Featured Summaries

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Today's featured summary: Studying pollution on the beaches of Malaysia

Paper Title: Characterization of alkanes, hopanes, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in tar-balls collected from the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia</span> This paper uses oil residue or commonly known as tar-balls collected from beaches in Malaysia to point the sources of the oil (pollution). The authors uses the amount of hopanes in the tar-balls to know the location source of the residue. Alkanes and PAH are also used to determine the relative age of the tar-balls landed on the beach. The authors concluded that the almost all of the tar-residue in the east coast of Malaysia is local based (i.e oil plants from Terengganu). Only one sample is indicating long distance pollution (Norwegian crude oil).

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Today's featured summary: Social Network research in business information systems

Paper Title: Social Networks and Information Systems: Ongoing and Future Research Streams

This is an introduction to the JAIS special issue on social networks and information systems. It briefly acknowledges the increase in social network research and network analysis in IS field and accounts for some of its reasons. Furthermore, it categorizes the research stream in three divisions including

  1. network analysis helping to increase organizational and individual network awareness,
  2. organizational uses of information technology involving network analysis, and
  3. research issues related to platforms for managing social networks at individual, team, organizational, and inter-organizational levels.

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Today's featured summary: Trash Cans as part of a Sociotechnical System

Paper Title: Social Complexity and the Role of the Object: Installing Household Waste Containers

This reading used a case study of an engineering project in a complex sociotechnical context (waste removal containers in a community where tourists and visitors frequently dumped trash in inappropriate places) as a way to discuss the differences between the ways we're able to "engineer" technologies and things and the ways we're able to "engineer" (if that's even an appropriate world) the behavior of social beings such as humans. Read more...

Featured Summary: Does paid vs. volunteer status change a profession?

Paper Title: For love or money: Commodification and the construction of an occupational mandate

Nelsen spent eleven months as a participant-observer in four Emergency Medical Services (EMS) groups. She was trained as an EMS worker, and went on dozens of emergency response calls. She also interviewed a number of medical professionals (e.g. nurses, doctors) as well as firefighters and police officers who interacted with EMS workers.

After setting the theoretical stage (see below), Nelsen and Barley recount the history of EMS work. Volunteer EMS squads began to appear in the late '50s and it was only by the '90s that communities began relying on a mix of volunteers and professionals. A federal act in '73 recommended standardized training and certification for EMS workers, but made no requirement regarding their compensation (or lack thereof). There was therefore no preexisting social structure (law, in this case) that EMS workers could appeal to in order to justify and propagate their frame on their work. Read more...

Featured Summary: Today's featured summary: How does the mother's education affect the health of her children?

Paper Title: Mother's education and the intergenerational transmission of human capital: Evidence from college openings

Currie and Moretti ask, Does increased maternal education result in increased infant health, and on a series of other factors that are likely to influence infant health? The goal of their analysis is to identify a causal effect of education on a set of non-labor market outcomes as a way of demonstrating positive externalities associated with education.

They focus on four key pathways though through which education might improve the health of infants:

  1. Prenatal care
  2. Marriage to higher earning men
  3. Inducement of woman to have healthier behavior (i.e., not smoking)
  4. Effect of education on fertility

In particular, they look at outcomes in terms of birth weigh and gestational age of children.

They use data taken from Vital Statistics Natality records from 1970 to 1999 a custom created dataset of college openings, and US Census PUMS data and the National Longitudinal Study of Youth for robustness checks.

They analysis focuses on two instrumental variables:

  1. The number of 2-year colleges that existed in the women's county in the year they were 17 years old divided by the number of 18-22 year olds in that county (expressed in 1000s).
  2. The number of 4-year colleges that existed in the women's county in the year they were 17 years old divided by the number of 18-22 year olds in that county (expressed in 1000s).

Their analysis includes county-year fixed effects to control for all observed and unobserved variation due to location in a particular county at a particular time.

They find that higher maternal education improves child "quality" in terms of their two outcomes and estimate that an additional year of education reduces the incidence of low birth weight by approximately 10 percent, and reduces the incidence of preterm birth by 6 percent.

They also evaluate and speak to two major threats to validity:

  1. An assumption that women are not mobile and that the county they give birth in is the one they were in at 17.
  2. Geographic location of new colleges is not likely to be random and colleges are like to be opening in places where education is already increasing or is expected to increase.

Read more...

Featured Summary: Gender bias in recognizing facial expression?

Paper Title: The confounded nature of angry men and happy women

Imagine an angry face. What is its gender? A team led by D. Vaughan Becker asked this question to introductory psychology students and found that over three-fourths of the responses were "male."

There was no difference in the response based the respondent's gender. Both men and women are much more likely to think of a male "angry" face than a female one.

When asked to picture a happy face instead of an angry face, the results would switched almost as dramatically in the opposite direction: Most people say happy faces are female, although in this case, the effect is entirely due to male respondents. Women's responses are evenly divided male-female.

But the researchers weren't just interested in imagined faces. What they really wanted to know is if there's a gender bias in recognizing facial expressions. Are we more likely to perceive a male face as angry and a female face as happy? Are we quicker and better at recognizing angry faces in men compared to women? If we are, does this mean we're sexist? Read more...

Featured Summary: Switching costs: The keyboards we have, not the keyboards we want?

Paper Title: Clio and the economics of QWERTY

Clio and the economics of QWERTY is a beautiful, incitement and entertaining -- if stylistically idiosyncratic -- exploration of economic history in 5 pages.

In his short article, Paul A. David walks his reader through a detailed description of the history of the QWERTY keyboard layout and explains why QWERTY was selected over other (better!) alternatives like Dvorak.

He argues that QWERTY was "locked in" to its dominant market position through the widespread growth in touch typing. He attributes three key features to the arrangement: (1) technical interrelatedness, (2) economies of scale, and (3) quasi-irreversibility which he calls the ingredients of "QWERTY-nomics."

He describes technical interrelatedness as the requirement for system compatibility between keyboard "hardware" and the "software" represented by the touch typist's memory. Because this was high, meant that the expected present value of a typewriter as an instrument of production was dependent upon the availability of compatible software created by typists' decisions as to the kind of keyboard they should learn. As a result, as QWERTY grew, the cost of choosing it went down.

Economies of scale represented the idea that through network effects, each decision to choose QWERTY would increase the chance that the next person would use QWERTY. This fact means that even in a purely stochastic process, we would expect to see high concentration.

Quasi-irreversibility means that there is a very high cost (and increasingly high cost) of switching form QWERTY to anything else. Read more...

Featured Summary: Paved with well-intentions

Paper Title: Seeing like a state: How certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed

In this book, James Scott sets out to understand the logic behind what he calls “state simplifications”: the acts and mentality that lead to well-intentioned efforts to improve the human conditions through the creation of social order, rationalization and scientific knowledge. He argues that a few factors are necessary for this logic to become operational:

  1. the administrative ordering and legibility of the state as well as of nature;
  2. a high modernist ideology shared among elites;
  3. authoritarian state institutions;
  4. a prostrate civil society (see pp. 4-6).

In his empirical cases and chapters, he elaborates a position against the imperialism of such state logics and high modernist schemes, arguing instead for the recognition and empowerment of mētis (Greek for 'cunning intelligence'), the informal, practical and improvisational knowledges through which poor, disempowered, and non-elites manage their existence on a day-to-day basis. This summary focuses on explaining Scott's ideas of high modernism and mētis.

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Featured Summary: Betweenness: quick to verify, hard to generate

Paper Title: Total ordering problem

Proves the NP-completeness of the total ordering problem: given finite sets S and R, where R is a subset of S x S x S, does there exist a total ordering of the elements of S such that for all (x, y, z) in R, either x < y < z or z < y < x? The reduction is from the hypergraph 2-colorability problem with edges of size at most 3.

This problem is in "Computers and Intractibility" by Garey and Johnson as problem MS1, the betweenness problem. Read more...

Featured Summary: PageRank for Twitter

Paper Title: Nepotistic relationships in Twitter and their impact on rank prestige algorithms

Compared 5 "prestige algorithms": PageRank, HITS, NodeRanking, TunkRank, TwitterRank on a large dataset: 28 million English tweets from 5 million users. TunkRank (a-twitter-analog-to-pagerank/ description) (implementation) (API) (slides about), which discounts reciprocal follows, is best. Read more...

Featured Summary: Can we publish data and workflows, not just papers?

Paper Title: What Do I Want from the Publisher of the Future

In this Perspective by the Editor-in-Chief of PLoS Computation Biology, the possibility of a completely integrated and public research ecosystem is explored. The author frames this in the context of a publisher, most likely due to his personal perspective as Editor-in-Chief, but a publisher-centric view is not a requirement of the analysis.

The main argument is that article publications are only one part of the production known as research and the other parts should also be published to be a part of the scholarly record. It is further argued that, with the advent of ubiquitous and cheap digital technologies, there is no excuse for not publishing those materials. The other, arguable equally or even more important, parts are grouped together under the term "workflow" and are comprised of the methods (software in some cases) and the data collected, analyzed, or used. Read more...

Featured Summary: Will the Internet create a new political order?

Paper Title: Internet Galaxy Meets Postnational Constellation: Prospects for Political Solidarity After the Internet

Theorists have proposed that a postnational order could transcend nationalism and take on the responsibilities of the nation-state. Digital communications might facilitate the formation of solidarities beyond the nation. The author identifies four factors giving rise to solidarity that echo elements of Internet social relations:

  1. creation of a shared community with people who have never met but feel the share the same contingencies in life
  2. creation of meaning for shared community - a way of explaining the world
  3. new modes of political engagement reinforced by new community
  4. new modes of inclusion and exclusion that might be reinforced by new community

However, the following four counterpoints make it unlikely the Internet will give rise to solidarity that leads to further postnationalism:

  1. Anonymity makes the formation of new communities of solidarity less likely.
  2. Without obvious boundaries, it's hard for new communities to hold meaning -- the Internet is agnostic to human fatalities rather than giving them meaning as does a nation-state
  3. Potential for increased democratic engagement through the Internet is doubtful
  4. The digital divide and within that language divides may make the Internet merely the leading edge of social transformation

However, the Internet changes quickly. While there is nothing on the horizon, we may be looking in the wrong places -- e.g. the English-language Internet -- relatively excluded communities may be more likely to use the medium to form meaningful postnational solidarities. Read more...

Featured Summary: Why Do People Donate to Charity?

Paper Title: A Signaling Explanation for Charity

Many people feel that donating to charity is purely an altruistic action. However, the authors of this paper suggest otherwise. Instead, they suggest that donating to charity in many cases is a way for people to conspicuously signal their wealth. As evidence, the authors looked at donations to a charity and found that the majority of donations came in at the minimum amount to make it to the next tier. For example, if the categories were between $0-$99, $100-$199, $200-$299 donations would be clustered at the $100 level and the $200 level. Economic theory suggests that donations should be more evenly distributed - that people should donate what they can pay. However, donations were clustered at the bottom of the next tier suggesting that people are making donations as a way of signaling.

In addition, the authors argue that donations are a better signal of wealth than things like luxury products. In many cases excessive conspicuous consumption is banned by social norms. One who is too gluttonous or showy is considered overly ostentatious. Second, luxury products are not always reliable signals because they can be faked. Donating to charity may actually be a more stable signal of wealth. Read more...

Featured Summary: Arts and Crafts for Computer Interface Designers!

Paper Title: Prototyping for Tiny Fingers

This paper advocates for lo-fi prototyping and describes the process of creating, testing, and improving upon a prototype.

"Lo-fi prototyping works because it effectively educates developers to have a concern for usability and formative evaluation, and because it maximizes the number of times you get to refine your design before you must commit to code."

Advice for building a lo-fi prototype
  1. Have arts&crafts supplies
  2. Set a deadline
  3. Make models with 'moving parts' to simulate interactivity
Advice for preparing for a test
  1. Find test users--make them realistic
  2. Prepare test scenarios
  3. Practice: try testing on your own group first

Read more...

Featured Summary: Age and the Sociology of Fertility: How Old is Too Old?

Paper Title: Age and the Sociology of Fertility: How Old is Too Old? In this article Rindfuss and Bumpass argue that while age has a strong biological effect on fertility, biology is not the only way in which age affects fertility. There is also a sociological component. Age is an important consideration in a couple's decision with respect to the termination of fertility. Age also effects the choice of contraceptive method and the vigilance with which contraception is practiced. Read more...


Featured Summary: Counting the Rational Numbers

Paper Title: Recounting the Rationals: Twice!

This paper shows the derivation of an algorithm that enables the positive rationals to be enumerated in two different ways. One way is known; the second is new and corresponds to a flattening of the Stern-Brocot tree of rationals. Read more...


Featured Summary: Pro and Con lists aren't always a good move!

Paper Title: On Making the Right Choice: The Deliberation-Without-Attention Effect

Remember the old wisdom of making a list with positives and negatives, consciously weighing them against each other, and then making a decision? It turns out this might not be such a great strategy in all types of decisions. The counter strategy of "just sleep on it" might actually be better under certain circumstances.

This paper highlights the value of unconscious decision making. The authors suggest that in simple decisions tasks with few attributes (such as deciding about a new pair of gloves), conscious decision-making is actually pretty good. However, in complex decisions-making tasks with many attributes, such as deciding between two houses, unconscious decision making works better. Read more...


Featured Summary: For Conflicts of Interest, Disclosure isn't a Cure

Paper Title: The Dirt on Coming Clean: Perverse Effects of Disclosing Conflicts of Interest

Common sense suggests recipients of advice will benefit if conflicts of interests are disclosed. In fact, many laws have been created in the fields of law, medicine, and finance to protect consumers from conflicts of interest.

If your doctor was on the payroll of a major pharmaceutical company, and then prescribed for you to take a drug made by this company, would you want her to disclose the conflict of interest? Common sense suggests that you’d be more protected if you were aware of it. In this paper, researchers ran experiments that might suggest otherwise. They found that if an adviser had a conflict of interest and told you, she would actually be able to influence you even more in her direction than if she hadn’t. In the case of the doctor, if she disclosed to you that she was on the payroll of the pharmaceutical, and then prescribed you their drug, you would more likely trust the doctor and take it. Read more...


Featured Summary: Do Points Make Us Do Random Things?

Paper Title: Medium Maximization

This paper shows how strategically adding "points" to a situation can dramatically change motivation and outcome. One group of students were given the choice between working for six minutes in exchange for a gallon of Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream, or working for seven minutes in exchange for a gallon of pistachio Haagen-Dazs ice cream. Given that six minutes of work is more attractive than seven, and vanilla ice cream is generally more desirable than pistachio, about three quarters of students chose the six minute task with vanilla ice cream. Read more...


Featured Summary: Identity and Political Affiliation

Paper Title: When Beliefs Yield to Evidence: Reducing Biased Evaluation by Affirming the Self

Our political affiliation doesn't just indicate what we believe - it affirms "who we are" - our identity. One reason people may cling to their political beliefs is because they are protecting their identity. Thus, it follows that if you make people feel better about who they are by affirming their identity - say having them reflect on their sense of humor - they would be more open to diverse political beliefs, and we may end up in less of a red state vs. blue state deadlock. Read more...