Saturday, July 29, 2017

Computational social science and the dynamics of social trust

Just a quick  procrastination  post today since I'm still working on the paper I'll submit to TRB.

I read a few days ago a great piece by Pseudoerasmus (Twitter) on 'Where Do Pro-Social Institutions Come From?'. It's a long read but it gives a nice and beautifully written overview on the recent research on the dynamics of social trust and its relation to collective action, culture, institutions and evolutionary game theory.

On a related topic, I just saw today the new project by Nicky Case. Nick is a star programmer/interactive designer that uses code to build interactive websites to explain scientific theories to the wider public. He has many interesting projects so be aware you might loose a day or two playing with his projects. In his latest project, Nick applies computational social science to game theory to explore the dynamics of social trust. It's a super well designed project that explains in simple terms such a complex topic. I think this is a great complimentary material to Pseudoerasmus' piece and in fact to any course on collective action, social trust, game theory, chaos and complexity theory.

Now go on. Take 7 minutes of your day and give it a try. It's worth it. If you don't have 7 minutes, this is the main take away.
"If there's one big takeaway from all of game theory, it's this: What the game is, defines what the players do. Our problem today isn't just that people are losing trust, it's that our environment acts against the evolution of trust. [...] In the short run, the game defines the players. But in the long run, it's us players who define the game"

Friday, July 21, 2017

The high cost of free parking

Nice video by Vox and the Mobility Lab team on how parking requirements shaped American cities. Via Jeff Wood

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Map of the day: the public transport network of Tokyo

Simon Kuestenmacher tweeted the other day this map that shows the public transport network of Tokyo metropolitan area (higher quality image in Japanese here). Tokyo is today the largest metro area with almost 38 million people. The amount of planning and daily work they put in their transport network overt the decades it just jaw dropping, as this maps can tell. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Vertical Hong Kong

Beautiful drone footage of Hong Kong, by Mariana Bisti (2017). It's better in full screen.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Heads up for some useful R packages

As you can see from this post, the community of R users and developers is alive and kicking on Twitter. If you would like to recommend other packages, send me an email or leave a comment on this post.

  1. data.table: high-performance data manipulation, by Matt Dowle and Arun Srinivasan. This is certainly among my favourite packages. I've been working with datasets of a few hundreds of millions observations and it makes things much faster. I stopped using dplyr long time ago

  2. tidycensus: a new library to get the US Census Bureau spatial and demographic data in R ready for use with sf and the tidyverse. This package was created by Kyle Walker, who is a must-follow if you're into R and spatial analysis

  3. mapview: interactive viewing of spatial objects in R, by Tim Salabim

  4. mapedit: interactive editing of spatial data in R, by Kent Russel

  5. ggsci, a collection color palettes inspired by colors used in scientific journals to be used in ggplot2, by Nan Xiao

  6. ourworldindata: a package by Simon Jackson to access the datasets from, which is a great project by Max Roser

  7. magick: advanced image-processing in R, which can be really useful for including gifs in your plots and impress reviewer #2 . ht Danielp Hadley

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Bicycles empower women: evidence from a quasi-experiment in India

In 1896, the American civil rights leader Susan B Anthony wrote about the crucial role that the bicycle had in women's emancipation and independence. Gradually, more and more evidence shows she was right.

Four years ago we posted about a study by K. Muralidharan and N. Prakash, who analyzed an Indian program "... aimed to reduce the gender gap in secondary school enrolment by providing girls who continued to secondary school with a bicycle that would improve access to school". They have found that the program was an extremely cost-effective way to increase girls’ access to secondary schools and enrolment rates. Their paper just came out published in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics. (ungated older version here).

Muralidharan, K., and Prakash, N.. 2017. "Cycling to School: Increasing Secondary School Enrollment for Girls in India." American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 9(3): 321-50. 

We study the impact of an innovative program in the Indian state of Bihar that aimed to reduce the gender gap in secondary school enrollment by providing girls who continued to secondary school with a bicycle that would improve access to school. Using data from a large representative household survey, we employ a triple difference approach (using boys and the neighboring state of Jharkhand as comparison groups) and find that being in a cohort that was exposed to the Cycle program increased girls' age-appropriate enrollment in secondary school by 32 percent and reduced the corresponding gender gap by 40 percent. We also find an 18 percent increase in the number of girls who appear for the high-stakes secondary school certificate exam, and a 12 percent increase in the number of girls who pass it. Parametric and non-parametric decompositions of the triple- difference estimate as a function of distance to the nearest secondary school show that the increases in enrollment mostly took place in villages that were further away from a secondary school [> 3km], suggesting that the mechanism of impact was the reduction in the time and safety cost of school attendance made possible by the bicycle. We also find that the Cycle program was much more cost effective at increasing girls' secondary school enrollment than comparable conditional cash transfer programs in South Asia.

And here is an old video briefing on the study.

Assorted Links

  1. Using geographic profiling to investigate the real identity of Banksy. There is a nice interview with one of the authors about the paper in the podcast 'What's the point'

Monday, July 3, 2017

The rise of 'nuance' in the Social Sciences

About two years ago, we put a link to Kieran Healy's work titled "Fuck nuance". His study has now been published as a paper in Sociological Theory (ungated version here). One of his main arguments is that the search for more nuanced understandings of social phenomena often end up obstructing the development of robust social theories. This is certainly open for debate.

Although Kieran's paper focuses on studies in Sociology, he has recently expanded some his analysis to other fields of the social sciences, showing how the the percentage of articles mentioning the words ‘nuance’ or ‘nuanced’ has sharply risen since the 1990s in pretty much every field.

credit: Kieran Healy