Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Iguassu falls, by night and day

A recent trip to the Iguassu falls, where the full moon made a lunar rainbow in the permanent mist around the falls, was a bookend to a remarkable year.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Exeter Prize: Congratulations to Dan Friedman and Ryan Oprea

Congrats to Dan Friedman and Ryan Oprea, for the news that came this morning about their 2012 AER paper A continuous dilemma. Here's the email:

"Dear colleagues,

We are happy to announce the winner of the 2013 Exeter Prize for the best paper published in the previous calendar year in a peer-reviewed journal in the fields of Experimental Economics, Behavioural Economics and Decision Theory.
The winner is Daniel Friedman and Ryan Opera for their paper “A Continuous Dilemma” by published in American Economic Review.
This paper is an excellent complementary use of theory and experiments that significantly adds to our understanding of one of the fundamental problems in game theory. It is an important study that will stand the test of time.
The winning paper was selected by the panel of Glenn Harrison (Georgia State University), Izhak Gilboa (Tel Aviv University) and Shmuel Zamir (Hebrew University and the University of Exeter).
The winners receive 3000 pounds. In addition, a representative of them will be visiting the University of Exeter in May to receive the award and give a lecture.
This year was exceptionally competitive with a large number of excellent nominations. As stated above the best paper was awarded from the following fields: Experimental Economics, Behavioural Economics and Decision Theory and papers qualified under one of the following categories:
1. Any paper that involves either lab or field experiments. 
2. Any purely theoretical paper that involves "behavioral" theory
(for example, non-expected utility).
3. Any empirical work that shows evidence for behavioral models (that
fit under 2) or tests/rejects models (that fit under 2).

Miguel Fonseca
Todd Kaplan
Eva Poen"

Two countries divided by a common language: translating English into American

The article (by Tim Parks) Learning to Speak American, about copyediting an English writer's English for an American audience, has some hidden lessons about friction in international trade.

Here's his first paragraph:
"In 1993 I translated all 450 pages of Roberto Calasso’s The Marriage of Cadmus & Harmony without ever using the past participle of the verb “get.” The book was to be published simultaneously by Knopf in New York and Jonathan Cape in London; to save money both editions were to be printed from the same galleys; so it would be important, I was told, to avoid any usages that might strike American readers as distractingly English or English readers as distractingly American. To my English ear “gotten” yells America and alters the whole feel of a sentence. I presumed it would be the same the other way round for Americans."

And this:
"Despite my hailing from England—a country that still uses miles—I had expressed distances in meters and kilometers and it seemed odd now to find my Italian characters speaking to each other about yards and miles and, of course, Fahrenheit, which they never would. Or saying AM and PM, rather than using the twenty-four-hour clock as they mostly do, even in ordinary conversation. Slowly, as well as being concerned that some sentences were now feeling clunky and odd, I began to wonder if American readers really needed or demanded this level of protection. Wouldn’t they soon figure out, if I said “the temperature was up in the sizzling thirties,” that I was talking Celsius? Or at least that in another part of the world people had another system for measuring temperature where thirty was considered warm? Mightn’t it be fascinating for them to be reminded that the twenty-four-hour clock, which Americans usually associate with military operations, has long been in standard civilian usage in Europe? Italy introduced it as early as 1893."
"America is very much a net exporter of literature. Its novels are read and translated worldwide, where readers generally accept miles and Fahrenheit, pounds and ounces, AM and PM and indeed have grown accustomed to these old-fashioned, American oddities (when it comes to doing science, of course, Americans use the more practical European systems). In Germany, for example, where around fifty percent of novels are foreign works in translation, Roth’s and Franzen’s characters are not obliged to discuss distances in kilometers.

Conversely, America imports very little—only three to four percent of novels published in the States are translations—and what it does import it tends to transform as far as possible into its own formulas and notations, in much the same way that Disney has turned every fable and myth worldwide into a version of Mickey Mouse. "

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Alternatives to the NBA draft?

Scott Cunningham points me to this proposal to change the way professional basketball teams acquire new players. The present system rewards teams for poor performance by giving teams that lose lots of games a higher probability of very early draft choices. Early draft choices are important, because basketball is a game in which a single player can have a very big influence on team performance, and a small number of players are very good while still very young. So there may be an incentive, for a team having a poor season, to "tank" and try to be the worst team in order to have the highest probability of the first draft pick. The proposal would be to make draft choices independent of performance, and instead to alternate draft choices in a fixed schedule: The NBA's Possible Solution for Tanking: Good-bye to the Lottery, Hello to the Wheel

For more about the current draft system and how it is connected to player salaries, see Alicia Jessop on The Structure of NBA Rookie Contracts

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Repugnance as a constraint on markets in Spanish

La repugnancia como limitación de los mercados (a translation of my 2007 JEP article)

Dendra Médica. Revista de Humanidades 2013; 12(1):80-105

Friday, December 27, 2013

Topology lesson from the school of hard knocks (rhymes with bicycle locks)

I noticed this as I carefully locked up my bike the other day: all that remained of the bike next to mine was the connected component (the lock went through the spokes, but not even around the rim and tire of the front wheel).

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Forthcoming book on the Iranian kidney transplant market

Carolina Academic Press is advertising a forthcoming book,

The Kidney Sellers

A Journey of Discovery in Iran

Their blurb:
Rarely does an adventure story carry such social significance as in this groundbreaking ethnographic research book. Dr. Fry-Revere’s exploration of the medical ethics of compensating organ donors takes us deep inside Iranian culture to provide insight and understanding into how Iran has solved its kidney shortage. The Kidney Sellers: A Journey of Discovery in Iran addresses the question: How it is possible that in Iran there is a waiting list to be a donor, while in the United States hundreds of thousands of people have died­ for lack of a kidney?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Kidney Exchange at Alliance for Paired Donation nominated for Edelman Prize in OR

Here's the press release, which states in part:
CATONSVILLE, MD, December 17, 2013 – The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS®) proudly announces the six finalist organizations that will compete for the 2014 INFORMS Franz Edelman Prize. The Prize is the world’s most prestigious recognition for excellence in applying advanced analytics to benefit business and humanitarian outcomes. 
This year’s finalists are:
  1. Twitter, with Stanford University, for “The ‘Who to Follow’ System at Twitter: Strategy, Algorithms, and Revenue Impact.”
  2. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with Kid Risk, Inc.,for “Using Integrated Analytical Models to Support Global Health Policies to Manage Vaccine Preventable Diseases: Polio Eradication and Beyond.”
  3. The Energy Authority for “Hydroelectric Generation and Water Routing Optimizer.”
  4. Grady Memorial Hospital, with the Georgia Institute of Technology,for “Modeling and Optimizing Emergency Department Workflow.”
  5. Kidney Exchange at the Alliance for Paired Donation, with Stanford and MIT,for “Kidney Exchange.”
  6. NBN Company, with Biarri, for “Fiber Optic Network Optimization at NBN Co.”
Now in its 43rd year, the INFORMS Franz Edelman Prize competition recognizes outstanding examples of analytics and operations research projects that transform companies, entire industries and people’s lives. Using innovative advanced analytical methods, the teams were instrumental in helping their respective institutions make better decisions, providing a disciplined way by which management can improve organizational performance in a wide variety of situations and across both public and private organizations.  
INFORMS Franz Edelman finalist teams have contributed over $200 billion in benefits to business and the public interest. The 2014 INFORMS Franz Edelman Prize finalists were chosen after a rigorous review by accomplished verifiers, all of whom have led successful analytics projects. The verifiers come from IBM, BNSF, Bank of America, Verizon Wireless, HP, Eastman Chemical, Columbia University, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Chicago, the University of Chile, and other noted organizations. Finalists are chosen on the merits of how analytics methodologies were applied to solve problems, reduce costs, or otherwise improve results in real-world environments. 
Update: note that the press release mistakenly omits Boston College from the institutions associated with kidney exchange.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Royal Pardon for Alan Turing takes effect today

Here's a chilling story from the BBC about the great Alan Turing, who effective today is pardoned in Britain from his 1952 conviction for homosexuality. The ghost of Christmas past reminds us that what is regarded as repugnant can reverse itself over time.

Royal pardon for codebreaker Alan Turing

"Computer pioneer and codebreaker Alan Turing has been given a posthumous royal pardon.

"It overturns his 1952 conviction for homosexuality for which he was punished by being chemically castrated.

"The conviction meant he lost his security clearance and had to stop the code-cracking work that proved critical to the Allies in World War II.

"The pardon was granted under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy after a request by Justice Minister Chris Grayling.

"Turing's work helped accelerate Allied efforts to read German Naval messages enciphered with the Enigma machine. He also contributed some more fundamental work on codebreaking that was only released to public scrutiny in April 2012.

"His later life was overshadowed by his conviction for homosexual activity, a sentence we would now consider unjust and discriminatory and which has now been repealed," said Mr Grayling.

"Turing deserves to be remembered and recognised for his fantastic contribution to the war effort and his legacy to science. A pardon from the Queen is a fitting tribute to an exceptional man."

The pardon comes into effect on 24 December."

Monday, December 23, 2013

Peter Singer on charitable giving

In the Washington Post: Heartwarming causes are nice, but let’s give to charity with our heads

"You’d have to be a real spoilsport not to feel good about Batkid. If the sight of 20,000 people joining in last month to help the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the city of San Francisco fulfill the superhero fantasies of a 5-year-old — and not just any 5-year-old, but one who has been battling a life-threatening disease — doesn’t warm your heart, you must be numb to basic human emotions.

Yet we can still ask if these emotions are the best guide to what we ought to do. According to Make-A-Wish, the average cost of realizing the wish of a child with a life-threatening illness is $7,500. That sum, if donated to the Against Malaria Foundation and used to provide bed nets to families in malaria-prone regions, could save the lives of at least two or three children (and that’s a conservative estimate). If donated to the Fistula Foundation, it could pay for surgeries for approximately 17 young mothers who, without that assistance, will be unable to prevent their bodily wastes from leaking through their vaginas and hence are likely to be outcasts for the rest of their lives. If donated to the Seva Foundation to treat trachoma and other common causes of blindness in developing countries, it could protect 100 children from losing their sight as they grow older."

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The evolution of eBay

Once eBay was primarily an auction site...a story by Jeff Himmelman in the NY Times Sunday magazine brings us up to date: EBay’s Strategy for Taking On Amazon

"Most people think of eBay as an online auction house, the world’s biggest garage sale, which it has been for most of its life. But since Donahoe took over in 2008, he has slowly moved the company beyond auctions, developing technology partnerships with big retailers like Home Depot, Macy’s, Toys ‘‘R’’ Us and Target and expanding eBay’s online marketplace to include reliable, returnable goods at fixed prices. (Auctions currently represent just 30 percent of the purchases made at eBay.com; the site sells 13,000 cars a week through its mobile app alone, many at fixed prices.)

Under Donahoe, eBay has made 34 acquisitions over the last five years, most of them to provide the company and its retail partners with enhanced technology. EBay can help with the back end of websites, create interactive storefronts in real-world locations, streamline the electronic-payment process or help monitor inventory in real time. (Outsourcing some of the digital strategy and technological operations to eBay frees up companies to focus on what they presumably do best: Make and market their own products.) In select cities, eBay has also recently introduced eBay Now, an app that allows you to order goods from participating local vendors and have them delivered to your door in about an hour for a $5 fee. The company is betting its future on the idea that its interactive technology can turn shopping into a kind of entertainment, or at least make commerce something more than simply working through price-plus-shipping calculations. If eBay can get enough people into Dick’s Sporting Goods to try out a new set of golf clubs and then get them to buy those clubs in the store, instead of from Amazon, there’s a business model there.

A key element of eBay’s vision of the future is the digital wallet. On a basic level, having a ‘‘digital wallet’’ means paying with your phone, but it’s about a lot more than that; it’s as much a concept as a product. EBay bought PayPal in 2002, after PayPal established itself as a safe way to transfer money between people who didn’t know each other (thus facilitating eBay purchases). For the last several years, eBay has regarded digital payments through mobile devices as having the potential to change everything — to become, as David Marcus, PayPal’s president, puts it, ‘‘Money 3.0.’’'
"The best current example of the digital wallet’s promise, according to many in Silicon Valley, is Uber, a digital platform that connects riders and drivers. You enter your credit-card information into the Uber app once, and then every time you want to use it, the app knows where you are and shows you how many cars are nearby and how soon one can be available. You order with one touch on a mobile screen, and a text lets you know a driver is on the way and then another tells you when he’s near. He greets you by name, you tell him where you want to go and then, when you are dropped off, there is no further exchange — no tip, no receipt, no signing anything. The app takes care of all that for you. Uber didn’t change anything about the nature of cars or how they are driven. It just figured out how to use data and technology to make what was out there work much more efficiently. (EBay, through its acquisition of the company Shutl, has begun to exploit a similar inefficiency in the spare capacity of courier companies.)
"‘‘It’s not about payment,’’ Jack Dorsey, a founder of Square, a PayPal competitor, says. ‘‘It’s about identity. And it’s about the experience that a merchant can create, which is what actually builds loyalty. We believe that it’s important that the technology, the mechanics of payments, actually fade away to the background. They disappear completely.’’ After helping found Twitter in 2006, Dorsey became chief executive of Square in 2009. Its initial innovation was the Square Reader, a small device that plugs into the headphone jack of a smartphone or tablet and enables anyone, anywhere, to process a credit-card payment. (PayPal now has a similar reader.) In 2011, Square introduced what would become known as the Square Wallet, an app that links to a credit card (as Uber does) and allows consumers to pay either by holding their phones up to a scanner or, in some cases, simply by having the phones on in their pockets. Dorsey talks about how cool it is to get your coffee without having to do anything, but he also emphasizes what it means for the merchants. ‘‘The seller gets this very interesting tool,’’ he says. ‘‘They can recognize me when I walk in.’’ 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Repugnance watch: same sex marriage isn't coming soon to Uganda

Yesterday's post noted that New Mexico had become the 17th U.S. state to recognize same sex marriage. At the same time it noted that even more U.S. states have passed constitutional amendments prohibiting it. However the battle over whether same sex marriage--or same sex sex for that matter--should be considered repugnant transactions takes a far more lethal turn in Africa. Here's the latest on that from the BBC:
Ugandan MPs pass life in jail anti-homosexual law

"Uganda's parliament has passed a bill to toughen the punishment for homosexual acts to include life imprisonment in some cases.

"The anti-homosexuality bill also makes it a crime punishable by a prison sentence not to report gay people.

"The prime minister opposed the vote, saying not enough MPs were present.

"The bill has been condemned by world leaders since it was mooted in 2009 - US President Barack Obama called it "odious"."

Friday, December 20, 2013

And then there were 17 states that have same sex marriage

New Mexico Becomes 17th State to Allow Gay Marriage

"The New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously affirmed on Thursday the right of same-sex partners to marry in the state, reasoning that the “protections and responsibilities that result from the marital relationship shall apply equally” to them and to opposite-sex couples.

"With the ruling, which takes effect immediately, New Mexico becomes one of 17 states and the District of Columbia to permit same-sex marriage. Thirty-three states limit marriage to opposite-sex couples. "

United States Map

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Kidney exchange in Vienna

Here's an article discussing a simple paired exchange in Vienna, with plans to move soon to chains. It sounds like the last link in the chain of ideas and computer code led from Australia to Austria.

"The problem of incompatibility is solved by pairs (married couples, siblings, mother and child, friends, etc.) being selected using a new computing algorithm, which was developed in Australia and evaluated at the MedUni Vienna in a newly published pilot study, in which the organ donation is made possible in a "crossover." This means that each donor, whose kidney is not suitable for their own intended recipient, donates the organ to a stranger, the recipient in another pair and vice versa."

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The sale of kidneys in Iran: a report from Shiraz

A recent article, and an accompanying editorial, in the American Journal of Transplantation concern the health of kidney sellers in Iran, based on a comparison of paid donors with unpaid related living donors at the Shiraz Transplant Center in Iran.

The article is Comparison of Health Status and Quality of Life of Related Versus Paid Unrelated Living Kidney Donors  by M. K. Fallahzadeh, L. Jafari, J. Roozbeh, N. Singh2, H. Shokouh-Amiri, S. Behzadi, G. A. Rais-Jalali1, M. Salehipour, S. A. Malekhosseini1, M. M. Sagheb

The aim of this cross-sectional study was to assess the health status and quality of life (QOL) of paid unrelated versus related living kidney donors postdonation at Shiraz Transplant Center in Iran. We invited all donors (n = 580, 347 paid unrelated, 233 related) who underwent donor nephrectomy at our center from 2004 to 2010 to participate in a health survey and physical examination. Of 580 donors, 144 consented to participate; participation of paid unrelated donors was significantly lower than related (52/347 vs. 92/233; p < 0.001). Participants underwent a complete physical examination, QOL assessment (using a 36-item short form health survey [SF-36] questionnaire) and laboratory work-up. The paid unrelated donors compared with related donors were younger (34.2 ± 7.2 vs. 40.7 ± 9.7 years, p < 0.001), had shorter time since donation (2.9 ± 1.6 vs. 3.8 ± 2 years, p = 0.004), had higher estimated GFR (72.6 ± 22 vs. 63.8 ± 15.3 mL/min/1.73 m2, p = 0.006) and had a higher percentage of patients with microalbuminuria (35% vs. 0%, p < 0.001). Additionally, general health and social functioning scores among paid unrelated donors were significantly lower (p < 0.001 and p = 0.02, respectively) than related donors. Other SF-36 scores, although lower in paid unrelated donors, did not reach statistical significance. Iranian paid unrelated donors have lower QOL and higher incidence of microalbuminuria compared with related donors.

In their concluding discussion the authors note
"To our knowledge, this is the first study comparing the health status and HRQOL of Iranian PUKDs with those of LRKDs. Our results show that Iranian PUKDs, compared with LRKDs, have poor follow-up, lower HRQOL scores and higher incidence of microalbuminuria.

One of the major drawbacks of the Iranian model of living donor kidney transplantation is the lack of long-term follow-up of LKDs [2, 3]. In our study, the rate of participation of PUKDs was significantly lower than LRKDs. Similarly, in a previous report from Iran, only 6 of 500 LKDs who were invited to participate in a health survey responded [2]. In another Iranian study, a majority (79%) of PUKDs were reported to have no regular follow-up after donation [6]. Inability to pay for follow-up visits, and insufficient knowledge of the complications of the nephrectomy and the need for regular follow-up postdonation have been suggested as the major reasons for lack of long-term follow-up among PUKDs [2, 6, 9]. Educating the LKDs, providing an extended long-term government sponsored medical insurance program beyond 1 year, and probably even payment for clinic visits could enhance their adherence with postdonation follow-up."

The accompanying editorial is Where There Is Smoke There Is Fire: The Iranian System of Paid Donation by E. J. Gordon, J. S. Gill

"Nearly 30 years after its introduction, the Iranian model remains an enigma to the Western transplant community. Established in 1988, the government-funded, compensated living unrelated kidney donor program was Iran's answer for its urgent transplantation needs. The modest fixed sum (currently about $400 US dollars) provided by the government was intended as a reward rather than as a payment for the donated kidney. The real incentive for those who have submitted to nephrectomy was a supplementary payment negotiated directly between the recipient and living donor (typically in the amount of $10 000 US dollars). Putative oversight by a not-for-profit organization maintains a buyer's market by providing a back-up donor in the event that a recipient and potential donor cannot agree on a price. The government pays for all transplant-related expenses and provides the donor with medical coverage for 1 year after the nephrectomy. It is worth noting that such depictions of the Iranian model have been contested as disingenuous by members of the Iranian transplant community [1]. Accordingly, one must interpret any analyses of the Iranian model with caution.

Predictably, critics of commercialization have opposed the program primarily out of concerns of exploitation and disrespect for human integrity [2, 3]. Aside from such opposition, the model fails to meet many of the proposed standards for a regulated system of organ sales, including nondirected donations, provisions to ensure long-term donor follow-up, and access to health care [4]. Despite the facilitation of tens of thousands of transplants, the lack of public reporting and transparency have precluded acceptance of the Iranian model as a solution to the organ shortage internationally, and have fueled questions about the integrity of the program.

The report by Fallahzadeh et al [5] in this issue of the journal provides a novel glimpse into the Iranian model. The study shares many of the limitations of other studies from Iran, including a small and selected study sample. However, their identification of a difference in microalbuminuria postnephrectomy between paid and unpaid donors fuels concerns that the clinical evaluation of donors may be compromised when donor payments are allowed. Although the absence of prenephrectomy information precludes definitive conclusions, the short time since donation suggests that abnormalities may have been present prior to nephrectomy and accordingly, that the donor clinical evaluation may not have been as thorough as necessary. The potential presence of predonation abnormalities is worth considering given the ethical ramifications. A scrupulous pretransplant evaluation and conservative approach to donor acceptance may be particularly important for paid donors who may be vulnerable to adverse health outcomes for other reasons. Subjecting paid donors to unnecessary harms without sufficient safeguards in place during the evaluation process tips the delicate risk–benefit balance against living donation.

The most plausible alternative explanation for the findings is that the proteinuria was in some way related to the higher level of poverty in the paid donors. There is limited research to suggest a link between poverty and development of proteinuria in living donors. In a cross-sectional study of living related donors from Hyderabad, India, 40% of the 50 donors studied developed microalbuminuria, and 14% developed overt proteinuria (>300 mg/day) after an average of 63 months postdonation [6]. Irrespective of the basis for the observed difference, it is not clear that the Iranian system will financially support the authors' recommendation for long-term follow-up of the individuals who developed microalbuminuria in the study.

Sadly, the risk factors for and clinical significance of proteinuria in living kidney donors remain unclear. The existing literature on this subject is hampered by use of nonstandardized definitions, a paucity of controlled studies, and virtually no information regarding progression over time. Therefore, although it is tempting to criticize the lack of organized donor follow-up in the Iranian model, to do so would be hypocritical [7]. The findings of this study therefore serve as a reminder of our collective responsibility to better understand the long-term consequences of living kidney donation.

The findings of Fallahzadeh et al [5] add to the accumulating literature that there are problems with the existing Iranian model and that the program must evolve. It is clear that the majority of paid donors are poor males, whose quality of life after nephrectomy is lower than that of the general Iranian population, and who are frequently dissatisfied with their decision to undergo nephrectomy [8]. Further, the program has been a contributing factor limiting the advancement of deceased donation and living related donation in Iran. For these reasons, a program that was once justified on the basis of need, may now be a barrier to the advancement of transplantation in Iran. How much harm to living donors' health and quality of life should Iranian transplant centers tolerate? As transplant centers are responsible for ethically sound clinical care, all potential living donors must be assured a high standard of clinical and psychosocial evaluation before the Iranian model can publicize its success.

As Fallahzadeh et al [5] point out, studies have found that few paid unrelated donors undergo follow-up care due to insufficient finances to pay for care, and donors lack knowledge about living donor complications or the need for follow-up care [9, 10]. Accordingly, transplant centers operating within the Iranian model should take extra care to optimally inform donors about the short- and long-term complications of living donation, as well as inform, encourage and enable living donors, particularly donors most at risk—paid unrelated donors—to undergo long-term follow-up care. The government's provision of health insurance to living donors for 1 year is a start toward removing some of the disincentives to donation; however, the recognition of paid donors as a particularly vulnerable group behooves the government to provide long-term follow-up care.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Design of bitcoin

Here's a nice tutorial by Michael Nielsen on some of the main design elements of the market for bitcoins (and other digital currency): How the Bitcoin protocol actually works

Here is the original bitcoin paper:
Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System by Satoshi Nakamoto

Monday, December 16, 2013

Patent denied for the idea of matchmaking

Those of you who may occasionally have tried to play matchmaker will be relieved to know that you are not infringing on a patent for that practice.

"Six months ago, a shell company called Lumen View Technology told Santa Barbara startup FindTheBest that it should pay $50,000 for infringing its patent on "multilateral decision-making." Instead of getting a quick payout, it ran into FindTheBest founder Kevin O'Connor and a RICO lawsuit.
In her ruling (PDF) issued late Friday, US District Judge Denise Cote noted that Lumen View was trying to patent "matchmaking," a practice that is literally ancient. She cited the patent specification, which included examples like "having a computer match employees and employers whose desired attributes and intensities of preferences mutually align." Another brainstorm from the patent is having a computer match "college applicants and... colleges seeking applicants," according to their preference data."
 HT: Scott Kominers

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Anthropology celebrates Scheper-Hughes for her work on the illicit trade in organs

Dr. Nancy Scheper-Hughes Named First AAA Public Policy Award Winner

"The American Anthropological Association (AAA) is pleased to announce that its Committee on Public Policy has selected medical anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes as the first recipient of the new Anthropology in Public Policy Award. Dr. Scheper- Hughes is a nationally-recognized expert on several important health issues, including hunger, illness and organ trafficking.
"Dr. Scheper-Hughes’ body of work and research, especially in the area of organ trafficking, has shaped how governments and international bodies address the issues of illegal transplantation.
"In 1999, Scheper-Hughes helped found the Berkeley Organs Watch Project, an organization dedicated to research on human organ traffic worldwide, including examining the transnational networks that connect patients, transplant surgeons, brokers, medical facilities and so-called “live donors.” Almost ten years later, in 2008, her investigation of an international group of organ sellers based in the East Coast of the United States and Israel led to multiple arrests by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In recent years, she has served as an advisor or consultant to the European Union; the United Nations, Division of Law Enforcement, Organized Crime and Anti-Laundering Office on Drugs and Crime, and the Human Trafficking Office of the World Health Organization in Vienna. She has also testified as an expert before the US Congress, the Council of Europe and the British House of Lords.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Some history of the Common App

The Chronicle of Higher Ed has a long, informative article on the Common App and the recent troubles with its computer systems, from which I excerpt below:

The Uncommon Rise of the Common App

Although the Common Application is now a vast, bustling highway, it was once just a shortcut. Its founding purpose: to make applying to college easier.
Back before the computer, applicants and counselors had to write or type answers to the same questions on every college's application. Each year the nation's hands cramped up. Then, in 1975, Colgate University, Vassar College, and a handful of other private institutions with similar admissions requirements created a common form that students could photocopy and mail in.
This modest stand against redundancy was infused with a high-minded mission: increasing access by going beyond grades and test scores to conduct robust evaluations of each applicant. "It was a time for reaffirming what was important in admissions," says Mary F. Hill, a former dean of admissions at Colgate who served on the Common Application's board of directors from 1996 to 2005.
By the mid-1990s, more than 150 colleges—all private, all relatively selective—were using the Common Application, run by a network of volunteers. In 1996 the National Association of Secondary School Principals dedicated a staff member to handle logistics and the increasing volume of paperwork. The application then was a booklet of perforated forms with maroon type; the masthead listed participating colleges in small print. Each year, as more names were added, the letters shrank.
The Common App first went online in 1998. To keep up with growth, the board hired a staff and incorporated as a nonprofit organization. It also agreed to admit public universities, the first six of which joined in 2001.
At least until this fall, ease of use has made the Common App a success by any measure. According to its tax return for 2011, the organization, based in Arlington, Va., generated $13-million in revenue. Of the group's 517 members, 178 offer no other way to apply. The fee structure rewards exclusivity. Nonexclusive members pay $4.75 per application; exclusive members pay $4. Colleges that further "streamline" their policies—by having no more than two early-admission plans, for instance—pay only $3.75. All nine admissions officials on the organization's board represent exclusive users.
The Common Application now has nine employees, but it expects to grow to 65. Next summer, as part of a long-term acquisition plan, the organization will hire about 30 employees who now work for a company called Hobsons, which designed and developed the new online system. (Hobsons also owns Naviance, which high schools use to send documents to colleges, and the website College Confidential.)
In the admissions profession, the Common App is ubiquitous. This year it was the lone platinum sponsor of the National Association for College Admission Counseling's annual conference, for which it paid $50,000. (The Chronicle was also a sponsor of the event.) Recently the Common App gave the association $80,000 to send 80 college counselors to a professional-development workshop. Each year it mails a poster to every high school in the nation, listing its ever longer roster of colleges.
With visibility comes cachet. Joining the Common Application in 1990 was an important move for Ursinus College, says Richard G. DiFeliciantonio, vice president for enrollment. "There was status associated with that membership," he says. "It confirmed our position in the marketplace."
Now he believes the benefits have less to do with prestige than with scale. The wider a college's recruitment net, the more applicants of every kind it can attract. He credits the Common App with helping Ursinus double its enrollment of both nonwhite students and those eligible for federal Pell Grants.
Mr. DiFeliciantonio also sees trade-offs. With more applications, "yield"—the percentage of accepted students who enroll—declines and becomes harder to predict. (A law of recruitment: More applicants doesn't necessarily mean more serious applicants.) And member colleges must relinquish some authority over the questions they can and cannot ask. "We were willing to put up with a loss of control," he says, "to get with the herd."
The Common Application is not without competitors. College­NET, an Oregon-based technology company, builds customized application-processing systems for some 500 colleges worldwide. After creating an account through, say, Washington State University, a student can automatically transfer basic information to another member college that has signed on to that service.
Joshua J. Reiter, who helped build the Common Application's first online system, went on to start the Universal College Application in 2007. The for-profit company is a small rival, for sure: Membership peaked at about 80 colleges a few years ago, then dwindled to 32, in part because those that also belonged to the Common App decided it was simpler to manage just one system. But since problems with the Common Application arose, Princeton University and seven other colleges have joined or rejoined the Universal College Application, which admissions deans say charges $1,000 annually, plus $4.50 per application.
Timeline: The Common Application, 1975-2013
1975: The Common Application begins a pilot program with 15 member institutions, primarily selective liberal-arts colleges.
1980: Passes 100 members.
1994: Harvard U. becomes the first Ivy League member; Dartmouth College follows the next year.
1998: First online application system launches.
2000: The Common Application incorporates as a nonprofit; passes 200 members.
2001: The Universities of Delaware, Vermont, and Maine are among the first public institutions to join.
2004: Binghamton University becomes the first State University of New York campus to join; by 2011, 18 other SUNY campuses will have joined.
2007: Passes 300 members.
2010: First international institutions join; passes 400 members; number of unique applicants exceeds 500,000.
2013: Paper application is retired; passes 500 member institutions; fourth generation of the online application faces technical difficulties and criticism.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Uruguay legalizes commerce in marijuana

Uruguay becomes first country in the world to legalise marijuana trade

"Uruguay has become the first country to legalise the growing, sale and smoking of marijuana, a pioneering social experiment that will be closely watched by other nations debating drug liberalization.
A government-sponsored bill approved by 16-13 votes in the Senate provides for regulation of the cultivation, distribution and consumption of marijuana and is aimed at wresting the business from criminals in the small South American nation.
Backers of the law, some smoking joints, gathered near Congress holding green balloons, Jamaican flags in homage to Bob Marley and a sign saying: "Cultivating freedom, Uruguay grows."
Cannabis consumers will be able to buy a maximum of 40 grams (1.4 ounces) each month from licensed pharmacies as long as they are Uruguayan residents over the age of 18 and registered on a government database that will monitor their monthly purchases.
When the law is implemented in 120 days, Uruguayans will be able to grow six marijuana plants in their homes a year, or as much as 480 grams (about 17 ounces), and form smoking clubs of 15 to 45 members that can grow up to 99 plants per year."
"Uruguay's attempt to quell drug trafficking is being followed closely in Latin America where the legalization of some narcotics is being increasingly seen by regional leaders as a possible way to end the violence spawned by the cocaine trade.
Rich countries debating legalization of pot are also watching the bill, which philanthropist George Soros has supported as an "experiment" that could provide an alternative to the failed U.S.-led policies of the long "war on drugs."
The bill gives authorities 120 days to set up a drug control board that will regulate cultivation standards, fix the price and monitor consumption.
The use of marijuana is legal in Uruguay, a country of 3.3 million that is one of the most liberal in Latin America, but cultivation and sale of the drug are not."

Thursday, December 12, 2013

School choice and IIPSC in Education Week

Benjamin Herold has a nice article in Education Week on school choice, and IIPSC: Custom Software Helps Cities Manage School Choice

"With fewer available seats in good public schools than families who want them, many cities face a vexing challenge: How do you decide which children go where?

"Enter Neil Dorosin.

"You have to allocate public school seats fairly, transparently, and efficiently, but it turns out that's not so easy to do," said Mr. Dorosin, the executive director of the Institute for Innovation in Public School Choice, based in New York City. "We help cities solve that problem."
Over the past decade, Mr. Dorosin and the nonprofit IIPSC have used a combination of economic theory and custom software to help overhaul the school choice and student-assignment systems in New York, Boston, Denver, and New Orleans. That work has converted a tangled web of school applications, deadlines, and admissions preferences into algorithms that generate one best school offer for every student.
"While IIPSC's initial efforts included only district-managed schools, the group's focus now is on creating "universal enrollment" programs that bring district and charter schools together in one centralized school assignment system. Proponents say that rationalizing the mechanisms that govern messy school choice marketplaces can help fix a host of problems, including opaque rules that unfairly benefit middle-class families, sometimes-sneaky admissions practices at charter schools, and long student waiting lists that hinder both families' and schools' ability to plan.

"Because the assignment systems generate reams of data on parental demand for different schools and programs, they are also seen as a pillar of the "portfolio" approach to district management, in which families are offered an array of education options that may be expanded or closed based on performance and other factors.
"While acknowledging that universal enrollment is not a "silver bullet," Mr. Siedlecki of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation said the data such systems generate can be an invaluable tool in helping school systems "grow their footprint of good schools."

"In New York City, for example, such information has been used to make decisions about which city schools should be replicated or closed—and to create new bilingual and other specialty programs in underserved areas of the city where there is evidence of high demand.

"You get the information you need to change the dynamic," Mr. Siedlecki said."

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Unraveling in Belgian soccer: an under 2 year old signed to pro club's under 5 team

First, there is an "under 5 team." And that's the one that's unraveling.

"Bryce Brites is only 20 months old and can’t even properly utter the words “ball” or “goal” but he just became the youngest professional football player on the planet.

This past week, Bryce signed with Belgian club FC Racing Boxberg, based near his home city of Genk, after impressing coaches with his “highly unusual” talent and “incredible” ball control. The precocious toddler was invited to train with the club’s Under-5 team and was signed and issued his very own Belgian FA membership card the very same day.

Amazingly, Bryce misses out on the all-time record for youngest-ever professional by two months. That record apparently belongs to Dutch footballer Baerke van der Meij, who signed a 10-year deal with VVV-Venlo when he was 18 months old."

HT: Juan Sebastián Pereyra Barreiro

Update: videos here

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Urban poverty: an opportunity for change in Richmond, VA

The city of Richmond, VA seems to be engaged in some innovative attempts to alleviate urban poverty, and in studying the sometimes counterproductive incentives and choices that face those who are trapped in it.

Jamison Manion, who is administering the city's workforce development program reached out to me and, in a series of discussions, convincingly made the case that Richmond is very open to partnering with academic researchers who would be interested in studying the obstacles to entry in the labor force, and crafting policies to overcome these. It sounds like they have data...so it could be an opportunity for some economist interested in poverty, cities, and labor force participation.

Here are two news stories and a presentation by Manion to the City Council.

NY Times:

Style Magazine:
(NOTE: The young man featured in this article was just offered a position as an Electrician’s Helper today)

Presentation to City Council: Feb 2013

Interested researchers can contact Manion directly...
Jamison Manion
Programs Administrator for Workforce Development
Center for Workforce Innovation
City of Richmond, VA


Monday, December 9, 2013

Behavioral economics in British government: NY Times

Uploading letters of recommendation to grad schools and academic jobs

The time of year when I write letters for undergrad students applying to grad schools, and graduate students applying for jobs, is just ending. There are a bunch of services via which letter writers are asked to upload their letters. Some (further) consolidation would be efficient.  Below are some reflections on the process of uploading letters (I didn't send any through the U.S. Post Office this year.)

Uploading recommendations for graduate school
ApplyYourself, Inc. has sold software to many schools.
"This online Recommendation service is provided by ApplyYourself, Inc. ("ApplyYourself"), a subsidiary of Hobsons, Inc.. ApplyYourself provides online Recommendation services for educational and other institutions."

It asks you to set a new password for each graduate program, and doesn't link to the accounts with the same password that I've already set up for other graduate programs at that university, not to mention for other schools. Multiple graduate programs in the same school need to have the same information added each time. It requires complicated passwords:
In order to begin your online Recommendation for xxx, you first need to create your password. After creating your password, you will be logged in automatically and will find further instructions on how to complete the Recommendation. Password must be between 8-30 characters, contain at least 1 uppercase letter (A-Z), 1 lowercase letter (a-z), 1 number (0-9), and 1 of the following special characters: !@#$%^&*()_+|~-=\`{}[]:";'<>?,./ Spaces are not allowed."

When submitting multiple letters to the same school you sometimes get this:
"An error has occurred. You either have more than one connection to this website or you did not properly log out of your last session. Please close all browser windows, then open a new browser window to access this site.Also, please be sure to logout of all future sessions to prevent this situation. Once logged in, you can logout by clicking on the 'logout' link located in the upper right hand corner of the page."
CollegeNET Letters of Recommendation is a service used by several universities, and when I log on I can see multiple (in this case 2) letter requests.  I can't submit one letter, but have to submit it again for each application. But at least I didn't have to logout and log in again...  Some universities (Princeton is one) ask you lots of questions that have to be filled in on a web form before you can proceed to upload your letter. Here's the kind of error message you get for not filling in some essential detail about yourself, like your zip code.
The data you just supplied contains 1 omission or datatype mismatch.
This problem will have an explanation above it.
Both the explanation and the problem will be in a box.

Data Validation:

Some fields are required by the institution to have a value.
Other fields need the data to satisfy length limitations
or certain formatting constraints.
Once these corrections are made,
the form will be ready for submission

Once you succeed in submitting the letter, it signs off with this helpful suggestion
You should print or save this page for your records. The information below can be used to track your form should you have any questions.
Law Schools use a service provided by the Law Schools Admissions Council
LSAC Evaluations is now LSAC Applicant References
It requires you to open an account, complete with security questions such as "what is your favorite number?"  It took me many attempts before finding a username and password that it would accept.
When I tried to upload my letter, I got an error message saying that they didn't accept pdf files.  Fortunately it accepted a .docx file. But after it has been slowly uploaded, you have to proofread it and check a box certifying that you have before the very slow webpage digests it...

Uploading jobmarket letters for economists is by and large easier than uploading letters for admission to grad schools, and my impression is that it is somewhat easier than jobmarket letters for other disciplines. This is largely due to the large market share presently enjoyed by econjobmarket.org, which makes it easy to upload a generic letter that will be sent to each of the employers enrolled on econjobmarket.org to whom that student has applied.  (I recalled from previous years that with somewhat more effort you can upload different letters to be sent to different employers. This year I had trouble figuring out how to do that, but minutes after sending a query on the contact page got a reply that explained how to do it--the key is to find where to turn off autodelivery:)

Their competition comes from two directions. One is from similar services, some of which are discussed below. In economics, these command a much smaller part of the market, i.e. each letter uploaded to them goes to fewer employers. The main competition to econjobmarket.org is software companies that sell a platform to universities for all of that university's applications. That is, for many letters of recommendation, you go to the university web site to upload your letter. There must be only a few software suppliers, since many of these sites look the same.

Here are some notes, first on two upload platforms, then on two fairly typical university sites.

AcademicJobsOnline  didn't make it easy to see which jobs were being applied to, hence it encouraged a generic letter that could be sent to any academic position. This is the feedback you get after uploading a letter.

Done Reference Letter Submission: Confirmation

Your letter has been successfully submitted. This is the final confirmation; no more confirmation or receipt will be sent by email.  

Interfolio also made it easy to submit a generic letter (one that would go with any application), and I didn't see an easy way to submit an application-specific letter.

While many schools with their own websites seem to use common software,  I had trouble convincing the unique HBS site that I was a human being, since I failed to write the correct captcha the first time I tried. In between attempts I had to upload my letter again, i.e. it deleted the letter I had uploaded before failing to prove I was human.

Columbia University's online Recruitment of Academic Personnel System (RAPS) site is annoying, since you  get requests for each position that a candidate applies for, and each requires (the same) letter, but after you have uploaded the letter for one position you have to close your browser before it will let you upload the letter for the next.

NYU Stern's Faculty Management System site asks you to use Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox (but even when I do it often doesn't recognize the .pdf files I try to upload, and gives me an error message telling me to upload a pdf...) I've mostly had to email in the letters to Stern...

Update: some further guidance for the perplexed from EJM:
Hi Professor Roth,
You can upload letters for a candidate to only be delivered to a particular institution the candidate has applied to by clicking on the "show applications" button for a candidate. A list of all their currently active applications will appear as well as options to submit individual letters for each of them.

A more detailed description of how to do this (with pictures) can be found here: http://www.econjobmarketblog.blogspot.com/2013/11/how-to-guide-recommenders.html

Sunday, December 8, 2013

EC14, now called Economics and Computation, at Stanford June 8-12 (submission deadline is Feb 11)

Here's the announcement and call for papers. The deadline is Feb 11 for paper submission.

Two related conferences will be coordinated at Stanford at the same time, the NBER market design conference, and the NSF Decentralization conference (see the announcement here).

You can also see how closely interwoven computer science and economics/market design have become by looking at the program committee, which includes both computer scientists and economists mixed up (or maybe mixed up computer scientists and economists):

General Chair: 
Moshe BabaioffMicrosoft Research
ec14-general-chair@acm.orgDescription: Description: email
Program Chairs:
Vincent ConitzerDuke University
ec14-pc-chairs@acm.orgDescription: Description: email
David EasleyCornell University
ec14-pc-chairs@acm.orgDescription: Description: email
Workshop Chair:
Robert KleinbergCornell University
ec14-workshops-chair@acm.orgDescription: Description: email
Tutorial Chair:
Shuchi ChawlaUniversity of Wisconsin - Madison
ec14-tutorial-chair@acm.orgDescription: Description: email
Senior Program Committee (one per area):
Theory and Foundations SPC:

Larry BlumeCornell University
Aaron Bodoh-CreedUC Berkeley
Felix BrandtTU Munich
Shuchi ChawlaUniversity of Wisconsin - Madison
Edith ElkindOxford University
Joan FeigenbaumYale University
Michal FeldmanHebrew University of Jerusalem
Drew FudenbergHarvard University
Nicole ImmorlicaNorthwestern University and Microsoft Research
Anna KarlinUniversity of Washington
David KempeUniversity of Southern California
Scott KominersHarvard University
Ron LaviTechnion - Israel Institute of Technology
Vahab MirrokniGoogle Research
Utku UnverBoston College

Artificial Intelligence and Applied Game Theory SPC:

Itai AshlagiMassachusetts Institute of Technology
Yiling ChenHarvard University
Arpita GhoshCornell University
Kate LarsonUniversity of Waterloo
Kevin Leyton-Brown, University of British Columbia
David PennockMicrosoft Research
Ariel ProcacciaCarnegie Mellon University
Tuomas SandholmCarnegie Mellon University
Experimental, Empirical, and Application SPC:

Eric BudishUniversity of Chicago
Yan ChenUniversity of Michigan
Ben EdelmanHarvard University
Ashish GoelStanford University
Muthu Muthukrishnan, Rutgers
Denis NekipelovUC Berkeley
Sid SuriMicrosoft Research
Steven TadelisUC Berkeley
Local Arrangements:
Yoav Shoham, Stanford University