Saturday, March 30, 2013

Carpool organizing duty never relents

In one instance, while taking care of some business on the Hill as secretary of State, [Madeline Albright] was called upon to organize a carpool for her kid’s school, prompting her to ask, “What in God’s name does a woman have to be so that she doesn’t have to worry about the carpool?”
--Nick Robins-Early, New York, on geopolitics vs. the school carpool

Friday, March 29, 2013

Which physicians are most burned out?

A national survey published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2012 reported that US physicians suffer more burnout than other American workers. Some 45.8% of physicians were experiencing at least 1 symptom of burnout: loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of cynicism, and a low sense of personal accomplishment. In Medscape's current survey, when members were given the same criteria, the response was nearly as discouraging: 39.8% responded that they were burned out and 60.2% said that they were not. The 2 specialties with the highest percentage of burnout were those that dealt with severely ill patients: emergency medicine and critical care. Among the top 10 were most of the generalists: family physicians, ob/gyns, internists, and general surgeons. Surprisingly, pediatricians were among the least burned-out specialists, along with rheumatologists, psychiatrists, and pathologists.
--Carol Peckham, Medscape, on one reason to become a pathologist

Does hookup culture empower women?

Back in August, journalist Hanna Rosin wrote a story for The Atlantic entitled “Boys on the Side.” Searching to recast the hookup culture of college campuses in a positive, feminist light, Rosin included interviews with some Yale women because she thought we were emblematic of the “modern” type of highly educated woman: the one who wants it all. Today, we want both casual sex and academic success; someday, we’ll want a happy family and a high-powered career. “Feminist progress right now largely depends on the existence of the hookup culture,” Rosin writes. “And to a surprising degree, it is women — not men — who are perpetuating the culture, especially in school, cannily manipulating it to make space for their success, always keeping their own ends in mind.”

Rosin continues: “One sorority girl … whom I’ll call Tali, told me that freshman year she, like many of her peers, was high on her first taste of the hookup culture and didn’t want a boyfriend. ‘It was empowering, to have that kind of control,’ she recalls.”

That’s me — Tali.

The previous year, Rosin, a friend and I plopped down on a patch of grass in the Law School’s courtyard to make sense of what was going on at Yale with women, relationships and sex. That conversation become fodder for Rosin’s trend piece. ..

But for SWUGs [Senior Washed Up Girls] like Chloe and I, that’s not quite how it pans out. Whatever empowerment we’re supposed to be deriving from this version of the feminist moment is looking pretty thin on the ground. Another Atlantic piece, published just a few weeks ago, pushed back at Rosin’s argument: “I hear young women’s mixed feelings about relationships,” writes sociologist Leslie C. Bell. “Some young women deeply desire meaningful relationships with men, even as they feel guilty about those desires. … To do so feels like a betrayal of themselves, of their education and of their achievements.”
--Raisa Bruner, Yale Daily News, on the fruit of hookup culture

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Californian character

Unlike their counterparts at other bridges, the Golden Gate [Bridge's] toll collectors are instructed to smile and greet their customers, even though that may delay traffic.
--Norimitsu Onishi, NYT, on the laid-back San Francisco style. However, the rest of the story is about how human toll collectors on the bridge are being replaced on Wednesday by a fully automated system.

Identifying fools by their spelling errors

If ever there were a Cinderella of tech, Sophia Amoruso might be it.

In 2006, Ms. Amoruso was a 22-year-old community college dropout, living in her step-aunt’s cottage, working at an art school checking student IDs for $13 an hour. Then she started a side project, Nasty Gal, an eBay page that sold vintage women’s clothing.

Last year, Nasty Gal sold nearly $100 million of clothing and accessories — profitably. ...

Back in 2006, she toyed with the idea of going to photography school, but couldn’t stomach the debt. Instead, she quit her job and started an eBay page to sell some of the vintage designer items she found rummaging through Goodwill bins. She bought a Chanel jacket at a Salvation Army store for $8 and sold it for $1,000. She found Yves Saint Laurent clothing online on the cheap by Googling misspellings of the designer’s name, reasoning that anyone who didn’t know how to spell Yves Saint Laurent probably didn’t realize his value.
--Nicole Perlroth, NYT, on what your spelling says about you

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Why are college and marriage different to economists?

In contemporary societies, there is a strong college wage premium. That is to say, people who go to college make more money on average than people who don’t. While a minority of economists (including [Tyler] Cowen) have questioned why this premium should exist, the majority of economists generally take the existence of this college wage premium to mean that college is good and important, that more people should go to college, and that public policy has some role to play in promoting and subsidizing college attendance. I would bet a goodly sum of money that if you picked at random ten tenured economists from top-20 economics departments, and asked them to list what an 18-year-old should do to increase his chances of getting high wages, a majority would say “go to college.”

There also exists a marriage wage premium, which is roughly as significant and as consistent as the college wage premium. To say that the marriage wage premium doesn’t get the same amount of attention is an understatement. Economists recoil at the idea of praising marriage and supporting public policies that increase marriage. They are much more likely to dismiss the marriage wage premium as reflecting selection bias (it’s not that marriage makes people earn more money, it’s that people who would have earned more money anyway tend to get married) or intone that “correlation is not causation”–criticisms that apply equally to analyses of the college wage premium. I would bet a goodly sum of money that if you picked at random ten tenured economists from top-20 economics departments, and asked them to list what an 18-year-old should do to increase his chances of getting high wages, none of them would say “get married and stay married”–even though the data on the marriage wage premium supports this conclusion to the same extent as it does going to college.

The perspective of economists seems as good an explanation for this discrepancy as any. Economics as a profession, pretty much by definition, self-selects people who on the whole enjoy higher education. Economists by and large enjoyed college so much they decided to stay there for the rest of their professional lives. Encouraging other people to do as they did feels natural. ...

Meanwhile, economists’ “cosmopolitan perspective” (as Cowen puts it) makes them not feel good at the idea of public policy that would interfere with personal choices (allowing for a second that getting married is a “personal choice” in a way that going to college isn’t). Most economists think that government should not interfere or have a stance one way or another with decisions that feel intimate to people. That is a complete value judgement. And it’s a completely defensible one.
--Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, Forbes, on the myth of values-free economists. HT: Megan McArdle

Friday, March 22, 2013

How to predict the future better

In 2006, Philip E. Tetlock published a landmark book called “Expert Political Judgment.” While his findings obviously don’t apply to me, Tetlock demonstrated that pundits and experts are terrible at making predictions.

But Tetlock is also interested in how people can get better at making forecasts. His subsequent work helped prompt people at one of the government’s most creative agencies, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency, to hold a forecasting tournament to see if competition could spur better predictions.

In the fall of 2011, the agency asked a series of short-term questions about foreign affairs, such as whether certain countries will leave the euro, whether North Korea will re-enter arms talks, or whether Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev would switch jobs. ...

Five teams entered the tournament, from places like M.I.T., Michigan and Maryland. Tetlock and his wife, the decision scientist Barbara Mellers, helped form a Penn/Berkeley team, which bested the competition and surpassed the benchmarks by 60 percent in Year 1.

How did they make such accurate predictions? In the first place, they identified better forecasters. It turns out you can give people tests that usefully measure how open-minded they are.

For example, if you spent $1.10 on a baseball glove and a ball, and the glove cost $1 more than the ball, how much did the ball cost? Most people want to say that the glove cost $1 and the ball 10 cents. But some people doubt their original answer and realize the ball actually costs 5 cents.

Tetlock and company gathered 3,000 participants. Some got put into teams with training, some got put into teams without. Some worked alone. Some worked in prediction markets. Some did probabilistic thinking and some did more narrative thinking. The teams with training that engaged in probabilistic thinking performed best. The training involved learning some of the lessons included in Daniel Kahneman’s great work, “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” For example, they were taught to alternate between taking the inside view and the outside view.

Suppose you’re asked to predict whether the government of Egypt will fall. You can try to learn everything you can about Egypt. That’s the inside view. Or you can ask about the category. Of all Middle Eastern authoritarian governments, what percentage fall in a given year? That outside view is essential.

Most important, participants were taught to turn hunches into probabilities. Then they had online discussions with members of their team adjusting the probabilities, as often as every day. ...

In these discussions, hedgehogs disappeared and foxes prospered. That is, having grand theories about, say, the nature of modern China was not useful. Being able to look at a narrow question from many vantage points and quickly readjust the probabilities was tremendously useful. ...

In the second year of the tournament, Tetlock and collaborators skimmed off the top 2 percent of forecasters across experimental conditions, identifying 60 top performers and randomly assigning them into five teams of 12 each. These “super forecasters” also delivered a far-above-average performance in Year 2. Apparently, forecasting skill cannot only be taught, it can be replicated.

Tetlock is now recruiting for Year 3. (You can match wits against the world by visiting
--David Brooks, NYT, on the usefulness of anti-dogmatism

It's all Harvard's fault

America, we are sorry for messing up your brackets and also your financial system and everything else.
--@harvardlampoon on yesterday night's big basketball win. HT: JQ

Monday, March 11, 2013

The dubious environmental benefit of electric cars

A 2012 comprehensive life-cycle analysis in Journal of Industrial Ecology shows that almost half the lifetime carbon-dioxide emissions from an electric car come from the energy used to produce the car, especially the battery. The mining of lithium, for instance, is a less than green activity. By contrast, the manufacture of a gas-powered car accounts for 17% of its lifetime carbon-dioxide emissions. When an electric car rolls off the production line, it has already been responsible for 30,000 pounds of carbon-dioxide emission. The amount for making a conventional car: 14,000 pounds.

While electric-car owners may cruise around feeling virtuous, they still recharge using electricity overwhelmingly produced with fossil fuels. Thus, the life-cycle analysis shows that for every mile driven, the average electric car indirectly emits about six ounces of carbon-dioxide. This is still a lot better than a similar-size conventional car, which emits about 12 ounces per mile. But remember, the production of the electric car has already resulted in sizeable emissions—the equivalent of 80,000 miles of travel in the vehicle.

So unless the electric car is driven a lot, it will never get ahead environmentally. And that turns out to be a challenge. Consider the Nissan Leaf. It has only a 73-mile range per charge. Drivers attempting long road trips, as in one BBC test drive, have reported that recharging takes so long that the average speed is close to six miles per hour—a bit faster than your average jogger.

To make matters worse, the batteries in electric cars fade with time, just as they do in a cellphone. Nissan estimates that after five years, the less effective batteries in a typical Leaf bring the range down to 55 miles. As the MIT Technology Review cautioned last year: "Don't Drive Your Nissan Leaf Too Much."
--Bjorn Lomborg, WSJ, on an environmental placebo

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Online classes aren't as innovative as you think

[T]here’s already a substitute for live lectures, and that’s textbooks. It may well be that in the near future the good lectures will be recorded and students will be required to watch them before they come to class. This will be a great thing. Already, though, students are supposed to read the book before coming to class, and they don’t always do it!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Learning your father is famous

Until I was six years old I didn't realize what it was that my father did for a living. The news was broken to me by a playmate at school.

That night, when Dad came home from work and flopped into his easy chair, I approached him with awe. Then doubt crept in. He didn't look famous to me, he just looked tired.

So I asked a crucial question. "Daddy, are you Walt Disney?"

"Yes, honey," he replied.

"I mean, are you the Walt Disney?"

He nodded. So it was true!

"Daddy," I said, "please give me your autograph."

That scene was played many years ago, but my father still recalls it with enjoyment.

"It gave me a thrill," he says now. "I had fought for recognition at home, with your mother and your sister and the nurses and all the aunts. When I finally got it—even if it was from a six-year-old—it was a triumph. I mean a man has to put up a fight when he's surrounded by females."
--Diane Disney Miller on learning your father's name

Aging canned foods like fine wine

Standard canned goods aren’t generally deemed age-worthy. Food technologists define shelf life not by how long it takes for food to become inedible, but how long it takes for a trained sensory panel to detect a “just noticeable difference” between newly manufactured and stored cans. There’s no consideration of whether the difference might be pleasant in its own way or even an improvement—it’s a defect by definition.

As far as I can tell, European connoisseurship in canned goods goes back about a hundred years. ... the European industry continued to rely on handwork and produced luxury goods for the well-off, who would age their canned sardines for several years like wine. Today, Rödel and Connetable, both more than 150 years old, are among the sardine makers that mark select cans with the fishing year and note that the contents “are already very good, but like grand cru wines, improve with age” for up to 10 years.

... Collins recounts an informal taste test conducted by a New York grocer who rounded up old cans from a number of warehouses, put on a luncheon in which he served their contents side by side with those from new cans, and asked his guests to choose which version they preferred. Among the test foods were fourteen-year-old pea soup and beef stew, and twelve-year-old corned beef and pigs’ feet. The guests preferred the old cans “by an overwhelming majority.” ...

I compared a new can of French sardines in olive oil with 2000 and 1997 millésimes. The brands were different, and so were the size and color of the fish and the quality of the olive oils. That said, the young sardines were firm and dry and mild; the older vintages were fragile to the point of falling apart, soft and rich in the mouth, and fishier in a good way. A 2007 (70th anniversary) can of Spam was also softer than the 2012 (75th), less bouncy and less immediately and stingingly salty, though the aromas were pretty much the same. Some Corti Brothers mincemeat aged for a year under a cap of suet was delicious, its spices and alcohols seamlessly integrated. A five-year-old tin of French goose foie gras: no complaints. Two vintages of Corti Brothers bergamot marmalade: the older noticeably darker in color and surprisingly reminiscent of Moroccan preserved lemons. And 3-year-old Cougar Gold—still moist and not as sharp as open-aged cheddars—was deeper in color and flavor than the yearling version, with a touch of caramel and the crunchy crystals that are the hallmark of hard aged Goudas.
--Harold McGee, Slate, on blowing past the best-by date

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Triumphing over tragedy

The victim was named Josh Miele. He was 4. On that day, Oct. 5, 1973, he was playing in the backyard of his family’s house on President Street while his mother, Isabella, cooked in the kitchen. The doorbell rang, and Josh sprinted to get it.

Standing on the other side of the heavy iron gate beneath the stoop was Basilio Bousa, 24, who lived next door. ...

My mother came into the kitchen that day or the next, her hands shaking. ... “This little boy on President Street answered the door, and this crazy man poured acid on his head.” ...

Josh was burned over 17 percent of his body, with 11 percent third-degree burns, mostly to his face. Colonel Pruitt said his chief goal was to save the boy’s sight. But he knew right away that this was hopeless.

“He had these terrible injuries to his eyes,” he said. “The globes had been irreparably injured. They were totally collapsed.” ...

Many of his features were gone, and what was left was roughly scarred. ...

Josh Miele lives today in Berkeley, Calif., on a beautiful block of 1920s cottages, with his wife, Liz, and their children, Benjamin, 10, and Vivien, 7. ...

Josh has a degree in physics and a Ph.D. in psychoacoustics from the University of California at Berkeley. He took several breaks, years long, while getting his undergraduate degree, and worked full time for the technology company Berkeley Systems on software to help blind people navigate graphics-based computer programs.

He worked for NASA on software for the Mars Observer. He is the president of the board of directors of the San Francisco LightHouse for the Blind. He plays bass in a band. And he works as an associate scientist at the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute, a nonprofit research center. “It’s not that I don’t want to be written about,” he said. “I’d like to be as famous as the next person would, but I want to be famous for the right reasons, for the work I’ve done, and not for some stupid thing that happened to me 40 years ago.”

He has helped develop tactile-Braille maps of every station of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, exquisite things with raised lines of plastic and Braille labels. They elegantly lay out information that can be heard by using an audio smart pen.

His enthusiasm for the Braille maps is infectious, but it’s nothing like the way his voice goes up when he describes his latest project, a cloud-based software program, the Descriptive Video Exchange, that in theory will let anyone narrate any video or movie to describe what they see for those who can’t. It’s a kind of crowd-sourced service that would allow, for example, a Trekkie to describe a “Star Trek” episode in a way that other devotees would appreciate. The first version, out this month, will work for any video on YouTube.
--Wendell Jackson, NYT, on putting your own struggles in perspective

The Cuban Missile Crisis was JFK's fault

On October 16, 1962, John F. Kennedy and his advisers were stunned to learn that the Soviet Union was, without provocation, installing nuclear-armed medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Cuba. ... Thanks to the Kennedy administration’s placid resolve and prudent crisis management—thanks to what Kennedy’s special assistant Arthur Schlesinger Jr. characterized as the president’s “combination of toughness and restraint, of will, nerve, and wisdom, so brilliantly controlled, so matchlessly calibrated, that [it] dazzled the world”—the Soviet leadership blinked: Moscow dismantled the missiles, and a cataclysm was averted.

Every sentence in the above paragraph describing the Cuban missile crisis is misleading or erroneous. ...

Scholars, however, have long known a very different story: since 1997, they have had access to recordings that Kennedy secretly made of meetings with his top advisers, the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (the “ExComm”). ...

[JFK's nuclear expansion] included deploying, beginning in 1961, intermediate-range “Jupiter” nuclear missiles in Italy and Turkey—adjacent to the Soviet Union. From there, the missiles could reach all of the western U.S.S.R., including Moscow and Leningrad (and that doesn’t count the nuclear-armed “Thor” missiles that the U.S. already had aimed at the Soviet Union from bases in Britain).

The Jupiter missiles were an exceptionally vexing component of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Because they sat aboveground, were immobile, and required a long time to prepare for launch, they were extremely vulnerable. Of no value as a deterrent, they appeared to be weapons meant for a disarming first strike—and thus greatly undermined deterrence, because they encouraged a preemptive Soviet strike against them. The Jupiters’ destabilizing effect was widely recognized among defense experts within and outside the U.S. government and even by congressional leaders. For instance, Senator Albert Gore Sr., an ally of the administration, told Secretary of State Dean Rusk that they were a “provocation” in a closed session of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February 1961 (more than a year and a half before the missile crisis), adding, “I wonder what our attitude would be” if the Soviets deployed nuclear-armed missiles to Cuba. Senator Claiborne Pell raised an identical argument in a memo passed on to Kennedy in May 1961.

Given America’s powerful nuclear superiority, as well as the deployment of the Jupiter missiles, Moscow suspected that Washington viewed a nuclear first strike as an attractive option. They were right to be suspicious. The archives reveal that in fact the Kennedy administration had strongly considered this option during the Berlin crisis in 1961.

It’s little wonder, then, that, as Stern asserts—drawing on a plethora of scholarship including, most convincingly, the historian Philip Nash’s elegant 1997 study, The Other Missiles of October—Kennedy’s deployment of the Jupiter missiles “was a key reason for Khrushchev’s decision to send nuclear missiles to Cuba.” ... Khrushchev may very well have assumed America’s response would be similar to his reaction to the Jupiter missiles—rhetorical denouncement but no threat or action to thwart the deployment with a military attack, nuclear or otherwise. ...

Kennedy and his civilian advisers understood that the missiles in Cuba did not alter the strategic nuclear balance. Although Kennedy asserted in his October 22 televised address that the missiles were “an explicit threat to the peace and security of all the Americas,” he in fact appreciated, as he told the ExComm on the first day of the crisis, that “it doesn’t make any difference if you get blown up by an ICBM flying from the Soviet Union or one that was 90 miles away. Geography doesn’t mean that much.” America’s European allies, Kennedy continued, “will argue that taken at its worst the presence of these missiles really doesn’t change” the nuclear balance. ...

Sorensen’s comment about a surprise attack reminds us that while the missiles in Cuba did not add appreciably to the nuclear menace, they could have somewhat complicated America’s planning for a successful first strike—which may well have been part of Khrushchev’s rationale for deploying them. If so, the missiles paradoxically could have enhanced deterrence between the superpowers, and thereby reduced the risk of nuclear war.

Yet, although the missiles’ military significance was negligible, the Kennedy administration advanced on a perilous course to force their removal. The president issued an ultimatum to a nuclear power—an astonishingly provocative move, which immediately created a crisis that could have led to catastrophe. ...

In a 1987 interview, McNamara explained: “You have to remember that, right from the beginning, it was President Kennedy who said that it was politically unacceptable for us to leave those missile sites alone. He didn’t say militarily, he said politically.” What largely made the missiles politically unacceptable was Kennedy’s conspicuous and fervent hostility toward the Castro regime—a stance, Kennedy admitted at an ExComm meeting, that America’s European allies thought was “a fixation” and “slightly demented.” ...

In fact, America’s allies, as Bundy acknowledged, were aghast that the U.S. was threatening nuclear war over a strategically insignificant condition...

If the administration’s domestic political priorities alone dictated the removal of the Cuban missiles, a solution to Kennedy’s problem would have seemed pretty obvious: instead of a public ultimatum demanding that the Soviets withdraw their missiles from Cuba, a private agreement between the superpowers to remove both Moscow’s missiles in Cuba and Washington’s missiles in Turkey. ...

The administration, however, did not make such an overture to the Soviets. ... In an effort to resolve the impasse, Khrushchev himself openly made this proposal on October 27. According to the version of events propagated by the Kennedy administration (and long accepted as historical fact), Washington unequivocally rebuffed Moscow’s offer and instead, thanks to Kennedy’s resolve, forced a unilateral Soviet withdrawal.

Beginning in the late 1980s, however, the opening of previously classified archives and the decision by a number of participants to finally tell the truth revealed that the crisis was indeed resolved by an explicit but concealed deal to remove both the Jupiter and the Cuban missiles. Kennedy in fact threatened to abrogate if the Soviets disclosed it. He did so for the same reasons that had largely engendered the crisis in the first place—domestic politics and the maintenance of America’s image as the indispensable nation. A declassified Soviet cable reveals that Robert Kennedy—whom the president assigned to work out the secret swap with the U.S.S.R.’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Dobrynin—insisted on returning to Dobrynin the formal Soviet letter affirming the agreement, explaining that the letter “could cause irreparable harm to my political career in the future.”
--Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic, on the shroud of lies surrounding the 13 days

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Crying wolf on the sequester

If you want to know how misleading the Obama administration is being about the effects of the sequester, look no further than Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's dark warnings about flight delays.

LaHood showed up at the daily White House press briefing Friday to claim the sequester — automatic spending cuts President Obama insisted on that are now scheduled to take effect in March — will "be very painful for the flying public."

Because of those cuts, he said, the department will have to furlough flight controllers, leading to "delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours" at major airports.

It will also have to close more than 100 air traffic control towers, and preventive maintenance and runway repairs "might not be possible."

The horror!

But LaHood, taking his cues from Obama, is needlessly trying to panic the public.

Take the claim that cutting back on flight controllers will lead to massive delays.

Back in 2000, the FAA handled 23% more air traffic with fewer flight controllers than it employs today, according to the Department of Transportation's own inspector general, who added this raises "questions about the efficiency of FAA's current controller workforce."

Either air traffic controllers have gotten far less efficient over the past 13 years, or the FAA could get by with about 3,400 fewer of them — without affecting the quality of air travel one bit. Cutting out those excess controllers would get LaHood more than halfway to the $600 million he has to cut from the FAA's budget.

And while LaHood ominously talks about closing 100 control towers, what he doesn't say is that these towers should have been closed long ago.

In fact, Bloomberg News reports the FAA itself identified more than 100 "zombie towers" that handle so few flights they should be cut back or closed.
--Investor Business Daily on budget grandstanding. HT: Marginal Revolution

The Department of Transportation’s budget for 2013 is $74.2 billion. The automatic spending cuts would slice $1 billion out of its budget: that is a cut of less than 1.4 percent.

And consider this: even if the cuts go into effect, the Department of Transportation will spend more money this year ($73.2 billion) than it spent last year ($72.6 billion).
--Jonathan Karl, ABC News, on what spending cuts mean in Washington D.C.

Popping the myth of the Stradivarius violin

Most violinists believe that instruments by Stradivari and Guarneri “del Gesu” are tonally superior to other violins—and to new violins in particular. ... Player's judgments about a Stradivari's sound may be biased by the violin's extraordinary monetary value and historical importance, but no studies designed to preclude such biasing factors have yet been published. We asked 21 experienced violinists to compare violins by Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesu with high-quality new instruments. The resulting preferences were based on the violinists’ individual experiences of playing the instruments under double-blind conditions in a room with relatively dry acoustics. We found that (i) the most-preferred violin was new; (ii) the least-preferred was by Stradivari; (iii) there was scant correlation between an instrument's age and monetary value and its perceived quality; and (iv) most players seemed unable to tell whether their most-preferred instrument was new or old. These results present a striking challenge to conventional wisdom. Differences in taste among individual players, along with differences in playing qualities among individual instruments, appear more important than any general differences between new and old violins.
--Claudia Fritz et al., "Player preference among new and old violins," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences