Thursday, February 03, 2011

Quotes of the day

... the most imaginative people are the most credulous because they are prone to dismiss common sense. For creative thought, common sense is a bad master. Its sole criterion for judgment is that the new ideas shall look like the old ones. In other words it can only act by suppressing originality. Original minds find great unconventional ideas, but also lots of bad ones. ... One of the arguments I really don't like is that if someone believes something I disagree with he must be an idiot, or that if he's a genius in number theory his opinion on global warming is obviously rigorous and true. People have multiple selves, as some people who are warm to their family are monsters to their colleagues or vice versa. Most importantly, a person with only 'reasonable' ideas would probably be a good manager, but they wouldn't be really creative, or interesting.--Eric Falkenstein

... if people in New England are complaining, they're spoiled. They're doing something right there, because they win a lot of football games.--Rich Gannon

They come for your heart in Pittsburgh.--Joe Posnanski

I’m an analytical hypochondriacal pessimist, flavored with a dash of unreasonable hopefulness. Give me any situation, and I can tell you ten ways it’s bound to go south, and at least five of those ways involve me personally getting cancer in the process. ... what these [other, high achieving] people share in common is that they believe they can accomplish what many of us shrink from attempting. They’ve achieved far more than most people, and in the process failed far more than most. They recognize what I often forget, which is that you can’t have one without bearing the other. This has set me to wondering how I, as a parent, can cultivate in my sons the same belief in possibility, the same courage, the same willingness to get knocked down repeatedly and still strive.--Tony Woodlief

It is noise that makes the world go round as much as money, with truth coming in a poor third.--Theodore Dalrymple

Over the past few decades it has dawned on some researchers that we don't make decisions the way most economists think we should. ... Logic, math and probability are all context independent. That is where their power lies; they will work as well on Mars as on Earth. But heuristics can take into account context and norms, an awareness of the environment, and our innate understanding that the world may shift in unanticipated way. As with many new paradigms, the new route to behavioral economics adds a critical part of the world that the old one ignored. Perhaps it was ignored for the same reason physics assumes a perfect vacuum. Or perhaps because the field became overrun with mathematicians, and as Kuhn has said, a new paradigm such as this will only successfully assert itself once the older generation dies off. --Rick Brookstaber

Behavioral economics offers prospect theory instead, which gives more weight to losses than gains and provides a better fit for the choices observed in the laboratory. But, say Berg and Gigerenzer, it is even more unrealistic as a description of the decision-making progress, because it still requires weighing up every possible outcome, but then deploys even harder sums to produce a decision. It may describe what we choose, but not how we choose. Gigerenzer prefers to look for actual decision processes. Take the simple act of catching a ball in flight. The spirit of neoclassical economics would say that people act “as if” swiftly calculating the parabolic arc of the ball. The spirit of behavioral economics would explain dropped catches with references to some systematic errors in the way we perform that calculation. But in fact, ball-catchers use a cognitive shortcut called the “gaze heuristic”, running forward and back while keeping constant the angle of sight up to the ball as it descends. No amount of “nudging” towards faster differential calculus will help prevent dropped catches. This is tough on behavioral economists, because in order to be taken seriously by other economists they have had to play the optimizing game. Switching to Gigerenzer’s rules would mean the end of economics as we know it.--Tim Harford

Vaccines, which save millions of lives every year, are one of the most successful public-health interventions in the history of modern medicine. Among the diseases that they prevent is the whooping cough. Why, then, is that sickness making a scary comeback in California, which is currently weathering its largest whooping-cough epidemic since 1947, with over 7,800 cases and 10 deaths in 2010?--Paul Howard, James R. Copland

In my own case, I suffered mumps, measles, chicken pox, and whooping cough. I remember them all (and can still feel my painful swollen parotid glands in my mind’s soma). I came through unscathed, but my best friend, from whom I was inseparable, contracted polio in the months immediately before the introduction of immunization against it. He was paralyzed from the waist down. No child today need experience these diseases. Surely this is an unequivocal example of progress, but strangely enough, many people are highly suspicious of the triumph of preventive medicine. It is as if they had lost all historical memory and could not imagine that things were ever any different. We are now so safe that all hazard appears anomalous to us, a deviation from nature’s normal course. It must be someone’s fault.--Theodore Dalrymple

According to the Consumerist, it seems that a geological statistician name Mohan Srivastava cracked a mathematical code on some of the most common scratch off lottery tickets sold in the United States. The strategy Srivastava employed subsequent to his discovery—basically analyzing the patterns of numbers that appear on the front of the ticket, then returning the tickets that did not fit the winning pattern—allowed him to kind of clean up.--Ash Bennington

It’s not at all clear that Congress should be able to pass something [like the Affordable Care Act] under the rubric of a penalty and then later defend it as an exercise of its taxation policy. That kind of switcheroo is not just semantics—as Klein is arguing, it has actual constitutional implications. Although the Supreme Court has not often been sound on this issue, there are strong reasons to think that for a law to pass constitutional muster as a tax Congress should be forced to call it a tax when it is passed. To allow otherwise is to allow Congress to covertly exercise its power to tax—which flies in the face of the structure of our legislative process. We don’t want a legislative system that allows lawmakers to escape political accountability for creating new taxes while they also escape constitutional scrutiny by having the executive branch defend the law as a tax.--John Carney

The massive federal budget deficit is unsustainable today because of out-of-control spending. Consequently, the federal government is about to run up against its statutorily imposed debt limit. Fortunately, Congress has options, and it has time to consider them carefully. If Congress chooses not to raise the debt ceiling, then it could act swiftly to indicate that net interest is the highest priority to allay any remaining concerns about the possibility of defaulting on the debt. Congress could also declare exactly where spending should be cut to align total spending with receipts, not leaving this to a President acting without statutory guidance. If Congress inclines toward raising the debt limit, then it should also impose immediate, substantial spending reductions along with strong new rules such as hard spending caps to require continued, sharp spending reduction in future years. The outcome should reflect a clear, quick path to a sound fiscal policy. The responsibility for driving down spending and borrowing rests—under our Constitution—squarely with the Congress and the President of the United States.--J.D. Foster

You need to admit that while you, personally, might not think it's worthwhile to spend $400 on a video game console or a pair of shoes, the other person should be the judge of that as long as the family finances are sound. And when it's you staring longingly at that pair of Manolo Blahniks, you need to think hard about whether you really love them enough to compromise larger family goals, like a downpayment for a house, retirement savings, or the college fund. It's not always much fun, trading off your pleasures for the family's welfare. But that's what you signed up for. And if you do it right, the reward is that you have another person in the same boat, rowing as hard as they can towards your common goals.--Megan McArdle

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