Works of fiction for experimenters

On this site, I am listing works of fiction that might, for one reason or another, be of interest for experimenters. I owe most of these references to experimenters who replied to an email I posted via [ESA-discuss]. I will, of course, be happy to add anything to this list that you suggest to me via email.

A) (More or less) economic experiments in novels and plays

In Richard Powers’ novel Galatea 2.2, “Helen”, a computer model, is trained to think like a human being. One question tried on her is this: “Jan is thirty-two years old. She is well educated and holds two advanced degrees. She is single, is strong-minded, and speaks her piece. In college, she worked actively for civil rights. Which of these two statements is more likely? One: Jan is a librarian. Two: Jan is a librarian and a feminist.” Of course, this is the conjunction fallacy due to Tversky and Kahneman (1983); a longer excerpt from the novel including Helen’s reply is to be found here. Thanks to Olli Lappalainen for the reference.

Paul Beatty was awarded the 2016 Booker prize for Sellout; the father of the novel’s narrator was a sociologist who, as Alistair Munro kindly wrote me, “repeats many classic experiments on the young child. He discusses bystander and bandwagon effects but I don't recall if there are any specifically economic experiments in the book. Anyway, with a discussion of publication bias, t-tests, behavioural economics and lines such as 'have you done a regression analysis controlling for race and sexual orientation' this  should definitely be on your (..) reading list.”

Jane Smiley’s Moo is a 430 page campus novel, with various plot lines, one involving a public goods game, as mentioned in Catherine Eckel’s paper “Economic Games for Social Scientists”.

Lukas Bärfuss’ play Amygdala makes a reference to de Quervain, D. J. F., U. Fischbacher, V. Treyer, M. Schellhammer, U. Schnyder, A. Buck, and E. Fehr (2004), The neural basis of altruistic punishment, Science 305, 1254-1258; it appeared in print, but only in German, I believe (in Alices Reise in die Schweiz – Die Probe – Amygdala. Stücke. Wallstein, Göttingen 2007; thanks to Urs Fischbacher for the reference)

Tom Stoppard’s Darkside (2013) is a radio drama that prominently features thought experiments like the trolley problem, the tragedy of the commons and the prisoners’ dilemma. Seems very suitable for teaching to me - Stoppard’s wit and Pink Floyd's music (from the album The Dark Side of the Moon) lets you almost forget that you are kind of learning something when you hear the play. The prisoners' dilemma is a secondary theme also in Stoppard's The Hard Problem; thanks to Cathy Weinberger for this hint. At the surface, the PD is explicitly discussed only in scene one: The main character Hillary introduces the idea of confessing to have commited the crime alone in order to save the other criminal, an extension of the strategy space that might actually guide two characters' behavior later in the play (and that is also appearing in Darkside). Of much greater relevance for experimenters, unfortunately, is the discussion of unreported deletion of outliers from experimental data in scenes nine and ten.

B) By-catch: Game theory in fiction

This section is very incomplete, because it is slightly off topic, and also because there is an extensive collection of game theory related fiction here (books), here (movies) and here (TV series etc.).

However, these are a few new items (as of March, 2017):

In Prisoner's Dilemma by Richard Powers, according to Wikipedia, one of the main characters “is trying to find a solution to the "prisoner's dilemma" (...) He wishes to solve the dilemma through writing an alternate reality, explaining how human beings could live together peacefully.“

I have not read Mark Chisnell's Thriller The Defector, but not only does the title sound like it's about the prisoner's dilemma, the author also explains it in the foreword and it seems to be the core of the plot. See here for more information; I owe this link to Toshiji Kawagoe, who also wrote me that in the bio thriller novel Parasite Eve by Hideaki Sena, "in an important moment in the battle, mutual cooperation is called for in the infinitely repeated prisoner's dilemma situation". Unfortunately, a short police story by Hideo Yokoyama called "The Prisoner's dilemma" and a crime fiction series with the protagonist using behavioral economics to help the police are available ony in Japanese.

In Juli Zeh’s novel Spieltrieb, the prisoners’ dilemma plays a role, but I am afraid the author gets it wrong, suggesting it to be a zero sum game. Anyway, it has been translated into various languages, but not into English according to the publisher: https://www.schoeffling.de/foreignrights/juli-zeh/gaming-instinct (thanks to Susann Fiedler for the link).

Ben Ho kindly wrote me that “The Five-Year Engagement was a romantic comedy about a psychology PhD student that uses many experiments, most notably Mischel's marshmallow experiment. The movie resonated with me quite a bit. Apparently the movie was supposed to be about behavioral economics and they consulted with several economists before switching to psychology which I suppose is more relatable, but you can see some of the economic ideas survive.”

C) Numb3rs

On Numb3rs, I received this link from Rachel Croson, and interesting remarks by Mark Isaac and Charles Plott, the former writing "It may just be a coincidence, but the old American TV shows "Numb3rs" has an episode in which Charlie (supposedly) understanding "jump bidding" in an auction solves the crime. This episode appeared not long after papers by Plott and Salmon and by Isaac, Salmon, and Zillante on jump bidding were circulated/published. These papers included field data, theory, and an economic experiments. Sometimes the Numb3ers website would provide citations to Charlie's academic references. I checked, and they didn't tell where they got Charlie's insight on blind bidding, so this must remain in the realm of speculation", with the latter adding: "For what it is worth Professor Gary Lorden, Caltech (a statistician) was a consultant for that show.  I do  not recall that he asked me about jump bidding but the working papers were circulating, the econometrics were interesting for the times and I am sure  that we gave some seminars here. So, connections are not completely impossible - but I have my doubts."

Thanks again for all the references!