Tuesday, January 30, 2007
In today's New York Times' science section, John Tierney -- in his "Findings" column, available here -- reports on an interesting website of which I was not aware: Long Bets. I'm a big fan of prediction markets, for reasons I mentioned in several posts last year and that Justin Wolfers and Eric Zitzewitz explained marvelously clearly in "Prediction Markets," 18 J. Econ. Persp. 107 (2004). So, I'm very intrigued by the examples at Long Bets.
Long Bets, founded by Stewart Brand (of The Whole Earth Catalog and other ventures) with financial backing from Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com, allows readers to make predictions and to take wagers on those predictions. The featured wager on the Long Bets homepage is this: "In a Google search of five keywords or phrases representing the top five news stories of 2007, weblogs will rank higher than the New York Times' Web site." The stakes are $2,000.
Tierney reports on some other fascinating wagers on Long Bets. Dr, Martin Rees, the distinguished scientist and Astronomer Royal, has bet that "[b]y 2020 bioterror or bioerror will lead to one million casualties in a single event." Tierney has taken the bet for $200 with the proceeds (if he wins) to go to the International Red Cross. He has also taken on another of Rees' predictions (this one made in Rees' book Our Final Hour (2003)) that there is a 50 percent chance that the human race will survive to 2100. How will he collect? Tierney writes, "I even think one of us might survive to see the payoff, although my
techno-optimism has its limits. I hope some version of me will be
around in 2100, but I wouldn’t bet on it."
Monday, January 29, 2007
A recent article in The Economist, available here, reports on the finding by Professors Matthew Rablen and Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick (in a paper entitled "Mortality and Immortality," available here) that "Nobel science laureates live significantly longer than those of their [contemporaries] who were nominated for a prize but failed to receive one."
The paper studies scientists and their colleagues who were nominated for or won one of the Nobel science prizes during the period 1901 (the first year of the prizes) and 1950. The data set included only men )to get away from gender differences in life expectancy) and "eliminated those killed prematurely." The data set contained 135 men who won the prize and 389 men who were nominate d for but did not win the prize. Nominations were secret during this period, so there was no effect of public humiliation from being known to have been nominated and not winning(see below).
"Dr. Rablen and Dr. Oswald found that the winners lived, on average, two years longer than those who had merely been nominated." They were able to control for income and the shifting value of the prize money so as to be able to show no correlation between income levels, the value of the prize money, and life duration.
This research is part of an intriguing line of work that purports to find that "status per se, rather than the trappings of status, such as wealth, act to prolong life." The origin of this hypothesis is the work of Sir Michael Marmot of University College, London, who found that high-status British civil servants were healthier and lived longer than those civil servants lower in the hierarchy. This finding was contrary to expectation, which was that the high stress of being at the top of the bureaucracy would take a toll on health, not enhance it.
In a similar vein, Donald Redelmeier and Sheldon Singh found that "Oscar-winning actors and actresses live 3.6 years longer than those who are nominated but do not win. However, in that case, the failed nominees do know that they have failed. And, curiously, Oscar-winning scriptwriters live 3.6 years less than do nominees."
I've just returned from a superb conference at the Duke University School of Law organized by Mitu Gulati on the problem of odious debt. Here's Duke's announcement of the conference, including a definition of odious debt.
The papers presented at the conference will be published in two forthcoming issues of Law and Contemporary Problems. I highly recommend that you keep an eye out for those issues. The papers and the presenters were a tremendously talented and insightful group.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
The semester break has allowed me to catch up on some of the things that I've been meaning to write about. One of those is the greatly reduced number of cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in recent terms. The New York Times' Linda Greenhouse remarked on this in a December 7, 2006, column, "Dwindling Docket Mystifies Supreme Court." She notes that the Court has taken 40 percent fewer cases so far this term than last. "The number of cases decided with signed opinions last term, 69, was the lowest since 1953 and fewer than half the number the court was deciding as recently as the mid-1980s."
One might have hypothesized that this was a demand-side phenomenon: a conscious decision on the part of the justices, not just a happenstance of the number or quality of the cases presented to the Court for resolution. But Ms. Greenhouse offers a supply-side explanation: "The federal government has been losing fewer cases in the lower courts and so has less reason to appeal. As Congress enacts fewer laws, the justices have fewer statutes to interpret. And justices who think they might end up on the losing side of an important case might vote not to take it." And she notes that there has been a decrease "in the number of appeals filed on behalf of the federal government by the solicitor general's office." In the 2000 term that office filed 24 petitions, of which the Court granted 17. The SG filed only 10 petitions last term, of which the Court granted 3. "This term, the solicitor general has filed 13 petitions; the Court has granted 5, denied 3, and is still considering the rest."
Thursday, January 4, 2007
One of the recurring suggestions for helping the Middle East to calm down, to end its relative economic stagnation (it is one of the two poorest regions on Earth), and to grow is that the West should wean itself from its dependence on Middle Eastern oil. (This has been a particular theme of Thomas Friedman in his columns in The New York Times.) Today's "Economic Scene" column in The New York Times, written by Austan Goolsbee, offers some hopeful information about our energy situation. See here. We're not doing as badly in reducing our dependence on oil as one might have thought. (For an excellent background study of our ability to gain energy independence, see John Cassidy's article from the October 11, 2004, The New Yorker, available here.)