Category Archives: Politics

Are women more honest than men?

The journal Science recently published a fascinating article from Alain Cohn et al, which looked at cultural proclivities for civic honesty around the globe. They employed a rather ingenious method: they “lost” wallets all over the world and recorded when the receiver of the lost wallet attempted to return the wallet to its rightful owner. The wallets were fake and included a false ID of a person who appeared to be local to the country in which the wallet was lost, including fake contact info that actually belonged to the researchers. The ingenious element of the research was that instead of leaving the wallet out in the open, the research assistants actually pretended to have found the wallets in our nearby local businesses and turned in the wallet to somebody working in that business, thus enabling them to record interesting ancillary data on the “subject,” such as their age, if they had a computer on their desk, and whether or not the person was local to the country. Clearly, the researchers were hoping to engage in a little bit of data mining to ensure their not insignificant efforts returned some publishable results regardless of the main outcome.

As it turns out, they needn’t have been concerned. The level of civic honesty, as measured by wallet return rates, varied significantly between cultures. In addition, there is an interesting effect where the likelihood of the wallet being returned increased if there was more money in it, an effect that persists across regions and which was evidently not predicted by most economists. I encourage you to read the original article, which is fascinating. On the top end of the civic honesty scale are the Scandinavian and Northern European countries, with rates at around 75%. On the bottom end of the curve is China, with about 14%. In the case of China, all the study did was confirm what anybody who does business there knows, and something that has been well covered by journalists and completely ignored by our politicians: to the Chinese, not cheating is a sign you’re not trying hard enough.

Here’s where things get interesting: in keeping with modern scientific publishing standards, the researchers made their entire dataset available in an online data repository so that others could reproduce their work. There are a lot of interesting conclusions one can make beyond what the authors were willing to point out in their paper, perhaps due to the political implications and the difficulty of doing a proper accounting for all the possible biases. However, unburdened by the constraints of an academic career in the social sciences, I was more than happy to dig into the data to see what it could turn up…

Perhaps the most interesting thing I found is that women appear to be more honest than men. Over the entire world-wide dataset, women returned the wallets about 51% of the time, versus 42% for men. It is tempting to look at individual countries, but the male versus female difference is not statistically significant enough when looking at individual countries, so I chose to only look at the aggregate data. The data is not weighted by country population, so one should take the absolute magnitude of the difference with a bit of skepticism. However, looking at the individual country data it appears a proper accounting for population bias would likely maintain or increase the difference. (Some of the most populous countries had the largest difference between women and men.)

Worldwide, women appear to be statistically significantly more honest than men. Standard error was less than 1% for both cases.

Here is the full dataset of men versus women broken down by country. You can see that the most populous countries are those where women appear to be more honest than men, so fixing the chart above to account for sample bias would likely still find a significant difference.

Women appear to be more honest than men in most cultures, though the individual country results are not usually statistically significant.

Another interesting question to ask of the data is whether or not there is a generational difference in honesty. Surprisingly, the answer turns out to be that there’s not a statistically significant difference:

Age doesn’t appear to be a statistically significant predictor of honesty. Standard error was roughly 1%, so the difference shown is not meaningful.

Looking at the breakdown by country, we see that there are no big differences between the generations, with one exception that I’m not even going to try to explain:

It’s possible that the young are more honest than the old, but it doesn’t appear to be statistically significant except in one country.

One interesting set of issues that always comes up with population studies like this is what, if anything, should we do with this information? It is true that a Swedish woman is about eight times more civically honest, on average, than a Chinese man. That’s interesting, but also pretty dangerous information. Should this inform our immigration policy, where population statistics might actually be valid? Is it better to not even ask these questions given the abuse of the information that might result? Or, is it good to have this information, especially when it flies in the face of our image of ourselves and others? I suspect in the case of the US, most would be surprised to find out that the average US citizen is as honest as the average Russian. We may be surprised by both halves of that statement, and both might be good to think about.

Obama’s speech at Ebenezer Baptist Church

Here is a transcript of the speech given by Obama at Dr. King’s church in Georgia. This is taken from their website, where it is a bit buried, and I figure they won’t mind any extra exposure this can get. These days it’s pretty safe—trendy, even—to speak truth to power, but Obama is the first Democratic candidate I’ve ever seen who has the guts to speak truth to the people.

The Scripture tells us that when Joshua and the Israelites arrived at the gates of Jericho, they could not enter. The walls of the city were too steep for any one person to climb; too strong to be taken down with brute force. And so they sat for days, unable to pass on through.

But God had a plan for his people. He told them to stand together and march together around the city, and on the seventh day he told them that when they heard the sound of the ram’s horn, they should speak with one voice. And at the chosen hour, when the horn sounded and a chorus of voices cried out together, the mighty walls of Jericho came tumbling down.

There are many lessons to take from this passage, just as there are many lessons to take from this day, just as there are many memories that fill the space of this church. As I was thinking about which ones we need to remember at this hour, my mind went back to the very beginning of the modern Civil Rights Era.

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Army Strong*

I’m no peacenik, and my best guess at the truth is that war is sometimes a neccesary evil forced upon a nation by outside circumstance. If North Korea, for example, ever got ICBMs, I’d probably support the idea that maybe we should do something about it besides worry. Having said that, I’m a bit skeptical of the current set of ads running for the Army.

The target of the current ads are the clearly the parents of young men, a tell that the Army is running into problems recruiting young turks to fight over the objections of their parents. The central idea of the ads is that the Army will give them discipline, a sense of honor, and an inner strength, all things a parent wants to see in their children–the tagline is “You made them strong, we’ll make them Army Strong.” And I have no doubt that Army training makes one a better person. The problem is, sometimes Army Strong is led into battle by Yale Stupid, and then you get Army Dead, all for a reason nobody really understands.

How the hell is it that we can’t advertise erectile dysfunction pills on the TV without fifteen seconds of disclaimers about the possibility of sore eyelids, but the Army can advertise for a job that involves getting shot at, and they’re not required to put a single line of 8 point Helvetica at the bottom of the screen pointing out that your results may vary? I’d like to see the announcer have to rattle off something at the end like “Army Strong is not to be taken while pregnent or nursing. It may affect your ability to operate a motor vehicle, or anything else for that matter. Army Strong may get you killed in the event a demagogue fools congress into a poorly conceived war. Please consult a physician before joining, or if an election lasts longer than four weeks.

I have a lot of gratitude to the men who volunteer to fight for us, people who are made of tougher stuff than I, so I mean no disrespect to them by saying this. In fact, I say this because I don’t think we show them much respect by using glib Madison Avenue tactics to entice them to serve, or by calling upon their service so cheaply.

Sarkozy’s brilliant game with the unions

Sarkozy

Following up on my last posting about the brinksmanship of digital camera manufacturers, I think it only makes sense that we move on to discussing French politics. As the French transportation strike lumbers on into a second week, Sarkozy still has done nothing about it, leading to questions as to exactly what he’s up to. Given that he’s not known to take a low profile with regard to anything, let alone running the government, the only thing people are certain of is that he is up to something. One theory, as reported in Time, is that he’s simply letting the two sides soften each other up, watching how the negotiations play out before he steps in and saves the day with a compromise. Too boring to be a plausible explanation for politics in France, if you ask me.

While acknowledging that speculating about French labor policy is about the last thing I’m qualified to do, I think I have a good guess as to what he’s up to, and I hope I’m right. He’s not waiting for a compromise to present itself, he’s waiting so that the government doesn’t have to compromise. By letting the strike drag on, he’s letting the frustration of the people fester while they bike and walk and beg rides into work for weeks. Sarkozy knows that even the most hardened leftists get blisters. He is not going to act until he has the support of the people of France to hold a hard line against the strikers, and I doubt it will take much time for that to occur given the political climate for change and the shaky state of the financial system in Europe. Solidarity with the workers will soon start to soften, eventually giving way to outright resentment for bus drivers who are willing to compromise the livelihood of their fellow workers so that they can enjoy retirement perks not even well educated French white collar workers have. Égalité has its limits, even in France.

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