Foreign Affairs

Unquiet on the Western Front

As if Pakistan doesn't have enough problems in the hinterlandthe ongoing duel with India over Kashmir, the lawless border with Afghanistan—trouble is brewing in its westernmost province, Baluchistan, according to a new study from the Carnegie Endowment. Baluch nationalists, who claim a distinct ethnic identity going back 2,000 years, have clashed with the central government several times over the past fifty years, most recently in the mid-1970s, when a rebellion left nearly 8,000 dead. The province is strategically located (it borders both Iran and Afghanistan) and rich in resources (it provides more than 40 percent of Pakistan's energy), and its stability is crucial to Islamabad. But ire is building over a number of issues. The Baluchs feel inadequately compensated for the country's use of their province's resources and believe they are not benefiting sufficiently from economic development. In addition, they oppose the government-promoted spread of political Islam (though they are largely Muslim themselves). Another insurrection appears to be in the offing: attacks on Pakistani troops and sabotage of oil pipelines are escalating. Although the Carnegie report expresses doubt that the Baluchs could win a war for independence, it warns that "the risk of a prolonged guerrilla movement … is quite real."

"Pakistan: The Resurgence of Baluch Nationalism," Frédéric Grare, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

The Price of Liberty

The end of apartheid, in 1994, not only made black South Africans significantly freer; it also made them significantly poorer, according to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Average incomes for all races dropped by 40 percent between 1995 and 2000, the last year studied in depth (there's no evidence that they've rebounded since). Blacks and the young saw the greatest declines, and the black-white income gap, which had been gradually shrinking since the 1970s, grew markedly after 1994. This is perhaps not surprising: political liberalization, the authors note, opened South Africa's economy to global competition. And in developed economies the income gap between those with disparate levels of education—a gap that favors South Africa's whites—tends to widen.

"Incomes in South Africa Since the Fall of Apartheid," M. Leibbrandt, J. Levinsohn, and J. McCrary, NBER

Society

Last Rights

Americans overwhelmingly support some form of a "right to die," according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center. By more than eight to one, those surveyed favored laws that would let terminally ill patients decide whether to accept medical treatment. Smaller majorities agreed that people have a right to end their lives if they "have an incurable disease" or "suffer great pain with no hope of improvement," and that it is "sometimes justified" to help your spouse commit suicide or to end his or her life yourself. The public was less certain about extending this latitude to doctors, splitting nearly evenly on the question of whether to allow physician-assisted suicide. And only a third supported a right to die for people who merely feel that "living is a burden."

"Strong Public Support for Right to Die," Pew Research Center for the People and the Press

Sports

Super Bore?
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If you like your spectator sports unpredictable, it's best to head for the soccer stadium—or so researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory would recommend. They examined nearly every game in the history of the English Football Association, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, the National Basketball Association, and the National Football League—more than 300,000 games in all. Soccer proved to be the sport in which the underdog (the team with the worse record) did the best, winning a little more than 45 percent of all contests. The most predictable sport seems to be American football: the underdog has won roughly 36 percent of all NFL games.

"What Is the Most Competitive Sport?" E. Ben-Naim, F. Vasquez, and S. Redner, Los Alamos National Laboratory

Information

Error for Error

The online encyclopedia Wikipedia, whose entries can be written and edited by anyone with an Internet connection, has taken a lot of heat for its inaccuracies, most recently when an article claimed that a former aide to Robert F. Kennedy might have been involved in the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers. But it's not much worse than the online version of the legendary Encyclopedia Britannica, according to a study conducted by Nature. The magazine's researchers matched up entries from the two encyclopedias and obtained expert evaluations of forty-two pairs. The experts found a total of eight "serious" errors (defined as mistaken interpretations of important concepts)four in Wikipedia and four in the Britannica. Combined, the Britannica's entries contained 123 "factual errors, omissions, or misleading statements," and Wikipedia's had 162; in other words, the professionally produced encyclopedia had three errors for every four in the amateur one. However, a number of evaluators noted that their assigned Britannica entry was better written than the Wikipedia one, which they found badly structured and difficult to follow.

"Internet Encyclopaedias Go Head to Head," J. Giles et al., Nature

Quantity vs. Quality

Does a large number of siblings vying for parental resources and attention hurt a child's chances for success later in life? Researchers recently investigated this question by looking at a variety of families in Israel. They found that the presence of a third child (or more than three children) had little effect on the long-term educational attainment, adult earnings, and marriage and fertility rates of first- and second-born children; the only noticeable difference was that first-born daughters tended to marry sooner if they came from large families—perhaps, the authors speculate, out of a desire to escape the crowd. They also speculate that parents may adjust to additional children by cutting down on luxuries and leisure activities rather than on time with their children—or, alternately, that large families may be more likely to have stay-at-home moms, who make up for some of the otherwise scarcer parental attention.

"New Evidence on the Causal Link Between the Quantity and Quality of Children," J. Angrist, V. Lavy, and A. Schlosser, NBER

Economics

Tall is Profitable

It pays to be tall, according to a study in the Journal of Political Economy: the median wage of the tallest quarter of white male adults in both the United States and Great Britain is 13 percent higher than that of the shortest quarter. But what really pays, the study suggests, is being tall during the teen years. White men who were shorter than average as teenagers typically earn less than those who were taller, regardless of their eventual adult heights. In fact, the wage disparity between tall and short white men essentially disappears once teenage height is controlled for. The authors speculate that short teens may be "stigmatized because of their stature" and therefore have a harder time developing social skills and a positive self-image. The study also dealt with the economic benefits of human growth hormone treatments for shorter-than-average 10-year-old boys. Assessing the cost of a six-year HGH regimen (about $135,000) against the higher wages earned by men who were tall as teenagers, the authors concluded that such treatment would pay for itself only for boys who go on to make more than $105,000 a year as adults—although they allow that greater height carries "benefits … that are not pecuniary."

"The Effect of Adolescent Experience on Labor Market Outcomes: The Case of Height," N. Persico, A. Postlewaite, and D. Silverman, Journal of Political Economy

Medicine

What's German for "Hypochondria"?
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A study of health care in twenty-one OECD nations reveals that in most countries, between 70 and 90 percent of the population visits a doctor at least once a year; the exceptions are the United States (68 percent), Greece (63 percent), and Mexico (21 percent). However, the average number of visits a person makes each year varies widely. For example, the typical German or Hungarian sees a doctor more than seven times annually, while the typical Dane, Norwegian, or American does so only four times. The researchers found little to explain the variation, attributing it, at least in part, to "cultural differences in seeking medical advice or care."

"Inequalities in Access to Medical Care by Income in Developed Countries," E. van Doorslaer, C. Masseria, and X. Koolman, Canadian Medical Association Journal

Education

Those Who Can't Teach

There's plenty of debate about "school choice," but perhaps parents and other interested parties should worry more about "teacher choice—"that is, principals' ability to hire the best teachers they can find. A recent study from the New Teacher Project, which collected data on staffing at five major urban school districts around the country, discovered that 40 percent of teacher vacancies were filled by "voluntary transfers" (incumbent teachers exercising contract- mandated transfer options) and "excessed" teachers (teachers whose jobs were cut and who generally must, according to union rules, be hired before other candidates). According to the study, many of the teachers hired in these instances are "poor performers" and are "passed around from school to school instead of being terminated." Principals, of course, are unhappy about this state of affairs. In one district, 64 percent of principals at schools that added such teachers in the last year said that they wished they had not hired them, and 26 percent rated "all or almost all" of the excessed teachers who came on board as "unsatisfactory." Some principals even admitted to hiding vacancies in order to avoid unwanted hires; for example, a principal might wait to post a job opening until after all the transfers and excessed teachers in the district have been assigned.

"Unintended Consequences: The Case for Reforming the Staffing Rules in Urban Teachers' Union Contracts," J. Levin, J. Mulhern, and J. Schunck, New Teacher Project