CULTURE

WE CAN'T DO EVIDENCE-BASED POLICY WITHOUT EVIDENCE

[11.7.12]

Make it easy, make it personal, make it salient. It's not rocket science, it's somewhere between common sense and psychology 101, and that goes a long way. 

RICHARD H. THALER is the father of behavioral economics the study of how thinking and emotions affect individual economic decisions and the behavior of markets. Thaler is Director of the Center for Decision Research at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. He is coauthor (with Cass Sunstein) of Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.

Richard H Thaler's Edge Bio Page


[57 minutes]


WE CAN'T DO EVIDENCE-BASED POLICY WITHOUT EVIDENCE 

The idea I'm most excited about, and have been for the last few years, is an idea that doesn't sound exciting. It sounds boring, geeky, unimportant, technical, and I think it's the opposite of all of those things. It involves big data, it involves personal data, and I think it has the opportunity to change the way people shop, to create entire new industries, and to change the way the government regulates business. Here's the idea in a nutshell: let me give you two examples of, first of all, a way the government can generate jobs and businesses simply by releasing data.

THE WORLD THROUGH INSTITUTIONAL LENSES

Topic: 

  • CULTURE
http://vimeo.com/80815974

"The issue is that when you look at the world from these sorts of institutional lenses, identifying problems becomes relatively easy. Solving them becomes very hard. It's no mystery how you get economic growth. You need to provide opportunities and incentives. But how do you make that political equilibrium? How do you make it so that everybody in society actually agrees and abides by a system that provides those incentives and opportunities even if it's not in their short-term interests?

THE WORLD THROUGH INSTITUTIONAL LENSES

[9.12.12]

The issue is that when you look at the world from these sorts of institutional lenses, identifying problems becomes relatively easy. Solving them becomes very hard. It's no mystery how you get economic growth. You need to provide opportunities and incentives. But how do you make that political equilibrium? How do you make it so that everybody in society actually agrees and abides by a system that provides those incentives and opportunities even if it's not in their short-term interests? Those are the real challenges and that's exactly the sorts of issues we're seeing in Europe, it's the sorts of issues we're seeing in the United States, it's the sorts of issues we're seeing in Turkey. The problems are reasonably easy to identify. Developing solutions to them is hard because you cannot develop the solutions from the outside. It's not an engineering problem. At the end of the day you really need the grassroots solution to it. You really need people themselves to start taking part in the political process because any solution you impose from above is not going to stick unless it has the support of the people, unless the people themselves are the ones who push for it, who demand it, and who implement that solution.
 

DARON ACEMOGLU is the Killian Professor of Economics at MIT. In 2005 he received the John Bates Clark Medal awarded to economists under forty judged to have made the most significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge. He is the author of Why Nations Fail.

Daron Acemoglu's Edge Bio Page



[1 hour 4 minutes]


HOW CULTURE DROVE HUMAN EVOLUTION

[9.4.12]

Part of my program of research is to convince people that they should stop distinguishing cultural and biological evolution as separate in that way. We want to think of it all as biological evolution. 

JOSEPH HENRICH is an anthropologist and Professor of Psychology and Economics. He is the Canada Research Chair in Culture, Cognition and Coevolution at University of British Columbia.

Joseph Henrich's Edge Bio Page


[39:00 minutes]

[ED. NOTE: This conversation with Joe Henrich was conducted in Vancouver for Edge by  Jennifer Jacquet.]


HOW CULTURE DROVE HUMAN EVOLUTION

[JOSEPH HENRICH:] The main questions I've been asking myself over the last couple years are broadly about how culture drove human evolution. Think back to when humans first got the capacity for cumulative cultural evolution—and by this I mean the ability for ideas to accumulate over generations, to get an increasingly complex tool starting from something simple. One generation adds a few things to it, the next generation adds a few more things, and the next generation, until it's so complex that no one in the first generation could have invented it. This was a really important line in human evolution, and we've begun to pursue this idea called the cultural brain hypothesis—this is the idea that the real driver in the expansion of human brains was this growing cumulative body of cultural information, so that what our brains increasingly got good at was the ability to acquire information, store, process and retransmit this non genetic body of information.


We've begun to pursue this idea called the cultural brain hypothesis—the idea that the real driver in the expansion of human brains was this growing cumulative body of cultural information.


WHAT IS VALUE? WHAT IS MONEY?

Topic: 

  • CULTURE
http://vimeo.com/80815481

"We have always had this tension of understanding the world, at small spatial scales or individual scales, and large macro scales. In the past when we looked at macro scales, at least when it comes to many social phenomena, we aggregated everything. Our idea of macro is, by an accident of history, a synonym of aggregate, a mass in which everything is added up and in which individuality is lost. What data at high spatial resolution, temporal resolution and typological resolution is allowing us to do, is to see the big picture without losing the individuality inside it."

WHAT IS VALUE? WHAT IS MONEY?

[8.28.12]

We have always had this tension of understanding the world, at small spatial scales or individual scales, and large macro scales. In the past when we looked at macro scales, at least when it comes to many social phenomena, we aggregated everything. Our idea of macro is, by an accident of history, a synonym of aggregate, a mass in which everything is added up and in which individuality is lost. What data at high spatial resolution, temporal resolution and typological resolution is allowing us to do, is to see the big picture without losing the individuality inside it.

CESAR HIDALGO is an assistant professor at the MIT Media Lab, and faculty associate at Harvard University’s Center for International Development.  His work focuses on improving the understanding of systems by using and developing concepts of complexity, evolution, and network science. He is also the founder and driving force behind Cambridge Nights, a series of online video interviews with academics who discuss the way in which they view the world.

Cesar Hidalgo's Edge Bio Page



[44:08 minutes]


WHAT IS VALUE? WHAT IS MONEY?

[CESAR HIDALGO:] I've been thinking about a variety of things. One of the things that I come across a lot is this idea of big data, or the use of data. Whether it's just hype, or whether it's going to be something deeper, something useful. There's a big promise on our newfound ability to collect large amounts of data and I can illustrate that through a few examples. I think that our ability to collect data  is opening an increase in resolution that is unprecedented. We are able to see systems that we have looked at many times before. But we're able to see them in much more detail, and my belief is that increase in detail is not cosmetic.

A NEW KIND OF SOCIAL SCIENCE FOR THE 21st CENTURY

[8.21.12]

These three things—a biological hurricane, computational social science, and the rediscovery of experimentation—are going to change the social sciences in the 21st century. With that change will come, in my judgment, a variety of discoveries and opportunities that offer tremendous prospect for improving the human condition.

It's one thing to say that the way in which we study our object of inquiry, namely humans, is undergoing profound change, as I think it is. The social sciences are indeed changing. But the next question is: is the object of inquiry also undergoing profound change? It's not just how we study it that's changing, which it is. The question is: is the thing itself, our humanity, also changing?

NICHOLAS A. CHRISTAKIS is a Physician and Social Scientist, Harvard University; Coauthor (with James Fowler) of Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives.

Nicholas A. Christakis's Edge Bio Page
 


[40:59 minutes]


A NEW KIND OF SOCIAL SCIENCE FOR THE 21st CENTURY

[NICHOLAS A. CHRISTAKIS:] In the 20th century, there was a tremendous expectation, or appreciation, for the role that the biological and the physical sciences could play in improving human welfare and human affairs. We had everything from the discovery of nuclear power to plastics to, in biology, the discovery of new drugs, beginning with penicillin (which is one of the gigantic feats of human ingenuity ever). We had this phenomenal progress that was made in the sciences, in the physical and the biological sciences.

In the 21st century, the social sciences offer equal promise for improving human welfare. The advances that we have made and will be making, especially in understanding human behavior and its very deep origins, will be translated into interventions of diverse sorts that will have a much bigger impact in terms of improving human welfare than many of the prior examples that I gave. 

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