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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

The psychology of bribery and corruption

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A very interesting article in Pacific Standard by Lauren Kirchner explores what drives and protects bribery and corruption. The article describes in some detail the two incompetent conspirators (one an FBI agent working in counter-intelligence) and how they worked, but it also looks at the general picture.  From that article:

. . . The very particular set of thinking and expectations involved in bribery and corruption has been an occasional topic of research for economists and psychologists throughout the years—on the overall cultural, organizational, and personal levels.

Researchers have measured and studied corruption on the global scale, for instance. The World Bank has estimated that $1 trillion gets paid every year in bribes, worldwide. There’s corruption in every government in the world, but what varies is how extreme, how visible, and how tolerated it is. Researchers at the University of Toronto have made a connection between the cultural “collectivism” of a country’s population and its acceptance of bribery (as opposed to its “individualism”). It might sound counter-intuitive, but the results of their study suggest that “collectivism promotes bribery through lower perceived responsibility for one’s actions.”

Likewise, researchers writing in the journal Social Psychological & Personality Sciencehave found a correlation between the “seemingly unrelated behaviors” of voluntary tipping and bribery. Namely, “countries that had higher rates of tipping behavior tended to have higher rates of corruption”—even after they control for GDP and income inequality. The context surrounding those two acts may be different, but the expectation of a quid-pro-quo for good service rendered seems to be the same.

A duo of psychologists in Germany struggled to identify the particulars of “a corrupt organizational culture in terms of its underlying assumptions, values, and norms.” But, writing in the Journal of Business Ethics this year, they found generally that “corrupt organizations perceive themselves to fight in a war, which leads to their taken-for-granted assumption that ‘the end justifies the means.’” Wartime attitudes degrade the traditional values of the members of the group, and they start to develop rationalizations and something the authors call “ethical blindness.” Corrupt organizations also tend to protect the “social cocoon” they’ve built up by harshly punishing those members of the group who aren’t willing to join in the rule-breaking.

It seems that the structure of the organization itself can have a subconscious effect on its members, as well. When asked about kickbacks and bribes in the U.S. military, a spokesperson for the government watchdog group Project on Government Oversightsaid that the strict, top-down structure of the military means that commanders must work even harder to set an ethical example for their subordinates. Otherwise, corruption trickles down. . .

Here’s the abstract of the article the duo of psychologists in Germany:

Although theory refers to organizational culture as an important variable in corrupt organizations, only little empirical research has addressed the characteristics of a corrupt organizational culture. Besides some characteristics that go hand in hand with unethical behavior and other features of corrupt organizations, we are still not able to describe a corrupt organizational culture in terms of its underlying assumptions, values, and norms. With a qualitative approach, we studied similarities of organizational culture across different corrupt organizations. In this study, we performed content analysis on interviews of 14 independent experts about their experience with corrupt organizations. With this approach, we gained insights about different corrupt organizations spanning different branches (e.g., government, foreign trade, pharmacy, sports, building industry). We found that corrupt organizations perceive themselves to fight in a war, which leads to their taken-for-granted assumption that “the end justifies the means”. This assumption inspires many values and norms of the organizational culture. An important value in a corrupt organization is “security”, and an important norm is punishment of deviant (i.e., non-corrupt) behavior. Furthermore, managers and employees differ in their perception of organizational culture. While the management endorses values, such as success, results, and performance, and implements these values in their norms of goal setting, employees make use of rationalization strategies and endorse values of security and team spirit.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2014 at 1:35 pm

Posted in Daily life, Law, Science

Another example of expectations misfiring: Face judgments

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A very intriguing article by James Hamblin in The Atlantic. From the article:

. . . “When we see someone’s face, we can make a lot of useful judgments,” he said, “like about age, emotional state, gender, et cetera. For this, the face is pretty useful. But there’s a pretty rich literature showing that we don’t just stop there.” . . .

“The fact that social decisions are influenced by facial morphology would be less troubling if it were a strong and reliable indicator of people’s underlying traits,” the researchers write in today’s article. “Unfortunately, careful consideration of the evidence suggests that it is not.”

The primary problem is that people feel they have this sense, and they ignore other relevant information, Olivola said. Politics is a great example. His research has shown that politicians whose facial structure is deemed to look more competent are more likely to win elections. (They use actual politicians in these studies. Fortunately for researches, Olivola noted, most Americans don’t know who most congressional candidates are.) But that sense of competence in a face amounts to nothing. “We really can’t make a statement on that,” he said. “What’s an objective measure of competence?” . . .

And, as you might expect about judgments based on expectations, the judgments we make about a person based on their facial appearance naturally would often be wrong.

Read the article. Both interesting and useful (if we learn how to desist from such judgments—it will  take practice, I’m sure).

Written by LeisureGuy

22 October 2014 at 2:32 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Comprehensive sex ed results in students postponing sex

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Will conservatives, on seeing the evidence, will strongly push for comprehensive sex education in schools? That remains to be seen, but I will bet heavily that they will ignore the evidence. Why would any rational person ignore evidence? Ah, now you’ve put your finger on it: any rational person. A rational person does not ignore evidence—at least that’s my definition of rationality: aligning your plans and programs so that they match reality. Others choose a different course.

Tara Culp-Ressler reports at ThinkProgress:

 Comprehensive sex ed classes that emphasize healthy relationships and family involvement can encourage more middle school students to put off having sex, according to the results from a new study published in the Journal of School Health. The results have big implications for school districts that are trying to decide what type of health classes to offer to kids in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades.

The three-year study was conducted by researchers at the Wellesley Centers for Women, who wanted to figure out whether Get Real — a comprehensive sex ed program developed by Planned Parenthood — has an impact on middle schoolers’ sexual behavior. In order to do that, the researchers tracked a group of racially and economically diverse kids at 24 different schools in the Boston area, half of which implemented Get Real and half of which continued with their existing sex ed programs. Kids were periodically surveyed about their sexual activity.

The results were “quite strong,” according to the lead researchers on the project. The study found that 16 percent fewer boys and 15 percent fewer girls became sexually active by the end of eighth grade after participating in Get Real, compared to the kids who didn’t participate in that curriculum.

It’s particularly significant that Get Real helped both girls and boys delay sex. The previous research into other sex ed programs has been mixed, and hasn’t been able to demonstrate such clear results for both genders.

“It’s certainly a very important and positive contribution,” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 October 2014 at 11:52 am

Posted in Daily life, Education, Science

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“Shaken-baby” syndrome: Bad science

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Interesting article by Lee Scheier in the Boston Globe, providing an example of how strongly prosecutors resist admitting error. From the article:

AFTER COMING under attack in an political ad for not doing enough to protect children, Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate for governor, defended her record. In a large above-the-fold photograph published in the Globe Oct. 3, Coakley is seen standing next to Deborah Eappen, mother of Matthew Eappen, the baby whom Louise Woodward was charged with shaking to death in 1997.

Coakley, the prosecutor in that infamous trial, set up the photo op ostensibly to remind the public of her commitment to protecting children. If so, Coakley must think Massachusetts voters have short memories.

Although Woodward was found guilty of second degree murder by the jury, trial judge Hiller Zobel reduced the sentence to manslaughter and set Woodward free. Zobel’s skepticism of the justice of Woodward’s murder conviction was prescient: Dr. Patrick Barnes, Coakley’s chief expert witness in the case, later publicly renounced his own trial testimony as based on flawed scientific assumptions.

And another brief article on Coakley, this one by Radley Balko. The conclusion of that article:

It’s probably not surprising, then, that as DA in Middlesex County, Coakley opposed efforts to create an innocence commission in Massachusetts, calling the idea “backward-looking instead of forward-looking.” Of course, that’s sort of the point — to find people who have been wrongfully convicted. So far, there have been at least 23 exonerations in Massachusetts, including several in Coakley’s home county.

I had my own exchange with Coakley in the letters section of The Boston Globe a few years ago over the issue of prescription pain medication. Coakley had told the paper that “accidental addiction” to opiate pain medications such as OxyContin was a common problem among chronic pain patients, despite considerable medical evidence to the contrary. Such wrongheaded statements by law enforcement officials and the policies that go with them are a big reason why doctors have become increasingly reluctant to treat pain patients. Coakley conceded that she’s “no medical expert” but then went on to question the body of medical literature showing accidental addiction to be a myth. Coakley cited only her own experience as a DA to contradict the litany of peer-reviewed medical research.

As a member of the Senate, not only would Coakley be creating new federal criminal laws; given her record as a prosecutor, there’s a good chance she’d serve on committees with oversight over the Justice Department and the judiciary. She’d also be casting votes to confirm or deny federal judicial appointments. Advocates for criminal justice reform should be wary. Coakley may share Kennedy’s opposition to the death penalty, but her record as a prosecutor leaves plenty of doubt about her commitment to justice.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 October 2014 at 12:47 pm

Politicians who cannot comment on climate change because they are “not a scientist” speak out about Ebola

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Inconsistency, thy name is Politician. Emily Atkin reports at ThinkProgress:

On Saturday, political blogger Lee Papa made an interesting observation about Republicans who widely recommend panicking about Ebola. “Does any Republican talking about Ebola say, “I’m not a scientist” like they do with climate change?” he tweeted, referencing the long list of political figures who claim to not know the science behind climate change, even though they actively oppose any policy to fight it.

On Monday, Papa answered the question for us with a resounding “no.” As might be expected, most prominent Republican politicians who are not willing to talk about climate change because they lack qualifications are willing to talk about Ebola, despite the fact that they lack qualifications. As might also be expected, all those politiciansfavor strict policy measures to deal with the disease, even though most scientists say Ebola is not easily transmittable and does not pose a widespread threat to Americans.

“Republicans are glad to tell you that either the evidence is inconclusive or that they are too dumb to understand the science when it comes to climate change, so they think it’s wrong to act like it’s a crisis and refuse to do anything to slow or halt it,” Papa writes at his blog Rude Pundit. “However, they will go bugnuts crazy and try to cause panic when it comes to the science around the spread of Ebola, even when they have it wrong.”

The list of perpetrators is long. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 4:09 pm

The Importance of Pets to Homeless Youth

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As you might expect, pets are very important.  Zazie Todd’s Pacific Standard article begins:

A research team led by Michelle Lem of the University of Guelph asked homeless young people (aged 18-24) what their pet means to them. Previous studies have focused on the benefits to homeless people of owning a dog or cat. The aim of this study was to get a balanced picture of both the advantages and disadvantages.

Ten homeless young people took part in in-depth interviews about their pet. Eight of them had a dog, and two had a cat but had previously had a dog while homeless. Most lived on the street or in a vulnerable housing situation (squatting/couch-surfing), and three had found stable housing.

The main theme to emerge was that of putting the animal first. Everyone in the study said they put their pet first, even if this meant suffering hardship themselves. For example, they would not take up housing if they could not bring the animal with them. This shows the value they place on the companionship they get. The authors point out that for some youth their relationship with their pet is the most meaningful relationship they have, and potentially the only loving relationship in their life. For example, one youth said, “My relationship with MacKenzie [the dog] … is the best I ever had.” . . .

Continue reading. This suggests that the need for a person to love some living thing—to observe it, get to know it, and keep it safe and take care of it—is a very strong need. People hunger to love something that will love them back.

It’s pretty easy to recognize that the homeless might enjoy the love they get from their pets, but I had not considered the importance to them of the love they give to their pets—and it’s a strong love: “Everyone in the study said they put their pet first, even if this meant suffering hardship themselves.”

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 1:41 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

‘Science is our best answer, but it takes a philosophical argument to prove that’

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Rebecca Goldstein is an interesting writer, and Andrew Anthony has a good column on her position regarding philosophy and science, a topic she has written some books about:

For some time now the discipline of philosophy has been under something of an assault from the world of science. Four years ago Stephen Hawking announced that philosophy was “dead”. He was referring specifically to the philosophy of science, which he said was still bogged down in epistemological questions from which science had moved on.

But philosophy in general has increasingly been viewed as irrelevant by many scientists. It’s a perspective that may be best summed up by the cosmologist Lawrence M Krauss, who has said: “science progresses and philosophy doesn’t”.

What’s more, science has begun to progress into areas previously occupied by philosophy and the humanities at large. These incursions have not gone unchallenged.

Last year the debate flared up in a much-publicised intellectual spat between the cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker and the cultural criticLeon Wieseltier, who accused Pinker and his fellow scientists of practising “scientism”, a term he defined as “the translation of nonscientific discourse into scientific discourse”.

“It is not for science to say whether science belongs in morality and politics and art,” wrote Wieseltier. To which Pinker replied: “It’s not for Leon Wieseltier to say where science belongs.”

Now into the fray, mounting a spirited defence of philosophy, steps the novelist and philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. And the philosopher she has selected to show the subject’s enduring relevance today is someone from the fifth century BC. In her new book, Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away, Goldstein draws on her talents both as an analytical thinker and a fiction writer to bring the founding father of philosophy into the 21st century.

Goldstein is the author of six novels, as well as studies of the mathematician Kurt Gödel and the philosopher Baruch Spinoza. Her fiction often features philosophical or scientific elements — for example 2000’s Properties of Light was a ghost story that took in quantum physics. She studied with the great philosopher of the mind Thomas Nagel at Princeton in the 1970s, where she gained her PhD. In 1996 she was awarded a “genius grant” from the MacArthur fellows programme.

Goldstein is a small woman with big ideas. In person she is almost doll-like, with fine, tiny bones, an elegant high forehead and an easy smile. There’s nothing about her manner – no lofty airs or scholarly posing – that suggests the formidable intellect at her disposal.

For not only is she able to deliver an exhilarating exposition of ancient Greek and Platonic thought, she also brings Plato back to life, by having him conduct a series of dialogues in current-day America. One moment he’s at Google’s headquarters holding forth on the limits of democratic wisdom, the next he’s discussing child-rearing with an Amy Chua-type tiger mother, before taking on an abrasive Fox News presenter much like Bill O’Reilly.

It’s an interesting conceit that Goldstein handles with wit and a deft appreciation of Plato’s thinking, though it does serve to make her book a curious hybrid. What gave her the idea?

“Well, the idea of the dialogues came later. The germ of the book was that my background is scientific. I take science extremely seriously. I started in physics. But so many of my scientific friends have been attacking philosophy. The theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg said that philosophy asks questions until the empirical methodology comes along, and now it’s coming to the terminus. And I believe this to be so very wrong.”

One of the intriguing footnotes of the science v philosophy debate is that Goldstein is married to Pinker. . .

Continue reading. Later in the column:

“There are two kinds of questions,” she says. “‘What is?’ and ‘What matters?’ And when it comes to descriptions of reality, ontology, I do think that science is our best answer, but I think it takes a philosophical argument to prove that. It’s an epistemological argument. You have to argue for scientific realism against instrumentalism, and that’s all philosophical stuff. But the upshot is that science provides the best description of what is: it’s energy and matter and genes and neurons. That’s what reality consists of. But the realm of philosophy is in trying to reconcile what science is telling us – which is why philosophers have to know science – with other intuitions we have, without which we can’t make sense of our lives. Like, for example, personal identity. Is there any room for that, given what neuroscience is telling us? Or questions of agency and accountability.”

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 11:12 am

Posted in Science


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