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The Almighty Buck Science

Bacteria Behaviour Can Shed Light On How Financial Markets Work 91

Posted by timothy
from the If-only-bacteria-had-agency-and-preferences dept.
notscientific writes "Bacteria invest in proteins in an attempt to reduce stress or increase energy intake, while humans invest in cash. In both cases, better tradeoffs pay off. The similarities in tradeoffs faced by both bacteria and humans during investment are actually quite similar. Now, using synthetic biology, a group of scientists has shown that the outcomes of investment decisions in bacteria can be precisely defined, alluding to the idea that human investment activities, such as financial markets, can be thoroughly understood as well, and even modelled."
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Bacteria Behaviour Can Shed Light On How Financial Markets Work

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  • This is a surprise? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dreamchaser (49529) on Saturday August 10, 2013 @03:25PM (#44532215) Homepage Journal

    It makes perfect sense. Both activities involve the same types of selective process that guides evolution in general, be it biological evolution or financial.

    • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Saturday August 10, 2013 @03:40PM (#44532303) Homepage Journal

      Economists have a history of borrowing scientific theories to explain their field, often overindulging in analogy to the point where the metaphor becomes useless. Consider the following paragraph from the article:

      But when bacteria were exposed to acid, something unexpected happened: Those that invested almost nothing into managing stress, and instead favored growth at all costs, succeeded. Gudelj doesn’t yet know the actual mechanism behind this, but she suspects that it’s down to the particulars of the life cycle of the bacteria and its stressor. When taking this analogy to businesses, it appears there are certain types of difficulties for which being nimble and focusing on growth is a better strategy than facing difficulty by trying to manage it.

      The author is unable to suggest what these types might be; he simply assumes that the theory is valid and that bacteria must have something to tell us. This kind of growth works for bacteria because they are able to subdivide indefinitely and aren't a monolithic organism. To stretch an already-abused metaphor, the closest example to this kind of growth is creating many similar products or entering a large number of markets to try and find something that works, both of which can be hazardous because of the paradox of choice and loss of investor confidence. Moreover, if a core market collapses, at best all that will be left is the parts of the company that entered the market that succeeded; for bacteria, it's considered "good enough" for a couple of cells to survive, but this is not generally considered acceptable for business. Bacterial survival simply isn't analogous to business success.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        > The author is unable to suggest what these types might be; he simply assumes that the theory is valid and that bacteria must have something to tell us.

        They are telling us a very valuable thing! That hindsight is 20-20!

      • by Ryanrule (1657199) on Saturday August 10, 2013 @05:55PM (#44532859)

        So if we dip hedge fund managers in acid, they will work harder? Lets tests this, we need a 100k sample size.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Let's give their environment some stress factors and challenge to help encourage a little spiritual evolution by limiting their income to $7.25 per hour that they're submerged.

          They will then need to survive after emerging from the acid bath on that amount. Food, rent, utilities, healthcare.... This will prove that they really are fit to transcend into management, right?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Economists have a history of borrowing scientific theories to explain their field, often overindulging in analogy to the point where the metaphor becomes useless

        I'd take it a step further and say that Economics is pure bunk, and that the subject will have to be renamed. In the future, having a dept. of Economics at a university will be like having a department of Astrology or Phrenology.

        First there's the infamous, "let's assume all people are rational" aspect, made no doubt by somebody who had no mother.

        • by Rockoon (1252108)
          You are using a lot of words, but arent saying much.

          For instance:

          The Chinese rare earth fiasco? Easily predictable to anybody with common sense who didn't drink ECON kool-aid and try to apply micro theories to macro situations.

          What fiasco? They don't have a monopoly. They are selling below the cost it takes us to extract rare earths, and that benefits us. Seems like every "problem" you seem to have identified in your post are essentially the same sort of thing, where you simply claim that a problem exists based on a "controversy metric" of some kind.

          In the real world, not all controversies are a problem. Often they are just dramatized bullshit like the suicide

    • by Anonymous Coward

      After 5 years of research in financial markets and stock markets in particular, yes, this is surprising given the fact that the biggest market movers and shakers are not business outcomes, but more to do with monetary management, as well as policy and regulatory changes.

      Anything you "predict" can be overturned by decisions from one or more agents. That scientists and experts fails to recognize hard facts and practical knowledge isn't really surprising though.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Economics is NOT SCIENCE. why you sk ? simple : NO PREDICTIVE power whatsoever.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Plenty of predictive power, its the timing that's an bitch.

        • by CBravo (35450)
          Neither does History.
        • But, but.... it uses the MATHS! Of course it's credible.

          What's that you say? Do the assumptions have any empirical validity? Who knows! Why bother testing when you can just write reports on 100k commissions without declaring conflicts of interest!

          I like to think of economics as simply a very boring domain of number theory. If we take these arbitrary assumptions, what do the numbers do?

          The bad idea was when they forgot they were playing make-believe and started applying their folksy theories to the rea
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      And both make the body they're growing in very sick, if they put growth above being social.

    • by ATMAvatar (648864) on Saturday August 10, 2013 @05:34PM (#44532775) Journal
      Also, a large fraction of both bacteria and wall street investors are parasites that should be eradicated for the greater good of the larger organism they reside in.
    • by nospam007 (722110) *

      "It makes perfect sense. Both activities involve the same types of selective process that guides evolution in general, be it biological evolution or financial."

      We knew they were scum, even if they call themselves biofilm.

  • "Human" nature isn't all that human...

  • by Anonymous Coward
    or is that called cancer?
  • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Saturday August 10, 2013 @03:33PM (#44532263)

    What's insightful about realizing that one can use disease-causing parasites to model disease-causing parasites?

    • by znrt (2424692)

      What's insightful about realizing that one can use disease-causing parasites to model disease-causing parasites?

      maybe you overlooked this:

      The similarities in tradeoffs faced by both bacteria and humans during investment are actually quite similar.

      can you imagine? similarities are similar!

    • Behaveour fits (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dutchwhizzman (817898)
      Ruthless greed until the host is dead, short term profit and manipulation of the "hosts" to get more profit. The only thing missing in the model is HFT
    • Too simple (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Roger W Moore (538166) on Saturday August 10, 2013 @04:49PM (#44532589) Journal
      That's too simplistic a model. Think something like the bacteria in your gut. We need bacteria there to help our body digest food. However, if you get too many of the wrong sort (lets call these "greedy" bacteria) or they get out of your gut and into other parts of your body then they can make you really ill or even kill you. In the same way our financial markets and services are needed to make our economy work well. However get too many greedy financial people or have them start infecting other areas of our society - like, say, government - and just like our bodies our society will get very ill.
      • A good analogy but I don't think "the bacteria is insightful to economics" is more than just an analogy. I highly doubt looking at a staph infection will help you find the next fortune 500 company that is just starting in someones garage. While both systems want to use "limited resources" the behavior of those resources and methods of aquiring them behave radically differently.
  • ...and modeled badly (e.g., anything quants have done in the last, well, ever). Even Oracle of Omaha has an implicit model when buying conservative stock that society needs (e.g., toothpaste). Models are everywhere... What an odd thing to assert about financial markets from interesting article on bacterial protein synthesis.
  • The last time the wonks tried going organic was was how leaf structure shows best networking. Problem with all this is that markets and networks are as far away from organic driven as they could be, so I don't see anything about this effort that bears interest, sorry.
  • by bistromath007 (1253428) on Saturday August 10, 2013 @03:37PM (#44532285)
    High finance assholes see the rest of us as bacteria. Imagine that.
  • by IonOtter (629215) on Saturday August 10, 2013 @03:42PM (#44532327) Homepage

    ...that investment bankers and stockbrokers are a form of infectious disease?

  • Not the wisdom of crowds but the wisdom of crud.
  • > boom and bust cycles
    and
    > It explains why a single-celled, fat cat investor or Darwinian demon (a hypothetical organism) didn’t win out long ago.

    We know why already -- these, along with predator-prey relationships, are all subsets of supply and demand. Differential equation modelling of predator-prey showed stability was, in fact, not possible. Like a breeze across the water, the relative ratios distort a bit, say, the prey become more numerous. The predators increase because the supply of f

  • Every stock market model that I read about was successful right after a catastrophic event, when everyone in the stock market started to panic. You can model the stock market based on statistical algorithms if everyone in the market behaves rationally. Then a bubble starts to bubble up, then a crash happen, and then everyone panics.

    I think the last one was the Black–Scholes–Merton model [wikipedia.org] but there could be more recent ones.

    • by manu0601 (2221348)

      You can model the stock market based on statistical algorithms if everyone in the market behaves rationally. Then a bubble starts to bubble up, then a crash happen, and then everyone panics.

      IMO investors are never behave rationally. To do so they would need to have good information on the businesses they invest in, and this is just not the case. Is there anything worth saving in neoclassic economy theory?

  • the Abstract:

    "Understanding how populations and communities respond to competition is a central concern of ecology. A seminal theoretical solution first formalised by Levins (and re-derived in multiple fields) showed that, in theory, the form of a trade-off should determine the outcome of competition. While this has become a central postulate in ecology it has evaded experimental verification, not least because of substantial technical obstacles. We here solve the experimental problems by employing synthetic ecology. We engineer strains of Escherichia coli with fixed resource allocations enabling accurate measurement of trade-off shapes between bacterial survival and multiplication in multiple environments. A mathematical chemostat model predicts different, and experimentally verified, trajectories of gene frequency changes as a function of condition-specific trade-offs. The results support Levins' postulate and demonstrates that otherwise paradoxical alternative outcomes witnessed in subtly different conditions are predictable."

    YES both biological and financial systems involve trade-off and evolutionary dynamics. NO those are still not necessarily good analogues for one another......

  • Both growing and multiplying even if they should know that their host cannot withstand that onslaught and that it will eventually kill off the very thing that feeds them... yes, the parallel is apt.

  • If there is something that could model the stock market, then everybody would be rich. Since that's not possible, a few people could get rich using an accurate model, but that only works as long as the model isn't used by everybody -- eventually it will fail and many will get hurt.

    You can make your model as complicated as you like, using as many variables as you like. If someone else knows you're using it, they can scam you out of your money.

  • Investment bankers are slime, a large enough population of bacteria forms a slime, so slime (bacteria) as a model predictor for investment bankers should make perfect sense.
  • You can model this behavior because the participants are not self aware.

    With humans, if behavior can be modeled then one or more of the participants can discern that model, and take actions to disrupt it (for profit).

    So from the outside a real market with humans in involved is pretty much always going to be an unpredictable chaotic system.

  • by manu0601 (2221348) on Saturday August 10, 2013 @09:17PM (#44533427)

    Two points

    First slashdot summary tells about financial markets, TFA talks about businesses. I understand that businesses are dwarfs in financial markets, that vast majority of transactions being financial products non based on real economy.

    Second, financial markets are more like lemmings than bacterias. They have nasty group behavior that cause all actors to jump into the sea at the same time. Surprisingly, bacterias look to fit neoclassic economy models better than humans, as their decisions seem more rationals.

  • This is bullshit science

  • ... but I had no idea they were single-celled orginisms trapped in a human body!

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