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Keeping up with the FITs, 7/15
Freddie deBoer on the Null Hypothesis: Balaji on culture and politics; Bill Honig on ethnic studies; Maxwell Tabarrok on science funding
in education research, if you just keep betting on the null, you’ll never go broke. Put more simply and sadly, nothing in education works.
The brute reality is that most kids slot themselves into academic ability bands early in life and stay there throughout schooling. We have a certain natural level of performance, gravitate towards it early on, and are likely to remain in that band relative to peers until our education ends. There is some room for wiggle, and in large populations there are always outliers. But in thousands of years of education humanity has discovered no replicable and reliable means of taking kids from one educational percentile and raising them up into another.
you get a totally different society if 99% of people allocate their limited moral memory to principles like “hard work good, meritocracy good, envy bad, charity good” than if 99% of people have internalized nostrums like “socialism good, civility bad, law enforcement bad, looting good.”
I am slowly reading The Networked State. Going into it, my thought is “starting a new state is easy. Coming to an agreed-upon separation from existing states will be the hard part.” We’ll see if he addresses the hard part.
A brewing controversy has erupted over what kind of ethnic studies school districts should adopt. Should it be inclusive or “liberated”?
This debate comes as California school districts are readying to spend $50 million the state just released for their ethnic studies curriculum development and teacher preparation.
My thought is that CRT proponents (the “liberated” camp) are going to have a huge incentive to fight, given the amount of money at stake. Schools have enough difficulty teaching reading and math. At best, “ethnic studies” is a waste of time. At worst, it is dangling money in front of grifters. My prediction is that they will eventually get it, no matter what parents would prefer.
While this government support has significantly increased the number of PhD researchers and the volume of published papers, the outputs of scientific progress that we care about no longer seem to be tracking with these metrics. Half of all scientific papers ever published were published in the last 12 years, but it is clear that much less than half of all scientific progress occurred in that time. The number of published papers, citations, and patents are becoming decoupled from total factor productivity growth, per capita energy use, travel speeds, and construction costs.
This is because government turns scientists into grifters.
even though only one scientist will get the grant, hundreds of scientists are spending resources in competition to get it. So the gains we might be seeing from transferring resources to one researcher are dissipated multiplicatively across all the scientists who spent time and money competing for the grant but didn’t get it. The aggregate time costs to our brightest minds from this application contest system are quantifiably large, possibly entirely offsetting the total scientific value of the research that the funding supports.
Researcher Guided Funding would take the ~$120 billion spent by the federal government on science each year and distribute it equally to the ~250,000 full-time research and teaching faculty in STEM fields at high research activity universities, who already get 90% of this money. This amounts to about $500,000 for each researcher every year.
My concern with his proposed solution is that any system will be gamed. My guess is that within a few years there will be 3 or 4 times as many “researchers” claiming to qualify for funds. Note also that currently the NSF funds research in social science. Under Max’s proposal, social scientists would receive nothing from the government. That isn’t necessarily a bug. It might be a feature.