Wednesday, April 17, 2019

A wedding while expecting "twiblings"

The NY Times has a very 21st century wedding announcement, of two husbands who both wanted to be fathers. Read it all here and feel proud to be human:
And You Thought Your Family Was Modern

Here's the surrogacy bit:

"Dr. Luo, 40, known for his meticulous organizational skills, created a database to track the multiple agencies, fertility doctors, legal issues, egg donors and surrogates involved in fulfilling the couple’s dream of having children.

"However comprehensive, Dr. Luo’s document could not calculate the many emotional ups and downs on the San Francisco couple’s journey to parenthood.

"Yet if all goes as planned, come September, after three years, the involvement of three women, and a significant financial investment — about $300,000 — the couple will be changing diapers for two babies. A boy and a girl, conceived with eggs from the same donor, will each be tied biologically to one of the men. In today’s parlance, they’ll be “twiblings.

“We’re living our version of our parents’ American dreams,” said Dr. Luo..."

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Glitch in NYC high school admissions this year

An alert NYC parent points me to this account in the WSJ:

Top New York City School Makes Big Admissions Error
NYC Lab School had to rerank applicants after an error; no offers were rescinded
By Leslie Brody, Updated April 9

"A mistake in the city’s high-anxiety admissions process has led the New York City Department of Education to inform 144 students that they had erroneously been denied spots in a sought-after high school and that they have been admitted after all.
", a selective school, made an isolated error in ranking applicants and had to rerank them, a department spokesman said by email. He said no offers were being rescinded.
"The problem comes at a time of wrenching debate over the city’s admissions system for desirable schools and fair access to opportunity. Supporters say selective admissions enable strong students to attend rigorous schools. Chancellor Richard Carranza and many families have questioned the rationale for sorting students by academic ability in hundreds of public programs.

"Many parents also complain that the city’s method for matching students to schools lacks transparency, and many schools don’t publicize exactly how they rate students or the cutoff scores for admission.
"Mr. Goldberg, a member of District 2’s Community Education Council, an elected parent body, said the admissions mishap had ripple effects: Students mistakenly denied offers to Lab took spots at other high schools, edging out other students, who in turn ended up at choices lower on their preference lists. “You can’t really just have a surgical correction because everything is connected,” he said.

The department spokesman disputed that assertion, saying any one school had only a small number of students newly getting offers to Lab, and initial offers assumed there would be some attrition.

The department uses a computer algorithm to match students’ choices with schools’ rankings of applicants. Selective schools rank students by a mix of factors, such as course grades, state test scores and attendance records.

The problem at Lab came to light as some parents questioned why their children didn’t get spots, while peers with weaker academic records were admitted. The school’s principal didn’t respond to requests for comment.
"Last year, more than 3,300 students applied for 103 ninth-grade seats at Lab, by city data."

Monday, April 15, 2019

Interview with Preston McAfee on market design in tech firms

Econ focus, from the Richmond Fed, has an interview with Preston McAfee:

Fourth Quarter 2018, INTERVIEW
R. Preston McAfee
Article by: David A. Price

Here are two questions and answers, the first about market design, and the second about when it might be wise to avoid getting involved in it...

EF: In both your academic work and in your published work as a corporate economist, you've done a lot of research on market design, including auction design. And of course, you collaborated on the design of the FCC wireless spectrum auctions. What are some of the main things you've learned about designing markets?
McAfee: First, let's talk about just what market design is. It's a set of techniques for improving the functioning of markets. Specifically, it uses game theory, economic theory, experimental research, behavioral economics, and psychology, all of those disciplines, to make markets work better.
In politics, you have people who don't want to use markets, and then you have people who say just let the market do it — as if that didn't have any choices attached to it. But in fact, often how you make a market work determines whether it works well or poorly. Setting the rules of the game to make markets more efficient is what market design is all about. Thus, whether to hold an auction, whether to sell or lease, who bears responsibility for problems, and what information is communicated to whom are all questions answered by market design. At least four Nobel Prizes have gone for developments in this area.
One thing we learned is to design for mistakes by participants. People will make mistakes, and to encourage participation and efficient outcomes, it is desirable that those mistakes not be catastrophic.
Moreover, there is a trade-off between the potential efficiency of a market and the generation of mistakes. Give people the ability to express complex demands, for example, and the potential efficiency rises, because people can express exactly what they want. But the number of mistakes will rise as well, and the actual performance can decline. I often find myself supporting a simpler design for this reason; I push back on complexity unless that complexity buys a lot of efficiency.
When we designed the PCS [personal communications services] auctions, the spectrum auctions, we were aware that if you made them complicated, people weren't likely to function that well. We had empirical evidence of that.
Take a situation where you have seven properties up for auction. One regime is that I bid independently on each of the properties, and if I am the winning bidder on all seven, I get the seven. Another is to allow the bidder to submit a contingent bid — to say I only want all seven. That's called package bidding or combinatorial bidding. We were aware that in practice those don't work so well, because it winds up taking a long time to figure out who should win what.
But there is some potential loss from not having a package. Because if, let's say, I'm selling shoes, most people don't have much use for a single shoe. So you would not want to sell the shoes individually, even though there are a few people who want only the left shoe or the right shoe. And in fact, I am a person who would like to get different sizes in a left shoe and a right shoe. So there's this trade-off between simplicity, which makes it easier for most, and expressiveness. There is value in that simplicity not only in terms of getting to an answer more quickly, but also in helping bidders avoid mistakes.
Another example is a second-price auction, where you don't pay what you bid; if you're the highest bidder, you pay the second-highest bid, as opposed to paying your own bid. It has a certain resilience to it. There was a guy who actually submitted a bid that was 1,000 times higher than he intended. Just added three zeroes by accident. But in that auction, if you're paying not your bid but the next highest bid, it takes two to make the mistake in order for that to actually cause him to go broke. He wouldn't have gone broke under the second-price auction, whereas he would under the first-price auction. In that specific instance, we had put in a withdrawal rule that allowed him, at some penalty but not a ruinous penalty, to withdraw.

EF: Much of the economic research that has been publicly discussed by technology companies has focused on outward-facing decisions such as pricing and, as we discussed, market design. Are tech companies also using research to structure the incentives of their employees, and is there more they can be doing?
McAfee: I've hired a lot of people over the years, more than 50 anyway, probably more than 60. And among those have been several people, some quite distinguished economists, who decided that the first thing they wanted to do was get involved in compensation.
Your leverage regarding compensation is greatest in the sales force. If you've got a salaried engineer, let's say, there's not as much you can do. But in sales, the financial incentives are large and strong. I try to prevent economists on my teams from ever messing with sales force compensation, because there's no quicker way to be fired. The sales force is very persuasive. That's their job; they're supposed to be persuasive.
There was a case where we had an executive vice president come to us and say, "We really want to run some experiments and learn about the sales force." As I said, I did my best to keep my team out of such matters, but when management comes to me and asks for help, I feel I have to oblige. Not only that, I had people chomping at the bit wanting to get involved. We designed some incentives and then what happened next was fully predictable, which is that the EVP got fired. Fortunately, my team was safe because it hadn't come from them.
My teams have worked with HR on other issues. There's always some ongoing work with HR. It can be on promotion, recruiting, collaborating — anything but compensation.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Marketplace Innovation Workshop at Stanford, June 4-5

Here's the call for papers:

The Fifth Marketplace Innovation Workshop will take place at Stanford University on June 4 (afternoon) and June 5 (all day), 2019. The event is co-located with the INFORMS Revenue Management & Pricing Conference, which will take place on June 6 and 7.

Registration is now open, and will remain open until May 1. To register, please visit the event website at On our website, you will also find the list of plenary speakers and information about the Academia-Industry Forums we are piloting this year.

We hope to see you there,
Itai Ashlagi, Ramesh Johari, Ilan Lobel, Costis Maglaras and Gabriel Weintraub

Ilan Lobel
Associate Professor
Stern School of Business
New York University

Fifth Marketplace Innovation Workshop (MIW)

Stanford University, Stanford, California

Co-located with the INFORMS Revenue Management and Pricing Conference

June 4-5, 2019

Abstract submission deadlineMarch 1, 2019
Workshop registration deadlineMay 1, 2019


Itai Ashlagi, Management Science and Engineering, Stanford University
Ramesh Johari, Management Science and Engineering, Stanford University
Ilan Lobel, Stern School of Business, New York University
Costis Maglaras, Columbia Business School, Columbia University
Gabriel Weintraub, Graduate School of Business, Stanford University 


Plenary speakers

The workshop will have several invited distinguished plenary speakers from academia and industry, including:
  • Dirk Bergemann (Yale University)
  • Yash Kanoria (Columbia Business School)
  • Kevin Leyton-Brown (University of British Columbia)
  • Daniela Saban (Stanford Graduate School of Business)
  • Eva Tardos (Cornell University)
  • Adam Wierman (Caltech)
  • Catherine Williams (Xandr)

Auctions and Market Design Plenary Session

We are pleased to announce that the INFORMS Auctions and Market Design Section has organized a plenary session for the workshop with three distinguished speakers spanning a range of interests across auctions, market design, and the themes of the workshop:
  • Shmuel Oren (University of California, Berkeley)
  • David Pennock (Microsoft Research)
  • Rakesh Vohra (University of Pennsylvania)

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Nova Scotia moves towards presumed consent for organ donation

The CBC is following the story:
Nova Scotia's opt-out organ donation move sparks mixed reaction
Bioethicist wonders whether rule would fit Canada's multicultural society

"Nova Scotia's decision to make all adults in the province potential organ donors unless they opt out has sparked a backlash from some Canadians.

"The goal is to increase organ donations from deceased donors to save lives of more recipients. Nova Scotia is striving to raise donation rates above 20 per cent, levels found in European countries such as Spain, officials said. About 90 per cent of Canadians say they support organ and tissue donation but less than 20 per cent have made plans to donate.

"Under presumed consent, the default decision is to donate organs on death. But families would continue to be approached to confirm the donor's wishes, said Dr. Stephen Beed, medical director for Nova Scotia's critical care organ donation program.
"The question is whether it's a good fit for Canadian society, said Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist at the University of Toronto.

"My first concern would be, this is a multicultural society and there are cultures and religions that really have a lot of concern about either organ donation or the steps before organ donation or the definition of death," Bowman said.

"For instance, Bowman said, the Catholic Church is very supportive of organ donation but sees presumed consent as problematic because it reduces the autonomous decision to give."

Earlier from CBC:
Nova Scotia to become 1st in North America with presumed consent for organ donation.  Province will take 12 to 18 months after bill passes to prepare for changes

A related post

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Friday, April 12, 2019

"Abortion as a moral good" Opinion piece in the Lancet

The Lancet recently ran the following opinion piece, by a bioethicist at Northwestern University's medical school. It gives a sympathetic account of both the pro- and anti- abortion arguments, as she presents them to her medical students.

Abortion as a moral good
Katie Watson

Here's the first paragraph:

"My medical students first hear from a family physician who describes himself as pro-life. He's Christian, and his faith is “a large part of the reason” he refuses to perform abortions. “Christ says things like do to others what you want them to do to you, or love your neighbour as yourself, and when I'm in the room with a pregnant patient I think I have two neighbours in there”, he tells the second years. Then they hear from an obstetrician who specialises in abortion care. She too is a Christian, and some students look surprised when she says her religious beliefs are one reason she sought fellowship training in abortion. “Do unto others as you want done to you, always take care of your fellow man. When a woman needs help, I want to help her. So I take those sayings and teachings to mean that God would be very proud of me”, she explains. These two physicians then take questions together, interacting in a friendly way as each commends the other's deep commitment to patient care. Once they leave, I use the case studies they provided to focus attention on the medical ethics of conscientious refusal and conscientious provision of health care."

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Adoption, interracial adoption, and repugnance

The Washington Post looks back on the history of adoption. (Even adoption can arouse repugnance...):

A white couple, a mixed-race baby and a forbidden adoption
In 1966 in the nation’s capital, what Kara and Frank Speltz wanted to do simply wasn’t allowed.

"Longing for a child, the white couple, who were involved in the city’s civil rights struggles, began to research how they could adopt an African American child instead. A year after their wedding, they contacted D.C.’s Department of Public Welfare and Junior Village, the city’s overcrowded home for orphaned and destitute children. Both organizations turned them down, saying it was against their policies to allow adoptions between whites and blacks.
"In segregated, post-World War II America, children of color and mixed-race children were considered “hard to place” in adoption agency parlance. Most agencies at the time used a policy of “matching,” which required that children be placed with families who looked like them or came from the same racial, religious or ethnic backgrounds, according to Matine T. Spence, professor of history at the University of Iowa.

"Some white couples adopted Asian or Native American children, but whites officially adopting African American children were much rarer, Spence said. The first recorded case occurred in 1948 in Minnesota.

“Originally, the main impulse behind race matching in adoption was a white-supremacist, segregationist impulse,” Harvard Law School professor Randall Kennedy said in a 2003 Harvard Magazine interview.

"At the time, many states had miscegenation laws barring interracial marriage. Maryland even had a law until 1957 that said it was illegal for “a white woman to bear a child fathered by a negro.”

"Still, formal statewide bans on interracial adoption were rare, Kennedy told the magazine: “It was thought to be beyond discussion — it was so obviously wrong that there was no need for a law.”

"The District did not have an official law on the books. either. But because interracial adoption was considered so taboo, private and public agencies and judges, which had the authority to approve or reject adoptions, enforced an unwritten policy to bar it, Spence said.
"n 1969, there were 4,336 black children placed for adoption in the United States, with 1,447 of them placed with white families. In 1971, 7,420 African American children were adopted, with 2,574 placed with white families.

Interracial adoption was — and remains — controversial in the United States.
In 1972, the National Association of Black Social Workers asserted that such arrangements constituted a form of “cultural genocide.”

“With that condemnation, the number of white-black adoptions quickly plummeted, according to Kennedy’s 2003 book, “Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity, and Adoption.”