Education

Recently I went to a (very good) conference.  As a number of us got off the train and waited near the platform for a ride, we immediately recognized each other as belonging to the same event, even though we had not met each other before.  We were short and tall, male and female, and of varying races, but still we all had “that look”; I leave it as an exercise for the reader to consider what that means.

It occurred to me that many conferences could try to be more diverse.  No, I am not referring to gender or race or ethnicity, although that may be true as well.  I am referring to personality types and life experiences.  Perhaps each conference should have at least one or two people who are not driven to succeed, not the member of any elite group, and not assured of their standing in the world.

What then to select for?  I wondered whether each conference ought not to invite a hitchhiker or two.  Think about hitchhikers, at least as a group on average:

1. They are mobile and not so set in their ways.  They do not evaluate everything in terms of its efficacy and productivity.

2. They are adventurous and willing to engage with strangers.

3. They have not sunk their assets into expensive homes or fancy cars.

4. They wish to see the world and have a minimum amount of restlessness, maybe more.

5. Superficially it may seem that hitchhikers are “stupider than average,” but I suspect relative to their demographics they are smarter than average.

6. They do not schedule their lives so very tightly.

7. Since the late 1970s, fewer people engage in hitchhiking, and this raises their intrinsic interest.  They are trying to resurrect a dying form of social capital, still prevalent mainly in Cuba and Eastern Europe.

8. The groups skews male, but I wonder if any more so than conference attendees more generally.

Most of all, hitchhikers probably have some time to spare.  Send out a car, and offer them a ride and a conference.  Toss in $500 if need be.  They still will be cheaper than reimbursing the travel costs for most of your guests.  Furthermore, when it comes to “getting back,” they can, um…hitch a ride.

If you wish, give them the right to shout out “You must be on drugs!’ or “I wouldn’t give you a ride!” at least once each conference, without fear of being ejected or otherwise shamed.

Again, here is a video on hitchhikers.  They are perhaps the least likely guests to complain about the conference accommodations.

Tennis sentences to ponder

by on March 23, 2017 at 2:49 am in Education, History, Sports | Permalink

[Andre] Agassi pauses when asked if he and his wife [Steffi Graf] sometimes hit a few balls in Vegas – for old time’s sake? “No. It sounds a nice idea. But as soon as you hit the first couple of balls you remember you can do this. But you’re also reminded of what you can’t do. I just thank God I played the game long enough to enjoy lots of good moments. It gave a lot and it took a lot. I think me and tennis are about even now.”

Here is the full interview, interesting throughout.

Walter Olson at Overlawyered reports:

Those free online course materials may be gone from the University of California, Berkeley, courtesy of a U.S. Deparment of Justice interpretation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and related statutes, but they’re not gone from the Internet: “20,000 Worldclass University Lectures Made Illegal, So We Irrevocably Mirrored Them” [LBRY] Won’t that infringe on a lot of copyrights? The site claims not: “The vast majority of the lectures are licensed under a Creative Commons license that allows attributed, non-commercial redistribution.” Earlier coverage here, here, here, and here.

As someone put it, it looks as if the internet recognizes ADA litigation as damage and routes around it.

Jeremy Kauffman at LBRY gives some more detail:

The LBRY protocol provides a completely decentralized network for discovering, distributing, and publishing all types of content and information, from books to movies.

When publishing the lectures to LBRY, the content metadata is written to a public blockchain, making it permanently public and robust to interference. Then, the content data itself is hosted via a peer-to-peer data network that offers economic incentives to ensure the data remains viable. This is superior to centralized or manual hosting, which is vulnerable to technical failure or other forms of attrition.

I wrote about online education and the ADA in Egalitarianism versus Online Education and I’m an adviser to LBRY so I’d like to say that this was my idea but I was not involved!

Who’s complacent?

by on March 19, 2017 at 12:28 pm in Education, History, Philosophy, Science | Permalink

Not Jordan Peterson:

Raised and toughened in the frigid wastelands of Northern Alberta, Jordan Peterson has flown a hammer-head roll in a carbon-fiber stunt plane, piloted a mahogany racing sailboat around Alcatraz Island, explored an Arizona meteorite crater with a group of astronauts, built a Native American Long-House on the upper floor of his Toronto home, and been inducted into the coastal Pacific Kwakwaka’wakw tribe.

He’s been a dishwasher, gas jockey, bartender, short-order cook, beekeeper, oil derrick bit re-tipper, plywood mill labourer and railway line worker. He’s taught mythology to lawyers, doctors and businessmen, consulted for the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Sustainable Development, helped his clinical clients manage depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and schizophrenia, served as an advisor to senior partners of major Canadian law firms, identified thousands of promising entrepreneurs on six different continents, and lectured extensively in North America and Europe.

With his students and colleagues, Dr Peterson has published more than a hundred scientific papers, transforming the modern understanding of personality, and revolutionized the psychology of religion with his now-classic book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. As a Harvard professor, he was nominated for the prestigious Levinson Teaching Prize, and is regarded by his current University of Toronto students as one of three truly life-changing teachers.

…Dr. Peterson’s online self-help program, The Self Authoring Suite, featured in O: The Oprah Magazine, CBC radio, and NPR’s national website, has helped tens of thousands of people resolve the problems of their past and radically improve their future.

Here is more, and for the pointer I thank Adam Kazan.

He was superb, here is the transcript, audio, and video.  We considered satire as a weapon, Harvard, long-distance running, Washington vs. NYC, Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden, Caribbean culture and intellectual history, and of course Malcolm’s mom, among other topics.  His answers are so fluid and narrative they are hard to excerpt, but here is one bit from him:

COWEN: Overrated or underrated, the idea of early childhood intervention to set societal ills right?

GLADWELL: Overrated because to my mind it’s just another form . . . it became politically impermissible to say that certain people in society would never make it because they were genetically inferior. So I feel like that group, it’s like, “All right, we can’t say that anymore. We’ll just move the goalpost up two years.” And we’ll say, “Well, if you don’t get . . .” Or three years — “If you don’t get the right kind of stimulation by the time you’re three, basically it’s curtains.”

Why is that argument, which we decided we didn’t like it when they set the goalpost at zero, and somehow it’s super-important and legitimate and chin-stroking-worthy when they moved the goalpost to three. Truth is, people, it’s not over at three any more than it was over at zero. There are certain things that it would be nice to get done by the age of three. But if they’re not, the idea that it’s curtains is preposterous. It’s the same kind of fatalism that I thought we had defeated in the . . .

If you want to say that the goalpost should be at 30, then I’m open to it.

I asked what changes he would make to higher education:

GLADWELL: OK. I would establish a set of baseline criteria for admissions, and then I would have a lottery after that. So if you’re in the top 2 percent of your high school class — 5 percent, whatever cutoff we want — following test scores at a certain point, whatever cutoff we want, some minimum number of other things you do — you just go into the pot and we’re pulling out names. I’d probably triple or quadruple the size in the next 10 years, open campuses — probably two other campuses in the United States, one overseas.

I had this idea, I’m not sure how you’d do it, where I think that it would be really, really useful to ban graduates of elite colleges from ever disclosing that they went to an elite college.

I thought the Steve Pearlstein material was perhaps Malcolm’s highlight, but you need to read it straight through.

Here is a very short bit from me:

Most of my questions will be quite short, but my first question will be really, really long. Since everyone knows you and your work so well, I asked myself, “Who is Malcolm Gladwell?” And I tried to come up with an answer. I’ll give you my answer, and then you can correct me or add to that, and this will take a little while.

Definitely recommended.

Here it is.  As for my score, well, as Number Two used to say, “That would be telling.”

That is the new book and also free pdf by Joshua Gans.  This is an ideal book of sorts.  He writes it clearly, says what he wants to, ends it, and then gives it away for free.  Here is part of his conclusion:

It is easy at a high level to think about how knowledge could be unbundled, but once a framework is developed, then graduate students who were learning and reading past knowledge would be encouraged to translate their own information into the new framework.  The knowledge could be freed from the bounds of journals without undermining all the curation and attribution work that goes with them.  And at the same time, a searchable database that is open by design would exist not for articles, pages, or PDFs, but for the knowledge itself.

I’m all for moving in this direction, my main worry is to wonder how much difference it will make.  Systems of hierarchy tend to reemerge in some manner or another, no matter what the setting.  And if there is one thing we have learned from the internet, it is that free entry can lead to a greater rather than lesser consolidation of interest.

I recall back in the 1990s, when my colleague Don Lavoie was so excited about organizing science by “linkable hypertext,” in a kind of new knowledge utopia, a Habermasian wet dream.  It was to be an intellectual paradise.  What we got was…the blogosphere.  Still a paradise of sorts!  And free.  But not a scientific paradise.  I’m sure some of you in the comments can explain that to the others perfectly well, whether you are trying to do so or not.

Some old formats:

1. Chalk and talk.  Or with Powerpoint.

2. Play a video and comment on it.

3. Panel discussion.

4. Debate.

5. Manage an audience or classroom discussion.

6. One person interviews another or interviews a panel.  Or, one person interviews another and children burst into the room, only to be pulled back by their mother.  This latter option seems popular right now.

7. All Q&A, no talk (one of my favorites).

8. All questions, no answers allowed from the speaker (never seen this one, but it does produce audience participation).

9. Read aloud from one’s book (the worst).

10. Play or sing a song, or perform in some other manner, such as doing periodic magic tricks.  Chat or trash talk while attempting basketball free throws.

Are there new formats worth considering?  Has anyone tried “Holding a two-person or group conversation while pretending the audience isn’t there”?  What else?

Oxford University has launched a summer school aimed at white British boys, in an effort to increase its intake of working class students.

It is the first time the university has ever specifically targeted this demographic, which is one of the most underrepresented groups in higher education.

Under a new partnership with the Sutton Trust, a social mobility charity, male students from rural and coastal communities will be recruited for summer schools hosted at Oxford University.

…Research by the Sutton Trust charity shows that white British boys who are eligible for free school meals – a key measure of poverty – achieve the lowest GCSE grades of any major ethnic group, with only a quarter (24%) gaining at least five C grades including English and maths.

This compares to around a third (32%) of white British girls on free school meals who achieve this benchmark, making them the lowest performing major female ethnic group.

Here is further information, via the excellent Jeff H.

This 23-year-old Filipino-American should be starring in a Malcolm Gladwell column.  A few years ago, he was an up-and-coming aggressive, tactical chess prodigy, presumably lacking in the strategic niceties of the game at its highest levels.  I recall John Nye, my Filipino-American colleague (and chess player) coming into my office to discuss the astonishing fact that So had risen to number 9 in the world rankings.  I suggested that a bit of regression to the mean was in order, and So would not be returning to the top ten anytime soon.

Since that time, So has won four top tournaments in a row, besting Magnus Carlsen, and has had a 56-game non-losing streak, against very high caliber players, and recently he was selected best chess player of the last year.  Arguably he is the second best player in the world, and the one most likely to dethrone Carlsen from the world championship.

A turning point for So came in 2014 when he left university and moved to Minnetonka, Minnnesota to live with his adoptive parents, Lotis Key and Renato Kabigting, Key being a former Filipino movie star and now Vice President of the Minnesota Christian Writers Guild.  She serves as So’s manager and insisted he not check on-line NBA scores when doing his chess training.  Later, So turned away from the internet more fundamentally to focus on chess.

One Filipino international master remarked: “He cannot afford decent training given by well known GM-coaches and has to rely on his pure talent.”  Last month he brought on Vladimir Tukmakov as a coach, but he’s had less formal training than any top player in recent memory.

So hopes to learn how to drive a car, and he enjoys playing in Las Vegas: “I like Las Vegas,” So said, laughing. “People are usually drunk. Makes them easier to beat. Just keep drinking.”

So’s style now has evolved to the point where…he doesn’t seem to have a style.  He is renowned for his calm and he simply limits the number of mistakes.  At the top, top levels, a player without a real style is a player who is hard to train for and hard to beat.

So is religious, and he is considered mild-mannered and humble.  The story of Wesley So is not over.  Yet Wesley So is an American, and an American hero, and he has received virtually no mainstream media attention.

That is a paper of mine from long ago, started in the late 1990s if I recall correctly.  It still seems relevant today, all the more so.  It ended up published in Public Choice, but here is an ungated on-line version, here is the abstract:

I consider models of political failure based on self-deception. Individuals discard free information when that information damages their self-image and thus lowers their utility. More specifically, individuals prefer to feel good about their previously chosen affiliations and shape their worldviews accordingly. This model helps explain the relative robustness of political failure in light of extensive free information, and it helps to explain the rarity of truth-seeking behavior in political debate. The comparative statics predictions differ from models of either Downsian or expressive voting. For instance, an increased probability of voter decisiveness does not necessarily yield a better result. I also consider political parties as institutions and whether political errors cancel in the aggregate. I find that political failure based on self-deception is very difficult to eliminate.

What I find strange is people who think this has only recently become relevant.

New coinages that reflect the latest wave of online political activism form a significant section of more than 300 new definitions in the database, which is a sister work to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Additions including “clicktivism” (a pejorative word for armchair activists on social media), “haterade” (excessive negativity, criticism, or resentment), “otherize” (view or treat – a person or group of people – as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself) and “herd mentality” (the tendency for people’s behaviour or beliefs to conform to those of the group to which they belong) all emerged during the 2016 battle for the White House, said head of content development Angus Stevenson.

Who exactly is the gatekeeper?:

“Craptacular” (remarkably poor and disappointing), “bronde” (hair dyed both blond and brunette) and “fitspiration” (a person or thing that serves as motivation for someone to sustain or improve health and fitness) all made the cut.

Here is the Guardian story by Danuta Kean.

The basic post is too long, but some of it is interesting and here is the best part:

The pattern of Cost Disease seems to be related to things that inextricably require the unsubstitutable labour and attention not just of human beings but of human beings somehow comparable to the buyer. (Americans, for the US focus of most of this discussion.) Education not only requires teachers who are part of the same cultural milieu as their students, but it requires the attention of the students themselves, and attention is inherently expensive. As the only thing that can be expensive in the final Strong Heaven, attention predictably gets more expensive in a culture that moves more and more toward general post-scarcity. Health care similarly requires local human involvement.

That is from Ansuz, via Matthew Fairbank.  And here is Scott Alexander’s survey follow-up post.

The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life, and here is the opening bit of the summary:

Human beings are primates, and primates are political animals. Our brains were designed not just to gather and hunt, but also to get ahead socially, often by devious means. The problem is that we like to pretend otherwise; we’re afraid to acknowledge the extent of our own selfishness. And this makes it hard for us to think clearly about ourselves and our behavior.

The Elephant in the Brain aims to fix this introspective blind spot by blasting floodlights into the dark corners of our minds. Only when everything is out in the open can we really begin to understand ourselves: Why do humans laugh? Why are artists sexy? Why do people brag about travel? Why do we so often prefer to speak rather than listen?

Like all psychology books, The Elephant in the Brain examines many quirks of human cognition. But this book also ventures where others fear to tread: into social critique. The authors show how hidden selfish motives lie at the very heart of venerated institutions like Art, Education, Charity, Medicine, Politics, and Religion.

Acknowledging these hidden motives has the potential to upend the usual political debates and cast fatal doubt on many polite fictions. You won’t see yourself — or the world — the same after confronting the elephant in the brain.

Due out January 1, 2018, of course this is essential reading.

The obvious equilibrium is that more researchers can download papers from the internet, and thus we expect more papers to be read by a greater number of people.  If lay people enter the calculus, this is almost certainly true.  But what about researchers?  I am not convinced that more reading (of each paper) goes on, or that it should go on.

Most people, including researchers, cannot easily figure out if the main result of a research paper is correct.  That is true all the more as time passes, because the mistakes become less and less transparent.  But they can figure out who can figure out if the paper is right, and sample that opinion.  The internet aids this process greatly.  For instance, it is easier for me to find out what Bob Hall (one of the great paper analysts/commentators of all time) thought of a macro paper, if only by using email.  If I can find out whether or not the paper is true, often I don’t have to read that paper, though I may go through some parts of it.  The internet also gives me access to better summaries of the paper, if only in parts of other papers.

In this sense, researchers may rely on a fairly thin substructure of evaluation, though one of increasing accuracy.  As science progresses, perhaps scientists do/should spend more time honing their research specializations, and less time reading papers they are not expert evaluators for.  They do/should spend more time reading the papers where they are the expert evaluators, but that may mean reading fewer papers overall.

Viewed as a productivity problem, perhaps your read is competing against “further spread of the read and evaluation from the best expert” and is losing.  Efficient criticism is also sometimes winner take all.

I am indebted to Patrick Collison for a conversation on this topic, though of course he is not liable for any of this.  Neither he nor I have read a paper on such matters, however.  Thank goodness.