The Greatest Archimedian Lever

Friday, June 17th, 2016

Bryan Caplan explores the value of history — to his sons:

Today my homeschooled sons are taking the Advanced Placement United States History Exam.  I took the exam when I was 17.  They are 13.  Given how often I deride the practical value of history in The Case Against Education, you could fairly ask, “What’s the point?”  Signaling is the easy answer.  Anyone can be homeschooled, but only a select minority can ace an A.P. test.  Strong A.P. scores are especially impressive if you’re years younger than your competitors.

But that’s hardly the whole story.  After all, we could have done other A.P.s instead.  So why history?  To be blunt: While I think history is a waste of time for 99% of people, I think my sons are in the other 1%.  They aren’t just highly intelligent; they’re good students.  More specifically:

1. Unlike almost everyone, my sons are interested in being social scientists.  And while the historically ignorant certainly can succeed in social science, you can’t be a good social scientist without broad, deep historical knowledge.  Can’t!

2. As you age, you lose your ability to master and retain large bodies of facts.  The best way to durably learn history – like foreign language – is to learn it young.  I acquired 90% of my historical knowledge between the ages of 10 and 20.  So age 13 seems like an ideal time for this task.

3. Unlike almost everyone, my sons genuinely enjoy learning about history.  (I was the same way).  As I’ve argued elsewhere, this is the crucial ingredient that transforms otherwise useless learning into a merit good.

4. The APUSH is a fantastic exam.  If a test can teach a person “how to think,” the APUSH is such a test.  If you’ve got 195 minutes to spare, take it.

5. To be honest, I’m not convinced any test actually can teach anyone how to think.  That’s why #4 says If.  Nevertheless, I am convinced that people who will ultimately learn how to think can learn how to think sooner.  How?  By practicing intellectually demanding tasks.  Since my sons are in the select category of people who will ultimately learn how to think, I have sped them toward their potential.

I was a bit surprised by his second and fourth points. I’ve certainly learned far more history on my own, as an adult, than I ever learned in school. And I didn’t realize the AP US History exam was especially good.

Michael Strong doesn’t think so highly of it:

Most AP US History preparatory materials, and often sample exams, propound a straightforward progressive narrative of American history: The robber barons, promoting an evil laissez-faire system, were happily overcome by the muckrakers and Teddy Roosevelt. The rise of progressive legislation saved Americans from suffering and misery. The Great Depression was caused, in part, by inequality. FDR’s activist government saved the US after Hoover’s attachment to laissez-faire almost destroyed us. Etc.

I see the AP US History program as the single greatest obstacle to economic literacy in the US. Many (most?) of our elite students take it in preparation for college admissions. It provides a powerful morality tale that is sanctioned as absolute truth by the College Board.

Later courses in economics, either at university or in summer programs such as those by IHS and FEE, may counteract some of the damage done. But I suspect more students take the US AP exam than take economics courses. Moreover, most economics courses come across as dry problem-solving rather than an inspiring moral narrative. Moreover, they rarely address economic history at all. The number of students who actually take a course in U.S. economic history, to address the many economic fallacies in the progressive narrative, is vanishingly small.

Add to this university history departments that mostly emphasize and elaborate on the progressive morality tale in US history. The result is that most college graduates continue to believe that laissez-faire was harmful to the working class, that heroic reformers improved conditions through legislation, the Great Depression was caused by inequality, etc.

Reform of the AP US History program, if it were possible, might arguably be the greatest Archimedian lever available to libertarians. Imagine a world in which instead of social signaling among intellectuals consisted not of “I’m more progressive than thou,” but rather “I don’t make idiotic mistakes regarding economic history or economics.”

When Everyone Goes to College

Monday, June 6th, 2016

What happens when everyone goes to college?

South Korea leads the world in college attendance rate, which is approaching 100%. This sounds great at first, until you consider that the majority of the population (in any country) lacks the cognitive ability to pursue a rigorous college education (or at least what used to be defined as a rigorous college education).

A 2013 McKinsey study found that lifetime earnings for graduates of Korean private colleges were less than for workers with just a high-school diploma. The unemployment rate for new graduates has topped 30 percent.

Successful Charter Schools

Friday, May 27th, 2016

Scott Alexander summarizes recent research findings on charter schools:

Successful charter schools seem to do much better than public schools in educating the most disadvantaged minority children, but critics have scoffed that they must either be selectively admitting the best students or just “teaching to the test”. But one new study finds charter school success cannot be explained by selective admission, and a second finds commensurate success on non-test-related outcomes, including lower teenage pregnancy and lower incarceration rates for charter school students. Educational establishment vows to respond to findings by improving their own performance calling charter schooling racist a lot.

Foreign Languages and SF

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

Army Special Forces is the only combat arms element in the US military that requires every member to have some mastery of a foreign language:

Why not just use interpreters?

Well, can you trust an interpreter the way you can a team member? Maybe. In time. With a certain subset of interpreters. But right from the beginning? No.

You also need to have linguists on the team as a safety check on those interpreters. If they think they can get away with it, they’re going to put their own spin on what you’re saying — at the very least. It’s human nature.

[...]

But some people find language learning inordinately hard. We don’t know the neuropsychiatric explanation for this, but some bright people struggle to learn a language, just like some people are (at least in their youth) natural language sponges. It seems to be correlated with verbal reasoning in one’s native language, but not perfectly (or it would track IQ, most measures of which are half dependent on verbal reasoning). So there is a Language Aptitude or “L” factor which is only weakly correlated with Spearman’s “G” factor of general intelligence.

The Army (and now DOD) has a test that purports to measure one’s language aptitude. It’s recently been subject to a little drama, as the test scores tend to have a correlation with race, which is anathema to all right-thinking people, but so far they have not race-normed the scores (i.e., provided some affirmative action points to popular ancestries). Your performance on the DLAB, Defense Language Aptitude Battery is a usable indicator, albeit an imperfect one, of your general “L” factor, and the military will often assign languages based on DLAB performance. (The military assesses languages in Categories. Cat I is an easy language, for an English speaker, like Spanish or French. Cat IV is a tough one, like Chinese Mandarin or Arabic). For an 18X starting out in Special Forces, your language may also determine what Group you go to, although all bets are off in time of war. A trainee may get an opportunity to pick the language from within the category, depending on the needs of the Army. So if you’re a Category III, picking Russian might get you assigned to Europe-oriented 10th Group (although some Russian speakers are needed in other groups). Pick Chinese or Korean, and you will be wearing the yellow flash of the 1st Group; select Farsi, and you’ll be wearing the freshly-restored Vietnam-era flash of the 5th. Or a trainee may just be told “You start language school Monday. Roster Number 107, to French. Roster 116…”

People who scored high on the DLAB often find language learning easier than people who scored low. There’s a mountain of data on this after decades of DLABs. While the cut-off score for Cat I languages in 95, cut-off scores are a bit rubbery… if they don’t have enough students to fill a class, they may bend on admissions requirements. This bending often does the candidate no favors. Few people with scores below 100 complete a long-term language school like DLI, although with good study habits, hard work, and self-discipline, someone with limited aptitude can bull through the shorter SF language school. And the higher the score, the better. While you can get into a Cat IV language school with a 110, the cluster of people down around the minimum score are often not there on graduation day.

Of course, SF and other linguist positions in the military sometimes luck into a native speaker. This is a good thing, subject to CI investigation of the student and his or her family. (If the CI work is botched, you get situations like the Naval flight officer now sitting in the brig, charged with spying for China).

Not everyone in SF thinks language is worthwhile.

This idea tends to be concentrated in the officer corps, especially in those who have spent much of their career in Direct Action units (like the Rangers, for one example). One such officer was Colonel (later Brigadier General) Frank J. Toney, who had been a protegé of James Guest, in an environment where only door-kicking counted. When Toney took over SF Command, he brought his attitude with him: “My men don’t need any language training. They can speak 5.56 and 7.62!”

We leave as an exercise for the reader, why his nickname was Blank Frank.

Doing, not Knowing

Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

Eric Barker sums up Anders Ericsson’s Peak:

Get Help: Find a mentor who can help you develop that image in your head of the best way to do something.

It’s Not “Try Harder”, It’s “Try Different”: Design specific activities to address your weak points.

It’s About Doing, Not Knowing: Remember the three F’s: Focus, Feedback, Fix it.

Study The Past To Have A Better Future: Find examples that have been judged and quiz yourself.

The Most Wanted Man in China

Thursday, May 19th, 2016

Freeman Dyson reads Fang Lizhi’s memoir and concludes Chinese reeducation camps worked:

Fang’s book is the personal story of a scientist whose life was shaped by Chinese history. From the evidence provided by this book, I am led to believe that communism survived in China because the brutal reeducation of the elite, by exile to coal mines and villages and forced sharing of hardships with dirt-poor workers and peasants, was to some extent a genuine reeducation. A great many members of the elite endured a period of gross abuse and humiliation, so severe as to drive many of them to suicide. Fang—who died in 2012—describes four of these personal tragedies that he remembered vividly when he wrote his book thirty years later. But the majority of the victims, like Fang, survived the physical and mental battering, and returned to pursue careers as leaders of society. They became a privileged and corrupt class, but had acquired some indelible firsthand knowledge of the real needs and desires of the Chinese people.

In Russia there was much talk of reeducation of the elite, but the reality was different. In Russia the purges killed large numbers of the elite and condemned others to long years of imprisonment in the gulag archipelago, but those who survived were not re-educated. The intellectuals who survived in Russia remained isolated from the realities of working-class existence. The working class in the minds of the rulers of Russia remained an intellectual abstraction, detached from contact with reality.

Unlike the majority of his contemporaries, Fang became a dissident. His reeducation was too successful, pushing him all the way to a final rejection of communism. But he was the exception who proves the rule. The rule is demonstrated by the majority of Chinese intellectuals who climbed back into the system after reeducation, not by the small minority who became dissidents. The historical fact is that reeducation generally succeeded in its avowed purpose. It produced a governing class that combined a formal acceptance of the regime’s Communist dogma with some understanding of the people it was governing.

Demonstrated Intellectual Superiority

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

As their Wall Street Journal piece was going to press, Jonathan Haidt and Lee Jussim received a copy of an astonishing letter written in 1969, from Macklin Fleming, Justice of the California Court of Appeal to Louis Pollack, the dean of Yale Law School:

The immediate damage to the standards of Yale Law School needs no elaboration. But beyond this, it seems to me the admission policy adopted by the Law School faculty will serve to perpetuate the very ideas and prejudices it is designed to combat. If in a given class the great majority of the black students are at the bottom of the class, this factor is bound to instill, unconsciously at least, some sense of intellectual superiority among the white students and some sense of intellectual inferiority among the black students. Such a pairing in the same school of the brightest white students in the country with black students of mediocre academic qualifications is social experiment with loaded dice and a stacked deck. The faculty can talk around the clock about disadvantaged background, and it can excuse inferior performance because of poverty, environment, inadequate cultural tradition, lack of educational opportunity, etc. The fact remains that black and white students will be exposed to each other under circumstances in which demonstrated intellectual superiority rests with the whites.

[...]

No one can be expected to accept an inferior status willingly. The black students, unable to compete on even terms in the study of law, inevitably will seek other means to achieve recognition and self-expression. This is likely to take two forms. First, agitation to change the environment from one in which they are unable to compete to one in which they can. Demands will be made for elimination of competition, reduction in standards of performance, adoption of courses of study which do not require intensive legal analysis, and recognition for academic credit of sociological activities which have only an indirect relationship to legal training. Second, it seems probable that this group will seek personal satisfaction and public recognition by aggressive conduct, which, although ostensibly directed at external injustices and problems, will in fact be primarily motivated by the psychological needs of the members of the group to overcome feelings of inferiority caused by lack of success in their studies. Since the common denominator of the group of students with lower qualifications is one of race this aggressive expression will undoubtedly take the form of racial demands–the employment of faculty on the basis of race, a marking system based on race, the establishment of a black curriculum and a black law journal, an increase in black financial aid, and a rule against expulsion of black students who fail to satisfy minimum academic standards.

[...]

The American creed, one that Yale has proudly espoused, holds that an American should be judged as an individual and not as a member of a group. To me it seems axiomatic that a system which ignores this creed and introduces the factor of race in the selection of students for a professional school is inherently malignant, no matter how high-minded the purpose nor how benign the motives of those making the selection….

The present policy of admitting students on two bases and thereafter purporting to judge their performance on one basis is a highly explosive sociological experiment almost certain to achieve undesirable results.

The Lazy Way To Kill Bad Habits

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

Eric Barker summarizes Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit:

One at a time. Beat one bad habit per month and in a year you’ll be awesome.

Don’t stop. Just count. Don’t eliminate the bad behavior just yet. First, be consistent in your awfulness.

Don’t change you. Change your world. 20 second rule. Make it harder to engage in bad habits.

Chill, dude. Stress makes the bad stuff tempting. Relax and you’ll behave better.

Don’t eliminate. Replace. You can’t kill bad habits but you can swap them out for new ones.

“If” and “Then.” A simple plan for how you’ll beat temptation helps you beat temptation.

Forgive yourself. Beating yourself up makes you behave worse. Self-compassion keeps you going.

The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

In The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class sociologist Alvin Gouldner explained that the highly educated were on their way — this was in 1979 — to becoming a major political force in American society:

As a man of the left, he had mixed feelings about this development, since he thought the intelligentsia might be tempted to put its own interests ahead of the marginalized groups for whom it often claimed to speak.

Today, with an ideological gap widening along educational lines in the United States, Dr. Gouldner’s arguments are worth revisiting. Now that so many people go to college, Americans with bachelor’s degrees no longer constitute an educational elite. But the most highly educated Americans — those who have attended graduate or professional school — are starting to come together as a political bloc.

Last month, the Pew Research Center released a study showing that nearly a third of those who went to graduate or professional school have “down the line” liberal views on social, economic and environmental matters, whereas this is true for just one in 10 Americans generally. An additional quarter of postgrads have mostly liberal views. These numbers reflect drastic change: While professionals have been in the Democratic column for a while, in 1994 only 7 percent of postgrads held consistently liberal political opinions.

Dr. Gouldner’s “new class” wasn’t exactly the contemporary intelligentsia, with its Washington policy analysts, New York editors and Bay Area biotech researchers. But it was close. Dr. Gouldner observed changes in the American occupational structure that he thought were altering the balance of power among social classes. As he saw it, beginning in the early 20th century, increasing complexity in science, technology, economic affairs and government meant that the “old” moneyed class no longer had the expertise to directly manage the work process or steer the ship of state.

Members of the old class turned to scientists, engineers, managers, human relations specialists, economists and other professionals for help. As these experts multiplied, they realized the extent of their collective power. They demanded fitting levels of pay and status and insisted on professional autonomy. A “new class” was born, neither owner nor worker.

A distinguishing feature of this new class, according to Dr. Gouldner, was the way it spoke and argued. Steeped in science and expert knowledge, it embraced a “culture of critical discourse.” Evidence and logic were valued; appeals to traditional sources of authority were not. Members of the new class raised their children in such a culture. And it was these children, allergic to authoritarian values, who as young adults were at the center of the student revolts, finding common ground with disaffected “humanistic” intellectuals bent on changing the world.

Dr. Gouldner assumed that as the student radicals aged and entered the work force, they would retain their leftist sympathies. But he conceded that they might also work to shore up their privileges. He characterized the new class as the great hope of the left in a period when the American labor movement was in decline, yet also as flawed.

Hard Truths About Race on Campus

Saturday, May 14th, 2016

Jonathan Haidt and Lee Jussim address some hard truths about race on campus:

A basic principle of psychology is that people pay more attention to information that predicts important outcomes in their lives. A key social factor that we human beings track is who is “us” and who is “them.” In classic studies, researchers divided people into groups based on arbitrary factors such as a coin toss. They found that, even with such trivial distinctions, people discriminated in favor of their in-group members.

None of this means that we are doomed to discriminate by race. A 2001 study by Robert Kurzban of the University of Pennsylvania and colleagues in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that race was much less prominent in how people categorized each other when individuals also shared some other prominent social characteristic, like membership on a team. If you set things up so that race conveys less important information than some other salient factor, then people pay less attention to race.

A second principle of psychology is the power of cooperation. When groups face a common threat or challenge, it tends to dissolve enmity and create a mind-set of “one for all, all for one.” Conversely, when groups are put into competition with each other, people readily shift into zero-sum thinking and hostility.

[...]

But as practiced in most of the top American universities, affirmative action also involves using different admissions standards for applicants of different races, which automatically creates differences in academic readiness and achievement. Although these gaps vary from college to college, studies have found that Asian students enter with combined math/verbal SAT scores on the order of 80 points higher than white students and 200 points higher than black students. A similar pattern occurs for high-school grades. These differences are large, and they matter: High-school grades and SAT scores predict later success as measured by college grades and graduation rates.

As a result of these disparate admissions standards, many students spend four years in a social environment where race conveys useful information about the academic capacity of their peers. People notice useful social cues, and one of the strongest causes of stereotypes is exposure to real group differences. If a school commits to doubling the number of black students, it will have to reach deeper into its pool of black applicants, admitting those with weaker qualifications, particularly if most other schools are doing the same thing. This is likely to make racial gaps larger, which would strengthen the negative stereotypes that students of color find when they arrive on campus.

And racial gaps in classroom performance create other problems. A 2013 study by the economist Peter Arcidiacono of Duke University found that students tend to befriend those who are similar to themselves in academic achievement. This is a big contributor to the patterns of racial and ethnic self-segregation visible on many campuses. If a school increases its affirmative-action efforts in ways that expand these gaps, it is likely to end up with more self-segregation and fewer cross-race friendships, and therefore with even stronger feelings of alienation among black students.

[...]

In their book All That We Can Be (1996), the sociologists Charles Moskos and John Sibley Butler describe how the U.S. Army escaped from the racial dysfunction of the 1970s to become a model of integration and near-equality by the time of the 1991 Gulf War. The Army invested more resources in training and mentoring black soldiers so that they could meet rigorous promotion standards. But, crucially, standards were lowered for no one, so that the race of officers conveyed no information about their abilities. The Army also promoted cooperation and positive-sum thinking by emphasizing pride in the Army and in America.

Can Boys Beat Girls in Reading?

Saturday, May 7th, 2016

Boys outscored girls on reading tests — when they were told the tests were a game:

The latest study, in France, involved 80 children, 48 boys and 30 girls age 9 years old on average, from four third-grade classes at three schools. All classes received a silent reading test that required students to underline as many animal names as possible in three minutes from a list of 486 words (animal names comprised half the list). Two classes were told the test was an evaluation of their reading abilities, and two were told it was a new animal fishing game designed for a fun magazine.

In classes given reading evaluations, boys made an average of 33.3 correct answers compared with 43.3 by the girls. But when the tests were framed as animal games, boys’ average scores were significantly higher: 44.7 compared with 38.3 for the girls.

It looks like the boys’ performance improved and the girls’ performance declined when they said it was a game?

Engineers of Jihad

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

Why do so many terrorists have engineering degrees? Sociologists Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog looked into The Curious Connection between Violent Extremism and Education, and Tyler Cowen found their core message pretty simple:

Our findings about disciplines, personality traits, and political preferences are remarkably consistent. The outstanding result we obtained is that the distribution of traits across disciplines mirrors almost exactly the distribution of disciplines across militant groups…engineers are present in groups in which social scientists, humanities graduates, and women are absent, and engineers possess traits — proneness to disgust, need for closure, in-group bias, and (at least tentatively) simplism…

Understanding and Training the Female Shooter

Monday, May 2nd, 2016

Greg Ellifritz shares some things he learned from Lou Ann Hamblin’s Understanding and Training the Female Shooter class:

When measured on a dynamometer, most men have similar grip strength between their dominant and non-dominant hands (as tested in class, my hands differed by only 2 lbs. of force between right and left). Most women have a HUGE disparity…differences of up to 40% are common. Would that knowledge affect how you teach off-handed shooting for a female student? It should.

Female vision is different than male vision. Women have less depth perception, but better peripheral vision than men. It affects how women see the sights on their guns and how far they have to move their head to do an after-action scan.

Shorter-waisted women have difficulty drawing from many traditional holsters. Their body styles change which gear works best for them.

Women are known to be better multi-taskers than men. This can be problematic in firearms training as some women will try to do too much, taking your suggestions very literally. If you give most women a list of 10 things they are doing “wrong”, they will try to work on them all simultaneously and won’t make as much improvement as if you gave them just one or two things to improve at a time.

Because of differing motivational strategies, competition in training will often yield different results between men and women. Most men really enjoy competition and find it valuable. Because most women are motivated more by social connection than by ego gratification, competition may not give the same benefits. Lou Ann suggested using team competitions (where students are partnered up to achieve a goal) when training women. She believes that women will be better motivated to perform if they are trying to help their partner than if they were trying to win some type of individual award.

“Women need details…but only when they are ready for them. Don’t over-explain things in the beginning, but be ready to explain things in much more detail that you ever imagined necessary when she asks for it. But, she won’t ask for the details if she thinks you are a dick.”

Wargaming in the Classroom: An Odyssey

Monday, April 25th, 2016

James Lacey designed the perfect course on the Peloponnesian War for his students at the Marine Corps War College — only to realize that no one learned or remembered much of anything. Then he completely redesigned the course to use wargaming in the classroom, and the results were amazing:

I selected Fran Diaz’s Polis: Fight for the Hegemony, because, unlike many games, it has a heavy economic and diplomatic element. After dividing the seminars into teams, I was able to run five simultaneous games.

The results were amazing.

As every team plotted their strategic “ends,” students soon realized that neither side had the resources — “means” — to do everything they wanted. Strategic decisions quickly became a matter of tradeoffs, as the competitors struggled to find the “ways” to secure sufficient “means” to achieve their objectives (“ends”). For the first time, students were able to examine the strategic options of the Peloponnesian War within the strictures that limited the actual participants in that struggle.

Remarkably, four of the five Athenian teams actually attacked Syracuse on Sicily’s east coast! As they were all aware that such a course had led to an Athenian disaster 2,500 years before, I queried them about their decision. Their replies were the same: Each had noted that the Persians were stirring, which meant there was a growing threat to Athens’ supply of wheat from the Black Sea. As there was an abundance of wheat near Syracuse, each Athenian team decided to secure it as a second food source (and simultaneously deny it to Sparta and its allies) in the event the wheat from the Black Sea was lost to them. Along the way, two of the teams secured Pylos so as to raise helot revolts that would damage the Spartan breadbasket. Two of the teams also ended revolts in Corcyra, which secured that island’s fleet for Athenian purposes, and had the practical effect of blockading Corinth. So, it turns out there were a number of good strategic reasons for Athens to attack Syracuse. Who knew? Certainly not any War College graduate over the past few decades.

All of these courses of action were thoroughly discussed by each team, as were Spartan counter moves. For the first time in my six years at the Marine Corps War College, I was convinced that the students actually understood the range of strategies and options Thucydides wrote about. In the following days, I was stopped dozens of times by students who wanted discuss other options they might have employed, and, even better, to compare their decisions to what actually happened. A number of students told me they were still thinking about various options and decisions weeks later. I assure you that no one even spent even a car ride home thinking about my Thucydides lectures.

[...]

For six or more hours at a sitting, classes remain focused on the strategic choices before them, as they try to best an enemy as quick-thinking and adaptive as they are. Every turn presents strategic options and dilemmas that have to be rapidly discussed and decided on. As there are never enough resources, time and again hard choices have to be made. Every war college administrator can wax eloquently about their school’s mission to enhance their students’ critical thinking skills. But they then subject those same students to a year of mind-numbing classroom seminars that rarely, if ever, allow them to practice those skills that each college claims as its raison d’etre. Well, wargaming, in addition to helping students comprehend the subject material, also allows them an unparalleled opportunity to repeatedly practice decisive critical thinking. Moreover, it does so in a way where the effects of both good and bad decisions are almost immediately apparent.

At the end of each wargame, students walked away with a new appreciation of the historical circumstances of the period and the events they had read about and discussed in class. And even though all wargames are an abstract of actual events, I am sure that no student exposed to historical gaming will ever again read about the Peloponnesian War without thinking about Sicily’s wheat, the crucial importance of holding the Isthmus of Corinth, or what could have been done with a bit more Persian silver in the coffers of one side or the other’s treasury.

The trouble with books

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

Nick Szabo explains the trouble with books:

Most readers don’t want to spend most of their time reading verbose works by single author, when a greater variety of more relevant and thoughtfully concise works are available from a much larger pool of thinkers. Prior to the Internet they had much less choice: books were just the way educated people learned and taught. (And many people still believe that reading and writing books is the sine quo non of being educated, just as many Europeans in 1500 still lauded the superiority of scribal methods and scholastic thought).

Magazines and newspapers involve smaller form factors, but they still draw from a very small pool of authors. These authors can only write in detail about a wider variety of subjects by pretending to know things that they don’t: they take human institutions far more complicated than a single human can possibly comprehend and boil them down to a series of hypersimplified theories, what in less authoritative contexts we’d call ideologies or conspiracy theories.

Instead of being forced to read a vast number of words each from a small number and variety of authors, already widely read by many other people (making your reading of them often quite intellectually redundant), on the Internet you can read much less per-author text (and thus, potentially at least, far more thought out per word) from a much greater number and variety of authors.

Ideally you’d have someone reading widely for you and curating a list of good articles — or even presenting just the most insightful excerpts.