September 23, 2011

West Hunter

Greg Cochran and Henry Harpending now have a blog, West Hunter

Cochran explains how Out of Africa can be mostly right at the same time that the old multiregionalists were also right that there really are regional patterns that go back before anatomically modern humans (AMH):
I see three reasons why the modern races split along the same lines as those older , much more divergent groups.  First, the geographical and ecological factors that drove isolation before the expansion of AMH did so again after mostly-modern humans spread over the world.  Second,  those mostly-AMH populations were exposed to many of the same selective pressures as their predecessors, so you expect a certain amount of convergent evolution. Third,  there is reason to believe  that those moderns picked up adaptive alleles from the archaic populations they displaced – so, to a limited extent, they are the the old subspecies.


In Slate, Jacob Weisberg (who co-authored a book with Larry Summers' mentor Robert Rubin) is very upset about Ron Suskind's book that claims, based on interviews with Larry's rivals for Obama's attention, that Summers intellectually bullied Obama:
Once again, [Suskind's] work is strewn with small but telling errors. Here are a few: The Federal Reserve is a board, not a bureau (Page 7); Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was previously president, not "chairman," of the New York Fed (Page 56); he was, however, an undersecretary of the treasury, which Suskind makes a point out of saying he wasn't (Page 172); Horatio Alger was an author, not a character (Page 54); Gene Sperling didn't play tennis for the University of Michigan, because he went to the University of Minnesota (Page 215); the gothic spires of Yale Law School, built in 1931, are not "centuries old" (Page 250); Franklin D. Roosevelt did not say of his opponents, "I welcome their hate" (Page 235). What FDR said at Madison Square Garden in 1936, was "I welcome their hatred." That nuance wouldn't matter if it weren't such a famous line, but getting it wrong is the political equivalent of an English professor misquoting Hamlet's soliloquy.

Weisberg's article has this appended:
Correction, Sept. 22, 2011: Because of a production error, the article originally featured a photograph of former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill with a caption identifying him as Ron Suskind.

September 22, 2011


For the last couple of decades, there has been a popular theological concept that every living human being was 100% descended from modern humans who came Out of Africa about 50,000 years ago, so therefore there hasn't been enough time for evolution to cause any changes among people, so, therefore, Science Proves the complete genetic equality of all human racial groups.

So, what happened to the not-so-modern humans who were around back then, like the Neanderthals? Well, to Prove Racism Wrong, they had to have been utterly exterminated, the victims of a 100% genocide with no living descendants whatsoever. You see, old theories that some of the old non-African humans weren't completely obliterated were racist, because that would imply that living humans aren't all identical by descent, so they had to be utterly wrong. So, the old humans had to die. You can't make anti-racist omelet without exterminating a few lineages.

In reality, it's not actually a good idea to get too worked up over some theory you hold about the distant past. It's especially not a good idea to create political/moral/religious dogmas dependent upon some assumption you make about the far past. You never know what somebody might dig up. 

It's a better idea to keep an open mind about the present. If, say, men of West African descent keep making the Olympic 100m finals, well, that's pretty interesting. There are a variety of ways that that could have come about, and there's a variety of evidence for assessing those theories. In contrast, the conventional wisdom that anybody who notices these patterns must be evil because Science Proves that these patterns shouldn't exist is just setting yourself up for a fall.  

Not long ago, it turned out that, sure enough, non-Africans tended to be a few percent Neanderthal by descent. Then, it turned out that some people (but not others) were related to an archaic group christened Denisovans. 

A new paper that came out today finds evidence of Denisovan ancestry in various islands off the southeast coast of Asia, such as the Mamanwa negritos of the Philippines and Australian Aborigines. Dienekes has some follow-up on it.

Meanwhile, a second big paper that came out today (see below) says that Australian Aborigines didn't intermarry with anybody after they got to Australia 44,000 years ago. 

You'll notice that there seem to be at least superficially contradictory lessons here about human nature: the ancestors of Australian Aborigines mated with a different quasi-species somewhere in the past, then maintained splendid isolation genetically for many tens of thousands of years in Australia, with no subsequent intruders mating with them until the 18th Century. So, maybe the general rule to draw from this is that You Can't Tell about human history. You've got to go look it up.

50,000 Years of Nativism Down Under

Nicholas Wade writes in the NYT:
A lock of hair, collected by a British anthropologist a century ago, has yielded the first genome of an Australian Aborigine, along with insights into the earliest migration from the ancestral human homeland somewhere in northeast Africa. 
The Aboriginal genome bolsters earlier genetic evidence showing that once the Aborigines’ ancestors arrived in Australia, some 50,000 years ago, they somehow kept the whole continent to themselves without admitting any outsiders. 
The Aborigines are thus direct descendants of the first modern humans to leave Africa, without any genetic mixture from other races so far as can be seen at present. Their dark skin reflects an African origin and a migration and residence in latitudes near the equator, unlike Europeans and Asians whose ancestors gained the paler skin necessary for living in northern latitudes. 
“Aboriginal Australians likely have one of the oldest continuous population histories outside sub-Saharan Africa today,” say the researchers who analyzed the hair, a group led by Eske Willerslev of the Natural History Museum of Denmark. 
Dr. Willerslev is an expert at working with ancient DNA, which is usually highly fragmented. Use of the ancient hair reduced the possibility of mixture with European genes and sidestepped the political difficulties of obtaining DNA from living Aborigines.

The "political difficulties" boil down to the fear that current Australian Aborigines aren't closely related to the people who left archaeological traces in Australia, as long as 44,000 years ago, but are instead related to dingo dog-owning Asians or Polynesians who would have shown up a few thousand years ago. I'm not exactly sure why that would be politically bad for Aborigines, but Australian history is highly emotional, kind of like academic politics, perhaps because so little happened in the history of Australia. (A few years ago, a friend sent me an excellent history of Australia, but when I got done reading it, the only name I could remember is Sir Don Bradfordman, the great cricket player.) 

But ironically, this end run around Aboriginal sensitivities appears to have confirmed their fondest hopes about their vastly ancient pedigree. (I very seldom take an independent stand on specific questions of what happened tens of thousands of years in the past, because, well, what do I know?) 

The rest of the article is quite interesting, too, because it lays out all the reasons for why these results seem unexpected.
One thing worth noting is that despite evidently being separated for thousands of generations, Aborigines and Europeans are not only interfertile, but tend to come out looking overall European in just a few generations. The 1/8th Aborigine boy above looks like the young Bing Crosby, which is not uncommon. This is relevant to the question of how Neanderthals, Denisovans, and modern humans could successfully mate after a long separation.
By way of comparison, here are pictures, also from Ahnenkult, of the Greenland Eskimo descendants of Matthew Henson, the black sharecropper who was the right hand man of polar explorer Robert Peary. The half black / half Eskimo son looks like a comedian on BET, while the 1/4 black grandson doesn't look all that black but the 1/8th black great-grandson does. He looks like the actor in a 1990ss episode of Arliss who played a part-black part-Eskimo tennis prodigy.

Breaking News! Pakistan not actually on our side

Shocking revelations from the NYT: the government of Pakistan doesn't like the United States of America.
Mullen Asserts Pakistani Role in Attack on U.S. Embassy 
Pakistan’s intelligence agency aided insurgents who attacked the embassy in Kabul last week, said Adm. Mike Mullen, the departing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Who could have guessed from the way they played so fair with us in the little matter of their putting Osama bin Laden up right next to their military academy?

But the point is that we must continue to engage with Pakistan because they are the front door to the real prize: Afghanistan, with its strategically crucial resources of gravel, scree, unbridged torrents, furious holy men, gay warlords, and Pashtun proverbs, such as "When the flood waters reach your chin, put your son beneath your feet." 

Also, if we get bored with Afghanistan, just think of what that will do to the credibility of our attempts to project hegemony over Somalia and Yemen. And what about the fate of the Kerguelen Islands?

While you waste your time thinking about college football, there are men out there in the think tanks worrying for you about the real Great Game. 

Rick Perry's Texas Miracle (Americans need not apply)

Steve Camarota has done a very useful piece of research for the Center for Immigration Studies:
Governor Rick Perry (R-Texas) has pointed to job growth in Texas during the current economic downturn as one of his main accomplishments. But analysis of Current Population Survey (CPS) data collected by the Census Bureau show that immigrants (legal and illegal) have been the primary beneficiaries of this growth since 2007, not native-born workers. This is true even though the native-born accounted for the vast majority of growth in the working-age population (age 16 to 65) in Texas. Thus, they should have received the lion’s share of the increase in employment. As a result, the share of working-age natives in Texas holding a job has declined in a manner very similar to the nation as a whole. 
Among the findings: 
Of jobs created in Texas since 2007, 81 percent were taken by newly arrived immigrant workers (legal and illegal).  
In terms of numbers, between the second quarter of 2007, right before the recession began, and the second quarter of 2011, total employment in Texas increased by 279,000. Of this, 225,000 jobs went to immigrants (legal and illegal) who arrived in the United States in 2007 or later.  
Of newly arrived immigrants who took a job in Texas, 93 percent were not U.S. citizens. Thus government data show that more than three-fourths of net job growth in Texas were taken by newly arrived non-citizens (legal and illegal).  
The large share of job growth that went to immigrants is surprising because the native-born accounted for 69 percent of the growth in Texas’ working-age population (16 to 65). Thus, even though natives made up most of the growth in potential workers, most of the job growth went to immigrants.  
The share of working-age natives holding a job in Texas declined significantly, from 71 percent in 2007 to 67 percent in 2011. This decline is very similar to the decline for natives in the United States as a whole and is an indication that the situation for native-born workers in Texas is very similar to the overall situation in the country despite the state’s job growth. 
Of newly arrived immigrants who took jobs in Texas since 2007, we estimate that 50 percent (113,000) were illegal immigrants. Thus, about 40 percent of all the job growth in Texas since 2007 went to newly arrived illegal immigrants and 40 percent went to newly arrived legal immigrants.

A commenter in the one newspaper that has covered this study argues:
In reading the study, they came up with 2 sets of findings depending on how they compared the data: gross vs net showed 29% immigrant growth taking 81% of the new jobs and a net vs net comparison showed 31% immigrant growth taking 54% of the new jobs. The second finding is the more valid comparison (as noted above) but only the first is being reported in most of the media reports and headlines. 
An interesting part of their conclusion: 
"This analysis shows that job growth was significant in Texas. But, depending on how one calculates the impact of immigration, between 2007, before the recession began, and 2011 more than three-quarters or more than half of that growth went to immigrants. This is the case even though the native-born accounted for more than two-thirds of the growth in the working-age population. Some may argue that it was because so many immigrants arrived in Texas that there was job growth in the state. But if immigration does stimulate job growth for natives, the numbers in Texas would be expected to look very different. The unemployment rate and the employment rate show a dramatic deterioration in the Texas for the native-born that was similar to the rest of the country. Moreover, if immigration does stimulate job growth for natives, why have states that received so many new immigrants done so poorly in recent years? (See Table 2.) For example, unemployment in the top-10 immigrant-receiving states in 2011 averaged 8.7 percent, compared to 8.1 percent in the other 40 states. Moreover, unemployment is 7.2 percent on average in the 10 states where the fewest immigrants arrived since 2007. These figures do not settle the debate over the economics of immigration. What they do show is that high immigration can go hand in hand with very negative labor market outcomes for the native-born. And conversely the native-born can do relatively well in areas of lower immigration."

So, I'm going to suggest caution in quoting that 81% figure. You can read the report here and make up your own mind.

In a 2006 article, I explained why the then-current boom in Las Vegas wasn't doing American workers much good:
What [economist David] Card doesn't grasp is that illegal immigration is denying Americans the traditional wage premium for undergoing the pain of moving to a boomtown.{NYT writer Roger] Lowenstein can't see it either, as he writes: "Immigrants do help the economy; they are fuel for growth cities like Las Vegas …"
Imagine you are an American blue-collar worker in Cleveland, making $10 per hour. You know the local economy is stagnant, so you're thinking about relocating to fast-growing Las Vegas. But your mom would miss you; and you're not a teenager anymore so you don't make new friends as fast as you once did; and you really like the wooded Ohio countryside you grew up around and the fall colors and the deer hunting; and there's this girl that maybe you could get serious about, but her whole family is in Cleveland and she'd never leave. 
So, you decide, you'll leave home behind if you can make 50 percent more in Las Vegas, adjusted for cost of living. That seems fair. 
But, then you look through the Las Vegas want ads and discover you'd be lucky to make 10 or 20 percent more because the town is full of illegal aliens. They're moving from another country, so it's not much skin off their nose to move to Las Vegas rather than some place slower-growing. 
Well, forget that, you say. I'll stay in Cleveland. 
Unfortunately, too many economists forget that too. They can't—or won't—put themselves in other people's shoes and see how the world really works. 
That doesn't seem to hurt them professionally. But it can hurt America.

The British and "brilliant"

It's a good thing Obama doesn't like England and never spent much time there or his head would have exploded from having everything he did called "brilliant." It reminds me of a business trip I made to Oxford in 1994. The very polite English lady who was my host at Nielsen asked if I had any trouble getting there from Heathrow.

"Well, it took me awhile to find the Hertz counter, but I stopped a bunch of people and asked and I finally found one I could understand because he had a full set of teeth."

"Oh, brilliant!"

"And then, when I got the car, I almost got into two or three head on collisions before I noticed something: You guys drive on the wrong side of the road!"

"Oh, brilliant, brilliant."

"And the speedometer was broken. No way was I going 200 miles per hour."

"Oh, brilliant, brilliant, brilliant."

"And then I wanted to get a bag of potato chips from a vending machine, but all they had were crisps. So, I stuck a bunch of those funny Susan B. Anthony dollar coins in the slot, but the bag got stuck. So, I gave the machine a hard shove and I got not only the crisps, which, by the way, are a lot like potato chips, plus a free packet of biscuits, whatever those are."

"Oh, brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, brilliant."

If politics is showbiz for ugly people ...

... where'd the GOP get all these male model types? Rick Perry is 61 and Mitt Romney is 64. Scott Brown, who launched the GOP resurgence by winning Ted Kennedy's seat, is 52, but looks like like a wily veteran big league pitcher of 37. And he really was a male model, posing nude in Cosmo in 1982.

Heck, George Clooney looks older than these guys.

And, of course, on the distaff side there's Bachmann and Palin.  

Do successful people not get old anymore, or does the GOP have some master plan to only run good-looking candidates? 

September 21, 2011

Obama, economists, ego, and IQ

Reporter Ron Suskind on Jon Stewart's show (in an excessively accurate transcript of extemporaneous speech):
"With Larry [Summers], Tim [Geithner] as well, but with Larry there's a seduction there.  You know Obama loves these high IQ guys, Larry is of course the top of the heap there, with sterling credentials, and he sort of ends up in what I call a 'Larry Summers Debate Society.'  
"Now I think Obama thought he'd sit about and judge who's the winner, he ends up just another guy at the table in a way, Larry saying I'll go first, you go after me.  It troubles people who are sitting there saying is that being disrespectful to the president.  Eventually you see the president's confidence sort of bruised, and frankly that's why 'confidence men' in the title."

And here's a quote about economists in general:
Most economists, it seems, believe strongly in their own superior intelligence and take themselves far too seriously. In his open letter of 22 July 2001 to Joseph Stiglitz, Kenneth Rogoff identified this problem: “One of my favourite stories from that era is a lunch with you and our former colleague, Carl Shapiro, at which the two of you started discussing whether Paul Volcker merited your vote for a tenured appointment at Princeton. At one point, you turned to me and said, “Ken, you used to work for Volcker at the Fed. Tell me, is he really smart?” I responded something to the effect of “Well, he was arguably the greatest Federal Reserve Chairman of the twentieth century” To which you replied, “But is he smart like us?” Economists have delusions of adequacy and a related assured self-confidence that they bring to any problem.

I spent a lot of time in 2005 defending Larry Summers, but the guy has a track record of being more trouble than he's worth. Getting kicked out of being president of Harvard is a pretty hard thing to accomplish -- Harvard likes to nurture the illusion of its institutional infallibility -- but Larry managed it. And, the feminists hate him, which is always going to be a big problem for a Democratic president who has to work with a lot of seething feminists.

So, why in the world did Obama hand the keys to Larry? Well, "Obama loves these high IQ guys," like, oh, say, Obama. It's not a coincidence that the only bit of national journalism Obama engaged in during the 1990s was to denounce The Bell Curve. IQ matters to Obama a lot.

Has anybody gone through life being told he's "brilliant" more often than Obama? John von Neumann? In the Daily Show video, you'll see that the first thing Suskind says as he starts the interview is that Obama is "brilliant." You have to say that sort of thing about Obama, even though there's not much evidence for it. Smart, sure. But brilliant is as brilliant does, as Forrest Gump's mom would have said, and Obama has never done much except self-promotion.

Not surprisingly, it turned out that Obama, much to his own surprise, isn't as smart as Larry Summers. He isn't even close. And that realization got poor Obama down, which let Larry walk all over him even more, which just exacerbated Summers contempt for Obama. Eventually, staffer Peter Rouse organized a coup against Summers and had him tossed out.

Another problem is that Obama isn't really the big man that he thinks he is. He has a big ego about his IQ and big personal ambitions, but he doesn't really have the overwhelming urge to bend other men to his will about other things. White people have flattered him so much ever since he arrived at Harvard Law School as a Potential First Black President in 1988 that he's never had to develop much willpower. Like in the race for editor of the Harvard Law Review, he's gotten ahead by having white people decide promoting him is the reasonable compromise choice. (Remember how during Roman victory parades, the conquering general was followed by a slave who whispered depressing facts in his ear? Obama should have had Congressman Bobby Rush follow him around whispering, "You ain't all that.")

In contrast, here's Tom Wolfe's description of a smart staffer's view of his real estate developer boss from A Man in Full:
"The Wiz looked upon [Croker] as an aging, uneducated, and out-of-date country boy who had somehow, nonetheless, managed to create a large, and, until recently, wildly successful corporation. That the country boy, with half his brainpower, should be the lord of the corporation and that [the Wiz] should be his vassal was an anomaly, a perversity of fate. . . . Or part of him felt that way. The other part of him was in awe, in unconscious awe, of something the old boy had and he didn't: namely, the power to charm men and the manic drive to bend their wills into saying yes to projects they didn't want, didn't need, and never thought about before... And that thing was manhood. It was as simple as that."

If Obama were white, he would have, with his admirable ability to lucidly lay out both sides of an argument, made a useful staffer. But our country has such a hunger for black male authority figures (but has been burned enough times before by more conventional ones) that it seized upon the unlikely reed of Barack Obama as the perfect combination of black and white. His lack of accomplishment could then be rationalized away as the tragic product of white racism: how could the poor man ever have a record of building or running much of anything when his skin color kept him from having any opportunity? Therefore, let's make him President!

Paul Graham says the one trait he most values when deciding which technology start-up founders to invest in is: "relentlessly resourceful." Those are not, however, the first words that leap to mind when thinking of Obama. He has many virtues, such as politeness and presentableness. He'd make an outstanding crown prince of a constitutional monarchy.

September 20, 2011


From my Taki's Magazine column:
To Live and Drive in L.A. 
Whatever happened to the femme fatale? From Mary Astor in The Maltese Falcon and Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity to Kathleen Turner in Body Heat and Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction, the silky seductress who lures some poor sap into her web of betrayal was the central element of the noir genre of moody urban crime films. But today, female characters tend to be either Butt-Kicking Babes or Passive Victims. 
Noir is still around, though, as vividly demonstrated by Drive, an artsy, retro-1980s thriller fueled by a superlative Ryan Gosling performance as that traditional popcorn-movie favorite, the hard man with a heart of gold.

Read the whole thing there.

White Triumphalism in Gentrifying D.C.

Ethnic change in Washington D.C. has gone so far that white hipsters are getting cocky about rubbing the noses of poor blacks in the new white dominance. The Washington Post reports:
While I sat for the better part of an hour — okay, perhaps longer than that — outside H Street Country Club on Saturday enjoying a few libations as the Northeast corridor’s fabulous festival unfolded around me, I watched club owner and impresario extraordinaire Joe Englert [a white guy] and his compatriots do a rather brisk business in a repurposed piece of D.C. political memorabilia. 
His navy-blue T-shirts bearing the legend “Mayor Barry: Making a great city even greater” were going gangbusters. 
That would be the official logo of Marion Barry’s 1986 re-election campaign. An original sign, incidentally, hangs above the stairs down into the basement of Englert’s Capitol Lounge on Pennsylvania Avenue SE. 
Most of the folks I watched buy the tees were, shall we say, not in Barry’s base demographic. 
While Englert acknowledged the shirts’ appeal to master ironists, he insisted he printed up the shirts out of appreciation for Barry, not to mock him. 
”I think people, even newcomers, sort have a fond view of him,” he said. “He’s a folk hero. He’s as close to Johnny Appleseed as you’re going to get here.”

This doesn't strike me as polite or prudent. Considering what happened to Matthew Yglesias in May just for being a white man walking down the street in D.C. at night, being a white man walking down the street wearing an intentionally racially insulting T-shirt, apparently thinking that poor blacks are too stupid to realize you are mocking their demographic defeat, sounds like a really bad idea.

On the second thought, a lot of these hipsters might not even get that they are racially gloating over the upcoming economic cleansing to Baltimore of the remainder of D.C.'s poor blacks. They possess elaborate conceptual vocabularies for thinking well of themselves, so they might even believe that they believe that "folk hero" nonsense.

By the way, in 25 years, will the next generation of white hipsters ironically wear vintage 2008 "Obama: Hope and Change" t-shirts? They might not be worth much right now, but you should stock up on them because they could be an ironic gold mine someday.

Obama's experience

NOTA comments:
I fancy myself a pretty bright guy. And yet, put me in at governor of Illinois or CEO of GE or as the captain of a navy ship, and I will make a godawful hash of it, because intelligence isn't enough to do those jobs--you also need to have the experience of running parts of them, or of running comparable operations, and detailed knowledge of how these very complicated organizations work.  
President must be far worse. Everyone who ever talks to you not only has an agenda, they're out on the right end of the intelligence and manipulativeness and people-skills distributions, and you are their main focus. Most of us have been tricked by dishonest people, or felt the unpleasant push of a skilled salesman trying to get us to buy something. Imagine that all the time, except they're world class salesmen, and all your information about what they're selling and what a reasonable price would be is controlled by equally manipulative salesmen.  
Think about a conflict between Obama and Geithner. Obama has few contacts in the financial world, and those are mostly people he's gotten to know only since he was running for office. Geithner has been plugged into that world for his whole professional life. Obama has the authority to fire Geithner, but in many ways, he's much the weaker of the two.  
And that applies everywhere--Obama might have wanted to close down Guantanamo and investigate the guys who ran our illegal domestic spying and torture programs. But when his advisors tell him that doing so will destroy the NSA and CIA, who does he ask for confirmation. He doesn't have a dozen old friends he's worked with for years on these issues, guys he knows well enough that it would be hard for them to lie or spin him much. He probably had some people like that in Illinois politics, but he had no time to find them in Washington--when he arrived, he was already effectively running for president. 

If you are Obama, your main career expertise is in assessing and appeasing the mood of the volcano gods, so when Tim Geithner or Larry Summers tell you you can't do something because, say, the bond market wouldn't like it, what do you know about the bond market? Who do you know in the bond market whom you can trust? You've met a million guys in the bond market at fundraisers who have told you you were amazing and given you money, but, really, when you think about it, do you think they were all totally disinterested? 

The U. of Chicago didn't pay you to lecture on the bond market, they had other guys for that. They wanted you to be their volcano gods expert. That's what you are good at. You wrote an entire autobiography about you and the volcano gods. Then you get to the White House and it turns out that volcano gods analysis isn't really that big of a job requirement after all. 

Who knew?

September 19, 2011

Asians, aptitude, and achievement: a positive sum reform proposal

The traditional concept of college admissions was that the goal was to predict applicants' future achievement (which could be measured in terms of first year in college grades or money donated 50 years later or whatever). The most obvious way to predict future achievement was past achievement: e.g., high school grades. Presumably, past achievement had two main components: hard work and aptitude.

But there were some obvious problems with relying solely on high school grades, such as different levels  of grade inflation at high schools. If you were getting most of your applicants from St. Paul's and Dalton, well, you could keep in mind the differences, augmented with letters of recommendation from headmasters you had known for years. 

But once the Ivy Leagues started trying to find the most promising non-upper class kids from the rest of the country, they needed something more objective about individuals than just grades. Another issue is that high school grades have certain inherent shortcomings. The future Nobelist in physics might not care about his social studies class and thus wind up with a lower overall GPA than the well-adjusted grind. Plus, grades have a ceiling. Even an A+ in physics doesn't really tell you that much. Moreover, lots of future successes are alienated in high school. Some people who get all As in high school might not have the upside to continue to do so in college. Incentives toward grade inflation at the high school are built in. And so forth ... Top colleges kept asking for recommendation letters, but their value (and, thus, importance) dropped as they increasingly came in from random teachers in random places like Burbank, CA.

So, for various reasons like this, the Scholastic Aptitude Test was created and spread. The idea was to have an objective, national test of academic intelligence. Overall, the SAT would appear to have been a huge success. American colleges are the most fashionable and richest in the world today. 

However, there have long been complaints about the SAT. The most fashionable involved The Gap. Whites averaged higher scores than blacks. This posed a major PR problem for the academic establishment. The SAT (and ACT) is essential for their continued thriving, but saying that blacks are less intelligent than whites on average is The Worst Thing in the Whole World. But that's what the SAT says. And the SAT is the cornerstone of academic elitism, which has made American academia globally the envy of the academic world.

Thus, over the last half century or so, there have been anguished discussions between the front men for the academic world and the psychometricians at ETS about how to Close the Gap, without throwing the baby of predictive power out with the bathwater.

One change was purely PR: the SAT doesn't stand for Scholastic Aptitude Test anymore. It just stands for SAT these days. Under the hood, there have been a host of tweaks intended to narrow the gap without trashing the predictive powers of the SAT too much.

For example, the upper range of the Verbal (now Critical Reading) test has been capped. Before 1995, it was very, very hard to get an 800 on the Verbal test. I came fairly close the first time I took the test in 1975, so I gave it another try, got a little closer, but gave up and didn't take it a third time because the two scores seemed quite accurate: I'm very good at verbal logic, and have a certain gift for insights that other people wouldn't come up with, but I'm not a meticulous thinker. I make lots of mistakes. I'm more of a let's run it up the flagpole and see if anybody salutes thinker. In contrast, say, Charles Murray's brain works like a BMW V-12: powerful and precise. Mine's a jalopy that might surprise you and win the race or might break down on the starting line and go nowhere. So, there didn't seem like much point in me doing a lot of test prep to try to score 800 on the verbal -- I'd still make a mistake or two or they throw a really hard question at me.

But now, an 800 is well within reach of a lot of well-drilled students.

So, before scores were inflated in 1995, the SAT-V was an excellent test of high end verbal brainpower. In contrast, the SAT-M was widely recognized to need more headroom. It wasn't uncommon at Rice in the 1970s to hear good but not great Sci-Eng majors say, "Well, sure, I got an 800, but I'm not a real 800 like Joe is."

An obvious reform would have been to make scoring of SAT-M more like scoring of SAT-V. Instead, College Board - ETS did the opposite in 1995. One reason was that all that headroom on the Verbal modestly increased The Gap. The V test was made much easier to score 800 upon in 1995. A 730 old style became an 800 new style.

Lots of other tweaks were made, but as far as we can tell, anything that raises black average scores just encourages harder scraping of the bottom of the barrel by society, so the white-black The Gap remains remarkably stable over the generations. For example, The Gap on SAT-Critical Reading dropped about a half decade ago, perhaps because of the changes on the test, such as deep-sixing analogies. But that apparently just encouraged the College Board to troll for more black test-takers with free tests, so The Gap is now even bigger. (I may be overinterpreting a few squiggles on the trend graph.)

But white parents still tend to assume that SAT stands for Scholastic Aptitude Test. It's not an achievement test in their heads. The College Board says there is no point in studying extra hard for the SAT, and why would a prestigious not-for-profit institution spin the truth? If you can't trust the College Board, who can you trust? And signing your child up for intensive test prepping would be unfair to poor blacks who can't afford all that tutoring and drilling. Plus, prepping for years would be a lot of work for little Taylor, so just let him have his fun.

Meanwhile, lots of people from Fujian are showing up in America whose merchant ancestors ascended to mandarin status by spending their mercantile profits at Confucian literature cram schools for their sons. The assumptions about the SAT flitting around in white people's heads would never occur to them. "Test prep is unfair to poor blacks? Huh? You crack me up! I like you! You are very funny!"

Not surprisingly, we see vast amounts of white upper middle class rage directed at Amy Chua. 

Now, is devoting hundreds of hours to prepping for the SAT a Good Thing or a Bad Thing? Well, let me try to reframe that question more productively and think about SAT test prep's opportunity cost.

It could be that SAT test prep has long term benefits other than getting into a fancier college. Could be ... I dunno. I haven't seen any evidence one way or another. But, it seems more like a zero sum game. SAT test prep seems kind of a sterile form of studying compared to studying an actual subject like Physics or French or Music Theory or World History or Microeconomics.

The return on investment for the colossal number of hours devoted in recent decades to SAT cram schooling is modest. The test is designed to be hard to prep for, so it's taken gigantic efforts for gains measured in fractions of a standard deviation. 

It seems to me that it would be better for everybody if more test prepping energy was invested instead into positive sum games, such as studying for achievement tests rather than for aptitude tests. Fortunately, we currently have a quite good set of national achievement tests: the College Board's Advanced Placement tests. They are not subject to the incentives for high schools to inflate their grades: the AP tests provide objective national grades that do a good job of predicting what the high school student would score on a 101-102 level course as a freshman in college.

In contrast, AP tests are intended to be ones you can study for, so the ROI on test prep effort tends to be quite a bit higher than on the SAT. Far more students are passing AP tests than a decade ago, and that's a good thing. Why have young people waste their time studying for something that's built to be hard to study for when they can instead study subjects that are intrinsically worth studying?

Unfortunately, the current college admissions system gives little weight to AP test scores. Instead, perversely, it gives too much weight to taking AP classes in high school, even if you then do bad on the AP test. The University of California, for example, in calculating high school GPA adds a full point to classes designated Advanced Placement. Thus the average high school GPA of UC Berkeley freshmen is a wacky 4.39. An internal study by UC showed that cutting the bonus for an AP course down to 0.5 would better predict freshmen grades. I don't believe the UC system counts AP test scores  in the admission's process, or doesn't count them much.

As Mitch has pointed out, this system is doubly rigged in favor of the more goody-two-shoes high school students. Typically, you need high grades in earlier classes to get into high school AP classes, where you are then given a full extra point for your GPA -- even if your AP score shows you didn't actually learn much.

So, the ideal system would be for college admissions to be retooled from mostly a two legged stool of grades and SAT scores to a three legged stool of grades, AP Test scores, and SAT scores. The SAT could then be redesigned to be more purely an aptitude test that would be less easy to game. Moreover, test takers would have less incentive to devote hundreds of hours to gaming the SAT because they were being encouraged to spend hundreds of hours mastering AP Chemistry or AP European History. 

The AP tests should be reformed to make them better for college admissions. They are currently scored on a 1 to 5 scale with a 5 equating to an A in the average college's freshman year introductory course in that subject, a 4 equal to a B, and so forth. A weird aspect of this is that all 5s are not created equal. For example, to get a 5 on the AP Chemistry test, you have to get a little over 60% right. So, people getting 98% right don't get a higher score than people getting 68% right. Test scoring should be kept the same at the lower levels -- a 3 would still be a C -- but the maximum score extended from 5 out to 7, which would be like an A at Caltech. Meanwhile, the GPA boost from taking an AP course would be eliminated, at least before senior year.

The initial winners from this changeover would, of course, tend to be Asians, who currently take a lot of AP tests. But good for them. Whites in heavily Asian areas, who have already started to adapt to the Asian challenge, would do okay. Whites in flyover regions would be challenged to get on the ball with AP. My guess is that it would be good for them and that they would eventually respond well to the challenge.

Overall, my plan looks like it would be better overall for society. There's a huge amount of energy out there looking to get an advantage in the college admissions process, so why not direct it in some positive sum direction?

Yes, sure, obviously it's a win-win, but, does it solve America's most overwhelming problem: Closing The Gap? Will blacks come closer to whites in scores under my system?

I dunno. I haven't thought about it. In fact, not worrying about Closing The Gap has allowed me to put forward a novel reform suggestion that might be better overall, which is not something you see too often these days.

In America today, 98% of the thinking devoted to college admissions goes to figuring out how your own kid can claw his way to the top, and the other 2% goes to airy handwaving theorizing about Closing The Gap. That leaves 0% devoted to thinking about improving the system overall.

Now, if I were truly, fanatically public-spirited, I would devote a lot of energy to dreaming up some bogus but persuasive-sounding theory about how my reform would Close The Gap, which would make it a lot more likely to be adapted. But, I'm not saintly enough to make up an elaborate lie.

September 18, 2011

A billion dollars = a zero sum game

From Bloomberg News:
Donations to the biggest college sports programs climbed as the U.S. economy faltered, with contributions rising 24 percent from the middle of 2006 to the middle of 2010. 
The 54 public schools in the six most powerful sports conferences collected $998 million in fiscal 2010, up from $805 million in 2007, according to records from colleges in the Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern conferences. The increase came during a period when unemployment jumped to 9.5 percent from 4.6 percent and the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index fell 19.5 percent, to 1,030.71. 
What sustained contribution levels were the gifts that schools require fans make to purchase, or hold on to, tickets for prime seats, according to fundraising executives. While one season ticket for University of Florida football games costs $259, a Gator fan who wants to sit in a premium seat near the 50-yard line would have to donate an additional $2,450.

How smart is Obama, anyway?

From my new VDARE column:
How did we wind up with another lightweight in the Oval Office? ... 
Obama's chief economic advisor Larry Summers complained repeatedly to a rival Administration economist, Peter Orszag: 
“’You know, Peter, we're really home alone.' Over the past few months, Summers had said this, in a stage whisper, to Orszag and others as they left the morning economic briefings in the Oval Office. ... 'I mean it,' Summers stressed. 'We're home alone. There's no adult in charge. Clinton would never have made these mistakes.’” 
Of course, Summers, like Timothy Geithner, was one of those insiders who helped get the country into the financial mess that it’s in. But how was Obama—a man of so little financial acumen that he didn’t start putting his own retirement savings into a tax-sheltered SEP account until 2007, the head of a family that had kept going deeper into debt despite a $200,000+ income—supposed to out-argue the famous economist?

Read the whole thing there.

In the kingdom of the obtuse, the butterknife is the sharpest tool in the drawer.