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Dinner with the Econ

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Late this afternoon (Friday), the picture below appeared on my Google Reader screen with the caption Six kinds of recycling at the University of Oregon,

compliments of the feed from Brad DeLong’s blog. I immediately thought, is Brad DeLong (with iPhone camera) on campus? and checked the seminar page in the economics department. Yes, he was scheduled for a 3:30 pm seminar, with Economist’s View blogger Mark Thoma as host!

Given current events, I thought this would have to be an especially interesting talk, so I walked across campus for the chance to be a fly on the wall during a meeting of the Econ tribe. I was treated to a wonderful 90 minute talk which started from the general question of whether central banks should fight asset bubbles, but soon dove into the intricate details of the credit crisis. Mark recognized me and was kind enough to invite me to dinner, along with the speaker and professors Tim Duy and Nick Magud. It was quite an interesting discussion as we had among us a former member of Treasury (Brad), of the Fed (Tim) and an expert on Latin American financial crises (Nick). At one point Brad asked me about spontaneous symmetry breaking and the Higgs. I noted that physics is much easier than figuring out how Treasury is going to handle the bailout!

Quant trivia: at one point in the talk Brad mentions all the physicists modeling mortgage backed securities. The economists laugh, but Brad protests that his Harvard roommate Paul Mende (who did a string theory PhD under David Gross at Princeton) is now working for a hedge fund modeling volatility!

Written by infoproc

October 4, 2008 at 4:14 am

Posted in academia, economics

Academic trends in pictures

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From GNXP, some beautiful graphs which depict the rise and fall of certain academic fads. My wife is a professor in the humanities (she did her graduate work at Berkeley in comp lit during the height of “theory”), and she got a big kick out of these!

Judith Butler, your 15 minutes are over 🙂 (Bad academic writing awards; see below figures for sample.)

Certain higher dimensional theories of fundamental physics might be next 😉

I searched the archives of JSTOR, which houses a cornucopia of academic journals, for certain keywords that appear in the full text of an article or review (since sometimes the big ideas appear in books rather than journals). This provides an estimate of how popular the idea is — not only the true believers, but their opponents too, will use the term. Once no one believes it anymore, then the adherents, opponents, and neutral spectators will have less occasion to use the term. I excluded data from 2003 onward because most JSTOR journals don’t deposit their articles in JSTOR until 3 to 5 years after the original publication. Still, most of the declines are visible even as of 2002.

No, this is not a joke — at least as far as I know.

Professor Butler’s first-prize sentence appears in “Further Reflections on the Conversations of Our Time,” an article in the scholarly journal Diacritics (1997):

The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.

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September 23, 2008 at 4:04 am

Success vs ability

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I recently discussed the figure above with some colleagues. It illustrates the correlation between two variables, let us say success and ability. Each point within the ellipse represents an individual whose success and ability are shown on the vertical and horizontal axes, respectively. In the figure, the correlation is high, but not 100%.

For example, in American football the ability axis might represent the quantities obsessively tracked by NFL scouts: sprinting speed (40 yard dash time), natural strength (bench press), etc., while the vertical axis represents actual output, like passes caught or rushing yards gained. In real life, output is never purely determined by a single, or even several, input ability or abilities. If nothing else, luck ensures that the correlation is never perfect. Sports fans know that the fastest wide receiver isn’t necessarily the best, nor the tallest basketball center the most productive, even if being fast or tall confer specific advantages. In the figure, the blue line indicates the most able individual, whereas the red line indicates the most successful. They are never the same individual unless the correlation is 100%

In science or academia, we might take the horizontal axis to represent raw intellectual ability. The graph tells us to expect that the smartest person is not necessarily the most successful. It also suggests a population of successful but insecure people (the upper right curve of the ellipse — they are dumber than peers of similar accomplishment) and a population of smart people who are bitter about their unrecognized genius (lower right curve of the ellipse — they are smarter than peers of similar accomplishment).

Written by infoproc

March 3, 2006 at 4:36 am