Science and Technology links (September 21st 2019)

    1. Amputees suffer from lack of sensory feedback from the missing limbs. Researchers found it beneficial to provide artificial sensory feedback.
    2. More economically equal societies favor people with better genes, something referred to as the Gene-Gini interplay.
    3. As we age, we tend to accumulate senescent cells. Removing senescent cells is likely to improve the health of older people. We know how to kill senescent cells in mice. Researchers have now shown that the same simple therapies work in human beings.
    4. At Harvard, 43% of the admitted caucasian students are children of faculty and staff or other privileged categories. If there were treated fairly, and not as students of faculty and staff, 3/4 of them would be rejected. In other words, Harvard is, to a first approximation, a way to reproduce the social elite. Ironically, I would guess that the majority of Harvard professors view themselves as favoring egalitarian values. Yet when it comes to their kids, they demande special treatments. (Source: Tyler Cowen)
    5. People who say that they are environmentally conscious are not less likely to buy plastic bags.

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

10 thoughts on “Science and Technology links (September 21st 2019)”

  1. I remember back in the days whem “paper or plastic” first became a choice, plastic was presented as the environmentally responsible choice. Now of course the right choice is “neither” and we bring our own cloth bags.

  2. FWIW, I don’t find the Harvard professors hypocritical.

    The basis for group rules is that everyone adheres. I can be in favor of higher taxes in general, but I’m certainly not mailing a cheque every year to the CRA to cover the gap between what I think the rate should be and what I pay.

    Generally, I might be in favor of many pixies if they are law and enforced, but that doesn’t mean I’ll do them voluntarily while they aren’t law.

    I don’t know if this actually applies to the Harvard case: would the professors actually be in favor of changing the legacy rules? If yes, it’s equivalent – but it gets complicated as the group gets smaller.

    1. Travis:

      At some point, some of preferences are likely to be related to a form of disgust. If you favor democracy, then you should find totalitarian states disgusting. If you favor gender equality, then you should find sex-based discrimination disgusting. If you favor high taxes, you should find tax evasion disgusting.

      Thus, I think that if you are in favor of higher taxes, genuinely so, then it should reflect on your own actions. For example, it would be odd to be in favor of higher taxes and to be also researching tax evasion strategies.

      I submit to you that if you favor admissions based on academic merit, then you should find the current setup at Harvard disgusting. People are complicated and not everyone will arrive at the same feelings, but it would be surprising if many people who believe strongly in admission based on merit are not disgusted by what is going on at Harvard. Yet we don’t see any Harvard professor speaking up… so none of them are disgusted.

      There is an interesting concept called “preference falsification” that should first be ruled out:

      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preference_falsification

      Suppose that you are a Harvard professor. You can either genuinely believe that a more equal society is desirable, or you may find it politically profitable to state that you have this preference. You may not even know, for yourself, which scenario is more correct.

      But there is at least the possibility that you just express preferences that are convenient… while holding quite different true preferences. You may say that you want all kids to go to schools as good as your kids’, but in the real world, you might go out of your way to make sure that your kids go to a superior school.

      However, we can look at your actions. Do you send your kids to exclusive prep schools, do you ensure that the get into Harvard irrespective of their merit? If you do so, these are not the actions of someone who value highly meritocracy.

      Maybe you value highly meritocracy but don’t act in your private life as someone who does. That’s possible, but wouldn’t you at least feel uneasy about it?

      Harvard could afford to admit 20x as many students and lower the tuition fees to zero. If they valued academic excellence in high school highly, they would admit many more Asian students. They could abolish legacy preferences. Importantly, Harvard could redistribute its insane funds to lesser schools that need it badly.

      How many Harvard professors militate for these changes that would impact them personally? Not many, right? And how many signs of disgust do we have regarding the fact that Harvard has all the money, discriminates against Asians, use a strong legacy system… Not a whole lot, right?

      Anyhow, I work for a state university, and we don’t have any kind of legacy policy. And that’s very uncommon. That is, my kids do not have any privilege when it comes to attending the University of Quebec. No privilege other than the fact that I know the system and I can call people up… which is a powerful privilege to being with… but at least, we have no formal privilege and I think that many of my colleagues would agree that it is a disgusting thing to do, to openly favor your kids, when you are dedicated to a more equal access to education.

      More generally… what is more reliable regarding people’s true beliefs? Their actions or their words?

  3. From the article you linked:

    Using publicly released reports, we examine the preferences Harvard gives for recruited athletes, legacies, those on the dean’s interest list, and children of faculty and staff (ALDCs). Among white admits, over 43% are ALDC.

    The way I read it, 43% is the total over all four privileged categories. (I would also find it hard to believe that Harvard faculty and staff have enough children to account for 43% of white students.)

  4. I submit to you that if you favor admissions based on academic merit, then you should find the current setup at Harvard disgusting.

    Daniel,

    I’m not sure how aware you are of the lawsuit(s) against Harvard, but I think they’ve tried to make quite clear and open that academic merit is not the sole (or even main) criterion for admission – to the extent that they believe doing so would be a negative for the institution. If you joined Harvard as a faculty member with such strong beliefs on academic merit based admissions, you should take some of the blame on not researching your employer enough before joining.

    Of course, I’m nitpicking here. I doubt that legacy and blood relations with staff/faculty are in their criteria for great students, so your general refrain is still valid.

    To be frank, I did not read the paper, so I may be demonstrating my ignorance, but does Harvard have affirmative action for (non-Asian) minorities? Because the statistic about 43% vs 16% alone is not revealing. It may simply reflect a reality that far more graduates have been Caucasian, so a lot more of those have their children apply under the legacy criteria. If not many Hispanics have graduated from Harvard in the past, the pool of potential legacy applicants from them would be a lot lower (e.g. if they are not old enough yet to apply for Harvard). And on top of that if Harvard has affirmative action for Hispanics, then that will automatically make the percent lower.

    Food for thought. Apologies for being lazy.

    1. If you joined Harvard as a faculty member with such strong beliefs on academic merit based admissions, you should take some of the blame on not researching your employer enough before joining.

      My employer (not Harvard) does not have legacy privileges.

      1. Daniel,

        I was not referring to you. You said:

        Suppose that you are a Harvard professor. You can either genuinely believe that a more equal society is desirable, or you may find it politically profitable to state that you have this preference.

        However, we can look at your actions. Do you send your kids to exclusive prep schools, do you ensure that the get into Harvard irrespective of their merit? If you do so, these are not the actions of someone who value highly meritocracy.

        My “you” is the same as your “you” – the hypothetical Harvard professor.

  5. At Harvard, 43% of the admitted caucasian students are children of faculty and staff or other privileged categories.

    By choosing to emphasize only one of the 4 components of the ALDC category (Athletes, Legacies, Dean’s Interest List, Children of Faculty or Staff) you create a misleading impression. You are technically correct, because you mention “other privileged categories”, but it wrongly gives the impression that Children of Faculty or Staff are the largest component of this group.

    Instead, the study shows that only 1.3% of admissions are children of faculty or staff. The other preference categories make up the bulk of the 43%. 17% of admissions are Legacies (children of alumni); Athletes given special preference comprise 10% of admissions; and about 8% are on the Dean’s List of Interest (primarily based on past or expected future donations to the school).

    It’s also probably worth mentioning that slightly less than half (47%) of the Children of Faculty or Staff who apply to Harvard are admitted. While this does indicate a tremendous admission advantage compared to the ~6% admission rate for those not in this category, it’s still a fairly competitive rate compared to many institutions.

    1. @Nate

      Thanks for the clarification and the qualification.

      I’m sure that this is viewed as perfectly normal that because you are a child of a professor you should be given priority explicitly during admissions… on top of the intrinsics benefits that you have (because you parents know the system)… but to my eyes, this is just flat out disgusting.

      Your precisions do not change my feelings. You might qualify it as “fairly competitive”, but I am not sure how you arrive at this qualification.

      I would never dare to demand special consideration for my children during admission on the basis of my status as a professor. I would fear for my reputation if I ever tried. That this is viewed as perfectly normal is something I find troubling… especially given the strong left leaning of the people involved.

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