Motu researchers on air pollution, free public transport, pre-trial inmates, soccer players’ contracts and learning what phylogeny means in fairy stories

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This guest Top 5, replacing our Top 10s, comes from Kate Preston, Bronwyn Bruce-Brand, Ben Davies, Dom White and Sophie Hale of economic research institute Motu.

As always, we welcome your additions in the comments below or via email to [email protected]

We are always keen to find new Top 5 contributors so if you’re interested in contributing, contact [email protected]

1. How many years do we lose to the air we breathe? 

In this article, the Washington Post walks us through estimates of the loss of life expectancy due to fine-particle air pollution from countries and cities around the world.

In the worst affected cities, the local air pollution shortens the lives of residents by 12 years.

In the US, 22% of the country lose more than a year of life to air pollution, and the figure is as high as 2 years in some cities. 

Fortunately for us here in New Zealand, air pollution has approximately zero impact on our life expectancy.

2. Luxembourg just made all public transit free. It won’t be the last country to do so.

On December 5th 2018, Luxembourg made all public transport free. For everyone.

In Luxembourg the move was more of a final step than a large leap.

With some of the worst traffic in the world, the small country has slowly moved toward freer public transport with low everyday fares and free fares for young people.

It’s not the only country moving in this direction with others across Europe slowly inching their way toward full public funding one city at a time.

Funding mechanisms are pretty clear cut with taxes placed on large firms who rely on public transport for their workers.

Whether these taxes are implicitly passed on to those who work for these companies is unclear. Thus far the fare-free decision is proving popular, with increased ridership and eased traffic congestion.

3. Dynamics of Pretrial Jail Populations.

Since July 2016, the state of Connecticut has published a daily census of its pretrial inmate population.

This post by Harvard PhD student Alex Albright demonstrates a fall in such inmates around Christmas time.

Alex suggests two mechanisms through which this drop may occur.

First, prospective inmates may be less likely to commit crimes during the holiday season. Second, existing inmates may be more likely to have their bail posted by loved ones who wish to spend time together over Christmas.

4. Analysis of elite soccer players’ performance before and after signing a new contract.

This article looks at the effect of new contracts on the performance of football players in Europe’s top leagues.

There was prior evidence that in the year leading up to a new contract, a footballer will increase their performance and in the year after a new contract they will drop off their performance.

This study looks at defenders, midfielders and forwards from the top league in: England, Spain, France, and Germany.

So, while a club may be convinced the promise of a lucrative new contract will motivate their players to improve their performance, it may not be that simple.

5. The Phylogeny of Little Red Riding Hood.

These researchers explore the transmission and evolution of oral narratives across cultures, using phylogenetic techniques developed for evolutionary biology.

In this field, similar folk tales can be classified into “international types” and traced back to their original archetypes.

Authors analyse data on 58 folktales using cladistic, Bayesian and phylogenetic network-based methods to explore the origin of the story of Little Red Riding Hood, allegedly as one of the most debated international types in literature.

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