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Self in Society Roundup 31

Contrarians and math, movies, public school, abortion, fertility, Black families, Roman infanticide, and more.

Copyright © 2024 by Ari Armstrong
September 17, 2023; ported here on January 15, 2024

Contrarian Americans

As Alex Tabarrok relates, 23% of people asked to answer the following problem in a study missed it:

A bat and a ball cost $110 in total.
The bat costs $100 more than the ball.
How much does the ball cost?
The answer is $5.
Please enter the number 5 in the blank below.

Most people missed the problem when they were first asked to "consider whether the answer could be $5."

The authors of the study conclude that a "remarkable durability of that error paints a more pessimistic picture of human reasoning than we were initially inclined to accept."

Tabarrok thinks some people might be "pulling the authors legs" but that "quite a few people are indeed hopeless."

One of the people who commented on Tabarrok's post thinks the problem is simply people skipping instructions.

What I think is going on is that a lot of people who missed the problem thought the writers of the study were lying to them, and they thought that what they were being tested on is their willingness to not conform. So they passed that test! Unfortunately, they also suck at math.

To me, the moral of the story is that it's great to be contrarian when the facts are on your side, but mindless contrarianism is bad.

It would have been interesting to tell people the answer is $10 and direct them to enter $10, and see how many people then put the correct answer, $5.

Incidentally, my eight-year-old got the problem right even without the hint, because he'd seen a variant of it in his third-grade Singapore "Challenging World Problems" workbook.


Overall I really enjoyed A Million Miles Away, the Amazon biopic about astronaut José Hernández, who grew up as a migrant farm worker. Rosa Salazar gives an especially good performance as Hernández's wife, who supports her husband in his goals, works to establish a restaurant, and raises a large family.

Wild with Reese Witherspoon (2014) has become a personal favorite. Witherspoon is great, and Laura Dern is spectacular as the mom. After the death of her mother, Witherspoon's character spirals into drug addiction and risky sex. She puts her life back together over a thousand mile hike. (I also recently rewatched Legally Blonde, starring Witherspoon, and it's ridiculously silly but still fun.)

Captain Fantastic (2016) is about a man (Viggo Mortensen) who homeschools his kids in the woods, exposing them to serious literature and to intense physical training. His children are impressive in many ways (although one says he's a Trotskyist), but they are isolated from the world. We learn that the man's wife has left to get treatment for her severe depression. Do the children need to go live a "normal" life with their grandparents, or can the father figure out a way to strike a balance? Despite some disturbing scenes, it's a great and moving film.

The Flash is even crazier and less coherent than your typical time-travel movie, but Ezra Miller is excellent playing both older and younger versions of Barry Allen. Seeing Michael Keaton again as Batman is very fun. Ultimately I found the story unsatisfying, even as I enjoyed many of the (often surprisingly humorous) scenes.

Quick Takes

Open Immigration: Check out Katherine Bernard's eloquent defense of open boarders, from a FreedomFest "mock trial."

Basic Income: Matt Zwolinski and Miranda Perry Fleischer have a new book coming out on the basic income. Zwolinski and I touched on that issue during our podcast episode.

Public School: Cara Fitzpatrick says public education is dead. Aside from the fact that tax-funded education remains "public education," the large portion of students continue to go to traditional public schools, as Matt Bateman notes. Still, "school choice" is advancing.

Unleaded Turmeric: Alex Tabarrok describes the academic effort to de-toxify the spice in Bangladesh.

Abortions Up: New York Times via Cowen: "[Since] the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last year, . . . [t]he number of legal abortions has held steady, if not increased, nationwide since 2020, . . . Amy Schoenfeld Walker and Allison McCann reported. . . . New data from the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit specializing in reproductive health, implies that more people are traveling across state lines or using telemedicine to get abortions, including through the use of abortion pills."

Fertility and Parenting: Melissa Kearney via Cowen: "We proposed that priorities have shifted across cohorts, such that people reaching adulthood in more recent years are less committed to having kids or multiple kids than people used to be. . . . The decline in marriage and the rise in the share of children being raised in a one-parent home has happened predominantly outside the college-educated class."

NASA: Bluntly, the agency is a lot more interested in creating make-work for vendors than in actually sending people to space.

Parents: Nicholas Kristof: "Only 38 percent of Black children live with married parents."

YIMBY: California is focused largely on mandated "affordable" housing. Color me skeptical. We could just try free markets. But Senate Bill 4 simply would "allow churches to build affordable housing on their parking lots." Scott Sumner reviews the limitations (via Cowen).

Infanticide: Louise Perry: "As a younger woman [Helen Dale] had taken part in archaeological excavations of ancient Roman sites. 'First you find the erotic statuary,' she went on, 'and then you dig a bit more and you find the male infant skeletons.' Male, of course, because the males were of no use to the keepers of Roman brothels, whereas the female infants born to prostituted women were raised into prostitution themselves." One need not agree with all of Perry's conclusions (I don't) to find the facts she reviews horrifying.

Death Penalty: Alabama wants to suffocate a prisoner to death in nitrogen. Grotesque.

Tenure: Bryan Caplan calls it a scam.

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