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April 11, 2018

Pre-Conference on Digitized Behavior at BDRM, Boston, June 7, 2018

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There will be a pre-conference on Digitized Behavior at Boston University, right before the 2018 BDRM conference.

Each talk examines how digitization changes behavior and business.

Adrian Ward, University of Texas at Austin
Alix Barasch, New York University
Andrey Fradkin, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Avi Goldfarb, University of Toronto
Berkeley Dietvorst, University of Chicago
Daniella Kupor, Boston University
Eva Buechel, University of South Carolina
Fleura Bhardi, City University of London
Frederic Brunel, Boston University
Iyad Rahwan, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Kostadin Kushlev, University of Virginia
Leslie John, Harvard Business School
Molly Crockett, Yale University
Sandra Matz, Columbia University
Todd Rogers, Harvard Kennedy School
Veronica Marotta, Carnegie Mellon University

The preconference runs from 9am to 4pm on Thursday, June 7th, 2018 in the auditorium of the Questrom School of Business, 595 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02215.

Lunch will be provided. How cool is that!?

Registration is free while space is available. You can register now here.

The preconference is organized by the Marketing Department at the Questrom School of Business. Please direct questions to nishibun at bu.edu.

April 3, 2018

How large is the great Pacific garbage patch?

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This Nature Scientific Reports article gives an update on the size of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It is estimated to be four to 16 times larger than previously estimated: 1.6 million square kilometers.

While the article does show the patch along with latitude and longitude lines (above) and the Hawaiian islands, it doesn’t provide much help communicating how large it is with familiar reference objects. (Incidentally, our research has found that people seriously underestimate the size of Hawaii).

How large is 1.6 million square kilometers? It’s about

  • As big as Alaska
  • One-fifth as big as the contiguous United States
  • Half as big as India
  • As big as Iran

Open to suggestions for how to put into perspective the estimated mass of the plastic: 80,000 metric tons.


Lebreton et al. (2018). Evidence that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is rapidly accumulating plastic. Scientific Reports.

h/t Stefano Puntoni

March 29, 2018

The logic of the talking dog joke

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We were looking up the wording of a joke we wanted to tell our kids:

A guy has a talking dog. He brings it to a talent scout. “This dog can speak English,” he claims to the unimpressed agent. “Okay, Sport,” the guys says to the dog, “what’s on the top of a house?” “Roof!” the dog replies. “Oh, come on…” the talent agent responds. “All dogs go ‘roof’.” “No, wait,” the guy says. He asks the dog “what does sandpaper feel like?” “Rough!” the dog answers. The talent agent gives a condescending blank stare. He is losing his patience. “No, hang on,” the guy says. “This one will amaze you. ” He turns and asks the dog: “Who, in your opinion, was the greatest baseball player of all time?” “Ruth!” goes the dog. And the talent scout, having seen enough, boots them out of his office onto the street. And the dog turns to the guy and says “Maybe I shoulda said DiMaggio?”

Hilarious, right? You’re welcome. For some reason, we remember this being told by Gabe Kaplan in an episode of Welcome Back Kotter but we can’t find evidence of this online.

The reason for this post, however, was the web page we found the wording on. Professor of Computer Science / Cognitive Science professor Justin Li thinks about the joke in terms of the Wason selection task. Have a look.

It does seem the talent agent is wary of the reasoning fallacy called affirming the consequent, the Wikipedia example of which is:

If Bill Gates owns Fort Knox then Bill Gates is rich.
Bill Gates is rich
Ergo, Bill Gates owns Fort Knox

In the context of this joke, you don’t want to reason

If the dog can speak English, the dog can answer the questions
The dog can answer the questions
Ergo, the dog can speak English

March 22, 2018

Payments to authors based on the journals in which they publish

Filed in Gossip ,Ideas ,Research News
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Table 5 Comparison of Average Amount of Cash Awards for a Paper Published in Selected Journals

When we first saw this image on Facebook, we thought it was a joke. But then we downloaded the paper and found that indeed, there’s a practice of paying authors based on the journal that publishes the paper.

“In summary, Chinese universities differentiate the amount of cash reward based on the JIF and JCR Quartile of journals in which the awarded papers are published. The average amount of cash award has increased over the past 10 years, except that the amount awarded to papers published in journals with low JIF has decreased. Publications in Nature and Science are awarded the largest amount of cash reward.” – Page 13

We’re now waiting for someone to write a web app that scrapes CVs and puts dollar values on them.

Quan, Wei, Bikun Chen, and Fei Shu (working paper). Publish or impoverish: An investigation of the monetary reward system of science in China (1999-2016).

h/t Andreas Ortmann

March 15, 2018

2018 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Research Conference

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On May 3–4, 2018, the CFPB will host its third research conference on consumer finance at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, Va.

The goal of the conference is to highlight research on the topic of consumer finance that can inform researchers and policymakers. The conference will focus on high-quality consumer finance research, with academic and government researchers presenting their research papers.

Crystal Gateway Marriott
1700 Jefferson Davis Hwy
Arlington, Va. 22202

Conference agenda


For logistical details and information about past conferences, please visit the conference webpage

March 8, 2018

Sweater weather

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We came across this weather.com story on what people consider “sweater weather” in different states, and thought that the topic seemed just silly enough to be of interest to decision science news readers.

Not much value we can add here. How about some stats?

Mean sweater weather: 58.6 F (14.8 C)
Max sweater weather: Arizona, Nevada at 65 F (18.3 C)
Min sweater weather: South Dakota at 51 F (10.6 C)
Standard deviation: 2.8 F (1.6 C)


New Jersey,60,15.6
North Carolina,60,15.6
South Carolina,60,15.6
West Virginia,60,15.6
New Mexico,59,15
New York,58,14.4
Rhode Island,58,14.4
New Hampshire,55,12.8
North Dakota,55,12.8
South Dakota,51,10.6

March 1, 2018

The SJDM Newsletter is ready for download

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The quarterly Society For Judgment and Decision Making newsletter is ready for download:


February 20, 2018

You probably underestimate the populations of Eastern states and the areas of Western states

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Click to enlarge

As mentioned a few times in past posts, we’ve been doing research on how “perspective sentences,” for example “Israel is about the size of New Jersey in area and population” helps Americans comprehend measurements beyond simply saying “Israel has an area of 20,770 square kilometers and a population of 8,793,000.” We’re happy to say that, due to the drive of Jake Hofman and others, this research has now been incorporated into Bing search engine results:

Chris Riederer, Jake Hofman and I have just published a new paper on this topic which will be presented at CHI 2018. In it, we propose and test methods for generating perspectives. For example, why do we feel that “roughly the population of California” is better than “roughly 10 times the population of Oklahoma,” even though they’re about equally accurate and even if the person you are talking to is from Oklahoma? It turns out that 10x not an ideal multiplier for people to work with (strange, we know) and Oklahoma is not ideal to use in examples.

Christopher Riederer, Jake M. Hofman and Daniel G. Goldstein. (2018). To put that in perspective: Generating analogies that make numbers easier to understand. In Proceedings of the 2018 ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI’18)

In the course of doing this research, we were able to generate some fun charts like the one at the top of the post. People underestimate the areas of pretty much all US states (above, top panel) but are especially bad at central and Western states. Furthermore, they underestimate the populations of Eastern states (above, bottom panel). The US is tricky for geographic inferences because many big states have small populations. This makes traditional election maps deceptive and have led to some (weird, we know) ways of rescaling them. [BTW, if you are interested in the psychology of demographic estimation, we can recommend Brown and Siegler (1993)].

Another thing we found is that people do a lot better estimating things when you give them a perspective sentence to help them (e.g., “The population of Poland is about as big as that of California. What is Poland’s population?”). The left chart below shows the improvement in area estimation (note that they still underestimate areas, even with hints) and the right chart shows improvement in population estimation. Click the chart to enlarge it.

Click to enlarge

If you’d like to read more, here are some popular articles on the research:

Here are some of the people who have worked on the research side of this project:

February 12, 2018

Summer Institute on Bounded Rationality, Berlin, June 19 – 27, 2018

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The 2018 Summer Institute on Bounded Rationality will take place on June 19 – 27, 2018, at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Germany. The Summer Institute brings together talented young researchers and renowned scientists from around the globe and aims to spark a dialogue about decision-making under the real world constraints of limited time, information, or computational power.

It offers a forum for young scholars from various disciplines to share their approaches, discuss their research, and to inspire each other. The program will cover the fundamentals, methodology, and recent findings on bounded rationality. This year’s Summer Institute returns to its roots by focusing on how intelligent behavior arises from the interaction between of the structure of the environment combined with cognitive strategies used by the organism.The keynote address will be given by Ulrike Hahn, Professor at Birkbeck, University of London.

On behalf of the directors of the Summer Institute, Gerd Gigerenzer and Ralph Hertwig, we invite young decision-making scholars from all fields to apply.

Participation will be free, accommodation will be provided, and travel expenses will be partly reimbursed.

Applications are open until March 12, 2018.

Apply here: http://bit.ly/2npmmNT
Website: http://bit.ly/2DPGYcu

February 7, 2018

At last, an affordable quincunx

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The Random Walker is an inexpensive mini quincunx

Every since taking Stephen M. Stigler’s class on the history of statistics at Chicago, we’ve been wanting to get our hands on a quincunx.

A quincunx, also referred to as a Galton Board or bean machine (*) is one of these, which you may have seen in a science museum:

Balls are released from the top and bounce off of the pins. Assume the ball goes left or right with equal probability at each bound. By the time they get to the bottom you’ll see that relatively few balls experience a series of exclusively left bounces or exclusively right bounces (the tails of the distribution) and most experience some mixture of left and right bounces and end up in towards the middle. The more equal the number of left and right bounces is, the closer the ball falls to the exact center. The balls are collected into bins and the count of balls in each bin should follow the binomial distribution. In one of the coolest moves math ever did, when the number of bins is large, the binomial distribution approximates the normal distribution.

Seeing this happen is a great way to teach probability without advanced notation. You can do it on paper by flipping a coin at each bounce, like I recently did with my 9 year old:

but that’s slow going. (If you do this, I recommend starting with a real coin then transitioning to the random.org smartphone app which flips coins quickly and easily. Boredom and frustration can cause the kid to lose interest before a pattern emerges).

In the past, when we’ve checked (and we’ve checked a lot) the cost of a quincunx was high. Hundreds or thousands of dollars.

But, as chance would have it, I stumbled across one on Twitter that turned out to be cheap. It’s called The Random Walker and was only $20 when we ordered it on Amazon.

(*) We don’t really like the name bean machine.

(**) We do really like LaPlace quote in the second photo. Before the modern day belief that minds don’t reason according to the theory of probability, it was thought that the theory of probability describes how minds reason.