Spring 2015 Small Grant Awards

Cohort Highlight: ISS funds oral histories, election surveys, other work

Neurogenetic Sources of Individual Variation in Sensitivity to the Environment
Adam Anderson, Human Development

Leveraging the Commercialization of Animal Bone-Derived Biofertilizers to Create Entrepreneurship Opportunities for Landless Poor in Ethiopia
Garrick Blalock, Applied Management and Economics
Johannes Lehmann, Crop and Soil Science

The Political Economy of Taxation in Latin America
Gustavo Flores-Macías, Government

Exploring Conflict, Improvisation and Governance through Practice-Focused Oral Histories: Advancing an International Network of Applied Research
John Forester, City & Regional Planning

The Scarring Effect of Recessions: A Quantitative Analysis
Christopher Huckfeldt, Economics

Comparative Assessment of Intra-Personal and Inter-Personal Emotion Regulation in Robotic Versus Laparoscopic Surgery
Malte Jung, Information Science
Steven Jackson, Information Science

Economic Hardship, Citizen Policy Preferences and Political Participation in the Eurozone Periphery: Evidence from Spain
Alexander Kuo, Government
José Fernández-Albertos, Centro de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales

The Political Economy of the Energy Industry in U.S. States
Claire Lim, Economics

Marginal Tax Rates and Income: New Time Series Evidence
Karel Mertens, Economics

Developing Methods for Joint Analysis of Closed-Ended and Open-Ended Survey Data
David Mimno, Information Science
Eric Baumer, Communication, Information Science

Where Has STS Traveled?
Trevor Pinch, Science & Technology Studies
Michael Lynch, Science & Technology Studies
Bruce Lewenstein, Communication, Science & Technology Studies

Effects of Perceived Economic Inequality on Sustainability and Collective Action
Jonathon Schuldt, Communication

Love and Terror: The Meaning of the Manson Murders in American Culture, 1969-Present
Claudia Verhoeven, History

On the Causal Effect of Income Taxes on Corporate Risk-Taking and Hedging: Evidence from State Income Tax Changes
Luo Zuo, Accounting
Alexander Ljungqvist, NYU
Liandong Zhang, City University of Hong Kong

Neurogenetic Sources of Individual Variation in Sensitivity to the Environment
Adam Anderson, Human Development

Studies of gene-by-environment interactions (G x E) suggest that variation in sensitivity to environmental experiences is in part due to genetic polymorphisms affecting the functioning of neurotransmitter systems. This study addresses the neural and behavioral emotional processes shaped by the neurotransmitter systems that bridge genetic factors to differential impacts of the social environment. The responsiveness of three emotional motivational systems is assessed, each of which is elicited by a class of emotional stimuli ubiquitous to human social experiences: the stress response by aversive stressors; incentive motivation by incentive reward; and social bonding by soft touch. To shed light on the emotional processes linking genetic factors to differential impacts of the environment, the sensitivity of these three emotional systems is measured in individuals who vary genetically in the neuromodulator systems expected to shape emotional processes, namely, corticotropin-releasing hormone, dopamine, endogenous opioids, and serotonin. To assess sensitivity of the stress response, incentive motivation, and social bonding system, participants are exposed to aversive tones, monetary reward, and soft touch (respectively), and immediate responses as well as emotional memory for these exposures are measured at both a neural and behavioral level.

Spring 2017 Update: In the last year Professor Anderson’s lab undertook a large-scale data collection of 600 subjects through behavioral assessment of sensitivity to emotional cues Currently, 100 participants have returned for MRI scanning sessions to assess how neural representations of emotional experiences in individuals with different emotional sensitivities affect memory for salient events, and another 100 are returning this coming semester. The findings have continued to support a distinction between emotional reactivity to a current event and the tendency to embed emotional events into memory for future use. Sensitive individuals who more deeply internalize emotional events, and draw upon experience to inform future judgments, demonstrate stronger adaptation to a history of family adversity relative to individuals who react in the moment to emotional situations but neglect to learn from them.

Media update: Researchers Identify Gene For ‘Emotionally Enhanced Vividness’

Leveraging the Commercialization of Animal Bone-Derived Biofertilizers to Create Entrepreneurship Opportunities for Landless Poor in Ethiopia
Garrick Blalock, Applied Management and Economics
Johannes Lehmann, Crop and Soil Science

Complementary funding for the commercialization of animal bone-­‐derived biofertilizers has already been secured (International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), $212,000. However, after receiving the grant from IFPRI focused on the soil science and production of the biofertilizer we realized the opportunity for a compelling social science experiment (that cannot be part of the scope of the IFPRI grant). Using the existing infrastructure of that larger project and our capable Ethiopian partner, Jimma University, we request seed monies to design and implement a small randomized trial to explore the impact of creating an entrepreneurial opportunity by sourcing the raw materials for biofertilizer derived from animal bones for landless poor households in rural Ethiopia.

Update: The project sought to measure the effectiveness of an entrepreneurship training program  encouraging the landless poor to collect bones for fertilizer production. In January 2016, the researchers identified 96 participants to participate in a baseline survey.  The researchers selected 54 of the 96 to receive a voucher for entrepreneurship training and a permit to collect and sell bones. The other 42 only received a permit.

Working in collaboration with local trainers, the researchers designed a seven-hour, entrepreneurship training course. Of the 54 individuals given a voucher, 46 completed the training.  Of those who took the training course,  82 percent sold bones on at least one occasion. Those who received the training collected significantly more bones, suggesting that the training was effective. A story about the project was featured in Ensia in February 2016.

The Political Economy of Taxation in Latin America
Gustavo Flores-Macías, Government

In spite of the importance of taxation for several areas including state capacity, government accountability, and economic development, existing research on Latin America has largely focused on the design of tax systems. Although an important first step, this emphasis has come at the expense of the political factors associated with the successful adoption of reforms. The conference on “The Political Economy of Taxation in Latin America” seeks to address this deficit. The conference’s first goal is to advance knowledge on the politics of taxation in Latin America by bringing together some of the leading scholars of the political economy of Latin America to present and discuss cutting edge research on the topic. Participants will come from a diversity of backgrounds including political science, fiscal sociology, public policy, and economics, both from academia and international development institutions. The second goal is to set a research agenda and eventually generate a volume based on the knowledge generated at the conference, which should be useful for scholars, policymakers, and students.

Update:  The conference on “The Political Economy of Taxation in Latin America” was held at Cornell on October 14-15, 2015. The conference generated eight original research papers seeking to answer three main questions that remain elusive: Why has taxation remained so low in Latin America? Why has the balance between consumption taxes and income taxes has favored consumption? And what explains variation across countries, with Brazil collecting in taxes about 36 percent of GDP while Mexico collects about 10 percent.

The different papers advanced a number of explanations to address these questions, including differences regarding institutions, economic conditions, historical legacies, resource endowments, interest groups, and cultural practices. These papers will constitute the foundation for an edited volume aimed at bringing together the state of the art in the field.

With the end of the recent global commodity boom, governments are increasingly forced to extract more resources from the population to maintain current levels of services. By understanding the conditions that lead to greater and more progressive extraction, this book seeks to provide government agencies tools to use.

Flores-Macias studies Colombian security tax on country’s elite (2015)

Exploring Conflict, Improvisation and Governance through Practice-Focused Oral Histories: Advancing an International Network of Applied Research
John Forester, City & Regional Planning

Building upon work pioneered at Cornell and reported in four books, with two more forthcoming, Forester will partner with applied research collaborators at universities in Holland, Italy, Japan, and Australia to co-generate and analyze practice-oriented oral histories documenting exemplary urban and environmental place making practices (Forester 1999, 2001, 2009, 2013, Laws and Forester 2015a, and Reardon and Forester, 2015b). Such performance-oriented narrative research provides windows onto necessarily improvised practices in conditions characterized by social and political complexity, contested technical expertise, and public demands for inclusion, recognition, and, not least of all, public deliberations linked to creative negotiation.

Update:  John Forester and La Sapienza’s Professor Daniela De Leo interviewed Italian planning practitioners and prepared several related journal articles under review. De Leo and Forester also plan to publish an edited collection of practitioner profiles as teaching and research materials in the coming year.

De Leo and Forester, along with colleagues, David Laws at the University of Amsterdam and Masa Matsuura, recently of the University of Tokyo, are discussing a meeting in Cornell in 2016-2017 for a workshop devoted to practice studies in their respective fields.

The Scarring Effect of Recessions: A Quantitative Analysis
Christopher Huckfeldt, Economics

What accounts for the high and persistent earnings loss experienced by workers who lose a job during a recession? Standard models of equilibrium unemployment are unable to explain the large and cyclical present value earnings loss associated with job displacement. I propose to study a model of business cycles with equilibrium unemployment, costly wage bargaining, and two key ingredients: (i ) specific human capital, which stochastically appreciates during employment and depreciates during unemployment; and (ii ) the presence of “dead-end” jobs, which do not utilize the worker’s skill input and at which workers accumulate human capital at a slower rate. During a recession, the value of a skilled job to a firm decreases relative to the cost of recruiting a suitable worker. To recoup the costs of job creation, skilled firms – those firms operating the skill-intensive technology – direct recruitment effort towards workers with a higher level of human capital, leaving some unemployed workers who would be able to search for skilled employment during an expansion to search for a low-skill job. Human capital dynamics and the presence of the low-skill firms generate large present value wage losses; the endogenous minimum skill requirement of the firm generates cyclicality in the present value cost. A simplified version of the model with exogenous wages has been able to explain as much as 75% of the average present value loss and 40% of the cyclicality. I show that the mechanisms driving the model are present in the data: using the Displaced Worker Supplement of the Current Population Survey, I find that displaced workers who move to lower-skill occupations following displacement experience large immediate wage losses. As a part of this project, I will extend my empirical analysis to look at the association of long-term employment outcomes with occupation downgrading following displacement, using primarily the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID). I will use my model to study the effectiveness of targeted policy responses in mitigating the cost of job loss to individuals and the e↵ect of these policies on the recovery of an economy following a recession.

Update: This paper documents that the earnings cost of job loss is concentrated among workers who find reemployment in lower-paying occupations, and that the incidence of such occupation displacement is higher for workers who lose their job during a recession. I propose a model where hiring is endogenously more selective during recessions, forcing some unemployed workers to search for lower-skill jobs. In accounting for the cost and cyclical incidence of occupation displacement, the model accounts for existing estimates of the present value cost of job loss during expansions and recessions, and the cost of entering the labor market during a recession.

Comparative Assessment of Intra-Personal and Inter-Personal Emotion Regulation in Robotic Versus Laparoscopic Surgery
Malte Jung, Information Science
Steven Jackson, Information Science

This study addresses the complex collaborative dynamics that arise when robotic surgical systems are deployed into the operating room. While some work has studied the effectiveness of such systems on surgical outcomes, less has focused on how these systems affect social, emotional, and collaborative processes at the team level that are crucial to the performance, experience and effectiveness of the collaborative surgical team. To help bridge this gap this project seeks to explore through a comparative analysis of teamwork in laparoscopic and robotic surgery, how a robotic
surgical system (the daVinci surgical system) affects teamwork and specifically emotion regulation at the team level. A secondary focus is to gather information regarding the redistribution of work and changes in surgical training techniques that result from the introduction of complex robotic tools. By collaborating with a surgical team at Weill Medical College in New York the study will gather ethnographic, video, and interview data on laparoscopic and robot-assisted surgical teamwork and training that can help answer these questions, while illuminating how technological advances within the healthcare system affect collaborative work and the regulation of emotion in tightly collaborative environments.

Update: Based on a literature review, observing a robotic surgery, and multiple interviews with staff at Weill Medical school and with other researchers who have conducted observational research of surgeries, Phase-I of the proposed research plan was completed and a refined study protocol was developed. The research received IRB approval from the Cornell’s IRB board in Ithaca, and approval from the Clinical Study Evaluation Committee at Weill Medical School. Approval from Weill’s IRB board is still outstanding. The delay in part occurred as it became apparent late in the research process that IRB approval from Weill was necessary for this research. Our current objective is to complete observations and analyses by the end of the summer.

Economic Hardship, Citizen Policy Preferences and Political Participation in the Eurozone Periphery: Evidence from Spain
Alexander Kuo, Government
José Fernández-Albertos, Centro de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales

What explains the political resiliency of euro membership and austerity policies in the Eurozone periphery during the ongoing economic crisis? What individual-level factors might explain variation in views towards such policies, as well as views towards new political movements that have challenged the status quo policy package? We propose a data collection project of a nationally representative sample of citizens in one of the most important crisis afflicted countries, Spain, to test a new theoretical framework about the impact of individual level crisis experience on policy preferences and partisan support, particularly of the new upstart populist party Podemos. The proposal entails two surveys, before and after the national elections at the end of 2015, to test a broad theoretical framework about the effect of the experience of the economic crisis on policy views and political preferences. Both survey designs include the use of new measures to capture the extent of one’s network of crisis exposure and more fine-grained measurement of policy preferences that allow for better inference of the causal impact of various policies in proposed policy packages. Both of these innovations are important as network exposure is an oft-theorized but rarely measured predictor of views towards many policies, and “policy packages” are often discussed but not measured precisely in terms of which elements of packages matter for voters to end an economic crisis. The results will contribute to our understanding of how difficult economic times affect voter behavior and the formation of new political movements.

Update: The ISS grant was used to partially fund a large nationally representative sample of individuals in Spain. We gathered much data on political preferences and views on austerity, the euro, and measurement on who has suffered during the economic crisis. Draft papers from this data were presented at the Council for European Studies Meeting in 2016, and will be presented at the European and American Political Science Associations later in 2016.

The Political Economy of the Energy Industry in U.S. States
Claire Lim, Economics

This research explores sources of inefficiencies in regulated industries focusing on the interaction between politics, regulation, and industry dynamics in the context of the U.S. energy industry. The first project explores determinants of executive compensation in the electricity industry for the past 20 years, focusing on three major changes in the industry – deregulation, merger and acquisitions, and changes in the regulators’ ideology. The second project investigates the role of voter initiatives in the way and the degree to which special interest groups influence regulatory policies. The third project investigates the role of campaign contributions as a precursor to lobbying in the energy industry.

Update: The research project that received the ISS grant was on the political economy of energy regulation in the U.S. states. The completed paper supported by the grant, entitled “U.S. Electric Utilities and Deregulation: Trends, States’ Choice, and Political Environments”, investigates the conduct of U.S. electric utilities and deregulation. The results show significant increases in executive salaries, distribution capital, operating expenses, and outages, as well as changes in retail electricity prices. These changes are largely associated with the wave of deregulation. However, the choice of individual states to deregulate their electricity industry had a relatively small impact. Nevertheless, individual states’ political environment, specifically the ideological makeup of the states’ public utility commissions, had an important role in determining the influence of the trend on key aspects of utilities’ conduct.

Marginal Tax Rates and Income: New Time Series Evidence
Karel Mertens, Economics

This project estimates the dynamic effects of tax rate changes on income reported on tax returns in the United States over the 1947-2012 period. The empirical methodology is based on isolating exogenous variation in tax rates in structural vector autoregressions using a narrative identification approach. Preliminary results based on historical variation in the US federal income tax rate reveals large positive effects of average marginal tax rate changes in the top 1% of the income distribution. In contrast to earlier findings based on tax return data, there are also large effects in other income percentile brackets. A hypothetical tax reform cutting marginal income tax  rates only for the top 1% leads to sizeable increases in top 1% incomes and has a positive effect on real GDP. There are also spillover effects to incomes outside of the top 1%, but top marginal rate cuts lead to greater inequality in pre-tax incomes. The project aims to extend the analysis (1) to incorporate the effects of US payroll taxes and (2) to separately identify the effects of average and marginal tax rate changes.

Update: All the tasks in the grant proposal were successfully completed. The thoroughly revised paper was resubmitted to the Quarterly Journal of Economics. Currently a research brief for the Cato institute is being prepared on the paper.

Using new narrative measures of exogenous variation in marginal tax rates associated with postwar tax reforms in the US, this study estimates short run elasticities of taxable income of around 1.2 based on time series from 1946 to 2012. Elasticities are larger in the top 1% of the income distribution but are also positive and statistically significant for other income groups. Previous time series studies of tax returns data have found little evidence for income responses to taxes outside the top of the income distribution. The different results in this study arise because of additional efforts to account for dynamics, expectations and especially the endogeneity of tax policy decisions. Marginal rate cuts lead to increases in real GDP and declines in unemployment. This study also presents evidence that the responses are to marginal rather than average tax rates. Counterfactual tax cuts targeting the top 1% alone have positive effects on economic activity and incomes outside of the top 1% but increase inequality in pre-tax incomes. The data and methodology in this study do not permit any conclusions about the impact of tax rate changes targeting lower income taxpayers alone.

Developing Methods for Joint Analysis of Closed-Ended and Open-Ended Survey Data
David Mimno, Information Science
Eric Baumer, Communication, Information Science

Survey data often include a variety of response types, ranging from closed­ended Likert questions to open­ended free text. While extensive statistical techniques are available for closed­ended, quantitative data, relatively limited techniques are available for analyze open­ended or free text data at large scales. Topic modeling, a computational text analysis technique, may be applied and combined with more traditional statistical tools to provide a powerful means of jointly analyzing data in multiple diverse formats. This proposal presents some early exploratory analysis with one or more data sets, describes challenges and questions, offers some examples for addressing those challenges, and details a plan to prepare an NSF proposal on the topic to develop a tool that could be easily used by social scientists who have limited expertise in topic modeling or computational methods.
Media:  Addicted to Facebook? Study Explains Why (2015).

Update: This research resulted in a submission to the journal Social Media + Society, which was published in December 2015. The article used mixed methods to analyze factors influencing whether or not people were successfully able to give up Facebook. For instance, people who describe their social media use in terms of addiction were more likely to return to the site, while those who thought about Facebook primarily in terms of surveillance were less likely to return. This work has received significant coverage in the popular press, including the NY Daily News, DNA India, Daily Mail UK, Rochester TV station WHAM, and the Huffington Post. The work also helped advance writing of an NSF proposal to develop further the methods pioneered in this work.

Where Has STS Traveled?
Trevor Pinch, Science & Technology Studies
Michael Lynch, Science & Technology Studies
Bruce Lewenstein, Communication, Science & Technology Studies

The objective of this proposal is to secure partial support for a conference at Cornell University in 2016 in order to take stock of the newly emergent interdisciplinary field of Science and Technology Studies (STS) and to explore new directions. The meeting will at the same time commemorate the 40th anniversary of the first meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S), which was held at Cornell in 1976. The proposed three-day meeting will host some of the original participants, as well as many others who have contributed to the field in the years since the first meeting. The goal will be to encourage discussion of new developments, initiatives, and future prospects for Science & Technology Studies.

Update: Conference held in October 2016. See the agenda. Society for Social Studies of Science Celebrates 40 Years.

Effects of Perceived Economic Inequality on Sustainability and Collective Action
Jonathon Schuldt, Communication

The proposed research uses a socioeconomically diverse national sample to explore how public perceptions of social inequality influence efforts to mobilize cooperative solutions to one of the most
pressing social issues today: anthropogenic climate change and its mitigation. Drawing from behavioral science research on intergroup relations, it is hypothesized that perceptions of greater income inequality (experimentally varied using different message frames) will enhance perceived intergroup versus collective responsibility for climate change, heighten competitive versus cooperative approaches to resource use, and reduce felt personal responsibility for taking climate-mitigating action. It is also expected that greater perceived inequality will result in lower personal motivations to join environmental initiatives among lower-income respondents. This study represents an important initial step in examining how rising economic inequality may reduce cooperative efforts to address large-scale collective challenges such as global climate change.

Update:Social inequity has become a key focal point of international climate negotiations as the world’s nations seek to address the differential impacts of climate change on the rich and poor. Although the problem of climate change may make both present and future inequities salient, this project sought to explore whether the opposite might also be true. Specifically, an experiment using a large national quota sample of U.S. adults (N=1044) fielded during the summer of 2015 examined whether awareness of rising economic inequality would motivate actions to mitigate climate change, particularly among those with more egalitarian world views. Results of the survey experiment were presented at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s preconference on Sustainability Psychology in 2016. Additional results will be presented at the Association for Psychological Science and the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues conferences, also in 2016  People of Color Care About Climate Change, But Are Less Likely to Call Themselves Environmentalists (Huffington Post, March 21, 2016).

Love and Terror: The Meaning of the Manson Murders in American Culture, 1969-Present
Claudia Verhoeven, History

The Manson Family’s 1969 Tate-LaBianca murder case is one of the most infamous in twentieth-century US criminal history and often described as the event that “ended” the Sixties. Nevertheless, although there exists a veritable “Manson Industry” in the popular realm, not one scholarly history has even been written on this notorious case. This lacuna in the literature is quite astonishing, especially given that the Manson murders sit at the crux of American culture. The case provides an opportunity to analyze gender (the so-called “Manson girls,” slavishly devoted to the patriarchal Manson during a high tide of feminism); class (lower class Manson, middle class followers); race (Manson’s “Helter Skelter” race war theory, as well as the Family’s relations with the Black Panthers and the Aryan Brotherhood); geo-politics (Vietnam, international revolutionary culture, political violence); pop- and mass-culture (Manson’s music and film industry connections, Polanski and Tate, The Beatles); social movements (counterculture, protest, hippies, bikers, outlaws), religious cults (Scientology, Church of Satan, The Process); the justice system (the trials, the prison, the parole system); mass media (news coverage, films, talk-shows); and militant environmentalism (Manson’s Air Tree Water and Animals, or ATWA, movement). The Manson case, in other words, is both a microcosm and a limit case of late modern American politics and culture.

Update: The Manson Family’s 1969 Tate-LaBiance murder case has occupied a central place in America’s collective imagination for nearly half a century, yet the meaning of this preoccupation remains largely opaque. Verhoeven’s research inquires into the politics of this case as well as America’s emotionally charged relationship with it. With the support of an ISS Small Grant, Verhoeven gathered archival materials such as trial transcripts, newspapers, and photographs from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, the Archives and Records Center of the Los Angeles Hall of Records, and the Los Angeles Public Library. The earliest results of this research will appear as “’Now is the Time for Helter Skelter’: Terror, Temporality, and the Manson Family” in Time and Power, an anthology edited by Stefanos Geroulanos, Dan Edelstein, and Natasha Wheatley (forthcoming late 2017).

On the Causal Effect of Income Taxes on Corporate Risk-Taking and Hedging: Evidence from State Income Tax Changes
Luo Zuo, Accounting
Alexander Ljungqvist, NYU
Liandong Zhang, City University of Hong Kong

Corporate income taxes affect a firm’s investment decisions because the amounts, timing, and uncertainty of tax payments and deductions have direct bearing on the calculation of a project’s net present value. Traditionally, researchers focus on the effect of tax incentives on the level of corporate investment (e.g., Hall and Jorgenson 1967; Summers 1981; Edgerton 2010). However, whether and how tax incentives affect the riskiness of corporate investment has received little attention. In this project, we propose to investigate the causal effect of income taxes on corporate risk-taking and hedging by exploiting staggered changes in corporate income tax rates across U.S. states over the period 1989 to 2011. Our preliminary analysis suggests that tax increases reduce corporate risk-taking but tax cuts have no effect on firm risk-taking. These results are consistent with the idea that firms increase their hedging activities when tax increases. Through hedging, corporations reduce the volatility of taxable income to reduce expected tax liabilities and to increase debt capacity and the tax benefits of debt. We propose to investigate this specific mechanism through which fiscal policies affect corporate decision making.

Update: Research was published in “Sharing Risk with the Government: How Taxes Affect Corporate Risk-Taking” in the Journal of Accounting Research and featured in The Atlantic.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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