Incentives boost effort on IQ tests

Saturday, August 25th, 2018

Will intelligence test-taking performance increase if people are paid $75 to do well on the test? James Thompson takes a look:

This is an interesting question, because critics of intelligence testing have argued that some groups get low scores because they are not interested in the test, and can’t see the point of solving the problems. Perhaps so, although if you don’t get motivated by trying to solve problems that might be diagnostic in itself.

Gilles Gignac decided to have a look at this argument, seeing whether the offer of winning $75 Australian dollars boosted intelligence test scores in university students. For once, I am not too bothered by the subjects being university students, because they tend to have modest funds and healthy appetites.

[...]

The financial incentive was observed to impact test-taking effort statistically significantly. By contrast, no statistically significant effects were observed for the intelligence test performance scores.

[...]

One reason why test-taking motivation is correlated with intelligence test scores may be that bright people like solving problems. If they have to take a test, they look forward to it, knowing they usually do well, and are interested in finding out precisely how well they do. Less able students don’t like tests, and particularly get discouraged when they relate to difficult subjects.

Self-consciously tall young men who went on to study at Cambridge

Saturday, August 18th, 2018

While listening to the audiobook version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I started thinking about the writing style, and I was immediately reminded of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

I did a little digging, and it turns out that Douglas Adams was a self-consciously tall young man who went on to study at Cambridge — just like John Cleese, whose autobiography, So, Anyway…, I very much enjoyed, especially as an audiobook, with Cleese himself narrating.

Adams went on to be discovered by Graham Chapman — tall, Cambridge grad — and co-wrote a Monty Python sketch with him:

Adams is one of only two people other than the original Python members to get a writing credit (the other being Neil Innes).

Adams had two brief appearances in the fourth series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. At the beginning of episode 42, “The Light Entertainment War”, Adams is in a surgeon’s mask (as Dr. Emile Koning, according to on-screen captions), pulling on gloves, while Michael Palin narrates a sketch that introduces one person after another but never gets started. At the beginning of episode 44, “Mr. Neutron”, Adams is dressed in a pepper-pot outfit and loads a missile onto a cart driven by Terry Jones, who is calling for scrap metal (“Any old iron…”). The two episodes were broadcast in November 1974.

Anyway, I found Adams’ style very, very English, and thus Stephen Fry‘s narration fit it very, very well. What’s that? Why, yes, Stephen Fry is conspicuously tall, isn’t he? I wonder where he went to… Oh! Cambridge! Fancy that.

From Terman to Today

Thursday, August 16th, 2018

David Lubinski of Vanderbilt University reviews a century of findings on intellectual precocity:

As Terman launched his longitudinal study in 1921, Hollingworth, Pressey, Thorndike, and others advocated for the special educational needs and the importance of studying intellectually precocious students (Witty, 1951). In a compelling publication in Science, “The Gifted Student and Research,” Seashore (1922) argued that for every 100 incoming college freshman chosen at random, the top five assimilate five times as much information as the bottom five and stressed that these differences necessitate different opportunities for meeting their respective needs. He emphasized that optimal learning environments for all students avoided the undesirable extremes of frustration and boredom destined for appreciable numbers of students when inflexible, lock-step learning environments were enforced upon all.

Adjusting the depth and pace of the curriculum to the rate at which each student learned would “keep each student busy at his highest level of achievement in order that he may be successful, happy, and good” (italics in original, Seashore, 1922, p. 644). For the gifted, Seashore recommended that instead of whipping them into line, we “whip them out of line.” Seashore (1930, 1942) leveraged this idea when he marshaled his campaign for establishing honors colleges throughout major U.S. universities. Although his name does not always surface in historical treatments of the gifted movement, Seashore’s impact was profound (Miles, 1956). He traveled to 46 of the contiguous states within the United States meeting with university officials to discuss the importance of honors colleges and more challenging curricula and opportunities for the most talented university students.

Large-scale empirical evidence for these considerations was introduced a few years later by the extensive longitudinal findings of Learned and Wood (1928, 1938). Figure 1 is reproduced from their extensive analysis of tens of thousands of high school and college students, many of whom were tracked for years and systematically assessed on academic knowledge. For decades, major textbooks on individual differences (Anastasi, 1958; Tyler, 1965; Willerman, 1979) and policy recommendations for restructuring classrooms (Benbow & Stanley, 1996; Pressey, 1949; Terman, 1954a) cited this important study. It was cited as empirical evidence for why instruction needs to be adjusted to the individual learning needs of each student — and intellectually precocious students, in particular.

From Terman to Today Figure 1

When Terman (1939) reviewed Learned and Wood (1938) for the Journal of Higher Education, he regarded it as the most relevant research contribution that addressed higher education problems in the United States. Terman (1939, p. 111) maintained it “warrants a thorough overhauling of our educational procedures,” because it documented the extent to which vast knowledge differentials exist among students in lock-step systems. It demonstrated that the range of individual differences in knowledge among high school seniors, college sophomores, and college seniors, across wide varieties of professionally developed achievement tests, was vast. For example, about 10% of 12th-grade students younger than 18 years of age had more scientific knowledge than the average college senior. Within all grade levels, younger students were more knowledgeable than the older students. And, if graduation from college were based on demonstrated knowledge rather than time in the educational system, a full 15% of the entering freshmen class would be deemed ready to graduate. Indeed, they would make the top 20% cut on the broad-spectrum 1,200-item achievement test in the combined (Freshman + Sophomore + Junior + Senior) college sample.

(Hat tip to Eric Raymond.)

Has the United States now arrived at the brink of a veritable civil war?

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018

How, when, and why, Victor Davis Hanson asks, has the United States now arrived at the brink of a veritable civil war?

Globalization

Globalization had an unfortunate effect of undermining national unity. It created new iconic billionaires in high tech and finance, and their subsidiaries of coastal elites, while hollowing out the muscular jobs largely in the American interior.

Ideologies and apologies accumulated to justify the new divide. In a reversal of cause and effect, losers, crazies, clingers, American “East Germans,” and deplorables themselves were blamed for driving industries out of their neighborhoods (as if the characters out of Duck Dynasty or Ax Men turned off potential employers). Or, more charitably to the elites, the muscular classes were too racist, xenophobic, or dense to get with the globalist agenda, and deserved the ostracism and isolation they suffered from the new “world is flat” community. London and New York shared far more cultural affinities than did New York and Salt Lake City.

Meanwhile, the naturally progressive, more enlightened, and certainly cooler and hipper transcended their parents’ parochialism and therefore plugged in properly to the global project. And they felt that they were rightly compensated for both their talent and their ideological commitment to building a better post-American, globalized world.

One cultural artifact was that as our techies and financiers became rich, as did those who engaged in electric paper across time and space (lawyers, academics, insurers, investors, bankers, bureaucratic managers), the value of muscularity and the trades was deprecated. That was a strange development. After all, prestige cars, kitchen upgrades, gentrified home remodels, and niche food were never more in demand by the new elite. But who exactly laid the tile, put the engine inside the cars, grew the arugula, or put slate on the new hip roof?

In this same era, a series of global financial shocks, from the dot-com bust to the more radical 2008 near–financial meltdown, reflected a radical ongoing restructuring in American middle-class life, characterized by stagnant net income, family disintegration, and eroding consumer confidence. No longer were youth so ready to marry in their early twenties, buy a home, and raise a family of four or five. Compensatory ideology made the necessary adjustments to explain the economic doldrums and began to characterize what was impossible first as undesirable and later as near toxic. Pajama Boy sipping hot chocolate in his jammies, and the government-subsidized Life of Julia profile, became our new American Gothic.

High Tech

The mass production of cheap consumer goods, most assembled abroad, redefined wealth or, rather, disguised poverty. Suddenly the lower middle classes and the poor had in their palms the telecommunications power of the Pentagon of the 1970s, the computing force of IBM in the 1980s, and the entertainment diversity of the rich of the 1990s. They could purchase big screens for a fraction of what their grandparents paid for black-and-white televisions and with a computer be entertained just as well cocooning in their basement as by going out to a concert, movie, or football game.

The Campus

Higher education surely helped split the country in two. In the 1980s, the universities embraced two antithetical agendas, both costly and reliant on borrowed money. On the one hand, campuses competed for scarcer students by styling themselves as Club Med–type resorts with costly upscale dorms, tony student-union centers, lavish gyms, and an array of in loco parentis social services. The net effect was to make colleges responsible not so much for education, but more for shielding now-fragile youth from the supposed reactionary forces that would buffet them after graduation.

An entire generation of students left college with record debt, mostly ignorant of the skills necessary to read, write, and argue effectively, lacking a general body of shared knowledge — and angry. They were often arrogant in their determination to actualize the ideologies of their professors in the real world. A generation ignorant, arrogant, and poor is a prescription for social volatility.

Illegal Immigration

Immigration was recalibrated hand-in-glove by progressives who wanted a new demographic to vote for leftist politicians and by Chamber of Commerce conservatives who wished an unlimited pool of cheap unskilled labor. The result was waves of illegal, non-diverse immigrants who arrived at precisely the moment when the old melting pot was under cultural assault.

The Obama Project

We forget especially the role of Barack Obama. He ran as a Biden Democrat renouncing gay marriage, saying, “I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage.” Then he “evolved” on the question and created a climate in which to agree with this position could get one fired. He promised to close the border and reduce illegal immigration: “We will try to do more to speed the deportation of illegal aliens who are arrested for crimes, to better identify illegal aliens in the workplace. We are a nation of immigrants. But we are also a nation of laws.” Then he institutionalized the idea that to agree with that now-abandoned agenda was a career-ender.

Read the whole thing. (I edited down each point.)

The most expensive new public school in San Francisco history failed

Friday, August 3rd, 2018

Daniel Duane’s daughter was assigned to the most expensive new public school in San Francisco history, Willie Brown Middle School:

It cost $54 million to build and equip, and opened less than two years earlier. It was located less than a mile from my house, in the city’s Bayview district, where a lot of the city’s public housing sits and 20 percent of residents live below the federal poverty level. This new school was to be focused on science, technology, engineering, and math — STEM, for short. There were laboratories for robotics and digital media, Apple TVs for every classroom, and Google Chromebooks for students. A “cafetorium” offered sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay, flatscreen menu displays, and free breakfast and lunch. An on-campus wellness center was to provide free dentistry, optometry, and medical care to all students. Publicity materials promised that “every student will begin the sixth grade enrolled in a STEM lab that will teach him or her coding, robotics, graphic/website design, and foundations of mechanical engineering.” The district had created a rigorous new curriculum around what it called “design thinking” and a “one-to-one tech model,” with 80-minute class periods that would allow for immersion in complex subjects.

The money for Brown came from a voter-approved bond, as well as local philanthropists. District fund-raising materials proudly announced that, through their foundation, Twitter cofounder Evan Williams and his wife, Sara, had given a total of $400,000 for “STEM-focus” and “health and wellness.” (The foundation says that figure is incorrect.) Salesforce.org, the philanthropic arm of Marc Benioff’s company Salesforce, has given nearly $35 million to Bay Area public schools in the past five years alone; each year the organization also gives $100,000 to every middle school principal in San Francisco and Oakland. The Summit Public Schools network, an organization that runs charter schools in California and Washington state and has a board of directors filled with current and former tech heavy hitters (including Meg Whitman), made a $500,000 in-kind donation of its personalized learning platform, according to those fund-raising materials. That online tool, built to help students learn at their own pace and track their progress, was created in partnership with Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg’s funding organization.

As the school’s first principal, the district hired a charismatic man named Demetrius Hobson who was educated at Morehouse and Harvard and had been a principal in Chicago’s public schools. Students from four of the Bayview’s elementary schools, where more than 75 percent of kids are socio­economically disadvantaged, were given preference to enter Willie Brown Middle. To ensure that the place would also be diverse, the district lured families from other parts of town with a “golden ticket” that would make it easier for graduates from Brown to attend their first choice of public high school.

The message worked. Parents from all over the city — as well as parents from the Bayview who would otherwise have sent their kids to school elsewhere — put their kids’ names in for spots at the new school. Shawn Whalen, who was then the chief of staff at San Francisco State University, and Xander Shapiro, the chief marketing officer for a startup, had children in public elementary schools that fed into well-regarded middle schools. But, liking what they heard, both listed Brown as a top choice in the lottery. Kandace ­Landake — a Bayview resident and Uber driver who wanted her children to have a better education than she’d received, and whose children were in good public schools outside the neighborhood — likewise took a chance on Brown. One third-­generation Bayview resident, whom I’ll call Lisa Green, works at a large biotech company and had been sending her daughter to private school. But she too was so enticed that she marked Brown as her first choice in the lottery, and her daughter got in.

On opening day in August of 2015, around two dozen staff members greeted the very first class. That’s when the story took an alarming turn. Newspapers reported chaos on campus. Landake was later quoted in the San Francisco Examiner: “The first day of school there were, like, multiple incidents of physical violence.”

Inconceivable!

You can learn a lot from humans and their stuff

Thursday, July 26th, 2018

You can learn a lot from humans and their stuff, it turns out:

Formal training programs, which can be called education, enhance cognition in human and nonhuman animals alike. However, even informal exposure to human contact in human environments can enhance cognition.

We review selected literature to compare animals’ behavior with objects among keas and great apes, the taxa that best allow systematic comparison of the behavior of wild animals with that of those in human environments such as homes, zoos, and rehabilitation centers.

In all cases, we find that animals in human environments do much more with objects. Following and expanding on the explanations of several previous authors, we propose that living in human environments and the opportunities to observe and manipulate human-made objects help to develop motor skills, embodied cognition, and the use of objects to extend cognition in the animals. Living in a human world also furnishes the animals with more time for such activities, in that the time needed for foraging for food is reduced, and furnishes opportunities for social learning, including emulation, an attempt to achieve the goals of a model, and program-level imitation, in which the imitator reproduces the organizational structure of goal-directed actions without necessarily copying all the details. All these factors let these animals learn about the affordances of many objects and make them better able to come up with solutions to physical problems.

The kea is a large parrot found in the mountains of the South Island of New Zealand — and it’s pretty freakin’ smart.

(Hat tip to Tyler Cowen.)

You’re as rich as your database

Wednesday, July 25th, 2018

Ryan Holiday shares the 5-step research method he used for Tim Ferriss, Robert Greene, and Tucker Max:

Prepare long before gameday

In The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb proposes a test.

Someone walks into your house and sees your many books on your many bookshelves. Have you really read all these? they ask. This person does not understand knowledge. A good library is comprised in large part by books you haven’t read, making it something you can turn to when you don’t know something. He calls it: the Anti-Library.

When I met Robert Greene and he asked me to become his research assistant, the only thing that changed was that I started getting paid. I’d already marked and organized hundreds of books with interesting leads and material and many other relevant books I had yet to get to.

Learn to search (Google) like a pro

Take a tip I learned from Tim Ferriss. When he was researching for the secrets behind health and diet, he used a few specific hacks to drastically reduce the search area he needed to cover.

For example, if he was looking for a high level athlete, he’d go on Wikipedia and find the world’s first and second-best athletes in that sport from a decade ago. Why? It meant there would be plenty of available material and unlike athletes currently on top of the world, these would be willing and available to talk.

Me, I like to look for phrases, in order to find unlikely subjects.

Go down the rabbit hole (embrace serendipity)

In a book about media (and my own personal experiences) I somehow made my strongest citations from Ender’s Game, The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler, All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren, Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton, and a handful of other books.

Directly, these books had nothing to do with what I was writing about, but because my mind was primed to see connections, I found them in the most unusual places.

When in doubt, turn to the classics

Remember, there is nothing new under the sun. And if we’re all just saying the same things with new words, what quote is going to have more authority: one from Tacitus or some flavor-of-the-month blogger?

The Classics are “classic” for a reason. They’ve survived the test of time. Consider it the survivorship bias put to your advantage.

Keep a commonplace book

While researching an article I wrote for Tim Ferriss’ blog, I discovered (and subsequently borrowed) a tool used by the famous essayist and experimenter Montaigne.

Montaigne kept what he called a “common place book” — a book of quotes, sentences, metaphors and miscellany that he could use at a moment’s notice. I keep a more modern — but still analog — version of this book. I write everything down on 4×6 note cards, which I file in boxes. (You could do this digitally, I suppose, but the physical arrangement — being able to lay them out on a desk — is critical to my work). I picked up this system from Robert Greene, who also used it for his books.

This means marking everything you think is interesting, transcribing it and organizing it. As a researcher, you’re as rich as your database. Not only in being able to pull something out at a moment’s notice, but that that something gives you a starting point with which to make powerful connections. As cards about the same theme begin to accumulate, you’ll know you’re onto a big or important idea.

He is a very knowledgeable man

Friday, June 29th, 2018

Óscar Tabárez has turned around tiny Uruguay’s soccer team by treating his players as if he were a housemaster at Eton or Harrow:

Just as any British boarding school, Tabárez has long said his primary goal was to mold well-rounded men. He imparts lessons about respect, decency, and the importance of good manners. At Tabárez’s request, Uruguay might be the only team in Russia to have its squad of millionaires share bedrooms for the duration of the tournament. And they drink tea constantly.

[...]

Other managers at the World Cup simply coach the senior squad. But Tabárez became the dean of the entire men’s national program, from the Under-15s to the team that travels to the World Cup. Every member of those squads would come to train under Tabárez at the national training center, where he could shape their development as players and as people.

First, the setting had to be right. The Celeste Complex outside Montevideo needed to foster a sense of heritage—and, unlike Eton, Tabárez didn’t have a long line of British prime ministers to point to. So he started by commissioning a giant Uruguayan crest for the lobby. He decorated the walls with black-and-white photos of players who had fought for the team’s colors before. And outside, he ordered the federation to install a fogón, a traditional Uruguayan grill that doubled as a campfire, where he could sit with the players and tell stories at night.

Tabárez’s professorial air is no coincidence. Before he went into management full time, he was an elementary-school teacher. To this day, he likes to educate his players on history, geography, the arts, and anything else he happens to find interesting in the moment. This too is part of the Tabárez curriculum.

“One time we played in Japan and we were talking about how we were surprised by the culture,” said Forlán, an analyst for Telemundo Deportes at the World Cup. “So after dinner, the Maestro got the lads together and we listened to him talk about Japan, its history, everything that has happened in the country. He is a very knowledgeable man.”

Tabárez organizes trips for young players to attend museums and the theater. He engages his players on subjects as diverse as classical music and botany. “What Tabárez knows about plants is tremendous,” Claudio Pagani, who runs Uruguay’s national training complex, has said.

Tabárez is also a stickler for good manners. Many a Uruguayan star has run afoul of his no-muddy shoes rule. And there are strict rules about not leaving plates on the table or putting feet up on chairs. The use of cellphones is prohibited at breakfast, lunch, and during team talks or meetings.

Where education was tried, it turned out to be futile

Tuesday, June 26th, 2018

Gwern reviews McNamara’s Folly — which is about one particular sub-folly, The Use of Low-IQ Troops in the Vietnam War:

It’s not well-known, but one of the most consistent long-term sponsors of research into intelligence has been the US military. This is because, contrary to lay wisdom that “IQ only measures how well you do on a test” or book-learning, cognitive ability predicts performance in all occupations down to the simplest manual labor; this might seem surprising, but there are a lot of ways to screw up a simple job and cause losses outside one’s area.

[...]

Gregory’s book collates stories about what happened when the US military was forced to ignore these facts it knew perfectly well in the service of Robert McNamara & Lyndon Johnson’s “Project 100,000” idea to kill two birds with one stone by drafting recruits who were developmentally disabled, unhealthy, evil, or just too dumb to be conscripted previously: it would provide the warm bodies needed for Vietnam, and use the military to educate the least fortunate and give them a leg up as part of the Great Society’s faith in education to eliminate individual differences and refute the idea that intelligence is real.

It did not go well.

The main value of the book is providing many concrete examples of what a lack of intelligence can mean (useful for people who spend their whole lives in high-IQ bubbles and have no idea of what that means; more examples in Gottfredson’s “Why g Matters: The Complexity of Everyday Life“), the difficulty of implementing social welfare programs (McNamara’s education fantasies never materialized for lack of funds & the enlistees not being smart enough to qualify in the first place), and a forceful denunciation of the harms & cruelty committed by a willful blindness to the fact of individual differences, harms which fall on those least able to understand or withstand them. (“…He was perpetually angry and aggrieved, and he talked back to the sergeants. When they cursed him and threatened him, he would say angrily, ‘I just wanna go home! Why don’t you let me go home?’”) The phrase “banality of evil” comes repeatedly to mind in examining the ramifications of McNamara’s blank-slatism through the military system.

[...]

Gregory describes how many would be sent to remedial training, repeatedly failing the exercise requirements because they didn’t understand how to correctly execute actions; in swinging from monkey bars, they would try to swing one bar at a time, coming to a halt each time; in running an obstacle course, they would have to pause in front of each arrow and think about what an arrow meant before understanding which direction to go, costing them too much time to ever beat the deadline; they would insist on throwing grenades like a baseball directly to the target, not understanding that throwing up in a parabola would gain them the necessary distance; and in the mile run, they would sprint as fast as possible at the start and be surprised when they became utterly exhausted long before the finish line. One mutinied from the drills, under the impression that being sent to the ‘stockade’ meant ‘going home’, until it was explained to him that the word meant ‘jail’.

[...]

Where education was tried, it turned out to be futile, and those who did train them found them too slow or too dangerous to trust. A man assigned to t-shirt printing shop was unable to understand alphabetization and had to pick out each letter for printing by scanning through the box one by one; a sergeant trained two men to drive military trucks somewhat successfully but they were too dangerous drivers to be used and were transferred out; another simply forgot to get back on the helicopters after a village search forcing a second retrieval mission; another was lucky enough to be sheltered by his sergeant in mess hall duties (until a mortar hit it, killing him); one played a prank on his squad mates, tossing a defused grenade at them two times, but on the third throw forgot to disable it; another wandered away from an ambush and wandering back, was killed by his squad; while yet another almost shot his commander with a LAW rocket when startled; another did kill his commander while on guard duty when he forgot to ask for the password before shooting; another forgot to put his rifle safety on (shooting a squad mate in the foot, who died); another tripped a booby-trap while not paying attention; another was captured by the NVA and went insane, screaming endlessly and defecating on himself while being beaten… It is unsurprising that many of them would be made to ‘walk point’, or ejected somehow, in addition to the constant insults and abuse – a new recruit was told the NVA would kill them all in a few hours, went insane from fear, climbed up a flag pole, and jumped off it; and another was beaten to death in Marine basic training.

(McNamara may have had good intentions, but in the social sciences, good results follow good intentions much as the rain follows the plow; which is to say, they do mostly by accident, and we find it easier to tailor our preferences to the results than vice-versa.)

Only a few of the stories, like the recruit who was confused by having two left boots and two right boots but no complete pairs of boots, or the one who thought semen was urine, or the extremely-short man who received an honorable discharge & medical pension for contracting the terrible disability of ‘dwarfism’ in a war zone, or the draftee who tried to commit suicide “by drinking a bottle of Head & Shoulders shampoo” could be considered all that funny. Most are painful to read. (But educational, again, especially if you are in a high-IQ bubble and have a lack of empathy for what low intelligence means.) Once you’ve read some of these anecdotes, other anecdotes, like Scott Alexander’s experiences in Haiti no longer seem like such a stretch.

A commenter added some useful details:

As to the McNamara experiment, according to the RAND report on this program, they did not accept men in the bottom 10% of the IQ spectrum. The anecdotes you cite refer to men in the 11-30% range. Of course, some sub-10% men were no doubt accidentally enlisted since the recruitment was based on only 1 IQ test. I wouldn’t expect that many of these recruits were “funny looking kids.” The clearest mistake of this program was allowing guys into combat who were so dysfunctional as to be dangerous to their comrades. But, the idea that it was a priori absurd to recruit guys at the 20th percentile (about 85 IQ), is a post hoc judgment and probably not even rigorously demonstrable (it is not clear from the 250 page RAND report). Combat efficacy increases as the soldier’s IQ increases with no ceiling. The question is whether there are thresholds that matter. The only clear useful threshold is the point at which lower IQ men become too dangerous to their comrades. Another threshold might be the point at which they become too financially burdensome or too ineffective against the enemy (ie, their mortality rate is higher than the enemy’s).

In World War II, the minimum IQ permissible was even lower than it was for this experimental program. They didn’t recruit 350,000 sub-89 IQ soldiers; they recruited millions of them.

You should try practice, then theory

Thursday, June 14th, 2018

Nassim Nicholas Taleb had plenty to say to Bryan Caplan about what’s missing in education:

You know the Romans despised theory, and the Greeks despised practice, which is why The Black Swan is dedicated to Mandelbrot, a Greek among Romans, and the next one is dedicated to Ron Paul, a Roman among Greeks.

[...]

The route I was suggesting, education, is you send people, you make people work as nurses and then they go to medical school. Effectively, I spoke to a lot of doctors, and they think it’s a good idea because they’re afraid of medicine being now too theorized, becoming too theorized.

You make people run a local racketeering shop or a casino or something like that, for seven-eight years and then you go study economics.

We’re living longer, so this idea of front-loading education makes no sense.

[...]

I started trading and then discovered math. I said, “Oh, this is interesting.” I started discovering math, so I got immersed into math, and 15 years later, I went back to school. I went back to try to do math and effectively doing those classes. I did my thesis and that was it. But the idea — I started writing papers — the idea of having to start by theory and ending up with practice doesn’t work.

You should try practice, then theory.

[...]

Then, the root of that, my feeling, in the Anglo-Saxon world is the desire — this is why they call it liberal arts education — to aristocratic ties to themselves.

Again, let’s talk about the Greco-Roman world. You had the trivium or quadrivium, absolutely nothing practical about them, the rhetoric, the grammar, some things. The liberal education was what people learned in order to become aristocrat and idle upper class.

Then you had the real professions of becoming a baker, how to do something with wood. And the English, the upper class — of course they didn’t want to be working class, so they sent their kids to learn that stuff. And this is what came to America.

Education is split in two. You have technical education like law — not technical, but professional education — law, medicine, what else? Engineering and all these things, and then you have mathematics. If you look at it historically, the engineers didn’t really connect to the other ones because the Roman engineers did not use Greek geometry.

We only started using Greek geometry late in life after the educational system started including mathematics for these people. Engineers built cathedrals without clear geometry. It was actually more robust.

Geometry will give you these ugly corners. Before, we didn’t even know what the right angle is. Before, it was more involved, it was rule of thumb, and it was different. They had the separation, segregation.

So what you want to do? Is this liberal education that’s contaminating the rest? Or is it the technical that’s contaminating the expectation of what education should be like?

You say, “OK, this is the kind of thing you do like piano lessons on the weekends.” You read Homer and stuff like that. It’s important, and you become civilized. Stuff you do to be civilized and be able to have dinner with the vice president of the World Bank, these are the things you do. And these are the things you do to get you ahead in life.

[...]

You end up with a lot of people, in fact, today, this generation — because of the competitive environment and the closed circuit in the humanities — that basically don’t know anything about humanities. All they know is the theories du jour about this and this, and the postcolonial approach to this or that.

For example, when you start arguing with people who studied about something called Middle Eastern studies — which shouldn’t exist as a discipline — they start talking about colonialism of the French.

The French spent 21-and-a-half years in the Levant as a United Nation mandate. Explain to me the colonialism.

They say, “Well…” They don’t even know the basic facts because the more you have a ratio of theories and way more -isms, and stuff like that and the Marxism, so someone that’s good at Marxist interpretation of this and this in the postgender world. And they don’t know the facts.

This is why we can’t rely on these instructors to teach you the humanities — because you don’t get tenure from knowing the facts. You get tenure from inventing some full structural theory of baking beans and mint in Sassanid Persia. That’s how you get your tenure. These guys are ignorant.

[...]

The problem is, as society got rich, everybody wanted to reach education by imitating the aristocrats, with the illusion that it’s going to help them get rich.

When in fact, it’s the kind of thing you do when you’re already rich. This is where Alison Wolf and Pritchett come in to discover that these educational things are effectively the product of societies that are rich and definitely not causative to wealth.

This is an item that science says you don’t need

Saturday, May 19th, 2018

It would definitely be worth it to run some experiments on education, Bryan Caplan argues:

When you’re spending an enormous amount of money, you can take off 2 percent of it, and then use standard social science random assignment to really learn something.

It’s been pointed out that a high percentage of government spending on healthcare is for medical research, but only a very small amount of education spending is for education research.

The main disappointment there is, despite all the education research, it seems like it’s not very often actually used for any education policy. Medical research, you might have a similar pessimism, but I don’t think it’s as bad as that at least.

It’s not as bad as there being a big literature saying that highlighting is totally ineffective for improving student learning. Yet almost every kid in America still has a highlighter. It’s actually on the list of mandatory school supplies for Fairfax County: “You must have a highlighter.” This is an item that science says you don’t need. Yet everyone must have one to be at school.

Most parents don’t care about test scores

Friday, May 18th, 2018

Have K–12 vouchers underperformed?” Tyler Cowen asks Bryan Caplan:

I would say yes. This actually barely appeared in my book because it was not really central to any of the topics I was talking about. But my understanding of research on K–12 vouchers is a lot of people thought that they would substantially raise standardized test scores. And it’s hard to see a big gain there.

This is puzzling because it sure seems like there’s way better ways to improve test scores, starting obviously with just teaching the test. Many people say people are teaching the test all the time. Whenever I actually look at my kid’s schools, like, what are you talking about? There’s three practice tests. If I wanted to teach the test, there would be a hundred practice tests. That’s how I would handle it if you told me, “Get test scores up.”

I think the main thing that we learn from this is that most parents don’t care about test scores. When you give them a choice, they aren’t looking around for the school that will raise kids’ test scores the most.

They’re looking around for other things. Part of it is just convenience or location. Probably another big part of it is whether the kids are happy. I think we agree this is actually one of the most undervalued benefits of school choice, just giving kids some options so that kids that are crying and miserable at one school can go and take that money and go to another school.

This disease of credential inflation seems to be serious

Thursday, May 17th, 2018

Normally, Bryan Caplan hates it when people go and find one new story as proof of something:

But there was a recent one from South Korea so vivid, where even if you say that it is cherry picked, still, that such a cherry exists says something.

This was a story about, the government in South Korea wanted to hire four janitors, and most of the applicants had college degrees. In the end, they hired three BAs and one AA to be janitors there. This disease of credential inflation seems to be serious in countries where people think of education as something that’s central to their success. I don’t think so.

What is the wisdom in your field that you don’t write down?

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018

Bryan Caplan faces the autodidact’s curse:

For me, what I do is so interdisciplinary so I’m always worried about this autodidact’s curse, where you’ve read a ton of stuff but you still haven’t actually talked to anyone who knows what’s going on. This is one of the things that I try to do to deal with especially the wisdom of a field. Oftentimes there’s wisdom in a field, where it’s known to people who have thought about it for a long time, but they don’t write it down.

Of course, that’s very hard for the autodidact to find out. “What is the wisdom in your field that you don’t write down?” This is where I try to reach out to people. Generally, I would say I get about a 15 percent response rate for the people saying they’ll at least read something, so I feel like it does give me some good quality control.

Maria Konnikova is putting off her poker book, because she’s making too much money at the game

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

A year ago, New Yorker writer Maria Konnikova announced that she was diving into the world of professional poker as a new player, in order to write a book about it, and now Poker News reports that she has put the book on hold, because she’s doing so well:

In January, Konnikova won $86,400 by beating a 240-person field at the PCA National; in her first tournament after deciding to drop blogs for cards, she won $57,000, according to PokerNews:

“PCA was the moment where everything kind of came together,” she said. “I’m learning and it’s sticking and I’m playing well. It’s a really wonderful feeling when you’re studying and working to have that validated.”

Her huge success forced Konnikova to re-evaluate her plans. With an incredible opportunity in what could be a historic poker event on the horizon, Konnikova decided she had to push the book schedule back and go all in on poker for the time being. She built a revised poker schedule, ramped up in terms of both buy-in sizes and quantity of events.

It paid off immediately, as she finished second in an Asia Pacific Poker Tour Macau event for $57,519.

This kind of stunt has a rich tradition among writers and amateur athletes. George Plimpton kicked it off with NFL, MLB, and NHL tryouts in the 1960s for a series of books. More recently, Sports Illustrated’s Michael McKnight spent huge amounts of time trying to learn how to dunk and hit a homer; Slate’s Stefan Fatsis wrote books about his attempts to become a kicker for the Denver Broncos and an elite Scrabble player; and Dan McLaughlin, who had never played a full round of golf before, decided to test out the Malcolm Gladwell-popularized 10,000 hour theory and become a professional golfer from the ground up. It didn’t work, exactly, though McLaughlin got very good.

Konnikova is maybe most similar to McLaughlin in her starting point — “I’m a total poker outsider. I came to this as someone who’d never had any experience with the game” — but she’s nearly peerless in the outcome. (Writer James McManus did finish fifth in the 2000 World Series of Poker while in Las Vegas on assignment to cover a murder case for what eventually became Positively Fifth Street, but he had been a somewhat serious amateur before that.)