Podcasts of May 2017

In May I listened to:

Michael Munger on Choosing in Groups
I love Michael Munger and I think he is brilliant. In this podcast he talks about his new book Choosing in Groups (I eventually plan on reading it but it looks dense, so it's on hold for now) and discusses with Russ the challenges of group decision making. The entire thing is interesting, but I found particularly engaging the point he made about no successful democracy being majority rule, because democracies can be manipulated and is therefore not radically determinate. There can be several majorities existing at the same time, and depending on the rules of democracy, the outcomes can be very different. This is kind of the same thing we talked about in CC when we discussed the Federalist Papers and some of the fears the authors we read had about popular majority rule democracy. I also liked the point that if you don't trust the average person, and believe they have flaws, why would a majority suddenly be better? 

David Zetland on Water
I liked this one so much I read the book, so my thoughts are in the book section. A good podcast about the economics of water scarcity and different potential solutions.

Campbell Harvey on Randomness, Skill, and Investment Strategies
I liked this one as a reminder to remember randomness when evaluating skill. A lot of successful investment strategies are just lucky over that short time period, so it's tremendously difficult to differentiate between good luck and true skill. I liked the description of a popular scam: someone sends 5000 picks to group A, 5000 picks to group B, and then further split the correct picks by half until you get a small group of people who have received 5 correct picks in a row, and are willing to buy whatever you're selling. 

David Skarbek on Prison Gangs and the Social Order of the Underworld
I thought this one was really fun to listen to and really interesting. They discuss how prison gangs are formed, why prison gangs are formed, and the incentives behind it. There is apparently a lot of money flowing through prison gangs from illegal contraband, and a lot of it is received from either family or from friends from the outside, snuck in, or bribes. Skarbek also suggests prison gangs formed because previous community accepted rules became insufficient with larger and larger prisons, and so people needed gangs to quickly affiliate and protect themselves. He also provides a motivation for racial gangs (easier to differentiate, harder to leave). Interesting stuff.

Andrew Gelman on Social Science, Small Samples, and the Garden of Forking Paths
I liked this one a lot if only because it provided a good basis for my suspicion of social sciences. He says a lot of data can be "p-hacked" to obtain the results that you want. This sounds sinister but is not necessarily invalid; it's just there are many "forking paths" that are equally valid statistically and often researchers take the one that leads them to a "statistically significant" result. I found it interesting and worrying that lots of psych or econ studies, when repeated, do not yield similar results and are not very repeatable.