The Situationist

Archive for April, 2008

The Situation of Baseball Skills

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 19, 2008

Greg Spira had an interesting article, “The Boys of Late Summer,” last week in Slate. The article examines the situational significance of birthdates on who makes it to the Bigs. (We’re grateful to Situationist friend Andrew Perlman for calling our attention to this article.)

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In 2000, John Holway argued in a book called The Baseball Astrologer that the sign under which an individual was born played a significant role in whether he made it in pro ball. Holway identified a real phenomenon, but the explanation does not lie in the stars. Since 1950, a baby born in the United States in August has had a 50 percent to 60 percent better chance of making the big leagues than a baby born in July. The lesson: If you want your child to be a professional baseball player, you should start planning early. Very early. As in before conception.

The table below lays out the full month-to-month data. As of the 2005 season, 503 Americans born in August had made it to the major leagues compared with 313 American born in July. . . .
The pattern is unmistakable. From August through the following July, there is a steady decline in the likelihood that a child born in the United States will become a major leaguer. Meanwhile, among players born outside the 50 states, there are some hints of a pattern but nothing significant enough to reach any conclusions. An analysis of the birth dates of players in baseball’s minor leagues between 1984 and 2000 finds similar patterns, with American-born players far more likely to have been born in August than July. The birth-month pattern among Latin American minor leaguers is very different—if anything, they’re more likely to be born toward the end of the year, in October, November, and December.

from Slate

The magical date of Aug. 1 gives a strong hint as to the explanation for this phenomenon. For more than 55 years, July 31 has been the age-cutoff date used by virtually all nonschool-affiliated baseball leagues in the United States. Youth baseball organizations including Little League, Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth, PONY, Dixie Youth, Hap Dumont, Dizzy Dean, American Legion, and more have long used that date to determine which players are eligible for which levels of play. (There is no such commonly used cutoff date in Latin America.) The result: In almost every American youth league, the oldest players are the ones born in August, and the youngest are those with July birthdays. For example, someone born on July 31, 1990, would almost certainly have been the youngest player on his youth team in 2001, his first year playing in the 11-and-12-year-olds league, and of average age in 2002, his second year in the same league. Someone born on Aug. 1, 1989, by contrast, would have been of average age in 2001, his first year playing in the 11-and-12-year-olds division, and would almost certainly be the oldest player in the league in 2002.

Twelve full months of development makes a huge difference for an 11- or 12-year-old. The player who is 12 months older will, on average, be bigger, stronger, and more coordinated than his younger counterpart, not to mention more experienced. And those bigger, better players are the ones given opportunities for further advancement. Other players, who are just as skilled for their age, are less likely to be given those same opportunities simply because of when they were born. . . .

This phenomenon will not come as news to social scientists, who have observed the same patterns in a number of different sports. The first major study of what has become known as the “relative age effect” . . . determined that NHL players of the early 1980s were more than four times as likely to be born in the first three months of the calendar year as the last three months. In 2005, a larger study on the relative age effect in European youth soccer . . . . found a large relative age effect in almost every European country, though it seems to shrink in adult leagues and is less significant in women’s soccer. . . .

Interestingly enough, the relative age effect doesn’t appear in the two other major American sports leagues. . . .

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To read more about the relative age effects, including possible explanations for the exceptions and the effects of the new April 30 cutoff date, link to the entire story here.


Posted in Life, Situationist Sports | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Panic

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 19, 2008

Situationist PodcastFrom Radiolab: War of the World

Abstract: An examination of the power of mass media to create panic. In Radio Lab’s very first live hour, we take a deep dive into one of the most controversial moments in broadcasting history – Orson Welles’ 1938 radio play about Martians invading New Jersey. And we ask: Why did it fool people then? And why has it continued to fool people since? From Santiago, Chile to Buffalo, New York to a particularly disastrous evening in Quito, Ecuador.

Listen to show by clicking here.

Posted in Abstracts, Entertainment, History, Podcasts | Leave a Comment »

Albert Bandura’s Bobo Doll Experiments

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 18, 2008

From Wikipedia: The Bobo doll experiment was conducted by Albert Bandura in 1961 and studied patterns of behaviour associated with aggression. Additional studies of this type were conducted by Bandura in 1963 and 1965. A Bobo doll is an inflatable toy that is approximately the same size as a prepubescent child.  This experiment is important to psychology because it was a precedent that sparked many more studies about the effects of viewing violence on children.  For details, click here.  For another post about Albert Bandura’s research, see “The Need for a Situationist Morality.”

Posted in Classic Experiments, Conflict, Social Psychology, Video | 3 Comments »

The Rational Choice Myth – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 18, 2008

by Erwin Boogert on Flickr

Michael Dorff recently posted his interesting paper, “The Rational Choice Myth: The Selection and Compensation of Critical Performers,” on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

* * *

Some positions within an organization wield unusual impact over the entity’s success. The decision makers who hire these critical performers face a daunting task: to distinguish among closely comparable finalists in a context where small differences in talent can produce enormous outcome divergences. I apply research from psychology and behavioral law and economics to argue that decision makers demonstrate unwarranted confidence in their ability to distinguish among nearly identical candidates. The illusion of validity, representativeness bias, insensitivity to predictability, and the fundamental attribution error all impede decision makers’ ability to make these fine distinctions. Once they have made a selection, cognitive dissonance induces inappropriate confidence in the outcome’s validity and promotes excessive compensation. Involving a group in the decision may worsen these effects by imbuing outcomes with the false veneer of market legitimacy through social cascades and by discouraging contrary views throug hexcessive consensus or groupthink.

I examine two types of critical performers with these insights: professional baseball players (where individual contributions to the enterprise can be measured directly) and public company CEOs (where they cannot). I conclude that in both contexts, these phenomena produce inefficient selection and compensation outcomes. While the relative absence of externalities argues against mandatory regulation in baseball, I propose changes in private ordering that should improve efficiency. In the corporate context, I argue that regulation is called for and propose a combination of mandatory compensation caps linked to firm size and a reverse auction among CEO finalists to determine the successful candidate.

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Situationist Sports, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Representing Justice – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 17, 2008

Image by Clearly Ambiguous - Flickr

Judith Resnik recently posted her lecture, “Representing Justice: From Renaissance Iconography to Twenty-First Century Courthouses” (Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 151, p. 139, 2007) on SSRN. Here is the abstract.

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All over the globe, nations rely on a statue of a large hulking woman (sometimes named Justice, sometimes Justicia, sometimes Themis, and usually holding scales and sword) to symbolize that their justice systems have aspirations of fairness and impartiality and also to lay a claim to power. The attributes associated with this Justice image – a woman with scale, sword, and sometimes a blindfold – have a remarkable longevity, as can be seen in cartoons and advertisements, as well as in courthouses.

This Lecture provides a multi-century, cross-cultural visual narrative of both continuity and change in the use of adjudication by governments seeking to legitimate their authority to impose their law through judges. From the story of the Judgment of Solomon to the Town Halls of Siena and Amsterdam, one can find examples of adjudication, a task of governance that predates democracy. From those walls and the allegories that they represent, one can learn how adjudicatory practices contributed to democratic ideology by generating norms that decisionmakers not be corrupted by payments from one side, that their decisions be predicated on information rather than be arbitrary, and that they hear both sides (audi alterum partem).

But democracy has radically increased the demand for adjudication as it provided rights of access to all persons, now seen as equal before the law. That demand in turn has transformed the function and some of the processes of adjudication. The pattern of an expansion of adjudicatory rights is echoed around the world, as can be seen by the many countries with major new buildings of courts and the growth of transnational courts.

This Lecture thus also maps the challenges that democracy poses for adjudication. The responses to the growth in demand has resulted in a shift of many decisions to alternative forms of decisionmaking that limit public access to adjudication. In the United States federal system, for example, fewer than two of one hundred civil cases start a trial. Further, administrative adjudication is increasingly important, as tens of thousands of hearings are held annually in federal agencies dealing with federal benefits, employment discrimination, veterans and immigration. But these proceedings are not readily accessible to street traffic.

By reviewing the pictorial history of adjudicatory processes, we raise the question of the future trajectory of adjudication. Even as new courthouses are built around the world, the opportunities for persons to use them may be narrowing. Moreover, the didactic messages conveyed are often more celebratory than reflective of the obligations, under democracy to make accessible justice and to respond to injustice. With rare exceptions (such as the Constitutional Court of South Africa), the iconography of justice has not yet come to reflect the infusion of norms that democracy brings to adjudication.

Posted in Abstracts, Law | 2 Comments »

The Separation of Business and State – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 17, 2008

by TW CollinsTimothy Kuhner recently posted his paprr, “The Separation of Business and State” (forthcoming in California Law Review). The abstract is as follows.

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National scandals involving corporate fraud, political corruption, lobbyists, and campaign finance have called attention to worrisome dynamics: the decreasing power of natural persons relative to legal persons in the political process; and the erosion of civic or democratic values in favor of corporate values. Both dynamics relate to the vexing problem of money in politics. American political thought and constitutional structure offer much-needed guidance in the form of analogies and separationist logic.

This Essay recasts the phenomenon of money in politics as a separation problem that is, a problem of the private sphere of business overreaching into the public sphere of governance; in short, excessive entanglement. Once the problem is seen in this light, it is natural to search for insights in the two most significant separations in U.S. law: the separation of powers and the separation of church and state. An analysis of these earlier separations reveals that the forces at work today arise from the same perennial forces contemplated by the Founders: unreformed human nature, dominated by unenlightened self-interest and ideological passion, and factions which emerge as a collective manifestation of interest and passion. Relevant political philosophy from the first two separations helps define the contours of a third, that between business and state. Taken as analogies, the earlier separations help explain what is happening to politics and suggest a solution.

Posted in Deep Capture | Leave a Comment »

Unconscious Situation of Choice

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 16, 2008

From Science Dailey - Credit John Dylan-HaynesFrom Science Daily Release:

Contrary to what most of us would like to believe, decision-making may be a process handled to a large extent by unconscious mental activity. A team of scientists has unraveled how the brain actually unconsciously prepares our decisions. Even several seconds before we consciously make a decision its outcome can be predicted from unconscious activity in the brain.

This is shown in a study by scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, in collaboration with the Charité University Hospital and the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin. The researchers from the group of Professor John-Dylan Haynes used a brain scanner to investigate what happens in the human brain just before a decision is made. “Many processes in the brain occur automatically and without involvement of our consciousness. This prevents our mind from being overloaded by simple routine tasks. But when it comes to decisions we tend to assume they are made by our conscious mind. This is questioned by our current findings.”

In the study, published in Nature Neuroscience, [Chun Siong Soon, Marcel Brass, Hans-Jochen Heinze & John-Dylan Haynes. Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain. Nature Neuroscience April 13th, 2008] participants could freely decide if they wanted to press a button with their left or right hand. They were free to make this decision whenever they wanted, but had to remember at which time they felt they had made up their mind. The aim of the experiment was to find out what happens in the brain in the period just before the person felt the decision was made. The researchers found that it was possible to predict from brain signals which option participants would take up to seven seconds before they consciously made their decision. Normally researchers look at what happens when the decision is made, but not at what happens several seconds before. The fact that decisions can be predicted so long before they are made is a astonishing finding.

This unprecedented prediction of a free decision was made possible by sophisticated computer programs that were trained to recognize typical brain activity patterns preceding each of the two choices. Micropatterns of activity in the frontopolar cortex were predictive of the choices even before participants knew which option they were going to choose. The decision could not be predicted perfectly, but prediction was clearly above chance. This suggests that the decision is unconsciously prepared ahead of time but the final decision might still be reversible.

“Most researchers investigate what happens when people have to decide immediately, typically as a rapid response to an event in our environment. Here we were focusing on the more interesting decisions that are made in a more natural, self-paced manner”, Haynes explains.

More than 20 years ago the American brain scientist Benjamin Libet found a brain signal, the so-called “readiness-potential” that occurred a fraction of a second before a conscious decision. Libet’s experiments were highly controversial and sparked a huge debate. Many scientists argued that if our decisions are prepared unconsciously by the brain, then our feeling of “free will” must be an illusion. In this view, it is the brain that makes the decision, not a person’s conscious mind. Libet’s experiments were particularly controversial because he found only a brief time delay between brain activity and the conscious decision.

In contrast, Haynes and colleagues now show that brain activity predicts — even up to 7 seconds ahead of time — how a person is going to decide. But they also warn that the study does not finally rule out free will: “Our study shows that decisions are unconsciously prepared much longer ahead than previously thought. But we do not know yet where the final decision is made. We need to investigate whether a decision prepared by these brain areas can still be reversed.”

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For a sample of previous, related Situationist posts, see The Situation of Reason,” and Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV of “The Unconscious Situation of our Consciousness.”

Posted in Choice Myth | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Victims, ‘Closure,’ and the Sociology of Emotion – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 16, 2008

by Joe Gratz - FlickrSusan Bandes has posted an interesting paper, titled “Victims, ‘Closure’, and the Sociology of Emotion” on SSRN (forthcoming in Law and Contemporary Problems). Here is the abstract.

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The concept of closure, almost unknown two decades ago, has had a meteoric rise. It has been enthusiastically embraced by the legal system not only as a legitimate psychological state, but as one that the criminal justice system ought to help victims and murder survivors to attain. In the death penalty context, the concept of closure has changed the way we talk about the rationale for capital punishment, it has changed the shape of the legal process, and it has even changed what both survivors and jurors in capital cases expect to feel. Yet, as I will illustrate, the term closure in fact connotes several different and poorly differentiated concepts, each with separate and quite serious implications for the conduct of the capital trial. For example, depending on how closure is understood, it might require a chance to give public testimony, an opportunity to meet with the accused, a more expeditious trial, a sentence of death, or an execution. Yet there is inadequate evidence on whether any of these institutional processes or outcomes can actually contribute to a state of closure for survivors.

As current research in disciplines including cognitive neuroscience, sociology, psychology, and political science suggests, emotions are dynamic processes that evolve in a reciprocal relationship with social structures. As the legal system becomes increasingly invested in helping victims and survivors achieve closure, we need to take a hard look at the emotional content of this concept, and at how it affects, and is affected by, the institutional framework in which it operates.

Posted in Emotions, Law | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Big Papi Magic

Posted by Jon Hanson & Michael McCann on April 15, 2008

Last June, we wrote about Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz and how attributional biases may have explained his increased acrimony toward umpires. Back then, Ortiz was slightly off his normal torrid pace at the plate. One of the top three or four hitters in baseball had morphed into a player about 95% as good and seemingly (if not actually) as clutch. In other words, still one of the best players in the game, if subjectively seeming a bit less heroic, particularly given his constant bickering with umpires over called balls and strikes.

If only Ortiz could go back in time to June 2007. Though the 2008 season is still in its infancy with only 13 of the Sox’s 162 games having been played, Ortiz has the lowest batting average of all Major League Baseball players who have enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. Put differently, Ortiz–who was second in all of baseball last season in OBS (on base plus slugging) and who led the American League in home runs in 2006 — has been the worst hitter in baseball this season. Until last night, he was batting .070, which even if you are not a baseball fan, you can probably tell is awful. What makes it especially damaging for Ortiz is that he is a designated hitter and thus does not contribute defensively. He’s paid to hit, and he’s currently the worst hitter in baseball. Big Papi has lost his pop!

No doubt, Ortiz will rebound at some point, just like he did last season. But he’s been dogged with assorted questions about why he is slumping so badly. There is speculation about whether minor surgery on his right knee after last season may be a problem, whether the Sox season-opening trip to Japan may have have affected his performance, whether he’s devoted too much of his attention to starring in advertisements, whether his weight and age are beginning to take a toll on his ability to swing the bat, or whether something else is going on. Ortiz has responded by saying the problem is in his head:

This game is very mental. Your mind takes over. I know in my my situation, my mind works more than anything else. Once you get physically prepared your mind takes over and sometimes you’re fighting, fighting, fighting (yourself). Sometimes you have to chill out and come back with a fresh mind . . . I’m fine. I don’t get frustrated at all. I’m just trying to get back to being Big Papi again.

He has a point. As discussed elsewhere on this blog, baseball players are no less dependent on their minds for their job performance than rocket scientists are on theirs–albeit in different ways. Despite the obvious physical nature of sports and the related demands for elite athletic talent, social psychologists and related mind scientists have found that baseball players, like other athletes, depend almost exclusively on the unconscious brain, and its ability to streamline information, to actually play the game. (For related Situationist posts, see The Situation of a Baseball Pitch, (Young) Minds Over Body, The Batting Situation, and the Unconscious Genius of Baseball Players.)

It is in part because of the unconscious automaticity of their behavior that leaves them vulnerable to the potentially harmful interference of conscious or subconscious intrusions–athletes can end up “fighting, fighting, fighting” themselves. As David Ortiz struggles “to get back to being Big Papi again,” some of his fans and foes are left also guessing as to the cause of his aberrational slump.

As noted above, they offer and debate numerous possible causal sources, but there is one that we especially want to highlight (in part because it evinces another common theme on this blog): namely, the surprisingly widespread belief in magic:

Often we don’t even register our wacky beliefs. Seeing causality in coincidence can happen even before we have a chance to think about it; the misfiring is sometimes perceptual rather than rational. “Consider what happens when you honk your horn, and just at that moment a streetlight goes out,” observes Brian Scholl, director of Yale’s Perception and Cognition Laboratory. “You may never for a moment believe that your honk caused the light to go out, but you will irresistibly perceive that causal relation. The fact remains that our visual systems refuse to believe in coincidences.” Our overeager eyes, in effect, lay the groundwork for more detailed superstitious ideation. And it turns out that no matter how rational people consider themselves, if they place a high value on hunches they are hard-pressed to hit a baby’s photo on a dartboard. On some level they’re equating image with reality. Even our aim falls prey to intuition.

(For a sample of previous Situationist posts on magic go to “The Situation of Magical Thinking,” “Patriots Lose: Justice Restored!” and “The Magic of Jonathan Papelbon’s ‘Knuckle Knock,’” “Red Sox Magic,” and “Think You’ve Got Magical Powers?“)

So, here we go: David Ortiz’s sudden struggles at the dish are analogous to the street light going out.

What is the honking horn? As it happens, the other big Red Sox story this week is about the faith that baseball fans as well as certain baseball-team owners seem to place in the power of a curse. The New York Post had reported that a Red Sox fan, attempted to curse the Yankees’ new stadium by burying a Red Sox jersey at the site. Not just any Red Sox jersey, it turns out, but a David Ortiz jersey. (For more details, see the remarkable four-minute video below; for a legal analysis, check out Geoff Rapp’s post on Sports Law Blog.)

How do you explain Ortiz’s struggles? Honk! Or, as one blogger put it:

The big news on this chilly Sunday in the Fens is that David Ortiz has been given the night off, a chance to clear his head while in the throes of a 1-for-29 slump since April 2. The other big news comes out of New York, where a David Ortiz jersey has been removed from the new Yankee Stadium, after workers jackhammered their way through to remove the offending article. The thought was that the Sox jersey in Yankee foundation would curse the Yanks. But maybe it’s been the other way around? Maybe the jersey, ensconsed in Yankee foundation, was cursing Ortiz.

Last night, Ortiz did something very Big Papi-like: he got two hits. No, they were not big hits. Nor were they clutch hits. Still, it was a noticeable improvement, and the Papi mojo seemed, perhaps, to be returning. His batting average even managed to trickle into the three digit range.

What caused the light to go back on? Easy: the Yankees had jackhammered their way through concrete to find and remove the (apparently backfiring) hex: Deadspin‘s post, “Ortiz Slump Officially Over. Thanks, Yankees!” says it all:

Here’s the thing, Yankees fans. You may have thought that you were heading off some sort of curse by digging up that David Ortiz jersey that was buried beneath your new stadium. But consider this: While the jersey remained buried, it’s owner was hitting .070; last in the majors. In his first game back since the cloth was extricated, Ortiz went 2-for-5, raising his average 34 points, as the Red Sox beat the Indians 6-4. Hank Steinbrenner : “Re-dig the hole! Turn those machines back on!”

We’re hoping the Ortiz light shines brightly this week as the Sox head to Yankee stadium for two games later this week. If not, we urge Red Sox Nation to crank up the voodoo.

Posted in Situationist Sports, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Take A Situationist Survey . . .

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 15, 2008

The Situationist staff is conducting some research and would greatly appreciate your assistance in filling out a brief (less-than-5-minute) survey assessing variables that affect judgments of responsibility. To participate, click here.

Responsibility Wristband

Posted in Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

Lee Ross on Naive Realism and Conflict Resolution

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 14, 2008

On numerous occasions we have discussed the work of Lee Ross, the Stanford social psychologist who coined the phrase “fundamental attribution error,” which refers to the tendency to overestimate the influence of a person’s disposition and to underestimate the influence of his situation. Ross has also worked with several Situationist contributors, including Emily Pronin (on the bias blind spot) and Aaron Kay (on situational cues).

On Thursday, April 10, Professor Ross spoke at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania on psychological barriers to conflict resolution. He was a guest of Professor Andrew Ward and Liz Hipple of the Daily Gazette was there to cover it. We excerpt her story below.

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Naïve realism is the conviction that one sees the world as it is and that when people don’t see it in a similar way, it is they that do not see the world for what it is. Ross characterized naïve realism as “a dangerous but unavoidable conviction about perception and reality”. The danger of naïve realism is that while humans are good in recognizing that other people and their opinions have been shaped and influenced by their life experiences and particular dogmas, we are far less adept at recognizing the influence our own experiences and dogmas have on ourselves and opinions. We fail to recognize the bias in ourselves that we are so good in picking out in others.

This high opinion of our insusceptibility to bias might explain why so many people agree about the bias of the media, though not on the direction of that bias. A study of Ross’s on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict found that both Palestinians and Israelis who saw the same media coverage of an event thought that it was biased. Palestinians thought that it was biased in favor of Israelis, and Israelis thought that it was biased in favor of Palestinians.

Overcoming naïve realism is difficult because group dialogue, usually thought to be a good way of helping people to see things from the other point of view, can actually only further polarize opinions on a topic. Ordinary dialogue does not necessarily lead to recognition of the ambivalent nature of “right and wrong” on an issue. Ross’s suggested solution to this problem is to have members of a group discussion each give one point of the other side’s argument that they think has some legitimacy. The study that Ross has done on this potential solution to conflict had the impressive result of 100% agreement being reached using this method.

While naïve realism is an unfortunate characteristic of the human psyche that none of us are immune to, resolutions to conflicts can be found through the acknowledgment of the other side’s point of view. In another study of Ross’s, having a confederate positively acknowledge the subject by saying something along the lines of, “I’ve heard what you’ve said, and so I’m going to discard the proposal I came in with” greatly increased the chances of coming to an agreement, rather than the confederate sticking with his original proposal that he arrived with. While walking a mile in another person’s shoes may not be the solution to conflict resolution, it seems that it could not hurt to be aware of the mile that that person has come.

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To read the rest of the story, click here. For another Situationist post on naive realism, click here.

Posted in Politics, Social Psychology | 3 Comments »

The Situation of Compensation Decisions – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 13, 2008

Image by absolutwade on Flickr Gillian K. Hadfield has posted an interesting paper, titled “Framing the Choice between Cash and the Courthouse: Experiences with the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund” on SSRN (to link to it, click here). The piece is forthcoming in Law and Society Review.

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In this paper I report the results of a quantitative and qualitative empirical study of how those who were injured or lost a family member in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks evaluated the tradeoff between a cash payment – available through the Victim Compensation Fund – and the pursuit of litigation. Responses make it clear that potential plaintiffs saw much more at stake than monetary compensation and that the choice to forego litigation required the sacrifice of important non-monetary, civic, values: obtaining and publicizing information about what happened, prompting public findings of accountability for those responsible, and participating in the process of ensuring that there would be responsive change to what was learned about how the attacks and deaths happened. The results shed light on the framing component of the transformation of disputes, and in particular on how potential litigants see the decision to sue, or not, as a decision as much or more about how they understand their relationship to their community and their responsibilities as a citizen as how they evaluate monetary considerations.

Posted in Abstracts, Law | Leave a Comment »

Changing Choices by Changing Situations

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 12, 2008

Nudge CoverEconomic behavioralists Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein have a new book, Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness. The book does a great job of illustrating some of the ways that situation influences our behavior and how adjustments to the situation might lead to behavior and outcomes that we prefer.

From the publisher:

Every day, we make decisions on topics ranging from personal investments to schools for our children to the meals we eat to the causes we champion. Unfortunately, we often choose poorly. The reason, the authors explain, is that, being human, we all are susceptible to various biases that can lead us to blunder. Our mistakes make us poorer and less healthy; we often make bad decisions involving education, personal finance, health care, mortgages and credit cards, the family, and even the planet itself.

Thaler and Sunstein invite us to enter an alternative world, one that takes our humanness as a given. They show that by knowing how people think, we can design choice environments that make it easier for people to choose what is best for themselves, their families, and their society. Using colorful examples from the most important aspects of life, Thaler and Sunstein demonstrate how thoughtful “choice architecture” can be established to nudge us in beneficial directions without restricting freedom of choice. Nudge offers a unique new take—from neither the left nor the right—on many hot-button issues, for individuals and governments alike. This is one of the most engaging and provocative books to come along in many years.

To listen to an 8-minute interview of Richard Thaler on NPR’s Day to Day, click here.

Posted in Book, Choice Myth, Life, Marketing | 1 Comment »

Taking Distribution Seriously – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 12, 2008

Image by e.schumann on FlickrRobert C. Hockett has recently posted an interesting paper, “Taking Distribution Seriously,” on SSRN. We’ve pasted the abstract below.

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It is common for legal theorists and policy analysts to think and communicate mainly in maximizing terms. What is less common is for them to notice that each time we speak explicitly of socially maximizing one thing, we speak implicitly of distributing another thing and equalizing yet another thing. We also, moreover, effectively define ourselves and our fellow citizens by reference to that which we equalize; for it is in virtue of the latter that our social welfare formulations treat us as “counting” for purposes of socially aggregating and maximizing.

To attend systematically to the inter-translatability of maximization language on the one hand, equalization and identification language on the other, is to “take distribution seriously.” It is to recognize explicitly, and to trace the important normative consequences that stem from, the fact that all law and policy are as distributive and citizen-defining as they are aggregative. It is also to recognize therefore that all law and policy treat us as equals in some respects – respects in terms of which they identify and “count” us as politically relevant – and as non-equals in other respects. Attending explicitly to these “respects” brings transparency about the degrees to which our laws and policies identify, “count,” and treat us as equals in the right respects.

This Article accordingly seeks to lay out with care how to take distribution seriously in legal and policy analysis. It does so by two means, keyed to the principal guises in which distribution is typically implicated in legal and policy analysis: First, by careful attention to the internal structures of the social welfare functions favored by most present-day legal theorists and policy analysts. And second, by systematic reference to what linguists call the “cognitive grammar” of non-formal distributive language, a structure that mirrors the structure of distribution itself. The payoffs include both a workable method by which systematically to test proposed maximization norms for their normative propriety, and an attractive distributive ethic that can serve as an ethically intelligible normative touchstone for legal and policy analysis.

Posted in Abstracts, Legal Theory | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of a Baseball Pitch

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 11, 2008

Jack Curry wrote a nice piece in the New York Times about Johan Santana’s pitching prowess, titled “Santana’s Changeup: Hitters Never See It Coming.” We’ve excerpted portions of the article below and added a video of Santana’s pitching from behind the plate.

* * *

Johan Santana carried a baseball with him every day, for hours at a time, trying to become more comfortable with the feel of his fingers against the seams. He would scoop up a ball as a minor leaguer with the Minnesota Twins and immediately move his fingers across the four seams, the same way he held his fastball and his evolving changeup.

For Santana, clutching the ball was his way of making it feel like an extension of his left hand. To develop his changeup and have the confidence to throw a pitch that depends so much on touch, he realized that he first needed to strengthen his relationship with the baseball. So when Santana was not pitching off a mound or long-tossing across the outfield, he marched around with one, all the while pursuing a grip that would make the changeup his lifelong friend.

Santana speaks about a baseball as if he were discussing a person. “A baseball is my partner,” he said. “I have to keep it with me at all times. We have 162 games a year, plus spring training. You spend more than half the year with a baseball in your hand. You can’t forget that.”

Six years after Santana began meticulously honing his four-seam grip as a starter in Class AAA, he is still doing it. Except now he is doing it as the premier pitcher in baseball and the new ace of the Mets. Now Santana, a two-time Cy Young award winner, is doing it with a changeup that makes batters bend and buckle.

“The thing that makes his changeup so tough is how he controls it,” Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi said. “He doesn’t bounce it. It just comes to the plate like a fastball and falls off.”

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Rick Peterson, the Mets’ pitching coach, described the fastball-changeup combination as “probably the most devastating” in the major leagues, especially when a pitcher consistently throws fastballs for strikes. Santana does that by dominating the inside corner with his fastball, although there are minor concerns about how a loss in velocity contributed to a slump late last season.

Whether Santana fires a fastball that zooms in at 90 to 94 miles an hour or flips a changeup that lumbers in at 77 to 80, he does everything exactly the same. He uses the same delivery, the same release point and the same exertion. Then he does it again and again.

Link to the Times Article for this full GraphicThat repetitiveness helps camouflage which of the drastically different pitches he is throwing. “You make them guess,” Santana said. “That’s the whole point. You want to keep them off balance.” . . .

When Santana tosses the changeup, his thumb is on the right side of the ball and is the only finger that does not touch a seam. Santana’s index finger is across the inside seams, his middle and ring fingers are along the top seams (with the knuckles touching the seams) and his pinkie is on the seams along the left side of the ball (with the knuckle also touching the seams). Santana uses a similar grip for his four-seam fastball. By using the same type of grip and throwing his fastball and changeup from the same release point, the pitches leave his hand resembling twins.

Giambi said some pitchers “choke” the ball (grip it more tightly) when uncorking a changeup, so it is easy to detect what they are throwing. But Santana’s fastball and changeup spin out of his hand the same way, offering no hints about their identity. Peterson said: “When you talk to hitters and hitting coaches, the No. 1 factor for being a productive hitter in the major leagues is pitch recognition. If your fastball is at 92 to 95 miles per hour and it has the same spin as your changeup, which is at 80, there’s no recognition. We’ve hid that. We’ve disguised that.”

Santana works exhaustively to make his fastball look like a changeup and vice versa. “He’s as good as anyone in the game at doing that,” Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. “A lot of pitchers slow their motion down on a changeup. If you watch it, you can see it. But he doesn’t do that.”

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Santana fiddled with a changeup before 2002, but that was when the pitch blossomed. After Minnesota sent Santana to Class AAA Edmonton to convert him from a reliever to a starter, Bobby Cuellar, the pitching coach there, preached about the significance of trusting his changeup in any situation. During bullpen sessions, Cuellar would tell Santana to imagine the count was 2-0 or 3-0 and would instruct him to throw a changeup. During games, Cuellar sometimes had Santana toss seven straight changeups. Although Santana said it took months to be that bold, Cuellar said he saw “a little glow in Johan’s eye” as the pitch developed. By July 2003, Santana was in the Twins’ rotation. By 2004, he was a 20-game winner.

The Mets’ Pedro Martínez, another aficionado of the changeup, said, “When people are dead red looking for a fastball in the mid-90s and they have to blink when they see this changeup at 76 miles per hour, that’s abuse.” . . . But wherever Santana goes with the Mets, the grip will be the same. His partner will be with him. “It’s always there, man,” said Santana, a baseball ensconced in his hand. “It’s always there.”

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Above is a video taken behind the plate in the spring training bullpen during a practice session with 2006 Cy Young award-winning pitcher Johan Santana. Coach Rick Stelmaszek and Matthew LeCroy provide the play-by-play.

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To read the entire article and review several interesting graphics, click here. To read previous, related Situatoinist posts, see “The Situation of ‘Winners’ and ‘Losers’,” “The Batting Situation,” and “The Unconscious Genius of Baseball Players.”

Posted in Situationist Sports, Uncategorized, Video | 4 Comments »

Litigating Unconscious Discrimination – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 10, 2008

image by rahuldlucca on FlickrFranita Tolson has recently posted a fascinating paper, “The Boundaries of Litigating Unconscious Discrimination: Firm-Based Remedies in Response to a Hostile Judiciary.” We’ve posted the abstract below.

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The notion that a corporation has a duty under Delaware law to create an environment amenable to diversity is an intriguing idea. Such an environment could address overt discrimination, but more importantly, discrimination that is unconscious or subtle, which is more prevalent. Unconscious discrimination is actionable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (presumably), but scholars are in agreement that court regulation of it has failed. Contrary to the alternatives suggested in the literature, placing the burden on the firm to regulate discrimination ex ante is more likely to minimize unconscious, discriminatory behavior, at least moreso than tinkering with the ex post remedies available for those few violations that can be proven through Title VII. This article first explains why courts have failed to address unconscious discrimination, a failure that has emerged largely out of respect for employment at will and an unwillingness to infer differential treatment where other explanations are possible. Courts can address only the most extreme cases of unconscious discrimination, which require the presence of certain factors that will allow the court to isolate the unconscious bias. Second, this article proposes other mechanisms for addressing unconscious discrimination that account for its peculiar nature, mainly firm-based remedies that will be more successful than the courts have been in addressing this problem. The difficulty comes in incentivizing the Delaware courts to become involved in the controversy over unconscious discrimination, or in the alternative, convincing firms to address unconscious discrimination without the impetus of litigation. This article shows that such incentive can come from an unlikely blend of the duties of care and loyalty, corporate norms, and economic pressure from corporate giants like Wal-Mart.

Posted in Abstracts, Implicit Associations, Law, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

The Changing Situation of Survivalism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 10, 2008

Alex Williams of the New York Times has a fascinating piece on the increasing number of Americans who have embraced survivalist-related activities. What had  previously been viewed as paranoid endeavors are now becoming more mainstream. We excerpt portions of his article below.

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Faced with a confluence of diverse threats — a tanking economy, a housing crisis, looming environmental disasters, and a sharp spike in oil prices — people who do not consider themselves extremists are starting to discuss doomsday measures once associated with the social fringes.

They stockpile or grow food in case of a supply breakdown, or buy precious metals in case of economic collapse. Some try to take their houses off the electricity grid, or plan safe houses far away. The point is not to drop out of society, but to be prepared in case the future turns out like something out of “An Inconvenient Truth,” if not “Mad Max.”

“I’m not a gun-nut, camo-wearing skinhead. I don’t even hunt or fish,” said Bill Marcom, 53, a construction executive in Dallas.

Still, motivated by a belief that the credit crunch and a bursting housing bubble might spark widespread economic chaos — “the Greater Depression,” as he put it — Mr. Marcom began to take measures to prepare for the unknown over the last few years: buying old silver coins to use as currency; buying G.P.S. units, a satellite telephone and a hydroponic kit; and building a simple cabin in a remote West Texas desert.

* * *

Interest in survivalism — in either its traditional hard-core version or a middle-class “lite” variation — functions as a leading economic indicator of social anxiety, preparedness experts said: It spikes at times of peril real (the post-Sept. 11 period) or imagined (the chaos that was supposed to follow the so-called Y2K computer bug in 2000).

At times, a degree of paranoia is officially sanctioned. In the 1950s, civil defense authorities encouraged people to build personal bomb shelters because of the nuclear threat. In 2003, the Department of Homeland Security encouraged Americans to stock up on plastic sheeting and duct tape to seal windows in case of biological or chemical attacks.

Now, however, the government, while still conducting business under a yellow terrorism alert, is no longer taking a lead role in encouraging preparedness. For some, this leaves a vacuum of reassurance, and plenty to worry about.

Esteemed economists debate whether the credit crisis could result in a complete meltdown of the financial system. A former vice president of the United States informs us that global warming could result in mass flooding, disease and starvation, perhaps even a new Ice Age.

“You just can’t help wonder if there’s a train wreck coming,” said David Anderson, 50, a database administrator in Colorado Springs who said he was moved by economic uncertainties and high energy prices, among other factors, to stockpile months’ worth of canned goods in his basement for his wife, his two young children and himself.

Popular culture also provides reinforcement, in books like “The Road,” Cormac McCarthy’s novel about a father and son journeying through a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and films like “I Am Legend,” which stars Will Smith as a survivor of a man-made virus wandering the barren streets of New York.

* * *

Preparedness activity is difficult to track statistically, since people who take measures are usually highly circumspect by nature, said Jim Rawles, the editor of, a preparedness Web site. Nevertheless, interest in the survivalist movement “is experiencing its largest growth since the late 1970s,” Mr. Rawles said in an e-mail, adding that traffic at his blog has more than doubled in the past 11 months, with more than 67,000 unique visitors per week. And its base is growing.

“Our core readership is still solidly conservative,” he said. “But in recent months I’ve noticed an increasing number of stridently green and left-of-center readers.”

One left-of-center environmentalist who is taking action is Alex Steffen, the executive editor of, a Web site devoted to sustainability. With only slight irony, Mr. Steffen, 40, said he and his girlfriend could serve as “poster children for the well-adjusted, urban liberal survivalist,” given that they keep a six-week cache of food and supplies in his basement in Seattle (although they polished off their bottle of doomsday whiskey at a party).

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For the rest of the article, click here.

Posted in Life | 1 Comment »

Reclaiming Corporate Law in a New Gilded Age – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 9, 2008

Biltmore EstateKent Greenfield reecently posted a thoughtful essay, “Reclaiming Corporate Law in a New Gilded Age” on SSRN (forthcoming Harvard Law & Policy Review, Vol. 2, No. 1, Winter 2008). We’ve pasted the abstract below.

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Corporate law matters. Traditionally seen as the narrow study of the relationship between managers and shareholders, corporate law has frequently been relegated to the margins of legal discussion and political debate. The marginalization of corporate law has been especially prevalent among those who count themselves as progressives. While this has not always been true, in the last generation or so progressives have focused on constitutional law and other areas of so-called public law, and have left corporate law to adherents of neoclassical law and economics. To the extent that the behavior of businesses has been a matter of concern, that concern has been aimed at adjusting the rules of environmental law, administrative law, employment law, and the like.

The time has come to reclaim corporate law as a topic of wide debate and progressive concern. Instead of being a narrow discipline with limited implications, corporate law determines the rules governing the organization, purposes, and limitations of some of the largest and most powerful institutions in the world. By establishing the obligations and priorities of companies and their management, corporate law affects everything from employees’ wage rates, to whether companies will try to skirt environmental laws, to whether they will tend to look the other way when doing business with governments that violate human rights. Corporate law also determines whether corporations will look at the long term or the short term, whether they will see themselves as owing any responsibilities to stakeholders other than shareholders, and indeed whether they consider themselves to be constrained by law at all.

The main thesis of this article is that corporate law is much more important than most progressives realize. Corporate law can be part of the wider task of regulating corporations in particular and business in general. The rules that govern corporations should more expressly take into account the fact that corporations are collective enterprises that demand investment from a number of different sources. These investments come in various forms: inflows of capital from shareholders and creditors; cash inflows from customers; infrastructural support from governments and communities; and effort, intelligence, and direction from employees. Whereas corporate law presently focuses on the financial investments of shareholders only, it could, and should, be adjusted to take into account the contributions of non-equity investors. Adjusted in this way, corporate law will make it more possible for corporations to serve their purpose of facilitating the creation of wealth, broadly defined and distributed.

Posted in Abstracts, Deep Capture, Law, Legal Theory | Leave a Comment »

Examining Why Estimated “Costs” of Racial Inequality Vary by Race

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 8, 2008

Situationist contributor and Harvard social psychologist Mahzarin Banaji, along with Ohio State social psychologist Phillip Mazzocco, were the subject of a recent article by the Washington Post‘s Shankar Vedantam, who studied recent research concerning unequal perspectives on racial inequality. Their research was contained in the 2006 article, “The Cost of Being Black: White Americans Perceptions and the Question of Reparations,” DuBois Review, 3, 261-297. Their co-authors on the article were Ohio State’s Timothy Brock, Harvard’s Kristina Olson, and Gregory Brock.

We excerpt Vedantam’s piece below.

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Social psychologists Philip Mazzocco and Mahzarin Banaji once asked white volunteers how much money would cover the “costs” of being born black instead of white. The volunteers guessed that about $5,000 ought to cover the lifetime disadvantages of being an average black person rather than an average white person, in the United States. By contrast, when asked how much they wanted to go without television, the volunteers demanded a million dollars.

Mazzocco and Banaji were taken aback: The average black person in America is 447 percent more likely to be imprisoned than the average white person, and 521 percent more likely to be murdered. Blacks earn 60 cents to the dollar compared with whites who have the same education levels and marital status. The black poverty rate is nearly twice the white poverty rate. Blacks tend to die five years earlier than whites; the infant mortality rate among black babies is nearly 1 1/2 times the rate among white babies. And because of long-standing patterns of inheritance, blacks and whites begin life with substantial disparities in family wealth.

“The point we were making is, whatever the cost of being black might be, whites are vastly underestimating it,” said Mazzocco, of Ohio State University at Mansfield. “You throw in the 5-to-1 wealth gap . . . if you wanted to put a dollar-and-cents value on the difference, you would come up with a number much larger than $5,000.”

The unusual experiment is one of dozens that have found that whites tend to have a relatively rosy impression of what it means to be a black person in America. Whites are more than twice as likely as blacks to believe that the position of African Americans has improved a great deal. Blacks are more than twice as likely as whites to believe that conditions for African Americans are growing worse.

This long-standing war of perceptions created the perfect storm last week after sermons by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright — former pastor of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) — painted a picture of stark inequality at odds with white perceptions.

Mazzocco and Banaji, who teaches at Harvard, found that when volunteers learned about the disparities, they started to demand much larger sums of money.

“Many whites assume blacks are making use of old crimes to gain present-day benefits that are unearned,” Mazzocco said. “Underlying this is a misunderstanding and ignorance about black costs and white privilege.”

But knowledge about disparities is not the only reason whites and blacks have different perceptions about racial equality. Social psychologist Richard Eibach at Yale University has shown that whites and blacks often employ different yardsticks to measure racial equality. Whites tend to measure progress by comparing the present and the past — and America has made giant strides since the Jim Crow era. Nonwhites, Eibach found, are likely to evaluate racial equality in comparison with an idealized future. These yardsticks create entirely different perceptions.

When Eibach asked each group to use the other’s yardstick — whites to focus on the future and nonwhites to think about the past — the differences disappeared. Now, everyone agreed the country had come a long way — and had a long way to go.

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To read the rest of the article, click here. To read other Situationist posts on racial inequality, be sure to read Black History is Now, The Situation in New Orleans, Race Attributions and Georgetown University Basketball, and other posts available at this link.

Posted in Social Psychology, System Legitimacy | Leave a Comment »

The Situational Influence of Oil Money

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 8, 2008

Follow the Oil Money is an interactive tool that tracks the flow of oil money in US politics. Click on one of several search tools . . . to find out which companies are pumping their dirty oil money into politics, who is receiving it, and how it correlates to key climate, energy and war votes.

Posted in Deep Capture, Politics | Leave a Comment »

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