Tag Archives: Economics

My 2017 Rational Thinking Book of the Year

3 Dec

At the beginning of 2017, having been bed-ridden with pneumonia, I discovered the wonderful world of podcasts. I’ll write a separate post about why I love podcasts, and what my favourite ones are, but this is the story of a book I discovered after listening to an episode of the excellent Freakonomics Radio podcast.

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In this particular Freakonomics Radio episode, Stephen Dubner interviewed the economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz about his work and his new book “Everybody Lies: What the internet can tell us about who we really are”

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If you’ve read anything else on this blog, you’ll know that I’m fascinated by behavioural economics, and Stephens Davidowitz’s work in particularly interesting as during his economics PhD he hit on the idea of using Google Searches to study human behaviour. If you listen to the podcast you’ll get a good feel of the idea, but put simply, it addresses two problems that dog a lot of psychology research. Firstly, Google’s almost monopoly position means that they have an enormous volume of data from populations all over the world (addressing psychology’s issues both with relatively small samples and over reliance on student participants), and secondly people’s on-line behaviour is more reflective of their actual views than might be the case in face-to face discussion (The ‘social acceptability’ problem). Stephens-Davidowitz nicely illustrates this point with is discussion of racism. In traditional face-to face psychology research it is very unlikely that participants will explicitly express racist views, and yet by looking at Google searches for obviously racist terms one can access a sea of information that would be otherwise hidden.

“Everybody Lies” is written in an entirely accessible style, so would be comprehensible for a non-social scientist, but I’d hugely recommend it to anyone interested in psychology, sociology or indeed politics. Indeed, given the omnipresence of Google it maybe ought to be required reading for anyone interested in the future and the currently fashionable topic of ‘big data’. Certainly, if your looking for a Christmas present for anyone of an ‘academic’ disposition this is the book to go for.

Finally, for the more scientifically inclined, my own conclusion from reading ‘Everybody Lies’, was that there maybe a paradigm shift coming in how science works. I’ve grow up with the idea that science begins with ‘theory’, and one collects data to test that ‘theory’. My thought was that ‘big data’ does away with theory i.e if we can conclusively demonstrate from the data that A is related to B do we any longer need to thing about WHY A might be related to B ? As it turns out this is not the most original of thoughts, but is is intriguing to think that in the future scientists job might be the ‘why’ part of the question, because ‘big data’ analysts will already have demonstrated the ‘what’.

 

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The start of a new year, and my mind turns to economics (in praise of @TimHarford)

17 Sep

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In a couple of weeks time our new academic year begins, and for the first time I’ll be teaching a year-long rational thinking course to our new undergraduate students. This doubling of the length of my course has forced me to think about that I want to spend more time on, or address for the first time.

I’ve written elsewhere about my surprise that so few undergraduate psychology programmes address ‘religion’, so for the first time this year I’ll include a ‘psychology of religion lecture’, and given that this first running of the new course will finish at the time of a UK general election, I’ll also include. ‘The psychology of politics’ for the first time, however the thing that is really interesting me at the moment is economics. One of my great thinking heros, Jim Flynn, has written about the laws of  ‘supply and demand’ being one of the key ideas that people should grasp, but I’m going to try a different tack from just teaching introductory economics.

Tim Harford wrote a column in the Financial Times for many years called ‘The Undercover Economist’, and has now written a serious of books applying economic theory to everyday life. He also maintains an excellent website that is a great source of teaching examples. The nice thing about Harford’s work is that he uses everyday examples like ‘Why is coffee so expensive in Starbucks’ or ‘Why do shops have sales’ and manages to work in complex economic ideas without the reader really noticing. He can also be found on Twitter @TimHarford, well worth a ‘Follow’

The great thing about Harford’s work is that it gives you loads of teaching ideas, for example I shall be sending this article about the impact of increased sentences after the London 2011 riots to my Forensic Psychology colleagues.

 

 

 

 

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