Thursday, May 04, 2006

partisan science

So, something strange I noticed about both my economics and my social psychology textbooks is they've cited a few passages of literature in the course of their "scientific" reasoning, to varying effect. I was kind of put off by the social psychology excerpt (to follow) until I read this horrifically clunky one from microeconomics:
Even Nathantiel Hawthorn was troubled by moral suasion, as evidenced by his classic novel The Scarlet Letter in which the humiliation of public exposure was used as the deterrent against adultery. These days, moral suasion is most likely to take the form of ad campaigns aimed at the public.

I didn't even feel that The Scarlet Letter at all accurately exemplified the idea. I felt like they were trying to sound erudite and well-read, and they thought of all the books they read in their life (which I'll assume because of the eventual choice were all in high school) and took the closest one. Even *Nathanial Hawthorne* thought it was a bad idea!! No! Not Nathanial Hawthorne! My illusions have been shattered about moral suasion!

Random pet peeve: Use of the word "troubled" and "troubling" unless ironic. (although an ok example is also "i find your lack of faith troubling.")

Here is the mitigated passage from social psych:

In Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, a mob of white southerners was assembled to lynch Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of rape. Only Atticus Finch, the defendant's lawyer, stands between the mob and the jail. But then Scout, Atticus's 8-year-old daughter, walks into the middle of the crowd. Here is what the mob looked like through her eyes:

I looked around the crowd. It was a summer's night, but the men were dressed, Most of them, in overalls and denim shirts buttoned up to the collars. I thought they must be cold-natured, as their sleeves were unrolled and buttoned at the cuffs. Some wore hats pulled firmly down over their ears. They were sullen-looking, sleepy-eyed men who seemed to unused to later hours.

In other words, the men were highly deindividuated. It was night, they were dressed alike, and it was difficult to tell one from another. It was a mob with one purpose, not a collection of individuals. At that moment, however, Scout recognized
one of the men, a farmer named Mr. Cunningham, and greeted him by name:

"Don't you remember me, Mr Cunningham? I'm Jean Louise Finch. You brought us some hickory nuts one time, remember?" I began to sense the futility one feels when unacknowledged by a chance acquaintance.
I go to school with Walter," I began again. "He's your boy, ain't he? Ain't he, sir?"
Mr. Cunningham was moved to a faint nod. He did know me, after all.
"He's in my grade," I said, "And he does right well. He's a good boy," I added, "a real nice boy. We brought him home for dinner one time. Maybe he told you about me. I beat him up one time but he was real nice about it. Tell him hey for me, will you?"

At first, the crowd did not respond, so Scout continued her banter.

I was slowly drying up wondering what idiocy I had committed. I looked around and up at Mr Cunningham, whose face was equally impassive.
Then he did a peculiar thing. He squatted down and took me by both shoulders.
"I'l tell him you said hey, little lady," he said.
Then he straightened up and waved a big paw. "Let's clear out," he called. "Let's get going, boys."

Scout succeeded in turning a faceless mob into a collection of individual citizens, who
had children who went to school together and to dinner at each other's houses. She had unwittingly performed a brilliant social pscyhological intervention by increasing the extent to which the mob felt like individuals who were accountable for their

Even though I like the passage as a way to describe the concept by showing a scene that hopefully rings true, the way they were talking about "her brilliant, unwitting decisions" even though she's a fictional character was kind of confusing, and as much as I already scoff at the way some actual experiments are designed, this just seemed so beyond scientific, I was astounded.

Anyway, in some ways, the two ideas these passages deal with are one of the "convergences" I've noticed between economics and social psychology in these last chapters. In this case, I guess the similarity would be "threat of public exposure as a deterrant to mob mentality and the tragedy of the commons." Blah. Something like that. Oh, I will not be doing well on these papers and tests.

Umm. Yeah, so you might think this sounds like I've been studying, making connections, really thinking about stuff. But no. I've been blogging about insignificant parts in both the textbooks, discussing the second-to-last episode of Veronica Mars, and going on walks with my iPod, which I got to work right-ish. And now it's almost 1am. Again. It was just 1am 24 hours ago!!

ADDENDUM (24 hours later):

I also wanted to quote this part of my social psych textbook:

Research indicates that reciprocal liking and attractiveness are powerful predictors of falling love amoung many people, including Anglo, Mexican and Chinese Americans, as we as Russians and Japanese.

I imagined all the researching renting romantic comedies of the world and writing their research paper on what they found: "Good looking people who like each other tend to fall in love."

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