13 April 2010

Russian Adoptions and the Availability Heuristic

As someone deep into the process of adopting internationally myself, I have been following the story of the American woman who adopted a boy from Russia and ultimately decided that she was unable to care for him and sent him back on a one-way plane to Moscow. The Russian government is seriously considering a suspension of all adoptions from Russia to the United States, at least temporarily. That would throw the in-process adoptions of hundreds of prospective adoptive parents into limbo, and I can certainly imagine how nervewracking that would be if I were in that situation. Perhaps more importantly, however, this story is heartbreaking for the child and, in my mind, raises some important questions about the behavior of the adoptive parent.

NPR correspondent Eric Weiner, author of the book The Geography of Bliss, is also an adoptive parent, and he just wrote a piece pointing out that nearly all adoption stories have a happier ending, but they don't make for good news. As a result, stories like this may lead people to overestimate the likelihood that international adoptions will fail for one reason or another. This is a good example of the availability heuristic, whereby the likelihood of an event is judged based on how easy it is to bring examples of the event to mind.

Because of the powerful influence of the media, news items can sway our estimates of how likely an event or situation is. For example, because shark attacks get lots of press, most people tend to think that they are much more common than they actually are. In fact, you're more likely to die by being struck by a piece of a falling airplane. Keep watching the skies.

01 April 2010


I was pleased to discover that some of my recent research on overqualification was mentioned in a recent New York Times blog post. This was a follow-up to a front page article in the New York Times itself. I was oh-so-close to being quoted there, but not quite. The reporter, Michael Luo and I talked about these issues for quite some time and I was impressed by the questions he asked about overqualification, and his interest in hearing what the research had to say.

I've been doing research on overqualification for about a decade now, but it seems that this issue is really getting a lot of attention for the first time, both in academic research, and in the popular press. Not surprising, I guess, given the current labor economy situation. I'm currently working on a book on underemployment (a related term, which also includes situations such as involuntary part-time work) with Professor Daniel Feldman from the University of Georgia, who knows as much about these issues as anyone out there. The volume will feature chapters by scholars in psychology, business, sociology, and economics from all over the United States and Canada, as well as Spain and Australia. It seems like the right time for the book (which will perhaps be out sometime in 2011) and we're very excited about it.

Finally, here's the only good overqualification cartoon I've seen on the Internet. It's from one of my all-time favorite sites - Toothpaste for Dinner.

26 March 2010

Porcupine Tree "Time Flies"

Here's a video of one of my favorite bands, Porcupine Tree. The full song is 11 minutes long, but they've cut it down to be more radio friendly, I guess. The song is from the album The Incident which came out in 2009.

Porcupine Tree is one of the few bands I listen to that make me think, "Wow, why aren't these guys more popular?" For most of my CD collection, the answer to that question is self-evident. Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, for example. :)

19 February 2010

Dabbling in Languages

Well, it's been a while since I've put anything up here, so I'll drop in a random thought from the day.

I've been dabbling in foreign languages since I began taking Spanish in high school (yikes, that was 1985!). Much more recently, I've been studying Mandarin to prepare for our adoption of a girl from China. Recently we found out that our daughter in fact speaks Cantonese, so of course I have begun learning that too. In between 1985 and 2010, though, I've played around with other languages, including the constructed language Esperanto. And before you ask, no, I don't know Klingon.

In total, I've studied eight foreign languages. Which would be impressive if I could speak any of them. I made a chart to show you how proficient I currently am with these eight languages (they are organized in the order I began studying them):

As you can see, the answer to "how proficient are you" for each language is the same: "not". I'm somewhere between "newbie" and "poser" for most of these languages. But there's something exciting about beginning a new language, and for some reason I don't really find this chart disappointing. I wonder how big it will be 25 years from now, though.

And if you ever are in the market for an English-to-Esperanto dictionary, you know who to call.

22 September 2008

CD: Guapo "Elixirs" (2008)

Guapo is a four-piece progressive band from the UK that plays a dark, driving, brooding brand of instrumental rock. Think "chamber orchestra picks up rock instruments and goes a bit Goth."

This would be an accurate description of their past albums Five Suns and Black Oni (both of which are recommended), anyway. Elixirs is a touch lighter and more varied in style, and there are occasional vocals (both male and female) though they contribute to the overall mood of the piece rather than being lyrics per se. This band is still about atmosphere - meant to be absorbed late at night through good headphones and with the lights out. OK, so I haven't done that yet. I'm still in need of good headphones.

I also find the artwork on Elixirs to be beautiful - you'll have to buy it to see what I mean.

Here's a link to Guapo's web page.

16 March 2008

Movie: "Son of the Bride" (El Hijo de la Novia; 2001)

Two years ago I was able to visit Argentina for three weeks, and beforehand I filled up my Netflix queue with Argentine films, some of which - including this one - I'm just now getting around to. This may be the best one I've seen thus far. Life becomes overwhelming for Ricardo Marin (at right, who also starred in Nueve Reinas ["Nine Queens"], a very enjoyable heist film) is Rafael, a 40-year old man who is struggling to balance a restaurant, a girlfriend, a daughter from an unsuccessful marriage, a mother with Alzheimer's Disease and his father, who wants to re-marry her in the church (something he didn't do the first time around). The movie chronicles Rafael's attempt to cope with his mid-life crisis and make some difficult decisions about his future. The acting and story are all quite believable, and as I've seen another suggest, these are people you would like to know in real life. Funny and very touching, you'll want to have some tissues nearby. This movie was nominated for Best Foreign Film Oscar. You can watch a trailer here.

04 March 2008

Bill Bryson "A Short History of Nearly Everything"

Possibly the greatest non-fiction book I have ever read. Engrossing, informative, and really funny. Incorporating books like this into secondary education curricula would go a long way to get young women and men excited about careers in science again. You need to read this book. Now.