Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

The Future of Colleges & Universities… And the Present

This article looks at the future of colleges and universities:

There are over 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States, but Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen says that half are bound for bankruptcy in the next few decades.

Christensen is known for coining the theory of disruptive innovation in his 1997 book, “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” Since then, he has applied his theory of disruption to a wide range of industries, including education.

In his recent book, “The Innovative University,” Christensen and co-author Henry Eyring analyze the future of traditional universities, and conclude that online education will become a more cost-effective way for students to receive an education, effectively undermining the business models of traditional institutions and running them out of business.

I think a bigger problem – and it isn’t limited just to the US – is that a lot of schools are putting out a large number of students with unmarketable degrees and useless “skills.” For instance, Newsweek had an article entitled Men with muscles and money are more attractve to straight women and gay men – showing gender roles aren’t progressing. It links to this study published in Feminist Media Studies by a couple of, ahem, researchers at two British universities: Coventry and Aberystwyth. Here’s the abstract:

In this paper, we analyze the website TubeCrush, where people post and share unsolicited photographs of “guy candy” seen on the London Underground. We use TubeCrush as a case study to develop Berlant’s intimate publics as a lens for examining post-feminist sensibility and masculinity in the liminal space between home/work. The paper responds to notions of reverse sexism and post-sexism used to make sense of women’s apparent objectification of men in the digital space, by asking instead where the value of such images lies. We suggest that in TubeCrush, value is directed onto the bodies of particular men, creating a visual economy of post-feminist masculinity of whiteness, physical strength, and economic wealth. This celebration of masculine capital is achieved through humor and the knowing wink, but the outcome is a reaffirmation of urban hegemonic masculinity.

Given the direction of the paper, I’d guess that the field collectively has close to a one in five chance of stumbling onto the theory of evolution over the next few decades. The probability would be higher but for some strong biases that are likely to get in the way. Regardless, though, what with On the Origin of Species being published 158 years ago, even were they to succeed at the (cough) feat of recreating Darwin’s work, it would be neither neither impressive nor useful.

But the professors who do this sort of, er, work, teach. They also have graduate students. This is a fair number of people putting in serious time and money with an expectation that what they are doing will somehow translate into improved job opportunities. All of which brings us to Stein’s Law, which is to say, if something can’t go on forever, it won’t.

Tags: , , , , , Comments (17) | |

Crack v. Opioids and Violence v. Racism

Here’s is a PBS commentary by law professor Ekow Yankah:

That Kroger, the Midwestern grocery chain, has decided to make the heroin overdose drug naloxone available without a prescription is a sign of how ominous the current epidemic has grown.
Faced with a rising wave of addiction, misery, crime and death, our nation has linked arms to save souls. Senators and CEOs, Midwestern pharmacies and even tough-on-crime Republican presidential candidates now speak with moving compassion about the real people crippled by addiction.

Tags: , , , , , Comments (26) | |

An Op Ed on Race Relations in the NY Times

The NY Times has an op ed entitled Can My Children Be Friends with White People?. (Dan here …Link corrected) I think this is the most interesting excerpt:

…I will teach my boys to have profound doubts that friendship with white people is possible. When they ask, I will teach my sons that their beautiful hue is a fault line. Spare me the platitudes of how we are all the same on the inside. I first have to keep my boys safe, and so I will teach them before the world shows them this particular brand of rending, violent, often fatal betrayal.

The author, Ekow N. Yankah, according to the Times is a professor at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. For an expert on criminal law, and one who cares about his sons’ safety, he seems surprisingly uninformed about what he termed “violent, often fatal betrayal.” I sincerely hope whatever other advice he is giving his sons doesn’t get them hurt. They shouldn’t suffer for his ignorance. And speaking of ignorance, the rest of the op ed is a tour de force for the proposition that if a person cannot or will not understand basic facts about their own field, they aren’t a reliable guide to much else either.

Regardless… this is no different than the views of far right white people who teach their kids they cannot have Black friends. Fortunately, I doubt that the NY Times would publish that sort of garbage unironically. But it isn’t any better that the NY Times published this one.

Note to the NY Times: this is how I believe one should discuss race.

Tags: , , Comments (29) | |

Baltimore School Test Scores and Baltimore School Spending

I’ve noted before I have a bit of an interest in Baltimore because my wife originates from there (despite having convinced herself that she’s from the Los Angeles area). So I noticed this story:

An alarming discovery coming out of City Schools. Project Baltimore analyzed 2017 state testing data and found one-third of High Schools in Baltimore, last year, had zero students proficient in math.

Contrast that with this:

The Baltimore City Public School System spent the fourth most per student during the 2014 fiscal year out of the 100 largest public school districts in the country, according to a new report by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The city’s school district, which is the 38th largest elementary and secondary public school district in the country, spent $15,564 per pupil during the time frame. Maryland has four of the 10 highest per pupil spending public school districts, with Howard County Schools rounding out the top five with a per pupil spending of $15,358.

Montgomery County schools was sixth with $15,181, Prince George’s County was eighth with $13,994 and Baltimore County came in 12th with $13,338.

According to the Census Bureau, this is the seventh consecutive year Maryland has had four public school districts rank in the top 10 of per pupil spending. Baltimore City was beat out by Boston public schools ($21,567), New York City ($21,154) and the Anchorage School District in Alaska ($15,596).

The country as a whole saw a 2.7 percent increase to $11,009 in per pupil spending from 2013 to 2014. This was the largest increase in per pupil spending since 2008.

Maryland came in at 11th out of the 50 states plus Washington, D.C., in average per pupil spending across the state at $14,003. New York spend the highest per pupil at $20,610 and Washington, D.C., was second at $18,485.

Utah had the lowest per pupil spending at $6,500.

Why are test results in Baltimore so bad?  It obviously isn’t for lack of spending.

Tags: , , , Comments (26) | |

England, Employment, Wages and Brexit

The Guardian newspaper has a story about wages in England:

A shortage of factory workers is starting to push up pay rates but wage rises in the services sector remain rooted at around 2%, according to the latest feedback from the Bank of England’s regional agents.

The central bank said its agents, which are based in offices across the country, found that shortages this month across the manufacturing sector were leading to a “slight increase in pay growth” that would take average rate of pay rises up by half a percent, from 2-3% this year to 2.5%-3.5% in 2018.

The report appeared to justify Threadneedle Street’s move last week to increase interest rates, which officials at the bank said was needed to dampen the inflationary effects of wage rises.

A survey of employers in October by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation chimed with the BoE report after it found firms were having to raise their pay offers to hire new staff.

The REC said the increase, the second quickest rise in wages since November 2015, followed a fall in unemployment to the lowest level in 40 years that had restricted the number of workers available to take up new positions. It warned that higher pay offers were also needed to counter a growing shortage of EU workers ahead of Brexit.

“We already know that EU workers are leaving because of the uncertainties they are facing right now,” said Kevin Green, REC’s chief executive. “We therefore need clarity around what future immigration systems will look like. Otherwise, the situation will get worse and employers will face even more staff shortages.”

Official data shows that in August net migration fell to its lowest level in three years, with more than half the drop caused by EU citizens leaving and fewer arriving since the Brexit vote.

I find it truly shocking that employment and wages are determined by the market forces, or that the supply of labor is affected by whether foreigners can freely enter and exit a market. Who could have imagined such absurd chains of events? Fortunately, we can rest assured that this is an aberration and can’t possibly apply in the US.

Tags: , , , Comments (20) | |

Different but Equal?

Here’s a fascinating recent article with the forbidding title of The landscape of sex-differential transcriptome and its consequent selection in human adults.  I’ll provide the abstract, and then a translation into English.  Here’s the abstract:

Background
The prevalence of several human morbid phenotypes is sometimes much higher than intuitively expected. This can directly arise from the presence of two sexes, male and female, in one species. Men and women have almost identical genomes but are distinctly dimorphic, with dissimilar disease susceptibilities. Sexually dimorphic traits mainly result from differential expression of genes present in both sexes. Such genes can be subject to different, and even opposing, selection constraints in the two sexes. This can impact human evolution by differential selection on mutations with dissimilar effects on the two sexes.

Results
We comprehensively mapped human sex-differential genetic architecture across 53 tissues. Analyzing available RNA-sequencing data from 544 adults revealed thousands of genes differentially expressed in the reproductive tracts and tissues common to both sexes. Sex-differential genes are related to various biological systems, and suggest new insights into the pathophysiology of diverse human diseases. We also identified a significant association between sex-specific gene transcription and reduced selection efficiency and accumulation of deleterious mutations, which might affect the prevalence of different traits and diseases. Interestingly, many of the sex-specific genes that also undergo reduced selection efficiency are essential for successful reproduction in men or women. This seeming paradox might partially explain the high incidence of human infertility.

Conclusions
This work provides a comprehensive overview of the sex-differential transcriptome and its importance to human evolution and human physiology in health and in disease.

The article was interesting, but a slog given my lack of knowledge of the field.  I don’t mind admitting I couldn’t follow it in its entirety, though  I did manage to acquire a feeling of inadequacy and the start of a headache. So for a translation, I will rely on distinguished geneticist Jenny Graves who just wrote a piece about the article that is quite accessible and from which I will quote below. Graves starts with the punchline:

Most of us are familiar with the genetic differences between men and women.

Men have X and Y sex chromosomes, and women have two X chromosomes. We know that genes on these chromosomes may act differently in men and women.

But a recent paper claims that beyond just genes on X and Y, a full third of our genome is behaving very differently in men and women.

These new data pose challenges for science, medicine and maybe even gender equity.

Here’s a more extensive summary:

In their new paper, the authors Gershoni and Pietrokovsk looked at how active the same genes are in men and women. They measured the RNA produced by 18,670 genes in 53 different tissues (45 common to both sexes) in 544 adult post mortem donors (357 men and 187 women).

They found that about one third of these genes (more than 6,500) had very different activities in men and women. Some genes were active in men only or women only. Many genes were far more active in one sex or the other.

A few of these genes showed sex biased activity in every tissue of the body. More commonly, the difference was seen in one or a few tissues.

Most of these genes were not on sex chromosomes: only a few lay on the Y or the X.

How could a third of our genes be differently controlled in men and women?

We now understand that proteins work in extensive networks. Change the amount of one protein produced by one gene, and you change the amounts of all the proteins produced by many genes in a long chain of command.

We also know that hormones have powerful influences on gene activity. For instance, testosterone and estrogen dial up or down many genes in reproductive and body tissues.

Here is how Graves’ piece ends:

What do these new insights mean for our progress toward gender equity? A bad outcome could be appeals to return to outdated sexual stereotypes. A good outcome will be recognition of sex differences in medicine and treatment.

I think what Graves is after can be characterized as “different but equal.” And though it makes perfect sense given the current state of genetics and biology (to say nothing of common sense), such a philosophy would be quite unwelcome in certain parts these days.

Tags: , , Comments (13) | |

Not With a Bang, but a Whimper… Democratic Party Edition. An Op Ed.

A presidential candidate like Donald Trump should not be viable. Candidates he supports should not be viable. The existence of Donald Trump should be a boon for the Democrats. And, in fact, it has been.

But it hasn’t been enough. Perhaps four (or eight?) years worth of results will tip the balance for Democrats, but it is reasonable to ask: why have Democrats been coming up short against Trump, both in the Presidential election and in special elections since?

The reason is that the Democrats have abandoned their traditional base (i.e., the working class). So why the change?

I would suggest it is because the middle class intelligentsia from which most leaders and volunteers of the Party spring is increasingly reliant on people who have believe in nonsense.

Consider a paper entitled Evolution is Not Relevant to Sex Differences in Humans Because I Want it That Way! Evidence for the Politicization of Human Evolutionary Psychology published in EvoS Journal: The Journal of the Evolutionary Studies Consortium.

Here’s is the article’s abstract:

This research explored political motivations underlying resistance to evolutionary psychology. Data were collected from 268 adults who varied in terms of academic employment and parental status. Dependent variables represented whether participants believed that several attributes are primarily the result of biological evolution versus socialization. Variables addressed attitudes about: (a) sex differences in adults, (b) sex differences in children, (c) sex differences in chickens, (d) human universals, and (e) differences between dogs and cats. Using a Likert-scale, participants were asked to rate the degree to which they believed items were due to “nature” versus “nurture.” For instance, one of the items from the cat/dog subscale was “Dogs are more pack-oriented than cats.” Independent variables included political orientation, parental status, and academic employment status. Political liberalism corresponded to endorsing “nurture” as influential – but primarily for the two human sex-difference variables. Academic employment status was independently predictive of the belief that sex differences are the result of “nurture.” This effect was exacerbated for academics who came from sociology or women’s studies backgrounds. The effect of academic employment status also corresponded to seeing behavioral differences between roosters and hens as caused by “nurture.” Further, parents were more likely than non-parents to endorse “nature” for the sex-difference variables. Beliefs about differences between cats and dogs and beliefs about causes of human universals (that are not tied to sex differences) were not related to these independent variables, suggesting that the political resistance to evolutionary psychology is specifically targeted at work on sex differences.

While the paper deserves its own post, for our purposes, a quick summary is this: a person’s tendency to attribute differences between the behavior of roosters and hens to nurture rather than biology increases if the person is either an academic or not a parent. The paper also notes that this effect seems especially pronounced among Gender Studies scholars. The sample size is a bit small, but meshes with what can be observed on the evening news or twitter.

Conservatives have more children than liberals, and academics tend to lean left, so the particular brand of crazy discussed in the paper above is a Democrat rather than a Republican phenomenon. More than that – the childless and academics have the time to set the agenda for causes and organizations in which they get involved.

The adoption of the an anti-Biology stance (and yes, the Republicans have their own, different and long-standing anti-Biology stance… and it has them cost them) comes at the same time as the Democrats have been jettisoning Labor as their cause. This is not a coincidence. The historical image of Labor is of men trudging off to work every day at the crack of dawn to support their nuclear family. In today’s lexicon, those are oppressors who maintain the toxic male patriarchy.

Once you identify the problem, the solution is easy: toss those fat cats who lord their privilege with sweat stained undershirts and grime under their finger nails under the bus. And don’ t stop there. Oppose their elitist attitude by finding common cause with other ideas that are anathema to them. Labor worries about unrestricted unskilled immigration, fearing it will lower wages, cost jobs, and making the country less safe? The obvious solution is to bring in Sayfullo Saipov and pretty much anyone for whom Saipov cares to vouch. The US taxpayer will be happy to spring for the bill.

And after all of this, the misogynist racist pigs prove their perfidy by refusing to give their votes to the Democrats who despise them and want them dead. They begin voting Republican. Sure, Republican economic policies not only don’t work, the benefits they do manage to generate don’t trickle down to the working class. But at least Republicans aren’t purposely screwing them over, and the Republican Party is willing to give them some hope along with the bad economic policy. Hope is free, after all.

The good news is that insanity isn’t completely entrenched in the Democratic Party. It hasn’t had control long – less than a decade, in fact. It can be reversed. I’m just afraid that it isn’t going to happen.

Tags: , , , , , Comments (21) | |

Terrorism, UK Today, France Yesterday

From a story in Daily Mail:

Terror suspects including jihadis returning from fighting in Syria are to be offered taxpayer-funded homes, counselling and help finding jobs to stop them carrying out attacks in Britain.

The top-secret Government strategy, codenamed Operation Constrain, could even allow fanatics to jump to the top of council house waiting lists.

Official documents seen by The Mail on Sunday reveal that up to 20,000 extremists previously investigated by MI5 will be targeted with what critics last night described as ‘bribes’ aimed at turning them away from extremism.

The highly contentious nationwide programme is due to start next year, with police and cash-strapped councils hoping the Home Office will pay for it out of its £900 million counter-terrorism budget.

The article goes on:

The move comes amid growing concern at the huge number of radical Islamists living in Britain who the security services are unable to track effectively.

Fanatics who had been under surveillance by MI5 in the past were among the perpetrators of the two terror attacks in London and one in Manchester this year that left 35 people dead.

The intelligence agencies fear as many as 20,000 former ‘subjects of interest’ – people who had been monitored but later dropped off the radar – could be plotting fresh atrocities. It is this group that will be targeted by the new scheme.

A bit more:

A fierce debate has also raged about how to deal with the estimated 360 battle-hardened jihadis who have returned to Britain after fighting with Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and the ones who may come back now after the fall of the so-called caliphate.

Bear in mind an awful lot of these battle-hardened jihadis ended up that way because they were attracted by the propaganda about how they were going to get to treat the, well, call them infidels.  If the Daily Mail story is anything close to true, I imagine “bang for the buck” is going to be an element in a very bad pun for the British taxpayer.

Now here is an article about France in Deutsche Welle  (Deutsche Welle is Germany’s equivalent to the BBC International Service or Voice of America) from a few weeks ago:

France is about to pass a new anti-terror law as it eases its way out of the state of emergency. But civil rights campaigners say it will put citizens under general suspicion. Lisa Louis reports from Paris.

The state of emergency was declared in the immediate aftermath of the November 2015 terror attacks, in which 130 people were killed. France has since been hit by various other attacks and martial law has been renewed several times. It will now expire in early November, just like President Emmanuel Macron had promised during his election campaign.

But first, parts of it will be enshrined in general law.
“The terror threat level is still very high and we can’t just lift emergency rule without adapting our law accordingly,” said MP Yaël Braun-Pivet from the government party La Republique en Marche (LREM). She heads the National Assembly’s Law Commission that has drawn up the new anti-terror legislation.

To summarize… measures that in the past were so extraordinary they were meant to deal with insurrection and other threats to the nation are going to become everyday law under a President who just half a year ago campaigned as the Great Left Hope.  I am not an attorney, but effectively, it seems to me to be the equivalent of the US having and lifting martial law, though not before taking some of the provisions of martial law and moving them into our civil and criminal codes.

French authorities also make a case that sometimes there is an overlap between those who commit petty crimes and those who commit terrorist acts.

I think most people would prefer to live in a world with less terrorism (and less petty crime) on the one hand, and fewer police powers on the other hand.  But scaling back the cops isn’t going to prevent the next terrorist attack, much less the one after that.  So there is a trade-off.

Obviously, working backward, none of this would have happened without an assortment of terrorist attacks, some spectacular and some mundane. If you had the ability to tweak one thing in the past, what is the smallest change in French history that would have prevented France from having all these terrorist attacks?  Are there any lessons in this for Britain?  What about for the US?

 

Update, 5:11 AM PST, 10/31/2017…  a couple of minor grammatical corrections were made.

Tags: , , Comments (3) | |

Genetics as an Omitted Variable in Psychology and Social Science

Here’s the abstract of an article by Frank Schmidt in the Archives of Scientific Psychology:

Governments often base social intervention programs on studies done by psychologists and other social scientists.Often these studies fail to mention other research suggesting that such interventions may have a limited chance of actually working. The omitted research that is not mentioned often shows that the behaviors and performances targeted for improvement by the environmental intervention programs are mostly caused by genetic differences between people and for that reason may be more difficult to change than implied in these studies. This is particularly true when the goal is to greatly reduce or eliminate differences between people in such domains as school achievement, impulsive behaviors, or intelligence. This problem of omitted research creates two problems. It tends to call into question the credibility of all social science research, even the studies that do not omit relevant research.And from an applied point of view, it leads to the expenditure of taxpayer dollars on programs that are unlikely to produce the desired outcomes.

Here are a few paragraphs from early in the article:

The first area of problem research focuses on the ostensible effects of life experiences on life outcomes. This broad area includes many research areas and topics in different psychological specialties. The aspect of much of this research that is problematic is the common failure to acknowledge the relevant findings in the field of behavior genetics.

These findings show that virtually all tendencies, traits, behaviors, and life outcomes have a substantial genetic basis (cf.Bouchard, 1997a, 1997b, 2004; Colarelli & Arvey, 2015; Lee & McGue, 2016; McGue & Bouchard, 1998; Plomin, DeFries, Knopik,& Neiderhiser, 2013; Plomin, DeFries, Knopik, & Neiderhaise, 2016; Plomin, Owen, & McGuffin, 1994; Turkheimer, 2000). Even day-to-day variability in positive and negative affect has been shown to be substantially heritable (Zheng, Plomin, & von Stumm, 2016).Research has further shown that most supposedly purely environmental variables (such as the number of books and magazines in the home) that are often concluded to be environmental causes of later life outcomes are themselves genetically influenced (e.g., see Plomin & Bergman, 1991; Plomin et al., 2016). That is, they are substantially influenced by the genetic makeup of the parents in the home, whose genes are passed on to their offspring.

Research also indicates that people seek out and create their own environments based on their genetically influenced proclivities and interests (Scarr, 1996; Scarr,1989; Scarr & McCartney, 1983).The forgoing is a very brief overview but is believed to be sufficient to establish the main point. These behavior genetics findings do not mean that experiences of people do not have any effect on their later life outcomes. But they do mean that failure to even mention potential or likely genetic influences on these outcomes is a serious problem, one that reduces the credibility of the research. The following are some examples of studies that fail to acknowledge these well-established research findings.

Tags: , , , , , Comments (23) | |

When People will not be Judged by the Color of their Skin, But On Where Their Ancestors Were Judged by the Color of their Skin

The Wall Street Journal had a piece that made reference to this story in the Cornell Daily Sun:

Martha E. Pollack, nearing the six-month mark of her presidency, is facing her first major test at Cornell after hundreds of black students, responding to the arrest of a student who may be charged with a hate crime, marched into her office last week and hand-delivered a series of demands.

The most interesting of the demand is:

We demand that Cornell Admissions to come up with a plan to actively increase the presence of underrepresented Black students on this campus. We define underrepresented Black students as Black Americans who have several generations (more than two) in this country.  The Black student population at Cornell disproportionately represents international or first-generation African or Caribbean students. While these students have a right to flourish at Cornell, there is a lack of investment in Black students whose families were affected directly by the African Holocaust in America. Cornell must work to actively support students whose families have been impacted for generations by white supremacy and American fascism

That brings to mind this piece in the NY Times in 2004, or this one in the Chicago Tribune by Pullitzer Prize winner Clarence Page:

Harvard law professor Lani Guinier and Henry Louis Gates Jr., chairman of Harvard’s African and African-American studies department, reported that 8 percent, or about 530, of Harvard’s undergraduates are black, but somewhere between one-half and two-thirds of them are “West Indian and African immigrants or their children, or to a lesser extent, children of biracial couples.”

Not counting those who are classified as “foreign students,” Guinier and Gates said, only about a third of the students classified as “black” at the nation’s most prestigious university were from families in which all four grandparents were born in this country.

I was not surprised by those findings. Like many other African-Americans, I have been noticing for years how the children of black immigrant families tend to be much better represented among high school honor-roll achievers than their native-American black counterparts are.

Now that they are showing up in disproportionate numbers at selective colleges like Harvard, both advocates and opponents of affirmative action are raising a howl in their various ways.

Page goes on:

Now Harvard has to ask itself what its affirmative action plan is supposed to accomplish. If its goal is simply “diversity,” it may not matter how American the roots of its black and brown faces happen to be. But if its goal is to address historical racial inequalities in American life, Harvard may have to take black ethnicity into account in the way that some institutions have argued over which nationalities should be counted as “Hispanic.”

A bigger question to me is this: Why are black students whose families have been in America for generations being left behind by newcomers, including black newcomers from other countries?

Gates plans to organize a study group around that question. I can offer the group one easy possibility, no charge: Immigrant kids work harder.

They work harder, in part, because their parents work harder–and their parents work harder because of their relentless optimism: Where others might see a dead-end job, immigrants of all colors see an entry-level opportunity.

I don’t want to comment on Page’s conclusions; that may be a post for another time. I do note that what probably derailed the thought process brought up by Lani Guinier, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Clarence Page was the meteoric rise of Barack Obama. But Barack Obama is no longer president. Furthermore, it isn’t clear that Americans descended from American slaves are better off relative to other Americans after eight years of Obama than they were before his presidency.

Tags: , Comments (16) | |