Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Two Reasons I Don't Trust Opinions Espoused by Economists

1. Freakonomics
2. Lawrence H. Summers

Yet, if you do find experiments run by economist to be entertaining, you might want to read this study that considers discrimination in consumer markets by looking at the differences in service time for women vs. men in coffee shops. The study, run by economist Caitlin Knowles Myers, finds "...that female customers wait an average of 20 seconds longer for their orders than do male customers even when controlling for gender differences in orders." There is a possible case to be made that there is some sexist behavior going on in Boston coffee houses, since the difference disappeared when the baristas were female. Yet I'm unconvinced that this is a clear sign that women are discriminated against in consumer markets. My anecdotal evidence meter seems to say that, as a woman, everything is marketed to me since I'm assumed to be the shopper in my household. I'm sure that these sorts of studies will continue, though, since it is easy to find undergraduates who are willing to time their Starbucks waits for course credit. (If you don't want to read the whole study, you could just read the Slate recap.)

Also, Maureen Dowd, in her disastrously titled "Should Hillary Pretend to Be a Flight Attendant?", mentions a study on men and women's speed-dating preferences done by Ray Fisman of Colombia University in which he found that:
...men did put significantly more weight on their assessment of a partner’s beauty, when choosing, than women did. We also found that women got more dates when they won high marks for looks... By contrast, intelligence ratings were more than twice as important in predicting women’s choices as men’s. It isn’t exactly that smarts were a complete turnoff for men: They preferred women whom they rated as smarter — but only up to a point ... It turns out that men avoided women whom they perceived to be smarter than themselves. The same held true for measures of career ambition — a woman could be ambitious, just not more ambitious than the man considering her for a date.

Dowd, of course, uses this as evidence to support her perpetual grip that women have to act like air-heads to be popular with the boys (I can only assume she is trying to date the high school football team). Yup - the behavior of a small group of speed daters, a fringe community if there ever was one, probably says tons about human nature. Yet, Dowd does not link to the original study, making it difficult to evaluate the evidence on which she bases her article. Typical. I say: no link, no credibility.

UPDATE: Pandagon found Dowd's piece annoying too, and then knocked it on its bum.

5 comments:

natalie said...

I can't believe you don't like Freakonomics! I loved that book!

Casmall said...

Freakonomics was a fun read, and I'm sure it was more fun to write about then something about real economics, but I had some major problems with the conclusions.

This was because :
1) All the data discussed is correlative but described as causative.
2) The author isn't the guy who did the work. He's form the WSJ.
3) The correlation-causation problem is discussed, but the author clearly doesn't really get it. He fails to discuss that, often two trends are correlative but have no causative connection what-so -ever (low pirate numbers cause global warming!!). Is this due to problem 1 or 2 above? Both? Couldn't tell ya.
4) There are only 1 or 2 experiments in described in the book - these guys are economists, not scientists- so the data wasn't very satisfying. I got left with the feeling they just looked into things until they got an answer they liked and stopped.

And that's why I don't trust economists, but hey, they need to have fun too right?

P.S. The above comment does not and will never apply to Paul Krugman.

Casmall said...

Just to clear that up- I trust Paul Krugman AND what him to have fun sometimes.

Casmall said...

Freakonomics was a fun read, and I'm sure it was more fun to write about then something about real economics, but I had some major problems with the conclusions.

This was because :
1) All the data discussed is correlative but described as causative.
2) The author isn't the guy who did the work. He's form the WSJ.
3) The correlation-causation problem is discussed, but the author clearly doesn't really get it. He fails to discuss that, often two trends are correlative but have no causative connection what-so -ever (low pirate numbers cause global warming!!). Is this due to problem 1 or 2 above? Both? Couldn't tell ya.
4) There are only 1 or 2 experiments in described in the book - these guys are economists, not scientists- so the data wasn't very satisfying. I got left with the feeling they just looked into things until they got an answer they liked and stopped.

And that's why I don't trust economists, but hey, they need to have fun too right?

P.S. The above comment does not and will never apply to Paul Krugman.

La Pobre Habladora said...

Yes, I too heart Krugman. More parties for Krugman!!!