This is not my view, but I am happy to present an alternative perspective for your consideration:

Yes, IRB’s sometimes do ridiculous things. But I served a total of 21 years on the IRB’s of two different institutions, and I’m sure I can match you anecdote for anecdote with obviously dangerous study protocols submitted by investigators, or protocols where the associated consent documents were blatantly misleading or so confusing that even professionals couldn’t understand them. It’s a small minority of submissions, to be sure, but it’s a recurring problem.

In my experience, most protocol delays in IRB review boiled down to issues of clarifying ambiguous language or providing additional background information so that the appropriateness of the proposal can be better assessed. I suspect that much of that could be avoided with better training of investigators on how to write their submissions. At one of the institutions where I served, my Department encouraged junior investigators to “pre-clear” their IRB submissions with me or another Department member who also served on the IRB. We were often able to spot the things that would likely catch the IRB’s attention and help those investigators revise their protocols before submitting them so that they would sail through approval without delays on the first try.

In my view, no person should ever be the judge of his/her own cause. There is nothing in the earlier rules, nor in the modified ones, that prevents an IRB from expediting the review of social science projects that plainly involves little or no risk. Such protocols can be turned around by a staff member in a day or two. But it should never be left to the investigators to make those assessments on their own.

Here is the link of origin.

Yes, the Raj Chetty.  Here is the transcript and podcast.  As far as I can tell, this is the only coverage of Chetty that covers his entire life and career, including his upbringing, his early life, and the evolution of his career, not to mention his taste in music.  Here is one bit:

COWEN: Now your father, he’s a well-known economist, and he studied econometrics with Arnold Zellner at University of Wisconsin. At what age did he start talking to you about Bayesian econometrics?

CHETTY: [laughs]

COWEN: Which is one of his fields, right?

CHETTY: That’s right, my dad did a lot of early work in Bayesian econometrics with Arnold Zellner, and the academic environment was something I grew up with since I was a kid. I’m the last person in my family to publish a paper. My sisters are also in academia on the medical and bio side. Whether it’s statistics or thinking about scientific questions or thinking about how to change things in the world, that’s the environment in which I grew up from the youngest of ages.

We also discuss his famous papers on kindergarten teachers, social mobility, and the other topics he is best known for working on, including tax salience and corporate dividends.  My favorite part is where Chetty explains what I call “the Raj Chetty production function,” namely why he has been part of so many very successful papers, but that is hard to excerpt.  There is also this:

COWEN: In music, the group the Piano Guys, speaking of Mormons. Overrated or underrated?

CHETTY: Underrated. I love the Piano Guys.


CHETTY: I think the Piano Guys are great in terms of doing renditions of popular songs.

COWEN: Not too triumphalist? Do you mean the major chords?

CHETTY: Maybe in some cases, but I like them.

COWEN: Bhindi or okra. Overrated or underrated?…

Self-recommending, if there ever was such a thing.

The culture that is Shanghai

by on May 22, 2017 at 1:50 pm in Education | Permalink

A storm has erupted in China over its hyper-competitive education system, after oversubscribed private schools in Shanghai sought to filter intake by conducting tests and checks not only on prospective pupils but also parents and grandparents.

That is from Emily Feng at the FT, via Dan Wang.

I’ve been guilty of this too, and I apologize.  It strikes me that it has become politically acceptable among some of the high status people in my Twitter feed to make fun — if only implicitly — of the ugly, idiosyncratic, puzzled, sweaty, or otherwise mockable images sometimes presented by members of the Trump administration.

I’ve also seen a tendency to use images to play on some of the ruling Saudis as fitting stereotypes of sinister or perhaps comical, or some combination of the two.  At the very least, “orientalism” is making a comeback, and with some of the people who have been objecting to Trump’s own stereotypes.

I do not see these as positive developments.  It is inevitable that, to some extent, we judge people by their looks, and in some instances it may be practical and indeed necessary as well.  That said, I doubt if it is a good idea to publicly mock the ugly and the mockable for being ugly and mockable.  Even if they are evil, or doing the world harm.

Many people (rightly) criticized Trump’s campaign imitation and mockery of what seemed to be a spastic individual.  Let’s say Trump had done the same imitation of a spastic who had been convinced of robbery and murder.  Would that have been better?  Well, maybe better but still not good.  Don’t mock the looks, even of wrongdoers, even if those are looks of stupidity or boorishness, and of course members of the Trump administration have not been so convicted.

What if there are some people born looking sinister (by our standards), but are perfectly nice and friendly?  Or say there were witches, and witches were bad, and most witches had long, crooked noses, but some other people did too.  Should we caricature/criticize witches for this appearance?

Furthermore, the standards for ugly and mockable are in fact not always so clear, and trying to cement them in with our mockery is problematic.

This also should be a lesson as to how easily people can slip into enjoying racist, sexist, and otherwise objectionable memes.  Returning to the Saudis, it is especially easy to use this particular photo because stereotypes of Arabs still are permissible in some parts of American discourse:

Would that photo have been retweeted so many times if it simply had looked like a normal Western bureaucratic meeting?  And yes, you can use this photo to show Trump is a hypocrite, relative to his earlier pronouncements about the Saudis, but of course the picture communicates much more, namely that the Saudis have a very different and sometimes strange-looking (to us) culture.

We should not hesitate to criticize what we think is wrong.  But criticizing the appearance of various wrongs, as embodied in the looks of various people, is going a step further.  Don’t let the wrongdoers distract you from the reality that your use of images may be promoting an unjust generalization, or in fact mocking people for non-objectionable cultural elements.  In other words, the use of images may be promoting “lookism.”

This is one of the most serious problems with photos on Twitter, namely that we are not good enough to use them carefully.  Right now, the unjust philosophy of lookism is on a rampage, bigly.

I will be doing a Conversations with Tyler with him, June 14, Arlington, 6:30 p.m., register here.

Here is Wikipedia on Ben Sasse.  In addition to being a Senator from Nebraska, he has extensive experience in government, was an assistant professor, president of Midland University, and he has a Ph.d. in history from Yale University, with a prize-winning dissertation on religious liberty and the origins of the conservative movement as it relates to the battle over school prayer.  He also now has the #1 best-selling book, on raising kids.

Just to be clear, I will not be making what you might call “very current events” the focus of this discussion.  So what should I ask him?

Update: rsvp link corrected.

Paul Krugman blogged on that, with initial impetus from Noah Smith.  Here is Noah:

If you and your buddies have a political argument, a vast literature can help you defend your argument even if it’s filled with vague theory, sloppy bad empirics, arguments from authority, and other crap. If someone smart comes along and tries to tell you you’re wrong about something, just demand huffily that she go read the vast literature before she presumes to get involved in the debate. Chances are she’ll just quit the argument and go home, unwilling to pay the effort cost of wading through dozens of crappy papers. And if she persists in the argument without reading the vast literature, you can just denounce her as uninformed and willfully ignorant. Even if she does decide to pay the cost and read the crappy vast literature, you have extra time to make your arguments while she’s so occupied. And you can also bog her down in arguments over the minute details of this or that crappy paper while you continue to advance your overall thesis to the masses.

…My solution to this problem is what I call the Two Paper Rule. If you want me to read the vast literature, cite me two papers that are exemplars and paragons of that literature. Foundational papers, key recent innovations – whatever you like (but no review papers or summaries). Just two. I will read them.

If these two papers are full of mistakes and bad reasoning, I will feel free to skip the rest of the vast literature. Because if that’s the best you can do, I’ve seen enough.

Those are both interesting posts, but my perspective is different, probably more as a matter of temperament than thinking they are objectively wrong.  Here are a few comments:

1. The best two papers on ethics are not very convincing.  Nonetheless people who have worked their way through a good amount of that literature are much better at ethical reasoning than those who have not.

2. The best two papers on global warming are not very convincing.  What is convincing is how many different perspectives and how many different branches of science point toward broadly similar conclusions.  In fact the aggregate effect here is quite overwhelming (don’t debate gw in the comments, not today; I’ll delete).  It is a question of many moats, not all of them being entirely muddy.

3. I see the Smith-Krugman standard as fairly economistic, and fairly MIT-late 20th century at that.  It is one vision of what a good literature looks like, and a fairly narrow one.  It will elevate simple answers in status, whether or not that is deserved.  It discriminates against dialogic knowledge, book-based knowledge, historical knowledge, and knowledge when the answers and methods are not very exact.  There is the risk of ending up too certain about one’s knowledge.

That all said, I do understand that specialized top researchers, including Nobel Laureates, often may do better holding relatively narrow methodological visions.  Look at all the Nobel Prizes that have been awarded to Chicago.  It might be entirely correct to insist that Becker’s treatise on the family pay more attention to anthropology, but that doesn’t mean he should have followed that advicee.

4. The standard seems to discourage reading, and I would not want to teach it to my students.  I teach something more like “always read more, unless you are writing or doing relevant quantitative work.  And one reason you write is to improve the quality of your reading.  Read more and write more, all the time.”  I still think that is better advice for most (not all) people.

5. Isn’t there a lot to be said for deferring to the opinions of those who have read through the “muddy moat”?  By no means are they all partisans, and the non-partisan ones care most of all about the truth.  After all, they did all that reading!  Defer, rather than trust so much in your ability to pick you the right two papers, or have someone pick them out for you.  I have a much more positive view of survey articles than does Noah, while understanding they do often leave you fairly agnostic on major issues.

6. If the truth of the matter is in fact muddy, you may need to dip into the muddy moat to learn that.

7. The difference between total value and marginal value may be relevant.  You might conclude a field literature has low total value, but the marginal value of learning more about that area still could be quite high.  That is in part because muddy fields and results don’t spread so readily, and so dipping into the muck can yield some revelations.  That is another reason why I would not offer the “two paper standard” as practical advice.

8. If anything, I would put the reading pressure on the other side, namely more rather than less.  Rather than encouraging readers to dismiss or downgrade fields, I would urge them to consult different disciplines altogether, including political science, sociology, and anthropology, others too.  This is much easier to do if you take a more positive attitude toward survey articles.

9. This is quite a subjective impression, but I worry that the dogmatic will use the two paper standard to dismiss or downgrade particular lines of investigation.

10. I don’t know if Noah and Paul were referring to my colleague Garett Jones, who frequently tweets “…if only there were a vast empirical literature” when he sees claims that he regards as empirically false.  Now, I am not the Garett Jones oracle, but I always took his use of the word “vast” to be slightly sarcastic.  Usually these are cases where even a fairly cursory knowledge of the literature in question would indicate something is wrong with the claim at hand.  In my view, Garett is not demanding “vastness” of effort, rather he is criticizing those who don’t grasp what the effort space looks like in the first place.

That is a splendid 1996 book on mathematics and mathematical researchers, by Gian-Carlo Rota.  I found philosophical, mathematical, and also managerial insights on most of the pages.  It is playful and yet earnestly serious at the same time.  Here is one bit:

He [Alonzo Church] looked like a cross between a panda and a large owl.  He spoke in complete paragraphs which seemed to have been read out of a book, evenly and slowly enunciated, as by a talking machine.  When interrupted, he would pause for an uncomfortably long period to recover the thread of the argument.  He never made casual remarks: they did not belong in the baggage of formal logic.  For example, he would not say “It is raining.”  Such a statement, taken in isolation, makes no sense.  (Whatever it is actually raining or not does not matter; what matters is consistence.)  He would say instead: “I must postpone my departure for Nassau Street, inasmuch as it is raining, an act which I can verify by looking out the window.”

It is full of the sociology of everyday life, in mathematical communities that is, for instance:

How do mathematicians get to know each other?  Professional psychologists do not seem to have studied this question; I will try out an amateur theory.  When two mathematicians meet and feel out each other’s knowledge of mathematics, what they are really doing is finding out what each other’s bottom line is.  It might be interesting to give a precise definition of a bottom line; in the absence of a definition, we will give some typical examples.

…I will shamelessly tell you what my bottom line is.  It is placing balls into boxes, or as Florence Nightingale David put it with exquisite tact in her book Combinatorial Chance, it is the theory of distribution and occupancy.

The author fears the influence of philosophy on mathematics, which led to this paragraph:

Philosophical arguments are emotion-laden to a greater degree than mathematical arguments and written in a style more reminiscent of a shameful admission than of a dispassionate description.  Behind every question of philosophy there lurks a gnarl of unacknowledged emotional cravings which act as a powerful motivation for conclusions in which reason plays at best a supporting role.  To bring such hidden emotional cravings out into the open, as philosophers have felt it their duty to do, is to ask for trouble.  Philosophical disclosures are frequently met with the anger that we reserve for the betrayal of our family secrets.

Definitely recommended, the book also has some of the best and most concrete discussions of Husserl’s philosophy I have seen, along with a meta-account of such, and also there is a discussion of the exoteric and esoteric readings of cosmology and black holes and indeed mathematics too.  Here is further information on Gian-Carlo Rota the author.

For the pointer to the book I thank Patrick Collison.

Yes, the Garry Kasparov, here is the link to the podcast and transcript.  We talked about AI, his new book Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins, why he has become more optimistic, how education will have to adjust to smart software, Russian history and Putin, his favorites in Russian and American literature, Tarkovsky, his favorite city to play chess in, his match against Deep Blue, Ken Rogoff, who are the three most likely challengers to Magnus Carlsen (ranked in order!) and who might win.  Here is one excerpt:

GK: The biggest problem, and I’ve been talking about for quite a while, that we’re still teaching very specific knowledge in the schools. Instead of teaching what, we have to teach how because this knowledge may be redundant 10 years from now. We are preparing kids for the world that will change dramatically. By the way, we already know it will look different. So what’s the point of trying to teach kids at age 10, 11, 12 without recognizing the fact that when they finish college, when they will become adults looking for jobs, the job market will be totally different?


COWEN: …If we look back on centuries of Russian history, do you think there’s something in Russian geography or demographics or geopolitics — what has it been that has led to such unfree outcomes fairly systematically?

Where do you find the roots of tyranny in the history of Russia? Is it a mix of the size of the country, its openness to invasion, its vulnerability, something about being next to a dynamic Europe, on the other side, China? What is it?

KASPAROV: It’s a long, if not endless, theoretical debate based on our interpretation of certain historical events. I’m not convinced with these arguments about some nations being predetermined in their development and alien to the concept of democracy and the rule of law.

The reason I’m quite comfortable with this denial . . . We can move from theory to practice. While we can talk about history and certain influence of historical events to modernity, we can look at the places like Korean Peninsula. The same nation, not even cousins but brothers and sisters, divided in 1950, so that’s, by historical standards, yesterday.


Let’s look at Russia and Ukraine, and let’s look, not at the whole Ukraine, but just at eastern Ukraine. Eastern Ukraine is populated mostly by ethnic Russians. In the former Soviet Union, the borders between republics were very nominal. People could move around, it was not a big deal. Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the official state border between Russia and Ukraine was respected, but people still could move around. They didn’t need special visas.

When we look at ethnic Russians born and raised in Kursk and Belgorod on the Russian side and across the border, say in Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk on the Ukrainian side, there were people that could be hardly separated anything. They read the same newspaper, Pravda, watched the same television, spoke the very same language, not even accents. But somehow, in 2014, after Putin’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine, we saw a huge difference. Most of ethnic Russians in Ukraine signed for the Ukrainian army, fighting against Putin’s invasion, against the same Russians that came from the other side.

It could be a long debate, but I would say that one of the main reasons is that Ukraine experienced in 1994 a gradual transition of power from one president to another after sitting president Leonid Kravchuk lost elections and walked away. Ukrainians somehow got an idea that power is not sacred, and government can come and go, and they can remove it by voting.

And even despite the fact that Ukraine never experienced higher living standards than Russia, people realized that keeping this freedom, keeping this ability to influence their bureaucrats and government through the peaceful process of voting and, if necessary, striking, far more effective than Russia’s “stability” where the same leader could be in charge of the country with his corrupt clique for a long, long time.

On computer chess, I most enjoyed this part of the exchange:

KASPAROV: But I want to finish this because what we discovered in this process . . . I wouldn’t overweight our listeners with all these details. I don’t want just to throw on them the mass information.

COWEN: It’s amazing what people will enjoy, though. You’d be surprised.

Self-recommending!  We cover many other topics as well, again you can read or listen here.

And I strongly advise that you buy and read Garry’s wonderful new book Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins.

Here is a link to the download and partial transcript, Russ is one of the very best interviewers and of course he is a pioneer in the podcast genre.  Here is one excerpt:

Tyler Cowen: And I think overall academics are among the most complacent of the complacent groups in American society.

Russ Roberts: Fair enough.

There is more…

They are:

Johnny Rogan, The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited, The Sequel, get the full-length edition, not the much shorter 1980 volume.

Chris Twomey, XTC: Chalkhills and Children.

…in addition to the very recent Dreaming the Beatles, which I just reviewed.

NB: These are music books and I am not even recommending them to most of you.  These books only make sense if you already know a good deal about the careers of the artists involved.

Here is my advice on how to find excellent management books and management advice: pick some areas you know fairly well, be it music, sports, military campaigns, a scientific discovery, the making of a historic plane flight, or whatever.  Read a very detailed book about that.  Think through the lessons of that book(s).  Unfortunately, books about corporations so often filter their management information through homilies, hidden agendas, NDAs, ego boosts, paybacks, and other forms of…bullshit.  Music and sports books won’t, as they are too concerned with other kinds of stupid filters.  But you will get the lowdown on management for the most part.

There are some special reasons why I find the Byrds and XTC fruitful areas for reading for management advice, above and beyond my knowledge of the history and the musical content.  Neither group was massively profitable in a sustained manner, though they had their successes.  The two histories contain both triumphs and some major mistakes.  The main creators worked very consistently at their music for decades, and were not afraid to take chances or to operate with a long time horizon.  Nor did they destroy themselves, even though they were fatally flawed as creators.  Both histories are also studies in small group dynamics, including their eventual collapse; the Byrds are more a story of changing personnel and its costs.  Both histories embody tales of retreat and also return, and an ongoing evolution of styles and media.  Both stories have (relatively) happy endings, but only for those who kept at work rather than partook in indulgences.  Those features may or may not apply to your own personal circumstances, choose your management books accordingly, but I those kinds of stories more interesting than say books about the Rolling Stones.

If you can find books such as these, they are among the most valuable you will read.  Yet it is very hard to find them through recommendations, given the idiosyncratic nature of the content and its relevance.  Of course that is precisely why they have such high marginal value.

Roberto emails me:

There is another aspect that corroborates your theory on how casual dress is somehow connected to less mobility. Dressing in a casual but very good way is economically and “socially” expensive. When I was a young associate at the biggest law firm in Rome, casual friday was the time when my Sicilian provincial middle-lower class background was most transparent. I didn’t have the money for smart but impressive casual clothing. But above all I didn’t have the cultural and social capital to know how to dress casual in the right way. My casual dressing was made of nerdy, unfashionable and cheap clothes: you could immediately say that I haven’t accomplished anything. And I didn’t even know that there was a “rich” way to dress casual. A decent suit and tie is not that expensive but, above all, is socially and culturally accessible in a very easy, standard and replicable way.

Perhaps this is a problem that affects women more seriously than men, exactly for the same reason: women’s formal clothing is not as standard and replicable as men’s. For women, even formal business dressing reveals a lot of background.

Americans with degrees have been getting steadily less optimistic since mid-2015…

Americans without degrees are as optimistic now as they’ve ever been since the survey began nearly four decades ago. Only the peak of the tech bubble compares. By contrast, Americans with degrees are about as confident in the future as they were in September 2007, when the credit crisis had already begun…

Since the start of 2015, the outlook among the young has deteriorated sharply, albeit from a high base. Meanwhile, the expectations of Americans ages 55 and older have soared in the wake of the election to their highest level in more than fifteen years…

And this in sum:

The groups responsible for the aggregate change in sentiment are the least likely to experience big real wage increases and therefore the least likely to boost their spending. Moreover, they appear unwilling to translate their vague optimism about the future into specific expectations about behaviour.

So even if those expectations were reliable guides to the actual choices people make — something strongly debated among forecasters — there is little reason to believe the “Trump bump” in consumer sentiment is a harbinger for sharply rising real spending.

That is all from Matthew C. Klein.  I would stress the broader point that in a polarized time such survey results may not be very reliable at all, and perhaps we should dismiss the pessimistic responses of the young as well.

The shrinking of the middle is largely due to a recent rise in the share of women (who also represent a majority of college students) who identify as either liberal or far left. The share of female respondents, but not male respondents, who describe their political views this way was at an all-time high (41.1 percent for women, 28.9 percent for men). Left-wing views peaked for men way back in 1971, at 43.6 percent.

That is from the always interesting Catherine Rampell.  The “political gender gap” across men and women, in these numbers, never has been higher, see the link for a picture and details but by one measure it is 12.2 percentage points.

Given the distribution of the “political correctness movement” across majors, how much it is simply the result of the increased feminization of education itself?

That is a new project by Jonathan Haidt and the Heterodox Academy, here is a partial summary:

Heterodox Academy announces a simpler, easier, and cheaper alternative: The Viewpoint Diversity Experience. It is a resource created by the members of Heterodox Academy that takes students on a six-step journey, at the end of which they will be better able to live alongside—and learn from—fellow students who do not share their politics.

It’s a very flexible resource that can be completed by individuals before they arrive on campus, presented in an orientation-week workshop, or expanded into a full semester course that students can take during their first year. (It could also be helpful in high schools, companies, religious congregations, and any other organizations that are experiencing sharp political divisions and conflicts.)

…The site is still under development: we welcome feedback and criticism. We particularly seek out professors, high school teachers, and diversity trainers who will partner with us to develop detailed teaching plans and activities. We will have a larger public launch of the project in August, complete with assessment materials that will allow you to measure whether the curriculum actually increased political knowledge and cross-partisan understanding.

Do click on the site itself for a fuller explanation, and please help out if you can.

The author is Rob Sheffield and the subtitle is The Love Story of One Band and the Whole World.  So far this year this is my favorite book, in part because it stretches genres in a creative way.  In addition to being a study of fandom, celebrity, 1960s history, “how boys think about girls,” and of course the music itself, it is most of all a splendid take on small group cooperation, management, and the dynamic between John and Paul.  I enjoyed every page of this book, and learned a great deal, despite having read many other books on the Beatles.  Here is a typical passage”

The Beatles invented most of what rock stars do…They invented breaking up. They invented drugs. They invented long hair, going to India, having a guru, round glasses, solo careers, beards, press conferences, divisive girlfriends, writing your own songs, funny drummers. They invented the idea of assembling a global mass audience and then challenging, disappointing, confusing this audience. As far as the rest of the planet is concerned, they invented England.

A few of the more specific things I learned were:

1. For a while Stanley Kubrick was planning on making a movie version of Lord of the Rings with Paul as Frodo, Ringo as Sam, and John as Gollum.  George was to be Gandalf.

2. When the cops raided Keith Richards’s mansion in 1967 and found cocaine, they threw it away because they had never seen it before and didn’t know what it was.

3. When Paul McCartney played an acetate of “Tomorrow Never Knows” for Bob Dylan, Dylan’s response was “Oh, I get it.  You don’t want to be cute anymore.”

4. The French title for “A Hard Day’s Night” was Quatre Garcons Dans Le Vent, which translates roughly as “Four Boys in the Wind.”

The book is funny too:

I always loved this sentence in Our Bodies, Ourselves, the Eighties edition I had in college: “The previous edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves included a brief section on astrological birth control, which just doesn’t work.”  So much going on in that sentence, dispatched with no drama.  Maybe a shade of irony, but no hand-wringing — just a change of mind announced as efficiently and discreetly and decisively as possible.


Paul has a compulsive need to feed his enemies all the ammunition they could want.  The software of “don’t take the bait” was never installed in his system.  No celebrity has ever been easier to goad into gaffes.  I love that.


As Lennon snapped in 1980, after getting asked one too many times if they [he and Paul] still spoke, “He’s got 25 kids and about 20,000,000 records out.  How can he spend time talking?  He’s always working.”

On the revisionist upswing in this book are Rubber Soul, “I’m so Tired,” “It Won’t Be Long,” and John Lennon’s “God.”  On the revisionist downswing is Let It Be and Paul McCartney’s “My Love.”

Not for the unconverted, but I’m glad to see people writing books with me as the intended audience.  Here is a quite insightful review, in which Chris Taylor writes: “…it may be the first book to encompass the entire Beatlegeist. If aliens land tomorrow, and demand to know why we keep on pumping this particular brand of music into space, this is the first book you would hand them.”