Monday, January 28, 2008

The Quantitative Revolution

Revolutions break eggs to make omelets. Omelets are tasty. Broken eggs are messy. Hence, the essential problem of revolutions.

Of all the controversies I have learned about since entering the University of Nebraska, none has fascinated me so much as the Quantitative Revolution. The Quantitative Revolution, or QR, has radically transformed social research in academia. It is as much of a revolt against all that has gone before as Marxism. QR is a rejection of all that would interest a bright adolescent in social research. It is also, I think, all that can save social research from Marxism.

To understand this war, think about politics, or psychology, or geography, or any of those subjects that interested you when you read an Encyclopedia as a kid. Think of the Plato and Machiavelli pondering Politics, Freud and Adler plumbing the subconscious, and explorers and theorists deciding what is a Sea and what is a Bay. This is social research as it existed from antiquity to sometime in the 20th century.

Now throw that out. Instead measure things, and note what varies with what.

That's the Quantitative Revolution. It's very powerful, because it's actually science: It provides a way of showing you when you are wrong, and a methodical way for supporting your intuition when it is right. Is man, for instance, truly a political animal? Well, measure where his nature comes from (neatly dividing it into biological influences, non-biological influences shared with one's siblings, and non-biological influences not shared with one's siblings) among a diverse enough population, regress it, and suddenly you get answers. More than that, you get repeatable answers which allow you move on to something else without throwing your old work away.

Yet QR is a profoundly dull revolution. All the great questions become matters for vertical thinkers and technicians. An academic career in the era of the QR essentially is the process of limiting your imagination to one or two good tools, and measuring variation with those tools. The sort of people who enjoy being accountants, I think, love life under the Quantitative Revolutionaries.

Yet the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and QR targets its wrath most consistently against the Marxists, dead-ender followers of a 19th century Revolution that have burrowed themselves deep into academia. Marxists have spent a century developing a self-consistent toolbox of rhetoric that has dispatched non-Marxists in nearly every academic field. Every place the Quantitative Revolution has not taken and held, it seems, is territory in which Marxists rapidly make their home.

I despise, I think, the Quantitative Revolution for depriving academia of the qualitative give-and-take that is so common in the better parts of the blogosphere. But I delight in the ease at which the Quantitative Revolution unseats the Marxists every time it gains a foothold, overwhelming the Marxist immune system through dull questions of covariation and how-do-you-know-if-you-are-wrong?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

John Wiley Interscience, the Dozier Internet Law of Academia?

Back in April, I reported (on the 25th and 26th) on an attempt by John Wiley & Sons / Wiley Interscience to prevent a blogger from commenting on the results in an academic article they published.

Apparently, it's a good thing that such comments are made. As reported on Slashdot, pages of a recent Wiley book are plagiarized verbatim from Wikipedia.

Apparently, strategic lawsuits against public participation and plagiarism do go together, after all!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Affirmative Action: Bad Policy, Bad Science

Leonhardt, D. (2007). The new affirmative action. New York Times. September 30, 2007. Available online:

An interesting article in the New York Times about a rentier class, racial discrimination, and bad science. The focus is on racial jerryrigging by the University of California system. While on the second page I realized that one could replace "black" with "non-asian" with no loss of factual accuracy. Sure enough:

In particular, U.C.L.A.’s experience suggests that some tension between race and class in the admissions process may be inevitable. Even as the number of low-income black freshmen soared this year, the overall number of low-income freshmen fell somewhat. The rise in low-income black students was accompanied by a fall in low-income Asian students — not a decline in well-off students. U.C.L.A. administrators say they don’t fully understand why.

The article also goes into Peter Taylor's race-based charity work and some really bad analysis of an "intelligece test" given to one-year olds.

08:33 Posted in Academia | Permalink | Comments (9) | Tags: race, preferences

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Triple-majoring in graduate school...

Fairfeld, H. (2007). Master’s Degrees Abound as Universities and Students See a Windfall. New York Times. September 12, 2007. Available online:

Somehow, this makes me feel more normal:

And many students believe that these multiple degrees are highly valuable in today’s competitive job market.

Rey A. Phillips Santos has three graduate degrees gracing his résumé: two master’s and one in law. After completing the master’s of arts program in the social sciences from the University of Chicago, he decided to go on to the Chicago-Kent College of Law, in a joint-degree program in environmental management with the Stuart Graduate School of Business.

“There is a huge demand for credentials in high-level jobs now,” said Mr. Phillips, who is a lawyer for the Chicago city government. “Each of my degrees helped me to get a leg up in the job market, and earn higher salaries than I would have otherwise. They were great investments.”

(Though, in fairness, Mr. Santos seems to be building up an M.A., M.B.A., J.D. pedigree, while I'll stick to the M.A., M.A., Ph.D. wilderness.)

Another good part about such a crazy track? Avoiding tunnel-vision lock-in.

19:25 Posted in Academia | Permalink | Comments (2) | Tags: graduate degrees

Saturday, June 30, 2007

What was the university like before the 1960s?

The recent post at Unqualified Reservations, "The ultracalvinist hypothesis: In perspective" has been a spash at Econolog, gnxp, and here. The "ultravalcinist hypothesis" holds that contemporary American atheism is actually a variant of Mainline Protestantism. One Unqualified Reservations post, found by PurpleSlog via Econolog, argued that even the leftist political correctness that comes out of academia is merely a continuation of the same religious clap-trap that's been going on for centuries:

You may or may not buy this story. But I hope you can agree that the Harvard faculty in 2007 by and large believes in human equality, social justice, world peace and community leadership, that the faculty of the same institution held much the same beliefs in 1957, 1907, 1857 and 1807, and that in any of these years they would have described these views as the absolute cynosure of Christianity. Perhaps I am just naturally suspicious, but it strains my credulity slightly to believe that sometime in 1969, the very same beliefs were rederived from pure reason and universal ethics, whose concurrence with the New Testament is remarkable to say the least.

All well and good. However, I previously featured the Weekly Standard's claims that American academia used to be liberal, as opposed to leftist:

It is plain in retrospect that the American university changed as fundamentally in the decade or so after 1965 as it did in those formative years between 1870 and 1910. The political and cultural upheavals of the period, spurred by the civil rights movement and opposition to the war in Vietnam, combined with the demographic explosion, brought about a second revolution in higher education, and created an institution (speaking generally) that was more egalitarian, more ideological, and more politicized, but less academic and less rigorous, in its preoccupations than was the case in the preceding era. It was in this period, from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s, that the left university emerged in place of the liberal university.

So which is it?

Did the 1960s see the collapse of liberal academia and the raise of leftist orthodoxy? Or did Mainline Protestantism reign throughout the period, only changing which denominations (Episcopalian? Atheist?) the professoriate claimed as their own?

The answer's beyond my knowledge, but perhaps some historians who read this blog might answer...

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Socially-constructed races and the SSSM

Races are large groups, the members of whom are more closely related to each other than to outsiders. Races can be thought of as large-scale families. While race mixing can and does occur, the historical norm appears to have been for in-breeding within races. (It is through this inbreeding that genetic drift can ultimately lead to trouble.) Where there has been race-mixing in the past, it tends to be the males of one race interbreeding with females of another. Thus the United States has a "black" population that tends to be maternally African but often with distantly British paternity, and Mexico has a "mestizo" population that tends to be maternally American Indian and Iberan.

Some doubt the factual reality of race. That is, some claim that racial differences are only skin deep, and that the mere fact that one person has darker or whiter skin (facial features, bone structure, enzyme collection, etc) says nothing about ultimate ancestry. These skeptics would say that only a very small number of traits very among human groups in the first place, and that if one's ancestral home is nearer the equator, then it makes sense that one's ancestors evolved darker skin to avoid the sun's harmful rays.

A problem exists if we claim that race only effects skin: race as a variable explains variation. Fatality rates from a host of diseases, intelligence, and other factors are better predicted if we take race into account than if we don't. If race is not real below the skin, that means something besides biology is causing this variation. The race-skeptics answer that race is "socially constructed," that society has decided that people should be fit into this-or-that racial category based on skin color. In other words, if we would ignore race, it would go away.

However, there is another way that race can be "socially constructed": perhaps culture can cause genetic evolution. Indeed, it appears this has happened. gnxp notes an article from the Proceeds of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) entitled " Linguistic tone is related to the population frequency of the adaptive haplogroups of two brain size genes, ASPM and Microcephalin." The article notes how the long-standing view that humans are language-neutral -- an infant from any population can learn any language equally well -- appears to be false. Children whose parents come from populations that historically have a tonal language (Latvian, Chinese, etc). have a different sort of gene than children whose parents come from a tone-neutral language (English, Spanish, etc)...

Read more ...

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Askhanazim Jewry, g, and Higher Education

Askhanazim Jewry, g, and Higher Education

Jaschik, S. 2007. 'The Power of Privilege.' Inside Higher Ed. April 11, 2007. Available online:

A treasured friend & trusted reader sent this article in, which discusses possibly antisemitic reasons for the introduction of the SAT test in Yale University. The piece spends a lot of time on the quirks of the New Haven, Connecticut school, so I'll just quote one part of it and talk in more general terms:

If colleges more closely understand their histories, Soares said, they might be more likely to adopt truly progressive policies today. His book ends with a series of recommendations along those lines, not just for Yale, but for other elite colleges. He calls for affirmative action policies based on socioeconomic status, a de-emphasis on standardized testing, and the elimination of preferences that defy true meritocracy (such as those for legacies and athletes).

Favoring athletes, he said, makes very little sense if talking about the social mission of higher education. Even at top universities, this has become “the doorway in,” and counter to the images many people have of athletics as a pro-diversity force on campuses, most of the beneficiaries are white. “What is it that athletics contributes to higher education? Why is it a part of higher education?” Perhaps showing the impact of his Oxford history, Soares noted that the admissions preferences offered by top American colleges make no sense to educators anywhere else in the world. “At Oxford and Cambridge, you are not going to be admitted just because you are good on the rugby field.”

Trying to discriminate against Jews by factoring in g (general intelligence would be odd, as Ashkenazim ("northern European") Jews apparently have higher average g than most other races. This seems to be a result of intense selection pressure on Jews in the past thousand years, as cruel and mean regimes adopted policy after policy to limit Jewish mobility, wealth, and reproductive success. Average- and below-average Jews were selected against, while above-average Jews were selected for, by the European environment relative to other Europeans.

Thus, institutions of higher education used a variety of methods to keep Jews out, by defining merit as something other than general intelligence. From a century ago, Eastern universities used the idea of the "whole man" to discriminate against Jews. Because Jewish cultural traditional is relatively unathletic, Jewish history in Europe kept them seperated from the land and much physical exertion, and relatively higher rates of historical inbreeding (owing to ghetto living conditions), Jews were at a disadvantage under the "whole man" criteria. Likewise, modern affirmative action is a method of limiting the success of Jews and other market-oriented minorities.

See also: My series on feminism, leftism, and cash, covering the SAT and computer science.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Leftism, Feminism, and Cash, Reloaded

Dean, C. 2007. Computer science takes steps to bring women to the fold. New York Times. April 17, 2007. Available online: (from Slashdot).

Standards too high? Just lower them:

Moving emphasis away from programming proficiency was a key to the success of programs Dr. Blum and her colleagues at Carnegie Mellon instituted to draw more women into computer science. At one time, she said, admission to the program depended on high overall achievement and programming experience. The criteria now, she said, are high overall achievement and broad interests, diverse perspectives and whether applicants seem to have potential to be future leaders.

See also: "Leftism, Feminism, and Cash," about the aborted political corrected of the GRE.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Leftism, Feminism, and Cash

Agnostic. 2007. New GRE cancelled - the cost of attempted gap-reduction? Gene Expression. April 4, 2007. Available online:

First, an excerpt from the excellent blog piece. Then a short discussion by me:

The NYT reports that a completely revised GRE has been deep sixed, not merely delayed (read the ETS press release here). The official story is that there is some insurmountable problem with providing access to all test-takers, an issue apparently too complicated for ETS to bother trying to explain it to us. You figure, since this was such a huge project that was suddenly halted, they'd want to clearly spell out why they dumped it -- unless that's the point. Although I'm no mind-reader, the true reason is pretty obvious: the made-over test was designed to narrow the male-female gap at the elite score level, but this diluted its g-loadedness such that it couldn't reliably distinguish between someone with, say, a 125 IQ and a 145+ IQ, which is what graduate departments who rely on super-smart students worry about. Rather than admit that this psychometric magic trick went awry and lopped off a few limbs of g-loadedness, they spun a yarn about access to the te


We now ask why ETS intentionally stripped the SAT of some of its g-loadedness? Certainly not because they discovered IQ had little value in predicting academic performance, or that some items tap g more directly than others -- so why re-invent the wheel? Since scores on various verbal tasks highly correlate, this change cannot have affected much the mean of any group of test-takers. But if getting a perfect score required scoring correctly on, say, 10 easy questions, 5 medium, and 5 difficult (across 3 sections), a greater number of above-average students can come within striking distance of a perfect score if the new requirement were 10 easy, 9 medium, and 1 hard. I don't know exactly how they screwed around with the numbers, but that's what they pay their psychometricians big bucks to do. Now, reducing the difficulty of attaining elite scores, without also raising mean scores (as with the 1994 recentering), can only have had the goal of reducing a gap that exists at the level of variance, not a gap between means. This, then, cannot be a racial gap but the male-female gap, since here the difference in means is probably 0-2 IQ points, although male variance is consistently greater.

In other words..

  • Some time ago, the SAT released a new test that kept the pre-existing group means (so that jews still scored higher than scotch-irish, and that asians still scored higher than blacks) but made it easy for pretty-good students to score the same as very-good students

  • The GRE seriously considered, openly planned on, announced, and then suddenly rejected a similar plan.

Ultimately, this is a tale of political correctness and money. Especially since fired Harvard President Larry Summers publicly asked if there was a genetic component to sexual differences, but since the birth of feminism in the early 20th century, the "polite" opinion is that males and females are genetically identical and apart from a few organs the sexes are in no way different. Thus intelligence testing, which consistently reveal that the highest-scoring males have higher intelligence than the highest-scoring females, is embarrassing. While the SAT and the GRE are technically aptitude tests, they are also rough measures of intelligence so the same issues that impact IQ testing impact the SAT and GRE.

The easy way to remove this shame is to ignore it, so the SAT lowered the bar for the highest-scoring students. Thus the highest-scoring females would score exactly the same as the highest scoring males - with a perfect 2400R.

For undergraduate schools this is just fine. Anything that increases the student body size while avoiding public embarrassment puts money into the hands of the Universities,. Likewise, compared to graduate schools undergrad institutions tend to be non-competitive (excluding quotized areas sex as race, where it is hard to change race from penalized categories such as oriental or white to preferred categories such as black or indian). Thus, the SAT combined easy leftism with easy commercialism: the change stands!

For graduate schools this is not fine. Graduate students are investments in ways that undergrads just aren't. Grad students take up more of professors' face time, often have the responsibility of assisting in research or teaching undergraduates, and are actually paid. Thus a non-productive grad student can more easily become a cash dog than can a non-productive undergrad. There, within grad schools capitalism defeated easy leftism: the change is rejected!

Update: Darth Quixote at gnxp examines the results of the latest SAT.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Racism and Sexism at Duke University

With Mike Nifong's and Crystal Gail Mangum's attempted lynching of the Duke University students continuing to unravel, a mob of activist University professors accidentally becomes right. Ann Althouse, Durham in Wonderland, Instapundit, and La Shawn Barber are on the case.


The Group of 88 faculty's original letter began as follows:

Regardless of the results of the police investigation, what is apparent everyday now is the anger and fear of many students who know themselves to be objects of racism and sexism, who see illuminated in this moment’s extraordinary spotlight what they live with everyday. They know that it isn’t just Duke, it isn’t everybody, and it isn’t just individuals making this disaster.

But it is a disaster nonetheless

Indeed. While the Group of 88 was focused on joining the lynching party, their words are ironic now. They can be used to describe the racist and sexist attitude of the administration of Duke University and Durham County.


Dennis Mangan writes bluntly:

Anyone white and male would have to be a fool to attend Duke. There's some sign, as outlined in the article, that the president of Duke is coming to realize his gigantic fuckup - a criminal fuckup. No one in his right mind should go there, nor should his parents send him.

The situation may not be quite bad, but it certainly isn't good. Perhaps Durham is in the Gap, after all.

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