Showing posts with label reputation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reputation. Show all posts

Monday, September 8, 2014

You can do a lot of good if you don't worry about who gets the credit

Shane Greenstein's' piece on false claims of credit for inventing email got me thinking about the larger question of attributing and claiming credit (especially after I initially mis-identified Shane as his co-blogger JG who shared the post to G+...).  Often, accomplishments have many parents. (And sometimes someone who helps disseminate the news is mistakenly credited as its source.)

Market design in particular is an outward facing part of economics, and much of what needs to be accomplished requires economists to play a helping role. So I've always liked the sentiment in the title of this post, whose origins turn out to be (fittingly) hard to attribute. Quote Investigator looks into it and finds many early origins and variations.

[1] A man may do an immense deal of good, if he does not care who gets the credit for it.

[2] This was the opportunity for a man who likes to do a good thing in accordance with the noble maxim … “Never mind who gets the credit.”

[3] The way to get things done is not to mind who gets the credit of doing them.

[4] There is no limit to what a man can do who does not care who gains the credit for it.

"These sayings are certainly not identical, but they are closely interlinked thematically. Quotation number [1] appeared in a diary entry from the year 1863 in which the words were recorded as spoken by a Jesuit Priest named Father Strickland. This is the earliest citation located by QI.
In 1896 the text of [2] was published, and the phrase “Never mind who gets the credit” was dubbed the noble maxim of Edward Everett Hale.
In 1905 quotation [3] was published, and the words were attributed to Benjamin Jowett who was a theologian and classical scholar at Oxford University. But one of the author’s who made this attribution decided it was flawed, and in a later book he reassigned credit for the saying from Jowett to a “Jesuit Father”. This is probably a reference to Father Strickland. This maxim is the same as quote [A] given by the questioner above.
Expression [4] was used by Charles Edward Montague in 1906, but he did not claim coinage of the phrase. He said it was the favorite saying of his friend and colleague the journalist William T. Arnold. But Montague did not credit Arnold as originator either. He left the attribution anonymous by using the locution “someone has said”.
In 1922 Montague published a close variant of saying [4], “There is no limit to what a man can do so long as he does not care a straw who gets the credit”, in his book “Disenchantment”. For this reason he is sometimes cited in modern texts and databases.
Finally, quotation [B] which is similar to [4] appeared in the 1980s on a small plaque atop the desk in the Oval Office of the White House during the Presidency of Ronald Reagan."

[B] There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Shane Greenstein on a false history of email

Sometimes people believe that they deserve more credit than they're getting, and Shane Greenstein writes about a man who believes he should be credited with inventing email.  (Earlier this morning I mistakenly identified the author of the post as Shane's co-blogger Joshua Gans; apologies to both.) Apparently the fellow who thinks he invented email and should get the credit for it is pretty clearly mistaken, but the Huffington Post took the bait, and so Shane organizes his post about how that makes HuffPo a much less trustworthy news source than he had hoped. (Apparently some things on the internet just aren't true...)  HuffPo and the Loss of Trust

"Now for the detail: HuffPo published a multipart history of email that is historically inaccurate. Yes, you read correctly. More specifically, a few of the details are correct, but those are placed next to some misleading facts, and these are embedded in a certifiably very misleading historical narrative. The whole account cannot be trusted.
The account comes from one guy, Shiva Ayyadurai, who did some great programming as a teenager. He claims to have invented electronic mail in 1978 when he was fourteen. He might have done some clever programming, but electronic mail already existed by the time he did his thing. Independent invention happens all the time in technological history, and Shiva is but another example, except for one thing. He had his ideas a little later than others, and the other ideas ended up being more influential on subsequent developments. Shiva can proudly join the long list of geeky teenagers who had some great technical skills at a young age, did some cool stuff, and basically had little impact on anybody else.
Except that Shiva won’t let it go. This looks like nothing more than Shiva’s ego getting in the way of an unbiased view.
Look, it is extremely well established that the email systems in use today descended from a set of inventors who built on each other’s inventions. They did their work prior to 1978. For example, it is well documented that the “@” in every email first showed up in 1971. Ray Tomlinson invented that. Others thought it was a good idea, and built on top of the @. We all have been doing it ever since. Moreover, this is not ancient history. Tomlinson has even written about his experiences, and lots of people know him. This is easy to confirm.
Though Ayyadurai’s shenanigans were exposed a few years ago, he persists. In the HuffPo piece yet again he pushes the story in which his inventions played a central place in the history of electronic mail. This time he has a slick infographic telling his version of things, and he managed to get others to act as shills for his story. He also now accuses others of fostering a conspiracy against his views in order to protect their place in history and deny him his.As if. “A teenager invented electronic mail” might be a great headline, and it might sound like a great romantic tale, but this guy is delusional."
Shane focuses on trust in news sources, but I can't help sympathize a bit with the delusional guy.  I know of many cases in which someone feels, often with considerable justice, that they don't get the credit they deserve. That's part of the problem with apportioning credit, and it may be a near universal feeling. You can certainly witness it among academics, and probably also among top athletes who don't make it to the Olympic podium or the Hall of Fame, and maybe even among some of those who do. Maybe a good sanity check on whether you are delusional is if you think there's a conspiracy...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

School choice: what makes schools popular in Boston

One of the benefits of a strategy-proof school choice mechanism is that it yields meaningful data on parent preferences.  The Boston Globe has a story describing some of those preferences, as revealed through the rankings of schools submitted for the school choice algorithm. (The reporter, Akilah Johnson, thinks that some good schools are being missed, and that the poorest families often fail to participate in the school choice system.)

Popularity matters in school lottery: The district’s hidden gems struggle to gain attention from parents.

""The principal of Higginson-Lewis K-8 School and one of her first-grade teachers stood amid a swirl of school-shopping families at the Showcase of Schools, waiting to deliver their sales pitch.
"It’s like being a Hilton Hotel in between two Ritzes,’’ Simmons, the first-grade teacher, said of the schools to her right and left, Hernandez K-8 and Kilmer K-8, both with more applicants than prekindergarten seats. The inverse is true at Higginson-Lewis, making it one of the least sought-after schools in Boston - at least according to a school district tally akin to a judge’s score sheet.

"The city uses a lottery system that was intended to give all students access to high-achieving classrooms, regardless of neighborhood or life circumstance. But families fixate on a collection of well-known, fiercely sought-after schools, largely ignoring those with lesser reputations. And over the past two decades, popularity has often become a proxy for quality, making it even harder for schools to get off that second rung.

"Popularity is driven by parents with time, inclination, and sometimes the means to enter the school lottery early, armed with information and expectations. Their preferences create a system of prized schools, and those in low demand - schools whose reputations have suffered because they are in higher-crime neighborhoods, serve predominantly poor students, and have, in some cases, test scores lower than average.
"Each year, the district creates a “demand report’’ to help inform parents’ decisions. It shows how many parents listed a school among their top three picks. Parents look at the list and seize on schools they like, but also immediately see the schools they want to avoid, schools they often know little about.
"The answer lies in who is, and who is not, choosing a school and when they choose. Popular schools have become synonymous with the choices of white middle-class families, principals and families say. And the demand report reflects the choices of families who choose early.

"Oliver said parents of color and those in low-income communities “don’t always go in to make choices when the lottery starts. We have a lot of people who can’t make a commitment until June or even Labor Day.’’
"The lottery system was created in the name of giving parents more choice. Still, Boston’s dreams of equal access to quality remain deferred, with many of the least-selected schools lacking racial and economic diversity. The Higginson-Lewis has only 10 white students in a school of about 425, and Marshall has just eight white students in a school of 713.

“People will come to visit and they will say: ‘How many white students are in the class? I don’t want my child to be the only one,’ ’’ said Oliver, the Higginson principal.
"Middle-class parents often aren’t willing to send their children to a school next to Malcolm X Park in Roxbury or on a street sandwiched between Geneva Avenue and Bowdoin Street in Dorchester, where neighborhood violence has, at times, landed on the school’s doorstep.
"School choice is “pretty complicated stuff, and people are always eager to come up with pretty simple solutions,’’ said Curt Dudley-Marling, a Boston College professor who studies patterns of school failure and success. “It always seems to me that it’s rigged for parents who have the most resources.’’

"Not all families have the benefit of active parent groups that organize school tours to help families vet their options, which in Boston could mean as many as 20 public school options, not including charters. Single parents, families new to the country, parents of disabled children, or families struggling with the demands of life often are unable to investigate every option.

“I can’t imagine they have time, much less the resources, to go to fairs and all these things,’’ Dudley-Marling said. Instead, they, like most people, default to what they have heard within their circle of influence."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Mike Luca on Yelp

My colleague Mike Luca (whose work I wrote about here when he was still a grad student) has a paper on the influence of Yelp reviews on restaurant revenues.

It's recently been receiving some attention both locally at HBS working knowledge, and in the larger blogosphere: One-Star Bump On Yelp Leads To Big Revenue Boost, Study Finds

Here's the abstract of his paper:
"Do online consumer reviews affect restaurant demand?  I investigate this question using a novel dataset combining reviews from the website and restaurant data from the Washington State  Department of Revenue.   Because  Yelp prominently displays a restaurant's rounded average rating,  I can  identify the  causal  impact of Yelp ratings on demand with a  regression discontinuity framework that exploits Yelp‟s rounding thresholds.  I present three findings about the impact of consumer reviews on the restaurant industry: (1) a one-star increase in Yelp rating leads to a  5-9 percent increase in revenue, (2) this effect is driven by independent restaurants; ratings do not affect restaurants with chain affiliation, and (3) chain restaurants have declined in market share as Yelp penetration has increased. This suggests that  online  consumer reviews substitute for more traditional forms of reputation. I then test whether  consumers use these reviews  in a way that is consistent with standard  learning models.  I present  two additional findings: (4) consumers do not use all available information and are more responsive to quality changes that are more visible and (5) consumers respond more strongly when a rating contains more information.  Consumer response to a restaurant‟s average rating is affected by the number of reviews and whether the reviewers are certified as “elite” by Yelp, but is  unaffected by the size of the reviewers‟ Yelp friends network." "

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Will reputation and crowd sourcing facilitate alternative forms of peer review?

That's the question raised in a (gated) article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about a proposal to publish papers online, and then have them subject to comment: 'Facebook of Science' Seeks to Reshape Peer Review

"Mr. Tracz plans to turn his latest Internet experiment, a large network of leading scientists called the Faculty of 1000, into what some call "the Facebook of science" and a force that will change the nature of peer review. His vision is to transform papers from one-shot events owned by publishers into evolving discussions among those researchers, authors, and readers.
"The core function of F1000 is to allow members to highlight any newly published paper that they consider interesting and give it a points rating of six (recommended), eight (must read), or 10 (exceptional). Many members give network access to a junior colleague who helps them rate publications.

"Members say in a sentence or two why they find the paper interesting. Readers then are able to attach their own comments to the F1000 site. (Authors can appeal comments they consider unreasonable.)
"For Mr. Tracz, this objective leads inevitably back to the more grandiose goal of upending the existing publishing system. "There are two big issues, for science and for publishing," he says. "One is peer review, and one is the publishing of data." While many researchers and publishers consider prepublication peer review to be, at worst, a necessary evil, Mr. Tracz is scathing about its weaknesses. "Except for a tiny little part at the top, where it is done seriously, peer review has become a joke. It is not done properly, it delays publication unnecessarily, it is open to abuse, and is being abused. It is seriously sick, and it has been for a while."

Friday, August 27, 2010

The market for attention: recommender engines for Twitter

How to decide what to pay attention to? A paper discusses several possible models for recommender engines for tweets: Short and Tweet: Experiments on Recommending Content from Information Streams by Jilin Chen, Rowan Nairn, Les Nelson, Michael Bernstein, and Ed H. Chi

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The market for boasting

How did people boast signal before they had blogs?

Not long ago I was the subject of a flattering profile in Forbes (which I wrote about in this earlier blog boast post).
Yesterday I received a letter in the mail from a company that "specializes in turning articles into custom designed plaques."

It's not a bad idea, and if I were a restaurant, I'd buy one right away, and post it next to the menu, preferably where it could be read from the street.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Peer to peer overnight accommodations

The NY Times reviews sites of "social network bed and breakfasts" on which you can reserve rooms for overnight stays in cities around the world: Europe Without Hotels.

The sites have various ways to protect against scams:

"In Paris, AirBnB has places in every arrondissement, including $13-a-night rooms in the western suburbs and $285-a-night houseboats on the Seine. As the first Web site of its kind to grab the headlines, the system has already developed a large and loyal user base. Some properties have as many as 70 user-generated reviews, which give paying guests a greater sense of confidence. It is similar to how eBay works: you’re more likely to buy from an eBay seller with good feedback." ...

"After the brief tour, I gave Mr. Mostaedi the code that allows him to collect my payment from iStopOver. That’s one of the safeguards that iStopOver offers to guests. If a listing turns out to be fraudulent or misstated, you can refuse to give the owner the code, and the fee is refunded in full. Other services offer similar protections: AirBnB withholds a host’s payment until 24 hours after guests check into an accommodation in order to fend off potential scammers, and Crashpadder uses credit card payments to verify guest identities (though it says it will monitor but not otherwise involve itself in any disputes)."
Here are the sites mentioned:
"AIRBNB.COM, founded in 2007 in San Francisco, is the largest of this new generation of social B&Bs and has the most user reviews.
Where: About 5,378 cities in 146 countries.
Accommodations: Air mattresses to entire villas.
Price: In New York, from $10 for a room to $3,000 for a loft.
IStopOver, founded in 2009 in Toronto, specializes in big events, like this summer’s World Cup in South Africa.
Where: Mostly North America, Europe and South Africa.
Accommodations: Apartments and houses.
Price: $10 to $8,000 a night.
Founded in 2008 in London, operates mostly in Britain, with a surge expected during the 2010 Olympics in London.
Where: 898 cities, including more than 1,000 listings in London.
Accommodations: Bedrooms to houses.
Price: From £15 (about $21 at $1.43 to the pound) a night, plus £3 booking fee.
Founded in 2008, focuses on higher-end properties, especially in New York City.
Where: 36 cities, including more than 1,000 listings in New York.
Accommodations: Bedrooms to houses.
Price: From $30 to $5,000, plus an 8 to 12 percent booking fee. "

Thursday, January 21, 2010 is an internet site on which people can ask and answer math questions. It elicits a good deal of effort for free, in an Open Science, reputation-mediated way.

It has a reputation system, based on the votes "up" your questions and answers get. Other users can also reduce your reputation by 2 points, at a cost of 1 point to themselves, if they don't like your posts.

There's also a set of distinctions that users can earn, called badges.

HT: Aaron Roth

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Peer review and markets for ideas, in law and science

Most scientific journals involve "peer review," where the peers in question are supposed to be experts on the subject of a particular submitted article. Because reviewers' time is scarce, the presumption is that a paper submitted to a peer reviewed journal is not currently being submitted anywhere else. The author submits the paper, and waits for a review (either a rejection, a revise-and-resubmit, or an acceptance). Depending on the field and the journal this can happen quickly, or (for economics journals) slowly.

Law Reviews are different. Authors submit to multiple journals simultaneously, and the papers are reviewed not by peers but by the third year law students who edit that year's edition of their law school's Review. And well-received authors don't get "acceptances" they get "offers" to publish, which typically have a short deadline, e.g. 24 hours. In that time they can contact one of the other law reviews to whom they have submitted the paper and try to get it accepted there.

For example, the submissions page of the University of Chicago Law Review has the following invitation to ask for an Expedited Review: "If you have received a formal offer of publication from another journal and would like to receive an expedited review by the University of Chicago Law Review, please contact us at lrarticles[at] When requesting an expedited review, please put "Expedite" as the subject of your email and include in the text:
1) The author name and title of your manuscript; 2) The name of the journal that has extended an offer to you; 3) The date that the offer expires; 4) The phone number or email address of a contact person at that journal;5) An electronic attachment of your article (plus C.V. or cover letter) to facilitate and accelerate the process. The University of Chicago Law Review will attempt to honor all requests for expedited review for which the above information is provided. ..."

But there is an experiment afoot to change the way law review articles are reviewed, and to try to have peer review while still allowing authors to submit to multiple journals simultaneously: Mainstream law review tries peer review

The idea is to have the reviews done first in a clearinghouse called the Peer Reviewed Scholarship Marketplace "The Peer Reviewed Scholarship Marketplace (“PRSM”), a consortium of student-edited legal journals, exists to provide student-editors with peer evaluations of legal-scholarship manuscripts and to assure the publication of quality articles. PRSM connects authors and journals with subject matter experts, who through their reviews provide editors with the information they need to make informed decisions regarding article selection. With PRSM, the future of legal-scholarship publishing has arrived."

"The Peer Reviewed Scholarship Marketplace (“PRSM”) began with the South Carolina Law Review’s Peer Review Pilot Program... Numerous authors submitted manuscripts to the South Carolina Law Review, and many other legal scholars and practitioners volunteered to serve as peer reviewers. Relying on the reviewers’ evaluations, the South Carolina Law Review chose three articles for publication in a special Peer Review Issue (Volume 60, Book 4). This special issue also featured a favorable foreword by Judge Richard A. Posner as well as an essay describing the South Carolina Law Review’s experience with peer review.
The Pilot Program’s success encouraged the creation of PRSM, a consortium of student-edited legal journals that believe that peer review can enhance the quality of the articles that journals select and ultimately publish. PRSM works much like the familiar manuscript submission vehicle ExpressO but with a peer review component. Authors submit their work exclusively to PRSM, whose administrators then arrange for double-blind peer review of each manuscript. After six weeks, PRSM members will receive a copy of the article with the reviews, which will assist the student-editors in publication decisions. As with ExpressO, members will make their own independent offers to authors, who are free to accept or decline. If an author is unsatisfied with all offers—or receives none after a designated date—he or she is free to resubmit his or her reviewed manuscript through ExpressO or another preferred vehicle.
PRSM thus benefits all parties: authors, reviewers, journals, and the legal community that relies on scholarship published in student-edited journals. All authors receive valuable feedback from their peers, and successfully placed authors further benefit from the “peer reviewed” certification of their published manuscripts. Reviewers are offered an opportunity to comment on new scholarship pertinent to their areas of expertise and thereby participate in the “gate-keeping” article selection process. Student-edited journals are given an additional tool to spot and select the most novel and valuable research for publication. Finally, PRSM’s peer review process produces higher quality scholarship for the legal community that reads and relies on the profession’s journals.
For more information about South Carolina Law Review’s experience with the Peer Review Pilot Program and creation of PRSM, go here."

Apparently law journals in the UK are more like economics journals than like American law reviews, in that authors can only submit to one journal at a time, and submissions are peer reviewed (see Comparative journal submission experiences by John Ip).

In the meantime, a peer-review holdout in the sciences is moving to peer review. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, the journal published by the honorific society from which it takes its name, had a tradition of allowing NAS members to "communicate" papers without a refereeing process. For some time now that has coexisted with a peer review process; some papers are reviewed, others simply communicated. Next year that will come to an end, and all papers will be reviewed: PNAS will eliminate Communicated submissions in July 2010.

The problem is that communicated papers were apparently of very uneven quality. (Some biologists I know claim that PNAS stands for "post-Science and Nature," as papers are only sent there after being rejected by those two other journals.) And while there is a very sensible scientific tradition of simply ignoring bad papers, some of the ones that appeared were apparently embarassing: Peer Review Failure?

Peer review is undoubtedly a part of the answer to the larger question about why journals persist at all given the growth of the internet: Why Hasn’t Scientific Publishing Been Disrupted Already?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Getting what you measure: college rankings version

As the rankings of universities conducted by the magazine US News and World Reports have become more influential, there are a growing number of reports of the ways, fair and not so fair, that universities respond to what USNWR tries to measure.

Clemson University has been in the news in connection with their stated efforts to rise higher in the US News and World Report rankings of colleges.
They and their critics agree that they want to do this; the question is are they doing it in the right way for the right reasons.

Here's a critic who says no:Researcher Offers Unusually Candid Description of University's Effort to Rise in Rankings:
"Clemson University is run in an almost single-minded direction, with nearly all policies driven by how they will help the land-grant institution rise in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings, according to a university official whose candid comments stirred debate among conference-goers here on Tuesday."

and the reply:
Clemson Assails Allegations That It Manipulates 'U.S. News' Rankings
"Clemson University, stung by charges by one of its own researchers that it willfully manipulates the U.S. News & World Report rankings, fired back on Wednesday, saying the accusations are “outrageous” examples of “urban legends” that have surrounded the university’s campaign to reach the top 20 of public research universities.“The accusation that Clemson, its staff, and administrators have engaged in unethical conduct to achieve a higher ranking is untrue and unfairly disparages the sincere, unwavering, and effective efforts of faculty and staff to improve academic quality over the past 10 years,” reads a statement issued by the university’s chief spokeswoman, Catherine T. Sams. “While we have publicly stated our goal of a top-20 ranking, we have repeatedly stressed that we use the criteria as indicators of quality improvement and view a ranking as the byproduct, not the objective.” "

Here's a summary: Clemson Explains Its Approach to U.S. News Rankings

And here's a story about alleged simple mis-counting at USC's School of Engineering: More Rankings Rigging , and a summary reflecting the relation between what is measured and what is reported: Gaming the Rankings. Here's an illuminating paragraph:

"Any performance measure is ripe to be gamed. The percentage of alumni giving is a measure worth 5 percent of a ranking in U.S. News. A few years ago, Albion College made its own stir in the higher education rankings world when it increased its percentage of alumni making donations with the stroke of a pen. As The Wall Street Journal reported, the college recorded a $30 donation from a graduating senior as a $6 alumnus gift for the next five years. Clemson, in its systematic approach to raising its rank — “no indicator, no method, no process off limits to create improvement,” as Watt stated — solicited alumni donations in such a way as to increase their giving rate: Alumni were encouraged to give as little as $5 annually."

Note incidentally that there are different ways to try to rise in the rankings, and some may be strictly gaming (e.g. soliciting and/or reporting the same $30 contribution in a different way), while others (lowering the number of classes with more than 20 students) may have a positive effect by themselves. But whenever the goal is one thing, but what is or can be measured is another, there of course will be incentives to respond to what is being measured.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Economic Logic of Anonymity and Pseudonymity

My previous post talks about my recent NBER working paper with Muriel Niederle and Utku Unver. Earlier this week I received an email that this paper was featured on another blog, Economic Logic. The email was signed "Economic Logician." And when I looked carefully at the blog itself (which I had read before; it's one of the economics blogs I have on my bookmark list), I couldn't find any identifying information about the blogger, even after clicking on the links through which blog owners often identify themselves.

So I replied to the email asking "Are you blogging anonymously, incidentally? (May I ask why?)"

I received the following reply: "Yes, I remain anonymous. This allows me more liberty in my writing, and I hope the blog will gather reputation on its own merit, instead of being attached to a name."

This got me thinking about the market design aspects of anonymity , and its not so close relative pseudonymity. When I asked EL about his/her anonymity, I was referring of course to the fact that I don't know who he/she is, what his/her day job is, which personal pronoun is appropriate, etc. But when EL speaks of the blog developing a reputation, he/she is referring to the fact that the posts are under the repeated-use pseudonym Economic Logician (with respect to which the name of the blog is an eponym), so that each post can both rely on and help establish the reputation of the same unidentified/pseudonymous person who wrote the previous posts.

Lots of internet markeplaces allow pseudonymous usernames, and still manage to foster reputation building and trust. (In an earlier post I wrote about the redesign of eBay's reputation system from one in which feedback could only be identified or pseudonymous to one in which it can also be anonymous: "ENGINEERING TRUST - RECIPROCITY IN THE PRODUCTION OF REPUTATION INFORMATION," - by Gary Bolton, Ben Greiner, and Axel Ockenfels. ) That paper notes how being able to identify who left feedback led to reciprocal feedback, either jointly positive or jointly negative, which reduced the informativeness of certain kinds of feedback.

There are other contexts in which anonymity is encouraged or allowed (and not just in comments to blogs). The refereeing of academic papers for publication is an example in which we seem to believe that the benefits (increased frankness) of anonymity may overcome the costs (e.g. an increase in self-serving reviews).

Some journals have double-blind refereeing, in which the authors as well as the referees may choose to remain anonymous during the review process (e.g. by deleting their names from the cover sheet, and also not posting the paper where Google can find it). Google now essentially prevents journals from enforcing anonymity on authors, since it gives authors a way to identify themselves if they wish, despite the requirement that their names and affiliations may not appear on the submitted paper. I think that preventing referees from knowing who the authors are would be a mixed blessing; it would level the playing field in certain desirable ways, but it might also remove information that would be valuable in evaluating the paper. (For example, if you read a paper saying that, on balance, the conclusions of Roth (1977) need to be revisited, it might be useful for you to know if Roth is one of the authors.)

Of course, marketplace rules may allow participants to be anonymous from some parties and not from others, and internet privacy rules are concerned with who can choose how individuals are identified. (See this nice take on the famous New Yorker cartoon about anonymity on the internet.)

So, anonymity has its uses, as does identity, and pseudonymity has some of the advantages and disadvantages of each. I'll keep blogging under my natural name for the time being, since, especially when my posts are unclear or incomplete, they may get some helpful context from the fact that they are linked to me and the work I do .

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Where did all the MD license plates go?

When I was a child, it was commonplace to see cars with license plates indicating that the car belonged to a medical doctor. Where did they all go?

It isn't that they aren't still available to doctors who want them, e.g. here is the MA application form, complete with a picture of an MD license plate: Application for Medical Doctor (MD) Plates . So why have doctors reduced their use of this kind of signaling?

My guess is the answer has to do with changes in markets that changed the value of sending such a signal. Here are some conjectures:

Housecalls play a much smaller role in medical practice than they did when I was a child, and so the need for docs to park in odd places and rely on their plates to ward off parking tickets has decreased.

The reputational benefits of being a doctor have decreased.

Drug addicts started to break into cars with MD plates, looking for drugs to use or sell.

Feel free to leave other conjectures as comments...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Piracy and armed merchantmen

Why is this headline such an outlier? Cruise ship opens fire to beat back Somali pirates

One reason is that ship owners are concerned about the longer term effects of escalating the level of violence in their encounters with pirates. But, it turns out, there are some market design reasons too (emphasis added):

"There have been calls for commercial ships to be allowed to carry weapons to deter increasingly bold pirate gangs, who are armed with automatic rifles and often rocket-propelled grenades.
But ships with arms onboard are not allowed to dock at non-military ports.
To bypass this rule, some operators are hiring private security teams who board as the ship enters a risky stretch of water and leave once the danger has passed.
Andrew Mwangura, head of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme in the Kenyan port of Mombasa, criticised the Melody for carrying guns.
"There are a number of other methods which can be used to deter the pirates, having weapons on board is dangerous because it raises the stakes for the pirates," he said.
"There is a far higher risk that a crew member of a merchant vessel, or a passenger, could die if the pirates feel they must fight harder to win the ship." The International Maritime Bureau said piracy incidents nearly doubled in the first quarter of 2009, almost all of them off Somalia. There were 18 attacks off the Somali coast in March alone.
Pirates have made millions of dollars from seizing ships and taking crews hostage. A Greek ship was released on Saturday after a £1.3 million ransom was paid.
But just hours earlier a German grain carrier was grabbed in the Gulf of Aden. "

Saturday, April 4, 2009

More on recommender systems for escorts

Scott Cunningham of Baylor writes:

"I saw today your post on the screening sites that prostitutes use ["Problem customer" registries for prostitutes]. I just wanted to pass along to you a paper I'm currently working on with Todd Kendall called "Prostitution 2.0: Estimating the Effect of the Internet on the Market for Commercial Sex in the US."
"We have been surveying online prostitutes for the last 10 months using data collected from The Erotic Review, which is a large "mall" that clients use to record detailed information about prostitutes in various cities. In the course of the surveys, we have been studying the way in which the Internet has facilitated improved screening, and even in some cases, signaling between clients and prostitutes. One of the more ingenious things that we have found is a case of signaling from clients to prostitutes wherein they send letters of recommendation to prostitutes, usually in the form of sending along information [from] another prostitute with whom they've already visited. This, we argue, has enabled prostitutes to update their beliefs that a new client is not a cop (or a violent client) because these letters are relatively more expensive for cops to send. A case in point - see this story about two police officers who were sleeping with prostitutes in Beaumont, Texas allegedly in order to make a case on a drug trafficker. When the public learned, the men were fired, and the officers are now suing the Beaumont, Texas police department for wrongful termination. (It's suggestive that indeed the private costs of using these kinds of methods are prohibitively high for cops, which we argue is evidence that the costs of signaling type to prostitutes is such that the separating equilibria and not the pooling equilibria is more likely to be happening). "

Here is The Erotic Review, and here is what they say about customers getting recommendations from escorts:

"TER White List
If you have a good reputation with the ladies, encourage them to visit the TER White List and submit a referral for you. The TER White List is an easy way for providers to give positive references about members they have seen. "

Monday, March 30, 2009

"Problem customer" registries for prostitutes

High end prostitutes and others who do business as "escorts" are vulnerable to booking bad customers, who may be abusive, fail to pay, be undercover police officers, insist on unsafe sex, or simply fail to keep their appointments. Because the services prostitutes sell are largely illegal, and because their customers may be anonymous, the market design problem of establishing a recommender/reputation feedback system to identify problem customers is considerable.

But there are several efforts in this direction, including sites which attempt to be available to the profession only (e.g. ProviderBuzz and DangerZone411), and, more accessibly, the National Blacklist Deadbeats Registry (Serving the Escorts Community)
"Our Vision: To see the day when female escorts (meaning; adult service providers, sex workers, call girls, courtesans, etc.) can work free from harm, and with peace of mind from pests, scammers, abusers, harassers, and stalkers."

The site (which requires a paid subscription to be able to search the reports) invites escorts to report and (try to) identify problem customers. The "incident report" form prompts the reporter for any available information identifying the customer (name, email address or phone number, "stated occupation," etc.), for a full physical description, and for a description of the incident, including an address (but with the warning "DO NOT put your address if the incident was at your incall location. You do not want to show YOUR address!")

Abbreviations for frequently reported categories are helpfully provided:
"Legend For Abbreviations
BC Boundary Crosser or Rule Breaker
BAYR Book At Your Risk
BBBJ Bare Back Blow Job
BBFS Bare Back Full Service
BBG Bare Back Greek (Anal)
DNS DO NOT SEE!!! "Bad Client Warning" (Various Reasons)
FDFK Forced Deep French Kissing
ILE Impersonating LE
LE Law Enforcement
M Manipulative, or Threatens to "out you" or ruin your working reputation
PST Phone or internet harasser/phone stalker
RAPE Rapist, any forced penetration without consent
ROB Refuse to pay or took back $ after
RCON Sneaks off condom
SC Short Changer
ST Stalker
NS No Show (NSNC - No Show, No Call)
STD Visible STD
V Violent
VP Physically violent or rough, assault, battery
VA Verbally abusive, rude, threatening, demeaning"

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Market for book reviews: Amazon version

Here's a nice description of how Amazon's reviews are ordered: at the top are the ones rated most useful, both positive and negative: The Magic Behind Amazon's 2.7 Billion Dollar Question

"Even the behavior of clicking Yes or No is elegant. Amazon tracks who rates each review as helpful, allowing each person to only vote once. This prevents "gaming the system" by voting for a friend's (or your own) review multiple times. Clicking either Yes or No pops up a quick message, saying the vote will take effect within 24 hours. (This delay also reduces gaming.)
Amazon quietly bumps the three most helpful reviews to the top. It tries to balance positive and negative reviews, so shoppers get a balanced perspective. An interesting side effect is how these selected reviews get more votes. If they are controversial (in that not everyone agrees they were helpful), their ratio goes down, allowing the most helpful reviews to bubble up past them."

And here is a discussion of how online recommendation systems might decrease the total diversity of products: Online Monoculture and the End of the Niche (HT to MR)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Trust and trustworthiness: promoting and maintaining it

Trust is essential for all sorts of transactions, and how to set up institutions to promote trust and trustworthiness in the marketplace is a big concern of market design.

It is even a big concern of armies trying to win the hearts and minds of a population in the face of a guerrilla insurgency. There's a very interesting essay in the Washington Post about earning, maintaining and restoring trust, by Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: Building Our Best Weapon.

On a more technical note, I'm reading Community Structure and Market Outcomes: Towards a Theory of Repeated Games in Networks by Itay Fainmesser (who you can try to hire next year). He is interested how patterns of connections between buyers and sellers can promote trustworthy behavior through repeated play, and how the effort to achieve trust in the marketplace by engaging in long term relationships may exclude some parties from the market. In this connection he writes "...repeated interactions cannot perfectly substitute for institutions..."

The kinds of institutions he is thinking of are both legal (if you can sue me for non-performance, this makes it easier to trust me), and reputational (if you can give me a credible negative review that will impede my ability to transact in the future, this also makes it easier to trust me).

As it happens, I've also been reading about the recent redesign of eBay's reputational system: "ENGINEERING TRUST - RECIPROCITY IN THE PRODUCTION OF REPUTATION INFORMATION," - by Gary Bolton, Ben Greiner, and Axel Ockenfels. It is a very nice market design paper.

They describe some of the design concerns behind eBay's 2007 rollout of its new, more detailed feedback system, in which buyers are able to give some feedback on sellers anonymously. In particular, they describe how they and eBay became concerned that the old reputation system became less informative than it might have been, because the pattern of reciprocally positive feedback concealed underlying dissatisfactions. They describe how (both prospectively and retrospectively) they compared the relevant field data, and how laboratory experiments helped verify the intuitions gained in that way, and allowed them to see the efficiency effects of an improved reputation system.