Including researchers in evolutionary biology, genetics and entomology, from Harvard, MIT, Hebrew University…and one attorney, this year’s BAHFest East competition (Festival of Bad Ad-Hoc Hypotheses) at MIT was a forum for presenting bogus theories substantiated by voluminous evidence. An audience of more than 1,000 heard six theories. Using creativity, the quality of the evidence, scientific credibility and an applause meter, a four judge panel selected a winner.
Where are we going? To a real economic theory that might have entered the competition.
Similar to respected economic theorists, this year’s winning researcher had the facts, the math, and a convincing argument as he proved that the middle age male’s donut-shaped midsection was an evolutionary adaptation. Dormant during the hunter-gatherer era, the donut gene facilitated survival in 4,000 BC in alluvial flood plains like the Nile’s. With no time to build boats when the water was rising, the family just ran to dad, as the presenter explained, grabbed his handles and together, they floated. Need more evidence? This probability function proves it all: P0 (T1>T2).
Below, and equally funny is the 2013 winner with his unbearability theory of crying babies.
A Potential (Economic) BAHFest Winner
According to University of Pennsylvania economist Joel Waldfogel, there is an “orgy of value destruction” during the holidays. The price of what we give rarely is worth as much to the recipient. Explaining, he says that if you are willing to pay only $25 for that $50 sweater your Aunt Minnie gave you, then $25 of value is destroyed. Called deadweight loss, Waldfogel estimates that 18 percent of the value of all gifts given during the December holidays disappears. (The American Economic Review published his thesis in December 1993.)
Here are some of his results:
Our Bottom Line: Misleading Statistics
Reminding us that convincing statistics can confirm questionable theories, the BAHFest relates to much more than evolutionary biology. As we commented last year when looking at African GDP statistics, numbers can be a respectability guise that obscure a more accurate conclusion. But for Dr. Waldfogel’s gift giving thesis, I suspect we are just supposed to smile and then shop.
And finally, for many more smiles, you can hear the abdominal bulge hypothesis at the BAHFest starting approximately at 1:50:00 or spend two hours looking at the entire competition.