Monday, October 24, 2011

The Education Bubble

Occupy Wall Street protests are drawing more attention to the Education Bubble. Since I coined the phrase, “Education Bubble,” I thought that I should repost my YouTube video about it. I originally posted this on May 4th, 2006, two years before Charles Murray published Real Education and three years before articles about the bubble began appearing in mainstream publications like The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Economist. Wikipedia claims that Bill Bennett originated the concept, but his editorial in 1987 did not use the phrase, and, of course, could not relate it to the series of economic bubbles that have occurred since.

The idea has really caught fire recently. PayPal founder Peter Thiel created a grant to encourage young people to skip college and start a business. He joined Murray in an Intelligence Squared debate on the subject. On Friday, comedian Bill Maher endorsed the existence of an education bubble on his HBO program, which elicited the typical, kneejerk reaction from liberal columnist Thomas Friedman to pump more money into educating more students. Friedman wants another GI Bill, but we did have a Post-9/11 GI Bill.

In order for credentials to have solid value, they must be a precious resource (to the extent that educational benefit bolsters zero-sum competitiveness), represent value added, and represent a quality of enduring merit. Because one often associates education with intelligence, and IQ tends to hold a stable value throughout an individual’s adulthood, one way to strengthen education’s value would be to make it more closely approximate IQ through stiffer admission policies or more challenging coursework. This also begs the question of whether allowing IQ testing in hiring would not be more efficient and, thereby, allow education to fill a different niche. Columnists like Friedman like to emphasize the role of education in teaching skills, but many skills do not necessarily endure as IQ and perhaps perseverance can. After the dot-com bubble burst and many engineers and computer scientists lost jobs, I recall James Fallows suggesting that graduates be able to purchase skills insurance so that their heavy investment does not crash when their particular set of specialized skills becomes obsolete. Maher quotes Fareed Zakaria in repeating the clichéd complaint about America’s paucity of engineers, but why should young people invest in advanced high-technology skills when someone as experienced and intelligent as Warren Buffett does not even feel confident in betting some money in high-technology companies. Even if the modern “information age” economy demands a more educated populace, there is no other age in which everyday folks had more access to cheap or free knowledge without needing to earn college credits in the process. Books are now available via illegal downloads as music has been for years, and bookstores are closing down permanently. Higher education is too expensive to constantly retrain workers, but tests could inexpensively verify knowledge or abilities.

What I find most ironic about the Education Bubble is that a liberal like Maher would endorse it without seeing that nearly any implication of it endorses politically incorrect concepts like IQ and the limitations of the well-meaning societal intervention that higher education is. All of this discussion is a high-wire act over the issue of race. It might not be “nice” to talk about race honestly, but racial disparities in IQ, SAT scores, and college majors are constants with profound economic impacts. Any reform will stir racial controversies with new disparities. Businesses cannot use straight IQ tests for reasons of race, alone. Can we afford our racial consensus?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Kill Popular Science

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Steven Pinker’s new book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” is out, and the reception reminds me of an album release from a trendy band during the 1990’s. I must beg my readers’ forgiveness for writing this very preliminary review for a book that I have not finished because the subject matter is so important. Most reviews and buzz for this book center on Pinker’s observations about the decline of violence and the advance of enlightened views. Pinker has been speaking about this phenomenon for years, and many facets of it are apparent in my own lifetime, such as the utter metamorphosis of public consensus regarding homosexuality. The book has a number of fascinating graphs that speak to the changes, and I have little reason to critique his central thesis, other than to say that I am not sure the trend entirely represents genuine progress. For example, I suspect that he could have placed a graph of the decline of fat jokes alongside his graphs of the decline of racial prejudices. While society has improved control over physical aggression, the obesity epidemic proves that indiscipline still finds expression. In fact, when one considers the growing acceptance of “alternative”—excuse me, “integrative” medicine, one can see how the triumph of enlightened tolerance can coincide with a lax shrug off of reason and scientific rigor.

Though I perused the tome in the modern cursory version of the word’s contradictory meanings, I gave special attention to the latter chapters, particularly chapters 8 and 9 on the nature of violence, itself, which has been one of my obsessions. That discussion concerns the overriding paradox of this work. How could this man, who wrote The Blank Slate to passionately declare that we are not and that behavior is part heredity, reconcile with a belief that societal evolution pushed radical behavioral modification? I regret to say that this was a serious weakness of an otherwise well-reasoned exposition.

First let me stress that I do not see Pinker’s observations as fundamentally opposed to the revolution taking place in biosocial criminology and genetic psychiatry. On the contrary, making aggression anomalous likely accentuates the role of genetics and biology in what deserves to be considered a veritable behavioral disease. What science really calls into question is whether historic trends justify extrapolation, and from what I can tell, Pinker has dodged such speculation. To illustrate his handling, the book contains extensive discussion of how the secular rise in IQ, known as the Flynn effect, could be reducing violence, but I found no mention of the evidence for subsequent plateauing. Then again, my hope is that the research on the genetics of violence, which I attempt to elucidate, could help channel efforts to find new ways, including pharmacological developments, to sustain aggression’s decline.

Judging by Pinker’s treatment of the subject, my message is not getting out. He dismissed research on monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) using a study with which my regular readers are all too familiar.

[A]n association between the gene and aggression has not been found in non-European populations, perhaps because they have evolved other ways of regulating their catecholamine levels. (Genes often act in networks regulated by feedback loops, so in populations in which a particular gene is less effective, other genes may step up their activity to compensate.) For now, the Warrior Gene theory is staggering around with possibly fatal wounds.

Nice try. Pinker is referencing the Widom and Brzustowicz paper that combined men and women to compare “whites” to “non-whites.” Gender was not controlled, and that white sample was 33% female. Non-whites were 38% female, but women were far more represented among non-white subjects with the low-activity, 3-repeat allele. For the subjects with the 3-repeat allele, which is the allele considered most impacted by the environmental trigger, whites were 24% female, and non-whites were 43% female. Antisocial behavior in women, but not men, is mediated by the epigenetic methylation of MAOA as well as a newly discovered second promoter that actually has more effect in women than the alleles mentioned. Also, of course, MAOA is located on the X chromosome. Women have two copies, which helps explain why even the radical Brunner-syndrome mutation that completely disables the gene does not seem to affect the behavior of women. It can be nice to have a spare.

Pinker seems to have received his introduction to this subject through the New Zealand Maori controversy, in which Rod Lea had to make amends for allegedly saying that the Maori are prone to criminality. Thus, Pinker is completely unaware that studies have found that MAOA influences aggression in non-whites. Weder et al found that the gene-environment association of MAOA and aggression held for a 58-subject sample of African-American and biracial children. Kevin Beaver’s research also helps support this association. His 2009 study on MAOA’s effect on gang membership and weapon use included African Americans. His 2010 study on African-American men and violence used a genetic index that included MAOA and four other genes that affect catecholamine levels.

At least claiming that MAOA does not affect non-white people fits a politically correct agenda of raising the self-esteem of minorities who feel the burden of a violent stereotype. What would you think of Steven Pinker if he spread a complete falsehood that could label a group of people genetically violent without any scientific basis whatsoever?

[T]he low-activity version of the gene is even more common in Chinese men (77 percent of whom carry it), and the Chinese are neither descended from warriors in their recent history nor particularly prone to social pathology in modern societies.

I previously debunked this, but I guess I must do so, again. A study by Lu et al found that 42 Taiwanese men, or 55% of their 77-subject control sample, had the 3-repeat allele of MAOA. Lea and Chambers copied the information incorrectly. Then, an editorial against MAOA research by a doctoral student repeated the falsehood. Now, Pinker has immortalized this slander against Chinese people in a bestselling book. The actual allele frequency given by Lu et al matches the allele frequency found for Asians in subsequent research, which is not higher than that of other groups besides white people. Pinker, like so many others, conflated the 3-repeat allele with the 2-repeat allele as the “low-activity allele,” even though the 2-repeat allele doubles the association with violence without needing an environmental trigger. The 2-repeat allele accounts for 4.7% of African-American MAOA genes and 0.00067% of Asian MAOA genes (assuming that the only Chinese control subject with the allele did not have mixed ancestry). Not only does this bogus insult create a new stereotype for Chinese people, but the numbers error reinforces an old generalization, as all four guilty parties were white boys. (Chinese people, when you buy my neighborhood, recall that I personally sent Pinker a corrigendum request.)

Herein lies the problem with popular science. Steven Pinker is a Harvard professor who previously chastised Malcolm Gladwell for misspelling “igon value.” Pinker’s new book encompasses a prodigious collection of disparate lines of evidence. Even so, he dismissed a vital segment of potentially life-saving research using biased sources that were motivated at least in one case by racial politics. When Dr. Phil stumbled through his television show episode on the warrior gene, he made mistakes and showed his ignorance, but he did not bring an entire field of study into disrepute. However, when Malcolm Gladwell or Stephen Jay Gould call IQ testing an “ice flow” or decry its “reification,” it has consequences for science. Gladwell and Pinker inhabit a pantheon of respected liberal thinkers whose influence reverberates throughout academia. Their stature alone can transform an ignorant statement into an authoritative observation. Their superficial summations can leave a lasting imprint on another’s life’s work, as they bring along a vast audience of comparative ignoramuses to boo rogue points of view (not unlike a daytime talk show).

Widom CS, & Brzustowicz LM (2006). MAOA and the "cycle of violence:" childhood abuse and neglect, MAOA genotype, and risk for violent and antisocial behavior. Biological psychiatry, 60 (7), 684-9 PMID: 16814261

Weder N, Yang BZ, Douglas-Palumberi H, Massey J, Krystal JH, Gelernter J, & Kaufman J (2009). MAOA genotype, maltreatment, and aggressive behavior: the changing impact of genotype at varying levels of trauma. Biological psychiatry, 65 (5), 417-24 PMID: 18996506

Beaver KM, DeLisi M, Vaughn MG, & Barnes JC (2010). Monoamine oxidase A genotype is associated with gang membership and weapon use. Comprehensive psychiatry, 51 (2), 130-4 PMID: 20152292

Kevin Beaver, Ashley Sak, Jamie Vaske, & Jessica Nilsson (2010). Genetic risk, parent–child relations, and antisocial phenotypes in a sample of African-American males Psychiatry Research, 175 (1-2), 160-164

Lu RB, Lee JF, Ko HC, Lin WW, Chen K, & Shih JC (2002). No association of the MAOA gene with alcoholism among Han Chinese males in Taiwan. Progress in neuro-psychopharmacology & biological psychiatry, 26 (3), 457-61 PMID: 11999895

Lea R, & Chambers G (2007). Monoamine oxidase, addiction, and the "warrior" gene hypothesis. The New Zealand medical journal, 120 (1250) PMID: 17339897

Patrick-Michael Whittle (2009). Darwinism and the nature of Māori MAI Review

Philibert RA, Gunter TD, Beach SR, Brody GH, & Madan A (2008). MAOA methylation is associated with nicotine and alcohol dependence in women. American journal of medical genetics. Part B, Neuropsychiatric genetics : the official publication of the International Society of Psychiatric Genetics, 147B (5), 565-70 PMID: 18454435

Philibert RA, Wernett P, Plume J, Packer H, Brody GH, & Beach SR (2011). Gene environment interactions with a novel variable Monoamine Oxidase A transcriptional enhancer are associated with antisocial personality disorder. Biological psychology, 87 (3), 366-71 PMID: 21554924

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Girls Versus Boys: The Final Battle

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SAT data provide an exciting reservoir of information thanks to extremely large sample sizes with detailed demographic data over a number of years. I previously graphed SAT scores by race and showed that the score gap between White people and African Americans greatly narrowed until the early 1990’s and that Asian Americans have been improving their SAT scores, unlike other groups. Now, I shall present how men and women compare for each racial group.

In 1966, William Petersen coined the phrase “model minority” to recognize the accomplishments of Japanese Americans. Liberals revised the label to “model minority myth,” which imparts elements of bitter sneering and jealousy, but the original compliment has never been truer for the SAT results of Asian Americans. Asian-American women appear to be advancing even faster than their male counterparts. Recent years have brought declines in the standard deviation gaps between Asian-American men and women on the math and critical reading (formerly “verbal”) sub-tests.

May all the trees that died for treatises on the eroticization of Asian women and the emasculation of Asian men rest in peace. With that said, I shall add my Asian Female Fit Hypothesis: Asian women are able to progress faster than other demographic categories because they transcend gender roles and expectations, in contrast with White women.

Though White women did slightly improve last year on the math SAT sub-test relative to White men, that was mostly due to a slight drop in the male score. Numerous factors could be discouraging academic progress for White women, particularly in math and the hard sciences. White women, as a group, might not place as high a priority on accomplishment in mathematics. Perhaps they see math as leading to career tracks that are less enjoyable or that would earn an income that would intimidate male suitors. Perhaps they associate math with demanding but financially rewarding careers, and some of them feel that only men should have to fill such a demanding provider role. Advanced math coursework and preparation could have a culture that is unappealing to White women. Also, a common view argues that women feel displaying intelligence makes them less attractive to men. For both young men and women, distractions can hurt academic performance, but perhaps White women are more preoccupied by them than White men.

I suggest that Asian-American women are able to transcend such barriers better than White women. Asians, in general, have a higher average IQ and tend to perform especially well on the SAT math sub-test. This advantage could give Asian women a confidence with mathematics above some threshold that makes further study more enjoyable and less intimidating. Another commonly held view is that Asian women are more amenable, perhaps owing to Confucian values, to relationships with studious men with whom they would come more in contact. I think that men actually do appreciate intelligent women, and the cultures of professions steeped in mathematics, like engineering, are so lacking in female representation that Asian women on such professional paths might be finding a comfortable niche. I also propose that Asian women have the advantage of simple beauty.

At first, one might think that physical attractiveness has nothing to do with mathematics skill, but beauty and fashion have a profound effect on the self-esteem of young women and can become a demanding preoccupation. Many Asian women have a simple beauty that does not really require makeup or hair treatments in modern American culture. Most Asian women whom I have known also seem to be naturally thin without exercising. A recent large meta-analysis of genome-wide association studies found three important loci for body fat percentage. According to the HapMap database, two of the alleles associated with increased body fat are far more common in White and Black people than in Chinese and Japanese people. The third allele is somewhat more common in Japanese and Chinese people, but the study found that this allele was associated with body fat percentage in Europeans, not in people from Northern India.

Allele Frequencies of loci that increase body fat percentage:

White – 46.0%
Chinese – 13.9%
Japanese – 18.6%
African-American – 46.5%
Nigerian Yoruban – 45.2%
Mexican-American – 20.7%
Gujarati Indian – 25.2%

White – 41.8%
Chinese – 10.0%
Japanese – 6.8%
Nigerian Yoruban – 64.3%

SPRY2 (increased body fat percentage in Europeans, not Northern Indians):
White – 27.7%
Chinese – 48.1%
Japanese – 45.0%
African-American – 14.0%
Nigerian Yoruban – 18.4%
Mexican-American – 35.3%
Gujarati Indian – 48.5%

African-American women also are closing their gap with African-American men on the SAT math sub-test, but scores for Black people, as a whole, are declining, and the gap with White people seems to be slightly widening, as I previously discussed. Still, African-American women are the only demographic to consistently outperform their male counterparts on the SAT critical reading sub-test. On the newer writing sub-test, all demographics have a female advantage, but African Americans have the largest gender gap, and it is growing. Ever since the writing sub-test began in 2006, African-American women have had a consistent total raw score advantage over African-American men, and they are the only group of women to ever do so. Although it might be declining, the Hispanic male advantage over Hispanic women lies at the other end of the spectrum.

In conclusion, whether you are a dumb blonde, a dragon lady who is good at math, a troubled Black man, or a macho Mexican, the SAT reinforces the offensive stereotype that is right for you.

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