Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Multiple publication and plagiarism in economics journals

An unusual insight into the culture of academic publication comes in a recently published letter from David Autor, the editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives to a famous economist who published an article there that was substantively identical to papers he had published elsewhere.

David Autor writes:
"...There is a very substantial overlap between these articles and your JEP publication. Indeed, to my eye, they are substantively identical. Based on discussions with the editors of these journals, we have confirmed that the JEBO article was in press and the R&S article under review while your article was under revision for JEP. At the time we accepted your paper for JEP, we could not readily have learned of these two overlapping articles since they were at the time unpublished. Further obscuring the links among these articles is the fact that none of your four articles cites any of the other three. Had you chosen to inform us of the JEBO and R&S articles prior to the publication of your JEP article, we would of course have no grounds for complaint. In that case, however, we would not have published your article.

"We view your publication of this substantive material in multiple journals simultaneously as a violation of the spirit of the editorial agreement with American Economic Association that you signed in the winter of 2010, which states "The Author(s) warrant(s) that the above-named manuscript is his or her own original work of authorship and has not been published previously." The AEA does not intend to pursue legal action against you for violation of copyright. However, we find your conduct in this matter ethically dubious and disrespectful to the American Economic Association, the Journal of Economic Perspectives and the JEP's readers..."

The letter from Autor is followed by a letter of apology from the senior author of the papers in question, Zurich's Professor Bruno Frey.
"...It was a grave mistake on our part for which we deeply apologize..."

RePEc maintains a plagiarism page on which it includes links to offending authors and some of the case material, including the present case.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

More on the taking of photos

Here are two followups on my earlier post today on British Airways' claims about photographs. The first via Paola Manzini, concerns US Airways' similar claims. The second, via Ben Edelman, concerns a very recent court victory in the U.S. by the ACLU, regarding citizens' rights to photograph police officers.

Woman thrown off U.S. Airways flight for taking a picture of rude air steward's name tag.
"A photographer was thrown off a U.S. Airways flight and branded a security risk after she took a photo of a rude air steward's name tag so she could complain about her."

A Victory for Recording in Public!
"The CMLP is thrilled to report that in the case of Glik v. Cunniffe, which the CMLP has blogged previously and in which the CMLP attempted to file an amicus brief, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has issued a resounding and unanimous opinion in support of the First Amendment right to record the actions of police in public."

British Airways Conditions of Carriage

A disturbing incident at British Airways raises interesting questions about their Conditions of Carriage, the fine-print online contract that you and they enter into when you buy a ticket. (In many markets what is bought and sold is at least partly a legal contract.)

To make a long story short, we were accosted in the public (pre-security) area of London's Heathrow airport by a bizarrely aggressive BA employee who declined to identify himself. I took his picture. When I was about to board the plane an hour and a half later, I was asked to step aside, where another BA employee told me that photographing BA employees was forbidden, and it was a condition of carriage that I delete the photo.

I have not been able to find that clause in the published COC, and have written to BA for clarification.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Conference on Frontiers in Market Design

Bettina Klaus has announced two conferences on market design. The one that is imminent is

Market Design Workshop on September 14th, 2011, Maastricht University, The Netherlands:
The speakers are Bettina KlausFlip KlijnScott Duke KominersMorimitsu KurinoAlexey KushnirMarkus Walzl, and Alexander Westkamp. The workshop program and abstracts of presented papers can be downloaded here:Workshop Program and Abstracts of Presented Papers

And here's a "pre-announcement" of one in May...

Frontiers in Market Design: Matching Markets
May 20 – 23, 2012
Centro Stefano Franscini (, MonteVerità, CH

"Dear colleagues,

Together with Itai Ashlagi, Péter Biró, Federico Echenique, Flip Klijn, and Alvin Roth, I am planning a conference on Market Design with a focus on Matching Markets at a very nicely located Swiss conference centre.

We aim to organize a worthy follow-up to the conference that celebrated the 20th anniversary of Two-Sided Matching: A Study in Game-Theoretic Modeling and Analysis by Alvin Roth and Marilda Sotomayor ( We hope to bring together researchers from different fields (economics, computer science, etc.) and attract many young researchers.

With this pre-announcement, we would like to see how many participants we might be able to count on (we will be able to accommodate up to 22 talks). The reason for this unorthodox procedure is that I will have to make a reservation of the conference room and of the needed accommodation capacity at the Conference Centre hotel well in advance (with penalties applying if the reserved capacities are left unused).

Depending on the exact number of participants, the conference fee will amount to about 800 CHF (this conference fee includes the accommodation for 3 nights at Hotel Monte Verità and full board during the conference). Unfortunately, this currently amounts to almost 1000$ (the Swiss Franc is quite strong). We did not yet succeed in obtaining further funding for the conference that would allow us to subsidize the on-site costs), but we are still working on that. If you can think of any funding opportunity we might be able to apply for, please let me know.

In order for us to facilitate the conference planning and later also reserve the corresponding conference room and conference accommodation, I would like to ask you to send an e-mail to me (Bettina Klaus at before October 1st indicating the following:

(A) You are very likely to attend this conference (this would be an indication for me to count you as a participant of the conference for the conference room and accommodation reservation).

(B) You are very interested in attending this conference, but not sure yet (I can then keep you informed via a conference mailing list).

(C) You are not likely to attend the conference. In this case, no need to send an e-mail (you will not receive further mailings concerning the conference).

Thanks a lot & have a great (remaining) summer,
Bettina et al."

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Transplant organs from executed prisoners

In another sign of what constitutes a repugnant transaction, the American Journal of Transplantation now has this notice on its "Instructions to Authors" page:

"New Policy Effective May 2011
AJT will not accept manuscripts whose data derives from transplants involving organs obtained from executed prisoners. Manuscripts writing about this practice (e.g. an editorial or a report recounting the secondary consequences of this practice) may be considered at the discretion of the Editorial Board, but require a written appeal to the Board prior to submission of the manuscript."

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Breast milk

The barriers to sale of human breast milk seem to be falling. Duncan Gilchrist points me to this article in Wired: Liquid Gold: The Booming Market for Human Breast Milk, which reports a booming private market, at high prices.

"Most body fluids, tissues, and organs—semen, blood, livers, kidneys—are highly regulated by government authorities. But not breast milk. It’s considered a food, so it’s legal to swap, buy, or sell it nearly everywhere in the US. This accounts, in part, for the widely varying quality and safety standards in the online market for milk. For their part, Prolacta and nonprofit milk banks have rigorous screening processes for potential donors, including tests for drugs, hepatitis, and HIV. But Only the Breast and the volunteer sites, which see themselves more as communities than commodity markets, don’t screen donors or assume responsibility for the milk they help disseminate."

Friday, August 26, 2011

Market design courses in Boston this semester

Boston is humming with market design courses.

Tayfun Sonmez will be offering an undergraduate course on market design at Boston College: Advanced Microeconomic Theory (T Th 13:30 - 14:45 AM).
There's no web site, but the course focuses on various aspects of matching, including some of Tayfun's latest work.

Susan Athey will be offering an undergrad course on market design at Harvard:
Economics 1056: Market Design Harvard College/GSAS: 69207 Fall 2011-2012   Location: Sever Hall 106, Meeting Time: Tu., Th., 2:30-4

Ben Edelman and Peter Coles will be offering an MBA course at HBS,

Intended primarily for MBA’s.  Has one module firmly grounded in market design: 
“Monetization and Market Design: What structures, rules, and incentives create a well-functioning online ecosystem? We examine review and reputation systems, dynamic marketplace pricing, and institutions to create a safe environment for users, while at the same time protecting a site from liability.”

Peter Coles and I will be giving a graduate course on market design at Harvard:
Economics 2056a: Market Design  Harvard College/GSAS: 3634, Fall 2011-2012, Location: Littauer Center M-16, Meeting Time: F., 9-12

And next semester, Parag Pathak will be offering an undergrad course in market design at MIT.

Update: and Sven Seuken points out that David Parkes at Harvard is offering "Economics and Computation" in Computer Science this Fall. It will touch on a couple of market design topics:

Thursday, August 25, 2011

School choice in New York City

Thomas Toch and Neil Dorosin write about New York City high school choice in Education Week: NYC Program Means Real Public School Choice for Students

"New York’s ambitious high school selection system isn’t perfect. But it has liberated thousands of students from failing neighborhood high schools, transformed the city’s high school principals from bureaucrats to entrepreneurs, improved the perception of public schools among middle-class families...
"Of the small number of cities that permit students to select their public schools, most make school choice optional and relatively few families participate. New York City has taken the bold step of requiring rising 9th graders to select their high schools, a strategy that has created a far more vibrant public school marketplace than exists anywhere else in the country. "

(And here's our latest paper on that...
Abdulkadiroglu, Atila, Parag A. Pathak, and Alvin E. Roth, "Strategy-proofness versus Efficiency in Matching with Indifferences: Redesigning the NYC High School Match,'' American Economic Review, 99, 5, Dec. 2009, pp1954-1978.)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Poker refugees

April 15, 2011 has come to be known as Black Friday by online poker players in the U.S. On that day, indictments were issued against major offshore sites, PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker, for violating U.S. anti-gambling laws. An unknown but nontrivial number of Americans had made their living playing on those sites. Now, if they wish to continue playing, they must do so from overseas.

Consequently, a new class of migrant workers has developed, and a service has grown up to help them relocate: Poker refugees.

Here's a story about it: US poker players turned into refugees by online gaming ban

"American card players are hardly a high priority for humanitarian organisations protecting the rights of the world's imperilled communities. But such is the current plight of professional poker players in the United States, where online poker has been all but illegal since April, that a new service launched last week offering to relocate beleaguered card players to "poker-friendly countries" around the world.

"The service, called Poker Refugees, was launched in response to the US Department of Justice's clampdown on online poker operators earlier this year, which effectively enforced prohibition on online poker in the US. On what has become known in the industry as "Black Friday", the three biggest poker sites in the world were closed to US traffic and their executives indicted by the FBI on numerous charges, including money laundering and bank fraud.

"The operators have since either ceased trading or closed their doors to American customers, leaving thousands of professional players without income unless they dramatically change their circumstances.

"They're not moving outside of the US because they want to go on vacation, or because they want to pay less taxes," said Kristin Wilson, a real-estate agent based in Costa Rica, and a partner in Poker Refugees. "They're moving because they have to keep their job, keep their career and support their families."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Child marriage

Child marriage by very young children is under discussion again in Saudi Arabia, the Wall Street Journal reports. Part of the issue is just how young should count as young: Cleric Fights Saudi Bid to Ban Child Marriages

"RIYADH, Saudi Arabia—A senior Saudi cleric issued a religious ruling to allow fathers to arrange marriages for their daughters "even if they are in the cradle," setting up a confrontation between government reformers and influential conservative clergy.

"Sheik Saleh al-Fawzan, one of the country's most important clerics, issued the ruling after the Justice Ministry said this month it would act to regulate marriages between prepubescent girls and men in the Islamic kingdom.
"The fatwa marks the second time in a year that religious authorities have knocked back a government initiative to move forward on social issues involving women.

"Last year, King Abdullah bin Abdelaziz al-Saud pushed for higher female employment, suggesting that women ought to be allowed to work as supermarket cashiers, only for the job to be ruled off-limits to the gender by the Grand Mufti, the country's highest religious leader.

"In the conservative Islamic kingdom, women aren't allowed to drive and can't work, travel abroad or undergo surgery without the permission of a male relative.
"Saudi media reported that the Justice Ministry would push ahead with setting a minimum age for marriage, despite the fatwa. The ministry couldn't be reached to comment for this article.

"In recent months, a spate of stories about young Saudi girls being forced by their fathers to marry middle-age men for lavish dowries or other personal gains has prompted editorials in local media denouncing the practice and calling for change.

"In April, the English-language Arab News reported that a court granted a 12-year-old girl a rare divorce from her 80-year-old husband, who had paid her father a dowry of 85,000 Saudi riyals, or $23,000.
""Scholars have agreed that it was permissible for fathers to marry off their young daughters, even if they are in the cradle," Sheik Fawzan wrote in his fatwa. "But it isn't permissible for their husbands to have sex with them unless they are capable of being placed beneath and bearing the weight of the men."

"He cited the example of the prophet's wife Aisha, who he said was wed at the age of six, but didn't have sex until she was nine.

"Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti said in 2009 that it was acceptable for girls aged 10 and above to marry."

Monday, August 22, 2011

Marriage supply and demand, and equilibrium behavior

Two recent posts caught my eye. The first, by Robert Frank in the NY Times, speculates on how the baby boom may have changed sexual mores in the U.S., and reports on a recent article about the imbalance of men and women in China and the behavioral changes this may be causing: Supply, Demand and Marriage .

The second, by Ralph Richard Banks in the WSJ, speaks about the marriage behavior of black men and women in the U.S., and relates it to the reluctance of black women to marry non-black men, and their resulting shortage of marriage partners: An Interracial Fix for Black Marriage

Here's Frank:
"In the United States, the end of World War II and the return of millions of troops set off the baby boom. In the second half of the 1940s, the population swelled by almost 14 percent, versus growth of less than half of 1 percent during the first half of the decade. By the mid-1960s, many of those babies were reaching the traditional marriage age.

"At the time, it was American custom for women to marry men several years older than themselves. In a typical wedding in 1969, for example, the bride might have been born in 1947 and the groom in 1943. Because of that custom, women at the leading edge of the baby boom confronted a significant shortfall of potential marriage partners.
""Before the 1960s, cultural norms encouraged celibacy before marriage. The breakdown of those norms has been widely attributed to the introduction of oral contraception...
"The supply-and-demand model bolsters the skeptics’ concerns. ... The sexual revolution, which bent cultural norms toward male preferences, may thus be partly explained by the excess demand for grooms in the 1960s."

And here's Banks:
"Nearly 70% of black women are unmarried, and the racial gap in marriage spans the socioeconomic spectrum, from the urban poor to well-off suburban professionals. Three in 10 college-educated black women haven't married by age 40; their white peers are less than half as likely to have remained unwed.

"What explains this marriage gap? As a black man, my interest in the issue is more than academic.
"Black women confront the worst relationship market of any group because of economic and cultural forces that are not of their own making; and they have needlessly worsened their situation by limiting themselves to black men. I also arrived at a startling conclusion: Black women can best promote black marriage by opening themselves to relationships with men of other races.
"Part of the problem is incarceration. More than two million men are now imprisoned in the U.S., and roughly 40% of them are African-American. At any given time, more than 10% of black men in their 20s or 30s—prime marrying ages—are in jail or prison.
Educationally, black men also lag. There are roughly 1.4 million black women now in college, compared to just 900,000 black men. By graduation, black women outnumber men 2-to-1. Among graduate-school students, in 2008 there were 125,000 African-American women but only 58,000 African-American men. That same year, black women received more than three out of every five law or medical degrees awarded to African-Americans.

"These problems translate into dimmer economic prospects for black men, and the less a man earns, the less likely he is to marry. That's how the relationship market operates. Marriage is a matter of love and commitment, but it is also an exchange. A black man without a job or the likelihood of landing one cannot offer a woman enough to make that exchange worthwhile.

"But poor black men are not the only ones who don't marry. At every income level, black men are less likely to marry than are their white counterparts. And the marriage gap is wider among men who earn more than $100,000 a year than among men who earn, say, $50,000 or $60,000 a year.

"The dynamics of the relationship market offer one explanation for this pattern. Because black men are in short supply, their options are better than those of black women. A desirable black man who ends a relationship with one woman will find many others waiting; that's not so for black women."

HT: Sangram Kadam

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Kieran Healy on markets for organs

Kieran Healy is profiled at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, answering the question "Should there be a market for human organs?"

"In the end, there is less of a division between gift-giving and market exchange than we might think. Incentives are not incompatible with the kind of moral obligations associated with donation. We may wish for a bright line between virtuous gifts and selfish markets, but the boundary is constantly crossed, in both directions.

"For example, gifts can be easy vehicles for getting people in your debt, or obtaining something for free, and people calculate very precisely what the “right” amount to spend on a present is when birthdays or holidays come around. On the other hand, markets routinely have strongly moralized aspects, as we take care to pay people in ways that signal our esteem for them. We discreetly reimburse people for their time, or give them an honorarium, say, rather than paying them in cash by the hour.

"A lawful market in organs would probably be considered more legitimate if it resembled a gift exchange, as we see already taking place in the case of human eggs, where the language of donation predominates even though the eggs are bought and sold and prices are widely advertised. However, even today, with the exception of kidneys, you can’t get a transplant unless you have the insurance to pay for it, despite others’ willingness to donate their organs. So why should people feel any obligation to give to a system that serves those who need it so poorly?"

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Dynamic Games and Applications: Special Issue on Stochastic Games

Dynamic Games and Applications Special Issue on Stochastic Games

Guest Editors: Andrzej Nowak, Eilon Solan, Sylvain Sorin

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the seminal paper of L.S. Shapley in 1953, Dynamic Games and Applications will publish in 2013 a special issue on stochastic games.

Shapley’s Stochastic Games paper has had a tremendous scientific impact, and there is still a
very active research on this area, and in particular in:
• zero‐sum repeated games and Shapley operator, asymptotic and uniform approach
• games with signals and link to incomplete information games
• non zero ‐ sum games : asymptotic and uniform approach
• Nash and correlated equilibria
• link with quitting and stopping games
• infinite stochastic games
• algorithms and dynamics for stochastic games
• applications in, e.g., biology, computer science, economics, finance, transportation

The special issue welcomes submissions from theoreticians and applied researchers working on all aspects of stochastic games, as well as on their applications in all fields.

Submission Deadline: March 2012
Publication Date: March 2013 (first issue of Volume 3 of DGAA)

For submission instructions, please visit:

Friday, August 19, 2011

Will bullfighting become repugnant in Spain?

The Guardian reports: Bullfighting saved from the sword as Spain rules it is an artistic discipline: Socialist government says ministry of culture will be responsible for development and protection of controversial sport

"Prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's socialist government announced that the ministry of culture will from now on be responsible for the "development and protection" of bullfighting, which previously fell within the remit of the interior ministry.

"The move follows pressure from bullfighting organisations keen to protect their livelihood following a controversial vote to ban bullfighting in the Catalonia region last year."
"Animal rights campaigners say bullfighting only survives because it is subsidised by the Spanish taxpayer. Attendances are falling, its appeal has faded among younger Spaniards and the industry has been hit by the economic crisis. The number of bullfights taking place at local fiestas has diminished as spending cuts have been enforced.

"The Catalan regional government voted to ban bullfighting in the northeastern region last July, by 68 votes to 55, with nine abstentions, on the grounds it is cruel and outdated. The vote was held after campaign group Prou! (Enough! in Catalan) collected 180,000 signatures in favour of a ban.
"The ban, which will come into effect next January and will not be affected by Friday's decision, will be the first to be introduced in mainland Spain. The Canary Islands outlawed bullfighting in 1991.

"A poll last year for the newspaper El País found 60% of Spaniards did not enjoy bullfighting, but 57% disagreed with the ban in Catalonia."

HT: Itai Ashlagi

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Misc. kidney exchange

A nondirected donor chain in Israel, apparently the first: 1st-ever ‘domino triple kidney-pair exchange’ saves 3 lives

"Prof. Eitan Mor, who heads the transplant department, said that domino kidney exchanges have been performed in the US, Australia, Holland and Taiwan, with data banks to coordinate details of would-be donors and recipients to facilitate swaps. Now Israel, through Beilinson, has begun to build such a data bank, with Dr. Ruth Rahamimov and Rahel Michovitz in charge of it."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The resale market for babies

The BBC reports: Indonesian babies held hostage by unpaid midwives

"There are lots of cases where, if the mother can't pay, the baby becomes the property of the hospital," says Mr Sirait. "They then believe they have the right to sell the baby to someone else."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sperm banks

What rules should govern sperm banks? Donors may desire anonymity, but children conceived with donated sperm may seek to learn about their biological fathers, and both the children and society in general has an interest in preventing unintentional marriage of half siblings.

Haaretz reports Health Ministry preparing new regulations for Israeli sperm banks

"The regulations will require more detailed family histories from donors and those seeking a donation; limit the number of possible children from each donor; restrict donors to using just one sperm bank; and ban the practice of sperm mixing (in which more than one person's sperm is used).
""Israel has had 15 sperm banks, 13 of them public and two private, but only seven are still active. Sperm samples are not included among the standard healthcare services and the prices of imported sperm samples can cost hundreds of dollars (up to five times more expensive than sperm frozen in the country ). Despite the price gap sperm imports have been on the rise, especially for religious women, who have been advised by their rabbis to get a donation from abroad to avoid the slightest risk of unintentional incest."

Monday, August 15, 2011

The winner's curse: auction activist receives prison term

In 2008 I blogged about an environmental activist who disrupted an oil and gas auction by submitting some winning bids. Now he's been sentenced to prison:

Environmental Activist Tim DeChristopher Sentenced to Prison, Tells the Court, "This Is What Hope Looks Like"

The subheadline is "In these times of a morally bankrupt government that has sold out its principles, this is what patriotism looks like." Read his words to the court."

They are worth reading.

HT: Yün-ke Chin-Lee 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Unraveling of college football recruiting

Two articles on unraveling in college football recruiting:
Timing is everything with offers: How programs wrestle between getting evals while also making prospects feel wanted

"While coaches like Dooley face challenges to offer early in a prospect's junior year, other coaches have to ramp it up even further. Georgia coach Mark Richt said not offering an in-state prospect can put the Bulldogs in a permanent trail position for a prospect.
"Our biggest problem at Georgia is trying to make those evaluations properly and making those offers," Richt said. "It does put pressure on us sometimes to offer a guy a bit sooner than you'd like to. I think everybody across the board has to project a little more. You have to hope that we've made the right projection.
"If you get your class nailed down a year in advance and all of a sudden some of those guys didn't keep progressing like you thought and some other guys came up, [you say] 'Man, I wish I had waited and offered that kid because I like this guy better than I like that guy.' Some people find a way to dump that guy and take that [other] guy. At Georgia, if we offer and he commits to us, we're not dumping him."


Iowa recruit not old enough to drive (HT: David Backus)
"Football programs are increasingly entering the territory of basketball scholarship offerings. John Allen was told twice last week Iowa was on the verge of offering his son Brian a football scholarship. John Allen didn't believe it either time. Brian Allen was after all only a high school freshman and had never played varsity football. But on Monday, John Allen called Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz as he was advised, and Ferentz confirmed that he would like to extend a scholarship offer to Brian Allen. "We're all kind of amazed by it," John Allen said. "I don't think it's sunk in yet. He's 15 years old. He can't drive a car yet, etc."

One impetus behind the unraveling of markets is that people make early offers to avoid being left behind as others make even earlier offers. As Yogi Berra said (in a different context), "it gets late early out there."

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Unraveling of law firm recruiting

The WSJ reports on the continuing unraveling of recruiting by large law firms, which reports how much of the critical hiring for positions beginning in September, 2013 is going on right now: Law Schools Push Recruiters

"Thousands of interviews for jobs at law firms are taking place now as top law schools, under mounting pressure to help indebted students snag jobs, increasingly push major law firms to recruit in August, months earlier than in previous years.
"Law firms follow an unusual tradition of recruiting the lawyers they eventually plan to hire two years in advance. For example, they are interviewing second-year law students now for summer associate positions that start in May or June 2012. At the end of the 2012 summer, the firms expect, they will then invite almost all the summer hires to work full-time as junior lawyers, likely starting in September 2013.
"By forcing the big firms to recruit in August, rather than as late as the end of October, as in previous years, law schools are hoping to give their students an edge in the competition. "There was a race to the front of the line by law schools," said Keith Wetmore, whose title is chair of Morrison & Foerster LLP, which is sending partners to 28 campuses this month to recruit students for its 2012 summer associate class.

"In 2000, for instance, seven law schools held their interviewing weeks in August. By 2009, the number had increased to more than 70, and this year, the figure will top 100, according to Mark Weber, assistant dean for career services at Harvard Law School.

"During the market crash of 2008, both Harvard and Yale law schools "went essentially last" in the recruiting season, with their interview weeks in September and October. "Their students did get hurt, and got fewer offers," said James G. Leipold, executive director of NALP. "Our students still had great jobs, but you do even better when you're at the beginning of the [recruiting] process than the end," Harvard's Mr. Weber said. A spokeswoman for Yale Law School said she couldn't comment.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Kidney donation: the question of coercion

One of the things that makes selling kidneys repugnant to many is the intuition that, if kidneys could be sold, poor people might feel coerced to sell.

Of course, removing money from the transaction doesn't necessarily remove coercion. When a transplant center evaluates a living donor, one of the things it tries to determine is if the donor is really willing. Families, of course, can exert coercion.  Here's a recent advice column from the Washington Post...Family plays 'please pass the kidney'

One of my in-laws needs a new kidney. She will be undergoing the transplant process soon. Her family wanted me to give her one of my kidneys. My family said no to this, and so I did not get tested beyond the blood test (we are the same blood group). Now my in-laws are angry and have stopped talking to me.

"I would like to know how my sick relative is doing, but I don’t know what to say when I call, or whether I should call.

"In the past they have said horrible things to me because I did not donate my kidney; it seems now that our long friendship is meaningless.

"I still care for her and her family, but how do I let them know that I am thinking about them? I know if I try to call, the woman who is getting the transplant will say nasty things to me. What should I do? --


Amy's reply seems sensible enough under the circumstances:

"DEAR UPSET: If donating an organ is what it takes to get in good with your in-laws, then their standards are a tad unreasonable.

"I assume there are other dynamics at play which created this pressure on you, but if you are eager to reach this in-law but don’t want to risk the verbal backlash, then the best way to do so is through a greeting card.

"When you send a message through the mail, you lessen the opportunity for back talk."

HT: Dr. Scott Kominers

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The opposite of price gouging: UK riot edition

UK riots: Amazon withdraws truncheons after bumper sales: Sales of baseball bats, Kubotans and other self-defence items soar inaftermath of rioting in English cities

HT: Chris Masse

Misc. repugnant transactions

A challenge to Canada's laws against assisted suicide:
  Group pushing B.C., Ottawa for the right to have planned suicides

"In Canada, the Criminal Code makes it an offence to help with suicide, punishable by a term of up to 14 years.

"But the Farewell Foundation is trying to have the law declared unconstitutional, with lawyer Jason Gratl arguing that it violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"The criminal prohibition on assisted suicide in Canada causes immeasurable physical and psychological suffering to persons of sound mind who are capable of making informed decisions and who wish to end their own lives in order to avoid that suffering,” states an affidavit filed by Mr. Ogden. “This suffering is certain and it is as extreme as any suffering humanity must endure. This case tests whether Parliament is entitled to cause such suffering to the people of Canada.”

Ynet reports on a call by religious Israeli women for renewed polygamy.

"The ads distributed in the synagogues appeared in the "Shabbat B'Shabbato" weekly bulletin. They encourage Jewish Sephardic men to return to the ancient custom, and include a quote from a halachic paper written by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef several years ago, which does not rule out the polygamy phenomenon: "Courts imposing aggravated punishments on Sephardim over this matter are wrong."
"The Srugim website revealed that the ads were funded by a group of single religious women who have given up on finding a match.

"One of the women, 39, said: "I am a single religious woman who is afraid of losing the ability to become a mother." She added that there were 27 other women like her who would be happy to marry a married man."


The WSJ reports "Buying and selling dogs is illegal in Iran, unless they are guard dogs or used by police. Dogs are considered "haram," or unclean, in Islam. "

And a black market has sprung up to fill the growing demand...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Reviews and reputation as a solution to search congestion

The NY Times has a story on how search can be unreliable, because it can be gamed by advertisers, and apparently this problem is particularly pronounced in the market for emergency locksmiths: Picking the Lock of Google’s Search

"According to Yelp, there are — no joke — nearly 3,000 locksmiths in Seattle, though with relatively rare exceptions these operations aren’t in Seattle at all.

"They are phone banks, typically set up in far-off places, often in other countries. Call them and they’ll dispatch a locksmith. Some are legitimate, but others may all too often do shoddy work and/or charge two or three times the estimate.

"In the last five years, some of these lead generation companies, as they are known, have become notorious. A few have been sued by state attorneys general. Several have shown up in gotcha television news stories, a selection of which can be viewed on YouTube by searching for “locksmith scam.”

"You might assume that lead gen sites would be no competition for people like Bob Strom. But for a couple of years, in one crucial arena, they have been crushing him: Google search results. Last Tuesday, the Haggler typed “emergency locksmith Seattle” into a browser, and the top results — most notably, the seven that appeared in the highly coveted Google Places spots, which are marked on an area map — appeared to be lead gen sites. "


This suggests that Yelp will be much more helpful than Google search for finding an emergency locksmith, since Yelp comes with reviews from users...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Repugnant transactions involving life and death

A lot of repugnance is associated with transactions that involve the boundaries between the living and the dead--abortion, deceased organ donation (is brain death sufficient), assisted suicide...

In The New Republic, Eric Posner reviews The Law of Life and Death by Elizabeth Price Foley (Harvard University Press).

As he writes,
"The distinctions matter. Killing a human being is murder; discarding unwanted cell tissue is not.
"Familiar culture-war controversies have erupted over these issues. The law embodies uneasy truces and compromises, and, as is always the case, contains ambiguities and inconsistencies; and state laws vary a great deal. But a rough logic has emerged. The gestational blob gains stronger legal protections as it ascends the ladder of development. Sperm, eggs, and embryos lack rights; their owners enjoy the power to control how they are used. Fetuses do better. A woman may not abort the fetus late in pregnancy without good reason, such as risk to life or health, and a stranger commits a crime by assaulting and killing a fetus because the fetus has stronger rights than the stranger does. But the assaulter is not guilty of murder unless the fetus, in an odd turn of the law, manages to get born before it expires from its injuries. A partially born child enjoys stronger rights still.

"Death poses another set of challenges. In the old days, death meant that a person stopped breathing and his heart failed; now this is known as cardiopulmonary death. But when new technology made it possible to animate the heart and lungs in a person incapable of “waking up,” brain death was invented. Brain death enabled surgeons to carve off organs from people deemed alive under the cardiopulmonary definition, but it threw up a new set of problems. Some apparently brain-dead people would regain consciousness; technological advances later revealed that the brains of apparently brain-dead people often threw off occasional sparks—raising the question, how much brain functioning do you need to be alive? Or, if you wish, how much brain functioning does a person need for it to be wrong to kill him? Cryogenics enthusiasts insist that technicians will be able to reanimate a cryogenically preserved corpse by defrosting it. If someone destroys such a corpse, is that murder? If not, is it a wrong at all? The destruction of the corpse of a person disappoints that person’s original plan to reoccupy his body after a temporary vacancy, but prosecution of the wrongdoer would pose problems of metaphysics for which legal training leaves one sadly unprepared.

"Then there is the question of suicide, the refusal of unwanted life-preserving medical treatment, physician-assisted suicide, and euthanasia. Some countries permit euthanasia—the killing of people with severe medical problems, including infants born with horrendous birth defects which condemn them to a short miserable life. In the United States, all states tolerate suicide; two states tolerate physician-assisted suicide; and no states permit euthanasia. The Supreme Court has recognized rights to abortion, contraception, and (obliquely) unwanted life-sustaining medical treatment, but not to assisted suicide. For reasons known only to the justices, a woman’s interest in abortion trumps contrary state law but a person’s interest in ending his life does not, unless he can do so by declining medical treatment. Interests pile up on both sides of each question; it is hard to understand why the Court balances them as it does."

Monday, August 8, 2011

Nature Reviews Nephrology reviews long kidney chains

Rebecca Ireland, writing in the section "Research Highlights" in the July 2011 issue of the Journal Nature Reviews | Nephrology, reviews our recent paper* in the American Journal of Transplantation. Her article is called Kidney-paired donation: do transplantations need to be performed simultaneously?

"Kidney-paired donation—where patients who have incompatible but willing living donors receive transplants from other living donors (nondirected donors or donors from other incompatible pairs)—is increasing in the USA. A study recently published in the American Journal of Transplantation reports that performing these transplantation chains nonsimultaneously increases the number of transplants carried out.

"Controversy surrounds the issue of whether transplantation chains should be performed simultaneously or nonsimultaneously. Until quite recently, all transplantations in a chain were performed at the same time (domino paired donation [DPD] chains), but nonsimultaneous chains initiated by nondirected donors (nonsimultaneous extended altruistic donor [NEAD] chains) are becoming more common. “Some advantages of nonsimultaneous chains include the fact that chains can become longer because they are less constricted by logistical factors and that more people can be transplanted; in addition, the lack of need for reciprocity allows donors to be used more efficiently so that quality can be optimized,” notes Michael Rees, corresponding author on the latest paper.
"“Although nonsimultaneous chains are fast becoming fairly standard, a paper published in 2009 concluded—through the use of simulations—that nonsimultaneous chains wouldn’t produce more transplants than simultaneous chains,” says Alvin Roth, another author on the recent study. “Given our data in the real world, we disagreed with the data and assumptions from this paper,” adds Rees.
"Rees’ team used empirical data from the registry of the Alliance for Paired Donation to build a simulation model to test whether simultaneous DPD chains or NEAD chains would result in more transplants being performed. When they used the same assumptions as the 2009 paper, they confirmed the 2009 findings. However, when they allowed NEAD chains to be longer than three pairs, as currently often occurs in clinical practice, they found that NEAD chains produced more transplants than DPD chains.

"The authors also investigated the percentages of highly sensitized patients (panel-reactive antibody level >80%) and patients with blood type O who would receive transplants with the different methods. They found that increased numbers of these hard-to-transplant groups of patients received a transplant when NEAD chains were used.

"“Going forward, one of the big questions that we hope to explore is how best to end nonsimultaneous chains,” states Roth. “That is, when does it make sense to ask the final donor to wait for a future transplant opportunity, and when does it make sense for them to donate to someone on the waiting list? Sometimes a bridge donor can facilitate more and/or better transplants than would an immediate transplant to a waiting list candidate, but this may not always be the case. Our paper included both types of endings of NEAD chains, but we haven’t yet studied when each kind of ending would be most useful.”

*Ashlagi, Itai, Duncan S. Gilchrist, Alvin E. Roth, and Michael A. Rees, ; ''Nonsimultaneous Chains and Dominos in Kidney Paired Donation -- Revisited,'' American Journal of Transplantation, 11, 5, May 2011, 984-994.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Congestion in college applications and admissions

The Chronicle of Higher Ed writes about changes in college admissions: Those Tweedy Old Admissions Deans? They're All Business Now

"More applicants doesn't necessari­ly mean better applicants, however. Four years ago, Mr. Allen decided to refine his recruitment strategy to emphasize quality over quan­tity. How? By shrinking the college's prospect pool. Since then, his office has done more to identify and engage students who are genuinely interested in the college.

"That move, coupled with the recession, has shrunk the college's application total. In the 2007-8 cycle, Grinnell received 3,900 applications; for this fall's freshman class, it received 3,000. During that time, however, Grinnell increased its enrollment of minority, low-income, and first-generation students, as well as those from other countries.

"This wouldn't have happened if apps had been skyrocketing, and we didn't know who all these applicants were," Mr. Allen says. "My experience helped me get off the treadmill of thinking that more applications are better. They're still important, but as a crude measure, they're not the most important thing."

"In other words, Mr. Allen had to re-evaluate his relationship with one of the most powerful numbers in his profession. He predicts that in a market­place saturated with messaging, colleges will need to rethink recruitment in the coming years. "The new enrollment manager," he says, "is going to have to take a more-sophisticated approach to pierce through all that stuff, to make an impression on students."

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Divorce in Malta

The BBC reported a few weeks ago on the retreat of another formerly-more-widely repugnant transaction, divorce.

Malta has voted "Yes" in a non-binding referendum on legalising divorce

"Almost three-quarters of the electorate voted on Saturday on whether divorce should be introduced in Malta.

"A majority Catholic country, Malta is the only EU country not to allow divorce.

"Figures from the electoral commission late on Saturday showed turnout was 72%, the Times of Malta reports.
"Dr Gonzi, who campaigned against the introduction of divorce, has said it is now up the parliament to enact a law legalising the dissolution of marriage on the island.

"The Catholic Church, which is very influential in the archipelago, had also supported a "No" vote during the campaign.
"Malta is one of only two countries in the world (with the Philippines) to ban divorce - apart from the Vatican.

"Chile was the last country to legalise divorce in 2004 after overwhelming public pressure."

Friday, August 5, 2011

Carbon trading down under

An ongoing carbon market in New Zealand and a proposed one in Australia...

The NZ ETS: carbon pricing in the neighbourhood, by Basil Sharp and Nan Jiang.
"Participants in the New Zealand ETS surrender emission units that match their annual emission levels. A New Zealand Unit (NZU) is the primary domestic unit of trade. To meet obligations under the scheme, participants can surrender free units, if they have any, at the rate of 1 for every 2 tonnes emitted. Otherwise, participants have to either pay the fixed price option, or purchase NZUs or other Kyoto compliant units."


Australia Proposes Carbon Trading Plan, Again

"Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia announced a plan on Sunday that would tax the carbon dioxide emissions of the country’s 500 worst polluters and create the second-biggest emissions trading program in the world, after the European Union’s.
For the 500 companies — which would include mining giants with operations in Australia like BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata — the government has set a price of 23 Australian dollars, or $24.70, for each ton of carbon dioxide emitted starting July 1 of next year, rising 2.5 percent annually before shifting in 2015 to a market-driven trading program.

"A similar proposal by Ms. Gillard’s predecessor, Kevin Rudd, was largely blamed for having led to his political downfall."
"When the European Union initiated its carbon-trading program in 2005, many polluters passed on the cost of the free permits they were given to consumers, creating large corporate profits. That is unlikely to happen in Australia, said Mr. Jordan of Deutsche Bank.

“Australian policy makers learned the lesson from Europe that there’s a risk if you hand out too many free permits and you hand them out to the wrong sectors, that you get emitters both passing on the cost of carbon but also pocketing the value of those permits,” he said."

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Debate over kidney sales in Scotland

Here's a 4 minute interview on Radio Scotland from August 2011, on kidney sales, in which Sarah Toom talks to me about the debate there about whether payments to living kidney donors should be allowed, and other ways of increasing transplants (including kidney exchange).

The proximate cause was a proposal by Sue Rabbitt Roff, a senior research fellow at the University of Dundee, in the BMJ: "We should consider paying kidney donors."
Her proposal calls for a tightly regulated system with a standard payment to donors of around the current average Scottish salary (at which price transplantation is still a bargain compared to dialysis).

She concludes "So it’s time to begin to explore how to pilot paid provision of live kidneys in the UK under strict rules of access and equity. We need to extend our thinking beyond opt-in and opt-out to looking at how we can make it possible for those who wish to do so to express their autonomy in the same way as current donors are encouraged to do by making available a healthy kidney for a fee that is not exploitative.

The proposal has sparked a lot of British press coverage, e.g. here, and here, and here, and here. In each of the articles, the other reported comments are all negative. (I can't tell if British reporters work differently than American reporters and only solicited negative views to balance the proposal being reported as the main story, or if it is harder to find pro as well as con views in the UK.)

Here are links to my previous blog posts on compensation for donors, and to my two papers that lead to unexpected calls on this subject from radio journalists in far places.

  • Roth, Alvin E. "Repugnance as a Constraint on Markets", Journal of Economic Perspectives, 21:3, Summer, 2007, pp. 37-58. 

  • Leider, Stephen and Alvin E. Roth, ''Kidneys for sale: Who disapproves, and why?'' American Journal of Transplantation , 10 (May), 2010, 1221-1227.
  • Wednesday, August 3, 2011

    Incentives for cheating and for cheating-detection

    A chilling and surprisingly complicated story from Panos Ipeirotis at NYU Stern (who blogs under the title "A Computer Scientist in a Business School): Why I will never pursue cheating again (since deleted, but that URL now has related links). Apparently he got a cease and desist letter, and the story has since attracted some press.

    Here's one story about it: NYU Professor Catches 20% Of His Students Cheating, And He's The One Who Pays For It,

    and here's another: NYU Prof Vows Never to Probe Cheating Again—and Faces a Backlash

    Ultimately he draws a market design conclusion:
    "In Mr. Ipeirotis’ view, if there’s one big lesson from his semester in the cheating trenches, it’s this: Rather than police plagiarism, professors should design assignments that cannot be plagiarized.

    "How? He suggested several options. You could require that projects be made public, which would risk embarrassment for someone who wanted to copy from a past semester. You could assign homework where students give class presentations and then are graded by their peers, ratcheting up the social pressure to perform well. And you could create an incentive to do good work by turning homework into a competition, like asking students to build Web sites and rewarding those that get the most clicks."

    Tuesday, August 2, 2011

    A secret of school performance...(admissions)

    From kindergartens to colleges, one thing that helps a school produce lots of good graduates is if they admit lots of good students. Charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated, are supposed to admit students by lottery, and many run very public lotteries to make it clear that they aren't trying to influence the results. But it's tempting to cheat, hence this story from the NY Times:

    Bronx Charter School Disciplined Over Admissions Methods

    "A South Bronx charter school has been put on probation for what city education officials called “serious violations” of state law mandating random admissions, including possibly testing or interviewing applicants before their enrollment.

    "The school, Academic Leadership Charter School, opened in 2009 and is the first New York City charter to be disciplined for violating the rules for random admissions.

    "The violations go to the crux of the debate over charters, which are publicly financed but independently operated. Random admissions is a key tenet in most states, but critics have long contended that the schools surreptitiously weed out students who are unlikely to do well on standardized tests or are more difficult to educate.
    "At most city charter schools, students are selected at public meetings where applicants’ names are picked from a box. But city officials found that at Academic Leadership, which has about 200 children in kindergarten through second grade, hundreds of applicants were left out of this year’s drawing. The lottery was supervised not by an impartial observer, but by a member of the parent association, the letter said. And while students who applied after the lottery should have been added to the waiting list, scores of them were not, it said.
    They are treating it like it’s a private school on the Upper East Side,” said a former school employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. “Like people are applying to Dalton. This isn’t Dalton.”

    At the other end of the spectrum from charter schools are exam schools, which are charged with admitting the best and the brightest. And maybe it's good for good students to be together with other good students (and not just good for a school's performance). I'm inclined to think that it is, but it's hard to show. A recent NBER paper suggests that good schools don't change the standardized exam scores for their students very much; the ones who just made the cutoff in public exam schools, and the ones who just missed getting in, do around the same on  tests.

    The Elite Illusion: Achievement Effects at Boston and New York Exam Schools

    Atila Abdulkadiroglu, Joshua D. Angrist, Parag A. Pathak
    NBER Working Paper No. 17264
    Issued in July 2011

    "Talented students compete fiercely for seats at Boston and New York exam schools. These schools are characterized by high levels of peer achievement and a demanding curriculum tailored to each district's highest achievers. While exam school students clearly do very well in school, the question of whether an exam school education adds value relative to a regular public education remains open. We estimate the causal effect of exam school attendance using a regression-discontinuity design, reporting both parametric and non-parametric estimates. We also develop a procedure that addresses the potential for confounding in regression-discontinuity designs with multiple, closely-spaced admissions cutoffs. The outcomes studied here include scores on state standardized achievement tests, PSAT and SAT participation and scores, and AP scores. Our estimates show little effect of exam school offers on most students' achievement in most grades. We use two-stage least squares to convert reduced form estimates of the effects of exam school offers into estimates of peer and tracking effects, arguing that these appear to be unimportant in this context. On the other hand, a Boston exam school education seems to have a modest effect on high school English scores for minority applicants. A small group of 9th grade applicants also appears to do better on SAT Reasoning. These localized gains notwithstanding, the intense competition for exam school seats does not appear to be justified by improved learning for a broad set of students."

    Monday, August 1, 2011

    Romeo and Juliet with an Afghan twist

    The NY Times reports on one of the oldest of repugnant transactions, marrying outside of approved circles. But there's an unexpected twist at the very end of the story (the newspaper story, not the story of the young lovers, which is still unfolding):
    In Afghanistan, Rage at Young Lovers

    "...a group of men spotted the couple riding together in a car, yanked them into the road and began to interrogate the boy and girl. Why were they together? What right had they? An angry crowd of 300 surged around them, calling them adulterers and demanding that they be stoned to death or hanged.

    "When security forces swooped in and rescued the couple, the mob’s anger exploded. They overwhelmed the local police, set fire to cars and stormed a police station six miles from the center of Herat, raising questions about the strength of law in a corner of western Afghanistan and in one of the first cities that has made the formal transition to Afghan-led security.

    "The riot, which lasted for hours, ended with one man dead, a police station charred and the two teenagers, Halima Mohammedi and her boyfriend, Rafi Mohammed, confined to juvenile prison.
    "Ms. Mohammedi’s uncle visited her in jail to say she had shamed the family, and promised that they would kill her once she was released. Her father, an illiterate laborer who works in Iran, sorrowfully concurred. He cried during two visits to the jail, saying almost nothing to his daughter. Blood, he said, was perhaps the only way out.

    “What we would ask is that the government should kill both of them,” said the father, Kher Mohammed."
    "Family members of the man killed in the riot sent word to Ms. Mohammedi that she bears the blame for his death. But they offered her an out: Marry one of their other sons, and her debt would be paid."