13 July 2018

Extend Your Happiness

Welcome to Warren’s Notice. Tell me. Is everything feeling sort of same old, same old? I’m sorry. Hey, I came across something you may want to try. It might rekindle the joy of first-time experiences when those experiences become way too familiar.

Hedonic Adaptation
Psychologists refer to the tendency to return to our relatively stable level of happiness after major positive or negative events or life changes as hedonic adaptation or the hedonic treadmill. Researchers from the University of Missouri and University of California, Riverside, posed two reasons for hedonic adaptation in a study published in 2012.

Illustration of hedonic adaptation or treadmill (from
The first involves bottom-up processes: Emotions generated by the positive change decline, and happiness can’t be sustained. You buy a new car, but it doesn’t take long before you hardly notice the new car features you thought were so cool.

The other reason happiness ebbs involves top-down processes: Increased aspirations for more positivity. Your new, higher paying job is your new normal, and now you want more.

That study also laid out two approaches to moderate the hedonic adaption processes--continued appreciation of the life change and continued variety in change-related experiences.

Keeping Things New
A recent study by researchers from The University of Chicago and The Ohio State University expanded on those approaches. They tested ways to continue appreciating things, preventing them from being taken for granted, by continuing the variety. Their focus was consuming familiar things.

Air-popped popcorn to be eaten
with fingers or chopsticks.

In one experiment, 68 participants ate popcorn equally fast, yet half of the participants dined with fingers in the usual way and half used chopsticks. Those who ate popcorn in the different way, using chopsticks, paid more attention to the popcorn and enjoyed it more than those who used their fingers.

For another experiment, 300 participants took five sips of water. One hundred of the participants sipped in the usual way; 100 sipped using an unconventional method they had come up with (e.g., out of a martini glass or lapping like a cat); and 100 sipped using a different unconventional method for each of the five sips.

Water to be sipped
from a flower vase.
Participants who sipped water using a different method for each sip enjoyed their water the most, and their enjoyment remained constant for the five sips. While those who sipped water the other two ways enjoyed it less, the enjoyment of those who used unconventional methods also held steady for the five sips.

Wrap Up
The study demonstrated that adopting new and unconventional ways to interact with things--even things as common as popcorn and water--invites a first-time perspective.

Try it. What do you have to lose? If something starts to feel same old, same old, interact with it in a different way. As William Cowper wrote in his 1785 poem The Task, "Variety is the very spice of life, that gives it all its favor.”

Enjoy! And thanks for stopping by.

Hedonic adaptation: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedonic_treadmill
2012 study of hedonic adaptation in Personality and Psychology Bulletin: journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0146167212436400
Article on 2012 study on Psychology Today website: www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-science-success/201208/how-keep-happiness-fading
Study of consuming familiar things in new ways in Personality and Psychology Bulletin: journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0146167212436400
Article on study on LiveScience website:

06 July 2018

Asylum Seekers

Welcome to Warren’s Notice. Let me guess. You don’t want to read another word about migrants, refugees, immigration or asylum seekers, legal or illegal, and here I am adding a blog post on the topic. I promise not to mention anyone in the White House or Congress. Instead, I’ll just review the status, polls of American attitudes and a recent research study whose results may surprise you. Feel free to stop reading at any time.

Immigration word collage--“asylum seeker”
should be added
(from revitalizationnews.com/)
U.S. Immigration
OK, first, let’s get the count straight. The World Factbook estimates the net immigration rate of the U.S. in 2017--the number of persons entering the country minus those leaving--was 3.9 per 1,000 persons. Somehow, that doesn’t sound like much of an invasion

Two Mexican nationals found in
car trunk at border checkpoint

(from www.pinalcentral.com/arizona_news)
As for illegal immigrants, a recent Washington Post article highlighted the small contribution of illegal border crossings, citing Department of Homeland Security and Institute for Defense Analyses data: 170,000 illegal crossings occurred beyond southwest border checkpoints in 2016--that’s down about 90% since 2000--and an estimated 10% to 20% more entered illegally at the checkpoints.

Despite the emphasis on border control, the data also estimate that at least three times more people were in the U.S. illegally in 2016 because they overstayed their visas.

Americans View of Immigration
A recent Gallup Poll found 75% of Americans think immigration is a good thing. When the survey question stated legal immigration instead of just immigration, the percentage increased to 84%.

While Americans are strongly in favor of immigration, another recent Gallup Poll found 14% of Americans identified immigration as the most important problem facing the country. Given the controversies regarding policy and separation of immigrant children from parents, the concern about immigration now ranks second only to concerns about government leadership. (Nearly one in five Americans, 19%, say the government is the most important problem.)

U.S. Immigrants from Latin America
The Pew Research Center estimated there were 11.7 million immigrants from Mexico living in the U.S. in 2014. Although about half were living in the U.S. illegally, the number fell by over 1 million after 2007. By 2014, 78% of the illegal immigrants had lived in the U.S. for 10 years or longer.

Border Patrol officer at border
(from www.wkyt.com)
In contrast to the drop in Mexican immigrants, the Pew Research Center estimated the number of legal and illegal immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras rose by 25% from 2007 to 2015. Possible causes for the increase include high homicide rates, gang activity and other violence in those countries, as well as the same attractions for other migrants--economic opportunity and family ties.

Effect of Asylum Seekers on Economy
A recent study by collaborating researchers from France’s Paris School of Economics, University Clermont Auvergne and University Paris Nanterre examined the economic and fiscal effects of inflows of asylum seekers into 15 Western European countries from 1985 to 2015.

The researchers relied on an empirical methodology that is widely used to estimate the macroeconomic effects of structural shocks, such as natural disasters. To assess nations’ economic well-being, they measured average incomes over the years by dividing a country’s gross domestic product by its population. They also calculated the fiscal balance, which subtracts the amount of money a country spent on public programs, such as welfare, from the amount of money raised through taxes.

The investigators looked separately at the effects of migrants, who are legally allowed to settle in a country, and asylum seekers, who reside temporarily in a nation while their applications for refugee status are processed.

Wrap Up
The study findings refute the notion that migrants and asylum seekers pose a financial burden on the countries. Modeling showed refugees and migrants benefit their host nations’ economies within five years, while the economic benefits of asylum seekers can take longer--from 3 to 7 years--and be less obvious. Asylum seekers often face restrictions on working and must move to another country if permanent residency is denied.

Illegal immigration should be stopped by defining and focusing on the problem, not the politics. Asylum seekers must be heard. Thanks for stopping by.

World Fact Book net migration rates: www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2112rank.html
Washington Post article on immigrants: www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/06/25/most-immigrants-who-enter-the-country-do-so-legally-federal-data-show/
Gallop polls on immigration:
Pew Research Center surveys of Latin American immigration:
Study of economic effects of migrants and asylum seekers in western Europe in Science Advances journal and article on study in Nature:
Fact Sheet on asylum in U.S.: www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/asylum-united-states

29 June 2018

Are Animals Earthquake Alerts?

Welcome to Warren’s Notice. During my government career, I sometimes participated when contractors or others pitched colleagues for research funding. Among a handful of topics discussed at one such session was earthquake prediction by animals

Cartoon on animals predicting earthquakes by T.O. Sylvester (from UNDP. 1992. Introduction to Hazards. Disaster Management Training Programme; obtained from The New Zealand Digital Library, Univ of Walato www.nzdl.org/cgi-bin/library.cgi.)
Given our mission, we couldn’t justify offering support, but others have over the years. I’ll give a bit of background and review the latest work.

Anecdotal Reports
Minor details vary with the source, but the earliest account of unusual animal behavior prior to an earthquake traces to ancient Greece. In 373 BC, a variety of animals, insects to rodents and some sources add dogs, reportedly left the city of Helike (or Helice) a day or days before a destructive earthquake.

There have been numerous reports of animals behaving strangely seconds to weeks before an earthquake. Considering the seismic energy produced by earthquakes, no one would doubt that animals might react seconds or minutes before you and I felt any effect. But reports of animals responding weeks or even days before our senses are aroused lack explanation and are, thus, hard to accept.

Seismic Waves
Earthquakes generate seismic energy as both body waves that travel through the earth's inner layers and surface waves that move along the earth’s surface.

Body waves are typically higher frequency and lower amplitude than surface waves, and they arrive quicker. The fastest body waves are the primary or P waves that move through solid rock as well as fluids. The slower body waves are the secondary or S waves that move only through solid rock.

Annotated earthquake seismogram
(from academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/geology/grocha/plates/platetec19.htm)

Although body waves arrive before surface waves, the higher amplitude surface waves usually cause most of the damage.

It follows that animals with keener senses would perceive a P wave before the S wave arrives and certainly before surface waves arrive. Yet that’s normally a matter of seconds or minutes, not days or weeks. To establish that animals have the ability to respond long before a significant earthquake occurs would require the discovery of some unknown signal or signals.

Analysis of Animal Behavior Reports
Researchers from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences and University of Potsdam examined 729 reports of abnormal behavior by over 130 animal species before 160 earthquakes. The reported behaviors ranged from seconds to months before the earthquakes, at distances up to hundreds of kilometers from the epicenters, with most occurring within 60 days and 100 km (62 miles).

The researchers’ guidelines for analyzing the reported occurrences included whether the associations between animal behaviors and earthquakes were based on defined rules (e.g., animal's distance from earthquakes of a certain magnitude), if the behavior had ever been observed and not followed by an earthquake, if there was a statistical testing hypothesis in place to examine the evidence and if the animals were healthy.

Study Results
The researchers found that only 14 of the 729 reports recorded a series of observations over time, the longest being one year; all other records were single observations. A long-term record is required to ensure the observations relate to an earthquake and not to some other change, for example, in environment, animal health or predators.

Another hurdle for systematic analysis was the high variability of data, generally anecdotal and retrospective.

A key finding was that abnormal animal behaviors were strongly clustered statistically with foreshocks, suggesting that at least some observed behaviors were likely due to foreshock-generated seismic waves or secondary effects. (Foreshocks and aftershocks are earthquakes that occur before and after the more powerful, main seismic event and that are related to the mainshock in time and space.)

Wrap Up
Overall, the study found the reported data were insufficient to establish that animals exhibit abnormal behaviors before known earthquake effects. To support future experiments, the researchers suggested questions to be assessed to ensure the quality of observations, e.g., Is the experimental setup and monitoring procedure clearly described and reproducible? Is it proven that the animal behavior is really unusual?

It’s an interesting topic that’s not fully understood. Thanks for stopping by.

Example articles on animals predicting earthquakes:  earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/topics/animal_eqs.php
Background on seismic waves: www.geo.mtu.edu/UPSeis/waves.html
Recent study of reports of animal behavior before earthquakes in Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America: pubs.geoscienceworld.org/ssa/bssa/article-abstract/530275/review-can-animals-predict-earthquakes-review-can?redirectedFrom=fulltext
Articles on study on LiveScience and ScienceDaily websites:

22 June 2018

Startup Funding Gender Gap

Congratulations! Your business is doing great! You tapped savings, family and friends to get started. You worked hard, recovered from early mistakes and found your market. Now, it’s time to go big, really big; you’re ready to go after venture capital. Oh, wait. I’m sorry. You’re a woman.

The hands for startup funding
sure look like those of men.

(Photo from corporatemonks.com/)
Welcome to Warren’s Notice. Let’s start in Europe. Sweden ranks at the top of the European Union’s Gender Equality Index, yet female-owned businesses, which account for one-third of Swedish businesses, receive only 7% of government venture capital.

A recent study by researchers affiliated with Sweden’s LuleĆ„ University of Technology and Halmstad University and Finland’s Hanken School of Economics documented how gender bias entered into the assessment of venture capital applications.

Venture Capitalist Stereotypical Notions
The study used interview data to first examine how 11 venture capitalists from two government organizations used notions of gender in assessing applications from 126 entrepreneurs (72 male, 54 female).

The researchers identified four gender-stereotypical notions:
-Women are cautious and risk-averse; men are ambitious and risk-taking.
-Women are reluctant to grow their businesses; men are willing to do so.
-Women do not have resources to engage in high growth; men do.
-Women’s ventures underperform; men’s ventures perform well.

To test these notions against fact, they statistically analyzed relevant performance indicators and accounting information for each of the 126 ventures. They found no significant difference between ventures led by men or women in any of the four identified areas: risk-taking, growth, growth resources or underperformance. In short, the perceived gender differences affecting funding decisions are myths.

OK, that’s what happens in Sweden, not the U.S. Wrong. A 2017 article in Fortune magazine reported that, of the billions venture capitalists invested in 2016, only about 2% went to women. That doesn’t appear to have changed much in 2017 (see figure).

Yearly venture capital funding ($ billions) for U.S. startups founded by men, women and both men and women, 2006-2017.
(from fortune.com/2018/01/31/female-founders-venture-capital-2017/)
Male vs. Female Investors
Would male and female venture capitalists make different funding decisions? Maybe.

Research collaborators from the California Institute of Technology and University of California, San Diego, studied angel investors--individuals who invest their personal funds in a business; venture capitalists invest other people’s money.

Their analysis of a proprietary dataset from AngelList, a U.S. website for startups, angel investors and job-seekers, found male investors expressed less interest in female-led startups than in similar male-led startups. In contrast, the same female-led startups were more successful than male-led startups with female investors. The results did not appear to be driven by differences in startup quality, sector focus or risk.

So, adding female investors might help balance the gender funding gap, but there’s a long way to go. The Wall Street Journal highlighted a 2017 analysis of 71 top venture-capital firms that found less than 10% of their investment-team members were women.

Amateur vs. Professional Investors
An interesting sidelight to professional investing in startups is crowdfunding, where many small amounts of money are raised from a large number of amateur investors.

PwC in collaboration with The Crowdfunding Center analyzed 2015 and 2016 data from nine of the largest crowdfunding global platforms. They found that, although men sought startup crowdfunding more than women, women were more successful at reaching their funding target across a wide range of sectors, geography and cultures.

For example, considering total global campaign activity, men initiated about 2.5 times the number of startup campaigns as women, yet 22% of women-led campaigns were successfully funded compared to 17% of men-led campaigns. Data for the U.S. showed men initiated 2.3 times the number campaigns as women, yet 4% more women-led campaigns were successfully funded.

Total global crowdfunding activity in 2015 and 2016 for male- and female-led startups. (from www.pwc.com/gx/en/about/diversity/womenunbound.html)
After finding similar results in their analysis of 416 projects from the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, researchers from Louisiana State, Indiana and Suffolk universities conducted an experiment with 73 amateur investors to get a sense of why women were more successful than men. Female entrepreneurs were seen as more trustworthy, trustworthiness fostered funders’ backing and the funders’ implicit gender bias strengthened those effects.

Wrap Up
Getting back to professional investors, I’ll close with one bright note: Founders for Change. This is a loose, growing coalition of some 700 tech entrepreneurs and chief executives who are improving diversity and inclusion within their companies and pressuring the venture capital industry to diversify.

Thanks for stopping by.

Study of Swedish venture capitalists’ gender bias in Journal of Business Venturing Insights: www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352673417300938
Article on Swedish study in Harvard Business Review: hbr.org/2018/03/vc-stereotypes-about-men-and-women-arent-supported-by-performance-data
Fortune magazine article on venture capital funding gender gap: fortune.com/2017/03/13/female-founders-venture-capital/
Study of angel investors’ gender bias on Social Science Research Network website: papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2953011
Wall Street Journal article on venture capital firm diversity: graphics.wsj.com/table/VCLEDER0410
PwC and The Crowdfunding Center report, Women unbound: www.pwc.com/gx/en/about/diversity/womenunbound.html
Study of crowdfunders' trust in women in Journal of Business Venturing: www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0883902616302798
Article on crowdfunder trust study on ScienceDaily website: www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/05/180510101310.htm
Founders for Change: www.foundersforchange.org
New York Times article on Founders for Change: www.nytimes.com/2018/03/20/technology/founders-for-change-tech-diversity.html
Example articles on finding angel and venture funding: