Wednesday, February 29, 2012

From repugnant, to legal, to mandatory?

The Telegraph reports on the intersection of prostitution law (it's now legal) and unemployment law (you can lose your benefits if you turn down a job) in Germany: 'If you don't take a job as a prostitute, we can stop your benefits'

"A 25-year-old waitress who turned down a job providing "sexual services'' at a brothel in Berlin faces possible cuts to her unemployment benefit under laws introduced this year.

"Prostitution was legalised in Germany just over two years ago and brothel owners – who must pay tax and employee health insurance – were granted access to official databases of jobseekers.

 "The waitress, an unemployed information technology professional, had said that she was willing to work in a bar at night and had worked in a cafe.

 "She received a letter from the job centre telling her that an employer was interested in her "profile'' and that she should ring them. Only on doing so did the woman, who has not been identified for legal reasons, realise that she was calling a brothel.

 "Under Germany's welfare reforms, any woman under 55 who has been out of work for more than a year can be forced to take an available job – including in the sex industry – or lose her unemployment benefit. Last month German unemployment rose for the 11th consecutive month to 4.5 million, taking the number out of work to its highest since reunification in 1990.

 "The government had considered making brothels an exception on moral grounds, but decided that it would be too difficult to distinguish them from bars. As a result, job centres must treat employers looking for a prostitute in the same way as those looking for a dental nurse."
"Tatiana Ulyanova, who owns a brothel in central Berlin, has been searching the online database of her local job centre for recruits.

"Why shouldn't I look for employees through the job centre when I pay my taxes just like anybody else?" said Miss Ulyanova."

So we have here a situation in which a formerly repugnant transaction became legal and might, under some circumstances become mandatory (at least for those seeking unemployment benefits). This reminds me of one of the better arguments against legalizing kidney sales and other payments to organ donors: once they were legal, some future Congress might want to make unemployment benefits available only to people who had already utilized their kidney resources, for example… See my posts on the fraught debate about compensation for donors.

HT: Itay Fainmesser

Update from the comments: no women have been forced into prostitution by this potential legal technicality...

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Just as well he's not the French president...

A recent story about the once likely presidential candidate Dominique Strauss-Kahn sheds some light on his lifestyle, and on French law regarding prostitution: French Police Detain Strauss-Kahn for Questioning

"Magistrates are investigating whether Mr. Strauss-Kahn was aware that women who entertained him were prostitutes. One of his lawyers, Henri Leclerc, has ridiculed the idea. “He could easily not have known, because as you can imagine, at these kinds of parties you’re not always dressed, and I challenge you to distinguish a naked prostitute from any other naked woman,” Mr. Leclerc told a French radio station, Europe 1, in December.

"Prosecutors are also seeking to determine whether Mr. Strauss-Kahn knew that some of the escorts may have been paid with embezzled funds. Prostitution is legal in France but it is unlawful to profit from vice or use embezzled funds to pay prostitutes."

Monday, February 27, 2012

AEA announcements of a market design sort: conference organization and part-time teaching

The AEA announcement email of 2/13/12 contains the following bits of market design aimed at managing congestion in a thick market, and creating thickness in a thin one:

Econ-Harmony helps prospective AEA Annual Meetings individual paper submitters find others with similar interests who might join them to form a complete session submission, and provides an opportunity to volunteer as a session chair. Thirty-one percent of submitted complete sessions and 16% of submitted individual papers made it onto the 2012 Program; 39% of submitted complete sessions and 17 % of submitted individual papers made it onto the 2011 Program. Econ-Harmony is at

Retired Faculty Available for part-time or temporary teaching. JOE now lists retired economists interested in teaching on either a part-time or temporary basis at Individuals can add or delete their name any time. Listings are deleted on November 30; the service is closed during December and January, re-opening February 12.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Matching in Budapest in July: call for papers

First announcement and call for papers (with apologies if you receive this
more than once):

                           MATCH-UP 2012:
   the Second International Workshop on Matching Under Preferences

                          19-20 July 2012
                         Budapest, Hungary

  co-located with SING8: The 8th Spain-Italy-Netherlands Meeting
              on Game Theory (


Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the seminal paper by Gale and Shapley,
and following the success of the first MATCH-UP workshop in Reykjavík in
2008 (, we are organising another
interdisciplinary workshop on stable matchings and related topics.

Matching problems with preferences occur in widespread applications such
as the assignment of school-leavers to universities, junior doctors to
hospitals, students to campus housing, children to schools, kidney
transplant patients to donors and so on. The common thread is that
individuals have preference lists over the possible outcomes and the task
is to find a matching of the participants that is in some sense optimal
with respect to these preferences.

The remit of this workshop is to explore matching problems with
preferences from the perspective of algorithms and complexity, discrete
mathematics, combinatorial optimization, game theory, mechanism design
and economics, and thus a key objective is to bring together the research
communities of the related areas.

Invited speakers
* Nicole Immorlica, Northwestern University
* Rob Irving, University of Glasgow
* Fuhito Kojima, Stanford University (on leave at Columbia University)
* Tayfun Sönmez, Boston College

List of topics
The matching problems under consideration include, but are not limited to:

* two-sided matchings involving agents on both sides (e.g. college
  admissions, resident allocation, job markets, school choice, etc.)
* two-sided matchings involving agents and items (e.g. house allocation,
  course allocation, project allocation, assigning papers to reviewers,
  school choice, etc.)
* one-sided matchings (roommates problem, kidney exchanges, etc.)
* matching with payments (assignment game, auctions, etc.)

We call for two types of contributed papers.

Format A: original contribution
* at most 12 pages
* accepted papers will be published in proceedings (however, this should
  not prevent the simultaneous or subsequent submission of contributed
  papers to other workshops, conferences or journals)

Format B: not necessarily original work
* no page limit
* only the abstract will be published in proceedings

Authors should indicate which format type their paper should be considered

Important dates
* Deadline for submission of contributed papers: 19 March 2012
* Notification of acceptance: 20 April 2012
* Early registration deadline: 18 May 2012
* Workshop: 19-20 July 2012

Organising committee
* Péter Biró (Institute of Economics, Hungarian Academy of Sciences)
* Tamás Fleiner (Budapest University of Technology and Economics)
* David Manlove (University of Glasgow)
* Tamás Solymosi (Corvinus University, Budapest)

Programme committee
* Péter Biró (Chair, Institute of Economics, Hungarian Academy of Sciences)
* Estelle Cantillon (Université Libre de Bruxelles)
* Katarína Cechlárová (Univerzita Pavla Jozefa Safárika)
* Paul Dütting (EPFL, Lausanne)
* Aytek Erdil (University of Cambridge)
* Tamás Fleiner (Budapest University of Technology and Economics)
* Guillaume Haeringer (Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona)
* Elena Inarra (University of the Basque Country)
* Zoltán Király (Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest)
* Flip Klijn (Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona)
* David Manlove (University of Glasgow)
* Eric McDermid (21st Century Technologies)
* Shuichi Miyazaki(Kyoto University)
* Marina Nunez (Universitat de Barcelona)
* Ildikó Schlotter (Budapest University of Technology and Economics)
* Tamás Solymosi (Corvinus University, Budapest)

Further information

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Is it possible to be too young or too thin?

Could using too young or too thin fashion models become repugnant?
The NY Times is on the case: Checking Models’ IDs at the Door

"IN the five years since fashion designers got serious about protecting the health and well-being of young models, there has been a measurable improvement in the prevailing ideal of beauty as seen on the runways. Many of the top models working today, like Lara Stone, Joan Smalls and Arizona Muse, reflect a changing aesthetic toward healthier figures and at least some representation of diversity in race and age.

"And yet, season after season, we still see models who appear to be dangerously thin or...models who are as young as 14, even though designers and modeling agencies have pledged not to cast girls younger than 16 in the shows. If you believe them.

"Assessing the impact of a campaign to curb reckless behavior in their industry, Diane Von Furstenberg, the president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, said this week that some progress had been made but that much work remained to be done. This season, the council urged its members to insist on seeing identification from models to prove that they are 16 by the time of their shows. (Ms. Von Furstenberg herself was embarrassed a year ago, when, after promoting the age requirement, it was discovered that one of the models in her own show was still 15.)

“If we haven’t done anything else,” Ms. Von Furstenberg said, measuring her words, “we certainly have created awareness.”

Friday, February 24, 2012

False positives in the reporting of experiments

Here's an article suggesting that _lots_ of false positives get introduced into the experimental literature, and they suggest some experimental protocols that if widely adopted by authors and journals might help reduce the number.

False-Positive Psychology: Undisclosed Flexibility in Data Collection and Analysis Allows Presenting Anything as Significant
by Joseph P. Simmons, Leif D. Nelson, and Uri Simonsohn
Psychological Science, November 2011, vol. 22, 1359-1366

"First, we show that despite empirical psychologists’ nominal endorsement of a low rate of false-positive findings (<_ .05), flexibility in data collection, analysis, and reporting dramatically increases actual false-positive rates. In many cases, a researcher is more likely to falsely find evidence that an effect exists than to correctly find evidence that it does not. We present computer simulations and a pair of actual experiments that demonstrate how unacceptably easy it is to accumulate (and report) statistically significant evidence for a false hypothesis. Second, we suggest a simple, low-cost, and straightforwardly effective disclosure-based solution to this problem. The solution involves six concrete requirements for authors and four guidelines for reviewers, all of which impose a minimal burden on the publication process."

A very nice paper, in a venerable literature. See my earlier attempt, which also focused on more carefully reporting all aspects of how an experiment was conducted and reported.

Roth, A.E., "Lets Keep the Con out of Experimental Econ.: A Methodological NoteEmpirical Economics (Special Issue on Experimental Economics), 1994, 19, 279-289. 

HT: Eyal Ert

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Unraveling of college admissions: more students apply early

When markets unravel, we often see dates at which transactions are finalized move earlier and earlier.
Something different is going on in college admissions: the dates for early admissions are staying the same, but more students are applying early, and colleges are filling a higher percentage of their entering class early.
Here's a story on the rise in early applicants: As a Broader Group Seeks Early Admission, Rejections Rise in the East

"Early admission to top colleges, once the almost exclusive preserve of the East Coast elite, is now being pursued by a much broader and more diverse group of students, including foreigners and minorities.
"Duke, for example, received 400 early applications this year from California or overseas; in 2005, it was fewer than 100. Haverford College, outside Philadelphia, saw early applications from abroad double this year from last. And at the University of Chicago, there were double-digit rises in the percentage of early applications from black and Hispanic students."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Peer review as a club good

Peer review is a system that scientists love to criticize, and occasionally changes are suggested in the design of this important part of the system of open science. Below is a story about a recently proposed clearinghouse, Peerage of Science, meant to turn peer reviewing into a kind of restricted public good: only reviewers can be reviewed.

Online Social Network Seeks to Overhaul Peer Review in Scientific Publishing
"The current peer review system in which journal editors send potentially publishable manuscripts to experts for review is hotly debated. Many scientists complain that the system is slow, inefficient, of variable quality, and prone to favoritism. Moreover, there's growing resentment in some quarters about being asked to take valuable time to provide free reviews to journals that are operated by for-profit publishers or that don't make their papers open-access. Several suggestions have been made to improve the peer review system, such as introducing credits for reviewers, using social media, and making the process more transparent.

"Peerage of Science aims to combine these ideas, explains co-founder Mikko Mönkkönen, an applied ecologist at the University of Jyväskylä. A researcher would initially upload a manuscript to Peerage of Science. It will then be made anonymous and posted on a Web site that is exclusively accessible to other members, which currently stands at around 500 scientists. Along with the manuscript, the authors can add a short pitch explaining why peers should review this manuscript.

"Potential reviewers receive an e-mail if tagged keywords reflecting the manuscript match their expertise—bird migration, for example. After reviewing a paper, peers are allowed to grade the quality of the other reviews, by awarding a grade between one and five.  Editors of journals partnering with Peerage of Science can anonymously track reviews, get automated updates on the paper and make an offer to publish the paper, perhaps after a requested revision. Authors are free to accept or decline their offers.

"Scientists receive one credit for every review they finish. These credits are required to upload a manuscript, which costs two credits divided by the number of coauthors. The author who uploads a manuscript is also obliged to have a positive balance. "This formalises an unwritten rule: he who wants his manuscripts reviewed, reviews other manuscripts in return," explains Janne-Tuomas Seppänen, a postdoc at University of Jyväskylä, who came up with the initial idea for Peerage of Science service in February 2010."

HT: Scott Kominers

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A call for fair-trade pornography

Fair-trade pornography: Ethically sourced food and beauty products are labeled. Why not porn? asks Erika Christakis in the Boston Globe.

"WE HAVE fair-trade coffee and humanely raised chicken. So why can’t we create a market for ethically sourced pornography?"

Monday, February 20, 2012

Parentage, and citizenship, and the market for reproductive services

One of the ways a baby can automatically be an American citizen is if one of its parents is an American citizen. So new options in fertility concern American consulates. The rules were written when there were fewer ways to have a baby. So one question now asked of American moms giving birth in Israel: "was it your egg?"

U.S. demands proof of parentage for IVF babies born in Israel: As Israel continues to evolve as a world leader in fertility treatments, some legal circles are suggesting that the U.S. government may be concerned about fraudulent efforts to secure U.S. citizenship.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A long nonsimultaneous extended altruistic donor chain in the NY Times

60 Lives, 30 Kidneys, All Linked

A nice NY Times story, about a nonsimultaneous chain organized by Garet Hil's  National Kidney Registry .

Mike Rees gets a nod for the revolution he began at the  Alliance for Paired Donation  with the first nonsimultaneous chain: Advances in kidney exchange, in the New England Journal of Medicine

Here's why they're important: Nonsimultaneous kidney exchange chains produce more transplants than simultaneous chains

See previous blog posts on kidney exchange chains here.

Update: here an NKR press release that touches on some work that Itai Ashlagi and I are doing with them.

Horse meat at the Harvard faculty club

At the Harvard faculty club (starting I believe in WW I or II) "members happily consumed horsemeat, obtained from the racetrack at Suffolk Downs. It was so popular, chicken-fried and served up with onion gravy that it stayed on the menu until 1985 when the new French chef refused to cook frozen food."

Note what the chef found repugnant.

Peter Coles snapped the following picture by the club's coat room, of a French political cartoon about the pleasures of hippophagy .

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Markets for cadavers

ABC news has an 18 minute video on the market for cadavers used in recent popular anatomy exhibits. They conclude that many of these are obtained from illicit Chinese sources, and may include the bodies of executed prisoners:

HT Itay Fainmesser

Friday, February 17, 2012

A public good of a sort: a community gun

The NY Times reports: In a Mailbox: A Shared Gun, Just for the Asking

"Hidden and shared by a small group of people who use them when needed, and are always sure to return them, such guns appear to be rising in number in New York, according to the police. It is unclear why. The economy? Times are tough — not everyone can afford a gun.

“The gangs are younger, and their resources are less,” said Ed Talty, an assistant district attorney in the Bronx.

"The police believe that a community gun is now in play in a series of gang-related shootings in East New York, Brooklyn, between the Rock Starz and their colorfully named rivals, the Very Crispy Gangsters.

 "Sharing guns predates the Wild West, but the sophistication of maintaining today’s community gun can be striking. “You call it a community gun, so that name has to be able to market itself,” Senator Smith said. “You have a business model behind this concept, a schedule, which is a shame. If they used that intellect for something positive, who knows how successful that person could be?”

 "Sometimes the hiding place is human. “One guy will hold the gun down,” Captain Dee said. “They call him the ‘holster.’ Often, it’s a female. Someone who is above suspicion.”

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Penny wise and pound foolish: now in the NEJM

It's truer than ever that in the United States we have a foolish Medicare policy of only paying for three years of anti-rejection drugs following a kidney transplant, even though Medicare covers the larger costs of dialysis and/or re-transplantation.

And now it's peer reviewed: the New England Journal of Medicine picks up the story in its February 1 2012 issue: "Penny Wise, Pound Foolish? Coverage Limits on Immunosuppression after Kidney Transplantation" by Gill and Tonelli.

"As a treatment for end-stage renal disease (ESRD), kidney transplantation is superior to dialysis for improving patient survival rates and quality of life. Its long-term success, however, requires ongoing treatment with immunosuppressive drugs. Ironically, although many of the pivotal discoveries related to immunosuppression have been made in the United States, U.S. kidney-transplant recipients do not benefit from a coherent funding policy for these drugs, and thousands of such patients are therefore at risk for allograft failure and premature death. Ensuring lifetime access to these medications for all Americans with kidney transplants would save lives as well as reduce the total cost of treating patients with ESRD.
"Premature transplant failure is the fifth leading cause of initiation of dialysis in the United States. Unfortunately, approximately 25% of patients whose transplants fail die within 2 years after returning to dialysis. This outcome is worse than the 2-year mortality among patients with a functioning transplant from a deceased donor (6%) and still worse than that among age-matched dialysis patients who have never received a transplant (20%).
A second transplant is the best treatment option for a patient whose transplant has failed, but the opportunities for repeat transplantation are much more limited than those for initial transplantation. Candidates for repeat transplantation account for about 20% of patients on the waiting list but (because of sensitization from their failed allograft) receive only 12% of the deceased-donor kidneys transplanted annually in the United States."

Here's my earlier blog post on the subject:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

HT: Scott Kominers

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The nursery school for the kid who has everything...

...costs more than Harvard... Bracing for $40,000 at City Private Schools

"Over the past 10 years, the median price of first grade in the city has gone up by 48 percent, adjusted for inflation, compared with a 35 percent increase at private schools nationally — and just 24 percent at an Ivy League college — according to tuition data provided by 41 New York City K-12 private schools to the National Association of Independent Schools.

"Indeed, this year’s tuition at Columbia Grammar and Preparatory ($38,340 for 12th grade) and Horace Mann ($37,275 for the upper school) is higher than Harvard’s ($36,305).
The median number of applications to New York schools has increased 32 percent over the past decade, according to the association, and in some schools the acceptance rate is staggeringly low. At Trinity, only 2.4 percent of children from families with no previous connection to the school were admitted to kindergarten last year. Far from being deterred by the sticker prices, more families seem to be hiring consultants — at an additional cost — in hopes of getting a leg up.

" One consulting firm, Manhattan Private School Advisors, said it worked with 1,431 families this school year, up from 605 three years ago. The company’s fee has gone up, too: It was $21,500 this year and $18,500 three years ago."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Matching and market design for Valentine's day

Valentine's day always inspires lots of stories about matching, and lately some of these are also about market design.  Here are some that caught my eye.

Ray Fisman, one of the pioneers in the experimental study of dating, writes in Slate about a market design experiment by my colleagues Soo Lee and Muriel Niederle: Will You Accept This Digital Rose? How little flower icons could solve Internet dating’s biggest problem. (see my blog post on that experiment here).

A more pessimistic view is expressed over at the Guardian: Is online dating destroying love? That article includes some discussion of Dan Ariely's efforts at designing a more interactive dating site.

The NY Times weighs in with a return to optimism (at least for educated women) in a story titled The M.R.S. and the Ph.D., which says that education is no longer the barrier to marriage that it once may have been for women.

And speaking of education, a NY Times profile of Harvard Ph.D. economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers points out that even if you let the tax consequences stop you from officially marrying, you can still arrange your joint lives in a way that looks very married indeed: It’s the Economy, Honey.

Happy Valentine's day to all, and happy hunting to all of you in matching mode.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Incentive compatibility in a giant outdoor 18th century restaurant

"the waiters were prevented from cheating the management by being made to pay cash from their own pockets for everything they ordered from the kitchens, reimbursing themselves when the customers settled their bills."

That detail is from The English pleasures of Vauxhall, a large, long lived "pleasure gardens" on the banks of the Thames that was both an outdoor concert venue and an innovative early large scale caterer to its customers, founded in the 1700's.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Common App and college admissions

An article on updated software to be used for college admissions by the Common Application process reflects how the process of applying to colleges, once entirely decentralized, has changed: Common App 4.0

"The Common App, the all-purpose form accepted by 456 colleges and universities, is getting a digital makeover, down to the most fundamental swatches of code, with the end result intended to be a smoother, faster, more intuitive application. (The application itself will still be a rigorous exercise, complete with 250- to 500-word essays.)
"The new electronic form, now on the drawing board, is scheduled to make its debut in 2013.
"In the application season beginning to wind down this month, an estimated 750,000 students will have submitted three million online applications. That represents an increase of about 25 percent in only the last year. Meanwhile, teachers, counselors and school administrators are expected to submit 10 million transcripts, recommendations and other school forms through the Common Application’s electronic pipeline this year.

"For that matter, it has only been in the last decade that most students began to apply to college by pushing the “send” button instead of walking their applications to the post office. The Common App itself — which made it possible, for the first time, for a student to type up one form and photocopy it for multiple submissions — is only 36 years old.
"The number of applications filed through the Common Application portal by the end of this decade could exceed 10 million — and the number of schools accepting it could grow to 1,000 or more. That workload is well beyond what the latest Common Application is built to withstand."

HT: Neil Dorosin

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Is forced marriage human trafficking or cultural variation?

A British author asks that question: Forced Marriages Dishonour Britain

"If white British women were being forced to marry men they had never met, in a country they had never visited, there would be a national outcry. We would call it trafficking.
"In the UK, forced marriage affects mainly women and girls from South Asia as well as smaller numbers from Sudan, Turkey, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Armenia, Somalia and the Irish traveller community.  FCO dealt with over 1,735 cases in 2010, whereas estimates from feminist organisations dealing with the issue range from 450 to 1,000 victims a year. The difficulty of collecting data is compounded by the fact that the line between an arranged marriage and a forced one is not always clear."

Friday, February 10, 2012

Experimental game theory

Here's a retrospective "virtual special issue" of experimental papers from GEB:
Games and Economic Behavior - Virtual Special Issue on Experimental Game Theory

Thursday, February 9, 2012

And then they were seven (states that have same sex marriage)

Washington State Passes Same-Sex Marriage Bill

An ancient repugnance is toppling, first slowly and later perhaps quickly, before our eyes.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Medical (and pre-medical) culture: cheating on tests

While some of the very best motivated and most talented students find their way into medicine, it is also a large, well-compensated profession fed by a stream of undergraduate "pre-med" majors who grow up in a culture of exam-taking. It shouldn't be surprising if this carries over into their post-graduate years (in fact I can't even tell if this CNN headline is meant to be ironic): Exclusive: Doctors cheated on exams

"For years, doctors around the country taking an exam to become board certified in radiology have cheated by memorizing test questions, creating sophisticated banks of what are known as "recalls," a CNN investigation has found."

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Court strikes down ban on same-sex marriage in California

Late breaking news from California: Court Strikes Down Ban on Gay Marriage in California
Once again, we see that figuring out which transactions should be legally regarded as repugnant involve some different roles for courts, legislatures, and, in the case of California, a popular referendum.

"The court ruled 2 to 1 that Proposition 8 violated the 14th Amendment of the Constitution by discriminating against a group of people, gay men and lesbians."

 "In the spring of 2008, the California Supreme Court threw out a 2000 voter proposition barring same-sex marriage. Opponents immediately marshaled their forces to get Proposition 8 on the ballot and get it passed. That proposition amended the California Constitution to bar same-sex marriage. During the period when same-sex marriages were legal in the state, nearly 18,000 couples married; their unions remain in place.  

"Judge Walker ruled in August of 2010 that the ban on same-sex marriage violated the rights of gay men and lesbians. The decision on Tuesday upheld Judge Walker’s ban and reasoning.

 "The California battle has churned on even as other states – including New York – have moved to legalize same-sex marriage in their Legislatures. Yet it has continued to attract national attention, largely because of California’s size, the state’s large and politically active gay population and the unusual coalition of lawyers who represented the case in court: David Boies, a Democrat, and Theodore B. Olson, a Republican. Before this, the two lawyers were best known as opponents in the Supreme Court battle over the 2000 election returns in Florida that resulted in George W. Bush becoming president.

 "Some gay activists have been apprehensive about taking this case to the current Supreme Court, fearful that conservative justices could lead it to codify a ban against same-sex marriage. But Mr. Boies and Mr. Olson have argued that this court would be receptive to the arguments they are making and the changing climate in the land."

New Orleans launches its new school choice process

The Recovery School District* celebrates the launch of its new school choice process today in New Orleans: Recovery School District's new application is expected to make school search easier

"After years of complaints about how headache-inducing it can be to enroll a child in public school in New Orleans, state officials have officially launched a long-promised single application for every elementary and high school in the city. Almost, that is.

"Parents looking for a place in one of the state's nearly 70 campuses in the Recovery School District will find the process much simplified. Beginning Tuesday, parents can fill out a single application ranking their top eight choices and turn it in at any school in the district.

"But there are still a handful of independent charters schools in the city that fall outside the new central enrollment system. So do the 17 schools -- some traditional, some charter -- that remain under the control of the Orleans Parish School Board.

"This means parents will still have to navigate a patchwork of separate applications and deadlines to cast the widest possible net. But state officials are nevertheless hailing the new enrollment system as a major step forward, even scheduling a kickoff event tonight with prizes and special guests.

"One of the most consistent complaints that I've heard from the community about the RSD, especially from parents coming back to the city, is just getting their kids registered," said Patrick Dobard, who took over as Recovery School District superintendent last month after serving as deputy superintendent last year. "This is something where we've heard from the community and now we're acting on it, something that was just a thought a few years ago."

"Putting the enrollment process in the hands of the Recovery District's central office is supposed to solve a number of problems. Since the agency took over schools in New Orleans back in 2005, it has gone about creating a district of autonomous charter schools that operate independently. They make their own hiring and firing decisions, set their own budgets and create their own curriculum. But allowing each school to operate its own enrollment has proved problematic.

"Parents of students with special needs often complain that charters are sometimes reluctant to accept them. The city's best charters often fill up quickly and it hasn't always been clear when applications for each of them are due. Presumably, the savvier parents could win slots at multiple schools and decide among them while others sit on waiting lists."

*The Recovery School District is a special school district administered by the Louisiana Department of Education. Created by legislation passed in 2003, the RSD is designed to take underperforming schools and transform them into successful places for children to learn.

The organ transplant situation in Israel...

is confusing.
On the one hand, Haaretz reports: Dramatic increase in organ transplants recorded in Israel in 2011: The spike in donations, 64 percent more than in 2010, attributed to financial compensation program. 
"Israel had 117 kidney transplants from living donors over the past year, 64 percent more than in 2010, according to the National Transplant Center's annual report. In August 2010 living donors began receiving compensation of several thousand shekels, which may have contributed to the increase.
Compensation to living donors covers 40 days of lost wages and monetary benefits of up to NIS 30,000 for proven expenses of up to five years. "

on the deceased donor front, it also reports: Israel's Chief Rabbinate freezes plan to help determine brain death
"Health officials had hoped the Brain-Respiratory Death Law would lead to a dramatic increase in the number of families agreeing to donate their relatives' organs, the rate in 2011 rose only slightly - to 55 percent - from the 49 percent of families who agreed before the law was passed."

Monday, February 6, 2012

Ivy League Athletics

Ivy League colleges don't give athletic scholarships, but as their general level of financial aid has risen, it now competes with athletic scholarships at other schools: Financial Aid Changes Game as Ivy Sports Teams Flourish

"This renaissance in a league known as the Ancient Eight can be traced to something that has nothing to do with sports: new policies that have substantially enhanced financial aid for all admitted students, making it easier to recruit elite athletes, coaches and athletic administrators said.

The Ivy League does not award athletic scholarships, but led by endowment-rich members like Harvard, Yale and Princeton, the conference has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in additional need-based aid — with most of the universities all but eliminating student loans and essentially doubling the size of grants meant for middle-income families.

The financial-aid enhancements have had a profound effect on the quality of athletic recruits. Rosters are now fortified with top athletes who would have turned down the Ivy League in the past because they would have been asked to pay $20,000 to $30,000 per year more than at other colleges.

At most Ivy League institutions, families earning less than about $65,000 annually are now asked to make no contribution to their children’s education. Families making $65,000 to $180,000 might be expected to pay 10 percent to 18 percent of their annual income on a sliding scale. Ten years ago, such families would have been expected to pay almost twice as much, and their child would probably have accumulated a debt of about $25,000 after four years.

Another special thing about the Ivy League, aside from their rule against awarding athletic scholarships, is that the academic standing of the athletes recruited each year is not supposed to deviate too much from the average of the regular admissions. There is a common method for measuring this, called the Academic Index, which described in this story: Before Recruiting in Ivy League, Applying Some Math

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Kidney exchange in Australia, 2011

Two reports about transplantation in Australia are now available for 2011:

The 2011 Organ Donation and Transplantation Performance Report is available at
The 2011 Report from the Australian and New Zealand Organ Donation Registry is available at

The first of those includes the following:

"The Australian Paired Kidney Exchange (AKX) Program commenced in late 2010. The AKX Program complements existing living kidney donor programs, and provides an opportunity for transplant to those patients who are unlikely to receive a transplant through standard programs, due to their highly sensitised antibody status.

"2011 saw a significant expansion of the AKX Program, resulting in 23 additional kidney transplants. Eight (35%) of those Australians who received an AKX transplant had less than a 1 in 10 chance to receive a kidney as part of standard donation/transplantation programs.

"The success rate of 23 actual transplants, from the initial 39 possible transplants in Australia, was one of the highest in the world in 2011.

"The 16 individuals who did not progress to transplant did not proceed for clinical reasons."

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Matching, mate choice, and...speciation

Perspective: Matching, Mate Choice, and Speciation
Author(s): Puebla, O., Bermingham, E., Guichard, F.
Source: INTEGRATIVE AND COMPARATIVE BIOLOGY  Volume: 51   Issue: 3   Pages: 485-491     SEP 2011

Abstract: Matching was developed in the 1960s to match such entities as residents and hospitals, colleges and students, or employers and employees. This approach is based on "preference lists," whereby each participant ranks potential partners according to his/her preferences and tries to match with the highest-ranking partner available. Here, we discuss the implications of matching for the study of mate choice and speciation. Matching differs from classic approaches in several respects, most notably because under this theoretical framework, the formation of mating pairs is context-dependant (i.e., it depends on the configuration of pairings in the entire population), because the stability of mating pairs is considered explicitly, and because mate choice is mutual. The use of matching to study mate choice and speciation is not merely a theoretical curiosity; its application can generate counter-intuitive predictions and lead to conclusions that differ fundamentally from classic theories about sexual selection and speciation. For example, it predicts that when mate choice is mutual and the stability of mating pairs is critical for successful reproduction, sympatric speciation is a robust evolutionary outcome. Yet the application of matching to the study of mate choice and speciation has been largely dominated by theoretical studies. We present the hamlets, a group of brightly colored Caribbean coral reef fishes in the genus Hypoplectrus (Serranidae), as a particularly apt system to test empirically specific predictions generated by the application of matching to mate choice and speciation.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Individual Rationality (now also in Romanian)

I'll be lecturing on models of individual choice today, which reminds me that not too long ago I received the following email from Alexandra Seremina:

"I've made a translation of 'Individual Rationality as a Useful Approximation: 
Comments on Tversky's "Rational Theory and Constructive Choice"
page to Romanian. It is available at:

" Profesorul Tversky prezintă o scurtă descriere a a creterii permanente de  dovezi experimentale, la care el a fost unul dintre cei mai influenţi contribuabili... "

And here are the opening paragraphs (in English):

"Professor Tversky presents a quick overview of an ever growing body of experimental evidence, to which he has been one of the most influential contributors. This evidence demonstrates that human behavior deviates in systematic ways from the idealized behavior attributed to expected utility maximizers in particular, and to "rational economic man" in general. One of the most striking things about this substantial body of evidence is that, starting at least as early as the work of Allais [1953] and May [1954], it has been collected over the same period of years in which expected utility theory has come to be the dominant model of individual behavior in the economics literature. This adds force to the question Tversky raises in his concluding remarks: what accounts for economists' "reluctance to depart from the rational model, despite considerable contradictory evidence"?

"I'll attempt to outline a two-track answer to this question.

"First, I'll argue that there are quite defensible reasons for a reluctance to abandon theories of rationality in favor of psychological theories. In particular, I think most economists view the rational model as a useful approximation, rather than as a precise description of human behavior. Experimental demonstrations that people deviate from the model do not strike at the heart of the belief that the approximation is a useful one, since all approximations are false at some level of detail. In view of this, some kinds of evidence, and alternative models, are likely to be more successful than others in attacking the central role of rationality assumptions in the economic literature.

"Second, I'll note that, in fact, there is a growing attempt by economists to move away from an overdependence on idealized models of hyper-rationality."

Thursday, February 2, 2012

School choice design in New Orleans Recovery School District

When it comes to design, not only do algorithms and procedures have to be designed (in this case with the assistance of  IIPSC), but also advertisements and logos. New Orleans Recovery School District has billboards going up that emphasize that the new centralized school choice procedure lets parents apply to multiple schools with just one application--{one App}--with, for emphasis, one cute kid playing all three roles in the billboard.

RSD hopes to primarily use a top trading cycle system (which is the second of two algorithms described in this short paper about the design of Boston's school choice system), which makes it safe for families to rank schools in the true order of their preferences. (Schools in RSD aren't strategic players; they don't rank students, who have priorities assigned by the district).

Here's my earlier post on New Orleans school choice, including an interview with John White, who was at that time the new RSD Superintendent, but is now the superintendent of schools for the State of Louisiana.

HT: Gabriela Fighetti

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

More interns and younger ones fuel the war for talent in Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley's talent wars are going younger

"Bay Area tech companies, already in a fierce fight for full-time hires, are now also battling to woo summer interns. Technology giants like Google Inc. have been expanding their summer-intern programs, while smaller tech companies are ramping up theirs in response—sometimes even luring candidates away from college.

"Dropbox Inc. plans to hire 30 engineering interns for next summer, up from nine this year, says engineering manager Rian Hunter, who adds the company wants interns to comprise one-third of its engineering team.

"More interns means more opportunities to bring people to the company," Mr. Hunter says, noting Dropbox is seeking people as young as college freshman.

"Interns allow you to "try before you buy," says Bump Technologies Inc. Chief Executive Dave Lieb, who plans to hire as many as 10 for next summer. He says the 30-person company pays intern engineers about $10,000 for a roughly 12-week stint, similar to what other tech start-ups say they pay.
"Ninety-three percent of early-stage Silicon Valley start-ups have hired or are hiring interns, according to InternMatch Inc., a website that helps college students find internships. The group surveyed companies that recently raised money from two Bay Area incubators, Y Combinator or 500 Startups.
""Competition for talent is so fierce," says Kleiner partner Juliet de Baubigny. She says the firm may expand the program, which is currently for juniors in college, to others, including possibly high-school students.

"Meanwhile, Facebook Inc. plans to hire 625 interns for next summer, up from 550 this year. Google hired 1,000 engineering interns this past summer, up 20% from the previous year. Yolanda Mangolini, Google's director of talent and outreach programs, says the company is still figuring out its target for 2012, based on its overall staffing plan.

"Google generally extends offers to the majority of its intern class, Ms. Mangolini says. "It is one of the primary ways we find full-time hires."