Tag Archives: game theory

Senator Orrin Hatch’s aides say dumb things about game theoreticians

From the WSJ:

In classic game theory, confrontation is sometimes necessary when cooperation breaks down to present a credible potential threat and get the two sides to re-engage, said Robert Axelrod, a University of Michigan political scientist and author of the game-theory book, “The Evolution of Cooperation.” He isn’t related to White House senior adviser David Axelrod.

The Senate doesn’t work the way game theorists think, said Antonia Ferrier, an aide to Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. A body built on personal relationships is likely to spiral into endless tit-for-tat retaliations in the face of Mr. Obama’s new turn, she said.

Ms. Ferrier’s ignorance and willingness to make claims about she doesn’t know anything about is so painfully bad, it’s funny. For those who aren’t in on the joke, Robert Axelrod, yes, THE Robert Axelrod, seminally important political scientist who did much of the foundational work in applied game theory actually did discuss the tit-for-tat strategy in his work with Anatol Rapaport (a Russian mathematician) in 1980. Here is more abut the tournaments, in which tit-for-tat was the dominant, winning strategy.

So yes, Ms. Ferrier, game theorists do have insights into how the Senate works, and it’s unfair and really dumb of you to say that in response to the person who actually did all this work that you’re ignorant of.

Recommended: Axelrod’s The Evolution of Cooperation is one of the seminal texts in game theory and I am currently reading his earlier contribution, Conflict of Interest, which has a lot of to offer to the study of political coalitions.

Addendum: Here is a biography of Robert Axelrod by the indomitable Elinor Ostrom, one of our newest Nobel Laureates in Economics.

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Great Moments in Nuclear Game Theory

This article by Nicholas Thompson in Wired is titled “Inside the Apocalyptic Soviet Doomsday Machine‘. I excerpt this:

Permissive Action Links

When: 1960s
What: Midway through the Cold War, American leaders began to worry that a rogue US officer might launch a small, unauthorized strike, prompting massive retaliation. So in 1962, Robert McNamara ordered every nuclear weapon locked with numerical codes.
Effect: None. Irritated by the restriction, Strategic Air Command set all the codes to strings of zeros. The Defense Department didn’t learn of the subterfuge until 1977.

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