Monday , May 17 2021

Campus news

Three bits of news illustrate the state of things in US academia. 1. UC and Prop 16A proposition was placed before the citizens of California, to strike the following words from our state constitution: The State shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, ...

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Three bits of news illustrate the state of things in US academia. 

1. UC and Prop 16

A proposition was placed before the citizens of California, to strike the following words from our state constitution: 

The State shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.

The voters soundly rejected the proposition. 

As a Berkely alumnus, I received an email from Chancellor Carol Christ to all alumni

In California, Prop 16, which would have helped reverse the initiative (Prop 209) that banned the consideration of race, ethnicity, and gender in public higher education admissions, did not pass. I share UC President Michael Drake’s disappointment... Here is President Drake’s full statement

That statement includes 

The University of California is disappointed that Proposition 16, ... did not pass in this election. ...

... said UC President Michael V. Drake, M.D. “We will continue our unwavering efforts to expand underrepresented groups’ access to a UC education.”

The UC Board of Regents supported the passage of ACA 5, which became Proposition 16,..

...UC will continue comprehensive review in admissions. ... UC will also explore opportunities to further encourage underrepresented groups to apply for and join UC’s outstanding student body. It will utilize and refine the many race-neutral alternatives developed following Proposition 209 for both outreach and admissions.

My emphasis. 

Chancellor Christ, President Drake, and Board of Regents: Has it not occurred to you that you are public servants, paid by the taxpayers of the state of California, to execute their desires in public education? Just what are you doing expressing "disappointment" at the will of the voters? What are you doing stating that The University of California is disappointed?  You're welcome to your opinions. A private institution is welcome to discriminate as it wishes.  But what are you doing supporting a political question in your official capacity and representing an institutional position on a political matter? 

As faculty, at least at Stanford, we are clearly instructed to separate our personal political views from our institution, and not to even imply, let alone state, that the institution agrees with our political or policy views. 

And you could be a little more subtle about your intentions to subvert the will of the voters! Aren't we  hyperventilating about threats to democracy these days? 

2. MIT diversity training

Meanwhile, Campus Reform reports that my other Alma Mater, MIT, is now imposing mandatory diversity training for undergraduates

You might be surprised that I do not oppose the general idea. The purpose of universities, after all, is (was) to inculcate in the young certain standards of behavior and culture. Encouraging understanding and tolerance of people from vastly different backgrounds and (especially) vastly different opinions is important. I gather the US military does an excellent and conscious job of getting the message across to recruits that there shall be no racism or sexism in the ranks. Perhaps MIT should import that training. 

The question is, just what's in this "diversity training?" The posted excerpts, including "intersectionality" long sections on "privilege" "spotting privilege" "breaking down oppression," "the system of power, privilege and oppression"  suggest a political agenda. 

One small example: 

Campus news
Well, that settles that doesn't it? Remember, this is not being taught as one opinion among many, and certainly not as an invitation to join MIT's remarkable economic department to study interesting scientific question why do credit card interest rates vary. No, this is a training session promulgating supposed facts, inevitable truths to which students must subscribe. Case closed. Higher credit card rates for people who have trouble repaying loans are "institutional oppression." 

To my colleagues at MIT (especially economics): Do you approve of this? Are you required to do the same "training," and if not how can you force students to do it? If this is (as usual) staff run amok, perhaps a bit of faculty oversight might be a good idea? 

I suspect the message MIT undergrads, a habitually rebellious and contrarian lot, will take is a personal invitation to wake up, register, and vote Republican in the next election. It's easy to ignore the slow takeover of the far left until it comes to your doorstep.  Nobody likes being preached to, and it often engenders opposite thoughts. 

To the development offices of  MIT and Cal. Don't bother calling. Again. 

3. Paige Harden and Genetics

My third campus note for the day comes from Marginal Revolution, describing a kerfuffle between Paige Harden, the "left-leaning behavioral geneticist," and Erik Parens, a  senior research scholar at the Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute in Garrison, New York." Parens wrote an Aeon article critical of Harden, and MR summarizes Harden's response. 

Kudos to Harden for even touching the third rail of genetics and behavior. And much of her defense is resounding
social scientists have failed, time and time again, to produce interventions that bring about lasting improvements in people’s lives. There are many reasons for that failure. But one reason is that many scientists continue to engage in what the sociologist Jeremy Freese has called a “tacit collusion” to avoid reckoning, in their research designs and in their causal inferences, with the fact that people are genetically different from one another.
A model of the world that pretends all people are genetically the same, or that the only thing people inherit from their parents is their environment, is a wrong model of how the world works. The more often our models of the world are wrong, the more often we will continue to fail in designing interventions and policies that do what they intend to do. The goal of integrating genetics into the social to help rescue us from our current situation, where most educational interventions tested don’t work for anyone.
But more revealing is the part she does not disagree with. Parens starts with 
As surprising as it might be to readers familiar with the history of often-ugly efforts to investigate complex behaviours and outcomes through genetics, some prominent members of this new cohort of researchers are optimistic that their work will advance progressive political agendas. According to the progressive authors of a recent European Commission report, insights from what I call ‘social genomics’ are ‘fully compatible with agendas that aim to combat inequalities and that embrace diversity.’ 
Indeed, findings from social genomics are compatible with what we in the United States consider Left-leaning agendas to combat inequalities. They are, however, equally compatible with what we think of as Right-leaning agendas that accept – or make peace with – inequalities. Moreover, such findings are as compatible with a Right-leaning version of ‘embracing diversity’ as they are with a Left-leaning one. This should move Left-leaning social genomicists to curb their optimism about the potential of their research to advance their political agendas.
My emphasis. Taken completely for granted here is an earth-shattering change in how we do science. You pick your "lean," and then the point of "research" is to advance your political agenda. If someone with a different "agenda" finds your work useful, for example "compatible with a Right-leaning version of ‘embracing diversity’ " then you should not even ask uncomfortable questions. 

Harden does not quibble. The track record of failure 
plays directly into the hands of a right-wing that touts the ineffectiveness of intervention as evidence for its false narrative of genetic determinism.

Second, Parens and other critics are overly optimistic that their strategy of disapproval, discouragement, and disavowal of genetic research will be effective in neutralizing the pernicious ideologies of the far-right. 

In sum, the point of research remains to advance predetermined (left-wing) political agendas. It's just a matter of tactics. 

I wish she had simply said, no, the goal of research is not to advance anyone's agenda. It is to learn facts about how the world works. Galileo did not look at stars in order to advance the glory of the Catholic faith and disprove the Lutherian heresy, the looming issue of his day. We should follow in his footsteps. 
Parens and other critics are overly optimistic that their strategy of disapproval, discouragement, and disavowal of genetic research will be effective in neutralizing the pernicious ideologies of the far-right. What is the evidence that this strategy actually works? Herrnstein and Murray published “The Bell Curve” when I was 12 years old; Murray published “Human Diversity” when I was 37 years old; and in all that time, the predominant response from the political left has remained pretty much exactly the same – emphasize people’s genetic sameness, question the wisdom of doing genetic research at all, urge caution. Yet, the far-right is ascendant. In my view, the left’s response to genetic science simply preaches to its own choir. Meanwhile, this strategy of minimization allows right-wing ideologues to offer to “red-pill” people with the “forbidden knowledge” of genetic results. 
Left out - what about actual facts Murray's work? 

In my view politicization on both sides removes the obvious answer to the tough question, how do we adapt a democratic political system to the obvious, and increasingly well documented fact that people are different, either genetically, or through vast and irreversible difference in very young childhood experiences? 
What the left hasn’t done (yet) is formulate a messaging strategy that (a) reconciles the existence of human genetic differences with people’s moral and political commitments to human equality, and (b) is readily comprehensible outside the confines of the ivory tower. Reminding people that genes are a source of luck in their lives has the potential to be that message. Parens characterizes me as making a “generous hearted but large leap” to expect that portraying genes as luck will change people’s minds, but economic research suggests that reminding people of the role of luck in their lives does, in fact, make them more supportive of redistribution.
This is not a job for "the left," and characterizing it as such means that actual progress will be impossible. (See climate change.) This is a job for us all. 

The answer is straightforward. People's political rights in a democracy do not depend on variety of genetic and other endowments. "We believe that all men are created equal" no more means literally equal than it means literally men. It means we believe that all people are politically equal. 

By vociferously denying even the right to look at genetics, the left implicitly confirms the rather frightening 1930s view that if we find genetic inequality it must mean political inequality. 

Once we all agree this is not true -- a view I find completely consistent with everything I've read from Murray -- then we can look at genetic facts as scientific facts. We can also look at early childhood experiences and cultural facts with similar dispassion.   

John H. Cochrane
In real life I'm a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford. I was formerly a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. I'm also an adjunct scholar of the Cato Institute. I'm not really grumpy by the way!

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