Monday, March 25, 2019

Short Posts, 3/25/19. On Conspiracy Theories, Polyandry in Bald Eagles, College Admissions Bribery Etc.

These snippets are from my recent readings.

1.  Given that conspiracy theories (Pizzagate, Perfect Storm) are now an integral aspect of politics, I found this quote from a recent paper surveying the research in the field interesting:

However, research demonstrates that certain political convictions are more strongly associated with conspiracy beliefs than others (Mancuso et al., 2017). van Prooijen, Krouwel, and Pollet (2015) demonstrated that conspiracy beliefs are most prevalent at the political extremes. They found a quadratic effect—that is a “U‐shaped” function— in both the United States and the Netherlands suggesting that conspiracy theorizing is strongest at the far left and right, although stronger on the right. Similar effects have been found in Sweden (Krouwel, Kutiyski, van Prooijen, Martinsson, & Markstedt, 2017). Although it is unknown whether conspiracy theorizing may be a result of political ideology, or vice versa, or both, this research suggests that extremist attitudes may be a consequence of conspiracy belief. On the other hand, Uscinski and Parent (2014) and Uscinski, Klofstad, and Atkinson (2016) suggest that levels of conspiracy thinking are stronger among those identifying as independents or with third parties.

It's interesting that the effect looks strongest at the far right, though the writers of the linked paper note that this could be an artifact of studies mostly focusing on the far right rather than the far left.  Or not, as the case may be.

My guess is that authoritarianism, extremism and the belief in conspiracy theories might be correlated, because they all relieve the individual of the burden to engage in complex and nuanced thought which might ultimately not provide clarity.

2.  Is Tunisia ready for a change in inheritance laws which would allow daughters and sons to inherit equal amounts?  Currently the inheritance laws applying to Muslims do not allow for that, for religious reasons:

In the seventh century, when the Prophet Muhammad introduced the new rules of inheritance, they were a great gain for women, who had previously inherited nothing. Progressive scholars argue that his intention was to be as egalitarian as possible in the social and economic conditions of the time; they point out that women’s smaller shares were accorded within a system in which male relatives were expected to provide for them throughout their entire lives.
That is not the situation today—more and more women in Arab countries are employed and contribute significantly to the expenses of their households. While men still retain the title of “head of household” in most legal systems in the region, a significant percentage of families are supported entirely by a female breadwinner. Women also do a vast amount of domestic and agricultural work, for which they are not compensated at all.

The linked article doesn't believe that Tunisia is ready for such a change:

Today there is a small but persistent discussion of inheritance reform in several countries in the region, and the Tunisian proposal has given it new impetus. Of course the vast majority of religious scholars still believe the question of inheritance is not up for debate—or ijtihad, interpretation. Other injunctions and practices mentioned and codified in the Koran, such as slavery and polygamy, may have been abandoned. But a change that would fundamentally rearrange economic relations remains extremely fraught.
Nor is it just religious conservatives who are opposed. Surveys suggest that a majority of Tunisians are against the reform—63 percent, including 52 percent of women, according to one poll. Even within the president’s own party, I was told, deputies are reluctant to vote in favor of the reform, fearing what their constituents will say.

3.  Young Burmese women are trafficked to China for arranged marriages.  One small study, interviewing 37 women,  paints this practice as pretty horrendous:

The 112-page report, “Give Us a Baby and We’ll Let You Go,” reveals that vulnerable young women from Burma’s conflict-ridden northern Kachin and Shan states are being tricked into forced marriages in China where the earlier “one-child policy” and preference for sons has created a huge gender gap.
“Myanmar and Chinese authorities are looking away while unscrupulous traffickers are selling Kachin women and girls into captivity and unspeakable abuse,” said Heather Barr, acting women’s rights co-director at Human Rights Watch and author of the report.
It concludes that hundreds of women and girls, some under the age of 18 and many of them living in desperate conditions in Burmese refugee camps, are being sold every year to Chinese families for sums of $3,000 to $13,000.
“Most of the women and girls we interviewed were locked in a room for days or weeks or months, sometimes until they became pregnant,” said Ms Barr.

“Many said that the families seem more interested in having a baby than a bride. Some were able to escape after they’d had a child, or were even told they could leave if they wanted.”

The underlying reason lies in the Chinese sex imbalance (an excess of 30 to 40 million men), created by the one-child policy which was in force until 2015, and the strong preference for sons over daughters.

When early studies first pointed out that some Asian countries would suffer from such sex imbalance I predicted that the increasing scarcity of women would not increase women's societal power or make gender roles more egalitarian.  Rather, I expected that the outcome described in the above quote would materialize.

This is because scarcity does not raise women's value as members of the society.  It raises their value the same way scarcity raises the value of, say, antique Chinese vases.  That increase does not go to the vases but to their owners, and such scarcity will always encourage illegal markets for vases and women.  Sigh.

4.  After skimming through the above I realize that I am in the full goddess-of-gloom mood.  Let's look at something more fun:  Polyandry in bald eagles!

Just kidding about two male eagles and one female eagle setting up a nest together being polyandry.  Though had it been two female eagles and one male eagle it would probably have been called polygyny.

5.  Katha Pollitt's take on the college admissions scandal is a good one*.


*I'm itching to write a long and boring (but informative!) economics article about this question:

What is it that people think they are buying when they buy access to higher education for their child?

On the surface the answer appears obvious:  Admission to a college, perhaps four years of teaching, perhaps the degree that is awarded at the end of those years.

But the deeper answers are not quite so obvious.  It might be that parents are buying a marketable signal of intelligence for their offspring.  After all, to be able to acquire a college degree signals some ability, right?  Or perhaps the signal is not about intelligence, or at least not about intelligence alone, but also about what that particular student is assumed to have learned in college?

That some wealthy parents were willing to spend a lot of money in trying to get their children unfairly admitted to college tells us that they believed such signals could be valuable even if their contents were empty.

I use the term "signal" in this context, because the actual output of the educational process is change embodied in the student, is not instantly observable to outsiders, and does not depend on the educational institution alone, but is also produced with the participation of the student and that student's initial resources.

The output of the health care process shares similar characteristics in that curing some patient's illness depends on both the inputs from the health care providers, that patient's own participation in the process and his or her initial health status.

It's that lack of information about the specific contribution that the institutions of higher education contribute to the final learning outcome which makes the college admissions bribery schemes attractive.