Articles to 2017-04-01

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First the link to this week’s complete list as HTML and as PDF.


Unless I’m seriously overlooking something important, the abstract, discussion, methods and main text in Dowlati et al. all four seem to imply that a) all subjects in both groups knew the purpose and aim of the study, and b) no placebo was used and all subjects were well aware of being either in the treatment or in the control group. Unless I’m totally wrong here, this study is utterly useless.


At a time when political correctness, repression of opposing views, and the pressure towards total conformity have reached levels unmatched since Stalin and Mao, it’s well worth a look back at the original literature about the phenomenon. Allen & Levine (1971) go a long way to explaining the extreme viciousness of the ad hominem attacks against all dissenters. It is not just about inducing fear. Fear ensures an outward show of conformity but fosters an undercurrent of private belief, that, over time, becomes more potent and disruptive than open dissent. By undermining an devaluing all possible partners, it is capable, like Orwell’s O’Brian, of generating genuine belief.

Surprisingly the authors did not pursue the possibility, as stated on page 56, that in the progress of the experiment the subjects might have realized their partner was not as inadequate as expected. If so, this should come out as a divergent trend in the degree of conformity over the length of the experiment. Even if of little statistical power a tentative and preliminary answer ought to have been attempted.

Unfortunately in view of current trends the partner in their experiment was of inadequate factual competence. It would be important to find out, to what degree a socially unacceptable partner would be perceived as inadequate.

Hidden away right at the end of their results section they also make the strongest argument, indeed the only valid argument I ever saw against women in leading, decision making positions. It is not of course an argument for their exclusion, but if, as they say, women tend far more toward conformity against their own better judgement than men do, it goes a long way toward explaining why a lower proportion of women tend to be seen as competent for these kind of positions than would be naively expected. This is the missing link to the many studies proving that women are not being disadvantaged in selection processes.


With everyone except one lonely FAZ commenter condemning Eurogroup president Dijsselbloem in one single voice, it is perhaps time to take a look back at the influential article he was basing his comment on. Becker’s 1974 study goes far beyond the proverbial rotten kid theorem and establishes a general theory of what induces members of an economic unit, a family, a nation, a family of nations, to work for or against the common good. Importantly his results imply, that in a functional family the rotten kid syndrome can and will not develop, which for any situation, where it can be observed, implies a dysfunctional social unit. This point is at the heart of Dijsselbloem’s comment and it must not be dismissed but considered seriously.

On his page 1086 Becker also gives the most convincing and most clearly demonstrated argument against socialism, public spending and enforced redistribution I have ever seen.

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