Keeping up with the FITs, 7/3
John Cochrane on fiscal inflation; Timothy Taylor on grade inflation; Heather Heying on cynicism, faith, and skepticism; Willy Chertman on Institutional Review Boards
In the WSJ, John Cochrane writes,
The current inflation was sparked by fiscal policy—the government printed or borrowed about $5 trillion, and sent checks to people and businesses. The U.S. has borrowed and spent before without causing inflation. People held the extra debt as a good investment. That this stimulus led to inflation thus reflects a broader loss of faith that the U.S. will repay its debt.
During World War II, the government borrowed and spent a lot. But when the war ended, it cut spending a lot and gradually reduced the outstanding principal on its debt as a share of GDP. We are far from doing that now.
How might one find evidence on the tricky topic of whether higher grade and graduation rates just reflect student learning more, or whether it is grade inflation? The authors have detailed student-level data from an unnamed “public liberal arts college,” which has trends in grades and graduation rates similar to the broader sample. At this school, they have access to scores on final exams and also to the grades given for classes. In some courses, the same (or very similar) final exams were given over time: as best the authors can tell, the final exams are not getting harder over time. They write: “Students with the exact same score on the exact same final exam earned better grades in later years. Our finding that grades are increasing over time, even when student characteristics and performance on identical comprehensive final exams are accounted for, suggests that standards for degree receipt are easing over time at the public liberal arts college.”
Tyler Cowen also linked to the research. Public policy has aimed at sending more kids to college. The result is that nearly 50 percent are unable to complete their degree. And the research Taylor cites suggests that grade inflation keeps the completion rate from getting worse.
Too many people believe that our problem is lack of access to college.
Scientists should be neither faithful nor cynical. Scientists are skeptics. Scientists do not accept what authorities say simply because the authorities have said it. Scientists do not accept what anyone says simply because a particular person or institution has said it. Some scientists question absolutely everything that comes their way, but most choose their issues somewhat carefully.
. . .you should recognize that actively choosing not to do your own research puts you in the territory of the faithful (or the cynical).
The dichotomy between "doing your own research" and relying on faith (or cynicism) won't hold up. We decide what we believe by deciding who to believe.
Healthy skepticism means saying "Show your work." Insist that people explain how they reached their conclusions.
What concerns me about Dr. Fauci is not just that he was wrong many times. I'm sure that you or Bret or I have been wrong often, too. But he never justified his pronouncements. He never showed his work.
We should not trust authorities because they are authorities. We should trust authorities when and only when they show their work.
Any attempt at IRB reform should also focus on what is likely the largest recent cost imposed by IRBs—the lack of timely human challenge trials (HCTs) for COVID-19. To prevent such delays in the future, Congress ought to lay out specific timelines for the ethics review process of HCTs in pandemic situations and grant substantial legal protection to involved investigators and institutions. The FDA already has the legal authority to approve vaccines based on challenge data – the missing link is a clear signal to IRBs that obstruction and delay are not acceptable in pandemic situations.
IRB stands for “institutional review board.” The idea is that some forms of research are unethical, and IRB’s are supposed to put a stop to unethical research. But IRB’s are themselves unaccountable and make decisions that are unethical. I have not thought about this issue. I just wanted to note Chertman’s piece for future reference. Tyler also referred to it.