Science and Technology links (December 19th 2020)

    1. The Flynn effect is the idea that people get smarter over time (generation after generation). The negative effect is the recent observations that people are getting dumber. It seems that there is no negative Flynn effect after all. We are not getting dumber.
    2. Year 536 was one of the worse years to be alive. Temperatures fell 1.5C to 2.5C during the summer and crops failed. Mass starvation soon followed. Cold weather is deadly.
    3. A drug reversed age-related cognitive decline in mice within a few days.
    4. Glucosamine, a popular supplement, reduces mortality. It may not do much against joint pain, however.
    5. Singapore will have flying electric taxi services.
    6. Japan’s population is projected to fall from a peak of 128 million in 2017 to less than 53 million by the end of the century.
    7. NASA spent $23.7 billion on the Orion spacecraft, which flew once. Meanwhile, the private company SpaceX received less than $20 billion in funding and executed more than 100 launches to orbit, it made vertical landing work, and more.
    8. We are working far fewer hours.

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

5 thoughts on “Science and Technology links (December 19th 2020)”

  1. I am suspicious of a conclusion about “working fewer hours” when the numbers are only about paid work, and exclude unpaid work.

    For example, those statistics exclude what was traditionally called “women’s work” – raising children, cooking, cleaning, washing and making clothes, etc. for no pay. That was a full-time, unpaid job, where the cash income typically came from the husband.

    I expect that this work has decreased. Pre-made clothes and food are much cheaper now, so it can be better to get a job and use the income to purchase clothes and ready-to-eat food. Laundry machines are also big time-saver.

    On the other hand, changes in culture mean that parents (and especially women) spend more time raising their children. For example, young children now are much less likely to go to/from school on their own because of an increased worry about safety. Is this “work”? For some, it takes away from the time available to do paid work, so for them I’ll say “yes”.

    Or, a deliberately naive interpretation is that if the amount of paid work is constant and the workforce greatly increases as more women work, then of course the overall amount of work per worker will go down.

    Even if total (paid) work for the household increases.

    Their data at https://ourworldindata.org/time-use shows that over three hours per day, per person, are spent in shopping, housework, care work, and other unpaid work, while paid work counts for 4h11 min of the time. Which means that unpaid work is a substantial fraction of overall daily work, nearly equal to the amount of paid work.

    I saw no discussion about the amount of unpaid work, so while I can accept that the amount of paid work per person has generally decreased, I think there’s a missing step between decreasing paid work and decreasing work.

      1. I would add that while “my” work day may have gone from 10 hours in 1900 to 8 hours in 2020, I now spend 12 hours away from the house from when I leave for work and when I get home, which probably still represents and increase from those days. I may be a bit of an outlier – but not by very much. The average commute time in the GTA is an hour, so for those folks, about 10 1/2 hours away from the home per day.

        Travel time is almost certainly worse than it used to be (and likely less healthy too).

      2. My suspicion is not because of my personal consideration that certainly part of unpaid child-minding is work, but the question of why they decided to not include unpaid work as part of “work”, even when their own data includes “care work” and “housework”.

        Paul Samuelson famously noted that if a man were to marry his maid, then (all else being equal) the GDP would fall. If the widower van Trapp marries his nanny who he previously paid to take care of his eight kids, are we to believe that a marriage license suddenly means that raising those kids is no longer “work”?

        Samuelson’s comment is well-known, as are follow-on commentary like “GDP fetishism” (https://www.econlib.org/library/Columns/y2010/HendersonGDP.html ), which points out the how GDP (or I argue by analogy, reduction in “paid work”) doesn’t necessarily translate to well-being.

        Furthermore, we know that paid vs. unpaid work is a problem. Italy is an outlier in their time-use diary data, with only 149 minutes of paid work per day, even though overall paid work chart puts Italy at about 280 minutes per worker. This is because a large fraction of women in Italy aren’t employed. (And even those who are employed end up doing a lot of unpaid work on top of it – in total working far more than men on average.) The economic disparity in the gender roles supports domestic abuse and a sense of second-class citizenship – see https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/07/italian-campaigners-housewives-paid-salary for discussion.

        Since Samuelson’s critique is well-enough known that a programmer like me knows about it, I can’t help but wonder why it wasn’t discussed, which makes me suspicious that they give a too-simple interpretation of the data.

  2. Also (sorry, this occurred to me after re-reading the linked research piece), this does not take into account the very many people who do work “outside hours”. Our ever increasing connected-ness allows work to reach its tendrils into our personal time. I have found myself checking work e-mail, and other activities on “my” time. I also find myself doing unpaid overtime when I work from home (in part due to the dividend from not spending time commuting).

    I also hear of people who have “agreed” to finish work on a particular schedule, and find themselves working long hours at home to keep to their timetable.

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