March 30, 2007

Did legalizing abortion cut crime?

Non-economist social scientists are beginning to weigh in on Steven D. Levitt's most famous Freakonomics theory. Here's a paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (2006, Aug):

Fertility and the Abortion-Crime Debate
Hangartner, D. , Sykes, B. L. and Hathaway, E. A.

Abstract: Recently some scholars have asserted that abortion legalization during the 1970s resulted in lower crime 15-20 years later. While economists have both substantiated and challenged these findings, sociologists and demographers have been mute on the topic. In this paper, we show that the supposed link between abortion and crime is actually the result of omitted variables bias and difficulties in distinguishing between age-period-cohort effects. We correct these problems and use quasi-experimental methods to retest the causal argument for homicide, property, and violent crime. Using a unique data set compiled from multiple sources, we find that abortion legalization did not have any measurable effect on crime 15-20 years later once appropriate controls are included. Our findings indicate that any drop in crime is the result of a mixture of unmeasured period and cohort effects and not abortion.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Reed College

Numerous colleges claim to be unique, but Reed, the small Portland liberal arts college, is perhaps the most paradoxical. Socially, it's notoriously granola 60s-ish, yet its academics are quite Dead White European Male and structured -- sort of a St. John's Lite, which is still pretty heavy.

Most strikingly, even though it doesn't put much emphasis on grades, and its students supposedly smoke a lot of dope, it's also notoriously hard for a liberal arts college.

So, lots of people don't graduate. A famous Reed dropout is Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple and billionaire. A not famous Reed dropout is my cousin Joe, the farmer and thousandaire.

Being hard hurts Reed in the USNWR rankings, because percentage of students graduating is entered as a positive variable in the formula. While over 95% of entering freshman graduate from the three most highly ranked liberal arts colleges, Williams, Amherst, and Swarthmore, only 73% graduate from Reed, which contributes to its #53 ranking by USNWR. Reed freshmen have virtually the same SAT scores (1280 at the 25th percentile, 1470 at the 75th percentile) as #5 Middlebury, but 94% of Middlebury students graduate. Demonstrating Reed's iconoclasm, the president of Reed, Colin Diver, even wrote an op-ed in the NYT in 2004 in praise of the SAT. Practically every president of an elite college depends heavily upon the SAT (and/or the Midwestern ACT), but seeing them admit that in the NYT is, well, unlikely.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

March 29, 2007

Thick and Thin Letters

April Fools Day is the official final date for colleges to send out acceptances and rejections to applicants. That reminds me that the standard advice to apply to six to eight colleges -- two "stretch" schools, two to four reasonable odds schools, and two "safety" schools -- sounds nuts to me. That's what colleges want you to do because it's most convenient for them, and it allows them to maintain a seller's market after April 1st when many applicants find they've only been accepted to one or two (and sometimes, disastrously, zero) colleges, so they are poorly situated to dicker over financial aid (i.e., price). It's not what's in your best interest.

I probably don't have a lot of readers in high school, but to those I do have, I say:

Why not apply to a whole bunch of longshot colleges? And how do you know your good bet middle-of-the-road colleges really are a good bet? And what if both the admissions committees at your safety schools take a dislike to you? Then where are you? And how do you know the colleges that accept you will give you enough financial aid?

The online Common Application system used by most of the more desirable private colleges allows you to apply to a maximum of 20 colleges with no need to re-enter basic information. The incremental cost in application fees of applying to 20 colleges instead of six would be about $500, which is nothing compared to the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars you'll shell out to go to college for four years. Maybe half the incremental schools will require a supplemental essay, so that can mean a considerable amount of extra work, and some want custom financial aid apps, but, still …

The main downside would be if colleges colluded and punished students applying to a lot of colleges. I certainly wouldn't put it past the Ivy League, but I've never heard that they do it on acceptances, although they notoriously colluded on financial aid for many years.

As you may know, applying Early Decision to just one college, in return for agreeing to attend that school if accepted typically gives you a better chance of getting in to your favorite school, but if you don't go that route, apply to a lot of colleges.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

March 28, 2007

The Onionization of America, Part 329

From ESPN, not The Onion:

Ex-NBA Star's Anti-Semitic Slurs Draw Suspension

Former NBA All-Star Micheal Ray Richardson appeared to be getting his life back on track after his league suspension in 1986 for drug use. He was coaching in the Continental Basketball Association and had led his team, the Albany Patroons [huh?], to the playoffs. But as they say: What goes up, must come down.

The Patroons have suspended Richardson for the rest of the CBA championship series for comments made to the Albany Times Union on Tuesday. Before Tuesdays game against the Yakima Sun Kings, Richardson made anti-Semitic comments to two reporters in his office when discussing the contract general manager Jim Coyne had offered him Monday to coach his team in the CBA and USBL.

"I've got big-time lawyers," Richardson said, according to the Times Union. "I've got big-time Jew lawyers."

When told by the reporters that the comment could be offensive to people because it plays to the stereotype that Jews are crafty and shrewd, he responded with, "Are you kidding me? They are. They've got the best security system in the world. Have you ever been to an airport in Tel Aviv? They're real crafty. Listen, they are hated all over the world, so they've got to be crafty."

And he continued, "They got a lot of power in this world, you know what I mean?" he said. "Which I think is great. I don't think there's nothing wrong with it. If you look in most professional sports, they're run by Jewish people. If you look at a lot of most successful corporations and stuff, more businesses, they're run by Jewish. It's not a knock, but they are some crafty people."

Richardson defended himself against charges of anti-Semitism in the manner that is becoming traditional for accused sports stars, pointing out that one of his ex-wives was Jewish.

Obviously, these are not "anti-Semitic slurs," but pro-Semitic compliments. And, equally obviously, everybody knows what this poor bastard said is more or less true. Most obviously of all, that was his real crime: telling the truth.

Since nobody is more holier than thou than sportswriters (the whole point of spectator sports is our love of inequality, of finding out who is better than whom, so sportswriters are the single profession, this side of gender studies professors, quickest to denounce anybody who publicly mentions inequalities), there can be no mercy. This mental butterfly must be crushed on the wheel of political correctness.

It will be interesting to see if Jesse or Al (or Barack?) jumps into defend him Richardson, since he's black, so he's got that going for him, unlike all the white sportsmen ruined for purported anti-black prejudice, such as Paul Hornung who lost his radio job. It would be right and fitting if Alan Dershowitz offered to take his case pro bono, but I don't think that will happen.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Cochran and Hawks

From World Science:

Human evolution, radically reappraised

Human evolution has been speeding up tremendously, a new study contends—so much, that the latest evolutionary changes seem to largely eclipse earlier ones that accompanied modern man’s “origin.”

The study, alongside other recent research on which it builds, amounts to a sweeping reappraisal of traditional views, which tended to assume that humans have reached an endpoint of evolution.

The findings suggest that not only is our evolution continuing: in a sense our very “origin” can be seen as ongoing, a geneticist not involved in the study said.

Gregory Cochran of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah, a co-author of the study, said the research may force a radical rethinking of the story of modern human evolution. “It turns it upside-down, pretty much,” he said. But skeptics question some aspects of the work.

The traditional picture of humans as a finished product began to erode in recent years, scientists said, with a crop of studies suggesting our evolution indeed goes on. But the newest investigation goes further. It claims the process has actually accelerated.

It also downplays the importance of a much-scrutinized era around 200,000 years ago, when humans considered “anatomically modern” first appear in the fossil record. In the study, this epoch emerges as just part of a vast arc of accelerating change.

“The origin of modern humans was a minor event compared to more recent evolutionary changes,” wrote the authors of the research, in a presentation slated for Friday in Philadelphia at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

The authors are Cochran and anthropologist John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The findings will also be submitted to one or more scientific journals, Cochran said.

The proposal is “truly fascinating,” wrote University of Chicago geneticist Bruce Lahn in an email. He wasn’t involved in the work, though he did conduct earlier research finding that evolution may still be ongoing in the brain.

Even before the Hawks-Cochran study and its immediate forerunners, Lahn wrote, scientists had already noted a trend of accelerating change in the evolutionary lineage leading to modern humans from ape-like ancestors. But that phenomenon seemed to have occurred over time spans measured in millions of years; it was far from clear that it has continued in the recent past or today, he added.

Hawks and Cochran, by contrast, argue that the trend “is visible even in the last tens of thousands of years,” Lahn wrote. It “runs counter to the feeling in some quarters that the evolution of the human phenotype [form] has slowed down or even stopped in our recent past.”

If the study is correct, it raises new questions about how to define the “origin” of modern humans—a rather arbitrary decision in any case, Lahn remarked.

The origin is “defined probably more as a matter of convenience rather than reflecting any actual watershed evolutionary event,” he wrote. That is, it’s “useful to say that any past creatures that are within certain levels of similarities to us today should be considered as ‘the same’ as us.”

But if the changes that accompanied this event are only a trifling part of a wider trend, he added, it becomes reasonable to ask whether that further deflates the rationale for calling it an origin.

“In a sense,” he wrote, one could say “the origin is still ongoing.”

Evolution occurs when an individual acquires a beneficial genetic mutation, and it spreads throughout the population because those with it thrive and reproduce more. Ceaseless repetitions of this can change species, or produce new ones. As beneficial genes spread, harmful ones are weeded out; the whole process, called natural selection, propels evolution.

Hawks and Cochran analyzed measurements of skulls from Europe, Jordan, Nubia, South Africa, and China in the past 10,000 years, a period known as the Holocene era. They also studied European and West Asian skulls from the end of the Pleistocene era, which lasted from two million years ago until the Holocene.

“A constellation of features” changed across the board, Hawks and Cochran wrote in their presentation. “Holocene changes were similar in pattern and... faster than those at the archaic-modern transition,” the time when so-called modern humans appeared. But these changes “themselves were rapid compared to earlier hominid evolution.” Hominids are a family of primates that includes humans and their extinct, more ape-like though upright-walking ancestors and relatives.

Hawks and Cochran also analyzed past genetic studies to estimate the rate of production of genes that undergo positive selection—that is, genes that spread because they are beneficial. “The rate of generation of positively selected genes has increased as much as a hundredfold during the past 40,000 years,” they wrote.

There are ways to detect positive selection in genome data. But Mark Thomas, a genetic anthropologist at University College London, was skeptical that these would be enough to make Hawks’ and Cochran’s case. “The issue is that the most powerful methods for detecting selection are ones that lose their sensitivity going more than 30,000 years back,” he said. Other techniques can’t “distinguish between selection and population growth.”

Thomas added that he understands the skeletal data to show something different from what Hawks and Cochran say, but that he would need a fuller account of their findings to make a judgment.

Hawks and Cochran said some of the most notable physical changes in humans have been ones affecting the size of the brain case.

A “thing that should probably worry people is that brains have been getting smaller for 20,000 to 30,000 years,” said Cochran. But brain size and intelligence aren’t tightly linked, he added. Also, growth in more advanced brain areas might have made up for the shrinkage, Cochran said; he speculated that an almost breakneck evolution of higher foreheads in some peoples may reflect this. A study in the Jan. 14 British Dental Journal found such a trend visible in England in just the past millennium, he noted, a mere eyeblink in evolutionary time.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

March 27, 2007

Obama as the postmodern John Cheever of Honolulu

In one of the more memorable passages in Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, Obama more or less admits that his book's portrait of Hawaii is a fictionalized projection of his own self-pity and resentment.

On p. 340, he is in his late 20s, visiting Kenya, and on his way to meet his father's third wife (and second white American wife Ruth) and her son Mark, Obama's disturbing doppelganger, his half-brother who is home on vacation from Stanford, where he is a physics student.

"Ruth lived in Westlands [in Nairobi], an enclave of expensive homes set off by wide lawns and well-tended hedges, each one with a sentry post manned by brown-uniformed guards. … The coolness reminded me of the streets around Punahou [Obama's Honolulu prep school], Manoa, Tantalus, the streets where some of my wealthier classmates had lived back in Hawaii. Staring out Auma's car window, I though back to the envy I'd felt toward those classmates whenever they invited me over to play in their big backyards or swim in their swimming pools. And along with that envy, a different impression -- the sense of quiet desperation those big, pretty houses seemed to contain. The sound of someone's sister crying softly behind the door. The sight of a mother sneaking a tumbler of gin in midafternoon. The expression of a father's face as he sat alone in his den, his features clenched as he flicked between college football games on TV. An impression of loneliness that perhaps wasn't true, perhaps was just a projection of my own heart, but, that, either way, had made me want to run …"

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Obama: Insincere or not-all-that-bright? One of the mysteries about the Presidential candidate that emerges from closely reading his autobiography Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance is whether his superb literary eye for detail is accompanied by a comparable analytical intelligence. The book is so lacking in large-scale insights about his chosen subject of race that it's easy to assume that he really does know the score, but that he's just covering up for reasons of racial and personal pride … and that when he's in the White House, he will drop all the pretense and start behaving realistically.

On the other hand, maybe he just doesn't get it. He wouldn't be the first person of high literary skill whose real world intelligence was lacking. Or maybe he's smart about everything except race, because his emotions get in the way?

Here's a representative example. In his Epilogue, the last person Obama meets in Kenya is a supposedly wise old female historian named Dr. Rukia Odero, a friend of his late father's, whom the author brings on stage at the end to enunciate the lessons of his trip to Africa:

"I asked her why she thought black Americans were prone to disappointment when they visited Africa. She shook her head and smiled. 'Because they come here looking for the authentic,' she said. 'That is bound to disappoint a person. Look at this meal we are eating. … Kenyans are very boastful about the quality of their tea, you notice. But of course we got this habit from the English. Our ancestors did not drink such a thing. Then there's the spices we used to cook this fish. They originally came from India, or Indonesia. So even in this simple meal, you will find it very difficult to be authentic -- although the meal is certainly African.'"

Now, that is so transparently bogus that it's just plain sad -- the idea that the reason African-Americans are disappointed when they visit Africa is because the tea and spices turn out to be non-indigenous! Obviously, the real reason black Americans find black-ruled Africa to be disillusioning is because blacks are doing a bad job of ruling it. (See former Washington Post Africa bureau chief Keith R. Richburg's book Out of Africa: A Black Man Confronts Africa for a frank description of the causes of African-American disappointment in post-colonial Africa.)

Of course, it's just plain sad that Africans are doing a lousy job of running Africa, and it's perfectly natural for an African-American to want to distract attention from that fact with the kind of trendy nonsense that will get white liberals nodding along thoughtfully: Why, yes, Africa must be just like Switzerland, which, to be frank, was rather disappointing when we visited it on the Brown U. alumni tour and I didn't see any milkmaids like in that Heidi book I loved when I was a girl. Just people dressed in Italian designer clothes driving German luxury cars. So distressingly inauthentic! But, I guess that's all part of the vibrant magic of diversity.

So, is Obama knowingly yanking our chain? Or does he just not get it?

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

March 26, 2007

Obama skepticism spreading

In Tuesday's Washington Post, op-edster Richard Cohen cites the same article I examined in Sunday's

"Obama's Back Story
By Richard Cohen

In his memoir, "Dreams From My Father," he recounts a watershed moment of his own -- a "revelation," a "violent" awakening, an incident that "permanently altered" his "vision." Twice he tells how as a 9-year-old he went to the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia (a country where his mother had taken him to live) and came across a Life magazine article about a black man who had tried to whiten his skin through some sort of chemical process. The result was a disaster. "I felt my face and neck get hot," Obama wrote. "My stomach knotted; the type began to blur on the page." The child had, for the first time, confronted racism and its hideous consequences.

Only there is no such issue of Life magazine. So says the Chicago Tribune, which has gone through the Obama memoir with commendable thoroughness. The newspaper conducted "more than 40 interviews with former classmates, teachers, friends and neighbors" from Obama's youth and found both trivial and substantial differences between the stories Obama tells and those recalled by others.

What emerges from the Tribune's reporting is a man who seems much less fixated than he insists on finding his racial identity. When the Tribune told Obama that Life magazine historians could find no such story, Obama suggested it might have been Ebony -- "or it might have been . . . who knows what it was?" (The Tribune says Ebony's archivists also could not come up with such an article.)

Indeed, the memory of the event/non-event is so firmly planted in Obama's mind that it seems to have become an emotional truth for him, far more powerful than an intellectual truth.

I'm not convinced Obama is being disingenuous here. I wouldn't be surprised if this story actually did appear in a major America photojournalism magazine -- not in the iconic "Life," but in the now almost forgotten "Look." The latter, which was published from 1937 to 1971 and had a huge circulation, was a knockoff of "Life" down to its four letter L-word title, so it's frequently confused in memory with "Life." "Look" published many articles about race and civil rights, so this article would have fit in with their editorial predilections.

However, a Tribune reporter tells me that they looked in "Look," so maybe Obama is making it up out of whole cloth.

Cohen continues:

In Obama's case -- and maybe my own -- there might be something more than foggy memory at work. He may be manipulating the facts in order to wrap raw ambition in the gauze of a larger cause. Sheer ambition is no longer tolerated in American public life. Obama was only 34 when his memoir was published, but he was already on his way, a successful packager of himself.

He already knew, I suspect, that a public figure -- he was already the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review -- has to have both a cause and a back story: the PT-109 incident that changes a life, the rural poverty that has such an impact on a boy from Plains, the hope that comes to the man from Hope. No one can seem too ambitious, careerist.

A reader writes:

Everyone who gets into Harvard Law School has to have The Rap.

They have to have the story of teen angst, commitment to healing the world, good deeds, and preferably a healthy dose of some sort of conflict in the real world that gave them some special insight into human nature that makes them unique and diverse. Not TOO conflicted, however, since a felony conviction will prevent you from becoming a lawyer.

In my class, a year after Obama arrived, there was The Photojournalist from Nicaragua, who saw human suffering and experienced Life and Death first hand. There was also The Fly Fisherman, a guy who graduated from college and fly fished across the USA for a couple years, hitchhiking, living in the wilds, experiencing Water and the Land closehand and coming to a more true and full appreciation of Man and Nature.

Obama's autobiography is a book-length Harvard Law School Rap. It has the manufactured conflict, the manufactured struggling, the manufactured multiculturalism with a smidgen of Tragic Mulatto and Man Torn Between Two Cultures, etc. Of course no one in the admissions office ever challenges any individual's Rap since no one has the time, energy or enthusiasm. Think of it the same way you think of a fifty word High Concept movie pitch, like those studio scenes at the beginning of The Player.

Having expanded his Rap with more local color to make his book, all he has done is dig himself a deeper hole of deceit. Harvard won't fact-check student admission essays, but reporters will.

I never had a Rap, likely to the detriment of my college applications. Coming from a pleasant middle-middle class home, I could never think of anything to whine about. I was obviously luckier than 98% of all humans who ever lived, so dwelling on my bits of bad luck in college application essays ("My Struggle with the Heartbreak of Rhinitis"? … Nah …) seemed pointless and boring.

Besides, I'm emotionally shallow, with few hidden depths. While Obama is highly introspective, I'm the opposite: extrospective, I guess. (I just now learned that "extrospective" is a real word, which shows it's an uncommon condition, as opposed to 'extraverted'). Rather than dwell on my own feelings, I'm easily (and endlessly) amused by the outside world.

Well, enough about me. Just move along, folks, nothing to see here…

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

March 25, 2007

Winter Kills

My new column: An excerpt:

While few in the media appear to have read Obama's bestselling memoir all the way through, his press coverage has gotten less rapturous in recent weeks.

Why? Winter. To flee it, numerous big city reporters have convinced their editors to send them on expense-account junkets to Obama's old tropical haunts in Hawaii and Indonesia. The articles they wrote to justify their trips have begun to undermine Obama's carefully crafted fa├žade.

The next credibility problem for Obama's persona: Chicago is a great place to visit once the snow stops falling. As spring arrives, more investigative reporters will head to the Windy City to find out more about Obama's spiritual adviser, the Rev. Jeremiah T. Wright Jr., who was one of the organizers of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan's 1995 Million Man March.

In Sunday's Chicago Tribune, Kirsten Scharnberg and Kim Barker report from Honolulu and Jakarta, where Obama spent his first 18 years:

"More than 40 interviews with former classmates, teachers, friends and neighbors in his childhood homes of Hawaii and Indonesia, as well as a review of public records, show … several of his oft-recited stories may not have happened in the way he has recounted them, sometimes making him look better in the retelling, and sometimes skipping over some of the most painful, private moments of his life." [The Not So Simple Story of Barack Obama's Youth, March 25, 2007]

Obama described Indonesia in the late 1960s as idyllic for a small mixed-race boy, while Hawaii in the 1970s was a nightmare of racism. The Tribune reporters found the opposite was closer to the truth.

They interviewed Southeast Asians from his Jakarta neighborhoods:

"All say he was teased more than any other kid in the neighborhood--primarily because he was so different in appearance." He was frequently attacked by three Indonesian kids at once, and one time they threw him in a swamp. "Luckily he could swim."

Conversely, Obama's account of his supposedly oppressed and angry 5th-12th grade years (at Honolulu's most prestigious prep school) make Hawaii sound like Alabama in the 1950s—rather than a state where whites didn't hold any of the top three elective posts at the time. However, the Tribune correspondents note,

"Much time is devoted in Obama's book to exploring his outsider status at Punahou. But any struggles he was experiencing were obscured by the fact that he had a racially diverse group of friends--many of whom often would crowd into his grandparents' apartment, near Punahou, after school let out."

Obama exploits his typical reader's ignorance of Hawaii's very different racial rules. For instance:

"Obama described having long, heated conversations about racism with another black student, 'Ray,' who once railed: 'Tell me we wouldn't be treated different if we was white. Or Japanese. Or Hawaiian.' The real Ray, located by the Tribune, is actually half black and half Japanese. And according to a close friend from high school, that young man was perceived and treated as one of Punahou's many mixed-race students." [More]

The downside for Obama in these Hawaiian articles is twofold: First the vast majority of Americans have no idea that his autobiography is stuffed full of racial resentment. That's the opposite of the image he's trying to project. Second, these investigative reports make him look hyper-sensitive and disingenuous

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

LA Times

No, this is the most boring scandal ever! Los Angeles Time opinion page editor Andres Martinez resigns after protests by killjoys in the snoozy newsroom over "an appearance of impropriety" about something or other.

By the way, this Martinez has to be the most Lithuanian-looking guy I've ever seen named Martinez.

Anyway, bringing this is up is just an excuse for recounting an anecdote by the previous LAT opinion editor Michael Kinsley illustrating the contrast between America's most stuffy newspaper and America's most ridiculous city.

My very first day on the job, I attended the Page 1 meeting in the newsroom. There was a story about a transient who allegedly had broken into the home of a 91-year-old Hollywood screenwriter — author of "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" and later a blacklisted victim of the Red Scare — cut off his head, climbed over the back fence (head in hand), stabbed a neighbor to death, and was ultimately arrested at Paramount Studios, where guards recognized him from police photos shown on a TV they weren't supposed to be watching on the job. What a story! But it didn't make the front page. It ran in the Metro section.

I asked Carroll, "Gosh, who do you have to decapitate to make Page 1 around here?"

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer