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Meritocracy: Admitting My Mistakes

In publishing a 30,000 word article [1] covering such a broad range of complex and controversial topics, I was certain that my work would necessarily contain at least a few factual errors or omissions.  The hundreds of individuals examining my material over the last three months have located several, and being from an academic background, I am happy to recognize these:

 

I fully acknowledge all these unavoidable errors in my work.  But the recent, widely-distributed [4] criticism presented in the main post and lengthy comment-thread [5] of Prof. Andrew Gelman, a prominent Ivy League statistics professor, falls into an entirely different category.

On pp. 26-27, 30 of my article, I had noted strong evidence of a sharp decline in Jewish academic achievement at the very high end, as indicated by the large drop in the number of likely Jewish names among the winners of top math and science competitions during the last six decades, and this is correct.  As an example, I mentioned that during the thirteen years since 2000, just two of the 78 names of Math Olympiad winners appear to be Jewish, and this is also correct.  However, the extensive personal and biographical research of Prof. Janet Mertz, one of my sharpest critics, has determined that “Daniel Kane” is actually a full-Jew, “Brian Lawrence” and “Alison Miller” are half-Jews, and one or two other corrections.  As a result, the decline in actual Jewish performance was from over 40% during the 1970s to 12% during 2000-2012, rather than to the 3% figure I suggested.

Obviously, large statistical errors are unavoidable when simple surname analysis is applied to such tiny sets of names.  If Prof. Mertz were willing to extend her exhaustive research methods from the several dozen individuals she investigated to rigorously determining the precise ethnic background of the more than 4,000 winners of Olympiad, Putnam, and STS competitions from the 1930s to the 2000s whose surnames I examined, I would be very interested in seeing her findings.

In my opinion this one small point, namely the precise number of Jews or part-Jews in the 2000-2012 Math Olympiad lists, seems to be about the only substantial and verifiable charge made against my analysis in the entire lengthy critique.  A crucial part of the critique consists of the claims of an anonymous individual calling himself “NB,” which are based upon his private analysis of non-public data and cannot be externally verified.

The angry criticism of Prof. Mertz and “NB” had been floating around the Internet for some time, and had been widely ignored or dismissed.  For unaccountable reasons, Mertz and “NB” had made no effort to publish their critique anywhere, even if merely on a personal blogsite.  However, last week their charges were excerpted and presented by Prof. Gelman’s on his own blogsite, thereby lending them strong credibility.  One additional source of confusion was that since Gelman was providing a platform for the claims of an anonymous individual, it was sometimes not entirely clear whether he was personally confirming or merely reporting some of the critical remarks in question.

I directly responded to some of these charges in the resulting comment-thread, which grew very lengthy and sometimes heated.  Nearly all the other participants remained anonymous, which hardly improved the tone of the debate.  With well over 100 often lengthy and multiply-nested comments, the discussion eventually became completely unreadable.

Therefore, as a means of resolving my disagreement with Prof. Gelman, I sent him a private email presenting my own framework of estimated results and suggesting that he do the same, thereby allowing us to determine the range of our agreement and disagreement. He responded and suggested that he publish my note as a new posting, followed by his own response, and I agreed: our exchange appears here [6].  Readers should note that Gelman’s response emphasizes that he had not himself studied any of the matters in question, nor had he formed any opinions about what the correct figures might be, but that he was merely passing along the critical claims of his anonymous Internet correspondent.  I find this exchange highly enlightening, and urge individuals to read it.  Among other aspects, I believe my own note provides a very useful framework of discussion for anyone who wishes to quantitatively challenge my findings.

Gelman’s revised position led one of his agitated commenters to become concerned, urging him not to”run away” from the “fight.”

For whatever reason, Gelman soon posted a follow-up column [7] mostly attacking David Brooks, but also now once again dismissing me as a “political activist” who used “sloppy counting.”  Presumably, someone who was less “sloppy” would have immediately recognized that “Daniel Kane,”  “Brian Lawrence,” and “Alison Miller” are obviously Jewish names.  I find it highly intriguing that although Gelman chose not to substantially engage the 1,000 word framework of my statistical analysis that I offered him for constructive mutual dialogue, he instead preferred to return to the use of insults, while focusing on a single phrase in my 30,000 word analysis, a phrase characterizing a sample of negligible size.  Furthermore, the phrase in question was accurate, unless Gelman actually believes that names such as Daniel Kane and Brian Lawrence “appear to be Jewish.”

Individuals who become emotionally involved with a particular position of ideological or ethnic advocacy may lose their ability to dispassionately analyze data, and this intellectual failing may sometimes even apply to award-winning Ivy League statistics professors.  Meanwhile, litigators who choose to completely ignore the overwhelming volume of the facts in a case but spend all their time angrily pounding the desk on an insignificant one hardly demonstrate the strength of their position.

As it happens, I just returned from a speaking engagement at the University of Chicago Law School, at which I argued that the strong evidence I have demonstrated for the existence of Asian Quotas in the Ivy League may indicate that the landmark 1978 Bakke verdict was decided based on fraud [8].  The response from the large audience—which included blacks, Hispanics, whites, and Asians—seemed overwhelmingly positive.  However, one or two of the audience members afterward came over and argued with me at considerable length about my Jewish findings, even though these had not even been mentioned in my talk.  Highly-emotional ethnocentric zealotry should be distinguished from neutral scientific inquiry.

 

On a different matter, I recently read Education and Politics at Harvard [9], written in 1975 by renowned sociologists Seymour Martin Lipset and David Riesman, and although most of the material was not new to me, I came across one remarkable item.  Conservatives often ascribe any substantial decline of average student quality at top universities to the role of affirmative action in admitting underqualified minorities, and this belief is widely—if quietly—shared in certain quarters.  Therefore, it is always helpful to locate an independent check of its validity.

On p. 319 of the Lipset/Riesman book, Riesman casually notes that each year Harvard enrolls some 700 National Merit Scholars (NMS), who constitute America’s highest performing high school students.  But as I mentioned in my article, Harvard’s NMS total had fallen to 396 in 2002 and just 248 in 2011.  Thus, over three decades Harvard’s number of such top students has dropped by almost two-thirds even while the volume of Harvard applicants has grown enormously.  This is certainly consistent with the recent claim of a former Harvard Senior Admissions Officer that only 5% of students are admitted these days purely based on academic merit.

Could a major part of this decline be due to the impact of affirmative action policies? Nearly all NMS are either white or Asian, and in 1975 Hispanics, blacks, and foreign students probably totaled about 10% of each class, while today the figure is over 25%.  So perhaps that explains at least some of the general decline in NMS numbers.

However, we must also consider a different factor.  Asian enrollment was completely negligible in the 1970s, but over the last decade has probably averaged nearly one-third of the combined white plus Asian total.  Also, there is overwhelming evidence that in recent years, Harvard has imposed sharp restrictions on its Asian numbers, requiring Asians to achieve much stronger academic results to gain entrance.  Therefore, it seems likely Harvard’s NMS are disproportionately Asian, perhaps half or more of the total rather than merely one-third.

Thus, even if we assume that every remaining NMS is white, the trajectory of white student decline is quite remarkable.  During the 1970s, Harvard enrolled 1400 white Americans, of whom 700 or 50% ranked as NMS.  By 2002, the number of whites had dropped to around 850 with just 25% being NMS.  And as of 2011, only 15% of Harvard 800 whites seem to have achieved that national academic distinction.  Obviously, none of this striking decline in the average quality of Harvard’s white students has any connection to “affirmative action” in the usual sense of that word.

 

Finally, in my companion sidebar [10] I argued that Harvard had gradually become a hedge fund with a football team and a few professors, and suggested that since college tuition constituted a negligible portion of annual revenue, such charges should be eliminated.  Although it makes perfect sense for Harvard, Yale, Princeton and other wealthy “hedgefundiversities” to abolish their tuition, the actual American trend seems in the other direction.

For example, earlier this week the New York Times revealed [11] that Cooper Union, which has provided New Yorkers a free, top-quality education for the past 153 years, had made a decision to begin charging tuition.  The problem was that income from its valuable property holdings no longer covered expenses, and the school’s annual loss had reached the unsustainable level of $12 million per year.

What were those expenses?  Well, during the 2000s the university had taken out a $175 million dollar loan and invested the cash in the stock market just before that the financial collapse; repayment on that loan now runs $10 million per year.  In addition, Cooper Union had recently spent $177 million dollars to erect a hideously ugly but “audacious” modernist-style building as part of its major campus expansion.  So future Cooper Union graduates may be forced into permanent debt-peonage, but they will have received their education in a provocatively-designed building.

We must consider the differing interests of a university’s students and its top administrators.  Students might prefer an education that is free rather than one that costs $10,000 or $20,000 per year, but why should a university president care?  Indeed, the larger the total budget and more expensive the cost to attend, the stronger the case for raising the salary of the president.  And while the direct educational benefits of a $177 million avant-garde architectural centerpiece are probably nil, the enhancements to the cocktail party chatter of the individual who made the bold decision to build it might be enormous.

Such is the pattern when the interests of rulers diverge from those of the ruled, and the former show no concern for the latter.

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Comments Disabled To "Meritocracy: Admitting My Mistakes"

#1 Comment By Andre Kenji On February 21, 2013 @ 9:02 am

Regarding China, the problem is that China uses a written test to select the students to it´s universities. That may sound meritocratic, but the fact is that gives it gives an undue advantage to the the children of the middle class, that have plenty of time to memorize even the most useless subjects. Besides that, you have a lot of people in the university that have only one ability: memorizing a large number of useless things to pass a written test, because that´s precisely how they got there.

#2 Comment By KXB On February 21, 2013 @ 11:19 am

“Such is the pattern when the interests of rulers diverge from those of the ruled, and the former show no concern for the latter.”

Which fits in nicely with DC. The interests of the DC ruling class have largely diverged from the commons.

#3 Comment By NB On February 21, 2013 @ 12:43 pm

Unz states: “A crucial part of the critique consists of the claims of an anonymous individual calling himself “NB,” which are based upon his private analysis of non-public data and cannot be externally verified.” I am “NB” and one of the audience members who spoke to Unz after his talk yesterday. I asked Unz to look at the Yale Alumni directory with me, precisely so that he would cease to describe my data as unverifiable. Unz initially agreed, but then started debating with me about other aspects of his article. I repeatedly tried to get our conversation back on track: performing Weyl Analysis on the names of Yale alumni, but Unz ultimately declined and walked away when I said I was not interested in a debate but wanted to show him the data I am using. (Unz has access to the Harvard alumni directory too.)

Finally, as Unz met me yesterday, he knows I’m female. Incidentally, anyone with a passing familiarity with identifying Jewish names would know that my first name (which Unz revealed in his previous blog entry) is a common female Israeli/Hebrew name, which brings me to another point: Unz continues to claim, “during the thirteen years since 2000, just two of the 78 names of Math Olympiad winners appear to be Jewish, and this is also correct.” Since two of the names are from the Weyl list of distinctive Jewish surnames, Unz must be classifying only these 2 names as Jewish. There is another 2x US IMO team member with an obviously Israeli Jewish name and several others with names classified as possibly Jewish on ancestry.com. e.g.:
[12]
In contrast, I do not see how it is possible for Unz to have obtained the estimate that 44% of the 70s US IMO team members were Jewish unless he counted overtly German (and other non-Jewish names) as Jewish. e.g.
[13]
I request that Unz please list the last names of the 70s US IMO team members whom he classified as Jewish. The list is available here, so I recommend interested parties take a look:
[14]

#4 Comment By Gerard On February 21, 2013 @ 4:41 pm

Going by just names it seems it could go the other way as well, especially in the last few years. What about all the well-off Jewish couples who adopt from Korea or China?

[15]

Jewish Moms, Chinese Daughters
By Merri Rosenberg

Judi Sherman of Phoenix, a senior vice-president at investment house Smith Barney, has been clear that her Chinese daughter is going to have a bat mitzvah.

Randi Rosenkrantz, 55, of Houston, Texas, and her husband, 52, made sure that both of their adopted Chinese daughters–10-year-old Jill and 6-year-old Kate–had Jewish baby naming ceremonies as well as immersion in the mikvah.

Debbie Halperin, living in Suffern, New York, has a 3-year-old daughter from China, and an 11-year-old daughter from her first marriage. “The little one goes to synagogue for nursery school,” she says. “Laci loves being Jewish. She loves Hanukkah, she knows the prayers for Shabbat. She’s a Jewish girl through and through. She’s part of the Jewish family.

#5 Comment By Elephant On February 21, 2013 @ 4:58 pm

No one wants to talk about the Elephant in the Room

Dr. MacDonald stated that the claims of Asian underrepresentation cannot be sustained vis a vis white students alone, but can only be applied vs. Non Gentile student over representation, and that white gentile underrepresentation is far greater than Asian If thisri is so, how could Unz discuss Asian quotas without discussing Gentile underrepresentation, as he claims for his talk at Chicago ?

So all the bru ha ha about Asian quotas rests upon discriminatory underrepresentation of Gentiles, while talks on topic at Chicago and Yale never mention the subject ? Why ?

Does censorship of Israeli criticism now extend to discussion of illegal discrimination by America’s new elite establishment ?

#6 Comment By MB X On February 21, 2013 @ 5:02 pm

Unz critic MB claims above to be female and Israeli (or having an Israeli name). Did she change her name on immigration to Israel, and have dual citizenship?

This seems a nativist American objection, but perhaps understandable now with the Prisoner X revelations of Israeli MOssad operating in Australian universities using dual nationals.

#7 Comment By RH On February 21, 2013 @ 5:53 pm

It seems as if this is what Mr. Unz may planning to do, but can we have a summary of the extent of the disagreement? For example, Ron Unz believes that using National Merit Scholar and Jewish Ivy League data, Jews are overrepresented compared to what they would be in a meritocratic system by X%, while Gelman et al. believe the overrepresentation is closer to Y%. Most of us don’t have the time to check these statistical arguments ourselves.

#8 Comment By Bud Wiser On February 22, 2013 @ 11:34 am

I posted to Gelman’s blog site after slogging through the thread there. It’s quite a tangled web.

NB, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Do you believe the Weyl analysis is an accurate tool?

#9 Comment By Alphysicist On February 24, 2013 @ 5:13 am

There is an easy way to restore meritocracy in the US. One should change the administration personnel of the exams mentioned in the article (Putnam exam, etc.) to include more Jewish bias. In this case, the exam scores of Jewish applicants will increase, and there will not be a discrepancy between the admissions and academic achievement.

Actually, I do not understand why no one talks about the Non-Jewish White issue (apart from people approaching Ron Unz in private after his talk), when according to the results presented Non-Jewish Whites are orders of magnitude more underrepresented than Asians. Should we not be asking whether there is a Non-Jewish White quota?

Other than that I have one observation regarding the Asian issue. In the more traditional Western education model a particular balance was encouraged between humanities and sciences. In the Asian education system, science was orders of magnitude more important than the humanities. So this may be one reason for Asian dominance in the sciences. One should note, however, that many big steps in science were made by people whose education was in the German “gymnasium” or the Italian “liceo classico” type of systems, which were definitely in the former category (Einstein, Heisenberg, Fermi, Schrodinger).

So what is likely to happen is that as the West tries to keep up, humanities will diminish and our intellectual class will become increasingly more technocratic (actually this is already the case).

#10 Comment By MMCCANN On February 24, 2013 @ 8:04 pm

“Regarding China, the problem is that China uses a written test to select the students to it´s universities. That may sound meritocratic, but the fact is that gives it gives an undue advantage to the the children of the middle class, that have plenty of time to memorize even the most useless subjects. Besides that, you have a lot of people in the university that have only one ability: memorizing a large number of useless things to pass a written test, because that´s precisely how they got there.”
You wouldn’t happen to know how accommodating these tests are to China’s numerous dialects and languages would you?

#11 Comment By drei whit On February 25, 2013 @ 8:16 pm

@AIPhysicist: “the exam scores of Jewish applicants will increase, and there will not be a discrepancy between the admissions and academic achievement”

Very droll …

#12 Comment By Annek On April 24, 2013 @ 5:34 pm

Ron said:

“We must consider the differing interests of a university’s students and its top administrators. Students might prefer an education that is free rather than one that costs $10,000 or $20,000 per year, but why should a university president care? Indeed, the larger the total budget and more expensive the cost to attend, the stronger the case for raising the salary of the president. And while the direct educational benefits of a $177 million avant-garde architectural centerpiece are probably nil, the enhancements to the cocktail party chatter of the individual who made the bold decision to build it might be enormous.

Such is the pattern when the interests of rulers diverge from those of the ruled, and the former show no concern for the latter.”

This is so true and very well said.

#13 Comment By Mark F. On April 26, 2013 @ 2:32 am

“You wouldn’t happen to know how accommodating these tests are to China’s numerous dialects and languages would you?”

Written Chinese is the same regardless of language or dialect.