Education

Esperanto fans

by on July 16, 2015 at 3:33 am in Education, History | Permalink

Ayatolla Khomeini, too, waffled on Esperanto. Shortly after the Iranian Revolution, he urged his people to learn the language as an anti-imperialist counterpoint to English, and an official translation of the Qur’an followed. But adherents of the Baha’i faith had been fans of Esperanto for decades, and Khomeini was definitely not a fan of Baha’i, so his enthusiasm dimmed.

And Baha’i’s not the only smaller religion that’s embraced Esperanto as a liturgical language. In Brazil, which has one of the world’s largest populations of Esperantists, the language is intimately associated with the séance-centric Spiritist movement, and many followers of the neo-Shinto Japanese religion Oomoto have studied some Esperanto.

Mao Zedong liked Esperanto too. The Communist Party of China has published an Esperanto magazine, El Popola Ĉinio, since 1950, and state radio stations still regularly broadcast in the language.

And perhaps most famously, George Soros grew up speaking Esperanto, though his public involvement with the language hasn’t gone beyond getting his father’s Esperanto memoirs translated into English.

That is from a new Sam Dean article on the on-line revival in Esperanto, via Ted Gioia.

butler

Building the biggest and the best sandcastles is an absolute must for children on beaches.

Now a travel company is stepping in to secure the all-important bragging rights for them – by launching the world’s first sandcastle butler service.

From Disney castles to favourite TV characters, the talented concierge staff will be on hand to transform a simple mound of sand into anything guests’ imaginations can conjure up.

Oliver’s Travels, a family villa specialist, is introducing the VIP service at selected destinations in Europe.

When guests book the service they will first get a sandcastle brainstorming session with the butlers in order to create an elaborate sand design.

There are more good photos at the link, and also tips on how to build a great sandcastle, all via the excellent Mark Thorson.

Here is one good bit of many:

I have a deep-rooted prejudice which is that if people can talk fluently in everyday language about their job, it strongly suggests that they have fully incorporated their work into their character. They feel it in their belly. There are people with whom you talk about technical stuff and it almost feels like they can only talk about it in a very formal way with their best work face on – as if the information they are talking about has not penetrated within. Twitter cuts through that and is a way of finding people who are insightful and passionate about what they do, like junior doctors one year out of medical school who take you aback when you realise they know more than people whose job it is to know about a particular field, such as 15 year-old Rhys Morgan. He has Crohn’s disease and went onto Crohn’s disease discussion forums and discussed evidence, whilst noting down people making false claims about evidence for proprietary treatments. He ended up giving better critical appraisal of the evidence that was presented than plenty of medical students. This was all simply because he read How to Read a Paper by Trish Greenhalgh and some of my writings, so he has learnt about how critical appraisal works and what trials look like along with the strengths and weaknesses of different kinds of evidence. Thanks to Twitter, I have been able to read about people like Rhys in action and to see ideas and principles really come alive and be discussed and for that, it is wonderful.

For the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

Eric Schwitzgebel and Fiery Cushman have an interesting paper (pdf, pubished Cognition version here) which raises that question rather directly:

We examined the effects of framing and order of presentation on professional philosophers’ judgments about a moral puzzle case (the “trolley problem”) and a version of the Tversky & Kahneman “Asian disease” scenario. Professional philosophers exhibited substantial framing effects and order effects, and were no less subject to such effects than was a comparison group of non-philosopher academic participants. Framing and order effects were not reduced by a forced delay during which participants were encouraged to consider “different variants of the scenario or different ways of describing the case”. Nor were framing and order effects lower among participants reporting familiarity with the trolley problem or with loss-aversion framing effects, nor among those reporting having had a stable opinion on the issues before participating the experiment, nor among those reporting expertise on the very issues in question. Thus, for these scenario types, neither framing effects nor order effects appear to be reduced even by high levels of academic expertise.

I wonder to what extent economists do better at treating sunk costs as sunk?  The pointer is from Michelle Dawson.

By the way, ethicists are not more ethical.  Just in case you were wondering.  Are economists more economical?

The Stoics aside, most of these Twitter nominations are terrible.  What comes to mind immediately for me is:

Tocqueville’s Democracy in America

Pascal’s Pensees

Hume’s Enquiry

Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels or Melville’s Moby Dick

That’s off the top of my head, I am sure I am forgetting some strong candidates.  Plato is too Straussian (not that there’s anything wrong with that…), Aristotle is too dull and it is often just lecture notes anyway, many other writers are too prolix, and contemporary books typically don’t have enough breadth, or for that matter wisdom, to top this list.

What is your pick?

Alex Eble and Feng Hu have a new and interesting paper (pdf) on this topic:

Wages are positively correlated with years of schooling. This correlation is largely driven by two mechanisms: signaling and skill acquisition. We exploit a policy change in China to evaluate their relative importance. The policy, rolled out from 1980 to 2005, extended primary school by one year. Affected individuals must then complete more schooling to obtain their highest credential, the main signal of interest. If the primary mechanism behind schooling returns is signaling, we would expect little change in the distribution of credentials in the population, but a large increase in schooling. If skill acquisition dominates, we should see no change in length of schooling but a change in credentials. Our results are consistent with the signaling story. Further consistent with such a story, we estimate that the labor market return to another year of schooling is very small, though greater for the less-educated. We estimate that this policy, while redistributive, likely generates a net loss of at least tens of billions of dollars, reallocating nearly one trillion person-hours from the labor market to schooling with meager overall returns.

In a nutshell, that’s lots of signaling.  Might the pointer there have been from Ben Southwood?  I am no longer sure.  Via Nathaniel Bechhofer, here is a recent study of education and earnings from U.S. data.

The next three will be with Luigi Zingales, Dani Rodrik, and Clifford Asness, you will find the details here, all coming this fall!

The consumers, most of all.  But how about amongst the workers?  I think you have to slot French taxi drivers under “don’t benefit.”  And otherwise?  That is the topic of my latest New York Times column for The Upshot:

On the positive side, the so-called sharing economy allows workers to use their time more flexibly. Drivers can earn money without working full time, and without having to wait around at taxi stands for the next passenger. The workers can use their newly acquired spare time for other purposes, including studying for college, teaching themselves programming or simultaneously offering themselves out for different sharing services: If no one wants a ride, go help someone with repairs around the house.

In short, these developments benefit those workers who are willing and able to turn their spare time to productive uses. These workers tend to be self-starters and people who are good at shifting roles quickly. Think of them as disciplined and ambitious task switchers. That describes a lot of people, but of course, it isn’t everybody.

That’s where some of the problems come in. Uber drivers are much more likely to have a college degree than are taxi drivers or chauffeurs, according to the Hall and Krueger study. It found striking differences between the two groups: 48 percent of Uber drivers have a college degree or higher, whereas that figure is only 18 percent for taxi drivers and chauffeurs.

Only some workers benefit when each hour, or each 15-minute gap, is up for sale. One way to put the general principle is this: The more efficient market technologies become, the more important are human capabilities and backgrounds in determining who prospers and who does not.

The piece offers other ideas of interest, including about education.  For instance, corporate investments in worker training may decline as the likelihood of freelance work rises.  That too favors self-starters, who can learn on their own.  Do read the whole thing.

 One of the biggest threats it faces is the rise of smartphones as the dominant personal computing device. A recent Pew Research Center report found that 39 of the top 50 news sites received more traffic from mobile devices than from desktop and laptop computers, sales of which have declined for years.

This is a challenge for Wikipedia, which has always depended on contributors hunched over keyboards searching references, discussing changes and writing articles using a special markup code. Even before smartphones were widespread, studies consistently showed that these are daunting tasks for newcomers. “Not even our youngest and most computer-savvy participants accomplished these tasks with ease,” a 2009 user test concluded. The difficulty of bringing on new volunteers has resulted in seven straight years of declining editor participation.

In 2005, during Wikipedia’s peak years, there were months when more than 60 editors were made administrator — a position with special privileges in editing the English-language edition. For the past year, it has sometimes struggled to promote even one per month.

The pool of potential Wikipedia editors could dry up as the number of mobile users keeps growing; it’s simply too hard to manipulate complex code on a tiny screen.

That is from Andrew Lih.  We do indeed face the danger that the quality of our digital universe may be deteriorating.  The inframarginal users who are benefiting are those who highly value texting, Facebook, and mobile access.  The relative losers include…?

Burliuk

Claims about Germany

by on June 20, 2015 at 2:41 pm in Education, Philosophy | Permalink

When I say that growing up in Germany helps bestow independent thinking skills, I’m not saying that it’s because they’re all taught [the] Straussian art of close reading. Instead I’m arguing that society has suppressed the value of certain status indicators, and that encourages people to think for themselves. To put it another way, there are fewer tournaments for kids to go through, and the value of winning them is not so high. Germans I’ve met are incredibly humble. Nobody feels the need to perpetrate an international hoax about how desirable they are. In addition, people aren’t all drawn to the same fields like finance and consulting. They take up professions like baking or manufacturing, and work with the earnestness that comes from knowing that their work is dignified; it’s easier for them to do the equivalent of moving to Dayton to study widget machines.

That is from Dan Wang, who also offers remarks on the philosophy and writings of Peter Thiel.  My reservation about Dan’s argument is that Germans may use their independent thinking skills to question the entire value of traditional metrics of success, thereby making Germany less suited to produce certain kinds of innovations.

Here is an interesting Simon Kuper FT piece on Germans, mostly positive although “Germans are frequently wrong.”

Stephen Curry set a record In May of this year:

It took Reggie Miller 22 games to set an NBA playoff record of 58 three-pointers for the Indiana Pacers in the 2000 playoffs. Now, Stephen Curry has broken that mark in just 13 games.

He is now up in the 80s I believe.  Curry, by the way, is NBA MVP and his team is probably on the verge of winning the Finals.  The three-point strategy seems to be working: for Curry, for the Golden State Warriors, and also for last year’s champions, the San Antonio Spurs.

Yet the three-point shot has been in the NBA since 1979 (!), and for most of those years it was not a dominant weapon.

What took so long?  At first the shot was thought to be a cheesy gimmick.  Players had to master the longer shot, preferably from their earliest training.  Coaches had to figure out three-point strategies, which include rethinking the fast break and different methods of floor spacing and passing; players had to learn those techniques too.  The NBA had to change its rules to encourage more three-pointers (e.g., allowing zone defenses, discouraging isolation plays).  General managers had to realize that Rick Pitino, though perhaps a bad NBA coach, was not a total fool, and that the Phoenix Suns were not a fluke.  People had to ponder the expected value concept a little more carefully.  Line-ups had to be smaller.  And so on.  Most of all, coaches and general managers needed the vision to see how all these pieces could fit together — Arnold Kling’s patterns of sustainable trade and specialization.

In other words, this “technology” has been legal since 1979, yet only recently has it started to come into its own.  (Some teams still haven’t figured out how to use it properly.)  And what a simple technology it is: it involves only placing your feet on a different spot on the floor and then moving your arms and legs in a coordinated (one hopes) motion.  The incentives of money, fame, and sex to get this right have been high from the beginning, and there are plenty of different players and teams in the NBA, not to mention college or even high school ball, to figure it out.  There is plenty of objective data in basketball, most of all when it comes to scoring.

Dell Curry, Stephen’s father, was in his time also known as a three-point shooter in the NBA.  But he didn’t come close to his son’s later three-point performance.

So how long do ordinary scientific inventions need to serve up their fruits?  I am a big fan of Stephen Curry, but in fact his family tale is ultimately a sobering one.

Addendum: Tom Haberstroh fills in the history.

Cameron Campbell writes to me:

There was indeed betting on the outcomes of the examinations, at least in Guangdong province in the 19th century.  At least one form of betting was on the surnames that would be represented in the pool of successful candidates. Such betting was quite widespread, so for example, there were publications dedicated to providing punters with background on exam takers.

It also seems that a Professor Haifeng Liu at Xiamen University last year gave a talk titled 闈姓賭博:清代廣東與澳門的科舉習俗, or “Examination hall surname gambling: Qing Guangdong and Macao examination customs.” (Cowen’s Second Law, though perhaps he still needs to write it up)

Here is my previous post on this topic.  Here is Campbell’s blog.  Campbell is still trying to find out whether the telegraph story cited in my earlier post can be verified, I thank him for his efforts, Robin Hanson will be happy.

Lindsey M. Burke reports:

On Tuesday night, Nevada governor Brian Sandoval signed into law the nation’s first universal school-choice program. That in and of itself is groundbreaking: The state has created an option open to every single public-school student. Even better, this option improves upon the traditional voucher model, coming in the form of an education savings account (ESA) that parents control and can use to fully customize their children’s education.

…As of next year, parents in Nevada can have 90 percent (100 percent for children with special needs and children from low-income families) of the funds that would have been spent on their child in their public school deposited into a restricted-use spending account. That amounts to between $5,100 and $5,700 annually, according to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. Those funds are deposited quarterly onto a debit card, which parents can use to pay for a variety of education-related services and products — things such as private-school tuition, online learning, special-education services and therapies, books, tutors, and dual-enrollment college courses. It’s an à la carte education, and the menu of options will be as hearty as the supply-side response — which, as it is whenever markets replace monopolies, is likely to be robust.

The pointer is from Adam Ozimek.

Alexandra M. de Pleijt has a new paper on that topic (pdf):

Did human capital contribute to economic growth in England? In this paper the stock of total years of schooling present in the population between 1300 and 1900 is quantified. The stock incorporates extensive source material on literacy rates, the number of primary and secondary schools and enrollment figures. The trends in the data suggest that, whilst human capital facilitated pre-industrial economic development, it had no role to play during the Industrial Revolution itself: there was a strong decline in educational attainment between ca. 1750 and 1830. A time series analysis has been carried out that confirms this conclusion.

The reference there is from Ben Southwood.

I don’t have a strong opinion on this topic, but I hear so much weak argumentation for the “yes” conclusion that the contrarian in me rebels.

Yes, I know it looks good and feels good that an exclusive institution for the wealthy might deign to confer some of its benefits on less wealthy (but still smart) students.  It sounds like a kind of Progressive dream.  How could you be for greater social justice and oppose opening the gates of Harvard to some more students, preferably lower income ones?

But why in fact should Harvard enroll more students?  That probably would mean a lowering of standards, maybe not for the students, but for the faculty who would be hired to teach them.  On average, those turned down for tenure at Harvard, or not considered, really are worse.   A bigger school is a less cohesive school with lower standards for faculty quality stretching into the indefinite future, or at least that likely would be the case with Harvard.

Academic research is often a superstars market, where a relatively small number of people at the very top produce a disproportionate share of the value.  We should keep their working conditions and environment as high quality as possible, no?  Above all, that should apply to Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Caltech, and a few others too.

One not always-admitted little secret of our world is that a small bit of elitism goes a long way toward supporting a large amount of egalitarianism elsewhere in the economy.

And what about Harvard’s obligations?  We would reject the premise that above-average institutions have an obligation to lower their quality to meet the average of a broader pool of institutions, simply to serve more students.  That would imply a race to the bottom.  I don’t have a clear account of why we should stop at one average-lowering decision margin and not another, but I suspect you don’t either.  So maybe Harvard is OK to stay put at its currently high level of average faculty quality.

Keep in mind that enrolling those students at some other institution is a relevant alternative.  If anyone should accept more students, it is the University of Virginia, no?  They have fewer research superstars and furthermore it is a public institution, supported by state funds.  And yet they turn away large numbers of Asians — among others — with very high test scores and apparently impeccable records.

Or look at it from an ethical point of view.  You might believe we owe the less fortunate a “good education,” but surely you don’t believe we owe them a “Harvard education.”  Or do you?

(NB: It is exactly the wrong response to simply blurt out:  “But they all should accept more students!”  It remains a question whether, under the preferred change, Harvard should be accepting any of the burden at all.)

Another policy alternative, which at least the committed egalitarian ought to consider, is to send that marginal Harvard student to the local community college rather than giving him or her an educational upgrade to Quincy Street.

Yes, I understand this is not the only side of the argument and yes I am undecided on this whole question.  But if you wish to convince me that Harvard should take in larger classes, you will do this best by a) refusing to appeal to emotional, mood-affiliated yet insincere attacks on elites and elitism, and b) considering the least favorable comparisons for your arguments, such as letting more students into UVA instead.  Surely the stellar faculty at Harvard have trained you to reason in exactly that manner…because they do it so well themselves…