Ruminating vs. Problem-Solving

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

We may be training the next generation to be unhappy anti-Stoics, Lukanioff and Haidt argue, because the modern fashion for spotting microaggressions and demanding trigger warnings amounts to negative cognitive behavioral training.

Negative repetitive thinking is linked to depression, anxiety, substance abuse and eating disorders:

Rumination has been found to predict both the onset of depression as well as the continuation of it in a number of studies. In the lab, participants’ symptoms worsen when they are asked or taught to ruminate, according to Ed Watkins, a professor of experimental and applied clinical psychology at the University of Exeter, who has conducted some of the studies.

[...]

In addition, researchers have found that the more one dwells on problems in an unhelpful way, the more one gets locked into the pattern, until even small triggers can spark a cycle automatically.

[...]

Dr. Watkins and his team at the University of Exeter have found that there are helpful ways to dwell on difficulties, such as to think concretely about a situation and focus on sensory details, how it happened and how to do it differently next time. In contrast, people who engage in unhelpful, depressive or stressful rumination tend to focus on the issue more negatively, globally and abstractly. They often focus on “why” questions such as “Why does this always happen? Why do I always do this?”

In one study, Dr. Watkins trained ruminators and depressed people to think more concretely by giving them daily mental exercises that focused on solving the problem. After one week, they saw significant decreases in self-reported rumination and depression relative to the placebo control group. Later they found similar effects on patients with major depression.

[...]

Beyond cognitive retraining, two other techniques can be helpful, experts say — mindfulness, in which people learn to observe but not judge or evaluate themselves, and cognitive behavioral therapy. In the latter, people are taught to evaluate how likely it is that their worry will actually happen, and to reinterpret situations in a more positive way. They learn to problem-solve rather than ruminate, according to Nilly Mor, a professor in the school of education at Hebrew University who studies rumination.

Modafinil is Safe and Effective

Saturday, August 22nd, 2015

The Guardian sings the praises of modafinil (Provigil):

A new review of 24 of the most recent modafinil studies suggests that the drug has many positive effects in healthy people, including enhancing attention, improving learning and memory and increasing something called “fluid intelligence” — essentially our capacity to solve problems and think creatively. One study also showed that modafinil made tasks seem more pleasurable. The longer and more complex the task tested, the more consistently modafinil conferred cognitive benefits, the authors of the review said.

The review points out that negative effects — including one study that showed that people already classed as creative saw a small drop in creativity — were reported in a small number of tasks, but never consistently. It added that the drug exerts minimal effects on mood, and only causes minor side effects such as nausea, headaches and anxiety, although these were also reported by people who took a placebo drug.

Other proposed smart drugs, such as Ritalin, prescribed for ADHD, have many negative side effects, said Anna-Katharine Brem, co-author of the review, published today in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology. “Modafinil seems to be the first ‘smart drug’ that is reasonably safe for healthy people.”

I’m pretty sure caffeine has it beat by a few centuries.

School Busing Didn’t Work

Thursday, August 20th, 2015

School busing didn’t work. and to say so isn’t racist, Ted Van Dyk argues:

In many places, like in Boston as Sokol describes, there was raw racism involved in protests against busing. In many other places, however, there was non-racist consternation based mainly on parents’ concern for the wellbeing of their children.

This was the case even in liberal Washington, D.C. My wife and I had two sons enrolled in a Northwest Washington elementary school when busing began in the city. School buses would deliver black kids from Southwest D.C. at the Janney School front door at the morning bell. The same buses picked up the same kids, immediately at the end of classes, and took them back to Southwest. They did not participate in any pre- or after-school activity. No black parents took a bus or drove from Southwest to attend evening PTA meetings or to otherwise participate in school-related activity. The quality of classroom instruction fell off markedly. Fourth- and fifth-grade neighborhood students, for instance, were repeating material learned in earlier grades because teachers found their bused classmates had not yet received it. Not surprisingly, parents from the neighborhood began looking for private schools for their kids or moved to Maryland or Virginia suburbs — not because of racism but because their neighborhood school no longer was working.

Unenlightened, working-class whites opposed busing because they were racist, but enlightened, upper-middle-class whites opposed busing because they wanted what was best for their children.

Billions of dollars in annual teacher training is largely a waste

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

A new study of 10,000 teachers found that professional development — the teacher workshops and training that cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year — is largely a waste:

Researchers examined three large school districts as well as one network of charter schools. They looked at professional development programs at all the schools and teacher performance data over several years, and they surveyed 10,000 teachers and interviewed more than 100 administrators. They identified teachers who improved their job performance and tried to figure out what experiences they had that differed from teachers who were stagnant. To determine if a teacher had improved, researchers analyzed multiple measures — evaluation ratings, classroom observation and student test scores.

And they didn’t find many answers.

[...]

The school districts that participated in the study spent an average of $18,000 per teacher annually on professional development. Based on that figure, TNTP estimates that the 50 largest school districts spend an estimated $8 billion on teacher development annually. That is far larger than previous estimates.

And teachers spend a good deal of time in training, the study found. The 10,000 teachers surveyed were in training an average of 19 school days a year, or almost 10 percent of a typical school year, according to TNTP.

Future criminals can be spotted at nursery school

Saturday, August 15th, 2015

Children’s prosocial skills predict key adult outcomes, a new American Journal of Public Health study finds:

For the study, teachers rated 700 children on eight criteria, using a five-point scale assessing how each interacted socially with others.

[...]

For every one-point decrease in the child’s score, he or she had a 67 percent higher chance of having been arrested and an 82 percent higher chance of being in or on a waiting list for public housing at age 25.

Our higher education system fails leftist students

Saturday, August 15th, 2015

Our higher education system fails leftist students, Mike Munger argues:

What happens when a leftist student confronts arguments he or she disagrees with? After all, they sometimes hear views that contradict their own. The problem is that they have always been rewarded for facile rejoinders, the equivalent of one-move chess games.

There is a ceremony that goes with this, something one of my colleagues calls “The Women’s Studies Nod.” When someone makes a ridiculously extreme, empirically unfounded but ideologically correct argument, everyone else must nod vigorously.

Not just a, “Yes, that’s correct,” nod, but “Yes, you are correct, you are one of us, we are one spirit and one great collective shared mind” nod.

What if someone withholds the Nod?

Since the children of the left have never actually had to play a full chess game of argument, they need a response. Their responses are two: “You are an idiot; no one important believes that,” or “You are evil; no good person could possibly believe that.”

At this point, leftist faculty teach the left students several different moves. Let’s consider a few.

Suppose I claim that rent control is a primary reason why there is such a shortage of affordable housing in New York and San Francisco. Here are the responses I have gotten from students:

  1. Micro-aggression!
  2. Check your privilege! (If they had a mic, they’d drop it, because this is supposed to be so devastating).
  3. You must take money from the Koch Foundation.
  4. Economists don’t understand the real world.
  5. Prices don’t measure values. Values are about people. You don’t care about people.

Not one of those responses actually responds to, or even tries to understand, the argument that rent controls harm the populations that politicians claim they want to help.

The point is that if you cared about poor people, actually cared about consequences for poor people, you would oppose rent controls. But that’s not how the logic of the left works. Instead of caring about the poor, they want to be seen as caring about the poor.

Unhappy Anti-Stoics

Thursday, August 13th, 2015

We may be training the next generation to be unhappy anti-Stoics:

Nearly all of the campus mental-health directors surveyed in 2013 by the American College Counseling Association reported that the number of students with severe psychological problems was rising at their schools. The rate of emotional distress reported by students themselves is also high, and rising. In a 2014 survey by the American College Health Association, 54 percent of college students surveyed said that they had “felt overwhelming anxiety” in the past 12 months, up from 49 percent in the same survey just five years earlier. Students seem to be reporting more emotional crises; many seem fragile, and this has surely changed the way university faculty and administrators interact with them. The question is whether some of those changes might be doing more harm than good.

For millennia, philosophers have understood that we don’t see life as it is; we see a version distorted by our hopes, fears, and other attachments. The Buddha said, “Our life is the creation of our mind.” Marcus Aurelius said, “Life itself is but what you deem it.” The quest for wisdom in many traditions begins with this insight. Early Buddhists and the Stoics, for example, developed practices for reducing attachments, thinking more clearly, and finding release from the emotional torments of normal mental life.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a modern embodiment of this ancient wisdom. It is the most extensively studied nonpharmaceutical treatment of mental illness, and is used widely to treat depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and addiction. It can even be of help to schizophrenics. No other form of psychotherapy has been shown to work for a broader range of problems. Studies have generally found that it is as effective as antidepressant drugs (such as Prozac) in the treatment of anxiety and depression. The therapy is relatively quick and easy to learn; after a few months of training, many patients can do it on their own. Unlike drugs, cognitive behavioral therapy keeps working long after treatment is stopped, because it teaches thinking skills that people can continue to use.

The goal is to minimize distorted thinking and see the world more accurately. You start by learning the names of the dozen or so most common cognitive distortions (such as overgeneralizing, discounting positives, and emotional reasoning; see the list at the bottom of this article). Each time you notice yourself falling prey to one of them, you name it, describe the facts of the situation, consider alternative interpretations, and then choose an interpretation of events more in line with those facts. Your emotions follow your new interpretation. In time, this process becomes automatic. When people improve their mental hygiene in this way — when they free themselves from the repetitive irrational thoughts that had previously filled so much of their consciousness — they become less depressed, anxious, and angry.

The parallel to formal education is clear: cognitive behavioral therapy teaches good critical-thinking skills, the sort that educators have striven for so long to impart. By almost any definition, critical thinking requires grounding one’s beliefs in evidence rather than in emotion or desire, and learning how to search for and evaluate evidence that might contradict one’s initial hypothesis. But does campus life today foster critical thinking? Or does it coax students to think in more-distorted ways?

Let’s look at recent trends in higher education in light of the distortions that cognitive behavioral therapy identifies. We will draw the names and descriptions of these distortions from David D. Burns’s popular book Feeling Good, as well as from the second edition of Treatment Plans and Interventions for Depression and Anxiety Disorders, by Robert L. Leahy, Stephen J. F. Holland, and Lata K. McGinn.

Burns defines emotional reasoning as assuming “that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: ‘I feel it, therefore it must be true.’?” Leahy, Holland, and McGinn define it as letting “your feelings guide your interpretation of reality.” But, of course, subjective feelings are not always trustworthy guides; unrestrained, they can cause people to lash out at others who have done nothing wrong. Therapy often involves talking yourself down from the idea that each of your emotional responses represents something true or important.

Emotional reasoning dominates many campus debates and discussions. A claim that someone’s words are “offensive” is not just an expression of one’s own subjective feeling of offendedness. It is, rather, a public charge that the speaker has done something objectively wrong. It is a demand that the speaker apologize or be punished by some authority for committing an offense.

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Because there is a broad ban in academic circles on “blaming the victim,” it is generally considered unacceptable to question the reasonableness (let alone the sincerity) of someone’s emotional state, particularly if those emotions are linked to one’s group identity. The thin argument “I’m offended” becomes an unbeatable trump card. This leads to what Jonathan Rauch, a contributing editor at this magazine, calls the “offendedness sweepstakes,” in which opposing parties use claims of offense as cudgels. In the process, the bar for what we consider unacceptable speech is lowered further and further.

[...]

If our universities are teaching students that their emotions can be used effectively as weapons — or at least as evidence in administrative proceedings — then they are teaching students to nurture a kind of hypersensitivity that will lead them into countless drawn-out conflicts in college and beyond. Schools may be training students in thinking styles that will damage their careers and friendships, along with their mental health.

Vindictive Protectiveness

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

How and why did Political Correctness evolve into the vindictive protectiveness of trigger warnings and microaggressions?

Childhood itself has changed greatly during the past generation. Many Baby Boomers and Gen Xers can remember riding their bicycles around their hometowns, unchaperoned by adults, by the time they were 8 or 9 years old. In the hours after school, kids were expected to occupy themselves, getting into minor scrapes and learning from their experiences. But “free range” childhood became less common in the 1980s.

[...]

The flight to safety also happened at school. Dangerous play structures were removed from playgrounds; peanut butter was banned from student lunches. After the 1999 Columbine massacre in Colorado, many schools cracked down on bullying, implementing “zero tolerance” policies. In a variety of ways, children born after 1980—the Millennials—got a consistent message from adults: life is dangerous, but adults will do everything in their power to protect you from harm, not just from strangers but from one another as well.

These same children grew up in a culture that was (and still is) becoming more politically polarized. Republicans and Democrats have never particularly liked each other, but survey data going back to the 1970s show that on average, their mutual dislike used to be surprisingly mild. Negative feelings have grown steadily stronger, however, particularly since the early 2000s. Political scientists call this process “affective partisan polarization,” and it is a very serious problem for any democracy. As each side increasingly demonizes the other, compromise becomes more difficult. A recent study shows that implicit or unconscious biases are now at least as strong across political parties as they are across races.

So it’s not hard to imagine why students arriving on campus today might be more desirous of protection and more hostile toward ideological opponents than in generations past. This hostility, and the self-righteousness fueled by strong partisan emotions, can be expected to add force to any moral crusade. A principle of moral psychology is that “morality binds and blinds.” Part of what we do when we make moral judgments is express allegiance to a team. But that can interfere with our ability to think critically. Acknowledging that the other side’s viewpoint has any merit is risky—your teammates may see you as a traitor.

Social media makes it extraordinarily easy to join crusades, express solidarity and outrage, and shun traitors. Facebook was founded in 2004, and since 2006 it has allowed children as young as 13 to join. This means that the first wave of students who spent all their teen years using Facebook reached college in 2011, and graduated from college only this year.

Grinds

Friday, August 7th, 2015

When it comes to college admissions, why should an ability to play the bassoon or chuck a lacrosse ball be given any weight in the selection process? To avoid grinds — supposedly:

Jerome Karabel has unearthed a damning paper trail showing that in the first half of the twentieth century, holistic admissions were explicitly engineered to cap the number of Jewish students. Ron Unz, in an exposé even more scathing than Deresiewicz’s, has assembled impressive circumstantial evidence that the same thing is happening today with Asians.

Just as troublingly, why are elite universities, of all institutions, perpetuating the destructive stereotype that smart people are one-dimensional dweebs? It would be an occasion for hilarity if anyone suggested that Harvard pick its graduate students, faculty, or president for their prowess in athletics or music, yet these people are certainly no shallower than our undergraduates. In any case, the stereotype is provably false. Camilla Benbow and David Lubinski have tracked a large sample of precocious teenagers identified solely by high performance on the SAT, and found that when they grew up, they not only excelled in academia, technology, medicine, and business, but won outsize recognition for their novels, plays, poems, paintings, sculptures, and productions in dance, music, and theater. A comparison to a Harvard freshman class would be like a match between the Harlem Globetrotters and the Washington Generals.

What about the rationalization that charitable extracurricular activities teach kids important lessons of moral engagement? There are reasons to be skeptical. A skilled professional I know had to turn down an important freelance assignment because of a recurring commitment to chauffeur her son to a resumé-building “social action” assignment required by his high school. This involved driving the boy for 45 minutes to a community center, cooling her heels while he sorted used clothing for charity, and driving him back — forgoing income which, judiciously donated, could have fed, clothed, and inoculated an African village. The dubious “lessons” of this forced labor as an overqualified ragpicker are that children are entitled to treat their mothers’ time as worth nothing, that you can make the world a better place by destroying economic value, and that the moral worth of an action should be measured by the conspicuousness of the sacrifice rather than the gain to the beneficiary.

Genes influence academic ability across all subjects

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

A recent study finds that genes influence academic ability across all subjects — and The Guardian is willing to report this:

The researchers analysed genetic data and GCSE scores from 12,500 twins, about half of whom were identical.

Results in all subjects, including maths, science, art and humanities, were highly heritable, with genes explaining a bigger proportion of the differences between children (54-65%) than environmental factors, such as school and family combined (14-21%), which were shared by the twins.

[...]

When the scientists factored in IQ scores, they found that intelligence appeared to account for slightly less than half of the genetic component, suggesting that other heritable traits — curiosity, determination and memory, perhaps — play a significant role.

[...]

Plomin said that while talking about genetics and education was no longer the taboo that it was twenty years ago, education professionals were slow to adapt teaching methods in the face of new scientific findings. “It’s a problem with evidence,” he said. “Thirty years ago medicine wasn’t particularly evidence-based. I think education is fundamentally not based on evidence. What programme has been rolled out that has been based on evidence? We ought to hold educationalists to the same standards of evidence as medicine.”

Universities Are an Illusion

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s department of African and Afro-American studies offered a now-notorious selection of non-classes for athletes — and others — who needed a little… help:

After the fraud was exposed and both the university chancellor and Mr. Davis lost their jobs, outside investigators discovered that U.N.C. had essentially no system for upholding the academic integrity of courses. “So long as a department was offering a course,” one distinguished professor told the investigators, “it was a legitimate course.”

Mr. Davis came to understand this all too well. As the investigators wrote in their final report, Mr. Davis “found Chapel Hill’s attitude toward student-athlete academics to be like an ‘Easter egg,’ beautiful and impressive to the outside world, but without much life inside.”

Most colleges, presumably, aren’t harboring in-house credit mills. Yet in its underlying design, organizational values and daily operations, North Carolina is no different from most other colleges and universities. These organizations are not coherent academic enterprises with consistent standards of classroom excellence. When it comes to exerting influence over teaching and learning, they’re Easter eggs. They barely exist.

This goes a long way toward explaining why colleges spend so much time and effort creating a sense of tribal solidarity among students and alumni. Think of the chant that Joe Paterno and students cried out together at the height of their university’s pedophilia scandal: “We are! Penn State!” The costumes, rituals and gladiatorial contests with rival colleges are all designed to portray the university as united and indivisible. Newer colleges that lack such deeply rooted identities spend millions of dollars on branding consultants in order to create them.

They do this to paper over uncomfortable truths revealed by their own researchers.

The Bible of academic research on how colleges affect students is a book titled, plainly enough, “How College Affects Students.” It’s an 848-page synthesis of many thousands of independent research studies over the decades. The latest edition was published in 2005 by Ernest Pascarella and Patrick Terenzini, professors at the University of Iowa and Penn State.

The sections devoted to how colleges differ from one another are notable for how little they find. As Mr. Pascarella and Mr. Terenzini carefully document, studies have found that some colleges are indeed better than others in certain ways. Students tend to learn more in colleges where they have closer relationships with faculty and peers, for example, and earn a little more after graduating from more selective institutions.

But these findings are overwhelmed in both size and degree by the many instances in which researchers trying to detect differences between colleges found nothing.

“The great majority of postsecondary institutions appear to have surprisingly similar net impacts on student growth,” the authors write. “If there is one thing that characterizes the research on between-college effects on the acquisition of subject matter knowledge and academic skills, it is that in the most internally valid studies, even the statistically significant effects tend to be quite small and often trivial in magnitude.”

The fact that universities hardly exist as unified teaching organizations should not be confused with the question of whether going to college is “worth it.” The typical student who graduates from a college somewhere fares far better in the job market than the typical student who doesn’t.

[...]

People can learn a lot in college, and many do. But which college matters much less than everyone assumes. As Mr. Pascarella and Mr. Terenzini explain, the real differences exist at the departmental level, or within the classrooms of individual professors, who teach with a great deal of autonomy under the principles of academic freedom. The illusory university pretends that all professors are guided by a shared sense of educational excellence specific to their institution. In truth, as the former University of California president Clark Kerr observed long ago, professors are “a series of individual faculty entrepreneurs held together by a common grievance over parking.”

The problem for students is that it is all but impossible to know ahead of time which part of the disunified university is which. Consumers of higher education have been taught that their main choice lies between whole institutions that are qualitatively different from one another. Because this is wrong, the higher education market often fails, which is probably one reason that a third of students who enroll in four-year colleges transfer or drop out within three years.

The whole apparatus of selective college admissions is designed to deliberately confuse things that exist with things that don’t. Many of the most prestigious colleges are an order of magnitude wealthier and more selective than the typical university. These are the primary factors driving their annual rankings at or near the top of the U.S. News list of “best” colleges. The implication is that the differences in the quality of education they provide are of a similar size. There is no evidence to suggest that this is remotely true.

When college leaders talk about academic standards, they often mean admissions standards, not standards for what happens in classrooms themselves. Or they vaguely appeal to traditions and shared values without any hard evidence of their meaning. This is understandable, because the alternative is admitting that many selective institutions are not intrinsically excellent; they were just lucky enough to get into the business of selecting the best and brightest before everyone else.

Want a good public education for your kids? Better be rich first.

Saturday, July 25th, 2015

Matthew Yglesias complains that you need to pay more to live in a neighborhood with good schools:

Look at this chart showing the correlation between the price of a family-size house and the reading proficiency scores in the local school (the outlier, Garrison, where the reading scores are terrible and the houses are expensive anyway is my neighborhood public school):

Test Scores vs. Home Prices in DC

It doesn’t take a socioeconomic genius to see the logical problem here, as many already have on Twitter:

The plot correlates a measure of a) how smart the students are vs. a result of b) how wealthy the parents are, binned by school. And lo and behold it reveals the (wholly unsurprising) fact that higher family wealth correlates with kids who do better on tests.

What’s that got to do with how ‘good’ the school actually is? (Unless of course by ‘good’ you mean something else entirely.)

Silicon Valley White-Asian Divide

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

Samuel Liu grew up in a once-white Silicon Valley suburb, where a white-Asian divide became apparent:

To say that whites resented Asians or Asians resented whites would be a gross exaggeration of a largely utopian merger. Youth soccer leagues were run by parents of multiple ethnicities: Indian, white, Chinese, Korean. Often, they were co-workers in their fields. Parental involvement was unified in activities spanning from musicals to the Parent-Teacher Association.

But it was in academics where one could smell the distinct coded scent of a split. There’s a nearby high school called Lynbrook, which by now is probably upwards of 90 percent Asian. I had a friend there who used to joke that they called the white people “the few five.” Everyone knew the one black student by name.

The Wall Street Journal came out with an article in 2005 documenting “The New White Flight,” a twist on the term used to describe the phenomena of white people moving out of poor neighborhoods, taking their tax dollars with them, and often leaving largely black schools derelict and underfunded. At Lynbrook and nearby schools, the Journal writes, whites weren’t quitting schools because the schools were bad. And they weren’t harming them academically when they left; more Asians just moved in.

“Quite the contrary,” the article read. “Many white parents say they’re leaving because the schools are too academically driven and too narrowly invested in subjects such as math and science at the expense of liberal arts and extracurricular activities like sports and other personal interests. The two schools, put another way that parents rarely articulate so bluntly, are too Asian.”

Reading that article was a bit like accessing a cipher. It swiped away the coded rhetorical veneer that I had so often heard preached at my school. The administrators at my school, largely white, had spoken for years about limiting competition, decreasing stress, preventing students from skipping math levels. Around me, I noticed that almost all the parents or students complaining about the policies were Asian.

It wasn’t until I read the article that I was able to recognize the code words that the administrators used were, intentionally or unintentionally, aimed at countering an “Asian” school. I don’t mean to suggest any covert or overt racism on the part of my school administrators. They are not racist. But what their words and policies did show was a lack of understanding of Asian academic drive. At my school, we were inoculated against the evils of doing things for college applications, counseled to lessen our workload, reminded that true meaning in life was found not in academic success but in “personal worth.” I heard the phrase “self-esteem” so much that I wanted to throw up every time an inspirational speaker waltzed into our school.

This was all well and good, but at the same time the faculty advocated taking easier classes, avoiding tutors, and participating in fewer extracurricular activities. And not only was there a parent at home to scorn those ideas, our competitive drive immediately found them repulsive, also.

That thought would have eventually disappeared

Sunday, July 19th, 2015

Dr. Ben Goldacre (@bengoldacre) explains what he likes about Twitter:

What I love about Twitter is that you can follow a thousand people who are all working in different and interesting fields and just every now and then, trail your fingers into this river of information as it passes by. Also, as it is so low threshold, you gain access to the passing thoughts of very clever people which you never previously would have had. In the past, if Richard Horton, Editor of The Lancet, was waiting in the check-in queue at Heathrow and was reading a global health story in a newspaper which he thinks is wrong, that thought would have eventually disappeared. But now, he can pull out his phone and tweet that the news story is incorrect as the The Lancet published an article on that subject some months back.

So being able to sift through those tailored feeds of serendipity is absolutely amazing and I think it is also really interesting for showing you who is truly clued up on their subject matter. I have a deep-rooted prejudice which is that if people can talk fluently in everyday language about their job, it strongly suggests that they have fully incorporated their work into their character. They feel it in their belly. There are people with whom you talk about technical stuff and it almost feels like they can only talk about it in a very formal way with their best work face on — as if the information they are talking about has not penetrated within. Twitter cuts through that and is a way of finding people who are insightful and passionate about what they do, like junior doctors one year out of medical school who take you aback when you realise they know more than people whose job it is to know about a particular field, such as 15 year-old Rhys Morgan. He has Crohn’s disease and went onto Crohn’s disease discussion forums and discussed evidence, whilst noting down people making false claims about evidence for proprietary treatments. He ended up giving better critical appraisal of the evidence that was presented than plenty of medical students. This was all simply because he read How to Read a Paper by Trish Greenhalgh and some of my writings, so he has learnt about how critical appraisal works and what trials look like along with the strengths and weaknesses of different kinds of evidence. Thanks to Twitter, I have been able to read about people like Rhys in action and to see ideas and principles really come alive and be discussed and for that, it is wonderful.

Selection, Assessment & Training: the IJN Way

Friday, July 17th, 2015

Weapons Man recommends a series of living history interviews by Dan King — a former diplomat who, rare among Americans, speaks and understands spoken Japanese well — if you want to understand selection, assessment & training: the IJN way — namely A Tomb Called Iwo Jima and The Last Zero Fighter:

Japanese combat leadership was experienced, NCO/PO leadership. Unlike officer-heavy armies of the US, Russia, or the Third World, the Japanese had very few, and very elite, officers. By “elite,” we mean that they were selected for being in the top tail of the ability distribution (cognitively and physically), and they were trained in an extremely demanding academy. But the percentage of officers was always low, and first- and second-line leaders were invariably NCOs, promoted into leadership positions (and trained for those positions) based on ability and proven performance. Mutual respect between the academy officers and the up-from-the-ranks NCOs was the vital glue that produced the remarkable combat cohesion of Japanese units.

An Aviator in the IJN, usually of enlisted rank and even younger than his Allied counterpart, was one of three technical specialties: pilot, navigator/observer (who in multi-crew aircraft, much like in the Luftwaffe, was more likely to be the aircraft commander than the senior pilot was), and radio operator/gunner. This technical division was much like other air arms. But Japan was unique in the degree to which it made its pilots from a raw material of unformed, almost uneducated but able youth — children, by today’s measures.

King reduces it to an aphorism:

While Western powers trained officers to be pilots, Japan primarily turned teenage boys into pilots.