Spring 2018 Small Grant Awards

For Cornell Chronicle coverage, click here.

Conferences

Authoritative and Contentious Knowledge: Democracy in the Era of “Fake News”
Kenneth Roberts, Government

Ecological Learning Collaboratory for Food, Healing, and Spatial Justice
Neema Kudva, City and Regional Planning
Rachel Bezner-Kerr, Development Sociology
Stacey Langwick, Anthropology

Projects

“Too-big-to-fail” and Historical Banking Crises
Matt Baron,  SC Johnson College of Business

Estimating Risk Preferences with Limited Consideration
Levon Barseghyan, Economics
Francesca Molinari, Economics

Revolutionizing Assessment of Children’s Early Numerical Abilities with Portable EEG
Daniel Cassanto, Human Development

Libertarian Noir: Unsettled Histories of Exit and Enclosure
Raymond Craib, History

Work that Kills: The Social Life of a Bosnian Weapons Factory
Saida Hodžić, Anthropology; Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

How Car Donation Programs Change the Lives of Poor Families
Nicholas Klein, City and Regional Planning

Water Conservation and Management: Agricultural Water Use, Climate Change, and Government Policy
C.-Y. Cynthia Lin Lawell, Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management

A Critical Examination of After School Programming at Racially Diverse, Title I Middle Schools in Urban Communities
Tashara M. Leak, Division of Nutritional Sciences

Paying for Privacy While Selling your Data?
Aija Leiponen, Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management

Gender, qualifications, and preferential hiring: Who gets hired, and under which conditions?
Neil Lewis, Communication

Minority Hiring Quotas and Worker/Firm Match Quality: Evidence from Brazil
Evan Riehl, Economics

Collaborative Documentation of the Endangered Language Bororo
Mats Rooth, Linguistics
Pedro Rabelo Erber, Romance Studies

Cross-cultural Public Opinion on Climate Change Amid Global Energy Transitions
Jonathon Schuldt, Communication

Cascades and Fluctuations in an Economy with an Endogenous Production Network
Mathieu Taschereau-Dumouchel, Economics

Status and the Politics of National Decline
Steven Ward, Government

China’s Tree Crop Explosion: Impacts on Rural Development, Livelihoods, and Environmental Change
John Zinda, Development Sociology

 


Conferences

Authoritative and Contentious Knowledge: Democracy in the Era of “Fake News”
Kenneth Roberts, Government

To function properly, democratic institutions require that rival actors share at least a basic understanding of what makes political claims factual. In recent years this shared understanding has broken down in a U.S. political landscape riven by partisan and ideological polarization, producing myriad claims about “rigged elections,” “fake news,” and federal investigative commissions transformed into partisan “witch-hunts.” Partisan “tribalism” has arguably been reinforced by new social media, which have altered the flow and consumption of political information, as well as the ways in which individual citizens network and communicate with others. The proposed conference will bring together scholars from different disciplinary perspectives to analyze why the types of knowledge claims and expertise that used to be recognized as authoritative are increasingly subjected to public contestation, or simply dismissed as covers for partisan ends. Insights from studies of social psychology, social networking, and democratic deliberation will examine how knowledge claims are constructed and contested in public opinion, the media, and electoral campaigns.

Ecological Learning Collaboratory for Food, Healing, and Spatial Justice
Neema Kudva, City and Regional Planning
Rachel Bezner-Kerr, Development Sociology
Stacey Langwick, Anthropology

This proposal seeks support for a five-day conference/workshop that will launch the Ecological Learning Collaboratory, a two-year experimental collaboration to explore the learning, dissemination and innovation of ecological strategies in the development of just and sustainable food and healing systems. Each of the three faculty collaborators brings a different disciplinary strategy (anthropology, sociology and urban planning) and strong relationships with long term colleagues and collaborators in South Asia and Africa who are actively working to address the health of their communities. The larger project proposes a series of exchanges with and between these groups from India, Malawi, and Tanzania in order to consider how to create ecological and just learning spaces that foster social innovation and equity around healthy food, medicines and the right to place. The Collaboratory will be a space through which our colleagues in India, Malawi, and Tanzania could both seek out and offer innovative solutions to ecological dilemmas as well as bring their practice to the heart of theoretical and political debates.

Projects

“Too-big-to-fail” and Historical Banking Crises
Matt Baron,  SC Johnson College of Business

The project proposes to assess the role of “too-big-to-fail” (TBTF) and concentration in the banking industry, and its effect on financial stability, in a long-run historical context. Bank concentration is often thought to lead to excessive bank risk taking, due to the moral hazard associated with being TBTF; on the other hand, concentrated banking systems may be more stable, because of banks’ incentives to protect their franchise value, greater asset diversification, and more focused regulation. This project proposes to collect new historical data on bank concentration and government bailouts to re-assess the trade-offs involved with TBTF. This grant would be used to fund the transcription and cleaning of data on bank concentration, bank failures, and government bailouts during banking crises in 17 countries over the period 1870- 2016. The proposed research design is centered around three questions regarding the role of TBTF banks and financial stability. The preliminary historical evidence suggests some unexpected financial stability benefits of having a highly concentrated banking system and has implications for financial regulation.

Estimating Risk Preferences with Limited Consideration
Levon Barseghyan, Economics
Francesca Molinari, Economics

The cognitive process through which individuals evaluate alternative prospects and select one presents multiple layers of complexity. Among them, which of the prospects the individuals actually do consider looms especially large. In fact, a sizable literature spanning microeconomics, behavioral economics, psychology, and marketing has proposed different models of “limited attention” and “limited consideration.” This proposal aims to:
(i) Put forward a semi-nonparametric empirical model of discrete choice with limited consideration;
(ii) Characterize what can be learned about the parameters and distribution functions in
the model from the available data and maintained assumptions;
(iii) Provide methods to build confidence intervals (confidence bands) and test hypotheses
about these parameters (distribution functions);
(iv) Apply the theoretical findings in (i)-(iii) to analyze household decision making under risk – a central theme to every field of economics.

The empirical analysis specifically endeavors to learn risk preferences from individuals’ choices in property insurance markets and to assess the welfare impact of policy interventions in these markets. It will be carried out on existing proprietary data from a large property and casualty insurance company, where individuals choose deductible insurance in three different but closely related contexts: auto collision, auto comprehensive, and home all perils.

Throughout, the econometric model allows for individuals to have heterogeneous preference types and heterogeneous preferences within type. It is assumed that the researcher has access to data describing the menu of feasible alternatives available to each individual, the characteristics of the alternatives, some characteristics of the individuals, and the alternative chosen by each individual. In contrast to much of the related literature (e.g., Goeree, 2008; Gaynor, Propper, and Seiler, 2016), it is not assumed that auxiliary data are available to identify the distribution of consideration sets – defined as the subsets of the feasible alternatives available to the individuals that they actually consider when making their choices. Such data are not commonly available to applied researchers, and it is therefore necessary to be able to make progress in their absence.

Revolutionizing Assessment of Children’s Early Numerical Abilities with Portable EEG
Daniel Cassanto, Human Development

Years before children can count or do arithmetic, they can judge approximate quantities (a large pile of apples vs. a small pile). This ability depends on an approximate number system (ANS). Although the ANS appears to be evolutionarily ancient, its acuity varies between individuals and groups, and variation in young children’s ANS predicts their later success in symbolic math, from preschool to college. Interventions that sharpen the ANS can lead to improved arithmetic. Yet, no method has been developed to track the progress of the ANS across developmental time, and the methods used within age groups have poor reliability and questionable validity: They depend on non-numerical skills (such as attentional control) and may be subject to cultural bias. The research proposed here will develop a rapid, repeatable, and culture-neutral method to assess the acuity of individual children’s ANS using low-cost portable electroencephalography (EEG).  Because this method is task-free (participants need only to look at an attention-capturing display) it should be possible to use the same measure in participants of all ages, from infants to adults, allowing researchers to accurately track the early-emerging math achievement gap between high- and low-SES children, and to assess the efficacy of interventions. In extensions of this project, we will port this measure into other species to determine what aspects of the ANS are evolutionarily conserved, and what aspects of our basic numerical abilities are uniquely human.

Libertarian Noir: Unsettled Histories of Exit and Enclosure
Raymond Craib,
History

This book, rooted in research on four continents, examines historical and contemporary efforts of self-professed libertarians to territorially exit the nation-state and create forms of private governance. Long relegated to the realm of science fiction or utopian techno-fantasy, such projects have become commonplace in recent years–from the San Francisco-based Seasteading Institute’s plans for autonomous platforms offshore of Tahiti to U.S. venture capitalists’ efforts to construct autonomous ‘start-up cities’ in Honduras—with potentially serious implications for democratic politics, nation-state sovereignty, and human equality.

Work that Kills: The Social Life of a Bosnian Weapons Factory
Saida Hodžić, Anthropology; Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

“When Igman employs, Konjic lives,” say Bosnian newspapers testifying to the success of a weapons factory on whose global trade in bullets hinges the survival of an entire town and the surrounding region. In a country with one of the world’s highest unemployment rates, Igman, the weapons factory, is understood as a beacon of hope. But what does it mean for Konjic to live when the very source of livelihood is lethal to people’s bodies, their environment, and, for some, their spirits? This research project examines how people in Konjic reckon with Igman’s lethal legacies. It examines the workers’ experiences with health hazards, their critique of ecological destruction, and their views on the lethal purpose of ammunition production. By illuminating how the workers and others in Konjic reckon with the life-giving and life-taking character of their labor, this project will contribute to necessary public critique of ecological destruction and health hazards caused by the deregulated weapons industry. By bringing an analysis of postindustrial decay, environmental deregulation, and stark precarity in conversation with one another, this project also speaks to pressing global concerns in the 21st century.

How Car Donation Programs Change the Lives of Poor Families
Nicholas Klein, City and Regional Planning

What happens when you give poor families a car? Does car ownership change their lives for the better or for the worse? For several decades, transportation scholars have suggested that giving poor families cars can help them obtain jobs and move up the economic ladder. Yet these programs have rarely been studied. My research will address this gap by studying how poor families lives change when they receive a car from the largest vehicle donation program in the country. First, I will analyze existing survey data collected by the vehicle donation program to assess the changes in employment status, earnings and travel behavior. Second, I will interview the recipients of these cars to study how access to a car enables participating in a richer social and civic life, expanded education and cultural opportunities, and improved healthcare access.

Water Conservation and Management: Agricultural Water Use, Climate Change, and Government Policy
C.-Y. Cynthia Lin Lawell, Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management

Water is one of our world’s most essential natural resources, but it a resource that is becoming increasingly scarce, and its scarcity may be exacerbated by climate change. The conservation and management of scarce water resources is therefore an important, significant, and critical issue of our time. However, well-intentioned water conservation and management policies may have perverse consequences if policymakers do not account for water users’ behavioral responses to their policies. We propose to use cutting-edge structural econometric models combining economics, econometrics, dynamic optimization, and game theory to model and analyze agricultural water use decision-making behavior and the effects of various alternative policies on this behavior and its outcomes; and then use this information to design sustainable and effective water conservation and management policies that maximize net benefits to society.

Update: This research has resulted in a peer-reviewed publication “Jevons’ Paradox and efficient irrigation technology.”

A Critical Examination of After School Programming at Racially Diverse, Title I Middle Schools in Urban Communities
Tashara M. Leak, Division of Nutritional Sciences

Research suggests that low-income, minority adolescents are at risk for having adultified cooking responsibilities due to a variety of poverty-related factors, as well as due to cultural norms and expectations. Despite this evidence, few opportunities exist in the public school setting where limited-resource, minority adolescents are provided education and skills to manage adultified cooking responsibilities that promote positive health behaviors. For this study, qualitative interviews will be conducted with a purposive sample of New York City Title I middle school principals in order to examine the presence and interest in culturally relevant after school programming that aims to improve culinary science knowledge, as well as cooking skills and cooking self-efficacy. Study participants will also complete a survey, which will include questions about individual-level sociodemographic characteristics, school-level characteristics, and questions about after school activities offered. Lastly, school observations will be conducted in order to assess the availability of space and equipment for after school programming. The interviews will be audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Themes will be identified using grounded theory and the constant comparative method. Descriptive statistics will be calculated for the survey data and school observational data. Study findings will inform the development of the Advanced Cooking Education (ACE) Program, an evidence-based and culturally inclusive culinary science 4-H after school club that will target racially diverse students attending Title I middle schools in urban communities.

Paying for Privacy While Selling your Data?
Aija Leiponen, Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management

The privacy paradox that individuals’ stated preferences for privacy are strong while their revealed preferences for privacy are weak has been confounding researchers in recent years, especially for digital personal data. As a possible explanation for these seemingly disparate preferences, this project experimentally tests whether individuals perceive privacy to be distinct from the non-disclosure of personal information—even though they can be objectively identical. Thus, how an individual values personal data may vary depending on whether it is framed as a transfer of information or a purchase of protection, as well as on the potential discrimination and exposure people face when information is released. This laboratory study examines individuals’ preferences over various privacy goods in a hypothetical data marketplace. Valuation of privacy is elicited after participants take a personality quiz to calculate their “trustworthiness” score. First, this study posits that privacy decisions are influenced differently depending on whether they are framed as concealing versus releasing personal information. Second, the study explores whether normative judgments of information (i.e. whether the test subjects are rated as “trustworthy” or “not trustworthy”) has any effect on the individual’s revealed preferences over privacy goods.Finally, this project explores other non-normative factors influencing the data market decision-maker, including the length of time between choices and outcomes.

Gender, qualifications, and preferential hiring: Who gets hired, and under which conditions?
Neil Lewis, Communication

Previous research in the social sciences documented that women are often discriminated against in academic hiring processes, and that these discriminatory processes contribute to the under-representation of women in tenure-track faculty positions (e.g., Meyer, Cimpian, & Leslie, 2015; Steinpreis, Anders, & Ritzke, 1999). More recent research however, has called these findings into question. Specifically, in a national experiment on faculty hiring, Williams and Ceci (2015) found a 2:1 faculty preference for women job candidates for STEM tenure track positions. These inconsistencies in findings suggest that more research is needed to understand the conditions under which women may be advantaged versus disadvantaged in academic searches. My collaborators and I have conducted some preliminary studies to reconcile the conflicting results in the academic hiring literature. To date we have found that a key moderator may be ambiguity within the candidate’s application information. Specifically, our preliminary results suggest that when candidates are unambiguously strong, there may be a hiring preference for women, consistent with the Williams and Ceci (2015) account. However, when there is some ambiguity in the candidate’s strength (e.g., weaknesses in teaching evaluations), there may be a hiring preference for men, consistent with other accounts (e.g., Meyer et al., 2015; Steinpreis et al., 1999). These preliminary findings need to be replicated and validated in a field experiment with a more externally valid (rather than convenient) sample. That is the goal of the current research project.

Minority Hiring Quotas and Worker/Firm Match Quality: Evidence from Brazil
Evan Riehl, Economics

Minority hiring quotas, which aim to increase diversity in high-paying jobs, are often accused of “reverse discrimination” if they lead to hiring on the basis of race rather than expected worker productivity. This project asks how minority hiring quotas affect the quality of the worker/firm match as measured by average wages and job retention rates. The project uses unique administrative data from Brazil that matches the universe of college graduates in the country to their first jobs. To identify causal mechanisms, it exploits a 2014 national policy that reserved 20 percent of all federal executive branch jobs for blacks. By comparing changes in employment outcomes across graduates with differential exposure to this reform, the project will shed light on the merits of reverse discrimination as a counterargument to affirmative action in the labor market.

Collaborative Documentation of the Endangered Language Bororo
Mats Rooth, Linguistics
Pedro Rabelo Erber, Romance Studies

The present project targets two complementary aspects in the study of endangered and under-documented languages: from a descriptive perspective, we propose to use computational methods as ancillary tools in the documentation and description of endangered and under-documented languages. From a conservation and revitalization perspective, we aim to start working on pedagogic tools to promote the use of these languages among the indigenous peoples, and, importantly, raise awareness to the issues faced by the indigenous languages and peoples of Brazil. A case study is presented for Bororo (Bororoan, Central Brazil, ≃ 1290 speakers), the last living language of its family (Simons & Fennig, 2017), classified as “definitely endangered” under UNESCO’s 6 levels of language endangerment (Moseley, 2010). We propose to bring the Bororo speaker-consultant we have been working with from Brazil to Cornell, to produce laboratory-recorded speech corpora of Bororo, complete with transcripts, a phonetic dictionary, computationally derived temporal alignments for the corpus, a prototype computational phonological and phonetic realization models for the language, and data and hypotheses about linguistic phenomena in Bororo. At the request of the speaker-consultant (upon consultation with the Bororo community), we will also conduct preliminary research to both create a book to be used to teach the Bororo language to the youngsters in the community, and an updated dictionary of Bororo. During his stay, as an interdisciplinary endeavor between the Department of Linguistics and the Department of Romance Studies, colloquia featuring the Bororo speaker-consultant will be organized to raise awareness on issues regarding indigenous peoples, languages, and related policies in Brazil.

Cross-cultural Public Opinion on Climate Change Amid Global Energy Transitions
Jonathon Schuldt, Communication

The proposed research uses socioeconomically diverse national samples to examine Chinese and American public opinion on climate change mitigation efforts during a time of substantial policy shifts in both countries—particularly, the Chinese government’s recent mandated transition from coal to gas winter heating (being fully implemented this Winter 2017- 2018 season) and the U.S. decision to withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. Drawing on theories from intergroup relations, perceived normative influence, and cross-cultural psychology, we hypothesize that support for personally costly but socially beneficial environmental policies will vary depending on the salient “collective” that individuals have in mind when considering these tradeoffs, and their perceptions of that same collective’s willingness to sacrifice for the common good. We pursue this hypothesis in the context of Chinese-U.S. relations on climate change, which have been fraught with accusations of blame and distrust on both sides, offering a valuable and timely opportunity to examine how social perceptions shape public opinion on climate change across cultures and scales.

Cascades and Fluctuations in an Economy with an Endogenous Production Network
Mathieu Taschereau-Dumouchel, Economics

Macroeconomists are increasingly interested in the network structure of production — the set of input-output linkages between producers — to explain the origin of aggregate fluctuations. Recent work has found that, depending on the shape of the production network, shocks to individual producers could either die out quickly or gain steam as they propagate through the network. Yet, our current theoretical models for network economies assume that the shape of the production network is fixed and that it does not respond to shocks in any way. However, a rapid look at the data shows that links between firms are constantly created or destroyed, mostly as firms enter or exit the economy. This project seeks to first build a model of endogenous network formation and then to calibrate the model on the United States economy to quantitatively evaluate how the changes in the production network affect the aggregate economy.

Status and the Politics of National Decline
Steven Ward, Government

Over the past decade, fears about the decline of the United States relative to other countries (especially China) have become a prominent feature of American political discourse. While anxiety about losing power on the world stage has been a recurrent phenomenon in the United States since the 1950s, the present bout of pessimism – combining reactions to the disastrous Iraq War, the 2008 financial crisis, and most recently the rise of Donald Trump – makes this the deepest and most serious crisis of confidence in postwar American history. This project explores the political and strategic consequences of anxiety about lost or eroding national status by combining insights from social theory and social psychology. I use survey experiments to investigate hypotheses about the heterogenous ways in which different individuals and groups react to relative national decline, and how these responses combine to influence the declining state’s politics and foreign policy.

China’s Tree Crop Explosion: Impacts on Rural Development, Livelihoods, and Environmental Change
John Zinda, Development Sociology

Expanding tree crop cultivation across China is bringing dramatic social and environmental changes. In a country where grain cultivation long dominated agriculture, perennial crops are taking over many landscapes. As they proliferate, local governments are retooling entire regions around tree crop production and processing, and patterns of land access are changing as farmers and firms obtain land from smallholders. State policies present tree crops as a solution that will fuse rural development, provision of vital commodities, and environmental rehabilitation. What changes are tree crops bringing to landscapes, to rural communities, and to global commodity chains? This pilot study will provide initial answers to these questions with a survey of current trends in tree crop planting in China and case studies of key commodities. It will lay groundwork for a larger project that combines an analysis of drivers of tree crop plantation across China with in-depth case studies to examine how differences across commodities and locales shape rural development, inequalities in land access and income, and environmental impacts.