Chinese Cell Phone Economics

In China, you get a cell phone number by buying a SIM card (a small plastic chip) that you put in your phone. Yesterday I bought one. I was shown a page of 12 possible numbers. At the top of the page it said 168 yuan ($25). But one of the numbers was cheaper: only 120 yuan ($18). Why the difference? I asked. The cheap number was “hard to remember,” I was told. I studied the 12 numbers; they looked equally hard to remember. So I got the cheap one.

Hard to remember was a euphemism, I learned later. Some digits (8, 6) are considered lucky, others (4, 7) unlucky. My number: 1170784.

This is related to self-experimentation. I suppose few scientists believe in lucky and unlucky phone numbers but many believe in “good” and “bad” ways of doing science. One example is a belief that self-experimentation is bad, another is a belief that Bayesian tools are “irrelevant to the business of science“; a third is the blue-ribbon panel that would only use data from double-blind experiments when deciding nutritional requirements. Scientists (and the rest of us) pay more than 48 yuan ($7) for such beliefs, which pervade science. Their effect is that scientists fail to use tools that would help them with their research; the rest of us suffer from the lack of progress that could have been made (e.g., discovery of better ways to treat depression). At the end of a paper about my self-experimentation I made this point:

Belief that something is bad makes it hard to learn what it is good for.

6 Replies to “Chinese Cell Phone Economics”

  1. “Hard to remember” might have been partly true. In Japan numbers can be assigned two or three sounds, and people remember numbers by forming them into words (“goroawase”). Some numbers that appear hard to remember to us are easy for Japanese. For instance, “4649” can be pronounced “yoroshiku,” which is a very common word (used in polite requests) and is in high demand for phone numbers by businesses.

  2. SIM cards are standard in the UK and Europe as well, and much more practical than the US/Canada format of attaching phone numbers to phones. If a phone breaks or is replaced I simply move my SIM card with all my contacts and my phone number attached to it.

  3. yes, I like SIM cards much better. They don’t come with a voice mailbox but that doesn’t matter — everyone in China uses text messages in place of voicemail messages.

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