Malcolm Gladwell at Behavioral Scientist on race and the courts

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.


What would the "perspective to the analysis of that data" be that social psychologists offer? The one where you p-hack your way to findings matching preferred hypotheses and then none of it survives replication?

While we are talking about tools from the shed that aren't the sharpest....

There is a line chart in the middle of the article - link below. I wonder what is going on here? I guess if you have a basic understanding of math and you see a graph of X and Y, where Y can be defined as y / (X + non oil CPI) then maybe you shouldn't be too surprised at the results. I believe Y = 1 / X is the basic definition of an inverse relationship.

Anyone want to take a bet on Drum's math SAT score? Over/under 580.

Something in there about shallow, labored contrarianism would help.

Social psychology could be "insanely useful to the conversation we have in this country about how to make schools better" - Do social psychologists have some provable truths about how people interact that can be used confidently by decision makers to modify how schools operate? For instance, if I polled a number of structural engineers about how to design load bearing beams for the school building I would get highly clustered answers and thus could be fairly confident about using their insights. But if I polled a ranges of social scientists about how to say educate children, would I get the same kind of clustering? I would guess not.

Gladwell talks about Brown v. Board of Education in one of his latest podcasts at Revisionist History. It's really good:

I find the Revisionist History podcasts horribly produced for a factual podcast. Tried to listen to it, couldn't stand it.

Too much background music, too much building up of things. It is no "EconTalk" or "The History of English Podcast".

Gladwell says it would be "insanely useful" essentially to abandon testing for emotive abduction. Tyler, stop talking to these walking emoji fountains and engage with people willing to dip their hypotheses in the acid bath of replication.

Do you actually think he has anything interesting to say or are you just counter-signaling?

If you want to massage your politically correct virtues with just a dash of data to make it feel serious, Gladwell is your man.

If you want data to challenge your assumptions, there are others that never seem to make an appearance here, like Lomborg, Ridley etc.

+1. The mark of complacency is how often one has one's prejudices "confirmed" by the data.

How to deal with strangers: who is the stranger, you or the other? Of course, when meeting someone new, there are two strangers, both with the opportunity to make an impression that may or may not reflect the impression of one's family, friends, and co-workers. Consider the impression one makes on family and old friends, an impression that is almost immutable. Every Thanksgiving, when one returns to family and old friends, there are no strangers, only the immutable impressions made long ago, as one returns to the role that is expected (and comfortable?). Does meeting strangers often improve one's self-image and psychological well-being, or does it so disruptive that it is harmful by challenging one's concept of who she is. Many times I've had two old friends (or an old friend and family member) who are strangers to each other who upon meeting create an entirely different impression than mine. Why is that? Is it because one makes a different impression with every stranger, or is it because the impression I have of another is unique to me because it reflects in large part me? In a celebrity obsessed culture and pervasive (social) media, is anyone a stranger, does the impression one makes differ with all of one's "friends"? Is Donald Trump, who I have never met, a stranger? More likely the impression one has of Donald Trump (or any celebrity) is as immutable as that of a family member or old friend. Does the concept of "stranger" have any meaning today? I remember long ago a tavern located in a national forest that I would pass on my way to the coast. The proprietor always called his customers "friendlies", especially those he had never met. "Hello, friendly" was his greeting when a stranger entered the tavern, not "hello, stranger". I suppose he understood that the stranger's impression of him (and the proprietor's impression of the stranger) was established long before the stranger entered the tavern.

when a black student has a black teacher, a number of educational outcomes become more positive ... which in education they call “same race effects”

The US is no longer simply black and white. Latino students need Latino teachers, Asian students need Asian teachers, Irish-American students need Irish-American teachers, and so on. This way madness lies.

Have a voucher-funded network of private schools, and let black parents who want to fuss about that to do so if they're a critical mass in a given community. This sort of thing does not have to be public policy.

I would hope we don't. BUT, if we can look at hard data that shows having only white teachers leads to demonstrably worse outcomes from minorities then we have a problem.

He should read Behave

If Gladwell is not too careful, he will build a case for implicit bias.

I just finished a book on primate behavior, which I lent to someone and don't have the title, but what it talked about was the behavior of higher level primates: put two monkeys in a cage, and they fight; put two humans in an elevator and they either look at the ground or one smiles to disarm the fear of the other. Tribal primate behavior probably supported protection of territories and feeding areas.

Don't think the brain isn't wired to detect noticeable human features. However, what distinguishes the human from the primate is its ability to overcome and form larger societies, drawing in the talents of others, exchanging ideas, trading across cultures, and finding space within cultures to coexist with others who may be different.

So, this will be another Gladwell book where he lifts the research of others without identifying sources and claiming insights as his own.

There is always the same subtext when Gladwell or Brooks or Friedman is mentioned:

He's a famous pundit and I'm not!

Pfft, so they are famous, and each is right approximately half the time. That is enough to provide value, and if you are cynical about it, optimal to provide page views.

Speaking of comments here, not Tyler.

Tyler himself doesn't illicit that response in comments, unless he goes too overtly utilitarian and disappoints anti-social peeps.

I think that gladwell, and to a lesser degree Friedman, attract so much venom due to their complete lack of value. Both add little to nothing to any subject, both actually harm knowledge by overgeneralizing research data that they do not understand. And finally, both came to fame through virtual signaling just as the internet greatly magnified the gains from that activity.

They are both classsic examples of right place, right time, lottery winners. No one cares if a person wins the lottery, someone has to. But for a lottery winner to continually shove their victory in people's faces and proclaim "I got here due to my awesome abilities" is grating.

Maintaining separate school systems for blacks and whites in the south was very expensive, and they were able to maintain those systems only if they impoverished the black half.

No, it's only 'more expensive' because it has higher unit costs. More physical plant, more bus service, low pupil teacher ratios for specialized disciplines, and boarding charges if you want to assemble a diversified vocational secondary school. This is less of a problem in places like Alabama, where blacks constituted fully 30% of the population. It's really a problem in places like western Virginia and East Tennessee, where blacks are thin on the ground.

Let's say that equal facilities will double the cost of schooling blacks, you'd still increase the cost of the whole system by 20%, or < 1% of local domestic product. It's not such a burden on the community that you have to 'impoverish' the 'black half'

Hard to take Gladwell seriously after Richard Posner's devastating critique of some pseudo intellectual nonsense Gladwell's wrote and Gladwell's lame response, something along the lines of "how could Richard Posner bring his intellectual skills to bear on someone as unworthy as me?"

Steve Sailer has a periodic column slicing up Gladwell.

It is sort of odd that a busy federal judge writes reviews of random books for The New Republic. The review was penned 12 years ago, before Posner went senile.

Like I said, many black intellectuals have subsequently said, “Look maybe what the court should’ve done in Brown in 1954 is say, ‘Alright, let’s actually do separate and equal—prove to me they’re equal before we go any further. Let’s start by equalizing funding. Let’s go down the list. If you want to have a separate law school for white people in the state of Texas then you have to prove to me that every element in the black law school is the equivalent of the white law school.’” That strikes me as being both a radical and a doable argument, at least in the short term. And then when you have equality—real equality—then you take the next step, and remove [segregation]. I’m not entirely convinced that would’ve been the right way to go—but I think that is an argument worth hearing.

There was a black lawyer (active NAACP and civil rights) who had the office next to mine and he said he thought that school integration was net negative for blacks. He said that before integration there was a black valedictorian for each black school and heads of clubs, band etc. and he though loosing those thinks was a real loss.

BTW it seems to me that at some fairly low level more school funding seems to have very little impact on how much students learn.

I suspect with integrated schools you get two problems: an enhancement of anti-academic peer pressure (already a problem in high schools of just about any description) and more disciplinary problems (because black teachers and administrators have some advantages in dealing with black youth).

Certainly the 444-court orders worth of social engineering that Judge Garrity undertook in Boston did no one any good. Of course, Garrity suffered no opprobrium from anyone who mattered to him.

This seems like it should be an easy empirical question to answer. Do black students who attend predominately black schools do better than black students who attend mixed or predominately white schools?

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