December 30, 2010

Is there a Silent but Sensible Majority anymore?

A commenter on the PISA post below writes:
Well, the question I ask myself is what percent of the American population doesn't really deep down believe that HBD is probably a substantial factor in all these sorts of things...

Ten percent? Five percent? One percent? Zero percent?

The floor is open for people's guesses...

Back before I started participating 18 years ago in Internet discussions with anonymous participants, I would have agreed with these low estimates. All these years later, however ... I dunno. Maybe there is a Silent But Sensible Majority out there somewhere. Maybe.

To pick a random example of the quality of contemporary thought, here is an online discussion on Hacker News / Ycombinator about Tino's recent blog post at Super-Economy showing the PISA results when you adjust for demographics. Reading through it, it's hard to take away the impression that there are a lot of people out there who are well informed and hold reasonable views. Instead, you just see a lot of people getting intellectually snarled up in their own underwear. 

My approach has always been based around my sense that I'm not smart enough to juggle in my head complex wrong ideas. I need to find the simplest answers that work (but, as Einstein said, no simpler).

Happy New Year

It's time to shake my tin cup again.

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Study Chinese or Spanish?

Nicholas Kristof opines in the NYT:
... we’re seeing Americans engaged in a headlong and ambitious rush to learn Chinese — or, more precisely, to get their kids to learn Chinese. Everywhere I turn, people are asking me the best way for their children to learn Chinese. 

Partly that’s because Chinese classes have replaced violin classes as the latest in competitive parenting, and partly because my wife and I speak Chinese and I have tortured our three kids by trying to raise them bilingual. Chinese is still far less common in schools or universities than Spanish or French, but it is surging and has the “cool factor” behind it — so public and private schools alike are hastening to add Chinese to the curriculum.

In New York City alone, about 80 schools offer Chinese, with some programs beginning in kindergarten. And let’s be frank: If your child hasn’t started Mandarin classes by third grade, he or she will never amount to anything.

Just kidding. In fact, I think the rush to Chinese is missing something closer to home: the paramount importance for our children of learning Spanish.

Look, I’m a fervent believer in more American kids learning Chinese. But the language that will be essential for Americans and has far more day-to-day applications is Spanish. Every child in the United States should learn Spanish, beginning in elementary school; Chinese makes a terrific addition to Spanish, but not a substitute. 

No, unless you have Chinese relatives, or are based in China for your job, or your child is a prodigy at learning languages, having your kid study Chinese will almost surely turn out to be a waste of time. Chinese is hard. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any adult in America who learned Chinese just by going to school in America.

Check out the Chinese Language and Culture Advanced Placement test results. In 2010, 3,426 Asian students scored 5s out of the 4,294 Asians who took the test, for an average score of 4.70. In other words, the AP Chinese test was taken mostly Chinese kids who already spoke Chinese. In contrast, only 229 white kids took the Chinese test, and only 26 in the whole country got a 5. (No Mexican-Americans got a 5, but 4 blacks did.)
Spanish may not be as prestigious as Mandarin, but it’s an everyday presence in the United States — and will become even more so. Hispanics made up 16 percent of America’s population in 2009, but that is forecast to surge to 29 percent by 2050, according to estimates by the Pew Research Center.

As the United States increasingly integrates economically with Latin America, Spanish will become more crucial in our lives.

No, it won't become crucial. 

You can tell by looking at parents' fads in Los Angeles, which is a generation or more ahead of the rest of the country in terms of immigration. I've lived on-and-off in Los Angeles since the 1950s. My parents engaged in the same kind of discussion as this in 1972 when my mom wanted me to take French in high school and my father wanted me to take Spanish, which he argued, like Kristoff in 2010, was more practical.

I suspect the debate was basically about where my parents would like to go on vacations. My mom liked Europe because it was classy, while my father liked Latin America because it was cheap. My dad won, so I took two years of high school Spanish, and he and I took some fun trips to Mexico and South America while my mom stayed home. 

Did this dispute between my parents have major consequences for my life? Not that I notice. Over the last twelve months, the language I've most often wished I'd studied has been German, but that may be a passing phase, and I wouldn't have learned it even if I had studied it, anyway.

I would endorse Spanish as the most reasonable choice for fulfilling a mandatory foreign language requirement, but I think English is becoming so globally dominant that we should probably reconsider whether we should have mandatory foreign language requirements at all. (If we should, then we ought to start them in elementary school, not after puberty when the language learning capability starts to shut down.) 

The point is that I don't know many people in LA today who say, "Wow, I'm so glad my parents made me study Spanish in high school, and it's crucial to my children's future that they learn Spanish." Maybe if you are a politician, a slumlord, or a fast food franchisee. Where I live in LA, Russian and other Slavic languages are heard more and more on the street. (Hey, who won the Cold War anyway?

If any language is trendy with LA parents, it's Chinese. For example, one of the public elementary schools that Davis Guggenheim, director of Waiting for "Superman," drove his kid past in Venice to get to their private school has switched to Mandarin immersion and has recruited a much more fashionable set of children. I can't recall knowing any any white liberal parents in LA looking for a Spanish immersion school.

In LA, which is one of the largest Spanish-speaking cities in the world, Spanish has been out of fashion for years. 

Even Latino kids agree. As I've pointed out before, it might be easier in LA to see a movie in Persian than in Spanish. I go to the Plant 16 movie theatre in Van Nuys a lot, where about 80% of the patrons are Hispanic youths, and they almost never have movies in Spanish, whether dubbed or foreign, and maybe have one out of 16 screens showing an American movie in English with Spanish subtitles. Granted, Van Nuys is, by Latino LA standards, pretty wealthy but still ...

Ron Unz's Prop 227 largely banned bilingual education in 1998, and that rare act of Anglophone assertiveness pushed on an open door. To a typical Mexican-American teen, English is a lot cooler than Spanish.

Similarly, educated liberal white people in LA pay almost zero attention to what is going on in the Spanish-language media in LA. The LA Times and local NPR and PBS stations make minimal effort to stay informed about what Spanish monoglots are talking about. For example, the huge turnouts of illegal aliens at Mayday marches in 2006 was a complete mystery to the LAT/NPR/PBS. Who told all these people to march? It took weeks for the Anglo press in LA to find out that it was funny morning disk jockeys on Spanish-language radio stations. 

Is there any intellectual life in America that's carried out in Spanish? A decade ago, I was fascinated by a series of articles called "Los Amigos de Bush: The disturbing ties of some of George W. Bush’s Latino advisors" by Julie Reynolds in a smart bilingual Mexican-American magazine called El Andar, but nobody else was.

LA isn't Canada or Belgium, where two equally sophisticated cultures compete for cultural dominance. It's definitely not Miami, where Spanish-speaking sophisticates probably have the upper hand. 

LA is just the future.

December 29, 2010

PISA Forever

The New York Times sends a reporter to Shanghai to discover what the secret is of Shanghai schools that makes their 15-year-old students do so well on the PISA tests:

... The five-story school building, which houses Grades eight and nine in a central district of Shanghai, is rather nondescript. Students wear rumpled school uniforms, classrooms are crowded and lunch is bused in every afternoon. But the school, which operates from 8:20 a.m. to 4 p.m. on most days, is considered one of the city’s best middle schools.

Oh ... so, that's the secret! Rumpled school uniforms. Or maybe busing in lunch every afternoon. Or could it be the nondescript school buildings? Well, it's got to be something.

Seriously, the article does point out that Shanghai students tend to behave in a more disciplined manner in the classroom than American students, which can't hurt.

The big, unmentioned story in American education is how institutional (i.e., outside-the-classroom) support for teachers in maintaining discipline in the classrooms has been undermined over the decades by disparate impact worries. The Obama Administration, for example, has only increased the persecution of schools that try to maintain order. From the New York Times earlier this year:
School Suspensions Lead to Legal Challenge
... poor black students are suspended at three times the rate of whites, a disparity not fully explained by differences in income or behavior. On March 8, the education secretary, Arne Duncan, lamented “schools that seem to suspend and discipline only young African-American boys” as he pledged stronger efforts to ensure racial equality in schooling.

Any time a student is sent out of the classroom to maintain order -- whether to the dean's office, to after school detention, to home for a suspension, or out the door on an expulsion -- can be counted and thus used as evidence in a disparate impact discrimination lawsuit against a deep-pocketed school district. Lawsuit settlements typically require that voluminous statistics then be maintained and published on disciplinary actions by race in order to facilitate future disparate impact lawsuits. For example, Los Angeles public schools publish online their expulsion and suspension data by race for each of the last five years. (Here's the disciplinary data by race for Chatsworth H.S. in the far northwest corner of the San Fernando Valley.)

In contrast, what the teacher does in the classroom to maintain order can't be counted.

Thus, the enormous emphasis in the conventional wisdom today on how we must use value-added statistics to identify good teachers and fire bad teachers: because disparate impact lawsuits undermine institutional support for discipline, we're down to needing to find teachers who can maintain order in their classrooms through sheer force of personality.

For example, Teach for America's model for who will make a good teacher is A) got into an exclusive college (i.e., smart), B) got good grades there (i.e., hard-working), and C) has a demonstrated track record of leadership accomplishment (i.e., charismatic alpha personality).

That's swell, but smart, hard-working people with commanding personalities, such as Steve Jobs, James Cameron, Bill Belichik, Warren Buffett, Margaret Thatcher, and the like sometimes have better things to do than be schoolteachers. We need to be thinking instead about how our institutions can provide teachers who are not paragons with the support they need to do their jobs.

For example, it would be nice to be able to hire a person who both  A) cares deeply about making The Great Gatsby come alive for today's youth and B) lives to put young punks in their places. Sometimes, you can find a person who is outstanding at both. Most of the time, however, it's easier to hire two people, one to teach English and the other to be Assistant Dean of Discipline and Offensive Line Coach, and then have them specialize in what they do best. But, that puts school districts in jeopardy of violating disparate impact norms. Hence, the current emphasis on finding Superman teachers and firing the non-Supermen.

In contrast, Pat Buchanan's new column takes a more realistic approach to what the PISA scores tell us:
Among the OECD members, the most developed 34 nations on earth, Mexico, principal feeder nation for U.S. schools, came in dead last in reading.

Steve Sailer of got the full list of 65 nations, broke down U.S. reading scores by race, then measured Americans with the countries and continents whence their families originated. What he found was surprising. [PISA Scores Show Demography Is Destiny In Education Too—But Washington Doesn’t Want You To Know, December 19, 2010]

Asian-Americans outperform all Asian students except for Shanghai-Chinese.

White Americans outperform students from all 37 predominantly white nations except Finns, and U.S. Hispanics outperformed the students of all eight Latin American countries that participated in the tests. 

African-American kids would have outscored the students of any sub-Saharan African country that took the test (none did) and did outperform the only black country to participate, Trinidad and Tobago, by 25 points. 

America's public schools, then, are not abject failures. 

They are educating immigrants and their descendants to outperform the kinfolk their parents or ancestors left behind when they came to America. America's schools are improving the academic performance of all Americans above what it would have been had they not come to America. 

What American schools are failing at, despite the trillions poured into schools since the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, is closing the racial divide.

"The Town" viewed from "The City"

My man in Istanbul writes about Ben Affleck's Boston Irish bankrobber flick:
I watched "The Town." I liked it.

A deep, self-destructive voice in me said I wanted to be there, in Boston. I probably wouldn't amount to much of anything, not even something like those characters, but heck, who gives a ****. I like the Irish. Maybe they're... Turks of the North, I don't know.

So they're "dysfunctional," eh? Good, I like dysfunctional. I grew up in it, it's my home.

The melancholy, the absence of a ridiculous perkiness and an annoying smirk on the face, the quiet fortitude of stoicism... all of them are good.

**** optimism.

"Life is innocent and just" said Nietzsche -- to invert the ridiculous, phony pessimism of Liberalism which can't get over thinking that "life is unfair" and that the bloody Gov'ment should do something about it... as if It ever could.

Pain is an extreme form of sensitivity. And Fear -- the anticipation of Pain -- is Nature's way of whispering in your ear "Look out, buddy; I'm here. I'm not to be disrespected. Ever."

Merry Christmas!

The Joys of Reaction

From Evelyn Waugh's 1934 novel A Handful of Dust, the story of Tony Last, a mild English aristocrat devoted to keeping up the ancestral manse:
Tony invariably wore a dark suit on Sundays and a stiff white collar. He went to church, where he sat in a large pitch pine pew, put in by his great-grand-father at the time of rebuilding the house, furnished with very high crimson hassocks and a fireplace, complete with iron grate and a little poker which his father used to rattle when any point in the sermon attracted his disapproval.

December 28, 2010


John Tierney crows in the NYT:
Five years ago, Matthew R. Simmons and I bet $5,000. It was a wager about the future of energy supplies — a Malthusian pessimist versus a Cornucopian optimist — and now the day of reckoning is nigh: Jan. 1, 2011.

The bet was occasioned by a cover article in August 2005 in The New York Times Magazine titled “The Breaking Point.” It featured predictions of soaring oil prices from Mr. Simmons, who was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the head of a Houston investment bank specializing in the energy industry, and the author of “Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy.”

I called Mr. Simmons to discuss a bet. To his credit — and unlike some other Malthusians — he was eager to back his predictions with cash. He expected the price of oil, then about $65 a barrel, to more than triple in the next five years, even after adjusting for inflation. He offered to bet $5,000 that the average price of oil over the course of 2010 would be at least $200 a barrel in 2005 dollars. 

Crude oil prices are at about $91 today.

I certainly would have bet against Mr. Simmons, as well, but he didn't offer to bet me. 

My suspicion at the time was that Simmons was, more or less, writing a $5,000 check postdated January 1, 2011 to buy his book publicity right now on the NYT op-ed page. That might explain why he didn't haggle and try to split the difference with Tierney, such as putting the win-lose line halfway between $65 and $200, the way a real betting man trying to make money would. But a public bet that the price of oil would be, say, $132.50 or higher would have been kind of a boring story. In contrast, a man confident enough to put $5,000 on the round number of $200 is a man who is acting like he might know something, and thus you'd better buy his book to find out what it is.

All that said, I fully expect to see gasoline pump prices of $5 to $10 per gallon. (I'm just not telling you when.)

"True Grit"

From my review in Taki's Magazine:
The new True Grit doesn’t get as many laughs in the theater as the genial 1969 version, which was powered by John Wayne’s happy-to-be-alive status as America’s most famous lung-cancer survivor. Shortly after the Surgeon General’s 1964 Report on Smoking, Wayne, a six-pack-a-day man, had to have his left lung and four ribs cut out. At a time when the word “cancer” was assumed to be a death sentence, to most everyone’s surprise (except his own), Wayne, although diminished, was ready for fun on True Grit.

Jeff Bridges, who received his own de facto Career Achievement Oscar last year for playing a drunken country singer in Crazy Heart, does his usual competent, creative job. Still, The Dude doesn’t quite have The Duke’s screen presence. For a force of nature large enough to fill the legendary boots of that “one-eyed fat man” Rooster Cogburn, the Coens might have turned instead to Bridges’s co-star in The Big Lebowski, Walter Sobchak himself, John Goodman.

Read the whole thing here.

Denis Dutton, RIP

Denis Dutton, founder of the invaluable Arts & Letters Daily website, has died at age 66 of prostate cancer. He was a professor of philosophy at the U. of Canterbury in New Zealand. When I mentioned to him once where I was from, he pointed out that he'd grown up in the San Fernando Valley, too, and his parents had owned the well-known Dutton's bookstore in North Hollywood.

His recent book is The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution. He also wrote insightfully about the always interesting topic of art forgery.

You can't make this stuff up

For years, the Atlantic Monthly would run a back page column, "Word Fugitives," that solicited readers to invent clever terms for common phenomena for which there ought to be a word. And each month, brilliant suggestions would pour in and columnist Barbara Wallraff would then pick one as the best of the best. And then ... nothing would ever happen. As far as I could tell, none of these useful and self-explanatory terms would ever enter common use. 

Similarly, in 2003, while reviewing a Matrix sequel, I coined the term frauteur to refer to one of a pair of brothers who make films together, fraternal auteurs such as the Coens, Farrellys, Wachowskis, Wayans, and on and on. 

It's a genuine phenomenon of some interest that deserves explication: we need a frauteur theory, if you will. The emergence of frauteurs appears to have slowed down a little in recent years, probably because of the decline in the number of pairs of brothers due to the decline in family sizes after the Baby Boom, but 2010 did see the emergence of the Duplass brothers with Cyrus, starring John C. O'Reilly, Jonah Hill, and Maria Tomei. In contrast, I've never heard of a sisterly equivalent or a mixed sex pair of siblings who make movies together as a team, although I may be missing somebody.

With the Coen Brothers in the news for True Grit, I checked Google to see how far my convenient coinage had spread over the last seven years. 

As you might guess, it hasn't spread at all. Zero. Zip. Zilch.

In contrast, the wholly non-self-explanatory phrase "jump the shark" shows up on 376,000 webpages. That phrase requires the recounting of an incredibly boring backstory about some television episode, which suggests that the Atlantic got it all backward by looking for clever terms. The stupider and more abstruse the etymology, the more likely chance it has to flourish.

That seems to be true not just with neologisms. Etymology is perhaps the most intellectually frustrating field of study because, as a general rule, all clever theories about the origin of any word are wrong. The real explanation is always something boring and senseless, like "from a West Frisian word for turnip greens."

By the way, that reminds me of a question: how many well-known brother-sister partnerships are there outside of male-female entertainment fields such as singing (Donny & Marie Osmond), dancing (Fred & Adele Astaire), and figure skating (various)?

For example, the Versace designing family has had two flamboyant celebrities, the late Gianni and his sister Donatella, but I'm drawing a blank on other well-known brother-sister partnerships. I'm sure there are other ones, but I just can't think of any more.

December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

It's time to shake my tin cup again.

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India, Again

A continuing theme here at iSteve over the years has been the future of India. 

As I first noticed back in 1981 when I was at UCLA, there sure are a lot of smart Indians in America. About a decade later, India's economic growth started to come more in line with that observation. By now, it is a cliche of spokesmen for the conventional wisdom, such as Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Thomas Friedman, that India itself is full of superstudents to whom America's lagging masses of youth must somehow try to catch up ...  although what objective evidence that does exist suggests that eventuality has not fully gone through the formality of taking place yet. On the other other hand, evidence from places like Trinidad, South Africa, and Fiji suggests that pretty ordinary Indians do pretty well for themselves once they are free of Mother India.

To have a clue about India's future, it helps to know something about India's present and past. But that is inordinately complicated. Moreover, since Indians think about their society's human capital potential in terms of only partial exogenous extended families (i.e., racial groups, dozens and dozens of racial groups), Americans have a hard time grasping what they are talking about. All this Indian talk about race and IQ, well, if Americans didn't know that Indians are diverse and therefore, by definition, can't be racist, well, they just wouldn't know what to think.
A reader who calls himself Andy, writes to clear up matters about the intellectual structure of modern Indian life.

"Most of this information is passed through word of mouth from elders to youngsters and it would be hard to find this kind of detail in books. So enjoy!"

I'll put Andy's description of the different categories of South Asians and their rough IQ levels below the fold:

December 23, 2010


Jay Matthews delivers breathtaking news in the Washington Post: acceptance rates to get into Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, perhaps the hardest public science school in the country (average exiting SAT score of 2220 out of 2400):
Looking at applicants of different ethnicities, the crux of Meikle's question, 184 African Americans applied and four (2.3 percent of those applying) were admitted. With Hispanics, the figures were 225 applied and 13 (5.8 percent) admitted. In the multiracial category, 190 applied and 21 (11 percent) were admitted.

The number of whites (1,277) and Asians (1,243) who applied was close, but their admission rates were not. Of whites, 166 (13 percent) were admitted and 276 Asians (22.2 percent) were admitted. 

So,  Asians first, whites second, Hispanics third, blacks fourth. What an astonishing result! Who has ever seen that rank ordering before in any competition involving test scores and grades? It's an anomaly!

Of course, no attempt is made to compare this to the countless similar situations where similar results are seen. We're only supposed to to talk about Thomas Jefferson HS. What is it about TJHS that leads to such remarkable results?  We're simply not supposed to notice any similar pattern elsewhere, and thus preserve our intellectual virginity for thinking about the Virginia school. People who have actually learned things from general patterns are considered unwanted gatecrashers.

2010 Census Results

From the Center for Immigration Studies, a first glance at the 2010 Census numbers:
Steven Camarota, (202) 466-8185,

Immigration Drives Huge Increase; Since 1980, Population Up 82 million, Equal to Calif., Texas & N.Y.

WASHINGTON (December 21, 2010) – Most of the media coverage of the 2010 Census will likely focus on the country's changing racial composition and the redistribution of seats in Congress. But neither of these is the most important finding. Rather, it is the dramatic increase in the size of the U.S. population itself that has profound implications for our nation's quality of life and environment. Most of the increase has been, and will continue to be, a result of one federal policy: immigration. Projections into the future from the Census Bureau show we are on track to add 130 million more people to the U.S. population in the just the next 40 years, primarily due to future immigration. 

So much for attempting to hold national carbon  emissions stable.
  • Immigration accounted for three-quarters of population growth during the decade. Census Bureau data found 13.1 million new immigrants (legal and illegal) who arrived in the last 10 years; there were also about 8.2 million births to immigrant women during the decade.1
  • The numerical increase of 27.3 million this decade is exceeded by only two other decades in American history.
  • Without a change in immigration policy, the nation is projected to add roughly 30 million new residents each decade for the foreseeable future.
  • Assuming the current ratio of population to infrastructure, adding roughly 30 each decade will mean:
    • building and paying for 8,000 new schools every 10 years;
    • developing land to accommodate 11.5 million new housing units every 10 years;
    • constructing enough roads to handle 23.6 million more vehicles every 10 years.
  • While our country obviously can 'fit' more people, and technology and planning can help manage the situation, forcing such high population growth through immigration policy has profound implications for the environment, traffic, congestion, sprawl, water quality, and the loss of open spaces.
  • ...While immigration is making our population much larger and our country more densely settled, it has only a modest impact on slowing the aging of our society. It must be remembered that native-born Americans, unlike couples in most other developed countries, still have about 2 children on average.2
  • Census Bureau data collected earlier this year showed that the 13.1 million immigrants who arrived in the last 10 years, plus all of the children they had once in the country, have reduced the average age in the United States slightly, from 37.4 years to 36.8 years.3
  • As the Census Bureau stated in its population projections published in 2000, immigration is a 'highly inefficient' means for addressing the problem of an aging society in the long run. The updated projections done in 2008 show the same thing.4

I'll say.

December 22, 2010

iSteve Christmas Panhandling Drive

It's time to shake my tin cup again.

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More PISA in Perspective

At Super-Economy, Tino takes another crack at PISA scores, putting up graphs that overcome two of the weaknesses I pointed out in my own PISA graph: I could only find scores for America by race for 2009 for reading (and Americans overall did better on reading in 2009 than on science and math), and I used national average scores for other mostly white countries. So, Tino compares the average of reading, math, and science for white Americans to Europeans who are not first or second generation immigrants to come up with a good apples to apples comparison. Finland is still well in the lead (546), but the U.S. comes in seventh (524) out of 27 European-origin countries, well ahead of, for example, the EU-15 average for wealthy Western European countries (506).

That sounds about right. There's a lot of evidence that the U.S. spends a lot on education and get at least something in return. Not great, but not bad either.

Remember, there is, inevitably, a lot of noise in PISA scores, so fine comparisons aren't too reliable. 

"Out of Africa, with Benefits"

Here's that big new science story I teased a couple of days ago. By Carl Zimmer in the New York Times:
An international team of scientists has identified a previously shadowy human group known as the Denisovans as cousins to Neanderthals who lived in Asia from roughly 400,000 to 50,000 years ago and interbred with the ancestors of today’s inhabitants of New Guinea. 

All the Denisovans have left behind are a broken finger bone and a wisdom tooth in a Siberian cave. But the scientists have succeeded in extracting the entire genome of the Denisovans from these scant remains. An analysis of this ancient DNA, published on Wednesday in Nature, reveals that the genomes of people from New Guinea contain 4.8 percent Denisovan DNA. 

An earlier, incomplete analysis of Denisovan DNA had placed the group as more distant from both Neanderthals and humans. On the basis of the new findings, the scientists propose that the ancestors of Neanderthals and Denisovans emerged from Africa half a million years ago. The Neanderthals spread westward, settling in the Near East and Europe. The Denisovans headed east. Some 50,000 years ago, they interbred with humans expanding from Africa along the coast of South Asia, bequeathing some of their DNA to them.  ...

Next, the researchers looked for evidence of interbreeding. Nick Patterson, a Broad Institute geneticist, compared the Denisovan genome to the complete genomes of five people, from South Africa, Nigeria, China, France and Papua New Guinea. To his astonishment, a sizable chunk of the Denisova genome resembled parts of the New Guinea DNA.

“The correct reaction when you get a surprising result is, ‘What am I doing wrong?’ ” said Dr. Patterson. To see if the result was an error, he and his colleagues sequenced the genomes of seven more people, including another individual from New Guinea and one from the neighboring island of Bougainville. But even in the new analysis, the Denisovan DNA still turned up in the New Guinea and Bougainville genomes. ...

Dr. Bustamante also thinks that other cases of interbreeding are yet to be discovered. “There’s a lot of possibility out there,” he said. “But the only way to get at them is to sequence more of these ancient genomes.”  

If the genomes of New Guineans come almost 5% from non-modern humans, then the obvious next step is to test the genomes of Australian Aborigines, who are last in line in the original Southern, Indian Ocean shoreline route Out of Africa. However, there are a lot of regulatory barriers against testing Aborigines, perhaps out of fear that scientists will find something like this. After all, Aborigines look a little archaic, so it wouldn't be terribly surprising if their genes turn out to be a little archaic.

It was lucky that the first findings of non-modern human ancestry involved Europeans, or it would have been hard to get up the political courage to publish this.

So, the Out of Africa model of evolution of the current human race turns out to be mostly, but not wholly, correct. Greg Cochran calls the new model "Out of Africa, with Benefits:" modern humans picked up useful genes from older human types, and not all of those inheritances spread equally to the entire current human race, probably in part because they aren't equally useful in all environments.

Here's an FAQ by John Hawks. And here are comments by Dienekes.

By the way, here's an interesting 2006 article on Nick Patterson, one of the scientists involved. He's had successful three careers, first as British and American government cryptologist, then as a quant for James H. Simons' hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, and now as a genome researcher.

Obama sends sharp warning to employers

The NYT runs a long, mildly gloating article over the Washington Post's Kaplan unit being sued by the Obama Administration for disparate impact job discrimination in a precedent-setting case:
Sending a sharp warning to employers nationwide, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the Kaplan Higher Education Corporation on Tuesday, accusing it of discriminating against black job applicants through the way it uses credit histories in its hiring process. 

With the unemployment rate close to 10 percent, is it really a good idea for the Obama Administration to be "sending a sharp warning to employers nationwide?"
The lawsuit, an unusual intervention by the federal government on the issue, comes amid rising concerns that employers are denying jobs to applicants with damaged credit histories, even in cases where creditworthiness does not appear to be directly relevant to the job...
Private and government surveys have suggested that about half of all employers use credit histories in at least some hiring decisions.

Justine Lisser, an E.E.O.C. spokeswoman, said that credit histories were often inaccurate and might not be a good indicator of a person’s qualifications for a particular job. “Credit histories were not compiled to show responsibility,” she said. “They were compiled to show whether or not someone was paying the bills, which is not always the same thing.”

In the E.E.O.C.’s suit, which was filed in federal district court in Cleveland, the agency said that since at least January 2008, Kaplan had rejected job applicants based on their credit history, with a “significant disparate impact” on blacks.

“This practice has an unlawful discriminatory impact because of race and is neither job-related nor justified by business necessity,” the commission said. The agency did not specify what types of jobs were involved.

... The company added that it typically conducted background checks on all prospective employees. “The checks are job-related and a necessity for our organization to ensure that staff handling financial matters, including financial aid, are properly screened,” Kaplan said. Kaplan and other for-profit education companies have come under intense scrutiny from the federal government because of concerns that the industry leaves too many students unable to repay large federally backed education loans, while providing them with little help in finding jobs. The Department of Education has proposed regulations that would cut off federal financing to for-profit education companies whose graduates have high debt-to-income ratios and low repayment rates. 

Let me see if I understand this: One part of the Obama Administration says that some of what Kaplan does borders on being a scam (which seems pretty plausible); meanwhile, another part of the Obama Administration demands that Kaplan hire people who on average have worse track records of untrustworthiness.

Sounds like a  plan to me!

The bigger issue is not Kaplan,  of course, but the Obama Administration choosing to make it riskier to hire Americans (instead of outsourcing or insourcing to illegal aliens less likely to sue). Obviously, taking away a tool that firms find profit-making in hiring just discourages hiring; yet, I don't think that's obvious to many people these days when it comes to race, where we've all been taught to shut our brains off and just point fingers at bad people.
The federal lawsuit is seeking a permanent injunction to stop Kaplan’s use of credit histories in hiring and other employment decisions. The agency is also seeking lost wages and benefits for people who were not hired because of Kaplan’s use of credit reports to screen applicants, and it wants Kaplan to make employment offers to those individuals.

Michael J. Zimmer, a professor of employment law at Loyola University in Chicago, said that, under federal law, “if an employment practice has a disparate impact on a certain race, you have a case.” He said that the E.E.O.C. would not have brought the case unless it had reviewed statistics about Kaplan’s hiring.

“I think the issue is going to boil down to whether it’s justified as job-related and necessary for business,” he said. “That’s the defense’s standard in a disparate impact case.”

As I said last month in VDARE, the most obvious area where Obama could use his political capital to boost hiring is by declaring victory in the war on discrimination:
... Obama could announce that his election as President shows that the civil rights war is officially over and it’s time to reap the peace dividend: the federal government can dramatically cut back its persecutions of employers for race-related reasons.

Nothing the President could do with a stroke of his pen would do more to cut unemployment by making it legally safer to hire Americans than Obama announcing that, between now and the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act in 2014, he will lay off most of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission bureaucrats and other federal racial inquisitors.

And the business climate would be immediately improved by Obama abolishing the EEOC’s innumerate “Four Fifths Rule.”

Sure, if Obama declared victory on civil rights, his base would howl. But, that's pretty much how you accomplish something as President: by stabbing your supporters in the back.

Conversely, could a President Haley Barbour abolish the Four Fifths Rule in 2013? Of course not, he'd have to boost pointless enforcement to show he's on the side of the angels.

But Obama actually has an opportunity here for statesmanship, which he's, so far, failing utterly to seize, and public affairs discourse is so braindead over anything approaching race that nobody even notices his chance.

December 21, 2010

A semi-exception to the Fundamental Constant of Sociology

You always come across smug dismissals of The Bell Curve as being discredited, but you never hear explanations from them of why the U.S. military has put such emphasis on cognitive testing for several generations now. In fact, I once interviewed the retired head pscyhometrician of one of the major branches of the military, who had provided the military's AFQT testing data to Charles Murray. He said Murray and Herrnstein had done a bang up job with it.

In general, the military tries to keep a very low profile about their addiction to IQ-like testing, mostly releasing data to projects like Rand Corporation studies that nobody in the press ever reads, but now the Army has cooperated with The Education Trust, a Nice White Lady organization.

From the Associated Press:
Nearly one-fourth of the students who try to join the military fail its entrance exam, painting a grim picture of an education system that produces graduates who can't answer basic math, science and reading questions.

The report by The Education Trust found that 23 percent of recent high school graduates don't get the minimum score needed on the enlistment test to join any branch of the military. 

That's 23% of high school graduates who want to join the Army and the Army wants them because they don't have other black marks against them like obesity or a bad criminal record, who can't get in because they score too low. Add in high school dropouts, and, overall, the Army sets the minimum score for the heavily g-loaded AFQT (the very IQ-like test featured in The Bell Curve) for enlistment at the 31st percentile.
The study, released exclusively to The Associated Press on Tuesday, comes on top of Pentagon data that shows 75 percent of those aged 17 to 24 don't qualify for the military because they are physically unfit, have a criminal record or didn't graduate high school.

Perhaps this is right, but I suspect that to get to 75% unfit to serve before cognitive testing, they are simply summing the percent disqualified for each of those reasons and ignoring the overlaps: e.g., kids who are fat, dumb, and crooked get counted three times, not once. Hopefully, I'm right that the Youth of Today aren't quite that bad, but, maybe I'm just a cockeyed optimist ...
"Too many of our high school students are not graduating ready to begin college or a career — and many are not eligible to serve in our armed forces," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the AP. "I am deeply troubled by the national security burden created by America's underperforming education system."
... This is the first time ever that the U.S. Army has released this test data publicly, said Amy Wilkins with The Education Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based children's advocacy group. She said the organization worked with the U.S. Army to get raw data on test takers from the past five years.

... The Education Trust study shows wide disparities in scores among white and minority students. Nearly 40 percent of black students and 30 percent of Hispanics don't pass, compared to 16 percent of whites.

The funny thing is that this particular white-black racial gap isn't quite as large as the normal one standard deviation gap seen in La Griffe du Lion's Fundamental Constant of Sociology. Probably due to self-selection and range restriction, the black-white gap is less than one standard deviation here. But, the authors of the report and the AP don't notice that the Army represents a below-average sized problem because we aren't supposed to know about the Fundamental Constant.
Even those passing muster on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB, usually aren't getting scores high enough to snag the best jobs.

The AP article is a little confused about a tricky aspect of the military's admission test. The AFQT is, last I checked, a highly g-loaded four-test subset of the the ten test ASVAB, which includes less g-loaded tests of specific skills, such as vehicle repair. The AFQT is not exactly an IQ test -- it includes questions on trigonometry, for example, which almost nobody learns outside of school. So, yes, if schools did a better job of teaching trig, then more of their graduates would pass the AFQT.

But, results on the AFQT correlate closely with leading IQ tests, so it's close enough for government  work. You must score at the 31st percentile or above on the AFQT (roughly a 92 IQ) to be allowed to join the Army. Once you clear that hurdle, they look at your ASVAB scores, which includes tests of things like auto repair, for help in determining vocational specialties. If you are already a first rate shade tree auto mechanic, then you might be able to skip truck repair school.
"A lot of times, schools have failed to step up and challenge these young people, thinking it didn't really matter — they'll straighten up when they get into the military," said Kati Haycock, president of the Washington-based Education Trust. "The military doesn't think that way."

If there are 310 million people in the country, then about 100 million aren't smart enough to enlist in the Army. Over 140 million aren't smart enough to enlist in the Coast Guard.

Those are gigantic numbers that simply don't register on the pundit class. And when they are reminded of them, of course, the only thing they can say is "fix the schools."

But, tautologically, 30% of youth are going to be in the bottom 30% of youth. 

I knew a kid who was totally focused on enlisting in the Army. The recruiter thought he was great, but then he flunked the AFQT. So, the Army paid to send him to an AFQT boot camp for about six weeks, where the kids live in barracks and where uniforms while they bone up on the AFQT. He loved it. The sergeants picked him as Best Recruit in the program. Then he took the AFQT again. And still failed.

He was a good kid but he just wasn't smart enough to enlist in the Army. In the conventional wisdom, Americans like him don't exist.

In the real world, they do.

The average enlistee in the U.S. military is above the national average in intelligence.
Christina Theokas, the author of the study, said the test was updated in 2004 to reflect the current needs of the Army, and the Army didn't want to release data from before the realignment.

Recruits must score at least in the 31st percentile on the first stage of the three-hour test to get into the Army or the Marines. Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard recruits must have higher scores.

From the Education Trust's report, Shut Out of the Military:
Table 1: Enlistment Eligibility 2010
The minimum AFQT score required to qualify for entry into the
military varies by branch.
Service Branch Minimum Required AFQT Score
Army 31 [i.e., 31st percentile]
Navy 35
Marines 32
Air Force 40
Coast Guard 45
... For the Army, those who score at the AFQT level of 31 and higher—Category IIIB and above—qualify for enlistment. Those scoring at 50 and higher on the AFQT [i.e. 100 IQ], falling into Categories IIIA and above, are eligible for Army
incentive programs including enlistment bonuses, college repayment programs, and the Army College Fund (a monetary incentive that increases the value of G.I. Bill benefits).  ...
Recruits that rank at the highest AFQT levels are eligible for special opportunities. While most military jobs are tied to the kind of composite scores described above, certain elite categories are available only to those who also possess an especially high AFQT. For instance, jobs in technical fields require significantly higher AFQT scores than the minimum score needed for regular enlistment. These high level jobs, because they come with education, training, and skills development, open doors to high-level career paths, provide better active-duty experience and pay, and set up enlisted personnel for greater success following life in the service.

You can see the source at here.  The Education Trust report continues:
Our sample consists of the nearly 350,000 high school graduates aged 17-20 who applied for entry into the Army between 2004 and 2009 and took the ASVAB at a Military Entrance Processing Station. These young people are among the 25 percent of young Americans who do not have problems preventing them from applying for enlistment in the military. Approximately 50 percent of these applicants, a total of 172,776, joined the Army. The group is not representative of individuals across or within states and the nation, but is a self-selected sample of individuals aged 17-20, with a high school diploma,
and an interest in joining the Army. We chose only to examine the results of recent high school graduates to have a sample of individuals who had experienced similar high school requirements and standards. ... In the sample, 58 percent of the test-takers were white, 19 percent African-American, 12 percent Hispanic, 8 percent unknown, 1 percent each of Asian, American Indian/Alaskan Native, and Native Hawaiian/ Pacific Islander, while 76 percent were male and 24 percent female.

About 23 percent of the test-takers in our sample failed to achieve a 31 —the qualifying score—on the AFQT. Among white test-takers, 16 percent scored below the minimum score required by the Army. For Hispanic candidates, the rate of ineligibility was 29 percent. And for African-American youth, it was 39 percent.

That's the IQ ineligibility rate among non-obese, non-crooked, high school graduates who want to join the Army.

The AP story goes on:
The average score for blacks [in this self-selected sample of high school graduates wanting to join the Army] is 38[th percentile] and for Hispanics is 44, compared to whites' average score of 55. The scores reflect the similar racial gaps on other standardized exams.

Actually, these are pretty narrow for racial gaps. All the other filters reduce the variation. Moreover, there's now a multi-generation tradition of lower middle class blacks enlisting in the Army (as opposed to the other branches).

The Education Trust report goes on to complain that:
To qualify for specific occupational specialties, recruits must earn certain scores in nine different Army aptitude areas. For example, to qualify for any of the Special Forces positions, a recruit must earn a score of 110 on the General Technical composite score, which is a weighted average of Arithmetic and Verbal Expression. Approximately 66 percent of applicants did not meet this minimum score. However, nearly 86 percent of African-American applicants and 79 percent of Hispanic potential recruits did not meet the minimum for these specialties, as compared to 60 percent of white potential recruits.

But, once again, these are narrower racial gaps than are found in the overall population.

The Associated Press article suffers from one obvious mistake:
The study also found disparities across states, with Wyoming having the lowest passage rate, at 13 percent, and Hawaii having the highest, at 38.3 percent.

No, this sentence is a typo in the AP news story that gets the meaning 180 degrees wrong. Figure 2 in the Education Trust report is entitled "AFQT Ineligibility Rates by State." The worst failure rate is in Hawaii (followed by MS, DC, LA, SC, NM) and the least bad failure rate is in Wyoming (followed by IN, ID, NE, NH, MN).

More interesting numbers from the report's state tables:

Among white youths with high school diplomas applying to join the Army, the lowest failure rates were in Indiana (10.1%), Alaska, Wyoming, and Nebraska. Among whites, the highest failure rate was, by far, in Maryland (27%). Next was DC, then Kentucky. The high failure rates for whites in liberal MD/DC is probably due to the military being seen by MD/DC as a good place to dump the dud in the family.

Best performances by blacks were in Oregon, Arizona, Alaska, (all small sample sizes), Indiana and New York. Worst performances by blacks were in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Wisconsin.

Best performances by Hispanics were in small sample size states like Montana, Alaska and Indiana. Worst performances by Hispanics were in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Texas's Hispanics did slightly better than California's.

"Casino Jack"

Casino Jack is a consistently amusing biopic starring Kevin Spacey as the manic, bull-necked Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who recently spent three and a half years in prison for, as far as I can tell, running a little more amok than is considered seemly among Washington insiders.

As Abramoff brushes his teeth in the opening scene, he pumps himself up for a long day of throwing his weight around with his own personal 1980s action-movie catchphrase: “I am Jack Abramoff and, oh yeah, I work out every day.” When Abramoff escorts his Indian-chief clients, one in an eagle-feather headdress, into the Oval Office, George W. Bush greets him with, “Hey, Buff Guy, what are you benching?”

Granted, a timelier movie could have been made about, say, Tony Rezko, the current president’s old friend and fundraiser, who is still being held in an undisclosed location awaiting sentencing. A half-decade ago, the press thoroughly covered Abramoff’s career of fleecing crooked Indian tribes to fund a sniper school for West Bank settlers. In contrast, the Chicago Democratic operative’s similarly wacky life (as the business brains behind the Nation of Islam, Rezko managed the Black Muslims’ most famous convert, Muhammad Ali) remains almost unknown due to the media’s aversion to mentioning anything interesting about Barack Obama’s background. 

Read the whole thing there.

Big science news coming

I don't know what it is, but I've been alerted that there should be science news soon of a caliber comparable to the recent human-neanderthal inter-mating story.

The Secret of Jack Abramoff

Sorry about the slowdown around here. I do have a movie review coming up in Taki's one of these days of Kevin Spacey's biopic Casino Jack about the life of GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff. As you may recall about a half decade ago, the Democrats thought that the Abramoff scandals would drive the GOP into the wilderness for 40 years. It was that big a deal, or so it seemed at the time.

Yet, exposure of the megalomaniacal Abramoff has more highlighted the idiosyncrasy and general craziness of Abramoff's personality. I think I've finally figured out the secret of Jack Abramoff's outsized persona, something that the movie hints at repeatedly but nobody else in the punditry seems to have picked up on. 

PISA school test scores by ethnicity

My big graph showing how the four main American races would do compared to 64 other countries in this year's PISA reading test scores is up at

December 18, 2010

Cities and Physics (but not People)

Physicist Geoffrey West explains in the NYT Magazine, "A Physicist Solves the City," that he  now understands cities:
In essence, they arrive at the sensible conclusion that cities are valuable because they facilitate human interactions, as people crammed into a few square miles exchange ideas and start collaborations. “If you ask people why they move to the city, they always give the same reasons,” West says. “They’ve come to get a job or follow their friends or to be at the center of a scene. That’s why we pay the high rent. Cities are all about the people, not the infrastructure.”
... As [Jane] Jacobs pointed out, the layout of her Manhattan neighborhood — the short blocks, the mixed-use zoning, the density of brownstones — made it easier to cope with the strain of the metropolis. It’s fitting that it’s called the Village.

In recent decades, though, many of the fastest-growing cities in America, like Phoenix and Riverside, Calif., have given us a very different urban model. These places have traded away public spaces for affordable single-family homes, attracting working-class families who want their own white picket fences. West and Bettencourt point out, however, that cheap suburban comforts are associated with poor performance on a variety of urban metrics. Phoenix, for instance, has been characterized by below-average levels of income and innovation (as measured by the production of patents) for the last 40 years.

Yet, what could account for the lower rates of patents in Riverside or Phoenix than in equally suburban Silicon Valley or North San Diego County?

It's a mystery!