Primary Sources

Diagnosis at a distance; why private school might not be worth it; Pretty Boy Floyd as statistical outlier; the upside of global warming
Looks Make the Thug

Dick Tracy had it right, a new study suggests: there really is a correlation between ugliness and crime. A pair of economists examined looks and lawbreaking among adults aged eighteen to twenty-six, using a longitudinal study involving interviews with more than 15,000 adolescents and young adults. Controlling for socioeconomic status, the economists found that as a person’s reported attractiveness decreases, the chance of his or her having committed a crime—from selling drugs to burglary—goes up. (Interviewers were asked to rate the attractiveness of each participant on a 1-to-5 scale.) The authors note that their findings may be partially explained by the fact that good-looking people tend to have higher earnings than the unattractive, who therefore have a stronger financial incentive to consider a life of crime. But other factors may be at work: the effect of unattractiveness on crime is particularly strong among women, and the study suggests that this may have to do with “human-capital formation” in high school, where good-looking females tend to have higher GPAs and fewer disciplinary problems than unattractive girls, making them less prone to crime later on in life. The authors also note that attractive women “tend to receive favorable treatment from the criminal-justice system”—that is, even when they break the law, they are less likely to be detained for it.

“Ugly Criminals,” Naci Mocan and Erdal Tekin, National Bureau of Economic Research

Going Public

Students at private schools tend to outscore their public- school counterparts on standardized tests—but are private schools really better at educating their students, or do they just enroll more pupils from socioeconomic backgrounds that foster academic achievement? A new study takes up this question by examining math scores from the 2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress, which tested more than 28,000 fourth and eighth graders nationwide. As expected, private-school students earned substantially higher math scores on the NAEP tests than did students in public schools—but when the authors controlled for socioeconomic status, the private-school advantage completely disappeared. Indeed, when the authors compared students within socioeconomic brackets, rather than across them, the students from public schools actually outscored their private-school peers, in the fourth and eighth grades alike.

“A New Look at Public and Private Schools: Student Background and Mathematics Achievement,” Sarah Theule Lubienski and Christopher Lubienski, Phi Delta Kappan

Pitch Me a Pitch

More and more companies are experimenting with word-of-mouth marketing, in which consumers either volunteer or get paid to sing a product’s praises to their friends and neighbors. You might think that these covert marketers’ credibility would diminish if they admitted to being part of an organized campaign—but you’d be wrong, according to a Northeastern University study. Such advertising, the study finds, is more effective when the person spreading the word admits up front to being part of an advertising campaign. None of the metrics of a campaign’s success—from the credibility of the sales pitch to the likelihood that someone would eventually purchase the product in question—was adversely affected when the marketers admitted to being part of a marketing effort, and people were actually more likely to pass the sales pitch along to someone else if they knew that it was part of a campaign. To explain this phenomenon, the study notes that there was “higher conversational quality”—that is, the discussion was both more relaxed and more in-depth—during exchanges where the marketers admitted their affiliations. And the author speculates that telling people they’ve been targeted by a word-of-mouth marketing campaign makes them feel special—as if they’ve been handpicked to receive new or “inside” information.

“To Tell or Not to Tell?: Assessing the Practical Effects of Disclosure for Word-of-Mouth Marketing Agents and Their Conversational Partners,” Walter J. Carl, Northeastern University

The Greening of America

Climate change may be bad for ice caps, permafrost, and coastal cities, but it could be good news for U.S. agriculture, a study from the AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies suggests. Using a long-range climate-change model from Britain’s Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, the authors project that global warming will lead to increased precipitation and longer growing seasons across the United States over the next century. The resulting productivity gains could effect a 3.4 percent increase in annual profits for U.S. agriculture, or $1.1 billion a year overall. These gains won’t be evenly distributed, however: the states most likely to benefit are Pennsylvania and South Dakota, where the model predicts increased profits of $570 million and $540 million, respectively; the big losers will be Colorado (–$610 million), Oklahoma (–$580 million), and especially California, which stands to lose $2.4 billion a year in agricultural profits if the study’s model proves accurate.

“The Economic Impacts of Climate Change: Evidence From Agricultural Profits and Random Fluctuations in Weather,” O. Deschenes and M. Greenstone, AEI-Brookings

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