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Rajan Sambandam

From Script to Hit

Posted by on in Rajan Sambandam

Recently Slumdog Millionaire won the Oscar for best picture. It’s already considerable box office muscle is going to be further enhanced. But this was a movie that nearly did not get made. The money men who read the script did not think it was a likely candidate for success and hence it had to go through its own harrowing twists and turns to hit the screen. That is not at all an atypical scenario in the world of movies. Predicting box-office success is very difficult. It is difficult even when the movie has been made and pre-screening reviews are available. The task is considerably more difficult when only the script is available for prediction. Someone who decides to plunk down money will have to visualize a lot based on words on paper. In this kind of difficult situation is it possible to make good predictions about the success of a script if one were to take an analytical approach? Yes, say three researchers who have demonstrated a method of doing precisely that.


License to Thrill

Posted by on in Rajan Sambandam

It is generally accepted that purchasing luxury products (ones that provide more pleasure or thrill than utility) is associated with at least some feelings of guilt. This makes it more difficult for manufacturers of products such as expensive cars and designer jeans to sell them, as consumers may have negative feelings and find it harder to justify the purchase. But is this still the case if purchase context is taken into account? Many real world purchase decisions are not made in isolation. The consumer's mindset, the store environment, the state of the economy and other factors influence what is purchased. However, a lot of purchase decisions are studied by themselves without taking into account these kinds of contextual factors. One such factor is the previous choice made by the consumer. In studying this issue with relation to the purchase of luxury products and prior altruistic intentions, two researchers found interesting conclusions.


Books: The Immortal Game

Posted by on in Rajan Sambandam

The Immortal Game: A History of Chess by David Shenk

Chess is not new. Even those who have never played it know enough to recognize the game and its important pieces and terms. But to get a real understanding of its development over time and its influence on all manner of affairs, David Shenk's book is a great place to start. As an excellent science writer and descendent of a legendary chess player he brings great rigorousness and lucid writing to this history of chess. The title is a double entendre that refers to chess itself and a specific game played more than 150 years ago. As Shenk lays out the story of chess in each chapter he also shows, move by move, how that specific game played out, leading to a terrific conclusion.

Precious few of us are completely unbiased. Many of us would like to believe that we are unbiased when it comes to questions of race, gender, appearance etc, and would even say so when asked in surveys. But evidence indicates that at the aggregate level bias is real and prevalent. For instance, research by Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan has shown very clear bias in the selection of candidates for job interviews. They ran an experiment where they sent in resumes to real jobs where nothing was different except for how African-American some of the applicants' names sounded. In spite of equal qualifications, white names received 50% more interview calls. Sadly this was true even for federal jobs where "Equal Opportunity" is explicitly advertised. So, if bias exists but people won't say they are biased, how does one go about measuring it? Cleverly, of course. Here we will discuss two interesting indirect ways of measuring bias: Implicit Association Test (IAT) and Conjoint Analysis (CA).

Sports fans and announcers often talk about hot streaks of particular players - times when a player just can't miss. This phenomenon is supposedly seen in multiple sports and some players are in fact described as "streaky" players. How true is this? Are there hot streaks in sports? Can one objectively test the presence of a streak? Researchers have been looking into this for more than two decades and have found precious little evidence for the presence of hot streaks. At least not anywhere close to the frequency with which the term seems to be used in modern sports. We will take a tour of the pioneering research in this area which used basketball data, as well as some more recent research that spanned other sports. Across the American sports horizon it appears that Joe DiMaggio may have in fact been as special as his legend implies.


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