On the Race Question 

As in, in regards to the US Census Race question. The one that asks whether you identify as white, black, Asian, or Native American. Heritage has just published a blog post on the issue. There’s lots of things I disagree with in the post. The author is correct that the current race classification system is relatively recent, but the race question itself isn’t. I disagree with the author that we should let anthropologists decide what races to include. Anthropologists should stick to what they’re good at: managing websites.

I do agree however with the general point that the current race question is really weird. I am very skeptical that race as a biological concept has any meaning. Race is, I think, more about culture. Someone in my book is a “Hispanic” not because their skin is a certain tone, but because they can make a good taco. In so far that race is about culture, do we really think that a “white” American from the south shares much in culture with their counterparts in New England? Likewise it’s unclear to me South Asians share much of a culture with their Central or West Asian cousins.

Given the chance I would replace the unidimensional race question with a battery asking about the crucial cultural elements that distinguish us. Who is your favorite football team? (war eagle!) What is the best burger chain? (In N Out) What is the best scifi series? Star Wars or Star Trek? (Trick question: Dune)

What do you all think? If you were in charge of the US census how would you modify the race question? Would you remove it altogether? #microblogging #IDontGetHashTags

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Let’s talk about Star Wars

Unless you’re living in a compound somewhere in Colorado, you have no doubt realized that the latest installment in the Star Wars series has come out. You’ve no doubt read countless commentaries on the series by now too. I suspect that at this rate Disney will be pumping out SW films every Christmas until my death and beyond. So get used to it.

I’ve decided to just share my rankings of the films and quick commentary.

  • Revenge of the Sith
  • Empire Strikes Back
  • A New Hope
  • The Last Jedi
  • Return of the Jedi
  • The Force Awakens
  • The Clone Wars
  • The Phantom Menace

My rankings are based on rewatch value. Revenge of the Sith dominates in this dimension. The cheesy dialogue is just fun in a way the other films can’t match it. And you know what? I like the space politics, even just as a concept.

Return of the Jedi spends too much time with the teddy bears and if I want to see the Death Star blown up I’ll just rewatch A New Hope. I only list the main series here, but Rogue One would fit somewhere near the top. It’s self contained and made me care about its characters in a way few others in the series did.

Do you disagree with my rankings? What is your ranking of the SW films?

#microblogging #IJustLikeHashTags

(Unofficial) IHS Graduate Student Facebook Group

I’ve created an (unofficial) facebook group for graduate students who are part of the IHS crowd so that we can organize appropriate conference meet ups, look for potential hotel sharing buddies, and other hijinks. Several NoL writers and readers have gone through IHS so I figured I’d share the link.

I may or may not be using the group as a way to find future NoL writers.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1958211444500599/

#mini-microblog

How to fix the journal model? 

Disclaimer: I am not (yet!) published in any peer reviewed journals.

A companion recently posed an interesting proposal to improve the academic journal model: have referees publish their reviews after X period of time. I am sympathetic to the idea as I have always found secrecy to be a strange thing in decision making. What’s the point of ‘blind’ reviews anyway? From conversing with those with more experience in the field, it is rarely a ‘double blind’ process but a de facto one way ‘blind’ process. This seems to be the case more so outside the major journals.

My counter is: why not just get rid of journals altogether? Why not just publish via SSRN and similar websites? Journals seem to have maintained their existence in the digital age as a means of quality insurance, but there’s still lots of junk in the top journals. Surely we can come up with better ways than relying on a few referees? Even relying on citation count would be a better measure of a paper’s value I think.

#microblogging

Is it Thanksgiving without the turkey?

I was recently talking to a friend about Thanksgiving dinner. He was complaining about the difficulty of cooking turkey and asked how my household dealt with the issue. My response? We just serve chicken instead. It’s cheaper, easier to make, and frankly turkey isn’t significantly better.

That begs the question though: can you have Thanksgiving without the turkey? What makes Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving? Being around loved ones is necessary, but not sufficient. We’re, presumably, around loved ones for most holidays. What distinguishes today from other days?

I think it’s the pumpkin pie, but what about my fellow note writers?

#microblogging

The Cost of ‘Free’ – or why I don’t like freeware

This is a partial response to Fabio Rojas recent post on the fate of Stata, a statistics package, given the rise of a free alternative, R. Rojas and others have many reasons for why R is a good package, but for now I wish to deal with the argument that it being ‘free’ is a virtue.

R is free, but I see it as a fault because it reveals that it doesn’t have a devoted support system and because it isn’t free at all. It’s actually very costly!

If you’ve spent any time with an economist you should know that there is no such thing as a free lunch. If R is free we should not simply assume it is better. To the contrary we should ask why it is free. As I have tried to argue elsewhere, it is because when you purchase software you aren’t just purchasing a few lines of code. You’re purchasing the support system that comes with it. When a company purchases Stata, or any commercial software, they do so with the expectation that they can call a dedicated hotline for troubleshooting. As software has evolved you’ve seen companies experiment with pricing to acknowledge the fact that we don’t purchase a one time software but a continuous support system.

Consider Xbox or Playstation’s online services. Their use is charged on a per time basis because it costs money to run servers and provide customer support. Even ‘freemium’ games, which nominally don’t require any money to play, survive off micro transactions which enable companies to earn steady revenues in exchange for continuing support and new content. I would not be surprised if freemium statistical software is tried in the future – access to basic regressions is free but more advanced models cost money to run. I half joke.

But let’s assume you’re good at coding and don’t need much support outside of a few days reading an R book. Should you praise R for being ‘free’? No, because you still paid the time value of your time. Every hour spent learning how to code in R is an hour you could have spent doing any number of things.

Now to be clear, you may still want to learn R if it frees up your time in the future by automating X process. This post isn’t to argue against adopting R. My point is only to say that it isn’t free in a meaningful sense. Adopting R costs in the sense that you’re giving up a devoted support system and value of time equal to how long it takes you to become proficient in it.

It’s possible that once you account for those things R is still ‘cheaper’ than commercial software like Stata or SPSS. That is an empirical question beyond the scope of this post.