Links from the last week, June 6, 2018

o;.1. How Identity Politics is Harming the Sciences

=A nice, long article by Heather Mac Donald that you should definitely read in tot if you care about these things… I can give you one snip:

Entry requirements for graduate education are being revised. The American Astronomical Society has recommended that Ph.D. programs in astronomy eliminate the requirement that applicants take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) in physics, since it has a disparate impact on females and URMs and allegedly does not predict future research output. Harvard and other departments have complied, even though an objective test like the GRE can spotlight talent from less prestigious schools. The NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program has dropped all science GREs for applicants in all fields.

Just to share two reactions from the piece overall – first, it’s hard not to believe (and is quite explicit in some examples mentioned here) that we’re talking about lowering standards to get the “right mix” of people through the system.  One Twitter friend said to me as regards this article, “the ugly bigotry of low expectations strikes again”.  And the comment here, and actually the next article down below, is quite right to point out that standardized testing helps level the playing field (“that’s the problem”, some might say) – on a GRE score, the student from Harvard, and the student from Nowhere University, look the same.  Without it, that’s effectively one more mark in favor of the person from the more prestigious university.  Testing isn’t perfect, but it is generally the most objective measure of evaluation we have (again, “that’s the problem”, right).

Secondly… one more quotation:

An introductory chemistry course at UC Berkeley exemplifies “culturally sensitive pedagogy.” Its creators described the course in a January 2018 webinar for STEM teachers, sponsored by the University of California’s STEM Faculty Learning Community. A primary goal of the course, according to teachers Erin Palmer and Sabriya Rosemund, is to disrupt the “racialized and gendered construct of scientific brilliance,” which defines “good science” as getting all the right answers. The course maintains instead that “all students are scientifically brilliant.” Science is a practice of collective sense-making that calls forth “inclusive ways” of being brilliant. Students in this “inclusive” Chem 1A course work in groups arranging data cards in the proper sequence to represent chemical processes, among other tasks. Chemical terms of art are avoided wherever possible to accommodate students’ different academic backgrounds. The instructors hold the teams “accountable to group thinking”; a team can’t question an instructor unless it has arrived collectively at the question and poses it in “we” language.

Aside from all the hip trendy language, how allergic some are today to the fact that all humans are not the same – no, everyone is not “scientifically brilliant”, and pretending they are because it makes us feel good will do nothing in the long run but make people skeptical of claims of brilliance that actually are true.  Trying to twist language because reality is not as we’d wish never works for long.  Humans are different.  Some excel in one area, some excel in another.  That’s OK.

2. Silence Around Test Scores Serves the Privileged

As we were saying:

The wealthy have the best of every other metric in the admissions packet.  They have good grades; everybody has good grades. But their good grades come from famous private schools with storied reputations and longstanding status as “feeders” to the Ivies.  They have the best extracurricular activities money can buy.  They can pay consultants to help them polish their essays.

Rich people can also pay for fancy test prep, but their kids still have to take the same test everyone else does and be scored by the same computer, and be ranked according to objective criteria. It’s the only chance an outsider has to beat them.

3. Teachers who give cookie rewards score better in evaluations

On a lighter, but still educational, note:

The authors found that those groups who had received cookies evaluated their teachers as being significantly better than those who received nothing. They also considered their teaching materials to be better, and their summation scores for the overall quality of the course were significantly higher than those of the control group. All the results were statistically significant.

As we learned previously, it also helps to be attractive!

4. Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Majority Wants To Kill Freedom Softly

Had to link one article on the recent Supreme Court decision.

The chief evasion in this ruling is the idea that the state has to maintain “neutrality” toward traditionalist religious views during its process. The words “neutrality” and “impartiality” appear repeatedly in the majority ruling, and this is the heart of its argument. But these laws are inherently not religiously “neutral” and “impartial.” Laws requiring citizens to provide services for a gay wedding are inherently aimed at punishing those who dissent from the prevailing orthodoxy on this question. In this case, that means primarily traditional Christians. This is who the law is aimed at.

An excellent if somewhat obvious point I thought – obvious, but the Supreme Court did not address it.  We shall see where this eventually goes, I suppose.

5. Did exactly 4,645 people die in Hurricane Maria? Nope.

A “nice” example of media innumeracy here (and perhaps the value of significant figures):

But there’s a problem: This is not a verified number, unlike body counts in wars. The Harvard study offers only an estimate – a midpoint along a broad range of possibilities. It is not based on death records, only estimates of deaths from people who were interviewed in a survey.

In effect, the researchers took one number – 15 deaths identified from a survey of 3,299 households – and extrapolated that to come up with 4,645 deaths across the island. That number came with a very large caveat, clearly identified in the report, but few news media accounts bothered to explain the nuances.

6. Ireland, Abortion, Andy Stanley, & the Foundation of Truth (video)

A nice guest-hosted Dividing Line by Jeff Durbin, whom I did not know.  He especially takes issue here with the US pro-life movement, which often quite consciously tries to make “neutral” appeals not rooted in scripture.

This week brought to you by afternoon kittens.