i. From The future of infectious diseases. Watch it.:

“Take home messages:

  • You can watch evolution in progress in quickly-reproducing organisms, like malaria
  • Over 100,000 Americans die of infections that were easily treated 30 years ago due to the evolution of resistance (twice the number of people who will die in car crashes).
  • In an arms race between us and infectious diseases, we lose.
  • We need to understand the evolutionary forces unleashed by medicine before we can manage infectious disease
  • We need to ask, “Will (this drug) STAY safe, and CONTINUE to work”, not just if it is safe and whether it will work.
  • The Lancet (a high impact medical journal) rejected an evolutionary paper addressing malaria because, “a good understanding of evolutionary biology is beyond most of our readers.””

Point 3 is one I try to remember to bring up every time I find myself in a discussion about matters related to how the future development of medicine will look like. Unless you do not agree with that one, it’s very hard to be an optimist about the future of medicine.

ii. I discussed this subject briefly yesterday, and I later started thinking about whether I’d actually blogged this (pdf) publication (in Danish, sorry), PISA København 2010, which deals with the educational achievements of Danish children in Copenhagen who left the 9th grade in 2010. I don’t think I have (I couldn’t find anything in the archives), so I decided to add a link here as well as a few observations from the paper:

“Opdeles eleverne efter andelen af indvandrerelever på deres skoles niende klassetrin, finder man generelt, at jo større andel af indvandrere, des lavere gennemsnitlig læsetestscore.” (a (loose) translation: ‘If the students are distributed according to the proportion of immigrant-pupils in the 9th grade, a general finding is that the larger the share of immigrants, the lower the average reading test score’).

Immigrant groups perform worse than non-immigrant groups, and the proportion of immigrants also affects the performance of the non-immgrant pupils (negatively) for some, though not all, specifications. The ‘Danish’ pupils enrolled in schools where the proportion of immigrant pupils exceeds 50% do significantly worse than do Danish pupils who are enrolled in schools where the immigrant pupil proportion is below 25% (p.11). Immigrant pupils also do better in schools with less than 25% immigrants than they do in schools where the proportion of immigrant pupils exceeds that number (p.11).

A table from the report (p.31), click to view full size:

The above table contains some numbers related to PISA’s reading test, with a special focus on the proportion of pupils in the sample who are functionally illiterate, corresponding to a reading performance of less than level 2 on the PISA scale (which is described in more details in the Appendix, p. 82-83 – I will not go into details here unless asked). In 2010, 14% of ‘Danish’ pupils and 42% of ‘immigrant pupils’ from schools in Copenhagen were functionally illiterate judging from the PISA reading test. There’s a big gender gap – 17% of the girls and 30% of the boys were functionally illiterate. The difference between the performances of first (44%) and second (41%) generation immigrant pupils is not statistically significant. Almost half of all 9th grade immigrant pupils in the public school system – 48% of first generation immigrant pupils in public schools and 46% of second generation immigrant pupils in public schools – were functionally illiterate.

There’s a lot of hidden variation in the immigrant numbers and not all immigrant groups do equally badly. It’s worth having in mind that these results are actually averages. Taking not-insignificant heterogeneity in the immigrant sample into account, it’s surely the case that some immigrant groups do even worse than these numbers might imply. If you look at the school level, some of the numbers probably get much worse. The Rockwool Foundation found in 2007 that 64% of pupils of Arab origin in the 9th grade were functionally illiterate (Danish link). In the PISA report they don’t go into much details, but they do note that pupils of Lebanese (/Palestinians), Iraqi and Turkish origin do worse than do pupils of Pakistani origin (also from p. 11).

iii. Another paper, Moral Hypocrisy, Power and Social Preferences, by Rustichini and Villeval (via Robin Hanson):

“Abstract: We show with a laboratory experiment that individuals adjust their moral principles to the situation and to their actions, just as much as they adjust their actions to their principles. We first elicit the individuals’ principles regarding the fairness and unfairness of allocations in three different scenarios (a Dictator game, an Ultimatum game, and a Trust game). One week later, the same individuals are invited to play those same games with monetary compensation. Finally in the same session we elicit again their principles regarding the fairness and unfairness of allocations in the same three scenarios.

Our results show that individuals adjust abstract norms to fit the game, their role and the choices they made. First, norms that appear abstract and universal take into account the bargaining power of the two sides. The strong side bends the norm in its favor and the weak side agrees: Stated fairness is a compromise with power. Second, in most situations, individuals adjust the range of fair shares after playing the game for real money compared with their initial statement. Third, the discrepancy between hypothetical and real behavior is larger in games where real choices have no strategic consequence (Dictator game and second mover in Trust game) than in those where they do (Ultimatum game). Finally the adjustment of principles to actions is mainly the fact of individuals who behave more selfishly and who have a stronger bargaining power.
The moral hypocrisy displayed (measured by the discrepancy between statements and actions chosen followed by an adjustment of principles to actions) appears produced by the attempt, not necessarily conscious, to strike a balance between self-image and immediate convenience.”

iv. False-Positive Psychology: Undisclosed Flexibility in Data Collection and Analysis Allows Presenting Anything as Significant, by Simmons, Nelson and Simonsohn. A pretty neat paper:

In this article, we accomplish two things. First, we show that despite empirical psychologists’ nominal endorsement of a low rate of false-positive findings (! .05), flexibility in data collection, analysis, and reporting dramatically increases actual false-positive rates. In many cases, a researcher is more likely to falsely find evidence that an effect exists than to correctly find evidence that it does not. We present computer simulations and a pair of actual experiments that demonstrate how unacceptably easy it is to accumulate (and report) statistically significant evidence for a false hypothesis. Second, we suggest a simple, low-cost, and straightforwardly effective disclosure-based solution to this problem. The solution involves six concrete requirements for authors and four guidelines for reviewers, all of which impose a minimal burden on the publication process.”

v. Cognitive Sophistication Does Not Attenuate the Bias Blind Spot, by West, Meserve & Stanovich:

“The so-called bias blind spot arises when people report that thinking biases are more prevalent in others than in themselves. Bias turns out to be relatively easy to recognize in the behaviors of others, but often difficult to detect in one’s own judgments. Most previous research on the bias blind spot has focused on bias in the social domain. In 2 studies, we found replicable bias blind spots with respect to many of the classic cognitive biases studied in the heuristics and biases literature (e.g., Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). Further, we found that none of these bias blind spots were attenuated by measures of cognitive sophistication such as cognitive ability or thinking dispositions related to bias. If anything, a larger bias blind spot was associated with higher cognitive ability. Additional analyses indicated that being free of the bias blind spot does not help a person avoid the actual classic cognitive biases. We discuss these findings in terms of a generic dual-process theory of cognition.”

I’ll just repeat part of that abstract: “none of these bias blind spots were attenuated by measures of cognitive sophistication such as cognitive ability or thinking dispositions related to bias. If anything, a larger bias blind spot was associated with higher cognitive ability.

A few other remarks from the paper (but do read all of it if you find the result interesting):

“the bias blind spot joins a small group of other effects such as myside bias and noncausal base-rate neglect (Stanovich & West, 2008b; Toplak & Stanovich, 2003) in being unmitigated by increases in intelligence. That cognitive sophistication does not mitigate the bias blind spot is consistent with the idea that the mechanisms that cause the bias are quite fundamental and not easily controlled strategically — that they reflect what is termed Type 1 processing in dual-process theory (Evans, 2008; Evans & Stanovich, in press). Two of the theoretical explanations of the effect considered by Pronin (2007)—naive realism and defaulting to introspection—posit the bias as emanating from cognitive mechanisms that are evolutionarily and computationally basic. Much research on the bias blind spot describes the asymmetry in bias detection in self compared to others as being spawned by a belief in naive realism—the idea that one’s perception of the world is objective and thus would be mirrored by others who are open-minded and unbiased in their views (Griffin & Ross, 1991; Pronin et al., 2002; Ross & Ward, 1996). Naive realism is developmentally primitive (Forguson & Gopnik, 1988; Gabennesch, 1990) and thus likely to be ubiquitous and operative in much of our basic information processing.

[rereading this, it reminded me of this quote, from a recent lesswrong article: “if you aren’t treating humans more like animals than most people are, then you’re modeling humans poorly. You are not an agenty homunculus “corrupted” by heuristics and biases. You just are heuristics and biases. And you respond to reinforcement, because most of your motivation systems still work like the motivation systems of other animals.”]

It is likewise with self-assessment based on introspective information, rather than behavioral information (Pronin & Kugler, 2007). The bias blind spot arises, on this view, because we rely on behavioral information for evaluations of others, but on introspection for evaluations of ourselves. The biases of others are easily detected in their overt behaviors, but when we introspect we will largely fail to detect the unconscious processes that are the sources of our own biases (Ehrlinger et al., 2005; Kahneman, 2011; Pronin et al., 2004; Wilson, 2002). When we fail to detect evidence of bias, we are apt to decide no bias has occurred and that our decision-making process was indeed objective and reasonable. This asymmetry in bias assessment information has as its source a ubiquitous and pervasive processing tendency— introspective reliance — that again is developmentally basic (Dennett, 1991; Sterelny, 2003).”

vi. Via Gwern, a meta-analysis on depression and exercise. There seems to be a short-term positive effect, but “there is little evidence of a long-term beneficial effect of exercise in patients with clinical depression.”


June 22, 2012 - Posted by | Data, Demographics, education, Infectious disease, Papers, Pharmacology, Psychology


  1. Interesting links — thanks for sharing.

    This is my new blog address: 🙂

    Comment by Miao | June 22, 2012 | Reply

    • Looking forward to reading along..

      Comment by US | June 22, 2012 | Reply

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