Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Contrarian Gene

I read an interesting article over at BBC today: Human species 'may split in two'. It talks about the prediction of Dr. Oliver Curry, an evolutionary theorist over at the London School of Economics, that humanity will evenutally split into two strands-- the "tall, slim, healthy, attractive, intelligent, and creative" upper class and the "dim-witted, ugly, squat goblin-like" underclass. The article mentions the similarity with H.G. Wells' The Time Machine-- I haven't read the book but I saw the 1960 movie adaptation one late sleepless night.

Curry's notions of "upper class" and "underclass" have nothing to do with income or race; rather, they refer to the selection of sexual mates. He posits that as people become choosier about their sexual partners, hot+smart people will only choose to mate with other hot+smart people, while those who are fugly+dumb are left to mate among themselves-- a separating equilibrium with looks as a signal of health and intelligence, to use game theoretic jargon. Browsing Curry's work it seems he applied game theory in his analysis of evolution, and I have to say his analysis is consistent with the framework. It is an evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS) for the hot+smart set to mate with each other, leaving those not in the set (ergo fugly+dumb) to mate among themselves. One can argue that there are hot+dumb and fugly+smart people out there, but after eons of choosing mates the fugly+smart people will choose hot mates and hot+dumb ones will choose smart mates, eventually resulting in the separating equilibrium described by Curry.

I haven't seen Curry's paper on this theory (can't find it on the net), but I'd like to see how he tackles people who are "irrational" by ESS standards-- those that do not follow what reason tells them to do. While Darwinian natural selection is a slow but straightforward process, it is the contrarian mutations in a small percentage of people that makes the species leap and take sharp turns. These are the people who, from an ESS/rational standpoint throw all caution in the wind and think up or do new things. The contrarian gene that makes some people climb skyscrapers and jump out of planes is the same gene that led early man out of Africa and take to the seas. This contrarian gene is a wildcard-- it can either lead to destruction or greatness; the lack of it (i.e., doing the ESS all the time) leads to mediocrity.

Applying this to Curry's theory, if the hot+smart people are indeed the offspring of successful generations, I would guess that they will have a relatively higher proportion of people with the contrarian gene as they are descendants of geniuses and adventurers. Therefore, these hot+smart contrarians may not choose the ESS and instead mate with some of the fugly+dumb set. If this happens during the process of evolution, it will have implications on the separating equilibrium as described by Curry.

So this is the question that interests me in this and other economic theories-- how robust is it to "irrationality"? Will it stand if x% of people do not follow the ESS? How about x+1%? Theorists have to remember that in any situation where human behaviour is aggregated some proportion will not act according to the rules of rationality. There will always be contrarians in the mix-- those who go left when all reason says to go right-- who will mess up the outcome. We cannot simply assume away these contrarians because a lot of who we are today is an outcome of their "irrationality". After all, if everyone followed ESS we would all still be in Africa.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Kuala Lumpur, T minus 1 hour

At the KLIA lounge now, waiting for boarding. It was hectic the past three days, but it was productive. Glad to be going home. My friend dr.sbink was kind enough to offer to pick me up at the airport (thanks, dude).

I only got to buy stuff yesterday afternoon when I went to Bukit Bintang. Very uncharacteristically, I bought something on a spur-- a new laptop! Electronics are insanely cheap in KL (relative to Manila), so I couldn't pass up the oportunity for a bargain. I bought a souped-up Toshiba Satellite M200. I actually perplexes me why electronics are so darn expensive in Manila.

Based on my experience, average electronics prices are cheapest in KL, then the Bay Area (which is known for its high prices), and most expensive in Manila. Therefore, the high cost in Manila cannot be due to transportation costs because electronics are cheap in SFO, and the Dell I bought was actualy assembled in Malaysia. So is it taxes? Market imperfections? Something worthy of investigation.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Kuala Lumpur, Day 1

(Exchange rate: US$ 1 = 3.31 Malaysian ringgit; RM 1 = PHP 13.38)

Arrived in Kuala Lumpur a few hours ago. Today is Hari Raya Adilfitri-- the end of Ramadan-- in Malaysia, and the were correct: the city is empty. There are very few people in the streets today and the restaurants are relatively empty (by relatively I mean compared to when I was here in December last year).

Kuala Lumpur, at least the parts I get to see, is much better than Manila. The airport can compare with any airport in developed countries-- even better than LHR, SFO, or NRT. The streets are smooth and feathery and the cab can travel at an average speed of 100 kph from the airport to downtown KL. I don't see slums in every corner, and the streets are generally clean. While there are a few beggars here and there, they're not seen in swarms like in Manila.

It disappoints me to see such development in KL; disappointed not for KL but for Manila. When can we ever catch up?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Manila, T minus 24 hours

I'll be going to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, tomorrow, 12 October 2007. Tomorrow is actually Hari Raya Puasa, the end of Ramadan, in Malaysia. I hear that everyone will be gone tomorrow and next week, so we'll pretty much have the city to ourselves. I also hear that the government made all shops promise that they'll remain open during the holidays, which is extra good for us. I just hope the sales people won't be too grumpy because we're the reason they have to go to work on a holiday.

Hopefully I'll have time to write here in between meetings, although by the looks of it my schedule will be tight. And I will more likely write in my other blog as I'm hoping to make food the highlight of my trip.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Survey Says...

Family, not sex, is Pinoys’ No. 1 source of happiness (from the Inquirer)
How Happy are Pinoys with Sex? (by Dr. Romulo Virola, Secretary General, NSCB)

Despite the titles, note that the results cannot be generalised in any way. The data are from a pilot survey among 167 nonrandom respondents taken from participants in a meeting; therefore, one cannot generalise these results to the general Filipino population (or to the meeting participants' population, for that matter). So no need to be surprised. Yet.

What surprised me is the write-up in the Inquirer. If you only read the write-up, it would seem that the results are from a full-fledged National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) study, which would make the study laughable given the sample selection and size. However, going to the source article by Virola, you get the sense that the results are from an informal study done after a meeting-- equal in generalisability to a Best Dressed survey. He repeatedly points out that the results are from nonrandom respondents as a caution to the readers-- a caveat lost in the Inquirer article. More importantly, Virola attributes the results only to the sample, while the Inquirer write-up uses generalising language ("among Filipinos")-- a glaring misrepresentation.

The Inquirer reporter should have stressed that the results were in no way generalisable; however, doing so would trivialise the article. Which is exactly the problem-- they were trying to make news out of a non-event. They could have referred to the results in passing as part of a bigger story on Filipino sexuality or sexual taboos. Instead, the results were made the story.

Having worked in media, I know the pressures of putting some spin in your article to ensure that it makes the press, particularly on matters as staid as statistical data. However, as someone who also does survey work, I draw the line at misleading the readers in interpreting the data. Reporters have the responsibility to aid the readers in reading the data and lay out any and all caveats to interpretation. Statistics are difficult enough to understand and malleable enough to be spun; we don't need to add misrepresentation to the mix.
Below are the results of the nonrandom pilot survey, taken from NSCB:

Friday, October 5, 2007

Woman on Top

Yulia Volodymyrivna Tymoshenko
Former Prime Minister
  • Born in 1960 in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine.
  • Married Olexandr Tymoshenko in 1979. Gave birth to daughter Yevhenia in 1980.
  • Obtained her degree in Economics in 1984 from the Dnepropetrovsk State University, after which she worked as an economics engineer in a Soviet machine-building plant.
  • Opened a video rental chain in 1991 after perestroika.
  • Became the Managing Director of the State-owned Ukranian Oil Company (UOC) in 1991, which was eventually privatised and became the United Energy Systems of Ukraine (UESU).
  • Became President of UESU in 1995, during which she amassed a huge personal wealth and was nicknamed the "gas princess".
  • Elected Member of Parliament in 1996, representing the Kirovograd Oblast.
  • Became Deputy Prime Minister for fuel and energy issues in 1999 under then-Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko, a post she held until 2001.
  • Arrested in February 2001 over forgery and smuggling charges during her presidency of UESU; the charges were eventually dismissed.
  • Led protests against then-President Leonid Kuchma and Viktor Yanukovich, eventually culminating in the Orange Revolution in 2005.
  • Appointed Prime Minister of Ukraine by President Viktor Yushchenko on 24 January 2005.
  • Dismissed as Prime Minister on 8 Septembr 2005 amid in-fighting and resignations among her ministers.
  • Her Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYT)-- a coalition of three parties-- remains a formidable power in parliament, winning 31% of seats during the 2007 parliamentary elections.
  • Probably the only Head of Government to be on the cover of a fashion magazine; her hair was recently featured on BBC.
  • Has a personal website.