"tim harford"

How Big Tobacco invented Donald Trump and Brexit (and what to do about it)

Economist Tim Harford (previously) traces the history of denialism and "fake news" back to Big Tobacco's cancer denial playbook, which invented the tactics used by both the Brexit and Trump campaigns to ride to victory -- a playbook that dismisses individual harms as "anaecdotal" and wide-ranging evidence as "statistical," and works in concert with peoples' biases (smokers don't want cigarettes to cause cancer, Brexiteers want the UK to be viable without the EU, Trump supporters want simple, cruel policies to punish others and help them) to make emprically wrong things feel right. Read the rest

Bank fraud and Dieselgate: how do we design regulations that are harder to cheat?

Tim Harford points out that Dieselgate -- when VW designed cars that tried to guess when they were undergoing emissions test and dial back their pollution -- wasn't the first time an industry designed its products to cheat when regulators were looking; the big banks did the same thing to beat the "stress tests" that finance regulators used to check whether they would collapse during economic downturns (the banks "made very specific, narrow bets designed to pay off gloriously in specific stress-test scenarios" so that they looked like they'd do better than they actually would). Read the rest

Brexit, Chicken and Ulysses Pacts: the negotiating theory behind the UK-EU stalemate

Ever since Thomas Schelling -- an advisor on Dr Strangelove! -- published his work on negotiating theory and nuclear deterrence, we've developed a rich vocabulary for describing negotiating tactics and their underlying theories. Read the rest

Messy: a celebration of improvisation and disorder as the keys to creativity, play, and work

Tim Harford's Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives plays to Harford's prodigious strengths: the ability to tell engrossing human stories, and the ability to use those stories to convey complex, statistical ideas that make your life better.

Dennis the Dentist: on the unkillable wrongness of nominative determinism

In 2002, a peer-reviewed article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology claimed that men named "Dennis" were more likely to become dentists; people named "George" or "Georgina" were apt to become geologists; and people with surnames like "Diamond" and "Ricci" were more likely to become bankers. Read the rest

Messy: When automated anti-disaster systems make things worse, and what to do about it

"Undercover Economist" Tim Harford (previously) has a new book out, Messy, which makes a fascinating and compelling case that we are in real danger from the seductive neatness of computers, which put our messes out of sight, where they grow into great catastrophes. Read the rest

Reputation systems work because people are mostly good

Economist Tim Harford writes about holidaying in prosperous Bavaria, where hotels let you run up bills of €1000+ without a credit-card and all room-keys are stored in a cupboard where any guest can get at them, and asks how this can all work without being destroyed by dishonesty? Read the rest

The Olympics are profitable for every host city (that lies about the numbers)

Going for the Gold: The Economics of the Olympics, a paper in the Journal of Economic Perspectives analyzes the economics of hosting the Olympics, indicting the numbers game played by bid committees and the IOC. Read the rest

Debullshitifying the Brexit numbers

On the BBC's More or Less podcast (previously), Tim Harford and his team carefully unpick the numerical claims made by both sides in the UK/EU referendum debate. Read the rest

Three pieces of statistical "bullshit" about the UK EU referendum

Economist Tim Harford attacks three of the statistics being widely cited in the campaigns over the upcoming referendum on the UK remaining in the EU, two from the "leave" camp and one from the "stay" camp. Read the rest

Dissipation of Economic Rents: when money is wasted chasing money

Much of economics is both esoteric and vital, meaning you need to understand it, but it's hard sledding. Today, economist Tim Harford does us the service of explaining "dissipation of economic rents" -- inefficient systems in which the effort expended by everyone chasing value wipes out the value they're chasing. Read the rest

Bowie, Eno and serendipity

Tim Harford (previously) writes, "My TED talk just went live - among other things it's about Bowie and Eno's creative process on the Berlin albums. It's rather sadly timed but I hope you like it." Read the rest

We treat terrorism as more costly than it truly is

The deaths from terrorism are unspeakable tragedies. It goes without saying. But the mortality due to terrorism -- total deaths per capita -- are very low, lower than car-wrecks or traditional murder. Likewise, the costs from terrorism -- damage to physical structures, damage to economies -- are high, but, when you look at the numbers, you find they're just not that high. Read the rest

What's the objectively optimal copyright term?

Tim Harford, the Financial Times's Undercover Economist, writes about the Happy Birthday to You court case, which finally settled the question of whether the familiar birthday song was still in copyright (it isn't) and uses that as a springboard to ask the question: how long should copyright last? Read the rest

The (real) hard problem of AI

It's not making software that can solve our problems: it's figuring out how to pose those problems so that the software doesn't bite us in the ass. Read the rest

Former IMF chief economist on the problems with TPP

Tim Harford writes, "Simon Johnson is a fascinating character, former chief economist of the IMF and now scourge of bankers and lobbyists everywhere." Read the rest

15-20% of Xmas gifts are crap

"The Deadweight Loss of Christmas," published in American Economic Review (Joel Waldfogel, UMN) estimates that "on average, the waste attributable to poorly chosen seasonal gifts was between 15 and 20 per cent of the purchase price of the gift" ($10B/year in the US alone!). Read the rest

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