Saturday, February 28, 2015

Interviewing Athletes

On the PBS Newshour Weekend, William Brangham interviewed Brandi Chastain, the extraordinary soccer player, about heading the ball in youth (under age 14) soccer and the risk of injury.  She said that there is no reason that kids this age should be heading the ball; the risk of concussion or other brain trauma just isn’t worth it.  The interviewer replayed an interview from a few years ago where she responded to the same question with the opposite answer – that heading the ball was perfectly safe for youth.  She explained that the emerging science has convinced her that it was too dangerous.

What I would really have appreciated would be the honest answer:

“I am following in a long standing tradition of athletes answering questions for which we have absolutely no relevant information or expertise, but who get asked anyway because of dim-witted interviewers who think that because we are athletes we have some clue about the legal, political, economic, biological, psychological, social, or educational aspects of sports. We have never taken so much as a class in any of these subjects, and even if we did we probably didn’t study much.  This is similar to Jenny McCarthy being an expert on childhood vaccinations and immunology because she is a parent.

But getting asked the question makes us feel smart.  We give the answer that we want/hope to be true as a way of rationalizing our behavior to the public and to ourselves. And to look much smarter than if we admitted ignorance.

Truth be told, I have just as little information today that the opposite is true and heading is dangerous.  I heard about the new science about concussions on TV.  And it is more popular to be worried about concussions in youth sports this year than to play the confident superstar sports hero like it was in past years.  So I changed my opinion.  And anyway, you foolishly asked me the question so what do you expect me to do?  Admit ignorance and disappoint my fans?

This Week in EID - Episode 43

I had a lot of fun writing the articles for EID this week.  We covered a lot of very diverse subjects and the discussion that some of the posts generated on the LinkedIn Groups where we repost the links was vibrant.  Here is the weekly recap:

On Monday, I made what I thought was a very astute parallel between showing my students respect by learning how to pronounce their names and doing the opposite to terrorist groups by creating disrespectful names for them. This train of thought was instigated by the ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State argument that was going on in Washington, but I like my name better than all of their choices.

Tuesday’s post on legacy icon images is the one that stimulated the most online comment.  I cross posted this to some UX-focused groups, HF-focused groups, and psych-related groups.  This was a great example of how professionals with different backgrounds will have different perspectives.  All of the discussion had supporters and haters.  But all from very different points of view.  It would have been interesting to mix them all up and have them debate each other.  That is one of the limitations of using LinkedIn groups I suppose.

The brain stimulation idea in Wednesday’s post on multitasking is a good example of why it helps to have at least moderate exposure to many different sciences and sectors if you want to be effective at divergent-convergent thinking.  There is a lot of research on how important this combination is for innovation.  That is one of the reasons I enjoy composing articles like this one.

And then I had to get in touch with my touchy-feely side with the post on Thursday about Patagonia and Recaptcha’s business models.  They both do something with social good as part of their regular course of business.  And this is partially how they attract business, even though the social benefits are not really part of the transaction.  But many consumers (including me) feel good when we do business with a company that does good.  Not as a quid pro quo for the transaction, but just because it is the right thing to do.  There is actually some solid research on how this ‘reciprocity by proxy’ effect happens.

See you next week!!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Right To Work

The current debate going on in Wisconsin on a so-called “Right to Work” law (that bans agreements between companies and unions that all employees of the company need to join the union or pay a fee equivalent to membership dues) brought to the surface a great illustration of when first impressions can steer you wrong.  I like bringing these examples up because I often discuss examples of when instinct is superior to conscious and focused information processing.  I have covered the cognitive and neuropsychological reasons for this before (for example here). 

I don’t want to bring up whether this is a good law or a bad law or whether unions are positive or negative for the economy or for society.  These topics could be the subject of dozens of posts. 

No, what I want to think about today is which side of this issue the small “l” libertarian should be on (for the uninitiated, small "l" means the philosophy, Big "L" means the political party). At first, it seems obvious.  To have the liberty that libertarianism espouses, employees should have the right to join or not join the union.  Case closed.

But think about it a little deeper.  If a private entity (company) wants to make a private contract (closed shop agreement) with another private entity (union), then to have the government involved is anti-liberty.  Libertarianism doesn’t advocate smart liberties or inclusive liberties; it advocates all liberties.  Entities should be able to do whatever foolish thing they want as long as it doesn’t infringe on another entity’s liberty. The most important of these liberties is from government intervention.   Exceptions should be as rare as possible, only what is necessary to maintain a society that provides a framework for liberty.   

So for a pure libertarian, the State of Wisconsin should not pass any laws requiring closed shop agreements, prohibiting closed shop agreements, or even encouraging closed shop agreements (e.g. through tax incentives).  None of these rises to the level of critical to maintain society. A closed shop agreement reduces the liberty of the potential anti-union employee to pursue a job at the company, but this is a much smaller violation, especially with the ability to pay the fee instead.  Government intervention is philosophically much more severe.

So why do you think the Big “L” Libertarians are for Right to Work laws and against closed shop agreements?  Most of them are big “R” Republicans.  Unions donate money to left leaning candidates.  Think there is a connection, or am I being too cynical?

Tell me what you think

Middle East Reconfiguration

Ethnic cleansing is one of the worst crimes against humanity.  But if the massive migrations among all of the warring countries in the Middle East results in definitive, well-defined zones of Sunni, Shia, and Kurd, it could result in more stable countries in the end.  Forced migrations always leave bitter hurts that come back to haunt the evictor.  But when people are fleeing bombed out neighborhoods, perhaps where they end up will feel like a step up, or at least good enough to mute the regret. 

But this would only work if the world at large does a better job at supporting refugees, planning resettlement, creating economic opportunities for migrants, including them in the host's political process, facilitating some assimilation, etc.  The last thing we need is 50-year refugee camps like we have among the Palestinians. Just imagine 100 Gazas all over the Middle East.

I was imagining a peace process along these lines when I heard a BBC report about Eastern Ukraine last night.  In that case, you can't "split the difference, cut the rebelling zones in half, and declare peace."  My thought was if they split Donetsk and Luhansk in half - east and west.  Anyone in the west side who favors the rebels can move to a town in the east side.  They don't even have to leave their "home" province."  Same thing east to west for loyalists. But "home province" is not the same as "home". That is why I question the viability.

I (we?) live in a culture where people move at the drop of a hat.  When your ancestors have lived in the same town for 400 years, I can only imagine the difference in how it would feel.  The end of Fiddler on the Roof comes to mind.  The sad way that Tevye and his neighbors just accepted being moved out of their town by the Tsar's army and the sad-looking caravan of refugees that this caused.

Ironically, it was a weak parallel of this that led me to move to my studio apartment last year.  I don't want to become attached to "stuff," enabling me to move whenever I want without too much regret. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Decriminalization of pot in DC

I am really curious to see what happens as a result of the Washington D.C. decriminalization of marijuana.  The US Congress has oversight responsibility for the district and the Republican majority has come out against it.  They passed a law barring any use of funds for the new policy. 

But here is where I get curious.  There are a few GOP presidential candidates who cater to both the libertarian and conservative electorates.  Libertarians are pro legalization but conservatives are against it.  So what is a GOP candidate to do?  How can you pander to these two completely opposite views? 

  1. They can try to word a communication that is ultimately vague and wishy washy.
  2. They can come out on one side and try to placate the other side afterwards. 
  3. They can come out on one side but try to word it in a way that pretends to have the values of the other side (try to word a pro-legalization position in a way that promotes conservative values – or vice versa).
  4. They can send totally different communications to the two populations, praying that their voter profile data is accurate, that no one will hit any of the social sharing buttons, and that no one in the news media will find out. 

I would love to be hired as the content development consultant for #3. It would be a huge challenge, but pulling it off would be a great application of the self-delusion that I am always talking about.  The other side would "want" to agree with their preferred candidate.  So if there were any threads of conservativism in the pro position or libertarianism in the anti position, they could grasp it with both hands and hold on.  Weaving a narrative that ignites the self-delusion instinct and muddles the gap between the two positions . . .

Anyway, it would be fun to try.