aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
UGA spent $2.2M in New Orleans for Sugar Bowl
How the other half lives… The AJC reports on the school up the road:
It takes a lot of money to party with Georgia in New Orleans…
Georgia spent about $2.2 million, or $323,753.30 more than it was allocated, in New Orleans from Dec. 26-Jan. 2.
But the university will get that money back and more when the Southeastern Conference hands out its annual revenue distribution checks later this month. Georgia is expected to receive at least $10 million.
Perhaps that’s why the Bulldogs lived well while in New Orleans, according to information obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution through state and federal open records laws.
The Bulldogs spared no expense. A massive group, including the president’s official party of 89 people, made the trip and went to numerous parties, all paid for by the athletic association. The 400-member Redcoat Band made the trip. So did the cheerleaders, Hairy Dawg and Uga.
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
No honorary doctorate for anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly
Washington University announced last week that they are giving Phyllis Schlafly an honorary doctor of humane letters.
Here’s Schlafly bio from her own organizations website:
Phyllis Schlafly has been a national leader of the conservative movement since the publication of her best-selling 1964 book, A Choice Not An Echo. She has been a leader of the pro-family movement since 1972, when she started her national volunteer organization now called Eagle Forum. In a ten-year battle, Mrs. Schlafly led the pro-family movement to victory over the principal legislative goal of the radical feminists, called the Equal Rights Amendment. An articulate and successful opponent of the radical feminist movement, she appears in debate on college campuses more frequently than any other conservative.
Emphasis mine. Here’s the definition of humane:
1. characterized by tenderness, compassion, and sympathy for people and animals, esp. for the suffering or distressed: humane treatment of horses.
2. of or pertaining to humanistic studies.
Not to, um, beat a dead horse, but by her own proclamation the woman is anything but! Apparently, 1,600+ students, friends, and others (including me!) on Facebook agree. They’ve set up a Facebook group:
This is the woman who lives the hypocrisy of having a career that takes her around the country lecturing “family values” groups on how women should stay home.
This is the woman who said of husband-wife rape, “By getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don’t think you can call it rape [sic].”
This is the woman who described sex education classes as “in-home sales parties for abortions.” Do her views fit with the future the men and women of Wash U’s graduating class see for themselves and their peers? Probably not. Then why honor her with them? Wouldn’t having someone like her in the midst of Wash U’s female graduates be incongruous at best, offensive at worst?
E-mail Chancellor Wrighton and let him know what you think! .
Jane Stone, coordinator of the Board of Trustees:
Inside Higher Ed asks, Is Phyllis Schlafly Worthy of an Honorary Doctorate? And says, “Washington University released a statement Sunday in which it said that honorary degrees require a unanimous vote of the Board of Trustees and are nominated by the unanimous vote of a board committee that is led by a trustee but that also includes students and faculty members.”
Oh, and making matters worse, Chris Matthews will deliver the Commencement address.
Thursday, May 01, 2008
First Gay Senate Candidate in Czech Republic
On April 19, gay rights activist Jiří Hromada was nominated by the Czech Republic’s Green Party as their candidate for the Senate, a nomination which has already sparked plenty of controversy, according to the Prague Post:
“Following reports of his nomination, news servers such as Novinky and Aktuálně.cz had to shut down online discussions because they were full of homophobic and vulgar comments. The right-wing extremist National Party immediately issued a press statement branding Hromada a ‘homosexual deviant.’ Despite years of hard work by many gay and lesbian activists, it seemed from such reactions that homophobic feelings are still a part of the national culture, and Hromada’s candidacy in the upcoming election could serve as a test of the public’s tolerance and open-mindedness.”
Hromada ended his “career” as a gay rights activist, according to the paper, in 2006, when the nation’s Gay Initiative rights group felt that it had completed all its goals (imagine that!).
As it happens, I was in the Czech Republic two years ago at this time with a study abroad program and the Czechs were indeed very proud of their accomplishment: registered partnerships for same sex couples after a 17 year struggle.
I was there to make a film with the students about their experiences in the country. They also kept a video blog. This was their first post:
Monday, April 28, 2008
I have a post up at The Moderate Voice titled The Church of Atheism on the inclination of some atheists to ape religion. Check it out.
On a related note, one of my student workers (a biology major) pointed me to this fun video, Richard Dawkins - Beware the Believers:
Friday, April 25, 2008
It is time for us to take back our profession!
The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study a couple weeks ago claiming that doctors often put their name on studies published in medical journals when those studies were actually written by pharmaceutical companies. JAMA’s editor-in-chief Dr. Catherine DeAngelis published what steps medical journals should take to prevent this practice.
She was interviewed for On The Media last week. A key point:
BOB GARFIELD: What do you suppose the chances are that your recommendations will be embraced?
DR. CATHERINE D. DEANGELIS: I don’t know. All I know is that if we don’t do something, patients are going to continue to get harmed. We are all going to continue to be manipulated. It is time for us to take back our profession.
We gave it away, or we allowed it to be taken from us. Now let’s take it back. None of this stuff could happen if we didn’t cooperate. It’s as simple as that.
I’m struck by how true that statement is. And it’s true not just about the pharmaceutical industry, but media, and food, and law, and politics, and government. It’s our world. Let’s take it back and make it our own.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Toobin on Thomas on Hill
In his book, My Grandfather’s Son, Clarence Thomas weighs in on his former accuser, Anita Hill, saying “my worst fears had come to pass not in Georgia, but in Washington, D.C., where I was being pursued not by bigots in white robes but by left-wing zealots draped in flowing sanctimony.”
Throughout much of the book, especially the first half, Thomas paints an unsparing portrait of the way he conducted his personal life. Well into adulthood, he was incapable of managing his financial affairs. In one excruciating scene, which takes place when he was the director of the E.E.O.C., he stands at a rent-a-car counter at Logan Airport, in Boston, while the clerk, after running a check on Thomas’s credit card, is directed to cut it into pieces on the spot. Nor does Thomas make many claims for himself as a husband to his first wife, whom he met at Holy Cross and had separated from before he started at the Department of Education. Most notably, Thomas portrays himself as something close to an alcoholic. From the Ripple wine he drank in his youth to the Scotch and Drambuie he abused as an adult, Thomas frankly admits to using alcohol to deaden the pain and anger that dominated his life. (He writes that he stopped drinking cold turkey during his tenure at the E.E.O.C.) In a brief aside, he admits to discussing pornography while he was a law student.
This candor is in striking contrast to his discussion of Anita Hill. Thomas’s portrait of the woman he calls his “most traitorous adversary” is venomous and implausible. When she became a public figure, Hill was widely portrayed as demure, God-fearing, and politically moderate. According to Thomas, she was none of those things. In his initial interview of her, at the Department of Education, in 1981, he claims, Hill said that she “detested” Ronald Reagan, but Thomas hired her anyway, as a favor to a friend. She followed Thomas to the E.E.O.C., and left in 1983. It was during this period, she later alleged, that Thomas made his unwelcome remarks to her. ("Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?” and the like.) Thomas denies these claims, and dismisses the extensive corroborating evidence for them-including the fact that three friends of Hill’s recalled her complaints about him at the time, and that another subordinate of Thomas’s at the E.E.O.C. described similar behavior. But it’s worth noting that many of the incidents took place at a time when Thomas was, by his own admission, drinking heavily, single and dating, and generally in despair about his personal life. By the time Thomas met his second wife, Virginia, in 1986, with whom he has clearly been very happy, Hill had left the agency to teach law at Oral Roberts University (an unlikely destination for someone who was, as Thomas has it, a godless, partisan Democrat). Even on the evidence presented in his own book, Thomas engages in characteristic overstatement when he writes of Hill’s accusations, “I was one of the least likely candidates imaginable for such a charge.”
Thomas’ choice as UGA grad speaker riles faculty
The Georgia native will be the graduation speaker up the road at UGA. Some faculty are not pleased:
Some faculty members said they were outraged that the university would ask Thomas to speak when UGA has been facing criticism that administrators have been slow to address sexual harassment complaints filed against faculty members.
“What a slap in the face this is to everyone who has been working to bring to light the realities of sexual harassment, and to establish appropriate methods and offices for addressing this significant problem on our campus,” Chris Cuomo, director of UGA’s Institute for Women’s Studies, told The Red & Black student newspaper.
UGA spokesman Tom Jackson said Thomas has a close relationship with the UGA School of Law and has visited campus several times to give lectures.
“We’re honored to have an associate justice of the Supreme Court bringing our commencement address,” Jackson said.
Via Think Progress.
How to improve black college grad rates? Try harder!
The Chronicle on a report by Education Sector, a Washington-based research group, that finds colleges already know how to close gaps in the graduation rates of black and white students. The problem is too few have been willing to take the steps needed to do it:
“While more research in this area is certainly needed, the biggest challenge in better serving minority college students is not creating new knowledge about how to help them; it is creating new incentives for institutional leaders to act on the knowledge that already exists,” says the report, written by Kevin Carey, Education Sector’s research and policy manager.
“If there is a single factor that seems to distinguish colleges and universities that have truly made a difference on behalf of minority students, it is attention,” the report says. “Successful colleges pay attention to graduation rates. They monitor year-to-year change, study the impact of different interventions on student outcomes, break down the numbers among different student populations, and continuously ask themselves how they could improve.”
Two of the models it cites are in the south. Florida State University and the University of Alabama, both of which now actually graduate a slightly larger share of their black students than their white students within six years:
In the case of Florida State, the report credits much of the university’s success to its decision to have a single office, called the Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement, coordinate both its state and federally financed programs aimed at improving retention. In addition to being overseen by Florida State’s vice president for student affairs, the center also reports to the university’s vice president for undergraduate educationâ€”a recognition, the report says, of the reality that improving student retention is fundamentally an academic undertaking. And, whereas many colleges focus their retention efforts on freshmen, Florida State’s center monitors students’ progress all the way to graduation.
The report says the University of Alabama has been able to greatly improve its retention of black students by setting up an early-alert program that closely monitors the progress of freshmen during their first six weeks and seeks to ensure that those who are academically struggling get help quickly. The university’s placement of freshmen in “learning communities,” where groups of about 25 students take courses together, helps students by giving them access to individualized instruction and encouraging them to give each other academic support, the report said.
Other strategies cited by the report as effective are “intrusive” counseling-an approach that calls for counselors to actively watch over students and not simply wait for them to ask for help-and providing state-financed scholarships to academically promising low-income students to prevent money worries from complicating their educational pursuits.
Monday, April 21, 2008
Credit Card University
A number of families, for example, are dipping into their retirement savings to finance their children’s education. This story focuses on how expensive private schools are and cites empirical research that the prestige of an undergraduate degree does not impact a student’s future earnings. State universities look like bargains in this story, offering the same education for way less money. But we’re increasingly privatizing the costs of “public” universities. State universities, receiving ever less state funding, are increasingly turning their students over to financial-services companies, who are, of course, happy to oblige.
He goes on to tell of a Higher Education Watch report finding that aggregate funding for public colleges and universities fell by 7.8% and that a number of states have decreased their contributions by as much as 25%.
He critically catalogues the ways colleges and universities have gone about finding money to make up the shortfall and finds them “at least partially to blame.”
Yes, well, of course, they are. But someone’s got to pay now don’t they? And what we’ve got is no one willing!
So I was particularly gratified by Phil’s final sentence, which I will put in bold to give it the emphasis it deserves:
Nevertheless, colleges are put in an impossible situation--they need to keep their schools solvent and affordable, and the state is giving them ever less money. The real culprit, I think, are states residents who refuse to fund public education.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Scientists Putting Their Names on Papers Written by Companies
Papers that bear academic scientists’ names as authors, but are ghostwritten by for-profit companies, may be disturbingly common in medical journals, a new study indicates. Some of the scientists accused of being involved in that practice deny any wrongdoing, but journal editors are already outlining measures to prevent future breaches of academic integrity.
In the new issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association,four scientists have published the results of a search of court documents related to the anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx, which has been withdrawn from the market because of concerns about its safety, and which has been the subject of hundreds of lawsuits.
The search revealed mentions of many articles that were published under academic researchers’ names but appear to have been written by others. And those others were employees of Merck & Co. Inc., which is the developer of Vioxx, or of medical publishing companies.
In one example, the JAMA authors compare the draft and published version of a paper about a clinical trial; the draft lists only Merck authors along with “External author?” as first author. The published paper has three external authors: one from the University of California at San Diego, one from New York University, and one from a contract research organization. (The Chronicle was unable to reach the New York University scientist, Steven H. Ferris; the researcher from San Diego, Leon J. Thal, died last year.) An e-mail message from one Merck scientist to another said, “I think you should be the first author since you have done virtually all of the writing.”
In an editorial accompanying the article, Catherine D. DeAngelis and Phil B. Fontanarosa, the editor in chief and executive deputy editor of JAMA, respectively, call researchers’ guest authorship “unprofessional and demeaning to the medical profession and to scientific research.”
The JAMA researchers, led by Joseph S. Ross, an instructor in geriatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, searched a database of millions of documents provided by Merck for two Vioxx product-liability cases. (All four of the researchers had served as consultants to the plaintiffs in the cases.) Dr. Ross then analyzed individually each of the 20,000 documents that came up relating to authorship.
The researchers examined 96 articles that had been discussed in internal Merck documents before they were published. They found that papers reporting the results of clinical trials or reviewing data from multiple studies sometimes appeared to be written by employees of Merck or of publishing companies, and only later were given the names of academic authors.
As we credential up the academy, we dumb down the scientist, making them reliant on companies seeking to cash in on academic cache. Like the politicians who are not writing their own legislation—industry lobbyists are—and don’t know what’s in it, more and more scientists are relying on companies to do their research!
Dr. Ross, quoted again later in the piece:
“This is a widespread practice,” he said. “These just happen to be people whose behavior we had witness to because of the litigation documents. The point is that physicians in the scientific community need to come together and agree, This is wrong; this is not how science is conducted.”
Doubt it if you will but science has already been dangerously watered down. This trend has got to be stopped.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Choice is a false god!
I’ve long complained about the tyranny of choice. For examples from just the past few years, see here, here, here, and here. My usual complaint is that more choice brings unhappiness and it takes up too much time.
As regular readers know well, I’m reading Dan Ariely’s excellent Predictably Irrational. It has a thing or two to say about choice. Yesterday John Tierney looked at some of it in a blog post titled The Price of Dithering:
The results are in from the Shapes Experiment, featuring a game in which Lab readers repeatedly chose between two shapes and scored points proportional to the area of the shape. Most of the players hurt their scores by spending too much agonizing over decisions that didn’t make much difference — and therein lies a lesson for making decisions in the real world, according to Dan Ariely, the researcher who ran the experiment.
Dr. Ariely, a cognitive psychologist who is a professor of behavioral economics at M.I.T., reports that the game was played more than 4,000 times by Lab readers. As they played, there were two basic situations they faced. Sometimes they had to choose between two shapes that quite similar in size — a difference in area of no more than 2 percent. Other times they had to choose between shapes that differed in area by 25 percent.
Since it was a timed game and you wanted to get through as many trials as possible, speed was of the essence. If you were going to spend time making a choice, it was better to to do it when there was a bigger payoff — when the shapes were dissimilar in size. But most Lab readers did just the reverse: 94 percent of the players spent more time on the similar choices than on the dissimilar choices. On the whole, they spent 64 percent of their time deciding between similar shapes, and only 36 percent of their time choosing between dissimilar shapes, Dr. Ariely reports.
“This means,” he says, “that almost everyone could have made more points if they were able to take the opportunity cost of time into account.” In real life, he says, people are even more prone to wasting time on trivial decisions because the options and consequences aren’t nearly as clear-cut as in that game.
We worship at the altar of choice and make
bad costly decisions as a consequence. Buy this book!
RELATED: This reviewer from the San Francisco Chronicle is decidedly less enthusiastic about the book than I:
While Ariely’s stated goal is to understand the decision-making processes behind behavior ("yours, mine, and everybody else’s"), he may be overreaching in the applicability of his conclusions. “We all make the same types of mistakes over and over, because of the basic wiring of our brains,” he writes, but he presents no evidence of this causal relationship. It depends on his behavioral experiments being universal. The experiments he presents support the irrationality part of his argument, but I don’t buy the universal predictability of all their specific findings. While these experiments take place in California, New York, Massachusetts, North Carolina and so on, they rarely get off campus, and the experimental subjects (at least the ones he describes) are almost always university students.
That’s a specific demographic group that marketing analysts study closely and pitch their products to in ways that don’t work with other - especially older - consumers. Several of Ariely’s conclusions (the decisive role of image among peers when choosing food at a restaurant or the “irrational impulse to chase worthless options” in a game, for instance) could be quite different according to age or even income and social class. And that’s without even attempting to assess the experiment involving young men, Playboy magazines and a Saran Wrap-covered laptop.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Who needs a librarian?
DePauw University Libraries Visual Resource Center was among the recipients Tuesday night of a video award presented at the annual Computers in Libraries conference in Arlington, Va. The awards recognize libraries that create YouTube videos that creatively market their libraries’ services.
Via Siva Vaidhyanathan.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
The truth about racial sterotypes and spending
Bill Cosby has famously accused blacks of spend money unwisely, buying expensive sneakers rather than investing in their kids’ education and thereby reinforcing harmful stereotypes.
I have to admit that I have been unsure of what to think myself. I’ve tended to choose the more generous notion that such spending is in line with the nouveau riche, who just haven’t yet learned how best to spend their money, something I can also relate to.
Research by Erik Hurst and Kerwin Charles has definitively resolved my doubts. Chicago GSB Magazine:
The anecdotal evidence seems to be everywhere. “There’s a perception that if you go into poor black neighborhoods, the value of cars is much higher there than in comparable-even white, middle-class-neighborhoods,” said Hurst, professor of economics and Neubauer Family Faculty Fellow. And, in fact, he found supporting data eight years ago with Kerwin Charles, Steans Family Professor in Education Policy at the university’s Harris School of Public Policy Studies and visiting professor for 2007â€“08 at the Becker Center on Chicago Price Theory at the GSB. They stored the idea away while they worked (together and independently) on other studies about racial wealth differences.
When Cosby made his remarks in 2004, Hurst, who is white, and Charles, who is black, had been focusing on conspicuous consumption and the signaling value it communicates. The resulting study, “Conspicuous Consumption and Race,” shows that blacks and Hispanics spend 30 percent more than whites on clothing, cars, and jewelryâ€”an amount that averages out to around $2,000 per year per household. What’s more, blacks and Hispanics are spending less on education and health care and saving less money.
The reason? Status, according to Hurst and Charles. Because blacks and Hispanics have lower income on average, they’re more likely to be perceived as poor. Wearing nice clothes, driving a flashy car, and sporting fancy jewelry, they hope, shows other people that they are not poor.
What’s more, white people do it, too, their research shows.
In comparing spending data for whites in southern states with that of whites of comparable income in the Northeast, they discovered that southern whites outspend northeastern whites when it comes to highly visible, highly portable consumer goods that denote status. “People do care about their position in society and will work hard to signal their relative rank,” Hurst said. “If people don’t know your income and you want to show them, the way to do it is to consume visible goods. You see it among blacks, whites, and Hispanics.”
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
Dan Ariely’s “Self-Control” credit card
Among the books I’m reading these days is Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational. Dan’s in the news a lot lately, as well he should be. The book is a joy to read, and reduces very complicated concepts to easily understood highly readable chapters.
The other day I noted that college students are crying out for limits to be placed on credit card marketing. This is absolutely consistent with much of Ariely’s work. His 2002 study, Procrastination, Deadlines, and Performance: Self-Control by Precommitment, is referenced in his book and available at SSRN.
But the brilliant joy of his book is the way he hypothesizes applications for his research. Here, for example, from page 123, the idea of a “self-control” credit card:
A FEW YEARS ago I was so convinced that a “self-control” credit card was a good idea that I asked for a meeting with one of the major banks. To my delight, this venerable bank responded, and suggested that I come to its corporate headquarters in New York.
I arrived in New York a few weeks later, and after a brief delay at the reception desk, was led into a modern conference room. Peering through the plate glass from on high, I could look down on Manhattan’s financial district and a stream of yellow cabs pushing through the rain. Within a few minutes the room had filled with half a dozen high-powered banking executives, including the head of the bank’s credit card division.
I began by describing how procrastination causes everyone problems. In the realm of personal finance, I said, it causes us to neglect our savings-while the temptation of easy credit fills our closets with goods that we really don’t need. It didn’t take long before I saw that I was striking a very personal chord with each of them.
Then I began to describe how Americans have fallen into a terrible dependence on credit cards, how the debt is eating them alive, and how they are struggling to find their way out of this predicament. America’s seniors are one of the hardest-hit groups. In fact, from 1992 to 2004 the rate of debt of Americans age 55 and over rose faster than that of any other group. Some of them were even using credit cards to fill the gaps in their Medicare. Others were at risk of losing their homes.
I began to feel like George Bailey begging for loan forgiveness in It’s a Wonderful Life. The executives began to speak up. Most of them had stories of relatives, spouses, and friends (not themselves, of course) who had had problems with credit debt. We talked it over.
Now the ground was ready and I started describing the self-control credit card idea as a way to help consumers spend less and save more. At first I think the bankers were a bit stunned. I was suggesting that they help consumers control of their spending. Did I realize that the bankers and credit card companies made $17 billion a year in interest from these cards? Hello? They should give that up?
Well, I wasn’t that naive. I explained to the bankers that there was a great business proposition behind the idea of a self-control card. “Look,” I said, “the credit card business is cutthroat. You send out six billion direct-mail pieces a year, and all the card offers are about the same.” Reluctantly, they agreed. “But suppose one credit card company stepped out of the pack,” I continued, “and identified itself as a good guy--as an advocate for the credit-crunched consumer? Suppose one company had the guts to offer a card that would actually help consumers control their credit, and better still, divert some of their money into long-term savings?” I glanced around the room. “My bet is that thousands of consumers would cut up their other credit cards-and sign up with you!”
A wave of excitement crossed the room. The bankers nodded their heads and chatted to one another. It was revolutionary! Soon thereafter we all departed. They shook my hand warmly and assured me that we would be talking again, soon.
Well, they never called me back. (It might have been that they were worried about losing the $17 billion in interest charges, or maybe it was just good old procrastination.) But the idea is still there-a self-control credit card-and maybe one day someone will take the next step.
We have groups like Working Assets setting up credit cards for social ends. I expect one day soon some progressive organization like MoveOn.org will set up the self-control credit card on its own.
RELATED: Ariely is hardly the only hero of behavioral economics. I’ve long been a fan of the libertarian paternalism work of Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler.
Friends say they’d better do something about that name. I’d say that the title of their new book, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, is a promising move in the right direction.
Monday, March 31, 2008
Keep predatory lenders off college campuses!
I made my nephew sit through this story from ABC News about a student who used a Visa card with a $500 limit to charge her $350 tuition. Unfortunately, the card had an additional $100 origination fee and a $10.95 monthly maintenance fee so instead of enrolling in school the student wound up with a job to pay off her credit card bills.
In the story a former bank employee says the boss called cardholders “the scum of earth,” “lowlifes” and “deadbeats.” I paused the video after an industry spokesperson, President of American Financial Services Association Chris Stinebert, justified such fees by saying, “We firmly believe that everyone should be well-informed” and “it seems fair to me...”
My nephew pleaded, “Uncle Joey I haven’t had my coffee yet.”
And therein lies the problem. He doesn’t want to watch that story. He wants me to take care of it for him. And, really, isn’t that only fair and just?
On Friday the Chronicle reported on a study that found students want limits placed on credit card marketing:
Although many college students have plastic in their wallets, most support at least some limits on credit-card marketing, according to a new survey by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. [...]
Among the survey’s other findings:
- Students reported receiving an average of nearly five credit-card solicitations per month.
- Sixty-six percent of students said they had at least one credit card, while 34 percent said they carried a balance from month-to-month.
- Fifty-five percent of students with credit cards said they had used them to pay for day-to-day expenses, and 24 percent said they had used credit cards to pay for tuition.
Information about the survey is available on the group’s Web site.
To those of you who say that my nephew should grow up, my answer is that the research shows all of us would benefit from learning what the marketers already know: when we make decisions we think we’re in control, making rational choices. But in reality we’re much more predictably irrational than we ever realized.
Those college students are on to something smart. More on that in a future post.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Is America shrinking?
Paul Kennedy, the J. Richardson Dilworth Professor of History at Yale University, was made famous—“a superstar”—by the 1987 publication of his book, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict From 1500 to 2000, in which he had the temerity to predict the inevitable decline of the United States of America.
In February he spoke at the London School of Economics. His 90 minute talk is available via podcast. In it he says many interesting things. This, I think, the most interesting:
[@49:24] The power balances as between national units in this decade have been moving faster than at any other time since the 1890s, when at the beginning of that decade the U.S. economy overtook that of late Victorian Britain and by the middle to the end of that decade Imperial Germany overtook it, and Great Britain went from being the largest industrial economy in the world to being the third largest—and there was nothing really that the British could do about it.
So what I’m saying is that some things are recoverable, [but] long-term growth rates...are things that a four year president can do very little about. You might actually kick-start the U.S. economy again to have growth rates for four year at three to three and a half percent but if India’s growing at eight to nine percent and China at nine to ten percent then you just compound it out and the shrinkage is very fast.
Doomed to Disappoint Justice O’Connor
Comfortably ensconced in a cozy manse off the lake in Metairie, I’ve made my way through the introduction to Richard Thompson Ford’s THE RACE CARD: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse.
Five years ago, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor saved affirmative action in public college admissions when she crafted the majority decision affirming the consideration of race in admissions by the University of Michigan’s law school. While O’Connor found justifications for the (limited) consideration of race and ethnicity, she also spoke of the need for such consideration to stop at some point. “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today,” she wrote.
The American Educational Research Association assembled a group of leading scholars Tuesday to consider the state of affirmative action. Officially they were looking at the state of the Bakke decision that first authorized affirmative action. But they kept returning to O’Connor’s deadline and her prediction that in 25 years (20 years from today), diversity would be possible without affirmative action.
The unanimous opinion: no chance in hell.
Scholars examined a range of demographic and educational data showing how little progress has been made in narrowing key gaps in the educational opportunities available to black and Latino students. Given how slowly American education changes, they said, the idea that the need for affirmative action will disappear in 20 years is almost impossible to imagine. A subtext for their discussion was the reality that some states have shown less patience for affirmative action than did Justice O’Connor and have gone ahead and banned affirmative action — and more states are expected to follow suit this year.
While much of the panel discussion focused on inequality in American society, another group of institutions was also criticized for decisions that — without affirmative action — hinder the enrollment of minority students. Top colleges, the researchers said, are putting more emphasis on extremely high SAT scores, even though this means that the resulting pool is increasingly white and Asian.
In a paper called “Is 1500 the new 1280?” Catherine L. Horn, of the University of Houston, and John T. Yun, of the University of California at Santa Barbara, looked at the verbal SAT score averages of students at the 30 top colleges and universities (as determined by U.S. News & World Report). At all but four of these institutions, at least 30 percent of the freshman class had scored 700 or greater on the verbal SAT, and at half of these colleges, more than 50 percent of freshmen have such scores. In 1989, only one of the 30 colleges reported that more than 30 percent of the freshman class had a score of at least 700 on the verbal SAT.
The shift is “extreme,” Horn said, “suggesting a real shift in admissions toward very high-scoring individuals.”
I don’t need to finish Ford’s book to know that I agree with at least one of his theses: we moved from “integration” to “diversity” to satisfy court orders. That hasn’t served us well. Segregation was the problem. Integration was the point. Integration was the need. It was then. It still is now.
Joyner, by the way, thinks that:
Admission to one of the top 30 schools is, by definition, very limited. To the extent that it’s increasingly being granted on the basis of objective merit, that’s a good thing.
What planet is that man living on? I suppose that is one way of looking at things.
But when we have an entire education system that is so disproportionately funded as to preserve the status quo, along with a society that blithely accepts that disproportionality, Joyner’s notion of “objective merit” is so undermined as to become little more than a convenient fig leaf to hide behind.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
The Professorial Salary Illusion
I’m not alone in noting that while tech sector, notably Google, copies the academy—calling its corporate headquarters a “campus” and famously allowing its engineers ”20-percent time” during which they’re free to work on whatever they’re passionate about—universities are enduring budget cuts, increasing the administrative load on faculty (full-time administrators now outnumber full-time faculty), and legislators questioning the concept of academic freedom.
Meanwhile, pay rates have never been among the draws to teaching. Siva notes:
[P]eople outside academia assume that because we have advanced degrees we make what other professionals make. I frequently stun my professional friends (even those without advanced degrees) with the low salaries in our profession. I usually have to do this when explaining why tenure is so important to me: freedom to write and speak as I wish is how I get paid.
Pamela Johnston writes as she wishes today in the Chronicle’s, “First Person,” in which academics share their personal experiences:
During a Democratic presidential debate earlier this year, the moderator, Charles Gibson of ABC News, inadvertently brought down the house when he suggested that a two-professor family might generate an annual income approaching $200,000.
The debate was hosted by St. Anselm College, a small, church-affiliated, liberal-arts institution that sounds a lot like the university where I am a faculty member. It didn’t surprise me to discover—as bloggers and reporters followed up on Gibson’s gaffe—that according to data from the American Association of University Professors, the average salary of an assistant professor at St. Anselm is $49,600. The only way a two-professor family at the college might even approach $200,000 in annual income is if they were both full professors, for whom the average salary in 2006-7 was $77,000.
I wasn’t surprised by Gibson’s assumption, either. Most of my own friends, neighbors, and family members initially believed that all college professors earned substantial salaries. When I try to explain why professors at small, private universities—where tuition costs tend to be high—usually earn significantly less than faculty members at more-affordable public universities, people shake their heads at the absurdity of academe.
My salary makes even less sense when people realize that my years of education don’t really factor into the compensation I earn. Many university professors make less money than public-school teachers, most of whom haven’t earned doctoral degrees. (Those in K-12 education who have earned Ph.D.’s have usually moved out of teaching and into administration.)
In the district where my children are enrolled, for example, a new teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no full-time experience will earn a base salary just slightly lower than what I earn after nearly seven years of full-time teaching, three years of full-time administrative work in academic affairs, two master’s degrees, and a Ph.D.
I’m not suggesting that public-school teachers should be paid less; I’m proud that teachers in my district earn a salary that shows how much the residents of our community respect the important service they provide.
But it seems absurd that after only a year of full-time experience, those who started teaching with a bachelor’s degree this year—some of whom were students in my classroom just a year ago—will be making more money than I do now. In our neighboring school district, new teachers began their careers this year at a salary that exceeds mine. They are also guaranteed a standard raise for every year of experience they accumulate, which is not the case in higher education.
Many people don’t know those figures. So the response I receive when I tell a new acquaintance that I’m a professor is invariably positive. Being a professor is apparently uncommon enough, and seems important enough, to merit admiration.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Samantha Power in The Chronicle
The Chronicle had a piece on Samantha Power yesterday that put her slip of the tongue in kind context. It’s behind a paywall so here’s a fairly long excerpt:
Even for a prominent intellectual cum foreign-policy adviser, Samantha Power has been keeping a punishing schedule.
When she arrived in Europe at the beginning of the month, she had spent the previous few weeks crisscrossing the country on a frenetic hybrid book tour and campaign junket for Barack Obama, for whom she served as an unpaid adviser. In the middle of an interview to promote her new book, the adjunct professor of public policy at Harvard University told a Scottish-newspaper reporter, in an arguably off-the-record moment, that Hillary Clinton was a “monster.”
Power quickly apologized. But within hours, the story exploded across the American news media, and she resigned from the Obama campaign.
Last month, before Power’s Europe trip, I interviewed her. She was a nervous wreck even then. Perched on a stool in the corner of a bustling Washington cafe, leaning close, she confided: “I can’t sleep, and I can’t eat.”
It was a surprising admission. After all, Power seemed to be living a charmed life. One journalist had likened the attractive auburn-haired author (who was recently featured in a glamorous spread in Men’s Vogue) and human-rights activist turned academic to a latter-day Joan of Arc, out to save the world. Another scribe had suggested that Power possessed just the right combination of dynamism and “cerebral bona fides” to make her an appealing presidential candidate. In short, she was the epitome of the academic celebrity.
Pretty heady stuff for a 37-year-old who never claimed to be on the receiving end of direct orders from God or to have given any thought to running for elected office, much less the highest office in the land.
And she seemed to find love on the campaign trail: The Boston Globe reported on Tuesday that Power was dating the fellow-Obama adviser and prolific University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein, soon to join her at Harvard University.
So why the frayed nerves? Simply put, Power is wildly popular. At a recent talk about her new book, Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World (Penguin Press)-an admiring biography of the charismatic Brazilian-born United Nations diplomat who was killed in the August 2003 bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad-she was inundated with well-wishers, autograph seekers, and stargazers.
With charisma and ease, she responded to a plethora of questions that included, for example, Obama and the prospect of U.N. reform. Unfailingly polite and personable-and presumably not wanting to alienate potential Obama voters, she went over her allotted time on her tightly packed schedule. She would be playing catch-up for the rest of the day, and she had been operating at that frenetic pace for weeks on end.
When we finally got to sit down and talk at a favorite tea shop of hers, she took a deep breath and explained her frenzy. “In order to do these really big ambitious books you kind of have to stay out of the daily news cycle a little bit, out of the blogosphere,” Power said, fingering her BlackBerry. But, referring to her work for Obama, she added, “I am in that now, and it has been hard to make sure I am ... being an adequate surrogate for a guy I care about so much.”
Power has spent the last 14 months advising Obama on foreign policy. Though she has always been quick to play down her role, according to The Washington Post, she is-make that was-one of the “most influential” figures in the candidate’s brain trust-"part of a group-within-the-group that he regularly turns to for advice.”
The prominently displayed Obama button on her jacket, as well as the way in which her answers to disparate questions always culminated in praise for the Democratic senator from Illinois, made plain the extent to which Power was consumed by Obama’s bid for the White House. “I have always taken my work very, very seriously, but I have never taken anything quite this seriously,” she said. “When you are out there, you just want to do right by him.”
Power had certainly been out there, campaigning for Obama across the country. And in a previous interview with The Chronicle, Power-who is unscripted and forthcoming in conversationâ€”expressed some trepidation that her blunt style would land her in hot water. “That’s the one thing that terrifies me,” Power acknowledged at the time, “that I’ll say something that will somehow hurt the candidate.” How prescient.
Sunday, March 09, 2008
Get enough sleep. If not, nap!
Doug’s napping now. I slept in and made up for the lost hour. When I got up I watched a report on sleep on CBS Sunday Morning.
Adults need 7â€“9 hours of sleep. In 1960 we got 8-and-a-half hours of sleep a night; today we get six hours and forty minutes.
We always hear that naps are a good idea. I’m not a big napper, but I am very glad to get this key piece of information on the science of how long to nap:
Researchers have found, though, that there’s a science to naps.
20 to 40 minutes is enough to revitalize you. But after forty minutes, you fall into a deeper sleep. Waking up during that period could actually leave you feeling MORE groggy.
A two-hour nap will allow you to doze through a complete sleep cycle - so that you feel REALLY refreshed.
My take-away is nap 20 to 40 minutes or the full two hours but nothing in between. Maybe the reason I’ve failed at napping is I’ve tried an hour!
And for you parents and teachers, there’s this, “it turns out that teenagers’ body clocks naturally turn them into night-owls, making it difficult for them to get out of bed early.”
So that sleepy-headed kid is doing as God intended. And maybe we ought to do like the Kentucky school in the report and stop blaming the kids and instead start rethinking the school day clock!
Friday, March 07, 2008
Moving beyond Library 2.0
Yesterday I proposed a presentation for a summer library conference titled Moving Beyond Library 2.0. Here’s what I submitted:
My title, “It’s a wwwwww1234 World: Technology and the Web from 1984 to 2020” is a play on the classic 1963 comedy film ”It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” that opens with a spectacular car crash in the California desert, then zooms through a comedic treasure hunt and ends with a suitcase filled with cash dumped from a swinging fire ladder on an excited crowd of passersby below.
I plan to use a clip from the film as a fun kick-off and comedic intro to the presentation. The film also serves as a metaphor and commentary on our relationship to technology—the pace of change is quick; the influence of money and the market has meant huge economic swings from boom to bust then back again; and all of it has wrought wonderful social changes that were wholly unimaginable only a short time ago.
Or were they?
I pick 1984 as the starting point because it was the title of George Orwell’s iconic novel in which obsolete and wasteful technology is deliberately used in order to perpetuate useless fighting. 1984 is also, of course, the year the Macintosh was introduced. And 1984 is the year the term “Cyberspace” was
coinedpopularized [yipes! Got that wrong...] in the science fiction novel Neuromancer. A line from that novel—“The future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.”—has also been taken up as a mantra for the web 2.0 crowd. I end with the year 2020 because a recent report, Semantic Wave 2008: Industry Roadmap to Web 3.0 and Multibillion Dollar Market Opportunities, ends with that year.
The report actually takes us all the way through to Web 4.0, so I use it to walk us through Web 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 and 4, and also to look at Cloud Computing, Utility Computing and wrap up with a look at Chris Anderson’s forthcoming book [Free] (outlined in the much discussed March Cover Story of Wired Magazine), Free! Why $0.00 is the Future of Business, in which he argues that the Google model—the gift economy, low-cost digital distribution made possible by abundant bandwidth—will revolutionize business.
My conclusion is that in reality what we nearly always get is more of the same, just a little bit different ("new paradigms don’t eclipse old, they just spawn new business models").
I did a variation on that theme for faculty a couple weeks ago and it was a hit but I rushed through it in 11 minutes (it was supposed to be 7) so I decided I should give it its due and extend it to a full presentation.
I should say that I suffer from terrible stage fright. My presentations are often well received, despite my inability to relax and enjoy them. We’ll see if the proposal is accepted.
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
On bonuses & students being paid to excel
Someone tell me why Wall Street traders and corporate execs and every big shot under the sun deserves a bonus but it somehow is an open question as to whether or not it is a good idea to incentivize a kid in school to get a good grade or a public school teacher to do a better job with a couple of bucks.
Somehow then the demon dollar can do no good??? Give me a break!!!
From the NYTimes today, can students be paid to excel:
The fourth graders squirmed in their seats, waiting for their prizes. In a few minutes, they would learn how much money they had earned for their scores on recent reading and math exams. Some would receive nearly $50 for acing the standardized tests, a small fortune for many at this school, P.S. 188 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
When the rewards were handed out, Jazmin Roman was eager to celebrate her $39.72. She whispered to her friend Abigail Ortega, “How much did you get?” Abigail mouthed a barely audible answer: $36.87. Edgar Berlanga pumped his fist in the air to celebrate his $34.50.
The children were unaware that their teacher, Ruth Lopez, also stood to gain financially from their achievement. If students show marked improvement on state tests during the school year, each teacher at Public School 188 could receive a bonus of as much as $3,000.
School districts nationwide have seized on the idea that a key to improving schools is to pay for performance, whether through bonuses for teachers and principals, or rewards like cash prizes for students. New York City, with the largest public school system in the country, is in the forefront of this movement, with more than 200 schools experimenting with one incentive or another. In more than a dozen schools, students, teachers and principals are all eligible for extra money, based on students’ performance on standardized tests.
Each of these schools has become a test to measure whether, as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg posits, tangible cash rewards can turn a school around. Can money make academic success cool for students disdainful of achievement? Will teachers pressure one another to do better to get a schoolwide bonus?
So far, the city has handed out more than $500,000 to 5,237 students in 58 schools as rewards for taking several of the 10 standardized tests on the schedule for this school year. The schools, which had to choose to participate in the program, are all over the city.
“I’m not saying I know this is going to fix everything,” said Roland G. Fryer, the Harvard economist who designed the student incentive program, “but I am saying it’s worth trying. What we need to try to do is start that spark.”
MEANWHILE: You might recall last weeks rant on this topic was triggered by the buzz about Abilene Christian University giving away iPhones to Freshman, which the Apple-fan blogosphere cheered. The Chronicle today notes the response is not always gratitude.
Students there have set up a Facebook group to protest the project and are questioning spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on iPhones when tuition is being raised by 7 percent.
Saturday, March 01, 2008
IT has much to learn from libraries
I worry about IT in our state. And the state of IT. Late last year the governor said our computer infrastructure isn’t working. And so his plan is to hand Georgia’s information technology over to the private sector.
He’s right, of course, that it isn’t working. And I agree that the private sector is the place to be these days. But then, there’s the “private sector”—stodgy staid status quo incumbent telcos and cable cos—and there’s the private sector—lithe hip cool innovators Google, Amazon, and eBay who reside on the other side of the Net Neutrality divide.
What worries me is that the “IT mindset” is rooted in that old incumbent telco/cableco way of looking at the world, when what I think it should be—what I’d like it to be—is the hip-cool-innovator Google, Amazon, and eBay mindset.
What’s more, I’d say let’s chuck the whole notion of “IT.”
Information is overrated. It’s a hyped buzzword. We live in an age of information promiscuity. All too often a colleague will dump an unfiltered email string on me, or a ton of unread documents, and call it “background material.”
Without proper filtering and processing and synthesis and context, information is not knowledge. It is useless! Worse, it is counterproductive.
The “T” is no longer so pristine either. When this week I asked a group of students if they were “good with technology,” all agreed emphatically that they were not, even as each professed high usage of cellphones, web cameras, facebook, and a myriad of other technologies unimagined when I was their age.
So I say chuck it! Chuck IT! The term, that is, not the technology.
The term to keep, the tradition to protect, is found in the library. The library has a tradition, the librarian has a practice, of privileging the individual patron, of protecting that individual patron’s relationship to the knowledge being sought. The librarians’ profession has successfully codified and established the means, methods and sometimes even the laws to protect our privacy and our rights to access that knowledge.
Apparently I’m bucking a trend here:
Library science graduates are finding jobs with software companies, biotech and law firms, even the military and CIA, said Ron Pollock, career services director at University of Texas’ School of Information.
In 2003, the faculty renamed the graduate school, dropping the word “library” from the name. The new moniker reflects the fact that library science has grown into information science and that librarians do not always work in libraries, Pollock said.
I have never been a librarian, but I have spent my life in libraries. I have the utmost respect and admiration for librarians.
Today, I work as a Technology Specialist in an academic library. I know, intimately, the IT world. We have much to learn from the libraries. My sense is, we don’t know what we’re missing.
We’d better start learning.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
What is intelligence?
You’ll remember that in a brilliant piece in a December New Yorker, What I.Q. doesn’t tell you about race, Malcolm Gladwell looks at the work of James R. Flynn, a social scientist at the University of Otago in New Zealand, to convincingly refute the arguments of the “I.Q. fundamentalists.”
James Flynn spoke at the Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce (RSA) on December 18, 2007. That speech was posted to UChannel last week:
The ‘Flynn Effect’ refers to the massive increase in IQ test scores over the course of the twentieth century and the term was coined to recognize Professor Flynn’s central role in measuring and analysing these gains.
Flynn’s work addresses a fundamental question regarding the IQ gains observed. Do they suggest that that previous generations had serious learning difficulties and that the human race is becoming more intelligent? Flynn argues that this is the wrong interpretation, and that while these IQ scores are real, they should be attributed to the fact that the way we think has changed.
His new book investigates what it is about our minds that differ from those of our ancestors a century ago. He also discusses how we can enhance our knowledge of intelligence, how we can increase our intelligence, and what must be done to build on IQ gains, so as to develop the wisdom needed to deal with the problems of the 21st century.
The speech is amazing! I just finished and I highly recommend it.
Flynn believes the brain is a muscle and the way to improve it is to exercise it. There’s no tricking it; no fooling kids into loving ideas if we don’t love them ourselves; they’ll see through us.
Here’s one quick quote completely out of context:
The lesson is interventions are important but there’s no quick fix. If you want a more intelligent population you’ve got to improve the schools, improve the universities and encourage people to fall in love with ideas.
RELATED: Gladwell also discussed his article in an appearance on The Colbert Report.
On cellphones in schools
Around here yesteday there was lots’o’buzz about Abilene Christian University giving out iPhones/iPod Touches to all incoming freshmen.
May I be among the first to chime in and agree with virtually all the commenters on this promotional video that the “initiative” reeks of corporate welfare gussied up as as education.
Such thin gruel—“I can check my email, I can watch YouTube...Internet on my phone, I’m pumped!” says one student. “I already downloaded the new Wilco album,” says another—does a disservice to those real initiatives that are out there trying to effectively use technology as a means to motivate and enable learning.
As it happens, on the very same day up in New York City Dr. Roland G. Fryer, the Harvard economist who is working as chief equality officer for the Education Department, was launching the “Million” Motivation Campaign, an experimental program distributing cellphones to about 2,500 students in seven middle schools there.
Privately funded, the point is to motivate and reward students; they get the phone, called the “Million,” with opportunities to earn minutes and other rewards if they achieve academic goals set by their principals.
Giving Apple iPhones to middle class kids in Texas vs. generic anyphones to disadvantaged kids in NYC. Which side do I come down on? Well, the NYC phones are Samsung phones. So generic anyphones remain a Tim Wu Freedom Fighter future we should all work toward. Still, handing out phones not tied to specific educational goals reeks of corporate welfare and makes no educational sense to me. At least in New York the phone is a motivational device tied to ongoing rewards!
There’s been plenty of criticism of the New York program (not least that cellphones are banned in schools) but most of it echoes the same old argument around whether or not paying for grades really works.
It could be my liberal bias showing but I’m seeing some hidden bias myself: giving iPods to kids in Abilene Christian—GOOD! Giving cellphones to poor kids in NYC schools tied to motivational goals, BAD! I say Bloomberg should give Klein and Fryer all the support they need to see if their idea can work. As for Abilene Christian, it looks too much like Apple hype.