Archive for the ‘humor’Category

Life among the Econ

“Life among the Econ” (ungated PDF) is a classic essay by Axel Leijonhufvud that’s worth revisiting — here’s the intro:

The Econ tribe occupies a vast territory in the far North. Their land appears bleak and dismal to the outsider, and travelling through it makes for rough sledding; but the Econ, through a long period of adaptation, have learned to wrest a living of sorts from it. They are not without some genuine and sometimes even fierce attachment to their ancestral grounds, and their young are brought up to feel contempt for the softer living in the warmer lands of their neighbours such as the Polscis and the Sociogs. Despite a common genetical heritage, relations with these tribes are strained-the distrust and contempt that the average Econ feels for these neighbours being heartily reciprocated by the latter-and social intercourse with them is inhibited by numerous taboos. The extreme clannishness, not to say xenophobia, of the Econ makes life among them difficult and perhaps even somewhat dangerous for the outsider. This probably accounts for the fact that the Econ have so far-not been systematically studied….


08 2012

Walrasian equilibrium

For econ nerds only:

Here’s Wikipedia on general equilibrium and Léon Walras. Wolfram Alpha also has a great little demonstration of Walrasian equilibrium where you can play around with the parameters.

Posted with the permission of my classmate and econ comic artist Marian Messing. Prior econ humor here and here.


04 2012

Non-representative sample of Hunger Games responses

I had the idea for the Hunger Games survival analysis post Tuesday afternoon and published it about 24 hours later (and yes, in the meantime I did sleep, eat, and do a bit of real work as well). I thought it might hit a nerdy nerve by meshing pop culture and stats, and I was right. Three days later it’s been read by over 12,000 people on my site alone, and the average time on page is long enough that I think folks are actually reading it and not just looking at the pretty pictures. It was picked up by Andrew Gelman and Jezebel (a Venn diagram with only this in the middle, I bet) and everyone from Stata to Discover Magazine shared it on Twitter.

All that to say, I think there’s a market for explaining statistics and concepts from social science (I tried to work in some political science, economics, and psychology research) using pop culture tie-ins, so I may do some more of this.

For now I want to share some of the humorous reactions I’ve seen:

  • A classmates who is familiar with survival analysis but hasn’t read the books saw the graphs and her immediate response was “Oh no, what happened on the first day? Those poor children!”
  • Richard Williams, commenting on the Stata listserv discussion: “If Stata can win over the Hunger Games crowd, SAS & SPSS are finished.”
  • One of the comments on Metafilter kind of misses the point: “I love statistics, but come on: The major finding here is that Suzanne Collins did a good job creating a fictional dataset that shows some significant differences between groups. Yes, that’s because statistics measures deviations from randomness, and Collins *made up the data* as part of her novel’s plot.” Shocking.
  • A friend to a friend of mine on Gchat: “he used Stata for a Good Thing. It was Interesting. That’s im-[ahem]-Possible and he Did It.
  • Finally, the Teaching Assistant from last semester’s generalized linear models class threatened to grade it as an assignment. Next time I’ll use data where the assumption of the model (proportional hazards) aren’t clearly violated…


04 2012

An application of survival analysis to the Hunger Games (seriously)

I just finished what is quite possibly the nerdiest thing I’ve ever written:  “Hunger Games survival analysis.” I manage to pull in articles from Matt Yglesias and Erik Kain and discuss tesserae inflation, Prospect Theory, demographics, research by Acemoglu and Robinson and by Michael Clemens, game theory, coordination failures, arguments for open data, and of course the namesake survival analysis. Complete with Kaplan-Meier survival estimator graphs and all:

I posted it as a page rather than a blog post to make some of the formatting easier, so please click through to read the real thing.


04 2012

Intertemporal choice Calvin and Hobbes

After reading some papers on microsavings and behavioral economics, my classmate Ezra shared this highly relevant Calvin and Hobbes strip on time travel:

(Comic source)

For background see “Behavioral economics and marketing in aid of decision making among the poor” by Marianne Bertrand, Sendhil Mullainathan, and Eldar Shafir (Google Scholar)


03 2012

Overhead at WWS

Last week a classmate of mine at the Woodrow Wilson School shared this story, which I in turn share with permission.

Today G and I were doing our impossible econ problem set in Schultz Café. It was about consumer surplus so there were some nice geometric properties, and it was fun finding the areas of the triangles and trapezoids. I said out loud, “I don’t how to do it the econ way, G. I only know how to do it the 9th-grade-math way.”

Guess who was sitting right behind us?

Christopher Sims.

For background, search this article for the paragraph on Sims and the SAT. Maybe this is why economics folks might think we public policy students aren’t so great at math? Related: how to fight impostor syndrome.


01 2012


There are many things we can do to avoid illness and injury. Given the proper resources and opportunity, you’d think we would all maximize our well-being: eat well, exercise, get your vaccines, and wear your seatbelt for starters. But no, not only do we not do those things, we humans go far out of our way to expose ourselves to all sorts of exotic risks. Four recent illustrations of collective human stupidity from the news:

(1) Epidemiologist Tara Smith writes, “Does bestiality increase your risk of penile cancer?” (See Cowen’s First Law: there is literature on everything.) These Brazilian researchers should win an Ig Nobel. And true to form for public health, they coin an acronym: SWA (Sex With Animals). Prof. Smith read the paper so you won’t have to  — but you should at least read her summary to get the complete mental picture.

(2) Why is Delta Airlines running anti-vaccine in-flight infomercials? Doh-inducing background and petition here.

One of my Hopkins classmates who does not yet have a blog (but should) emailed a small group the following two stories:

(3) Parents in the US are mailing each other chickenpox-infected lollipops, amongst other things, to spread the disease and acquire natural immunity. Her summary: “Because asking your child to exchange bodily fluids with a sick stranger is a great idea!” True.

(4) Finally,though this one strikes me as an example of the “They’re calling it […]!” genre of local news stories about teenaged antics based mostly on hearsay, someone somewhere tried it: “Teens using vodka tampons to get drunk.” My friend helpfully notes: “Your vagina does NOT have a gag reflex.” Very astute. [Update: For the record, Scopes calls this one “undetermined.”] OK, this one was an urban legend — sorry.

I can’t even begin to write an appropriate closing sentence for this post.


11 2011

Pascal's Wager of Ebola

An argument for always assuming the worst when you get sick:


09 2011

Music for math + econ

Music for math: “I Will Derive”:

And music for economics: “Fear the Boom and Bust,” a Keynes vs. Hayek rap battle…:


09 2011

The Onion of Africa advocacy

The Onion of Africa advocacy” is my new nickname for Falling Whistles, the Congo advocacy group that appears to be staffed more by graphic designers than people with policy chops or good taste. On first read it’s hard to tell whether all of their material might actually be a big inside joke designed to mock tasteless, shallow advocacy messaging. Which would be awesome… except that they’re serious.

Their latest email, with the subject line “Announcing the Hamptons Edition Whistle” and a message body composed entirely of an image, is pasted below (click for larger version):

Judge for yourself?


08 2011