Department of Political and Social Sciences, Italy) found similar results to Putnam’s in the Netherlands — that diversity poses challenges for social capital. [Putnam's *E Pluribus Unum* article also discussed the manifold benefits of diversity and discussed strategies for building stronger bonds over the longer-term through this diversity and optimism that we could do so.]

Abstract of paper: “Putnam (2007) claims that in the short run ethnic diversity tends to reduce solidarity and social capital: in ethnically diverse neighborhoods, residents of all ethnicities tend to ‘hunker down’. Trust (even in one’s own ethnic group) is lower, altruism and community cooperation is more rare, friends fewer. This study replicates Putnam’s analysis for a West-European country. Furthermore, by including the ethnicity of the respondent’s neighbors, a sub-neighborhood level measure of ethnic diversity is added to the analyses. With data from the Netherlands (N=5,757), using multi-level regression, we confirm Putnam’s claim and find that both for immigrants and native residents 1) neighborhoods’ ethnic diversity reduces individual trust in neighborhoods; 2) those with neighbors of a different ethnicity have less trust in neighborhoods and neighbors 3) a substantial part of the effect of neighborhoods’ ethnic diversity on individual trust can be explained by the higher propensity of having neighbors of a different ethnicity. We conclude that ethnic diversity can have a negative effect on individual trust. However, we do not find these negative effects of neighborhoods’ or neighbors ethnic diversity on inter-ethnic trust.”  Jaap Dronkers et al. focused on Netherlands since these were the only data within the European Union that they knew of that contained both a measurement of individual trust and the zip code or census tract of the respondent.

Here is direct link to the paper “Ethnic diversity in neighbourhoods and individual trust of immigrants and natives: A replication of Putnam (2007) in a West-European country.”

While we have not seen the results, we have been told that UK data from the Home Office Citizenship Survey (now called the Citizenship Survey) also shows a strongly significant relationship between respondent’s trust of neighbors (regardless of their race) and ethnic diversity of the neighborhood, controlling for all the standard controls at the individual and neighborhood level.

Note: some European studies recently assert to find contrary findings to Putnam’s “E Pluribus Unum” article, but are completely inapposite. Since information on the diversity of various neighborhoods is very hard to come by, many studies erroneously simply substitute a “national” level of diversity. See: Marc Hooghe et al (Ethnic Diversity, Trust and Ethnocentrism and Europe. A Multilevel Analysis of 21 European Countries“) or the erroneously titled “‘Ethnic diversity and social capital in Europe: tests of Putnam’s thesis in European countries” (Forthcoming in Scandinavian Political Studies) by Dutch sociologists Peer Scheepers, Maurice Gesthuizen and Tom van der Meer (Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands). The problems in the Hooghe and Scheepers papers of using “national level” diversity as the control variable can be seen when applied to the U.S. context. It would be like assuming that South Dakota, Spanish Harlem, Houston and Beverly Hills all have equal levels of neighborhood diversity in the U.S. Since many countries exhibit different patterns of micro-level integration or segregation one can understand how the national average is an extremely noisy measure of neighborhood diversity. And it seems quite likely that the true relationship between social capital and diversity can’t be seen through all the noise of the resulting national measure. These papers may have interesting things to say, but they can’t have meaningful things to say about whether the “E Pluribus Unum” findings apply to other European countries, which is why the above paper on the Netherlands by the Italian researchers that is referenced at the top of this post is far more relevant to this debate.

Money can’t buy you love, but can buy you happiness (II)

Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers in a data rich paper conclude three things:

a) the rich are happier;

(b) rich countries are happier;

(c) economic growth is associated with greater happiness for their citizens; and

(d) they find little evidence for the “relative income hypothesis” (that happiness depends more on one’s income relative to others in one’s country or community than it does on absolute levels of income).

Justin Wolfers is blogging about the paper at Freakonomics blog. There are to be several posts, but this is the first post. The paper is also summarized in today’s New York Times, featuring a nice graphic, The authors also discussed the research on CNBC (4/16/08).

The paper by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers (both at Penn’s Wharton School) has the rather academic title of “Economic Growth and Subjective Well-being: Regressing the Easterlin Paradox

Earlier post on this subject available here discussing paper by Angus Deaton on this topic; Deaton’s conclusions were partially the same but he found a cut-off point beyond which economic growth did not lead to increases in happiness, perhaps because of the destabilizing impact of the growth.

Service learning to keep at-risk youth in school

John Bridgeland, of Civic Enterprises, discussed their recent report Engaged for Success which highlights the importance of “service learning” in preventing at-risk youth from dropping out of school.

(I must disclose my biases: I was the Senate policy point person on the enactment of the National Service Trust Act of 1993 that created AmeriCorps, and worked for Senator Kennedy. Senator Kennedy, understandably was an ardent advocate of service learning, which as the name implies combines service and learning and can be used for students from kindergarten through college. For example, youth can monitor pollution in a local stream, thereby learning about scientific measurement or interview elderly shut-ins about their youth and learn about American history in the process. Findings show that youth learn far more when there is an educational “pull”, in other words when the learning is required for a task they want to do, than the traditional educational “push” model that tells youth to learn some skill under the expectation that they’ll need it down the road for an important task.)

Civic Enterprises’ research shows a mismatch between interest in service learning and availability of programs. Notably: “Eighty-two percent of all service-learning students said their view of school improved because of their service-learning classes, and 77 percent said that service learning had a big effect on motivating them to work hard. Furthermore, 64 percent of service-learning students claimed that service learning would have a fairly or very big effect on keeping them from dropping out of school.” But, “[a]lthough high-quality service-learning programs are cropping up across the nation, such programs are still unjustifiably rare. Eighty-three percent of students said that if their school offered it, they would enroll in a service-learning program. Yet only 16 percent of all students, and only 8 percent of students at low- performing schools, reported that their school offered service learning. All too often students do not have access to, or do not even know about, such programs offered by their schools.”

Civic Enterprises’ findings are also summarized in John Bridgeland’s Op-ed “The key to keeping teens in school” (Christian Science Monitor, 4/15/08) and his PowerPoint presentation of their findings.

Randy Pausch notable quotes, excerpts from Last Lecture

In Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture at Carnegie Mellon University in the Fall of 2007, facing pancreatic cancer and the likelihood that he would only live a month or two, Randy summed up his life’s wisdom for his kids (then 1,2, and 5). He gave his lecture to several hundred in a CMU auditorium, but it has now been viewed on YouTube by millions of Americans.  It’s enormously inspiring, tear-rendering and well worth your time if you haven’t seen it.

His Last Lecture is now fleshed out in a book of the same name (co-written with Jeff Zaslow, the WSJ reporter that brought his lecture to widespread prominence) and he recently filmed an ABC News Special with Diane Sawyer. His comments are immensely wise for a 47 year old.

Randy Pausch alas died in his home last night (July 25, 2008) as reported by Diane Sawyer on GMA. Randy Pausch’s home page is here.

He lived a vibrant life to the end, giving a charge to the graduating seniors at his beloved Carnegie Mellon University just in June 2008

and providing moving testimony to Congress on supporting pancreatic cancer research to help future innocent victims (3/13/08).

Notable quotes:

  • When there’s an elephant in the room introduce him
  • Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want something badly enough. They are there to keep out the other people.
  • If there’s anything I want to do so badly, I should have already done it.
  • We can’t change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand. If I’m not as depressed as you think I should be, I’m sorry to disappoint you.
  • Work and play well together.
    - Tell The Truth. All The Time. No one is pure evil.
    - Be willing to apologize. Proper apologies have three parts: 1) What I did was wrong. 2) I’m sorry that I hurt you. 3) How do I make it better? It’s the third part that people tend to forget…. Apologize when you screw up and focus on other people, not on yourself.
    - Show gratitude. Gratitude is a simple but powerful thing.
    - Find the best in everybody…. Wait long enough, and people will surprise and impress you. It might even take years, but people will show you their good side. Just keep waiting.
    - If you want to achieve your dreams, you better learn to work and play well with others…[you have] to live with integrity.
  • Collaboration, treating others with respect.
    - Never found anger a way to make things better.
    - How do you get people to help you? You can’t get there alone. People have to help you and I do believe in karma. I believe in paybacks. You get people to help you by telling the truth. Being earnest. I’ll take an earnest person over a hip person any day, because hip is short term. Earnest is long term.
    - Loyalty is a two-way street.
    - Get a feedback loop and listen to it. Your feedback loop can be this dorky spreadsheet thing I did, or it can just be one great man who tells you what you need to hear. The hard part is the listening to it.
  • Persistence and hard work.
    - When you are doing something badly and no one’s bothering to tell you anymore, that’s a very bad place to be. Your critics are the ones still telling you they love you and care.
    - Don’t bail: the best gold is at the bottom of barrels of crap
    - Don’t complain, Just work harder. [showing picture on screen] That’s a picture of Jackie Robinson. It was in his contract not to complain, even when the fans spit on him. You can spend it complaining or playing the game hard. The latter is likely to be more effective.
    - Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted…. I probably got more from that dream [of playing professional football] and not accomplishing it than I got from any of the ones that I did accomplish.
  • Fun, wonder, living your dream.
    - Decide if you’re a Tigger or an Eyeore. I’m a Tigger.
    - It is not about achieving your dreams but living your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself, the dreams will come to you.
    - Never underestimate the importance of having fun. I’m dying and I’m having fun. And I’m going to keep having fun every day, because there’s no other way to play it….Having fun for me is like a fish talking about the importance of water. I don’t know how it is like not to have fun…
    - Never lose the child-like wonder. It’s just too important. It’s what drives us. Help others.
  • Risk-taking.
    - You can tell the pioneers by the arrows in their backs. But at the end of the day, a whole lot of people will have a whole lot of fun.
    - Better to fail spectacularly than do something mediocre. [Randy Pausch gave out a First Penguin award each year when he was teaching to the biggest failure in trying something big and new because he thought this should be celebrated. First Penguins are the ones that risk that the water might be too cold.]
  • Parenting and kids.
    - The best piece of parenting advice I’ve ever heard is from flight attendants. If things get really tough, grab your own oxygen mask first.
    - About his pancreatic cancer: It’s unlucky, but it not unfair. We all stand on a dartboard and some of us randomly get hit by pancreatic cancer. But my children won’t have me for them and that’s not fair.
    - Someone’s going to push my family off a cliff pretty soon and I won’t be there to catch them and that breaks my heart. But I have some time to sew some nets to cushion the fall so that seems like the best and highest use of my time and I better get to work.
    - I’m sorry I won’t be around to raise my kids. It makes me very sad but I can’t change that fact, so I did everything I could with the time I have and the time I had to help other people.
    - Importance of people instead of things. Told story of buying new convertible that he was so proud of and taking niece and nephew for a ride. Randy’s sister, the kid’s mother was telling them how important it was to keep car pristine and kids were laughing because at the same time he was pouring a can of orange soda on the back seats. His sister asked what are you doing and he said “it’s just a thing.” And nephew Chris wound up being really grateful because he had flu and wound up throwing up on way home. “And I don’t care how much joy you get out of owning a shiny new thing; it’s not as good I felt from making sure that an 8 year old didn’t have to feel guilty for having the flu.”
    - [not a direct quote] but Randy implores parents to always indulge your children’s wild ideas (he talks about how important it was that his parents let him decorate his walls with math formulas, despite the negative impact on their house’s resale value) He says: “If you’re going to have childhood dreams you should have great parents who let you pursue them and express your creativity.”
    - It is Important to have specific childhood dreams. (For example, Randy wanted to play football in the NFL, write an article for the World Book Encyclopedia, experience the Weightlessness of Zero Gravity, be Captain Kirk from Star Trek, work for the Disney Company.)
  • Be good at something; it makes you valuable…. Have something to bring to the table, because that will make you more welcome.
  • I’ve never understood pity and self-pity as an emotion. We have a finite amount of time. Whether short or long, it doesn’t matter. Life is to be lived.
  • To be cliché, death is a part of life and it’s going to happen to all of us. I have the blessing of getting a little bit of advance notice and I am able to optimize my use of time down the home stretch.