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Did Bigger Penises Evolve to Protect Hermit Crabs’ Private Property?

Thursday, January 17th, 2019

Sex, economics, evolution, and stuckness all play roles in this new study about the evolution of larger penises in hermit crabs:

Private parts for private property: evolution of penis size with more valuable, easily stolen shells,” Mark E. Laidre, Royal Society Open Science, epub 2019. (Thanks to Thomas Michel for bringing this to our attention.) The author, at Dartmouth College, explains:

the importance of private property in driving penis size evolution has rarely been explored. Here, I introduce a novel hypothesis, the ‘private parts for private property’ hypothesis, which posits that enlarged penises evolved to prevent the theft of property during sex. I tested this hypothesis in hermit crabs, which carry valuable portable property (a shell) and which must emerge from this shell during sex, risking social theft of their property by eavesdroppers. I measured relative penis size (penis-to-body ratio) for N= 328 specimens spanning nine closely related species. Species carrying more valuable, more easily stolen property had significantly larger penis size than species carrying less valuable, less easily stolen property, which, in turn, had larger penis size than species carrying no property at all.

You can perhaps see how this plays out, by watching a short video by Sara Lewis and Randi Rotjan, called “Social Networking by Hermit Crabs”:

Abby Olena has an essay about the new study, in The Scientist: “Larger Hermit Crab Penises May Prevent Shell Theft.”

Beer pipeline derivatives (economics study)

Monday, January 1st, 2018

“In 2016, the Belgian brewery De Halve Maan (DHM) completed the construction of a pipeline that now transports beer from its brewery in Bruges to its bottling plant located in a modern industrial park 3.2 kilometers away.”

An unusual aspect of the project was that it was partly crowdfunded via a scheme which gave investors a specified amount of beer per year for the rest of his or her life.

For those who study business arrangements – in particular derivatives – questions can be asked about the deal, bearing in mind the current and expected future price of beer, and the life expectancy of the investors. Professor Carlos E. Ortiz (Arcadia University), Professor Charles A. Stone (Brooklyn College) and Professor Anne Zissu (City Tech) have examined the case, and developed a valuation model.

“While we do not know the age distribution of the funders, the life expectancy data clearly have implications for the value on both sides of the transaction. The data imply that an 80-year-old man who bought the beer annuity can expect a bottle of beer a day for the next 8.2 years and a man between 20 and 24 years of age can expect the beer to flow for another 59.1 years. The price of the annuity was the same for both men. Older beer drinkers subsidize younger beer drinkers. Of course, pricing the annuities according to life expectancy, while perhaps attracting younger investors, could just as likely drive away older wealthier people who invested in the project.”

See Beer Annuities: Hold the Interest and Principal , The Journal of Derivatives, Summer 2017, 24 (4) 108-114

Pseudo-profound bullshit commemorated: The Laffer Curve

Saturday, October 14th, 2017

Today the New York Times celebrates, deadpan, a fake relic of a historically influential example of pseudo-profound bullshit. Under the headline “This Is Not Arthur Laffer’s Famous Napkin,The Times says:

It is one of the iconic moments in modern economics: A young professor named Arthur Laffer sketched a curve on a bar napkin in 1974 to show an aide to President Gerald R. Ford why the federal government should cut taxes.

The Laffer Curve became famous; the Republican Party became the party of tax cuts; and, in 2015, the Smithsonian announced that it was putting the napkin on display.

But the napkin now celebrated for starting a tax revolt is not, in fact, the original napkin….

Although some politicians claimed to take the Laffer Curve seriously (thus leading to their claimed reverence for a replica napkin), mathematicians, economists, and the world in general delighted in pointing out that it was nonsense.

Martin Gardner, the Scientific American columnist, destroyed the Laffer curve illusion, in one of his final columns. Martin also is the person whose advice started me on my writing career. I wrote this about that, when Martin died:

My own favorite of Martin’s works is the final column he wrote for Scientific American — a deadly, hilariously efficient dissection of a gold-plated piece of nonsense. That final column was called “The Laffer curve and other laughs in current economics” [Scientific American, December, 1981, vol. 245, pp. 18-31]. It drew wrathful, spittle-flecked letters from  people who bought their intellectual fashion items at The Emperor’s New Clothes shop. “No economist has the foggiest notion of what a Laffer curve really looks like except in the neighborhood of its endpoints,” the column says. One of that column’s lovely technical drawings is reproduced below (thanks to Wikipedia).

That final column itself  [you can read it online] is reproduced in the book The Night Is Large, a collection of many of Martin’s best writings.

In celebrating anew the Laffer curve, pretending that it corresponds to reality, some politicians (and perhaps the New York Times?) unintendedly also celebrate the 2016 Ig Nobel Peace Prize.

The 2016 Ig Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Gordon PennycookJames Allan CheyneNathaniel BarrDerek Koehler, and Jonathan Fugelsang for their scholarly study called “On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit.” [That paper was published in the journal Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 10, no. 6, November 2015, pp. 549–563.]


“Dead Cat Bounce” (an elucidation)

Thursday, September 28th, 2017

If you’re not sure what the phrase “Dead Cat Bounce” might mean, then the online pages of the journal Medical Economics are at hand for assistance. The publication informs, with regard to Dead Cat Bounce :

That term refers to a stock that’s had a rapid, steep decline, followed by a brief rally. Like a dead cat dropped from the roof of a building, it may bounce up a little, but that doesn’t mean it has another life left.”

Also noted are : “Bottom fisher.” “Pump and dump” and “Cats and dogs”

See: The “dead cat bounce” and other financial jargon

How money circulates [a new economics insight, using a bicycle in Britain]

Monday, June 26th, 2017

John Stevenson, writing on the web site, explains how money circulates:

“Stuck in the middle of nowhere with a gert big gash in a lightweight tyre? The Bank of England Five Pound Note is an excellent, robust tyre boot that will get you home, and then you can pop out and spend it on well-deserved cake….”

“When the bank of England put its new fiver into circulation on 13 September last year, one of the proudly touted advantages of the new plastic note was that it was stronger and more durable than the previous paper version. The Bank said: ‘Each new polymer note is expected to last at least 2.5 times longer than the current paper notes. This is because polymer is stronger than paper so the notes can better withstand being repeatedly folded into wallets or scrunched up into pockets.’ … “

Improbable Research