Now it is textbooks:

When primary school administrators in the U.K. choose study materials for the fall semester this year, they will have a new option: math textbooks imported from Shanghai, a city celebrated as a global math power.

In the books, the British pound will replace references to the Chinese yuan. But in just about every other way, the versions of Real Shanghai Maths available in London will be exactly like those used in China, the ideas, sequencing and methods kept intact.

It is a remarkable admission by British education authorities that their own methods have stumbled, and that Chinese educators – after years of racking up world firsts in math scores – have developed something admirable enough to import in whole cloth.

Here is the full article, via A.T., our A.T.

Here is the podcast and transcript (no video), Atul was in top form.  We covered the marginal value of health care, the progress of AI in medicine, whether we should fear genetic engineering, whether the checklist method applies to marriage (maybe so!), whether FDA regulation is too tough, whether surgical procedures should be more tightly regulated, Michael Crichton and Stevie Wonder, wearables, what makes him weep, Knausgaard and Ferrante, why surgeons leave sponges in patients, how he has been so successful, his own performance as a medical patient, and much more.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: A lot of critics have charged that to get a new drug through the FDA, it takes too many years and too much money, and that somehow the process should be liberalized. Do you agree or disagree?

GAWANDE: I generally disagree. It’s a trade-off in values at some basic level. In the 1950s, we had no real FDA, and you had the opportunity to put out, to innovate in all kinds of ways, and that innovation capability gave us modern cardiac surgery and gave us steroids and antibiotics, but it also gave us frontal lobotomies, and it gave us the Tuskegee experiment and a variety of other things.

The process that we have regulation around both the ethics of what we’re doing and that we have some safety process along the way is totally appropriate. I think a lot of lessons about when the HIV community became involved in the FDA process to drive approaches that smoothed and sped up the decision-making process, and also got the public enough involved to be able to say . . . That community said, “Look, there are places where we’re willing to take greater risks for the sake of speed.”

People are trying to treat the FDA process as a technical issue. When what it is, is it’s an issue about what are the risks we are genuinely willing to take, and what are the risks that we’re not?


COWEN: The idea of nudge.

GAWANDE: I think overrated.


GAWANDE: I think that there are important insights in nudge units and in that research capacity, but when you step back and say, “What are the biggest problems in clinical behavior and delivery of healthcare?” the nudges are focused on small solutions that have not demonstrated capacity for major scale.

The kind of nudge capability is something we’ve built into the stuff we’ve done, whether it’s checklists or coaching, but it’s been only one. We’ve had to add other tools. You could not get to massive reductions in deaths in surgery or childbirth or massive improvements in end-of-life outcomes based on just those behavioral science insights alone. We’ve had to move to organizational insights and to piece together multiple kinds of layers of understanding in order to drive high-volume change in healthcare delivery.

Definitely recommended, this was one of my favorite “episodes.”

No, I don’t approve of the second Putin-Trump meeting, but I’d like to consider this as a game theory problem without its current political connotations.

Why is it bad to attend such a meeting without your own translator?

Let’s say I meet with a Greek, to talk about debt renegotiation, and don’t bring my own translator.  You might think I am at the mercy of the other translator, the one hired by my Greek peer.

But how so?  If the Greek speaker wishes to mislead me, he doesn’t need a biased translator to do so.  He can just lie to me or otherwise mislead me in the original Greek.  Either translation, from an American or Greek translator, will communicate the same lie or deception.

Alternatively, assume I believe there is some “noise” between the Greek statement and its translation into English.  Some of this may stem from the imperfections of the translation process itself, or perhaps the translator has her own agenda.

If I bring my own translator, that removes the influence of the agenda of the Greek translator, but probably keeps the noise and imperfections.  But is that good or bad on net?

1. I now face risk from the agenda of my own translator.  That may be more biased or skewing than the agenda of the Greek translator, especially since it may relate to splits within American rather than Greek politics.

2. It might be better if I am fooled by a Greek translator who to some extent wishes to subvert the interests of her own government.  For instance, the Greek translator might wish to keep smooth relations by not communicating all of the cuss words behind a threat.

3. The Greek speaker might in fact know he is regularly subverted by his own translator, and adjust his words accordingly.  The “subverted” communication, as conveyed by the Greek translator, may in fact be the intended message, and thus there is little harm from the subversion.

4. By not having your own translator present, you are keeping as private information what and when you will reveal to your own countrymen.  That may put you in a stronger bluffing or bargaining position.

4b. In the other direction, note you may wish to have your own translator so that your negotiating partner can do without his!  That may put him in a stronger position with respect to his home interest groups and thus facilitate a deal.

Overall, it is not obvious that I am so much better off having my own translator.  In fact, it seems your own translator is there, to some extent, to constrain you, as is evident from some of the discussion of the Putin-Trump meeting.  For instance, it is being claimed Trump might have wanted to say things to Putin that no American functionary could be allowed to hear.  If that is true, it might be bad for America, but it need not be bad for Trump’s self-interest.

On this question, the economics of having your own note-taker, or your own taping mechanism, might be very different from that of translator, but that would be another post.

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one bit from it:

In a recent Financial Times interview, Sherry Turkle, a professor of social psychology at MIT, and a leading expert on cyber interactions, criticized robot education. “The robot can never be in an authentic relationship,” she said. “Why should we normalize what is false and in the realm of [a] pretend relationship from the start?” She’s opposed to robot companions more generally, again for their artificiality.

Yet K-12 education itself is a highly artificial creation, from the chalk to the schoolhouses to the standardized achievement tests, not to mention the internet learning and the classroom TV. Thinking back on my own experience, I didn’t especially care if my teachers were “authentic” (in fact, I suspected quite a few were running a kind of personality con), provided they communicated their knowledge and radiated some charisma.


My biggest concern about robot education, by the way, involves humans. Children sometimes trust robots too much. Teachers and administrators could use robots to gather confidential information about children and their families, as the children may think they are talking to a robot only, rather than creating a database for future scrutiny. This could be addressed by comprehensive privacy standards, probably a good idea in any case.

Do read the whole thing.

I will be having a Conversation with him on Sept.6, locale and time to be announced.  In the meantime, what should I ask him?

I thank you all in advance for your sage and balanced judgments.

It is with Writing Routines, here is the interview, here is one bit:

When you first sit down to write, how do you start?

The keyboard is the most useful part, though I will check my email and maybe Twitter first, so I don’t miss something big.

What’s your process for editing your own work?

I repeatedly edit it many times, at least ten. I just keep on doing it, until I can’t think of further improvements. I can’t say that is a process in any formal sense, simply a recognition that the “process” to date hasn’t worked very well and so it must continue. I don’t pretend this is efficient.

And this:

For better or worse, I just don’t have that many modes.

“We have this mythical belief that everyone will come out of it at the other end OK,” she said. “You don’t end up as a faculty member unless you did survive it. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t people in my generation who got so stressed out that they left. They did leave. We just never talked about them.”

So what is this terrible, stressful problem that not all faculty survive? Summer vacation. No really.

For nine months a year at research universities, instructors and students build communities from a transient group of academics unified by one thing: classes. Professors invest time in students, committees, and teaching; students invest time in their assignments.

…That changes in the summer. The fixed schedule disappears, the community disperses, and the work that has been building up over the school year can loom dangerously close to deadline.

…It’s in that solitude that professors and students say they experience what some call a “summer slump,” a period of isolation that can heighten symptoms of depression or anxiety for those susceptible to such disorders.

To cope with that slump, Ms. Hagen read personal testimonies and learned that the separation she feels is widespread, even normal. But her university never addressed it. “As wonderful as my adviser is, that’s not a conversation that was ever shared,” Ms. Hagen said. “We never talked about what’s important to your mental health.”

I think the conservative critique of higher education is overblown. But with articles like this in the Chronicle of Higher Education it’s no wonder that much of America is angry and dismissive of a coddled intellectual class that is utterly divorced from their own, normal life experiences. (I too am a coddled member of that class but I know how fortunate and privileged I am to have a job in academia.)

The correction only widens the gap:

Corrections (6/16/2017, 10:43 a.m.): A previous version of this article mistakenly referred to Dafina-Lazarus Stewart as “she.” Mx. Stewart uses the pronouns ze, zim, and zir.

Here is a new interview with Gladwell, much of it focusing on the Brown vs. Board of Education decision.  Here is one excerpt:

I was more than interested to discover how much of the work on these effects—which in education they call “same race effects”—has been done by economists. If I’m a social psychologist, the economists are eating my lunch. They’re doing very persuasive, very elegant studies using these data sets that come out of the education reform movement. The economists are the first to jump on it. I feel like that is rich hunting ground for social psychologists as well, and they can bring a perspective to the analysis of that data that the economist can’t.

I’m not criticizing the work that’s been done by economists, but if you read it, you will notice that there is a beat that’s missing—they’re economists, so they come at it from a different perspective. I would love to see social psychologists go over that same data and interpret it their way. And that again would be something that would be insanely useful to the conversation we have in this country about how to make schools better.

And here is Malcom on his next book:

MG: Yes. I’ve started a new book, and it very explicitly comes out of the world of psychology. There was a paper that Lee Ross wrote 50 years ago, maybe 45 years ago, called “Shortcomings of the Intuitive Psychologist.” It’s a famous paper, and I’m tearing off a little, tiny piece of that argument and having fun with it.

DN: And what piece is that?

MG: I’m interested in how we deal with strangers. How good are our intuitive ideas about dealing with strangers? I haven’t thought it through entirely, but I’m fascinated by what it means to deal with someone who you don’t know and, most importantly, whose credibility you cannot assess easily. Strikes me as a very contemporary problem, and from a psychological perspective, super interesting. There’s just so much fantastic psychology on that question.

The brief discussion on rock and roll vs. country music was interesting as well.

Here is the Behavioral Scientist web site, it looks interesting.  Here are their most popular articles.

There is a new NBER working paper by Richard J. Murnane, Marcus R. Waldman, John B. Willett, Maria Soledad Bos, and Emiliana Vegas.  I have not had a chance to read it, but here is the key part of the abstract:

We found that:

1. On average, student test scores increased markedly and income-based gaps in those scores declined by one-third in the five years after the passage of SEP.

2. The combination of increased support of schools and accountability was the critical mechanism through which the implementation of SEP increased student scores, especially in schools serving high concentrations of low-income students. Migration of low-income students from public schools to private voucher schools played a small role.

We interpret these findings as more supportive of improved student performance than other recent research on the Chilean policy reform.

That is not exactly the Milton Friedman story, but it is essentially a positive report for vouchers.

Education services bring in £17.5bn a year to the UK economy, but what is driving the demand for a British education and why are some parents willing to spend thousands of pounds to secure a “super tutor” for their child?

“It was on the plane over I realised I’d made a mistake,” a 25-year-old private tutor tells me.

He was flying to New York to spend the summer helping to prepare a 12-year-old boy for the Common Entrance exam – a test taken by children applying to private secondary schools.

The boy’s mother had insisted he sat next to the boy so he could spend the flight time teaching him.

He did an hour and then given they were spending the next three weeks together, decided to take a nap.

The next thing he knew, he was being woken up by the mother standing over him, shouting “You think this is some kind of holiday?”.

And here is the economic background:

The Londoner uses the job’s flexibility to fund his real passion of film production and acting. He is unwilling to be named in this article in case it jeopardises future jobs.

Yet he says the money easily makes up for the occasional difficulties. He charges anywhere from £40 to £90 an hour in the UK, although the agencies he is hired through take a 25% to 50% cut of this.

When he takes an overseas job, the fees are much higher to compensate for the fact that he can’t do any other work. Typically he earns between £800 and £1,500 a week.

In three years as a tutor he’s worked in India, Indonesia and Costa Rica, as well as the US.

Here is the full BBC story, interesting throughout, average is over as they say.

Canada fact of the day

by on July 1, 2017 at 2:54 am in Education, Law | Permalink

Canada’s foreign-born population is more educated than that of any other country on earth. Immigrants to Canada work harder, create more businesses and typically use fewer welfare dollars than do their native-born compatriots.

Here is the full NYT piece by Jonathan Tepperman.  It remains interesting, of course, that Canada has produced so few noteworthy international business brands.  Could it be that Canada gets the labor right but America rules when it comes to the capital?

Michael Jubb’s recent report on (UK) Academic Books and their Future (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) — part of the Academic Book of the Future-project — makes for depressing reading.

Matthew Reisz’s piece in Times Higher Education sums it up pretty well: Worst sellers: warning of existential crisis for academic books, as “the number of individual [academic] titles sold rose by 45 per cent, from 43,000 to 63,000” between 2005 and 2014 — but (Nielsen BookScan-tracked sales figures): “show a decline for academic books of 13 per cent between 2005 and 2014, from 4.34 million to 3.76 million annually”. Add it all up, and: “this meant that average sales per title fell from 100 to 60″…

The median is likely lower yet.

That is from Michael Orthofer of Literary Saloon, by the way here is my earlier Conversation with Michael.

Ben was wildly charming and charismatic before the crowd.  My questions tried to get at how he thinks rather than the hot button issues of the day.  Here is the transcript, audio, and video.  We covered Kansas vs. Nebraska, famous Nebraskans, Chaucer and Luther, unicameral legislatures, the decline of small towns, Ben’s prize-winning Yale Ph.d thesis on the origins of conservatism,  what he learned as a university president, Stephen Curry, Chevy Chase, Margaret Chase Smith, and much more.

Here is one bit from Ben:

Neverland and Peter Pan is a dystopian hell. Neverland is not a good place. You don’t want to get to the place where you’re physically an adult and you have no moral sense, you have no awareness of history, you have no interest in the future. Peter Pan is killing people, and he doesn’t really care; he doesn’t remember their names. It’s a really dystopian thing. Perpetual adolescence is the bad thing.

Adolescence is special. We need to figure out how to use adolescence; it’s a means to an end. So that’s what the book’s about.

I am an Augustinian in my anthropology, but Rousseau is a romantic. I think he’s wrong about lots and lots and lots of things, but I think he’s really, really smart. You have to engage him, and you have to engage people who have ideas that are different than yours because you may ultimately be converted to their view, and you need to encounter things that are big and challenging and threatening to your worldview. Or you may sometimes come to believe you’re right and be able to respond to the counterarguments, while your argument will be better. You’ll grow through it, and you’ll become more persuasive to others through it.

So I think Rousseau’s fundamental anthropological understanding of why we feel that things are broken in our soul is, he’s got a reason to blame society for everything we feel is wrong in the world, and I think there’s a lot of brokenness deep inside all of us, and so, that’s the Augustinian versus Rousseauvian sense of what’s wrong.

But I think the Emile is brilliant, both because it forces me to wrestle with ideas that I don’t agree with, or mostly don’t agree with, but I think it’s also just an incredibly good read.

Then there was this:

COWEN: …Might one argue that the more one thinks and writes about sex, the more you’re led to Rousseauian conclusions that a certain kind of constraint will prove impossible, and then one is pulled away further from Ben Sasse–like conclusions.

SASSE: That’s a really fair question. I wanted to stay away from sex 100 percent, and then ultimately I couldn’t do it.

COWEN: There’s three pages in your book about sex.

SASSE: Yeah.

COWEN: And page 33 mentions it once.

You’ll have to read the whole thing to see where Ben took that line of inquiry, his answer was excellent.

Perhaps surprisingly, [U.S.] immigrants from Algeria have higher educational attainment than those from Israel or Japan.

That is from a new paper by Ed Lazear.  More theoretically, there is this:

…average immigrant attainment is inversely related to the number admitted from a source country and positively related to the population of that source country.

Worth a ponder.

Toothpick crossbow that can shoot iron nails more than 20 metres (65 feet) the latest must-have toy in China

Here is the story, via Mark Thorson.