January 23, 2010

Why is crime down among Today's Youth?

As part of my continuing coverage of unusually cinematic Southern California crimes, complete with the kind of multi-culti bands of perps that are more interesting than the usual gangs of half-cousins, here's an excerpt from the Orange County Register:

Nearly three years after a father and daughter were set ablaze and the mother, Dhanak, had her throat slit, details surrounding one of Orange County's most notorious cases are surfacing.

[Iftekhar] Murtaza, 25, of Van Nuys, and his two friends – Vitaliy Krasnoperov, 24, of West Hollywood and Charles Anthony Murphy Jr., 25, of Mission Hills – remain behind bars.

The trio of suspects is accused of killing Jayprakash Dhanak, 56, and Karishma Dhanak, 20, the father and sister of Shayona Dhanak, Murtaza's former girlfriend. ...

The prosecutor, Senior Deputy District Attorney Howard Gundy, said a dispute over religion was at the core of the crime.

Shayona Dhanak's parents disapproved of her nearly three-year relationship with Murtaza, who was Muslim. Murtaza was angry with the Dhanaks, who are devout Hindus, for interfering with his relationship, according to court records. The couple broke up several weeks before the slayings.

Gundy said Murtaza wanted to kill Shayona Dhanak's family so she would have no one left but him.

One problem today's youth face in living up to the high marks set by past generations at committing a high volume of crimes is that they are so addicted to electronic communications that they leave digital trails everywhere, making it hardly worth their while to break the law. For example, the kid who stabbed seven times this woman my wife knows while stealing her cell phone and laptop, immediately called his gang friends with the stolen phone. The cops traced the calls and came down hard on the friends a few hours later, and they rolled over on him. He was arrested the day after his crime.

Similarly, these three guys in this story exchanged lots of text messages such as:

IFTEKHAR SaYz: shayonas parents made us breakup

crowseeker: (expletive deleted)

IFTEKHAR SaYz: dude I wantto kill them

crowseeker: how?

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

January 22, 2010

NFL 2009: The Year Only Passing Mattered

Audacious Epigone has a nifty table showing the correlation between a team's wins during the NFL's 2009 regular season and various team statistics. The most striking is the very high correlation between Wins and Yards Gained per Pass Play (which, I believe, is net of yards lost on sacks of the quarterback, but without adjustments for touchdowns and interceptions thrown) -- r = 0.80 -- versus the very low correlation between Wins and Yards per Rush [Run] Play -- r = 0.09.

For example, the two top teams in yards per running play were the Tennessee Titans (8-8) and the Carolina Panthers (8-8), while two worst running teams per play were the Indianapolis Colts (14-2) and the San Diego Chargers (13-3).

A correlation with number of wins of 0.80 with yards per pass attempt is very high considering that's not even looking at defense or special teams play. In general, you wouldn't expect this high of a correlation because of diminishing returns: if your upcoming opponent has been passing, not running, its way to victory, then you'll try on defense to shut down their passing game at the cost of giving up more yards per run.

Now, A.E. has checked out the last eight NFL seasons, and 2009 turns out to be the extreme case in recent years:


So, passing has been more correlated with winning than running for each of the last eight seasons, but 2009 was definitely the Year of the Quarterback. I found myself writing a lot about NFL quarterbacks in 2009, so at least I was responding to a real phenomenon.

One issue is that there are only 256 regular season NFL games per year, so the sample size isn't enormous, and that's one reason for year-to-year swings.

Of course, when you get to the playoffs in January, especially in outdoor games in northern cities, passing can let you down, such as New England's passing attack getting whomped by Baltimore's running game outdoors in the Boston area in the first round of the playoffs.

A question is whether the NFL's popularity could diminish if the game stays a one-dimensional test of passing skills. Personally, the kind of football I liked best was college football in the late 1960s and 1970s when coaches frequently invented all new offenses (the Veer, the Wishbone, and so forth) and have a number of years of success before defenses would catch up. It was interesting to see teams with wildly different offensive styles on the same field, which you can still see in the college game. In the NFL, in contrast, the skill level has always been so high that gimmicky innovations seldom work.

On the other hand, it could be that fans just like passing more than running -- that the few seconds when the ball is in the air is just more exciting than the ball on the ground. Thus, the long term on-field trend in the NFL toward more skillful execution of passing plays is in the business interests of the NFL. There's worse situations a sports league can be in than that.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

Invade the world, invite the world in action

Neocon insider Elliott Abrams, JPod's brother-in-law and the Bush Administration's top man on Middle East policy (which was a pretty hilarious job for a man who had spent the 1990s campaigning against intermarriage), explains in the Washington Post that we should let in more Haitians.

As Max Boot might say, you can never have too much cannon fodder!

There's a fundamental tradeoff, however:

- Either, we let in Haiti's educated minority, but that just makes Haiti dumber, which isn't good for Haiti. And there isn't even much of an educated class left in Haiti after decades of brain drain by emigation. Wikipedia's article on Papa Doc says:
His rule, based on a purged military, a rural milita and the use of personality cult and vodoo, resulted in a brain drain from which the country has not recovered. ... Educated professionals fled Haiti in droves for New York City, Miami, French-speaking Montreal, Paris, and several French-speaking African countries, exacerbating an already serious lack of doctors and teachers. Some of the highly skilled professionals joined the ranks of several UN agencies to work in development in newly-independent nations such as Ivory Coast, and Congo. The country has never recovered from this brain drain.

- Or, we admit uneducated Haitian peasants who can't earn much money in the U.S. and have a very high birth rate.

Which one will it be?

By the way, I hadn't brought this up before, but if the press is going to promote taking in lots more Haitians, we should at least mention something that Haitians brought us in the past:
October 29, 2007

HIV went directly from Africa to Haiti, then spread to the United States and much of the rest of the world beginning around 1969, suggests an international team of researchers.

The findings settle a key debate on the history and transmission route of the deadly virus, the scientists say.

Even before HIV was identified as the cause of AIDS, Haiti's role in the disease epidemic had been hotly debated.

When AIDS was officially recognized in 1981 in the U.S., for instance, the unusually high prevalence of the disease in Haitian immigrants fueled speculation that the Caribbean island was the source of the mysterious illness.

Another theory held that the AIDS epidemic spread from the U.S. in the mid-1970s after Haiti became a popular destination for sex tourism.

Scientists led by Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona, Tucson, tried to solve the puzzle by tracing back the family history of the virus subtype blamed for the epidemic in North America.

The findings suggest that native Haitians carried the disease back to their island from Africa soon after the virus's emergence there. (Related: "AIDS Origin Traced to Chimp Group in Cameroon" [May 25, 2006].)

The new study appears online this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

HIV is commonly transmitted through tainted blood transfusions, dirty needles, and unprotected sex. Infections often lead to a life-threatening condition in which the body's immune defenses are systematically disabled.

Two species of HIV can infect humans—HIV-1 and HIV-2. The former is more virulent, more easily transmitted, and accounts for the lion's share of global HIV infections. HIV-2 is less infectious and is largely confined to parts of Western Africa.

Based on differences in one of the nine genes that make up the virus, HIV-1 is placed in three major groups. The most prevalent, Group M, has eight geographically distinct subtypes.

Worobey and his colleagues looked at subtype B. Though it is found mainly in North America and Europe, the strain is present in the most number of countries.

The researchers analyzed tissue samples from five Haitian AIDS patients collected in 1982 and 1983. All five had then recently immigrated to the U.S. and were among the first recognized victims of AIDS.

A family tree constructed from the HIV-1 genes of the five Haitians and subtype B gene sequences from 19 other countries place the Haitian virus at the root of all branches.

"This is strong evidence that HIV-1 subtype B arrived and began spreading in Haiti before it did elsewhere," Worobey said.

It is generally thought that the virus arrived with Haitian professionals returning from Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) following a wave of nationalism there in the 1960s.

Using advanced statistical techniques, Worobey and his colleagues estimated that the subtype B strain reached Haiti sometime around 1966 and the United States around 1969.

"Until AIDS was initially recognized in 1981, the virus was cryptically [hiddenly] circulating in a sophisticated medical environment for the better part of 12 years," Worobey said....

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

January 21, 2010

Google No Like!

The main Google searchbox on Google.com has a feature where if you start typing a phrase it tries to anticipate what you have in mind and offer the complete phrase in a drop down pick list based on what other users have asked. For example if you type into Google's searchbox
How do I

Google offers ten suggestions for completing this entry, beginning with these three useful questions:
How do I find my IP address
How do I know if im pregnant
How do I get a passport

Commenter Victoria points out that if you type in, however, Pat Bu, Google offers you the following ten prompts:
Pat Burrell
Pat bus schedule
Pat Buttram
Pat Burrell stats
Pat Burns
Pat Burrell wife
Pat Burke
Pat Buckley Moss
Pat Buckley
Pat Burns cancer

Who are these people?

Using the power of Google, it's easy to discover that Pat Burrell is a leftfielder, Pat Buttram was Gene Autry's sidekick in 1930s singing cowboy movies and later Mr. Haney on Green Acres. Pat Burns is a former hockey coach. Pat Buckley Moss is a painter. Pat Buckley was the wife of William F. Buckley.

Somehow, I don't think those are the most famous Pat Bu...s on the Internet today.

If you type in Pat Buc, then Google just gives up giving you prompts, which it doesn't with other letters. For example, Pat But prompts you with a whole bunch of new names even more obscure than the immortal Pat Buttram.

Maybe it's just a misunderstanding. So, let's type into Google Patrick Bu. And we get another list of prompts, but none of them include He Who Must Not Be Named.

Finally if you type in Patrick J. you'll get a list of prompts of people named Patrick J. Something, none of them as famous as Patrick J. Buchanan, winner of the 1996 New Hampshire GOP Presidential primary.

Of course, Google can't (yet?) delete Pat Buchanan from their main search engine, just from the prompts. If you type Pat Buchanan into Google's searchbox, you get back:
Results 1 - 20 of about 1,630,000 for pat buchanan. (0.22 seconds)

In contrast, if you type in Pat Buttram:
Results 1 - 20 of about 49,300 for pat buttram. (0.32 seconds)

It's the sheer pettiness of Google going to the trouble of banning Pat Buchanan from its little prompting feature, one of its least important, that is so amusing and eye-opening.

P.S.: Richard Hoste points out in comments that Yahoo.com's search bar has the same prompting engine, with Pat Buchanan being the first of the Pat Bu and second, behind Pat Benatar, for Pat B. Another commenter points out the Microsoft's Bing search bar delivers the same prompts as Yahoo: Buchanan is the #1 Pat Bu and #2 Pat B.

So, somebody at Google is doing this intentionally. To repeat, this one example isn't at all important -- what's striking is the mindless animus of somebody at Google that would lead to going to all the trouble of doing such a trivial thing.

And because Google is so close to being a monopoly, it's crucial that the public monitor abuses by Google stemming from Google's not exactly subtle political biases, such as this silly little thing or the more serious annihilation of Mangan's blog in November (which was rectified after many complaints).

Ridicule is the best medicine.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

January 20, 2010

Is facial recognition a non-g factor mental module?

Physicists are not particularly well known for never forgetting a face, while some politicians are. Physicists tend to have higher IQs than politicians, but politicians have probably been evolving longer. So, is facial recognition just the general factor of intelligence in action once again, or is there a specifically evolved cognitive mechanism for it?

One of the more intriguing epistemological questions of recent decades has been over the prevalence of a g or General Factor of intelligence versus specific "mental modules."

The dominance of the "blank slate" theory of social conditioning was undermined beginning in 1958 by linguist Noam Chomsky's observation that children seemed to be particularly good at learning and speaking their native tongue, better than the existing behaviorist / Pavlovian worldview would suggest, which implied that humans have what Steven Pinker called in 1994 a "language instinct."

Although Chomsky remained agnostic over whether natural selection could account for this instinct, a school of evolutionary psychology grew up late in the century, exemplified by John Tooby and Leda Cosmides's 1992 book, that hypothesized the existence of multitudinous inherited mental modules for skills besides language.

Psychometricians, such as Arthur Jensen and Chris Brand (in 1998 books both entitled The g Factor) suggested that the very old (Spearman 1904) concept of a general factor of intelligence could account for quite a bit of the hypothesized mental modules. This seems particularly likely for mental demands that people only recently encountered, such as understanding quantum mechanics. It seems implausible that humans evolved a specific mental module for, say the Physics BC Advanced Placement test. Instead, people seem to rely for that upon the general factor plus some specific factors such as three-dimensional imagination.

Therefore, evolutionary psychologists have tended to focus their hypothesizing on cognitive skills that would have been useful in navigating the social life of a low tech tribe, such as learning a language or recognizing faces.

From an MIT press release adapted in Science Daily:
Recognizing faces is an important social skill, but not all of us are equally good at it. Some people are unable to recognize even their closest friends (a condition called prosopagnosia), while others have a near-photographic memory for large numbers of faces. Now a twin study by collaborators at MIT and in Beijing shows that face recognition is heritable, and that it is inherited separately from general intelligence or IQ.

This finding plays into a long-standing debate on the nature of mind and intelligence. The prevailing generalist theory, upon which the concept of IQ is based, holds that if people are smart in one area they tend to be smart in other areas, so if you are good in math you are also more likely to be good at literature and history. IQ is strongly influenced by heredity, suggesting the existence of "generalist genes" for cognition.

Yet some cognitive abilities seem distinct from overall IQ, as happens when a person who is brilliant with numbers or music is tone-deaf socially or linguistically. Also, many specialized cognitive skills, including recognizing faces, appear to be localized to specialized brain regions. Such evidence supports a modularity hypothesis, in which the mind is like a Swiss Army knife -- a general-purpose tool with special-purpose devices.

"Our study provides the first evidence supporting the modularity hypothesis from a genetic perspective," said lead author Jia Liu, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Beijing Normal University in China of the study published in the Jan. 7 issue of Current Biology. "That is, some cognitive abilities, like face recognition, are shaped by specialist genes rather than generalist genes."

"Our finding may help explain why we see such disparities of cognitive abilities within the same person in certain heritable disorders," added co-author Nancy Kanwisher of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, where Liu studied before moving to Beijing. In dyslexia, for example, a person with normal IQ has deficits in reading, while in Williams Syndrome, people have low IQ but excellent language skills.

For the study, Liu and his colleagues recruited 102 pairs of identical twins and 71 pairs of fraternal twins aged 7 to 19 from Beijing schools. Because identical twins have 100 percent of their genes in common while fraternal twins have just 50 percent, traits that are strongly hereditary are more similar between identical twins than between fraternal twins. (Identical twins still show variability because of the influence of environmental factors.)

Participants were shown black-and-white images of 20 different faces on a computer screen for one second per image. They were then shown 10 of the original faces mixed with 20 new faces and asked which ones they had seen before. The scores were more closely matched between identical twins than fraternal twins, and Liu attributed 39 percent of the variance between individuals to genetic effects. Further tests confirmed that these differences were specific to face recognition, and did not reflect differences in sharpness of vision, general object recognition abilities, memory or other cognitive processes.

In an independent sample of 321 students, the researchers found that face recognition ability was not correlated with IQ, indicating that the genes that affect face recognition ability are distinct from those that affect IQ. Liu and Kanwisher are now investigating whether other cognitive abilities, such as language processing, understanding numbers, or navigation, are also heritable and independent from general intelligence and other cognitive abilities.

Generally speaking, language is so central to human thought that the ten question vocabulary test in the annual General Social Survey can be used as a rough proxy for IQ, so I don't think "language processing" is likely to pan out as heritable and terribly independent from general intelligence. There are presumably, however, specific language-related skills (such as, say, noticing when you are being insulted) that are less correlated with IQ than general language processing.

Even though vocabulary correlates closely with g, the Chomskyan idea of a language instinct seems fairly reasonable, since the vast majority of human beings who are not suffering an obvious organic problem (such as deafness or severe retardation) learn to speak a native tongue well enough to pass the famous Turing Test that has proven so difficult for artificial intelligence technologists.

In contrast, many other skills are much more widely distributed, such as singing on key.

Researchers at the Beijing Normal University and Graduate University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences contributed to this research: Qi Zhu, Yiying Song, Siyuan Hu, Xiaobai Li, Moqian Tian, Zonglei Zhen and Qi Dong.

In addition to providing new insight into the structure of the mind, this work could shed light on the underlying causes of developmental disorders like autism and dyslexia. "The heritability of these cognitively specific diseases suggests that some genes have specific cognitive effects, but it's a big mystery how genes produce cognitively specific effects," said Kanwisher.

Here's the abstract:
Heritability of the Specific Cognitive Ability of Face Perception

What makes one person socially insightful but mathematically challenged, and another musically gifted yet devoid of a sense of direction? Individual differences in general cognitive ability are thought to be mediated by “generalist genes” that affect many cognitive abilities similarly without specific genetic influences on particular cognitive abilities [1]. In contrast, we present here evidence for cognitive “specialist genes”: monozygotic twins are more similar than dizygotic twins in the specific cognitive ability of face perception. Each of three measures of face-specific processing was heritable, i.e., more correlated in monozygotic than dizygotic twins: face-specific recognition ability, the face-inversion effect [2], and the composite-face effect [3]. Crucially, this effect is due to the heritability of face processing in particular, not to a more general aspect of cognition such as IQ or global attention. Thus, individual differences in at least one specific mental talent are independently heritable. This finding raises the question of what other specific cognitive abilities are independently heritable and may elucidate the mechanisms by which heritable disorders like dyslexia and autism can have highly uneven cognitive profiles in which some mental processes can be selectively impaired while others remain unaffected or even selectively enhanced.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

Google News Searches

It's interesting to do searches on Google News to see what the zeitgeist allows. For example:
Results 1 – 20 of about 240,610 for haiti. (0.21 seconds)
Haiti Malthusian
Results 1 – 1 of about 1 for haiti malthusian. (0.04 seconds)

It's interesting how almost the first word that comes to mind when I think of Haiti appears to be the last word to come to mind for all other journalists.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

Haiti & Anarchism: One Cheer for Voodoo!

Economist Tyler Cowen writes:
"A related question is how well Haiti can do as an anarchistic society. Haiti is one right now and arguably many parts of the Haitian countryside have been quasi-anarchistic for a long time, ruled by either custom or gangs. ... It's evidence that the Haitian social fabric is a lot stronger than many people thought."

I suspect a belief in voodoo lessens criminal predation in situations without effective policing (which is most of the time in Haiti). If there is no law-and-order, what is to stop you from doing bad things to other people? Well, beyond payback from lynch law, family vendetta, and mafia vengeance in this world, there is the threat of your victim or victim's surviving relatives putting a curse on you in the spirit world.

Anthropologist Henry Harpending, who spent 42 months living in Africa and liked it so much that he seriously considered leaving academia to become a safari hunting guide, has said that modernity ruins morals in tribal villages in Africa. Isolated villages have a stable culture underpinned by fear of retribution by black magic. It's not a culture conducive to progress, but it's at least a culture adapted to the local conditions, such as they are. Once a road comes to town, however, and people stop fearing quite so strongly that if they do something bad to a neighbor, they'll suffer vengeance from the spirit world, things fall apart. People become more likely to do something bad to their neighbors.

Of course, voodoo has its disadvantages: it has no ethical content. Deities do whatever they feel like, and the more outrageous the bribe (e.g., human sacrifice in Africa), the more they might feel like helping you and hurting your enemies. Papa Doc Duvalier, a superbly educated doctor and intellectual, studied his patients' beliefs, and used them to position himself as a voodoo sorcerer whom you had better vote for and obey, if you knew what was good for you.

By the way, the fad for changing the spelling of "voodoo" to "vodou" in news stories about Haiti is just another example of the long-running campaign to make the American public more ignorant by cutting them off from their past learning by changing names. The intention is to make Americans' eyes glaze over when they see the word "vodou" instead of light up when they see "voodoo."

We'll know that liberals are sincere when they start referring to tax-cutting as "vodou economics."

Don't count on it.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

How much do we learn from disasters?

When thinking of poor Haiti, it’s pleasant to think that this disaster will lead to political and societal reforms. Yet, how often does that happen? It's nice to recall examples of places that used a disaster to come back better, such as wooden Chicago rebuilding after the wind-driven Great Fire of 1871 in majestic stone and brick.

But, most of the time, we’re just kidding ourselves: disasters typically wind up being disastrous.

Occasionally, we get kicked in the head so often a lesson starts to sink in. For example, federally subsidized flood insurance kept encouraging people to build nice vacation homes right on the beach in the hurricane-infested Southeast because the taxpayer would pay to have the house rebuilt on the same spot -- and get swamped again. It took decades of hurricanes before the law was finally reformed.

Urban earthquakes tend to be rare enough that we forget a lot of what we learn.

In the more than a century after the catastrophic San Francisco earthquake of 1906, America has been lucky in the time and place when its quakes have hit. For example, the most urban of the subsequent earthquakes, the 1994 Northridge earthquake, killed only 72—but not because the San Fernando Valley was all that well prepared despite the nearby 1971 Sylmar earthquake that killed 65. Instead, it happened to strike at 4:31 AM when most residents were tucked safely in bed, so the mall and freeway collapses were remarkably non-fatal.

A massive California earthquake that will kill thousands seems only to be a matter of time.

Several weeks after the 1994 earthquake, my father, who had been through major earthquakes back to the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, took a map in the newspaper of the hundreds of condemned buildings in the San Fernando Valley and showed how they matched up remarkably to an old map he found at the library of the region’s typically dry riverbeds of sand and gravel. A large majority of condemned buildings were were found in the limited amount of development build on old riverbeds. The typical apartment building that fell down was, as the Bible says, “a house built on sand.”

Similarly, the worst damage done by 1989 Lome Prieta earthquake near Santa Cruz happened in the landfill-based Marina neighborhood of distant San Francisco. An earthquake "liquefies" sand and gravel, turning solid ground into an angry sea beneath your feet.

The slump in real estate prices that followed the 1994 earthquake would have been an ideal time for the city to buy up some of the ruined buildings on the most dangerous soil and convert that land into parks, which Los Angeles is notoriously short of. (The San Fernando Valley was intended to be a bucolic, low-density retreat from urban life, so little urban planning was done -- nothing like Daniel Burnham's magnificent outline for Chicago. The population of the SFV, however, is now 1,760,000.)

Of course, buying up shaky ground wasn’t done. It took longer for the authorities to reach my father's conclusions, and how could anyone afford to invest for the future when there was an economic downturn now?

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

January 19, 2010

Democrats lose Ted Kennedy's seat

Brown over Coakley 52-47 in Massachusetts, where Obama won 62-36 in 2008.

That's kind of a bummer for Obama's one-year Inauguration anniversary tomorrow.

No exit polling was done because nobody was paying attention to the race until the last moment. So, everybody is free to speculate about the causes in a fact-free manner.

My guess about the demographics would be that Today's Youth, who turned out for Obama in large numbers in 2008, have moved on to a new fad.

After 2008, you heard about how Obama's big turnout among people under 30 guaranteed the Democrats victory for the rest of eternity. When it comes to electoral strategy, however, never trust anybody under 30 to notice any elections besides Presidential races.

Here are some details from Rasmusen's last pre-election poll:

In the end, Brown pulled off the upset in large part because he won unaffiliated voters by a 73% to 25% margin. The senator-elect also picked up 23% of the vote from Democrats. [Our polling shows that 53% of voters in Massachusetts are Democrats, 21% Republican and 26% not affiliated with either party.]

Coakley also barely carried a usually reliable Democratic constituency. Union workers went for her by just six points, 52% to 46%.

(Want a free daily e-mail update? If it's in the news, it's in our polls). Rasmussen Reports updates are also available on Twitter or Facebook.

Fifty-six percent (56%) of voters in the state say health care was the most important factor in their voting decision. Brown made it clear in the closing days of the campaign that he intended to go to Washington to vote against the health care plan proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats.

Twenty-five percent (25%) of Massachusetts voters say the economy was most important.

Forty-seven percent (47%) favor the health care legislation before Congress while 51% oppose it. However, the intensity was clearly with those who are opposed. Just 25% of voters in Massachusetts Strongly Favor the plan while 41% Strongly Oppose it.

Fifty percent (50%) say it would be better to pass no health care legislation at all rather than passing the bill before Congress.

Looking back, 30% say the bank bailouts were a good idea. Thirty-four percent (34%) say the same about the auto industry bailouts.

Today’s voters in Massachusetts are evenly divided in their opinion of the Tea Party Movement.

Fifty-seven percent (57%) of voters in the state offer a favorable opinion of Brown while 47% say the same about Coakley.

Twenty-eight percent (28%) say Brown is Very Conservative politically; 44% say he’s Somewhat Conservative, and 22% view him as a political moderate.

Thirty-five percent (35%) say Coakley is Very Liberal; 36% say she’s Somewhat Liberal, and 21% view her as a moderate.

Fifty-three percent (53%) approve of the way that Barack Obama has handled his job as President. Thirty-nine percent (39%) approve of the way Deval Patrick has handled his job as governor of Massachusetts.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

Now, was that so hard?

60 Minutes ran a story Sunday night on Samoan football players, and for once the press respected the public's intelligence by admitting what everybody can see with their eyes: that Samoans tend to be large.
There's a small community that produces more players for the NFL than anyplace else in America. It isn't in Texas, or Florida or Oklahoma. In fact, it's as far from the foundations of football as you can get.

Call it "Football Island" - American Samoa, a rock in the distant South Pacific.

From an island of just 65,000 people, there are more than 30 players of Samoan descent in the NFL and more than 200 playing Division I college ball. That's like 30 current NFL players coming out of Sparks, Nev., or Gastonia, N.C. 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley traveled 8,000 miles to American Samoa and found a people and traditions so perfectly suited to America's game - it's as if they'd been waiting centuries for football to come ashore. ...

It's estimated that a boy born to Samoan parents is 56 times more likely to get into the NFL than any other kid in America. ...

The Samoan people are big. And big is beautiful, according to Togiola Tulafono, the governor of American Samoa.

Tulafono said it's not just size that makes the Samoans such great football players. His people come from a farming culture that prizes hard work, reverence and discipline. And he thinks that's why scouts and coaches are pulling out their atlases. ...

Samoans are born big, but the island makes them tough.

"Samoans are born big ..."

That wasn't so hard to say, now was it? And in the subsequent 48 hours, the world hasn't come to an end, either ...

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

"In Defense of James Cameron"

At Taki's Magazine, I write:

You might think that James Cameron, the man who wrote and directed the two biggest global box office blockbusters in history, Titanic and technologically groundbreaking Avatar, hardly needs defending. Yet, amidst all the denunciations of Avatar by neoconservative such as John Podhoretz and David Brooks, who are annoyed that the evil Earthling mercenaries use terms like “shock and awe,” and the more persuasive criticism from science fiction aficionados that the auteur dumbs down his movies for the mass market, it’s worth pointing out that the Cameron glass is half full, too.

Like many guys of a certain age, I’ve nurtured a love-hate attitude toward Cameron that goes back a quarter of a century to a point about five minutes into Terminator. That’s when it started to dawn upon me that the man behind this cheesy, low-budget time travel flick starring that muscle man who talks funny was the most ambitious and accomplished hard science-fiction filmmaker ever.

Yet, if Cameron had so much talent that he could make the movie of my dreams, then it is easy for me to assume that he should make it. And when he doesn’t, I tend to take it personally.

Nevertheless, Cameron deserves some vindication. For example, rather than being the America-hating leftist of neocon fulminations, Cameron is a worthy successor to the greatest American science fiction writer, Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988).

Read the rest there and comment upon it here.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

January 18, 2010

Dog genes

By Ellen Gibson of Reuters:

Dog genes that code for such signature pet traits as the furrowed skin of the Shar-Pei have been identified in a study that shows how centuries of breeding gave rise to 400 kinds of domestic dogs.

Researchers analyzed the genes of 275 dogs in 10 breeds to see how breeding practices have altered their DNA, the hereditary template in their cells. The results, reported last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that some conspicuous physical traits, or phenotypes, such as height and coat color, can be traced to particular genes of beagles, border collies, dachshunds and poodles, among other breeds.

"When you have a Chihuahua that's nine inches tall and a Great Dane that is seven feet tall, that can be traced back to IGF1," the gene that influences dog size, said Joshua Akey, a geneticist at the University of Washington in Seattle who was the paper's lead author.

Understanding how breeding leads to artificial selection of some doggy DNA can clarify the way genes give rise to appearance and behavior in other species, the researchers said. Such knowledge "holds considerable promise for providing unique insights into the genetic basis of heritable variation in humans," they wrote.

Dogs are "a great system for understanding how genetic variation influences how individuals in a population act differently, look different and have different susceptibilities to disease," Akey said in a telephone interview.

Domesticated dogs have been bred for more than 14,000 years, the report said. The strict form of selective breeding used today to turn out desired characteristics in the animals is a more recent phenomenon.

"Most dog breeds were formed in the last 500 to 1,000 years, a relatively short time frame in terms of evolution," Akey said.

Today there are more than 400 genetically distinct breeds of domestic dog, yet "relatively little progress has been made on systematically identifying which regions of the canine genome have been influenced by selective breeding during the natural history of the dog," the study said.

Dog genome research progress has been fairly slow, partly for economic reasons, but partly, I suspect, because dogs aren't really that variable, strange as it may seem. Without breeding, dogs in the tropics seem to wind up medium size, short-haired, and yellowish, reddish, or brownish.

My hunch is that genetic diversity in dogs will prove to be narrow but deep, focusing on a small number of genes that vary sharply, whereas genetic diversity among humans will prove broader but shallower than among dogs, involving more genes than among dog breeds, but not as sharply defined.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


I've written some pretty good stuff lately, so I figured this would be a good time to hit you all up for money.

I want to thank everybody who contributed last year (and guilt-trip everybody who didn't).

There are three ways to give me money.

You can make tax deductible credit card contributions to me here (then, under "Steve Sailer Project Option" click on the "Make a Donation" button); or fax credit card details here (please put "Steve Sailer Project" on the fax); or you can snail mail checks made out to "VDARE Foundation" and marked on the memo line (lower left corner) “Steve Sailer” to:

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Second: You can send me an email and I'll send you my P.O. Box address.

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Thanks. I appreciate it, deeply.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

Why is the Massachusetts Senate race even close?

The U.S. Senate race to fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat in Massachusetts isn't turning out to be the Democratic walk-over that you would expect in that state.

A reader wonders how much of the Democrats' problems in Massachusetts goes back to last summer's Gatesgate, in which President Obama spoke out against the Cambridge, MA police department, but then was forced into that humiliating Beer Summit because police officer James Crowley stood his ground?

Interestingly, the husband of the Democratic candidate in this race, state attorney general Martha Coakley, is a retired Cambridge police officer, yet the Cambridge police union leadership voted 11-2 to endorse the Republican candidate.

Of course, having Deval Patrick, David Axelrod's Barack Obama 1.0, as governor of Massachusetts for the last three years can't have helped the Democrats, either.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

A Triumph of "Cognitive Infiltration" in Action!

Cass Sunstein, head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and a long-time mentor to the President, suggested in his 2008 paper Conspiracy Theories that the government engage in "cognitive infiltration of the groups that produce conspiracy theories."

I guess that finally explains why in 2005-2007 Sunstein's protege, U.S. Senator Barack Obama, made tax-deductible contributions totaling $53,770 to the church of Rev. Jeremiah "the government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color" Wright. Obama must have been, obviously, Sunstein's undercover agent infiltrating Wright's conspiracy theory-promoting organization for two decades.

What other possible explanation could there be?

Sunstein's success having Obama infiltrate Wright's church was the perfect test case proving his theory in Conspiracy Theories: look how moderate Wright became!

It will all make sense, you see, once Cass Sunstein explains the hidden pattern to you. The White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs sees all, knows all, understands all. You have nothing to worry about. Nothing, I tell you, nothing!

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

Sunstein and Agents Provocateurs

Cass Sunstein, one of Barack Obama's intellectual mentors at the U. of Chicago and now part of his protege's Administration, co-authored a most interesting academic paper on January 15, 2008, Conspiracy Theories:
What can government do about conspiracy theories? Among the things it can do, what should it do? We can readily imagine a series of possible responses. (1) Government might ban conspiracy theorizing. (2) Government might impose some kind of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories. (3) Government might itself engage in counterspeech, marshaling arguments to discredit conspiracy theories. (4) Government might formally hire credible private parties to engage in counterspeech. (5) Government might engage in informal communication with such parties, encouraging them to help. Each instrument has a distinctive set of potential effects, or costs and benefits, and each will have a place under imaginable conditions. However, our main policy idea is that government should engage in cognitive infiltration of the groups that produce conspiracy theories, which involves a mix of (3), (4) and (5).

Sunstein then offers a truly brilliant plan for how the government should combat conspiracy theories: by mounting secret conspiracies against conspiracy theorists!
Here we suggest two concrete ideas for government officials attempting to fashion a response to such theories. First, responding to more rather than fewer conspiracy theories has a kind of synergy benefit: it reduces the legitimating effect of responding to any one of them, because it dilutes the contrast with unrebutted theories. Second, we suggest a distinctive tactic for breaking up the hard core of extremists who supply conspiracy theories: cognitive infiltration of extremist groups, whereby government agents or their allies (acting either virtually or in real space, and either openly or anonymously) will undermine the crippled epistemology of those who subscribe to such theories. They do so by planting doubts about the theories and stylized facts that circulate within such groups, thereby introducing beneficial cognitive diversity.

What could be more sanity-inducing than clandestine government conspiracies against conspiracy theorists?

Sunstein states:
Throughout, we assume a well-motivated government that aims to eliminate conspiracy theories, or draw their poison, if and only if social welfare is improved by doing so.

A conspiring government that includes, say, Cass Sunstein in a key role would be the very definition of "well-motivated," so we don't have to worry about that.

Lots of other governments have come up with ideas similar to Sunstein's of "infiltration" of anti-government groups, leading to the amusing history of double agents turning into agents provocateurs, either at the behest of their bosses in the government or freelancing. People in these jobs, unsurprisingly, have a strong incentive to use their positions as plants within anti-government organizations to whip up exactly the kind of anti-government views and behavior the government is supposedly paying them to suppress. It's do it yourself job security!

For example, in 1905 the Czarist government almost fell after the Bloody Sunday march on the Winter Palace organized by Father Georgi Gapon, who was a double agent working with the Czar's secret police (and had his own agenda as well -- it's all very complicated, as is typical whenever governments employ these tactics).

Also, as a commenter pointed out, the Romanov dynasty's best hope for survival, the formidable reforming conservative prime minister Pyotr Stolypin, was assassinated in 1911 by Dmitry Bogrov, a leftist radical who was also working for the Czar's secret police.

Similarly, as a commenter pointed out, neo-Nazi shock jock Hal Turner was on the payroll of the FBI for much of the last decade, a case to which the press has paid little attention. Turner was arrested last June for making death threats against Richard Posner and two other federal judges.

In my experience, the greater problem than the public being overly willing to "connect the dots" and imagine false secret conspiracies is the mainstream press being too unwilling to notice the effects of actual public conspiracies.

For instance, the old-fashioned Bilderberg Group is a bunch of rich, powerful people who quietly get together in fancy hotels and talk things over in private, away from the press. The new-fangled Davos conspiracy, in contrast, is a bunch of rich, powerful blowhards with publicity agents who invite favored journalists, such as Tom Friedman, to lecture them in public on their brilliant insights. Not surprisingly, the invited journalists come away with a deep sense of empathy for these public-spirited captains of global industry and finance who find their speeches so fascinating.

Even more strikingly, in 2002-2004, President George W. Bush publicly conspired with the financial industry, Congress, the Executive Branch, both political parties, the real estate industry, NGO's, immigrant groups, leftist "affordable housing" activists, religious groups, and the press to batter down traditional down payment requirements on home mortgages in the name of racial equality, peaking with his October 15, 2002 "White House Conference on Increasing Minority Homeownership." Yet, following the economic crisis in which zero down mortgages played a seminal role, this Bush-orchestrated public conspiracy has largely disappeared down the memory hole.

Similarly, Bush's highly publicized campaign in the name of fighting discrimination against air security scrutinizing Arabs, which he publicly announced during his second Presidential debate with Al Gore, and followed up on throughout his first year in office (even after 9/11!), has evaporated from the media's memory.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

"Save the Ants!"

Last year, I cited Nicholas Wade's interview with sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson, in which Wilson disclosed that at age 79, he was writing his first novel, but he was in a tussle with his publishers over whether his main characters would be human beings or ants. I argued that we had plenty of novels about human beings, so why not let the world's foremost ant expert write a novel about ants?

Now, under "Fiction," The New Yorker has published an excerpt from E.O. Wilson's upcoming novel Anthill, a short story entitled "Trailhead:"
The Trailhead Queen was dead. At first, there was no overt sign that her long life was ending: no fever, no spasms, no farewells. She simply sat on the floor of the royal chamber and died. As in life, her body was prone and immobile, her legs and antennae relaxed. Her stillness alone failed to give warning to her daughters that a catastrophe had occurred for all of them. She lay there, in fact, as though nothing had happened. She had become a perfect statue of herself.

Here's an interview with Wilson about his novel.

One inevitable shortcoming of ant fiction, however, is that all dialogue is exchanged by smell:
The ants expelled a pheromone from a gland that opened at the base of their jaws. A chemical vapor spread fast. It shouted, Danger! Emergency! Run!

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

January 17, 2010


Sunday night, the Washington Post headlines:

Security fears mount in lawless post-earthquake Haiti

I must say, though, that this has to be about the fourth day in a row that I've read headlines like this insisting that absolute dog-eat-dog carnage is about to break out all over Haiti any moment now.

Presumably, it will, sooner or later, or they wouldn't keep printing the same headlines, but as far as I can tell from reading the fine print, as of Sunday night, this hadn't yet gone through the formality of taking place:

There was widespread apprehension that, unless the pace of aid distribution quickens, there could be mass violence as hundreds of thousands of people suddenly lacking food, water and electricity begin to compete for scarce resources.

"We worry," said Laurence Acluche, a Haitian National Police officer. "We are all concerned about food."

There has already been scattered looting in recent days, but so far it has been primarily confined to damaged buildings. Still, Haiti has long lacked a robust security presence, and the earthquake has further eroded what little there had been, meaning violence could quickly escalate once it starts.

It seems like, so far, Haitians have behaved better than the press has expected. Perhaps widespread mourning, people's appreciation of the seriousness of the situation, the lack of stuff worth stealing, and the threat of lynch law in the streets have salutary effects.

In general, how useful was Haiti's government even before the earthquake in preventing crime? Or was the threat of vigilante justice by neighbors or vengeance by local gangs more of a deterrent?

This latest story suggests that future mass violence would be not due to the breakdown of law at preventing criminals from discretionary looting, but due to physical competition over the necessities of life.

If you look at really bad discretionary looting, like LA in 1992, that was just a big drunken debauch set off by news on TV and the LAPD then deciding to go on de facto strike and show people who the bad guys really were. By the way, there was almost no looting in East LA in 1992, because well-established Mexican gangs patrolled in the absence of the cops and kept out black and Central American rioters from South Central.

The 2005 New Orleans hurricane was something of a worse case scenario, where there was advanced warning so the more prudent people run away ahead of time, leaving the imprudent behind. Then the hurricane turned out to be less catastrophic than expected, so relieved imprudent people came out to celebrate afterwards, but, then, there was a delayed punch from the levee breaking, and the prudent people continued to stay away for days.

In contrast, an earthquake is instantly sobering. It hits everybody, imprudent or prudent, out of the blue. It does not put you in a mood to party. If it's a horrific one like in Haiti, it's depressing because everybody knows somebody who has been killed. Earthquakes make you realize how much you need your neighbors and they need you.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

This, I'd Watch

Some suggestions for how Conan O'Brien can raise his ratings, from Conan O'Brien in 1993.

A few thousand hours on television can make you forget how funny somebody is.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

My VDARE.com column on Haiti vs. Barbados and the Dominican Republic

Here's are excerpts from my long VDARE.com column on how, earthquakes aside, nurture and nature have been more kind to the Caribbean countries of Barbados and the Dominican Republic than to long-suffering Haiti:

Haiti’s Malthusian poverty is the default state of mankind. Its rapidly growing population is kept fed by the more than 10,000 foreign charitable organizations active in the country.

Commentators have been competing to come up with ever more complex explanations for “Why Haiti Is So Poor.” The single most important cause is probably that Haiti attained its independence in 1805, culminating in a massacre of the remaining whites, before the ending of the slave trade would have cut direct cultural contact with Africa. Wikipedia’s article on the History of Haiti notes [January 17, 2010]:

“At all times, a majority of slaves in the colony were African-born, as the brutal conditions of slavery prevented the population from experiencing growth through natural increase. African culture thus remained strong among slaves to the end of French rule, in particular the folk-religion of Vodou, which commingled Catholic liturgy and ritual with the beliefs and practices of Guinea, Congo, and Dahomey.”

Therefore, despite theoretically being a French-speaking, Roman Catholic, Western Hemisphere country, 21st Century Haiti remains culturally rooted in Africa. Indeed, Haiti isn’t even particularly poor for a country with an African culture: 22 sub-Saharan African countries have lower per capita GDPs than Haiti’s $1,300, with Zimbabwe last at $200. ...

A new book edited by Jared Diamond, Natural Experiments of History, focuses heavily on the comparison of Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic that Diamond began in his last bestseller, Collapse. Diamond, the author of the Pulitzer-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel, is both smart and about 90 percent honest. That makes him the one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind that is contemporary intellectual discourse.

Diamond’s January 15th article in the leftwing U.K. Guardian, A Divided Island: The forces working against Haiti, summarizes his thinking on how Haiti’s quantity and quality of population have hurt Haiti compared to the D.R., which has a moderate per capita GDP of $8,200 versus Haiti's $1,300. Diamond's essay is a dry read, but more frank than most of what you’ve heard:

“But Haiti's area is only slightly more than half of that of the Dominican Republic so that Haiti, with a larger population and smaller area, has double its neighbour's population density.”

(Economist Tyler Cowen blogged yesterday that until a decade ago, when kidnappings became routine, he hadn’t been afraid of crime when he visited Haiti because the overpopulation was so extraordinary: “There's just not enough room for anyone to mug you, at least if you exercise due caution. Nor, for that matter, were there very many beggars, since usually there was no one to beg from.”)

Diamond goes on:

“The combination of that higher population density and lower rainfall was the main factor behind the more rapid deforestation and loss of soil fertility on the Haitian side.”

In Collapse, Diamond praised the D.R.’s old megalomaniacal dictator Rafael Trujillo (1891-1961) for stealing much of the forestland and exploiting it cautiously in a rational manner. Dominican kleptocracy helped avoid the tragedy of the commons that contributed to the ecological ruin of Haiti, where the common folk chop down all trees for cooking fuel.

Diamond goes on to point out—cautiously!—another advantage the D.R. has over Haiti: it’s whiter.

“A second social and political factor is that the Dominican Republic – with its Spanish-speaking population of predominantly European ancestry – was both more receptive and more ­attractive to European immigrants and investors than was Haiti with its Creole-speaking population composed overwhelmingly of black former slaves.”

The relative whiteness of Dominicans isn’t widely understood in the U.S. because we are mostly familiar with the largely black Dominican baseball players, such as Sammy Sosa. But Dominicans generally tend to look more like the American-born Dominican mulatto slugger Alex Rodriguez than the black slugger Manny Ramirez. The current president of the D.R. looks like the fat guy in the Laurel and HardyMuhammad Ali, and he’s the only one of the last five presidents with any clear black ancestry. movies crossed with

Trujillo had an explicit policy of whitening the Dominican Republic’s population through immigration from Europe—and expelling Haitian illegal immigrants. He was the only national leader actively to recruit Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany during the 1930s.

Diamond continues:

“Hence European immigration and investment were negligible and restricted by the constitution in Haiti after 1804 but eventually became important in the Dominican Republic. Those Dominican immigrants included many middle-class businesspeople and skilled professionals who contributed to the country's development.”

To summarize Diamond, Haiti has more people per fertile acre of farmland than the Dominican Republic, and less human capital per capita.

That human capital can be overwhelmingly cultural. Thus another former sugar-growing black Caribbean country, Barbados, independent since 1966 although Queen Elizabeth II remains the official head of state, has a per capita GDP of $18,900, an average life expectancy of 74 years.

As Lawrence Harrison, head of the Cultural Change Institute at Tufts University, told me in 1999:

“The culture of slavery, as well as zero-sum traditional African culture, powerfully sustained by a religion (Voodoo) without an ethical code, are palpable to any foreigner who has lived [in Haiti], as I did for two years. Barbados, which I have visited several times, remained a British colony until 1966, by which time it had substantially absorbed British values, attitudes, and institutions. The Barbadians are sometimes referred to as Black Englishmen or Afro-Saxons.”

(Still, that raises the question of why Barbados has a lower crime rate and a higher literacy rate than some other ex-British colonies like Jamaica. Robert MacNeil’s PBS series The Story Of English suggested that selection played a role in Barbados' more genteel culture: “[Barbados] was the first main port of call for the slave ships. It is said that unruly slaves from the least domesticated tribes were progressively shipped up the ‘claw’ of the West Indies until they reached Jamaica.” [p. 220])

Barbadian blacks were cut off from fresh infusions of African culture when the British Parliament voted the end of the slave trade in 1807. Sugar plantation owners could no longer afford to work their slaves to death and replace them with new slaves from Africa. The British government carried out an orderly emancipation, with compensation for slaveowners, in the 1830s.

Although 90 percent of Barbados’ population is said to be “Afro-Bajan”, Barbados has a fairly large mixed race middle class who typically call themselves “white” (for example, the Barbadian pop singer Rihanna, who is considered black in America, recently complained I Was Bullied At School For Being White) and espouse traditional white standards.

Ironically, more than few of these West Indians who call themselves white in the Islands have gone into the civil rights business as black leaders in the U.S. For example, President Obama’s “African-American” Attorney General Eric Holder called America “a nation of cowards” last year for not talking enough about race, is a light-skinned Bajan-American (something he wasn't brave enough to mention in his famous speech about race).

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

Evaluating teachers on value-added test scores: the Regression toward the Mean problem

Can sending star teachers into slum schools close the racial gap in school achievement? Can teachers be fairly evaluated by how much their students' test scores went up from last spring to this spring?

Both ideas are very fashionable these days. I want to evaluate both theoretically, using a simple model with two assumptions:

First, star teachers exist, fortunately. Over the course of oneyear, some teachers can raise their students test scores more than one grade level. (There are also dud teachers who can't raise test scores as much as the averager teacher can.) In my simplified model, a star teacher is one who raises grade levels 1.5 years per year 1.0 years in the classroom.

Second, the positive impact of star teachers' is partly reduced over time by regression toward the mean. After nine months under the guidance of Miss Jean Brodie, the kids are well ahead of the average. But when they come back from summer vacation, they aren't as far ahead anymore. Away from Ms. Wonderful, they've regressed toward the mean. There can be a lot of other causes for regression toward the mean. Perhaps after a second year under Miss Jean, some of the students are bored with her tricks and less intimidated by her shtick. Maybe, especially in math and science, the students start getting closer to their intellectual limits.

So, let's assess both questions about teachers with these two concepts in mind. Let's start with something I've always assumed was a good idea: value-added evaluations of teacher performance.

I've long advocated that teachers should not be evaluated upon how well their students do on standardized tests, since the impact of the teacher is typically overwhelmed in the results by the differences between students. Those kind of evaluation systems just augment the natural tendency for the best teachers to wind up with the best students, as everybody scrambles to get hired at the schools with the smartest students. Instead, I've argued for "value-added" evaluations of teachers, measuring how much test scores have gone up under the teacher relative to the students' previous scores. The Obama Administration has come around to this view, too.

Now, though, I've developed a worrisome question about measuring teacher performance on value added, something I've always recommended. How do you factor the effects of regression toward the mean into formulas for measuring teacher performance? In the real world, you can't always assume that last year's test scores show how smart each teacher's students are on average. Last years scores were likely driven up or down by the quality of the teacher last year. The really confusing thing is that it's likely that students whose test scores were unnaturally depressed by a bad teacher last year are likely to go up more this year than students whose test scores were boosted last year by a very good teacher. That's regression toward the mean.

Let's take a sports coaching example. When I was at Notre Dame High School, our archrival Crespi always killed us in pole vaulting during our annual track meet. In fact, Crespi vaulters set a whole bunch of different national age group and high school year records.That's pretty amazing. Strangely enough, it becomes less amazing when you discover that all three star Crespi vaulters were named Curran. It turns out that the Curran brothers had a pole vault track and pit in their backyard, where their father, who had been a pole vaulter, trained them in advanced pole vaulting techniques.

Here's a one minute video from a Super Eight home movie from around 1972 of seventh-grader Anthony Curran clearing 9 feet in his backyard. I had always imagined ever since I read in the 1970s about the Curran family pole vaulting practice ground that they were very rich and had a huge back yard with an Olympic Stadium type set-up, but the video shows it's cramped, ramshackle, and the pit consists of old mattresses right in front of a brick wall. It looks like a good place to break your neck. I'm sure no modern upper middle class mom would put up with Dad and the boys building such a nightmare in the backyard, but Mrs. Curran can be seen waving happily in the home movie as her 13-year-old son hurtles toward his fate.

Not too surprisingly, the Curran Brothers were quite good pole vaulters in college (Anthony Curran, now the pole vault coach at UCLA, has an all-time personal best of 18'-8"), but they weren't the record setters in their subsequent careers that they had been in high school. I don't think any Curran's ever made the U.S. Olympic team. Regression toward the mean set in as they got older and better natural athletes started to catch up to them in hours of lifetime training.

Say you were the college pole vault coach of the Curran Brothers and the athletic director said to you, "Tim Curran set a world age group record at 15, Anthony Curran sent national class year records in high school for sophomore, junior, and senior years. We recruited you the two most accomplished high school vaulters in the history of the top pole vaulting state in the Union. But under your coaching, they aren't even winning college national championships. Why are you failing so badly with all this talent we gave you?"

The true answer is that because the Currans started training so much younger than their current competitors in college, they came closer to fulfilling 100% of their natural potential in high school than anybody else in California did. Now, the other kids are catching up and regression toward the mean is kicking in for the Currans. As high schoolers, the Currans had good nature and exceptional nurture to dominate an obscure sport. By college, they were running into competitors with even better nature, and the nurture gap was closing as all the top competitors got the same amount of coaching in college.

Now, let's think about this in a typical school, where children aren't always fully randomly shuffled after each year. For example, at my elementary school in the 1960s, there were 70 children at each grade level, so they were divided up into the Blue and the Red classrooms. They weren't tracked, they were just randomly assigned. If you started out as a Blue, you typically stayed in Blue with your closer friends.

Say that the two 1st grade teachers are wildly different in effectiveness. The Blue 1st Grade teacher's students finish the year a half grade level above the average, while the Red 1st Grade teachers students finish the year a half grade level below average.

Now, if you are a second grade teacher of perfectly average effectiveness, a teacher who can be expected to raise the grade level of an average class by 1.0 years (relative to the average), which class do you want to inherit, Blue or Red, to do best on the teacher effectiveness evaluation at the end of their second grade.

Let's say that the great Blue first grade teacher's benefits have a one year half life and the bad Red first grade teacher's harm's have a one year half life. In other words, there is regression toward the mean over time in teaching effectiveness, as in so much in life.

If you were just being measured not on value added, but on simple absolute performance at the end of the grade, you'd want to inherit the Blue class that ended last year 0.5 grade levels above average. If you do an average job and the half life is one year, then they'll finish your year averaging grade level 2.25: 0.25 grade levels above average, and you'll be considered a good teacher.

On the other hand, if you are being relativistically measured on value added as calculated by your second graders' grade level at the end of your year minus their grade level at the end of the previous year, you don't want to inherit the star teacher's overachieving Blue class, because you will only get credit for adding a crummy 0.75 grade levels in value. Sure, after two years, they'll be at grade level 2.25, but the were at 1.5 a year ago, so you only get credit for 2.25-1.50 = 0.75 grade levels of value added.

Under value added measurement, you might get fired for, in essence, having inherited the better taught class.

Instead, under value added measurement, you want to inherit the underachieving Red Class from that bad teacher, so that you can get the credit for her students inevitable upward regression toward the mean. They'll wind up the year going from 0.5 to 1.75, so you'll get credit for adding the value of 1.25 grades. I'm a star! Give me my bonus money, Arne Duncan, gimme it now!

This model where there is partial regression toward the mean after the impact of superstar teachers has interesting implications for the national obsession with closing the racial gaps in school achievement.

Assume you have an elementary school with average students where every teacher is a star capable of pushing students ahead 1.5 grades each year (a Grade Level Boost of 0.5), all else being equal. If there is zero regression toward the mean, a simple Excel model predicts that when the average student graduates at the end of eighth grade, he's performing at the 12th grade level.

Grade Grd Level Boost Regress to Mean Grade Level
1 0.5 0% 1.5
2 0.5 0% 3.0
3 0.5 0% 4.5
4 0.5 0% 6.0
5 0.5 0% 7.5
6 0.5 0% 9.0
7 0.5 0% 10.5
8 0.5 0% 12.0

On the other hand, if there is 100% regression toward the mean, the average student, after eight years of star teachers, tests at just the 8.5 grade level at the end of 8th grade:
Grade Grade Level Boost Reg to Mean Grade Level
1 0.5 100% 1.5
2 0.5 100% 2.5
3 0.5 100% 3.5
4 0.5 100% 4.5
5 0.5 100% 5.5
6 0.5 100% 6.5
7 0.5 100% 7.5
8 0.5 100% 8.5

The discouraging thing is that the results of regression toward the mean aren't symmetrical: you only get the the big boosts in grade level by eliminating the last bits of regression toward the mean, but that's very hard to do.

For example, if the regression toward the mean factor is 50 percent per year, then the average student who has benefited from eight consecutive star teachers leaves the school at the end of the 8th grade performing at just the 9.0 grade level. Eight star teachers in a row have gotten him up only one grade level:

Grade Grade Level Boost Reg to Mean Grade Level
1 0.5 50% 1.5
2 0.5 50% 2.8
3 0.5 50% 3.9
4 0.5 50% 4.9
5 0.5 50% 6.0
6 0.5 50% 7.0
7 0.5 50% 8.0
8 0.5 50% 9.0

So, you can see the contemporary obsession in the Obama Administration and the prestige press comes from with trying to reduce regression toward the mean by taking away kids' summer vacations, by keeping them at school a dozen hours per day (the celebrated KIPP program), and so forth.

Unfortunately, the big gains only come from eliminating the last bits of regression toward the mean. If you can cut regression toward the mean from 50% to 25%, then the average student's grade level at the end of eighth grade increases from 9.0 to 9.8:

Grade Grade Level Boost Reg to Mean Grade Level
1 0.5 25% 1.5
2 0.5 25% 2.9
3 0.5 25% 4.2
4 0.5 25% 5.4
5 0.5 25% 6.5
6 0.5 25% 7.6
7 0.5 25% 8.7
8 0.5 25% 9.8

But, as you can see, in a school of star teachers, reducing annual regression toward the mean from 100% to 25% only boosts grade level upon eighth grade graduation by 1.3 years, from 8.5 to 9.8. In contrast, reducing annual regression toward the mean from 25% to 0% would, theoretically, boost grade level at elementary school graduation by 2.2 years, from 9.8 to 12.0. But, due to diminishing marginal returns, it's probably much harder to reduce regression toward the mean from 25% to 0% than from 100% to 25%.

Since the white-black gap at the end of high school is three to four years, these regression toward the mean calculations can help explain why there is such a Blind Side-like obsession with plugging holes in the environment where NAM students' regression toward the mean might occur. For example, the NYT Magazine ran a feature on a public boarding school in a poor part of Washington DC where the taxpayers pay $35k per student per year for five nights per week at this boarding school. But the article was heavily devoted to worrying about whether the two nights per week that the students spend at home was causing the presumed test score gains of the five nights in the dorm to regress back toward the black mean.

Of course, the real killer in terms of closing the racial gap by eliminating sources of regression toward the mean is that eventually, these individuals turn into adults whom you can't manipulate so much, and then they choose environments for themselves.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer