Friday links: Dr. Doom vs. your thesis proposal, can your teacher make you taller, and more

Also this week: against free college, how insects made movie history, burning calculus in effigy, and more.

From Jeremy:

UC Davis and UC San Diego are experimenting with a new policy in which campus interview candidates for tenure-track faculty positions are asked to waive privacy and confidentiality on their personnel records going back 8-10 years. Anyone who refuses will not be considered further (no one has yet refused so far). UCD and UCSD are using this policy to prevent them from unwittingly hiring individuals who committed harassment or other bad behavior at previous employers. I was interested to read that UCSD’s new policy was adopted in response to a “false alarm” allegation of past harassment against a new hire.

Say you’re a new graduate student, and you tell “Dr. Doom” (a famous visiting speaker) about your research ideas. Dr. Doom tells you your ideas are rubbish, or words to that effect. How should you react? The answer is complicated, because it depends both on exactly why Dr. Doom thinks your idea is rubbish, and how Dr. Doom said it. Great post from Dan Bolnick, illustrated with concrete examples from his own experience. I love it because it goes way beyond vague generalities and simplistic imaginary scenarios.

Cutting tuition to zero would bleed public US colleges and universities dry.

Using value added models to estimate teacher effects on student…height. Which, alarmingly, are about as large as estimated teacher effects on student math and reading achievement. The point is not that teachers can’t affect student achievement (they can), but that you can’t reliably estimate those effects with the standard data and standard value added models. Had me thinking back to this old post on validating causal inference methods by asking whether they reject ridiculous causal hypotheses. (ht Marginal Revolution. Note that the link goes to an unreviewed preprint that sounds very interesting to me but that I haven’t read closely. Just passing along a summary in case any of your are interested and want to read further on your own.)

How an insect collector invented stop motion animation.

Remembering when Columbia students used to burn calculus in effigy.

Shots fired. ๐Ÿ™‚

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but after reading this now I want someone to remake The Phantom Menace.

8 thoughts on “Friday links: Dr. Doom vs. your thesis proposal, can your teacher make you taller, and more

  1. Really disappointed to see the argument against free college posted here.

    The article completely ignores the major funding mechanism proposed by Sanders — an extremely modest tax on Wall Street speculation (just a 0.5% tax on stock trades). This is an extremely popular proposal that has support from the public, some notable business leaders (e.g., Bill Gates, Mark Cuban, and Warren Buffet), and economists such as Paul Krugman, Larry Summers, and James Tobin. Thus, it’s hard to imagine any major political risk to increasing the tax revenue to support free public college (which the author suggests is going to be a problem). The tax proposed by Sanders would also have the goal of discouraging the type of Wall Street behavior that led to the 2009 recession, which led to major cuts in funding.

    Another major point is that universal programs are much more robust than the type of means-tested programs that virtually all other presidential candidates, and the author, are pushing. Universal programs are enormously popular with the public (e.g., Medicare is the most popular health insurance provider in the United States) and, once universal programs are implemented, there is MAJOR opposition to funding cuts from the public. Even right-wing governments in other countries have to at least pretend to support universal programs, otherwise they’d have virtually no chance of being elected. Look at the hot water Boris Johnson is in after Corbyn revealed that Johnson has been in talks to privatize the NHS! There’s a reason Reagan, Gingrich, and Clinton went after Welfare so hard in the 80s-90s and not programs like Social Security.

    I could go on and on, but the article is basically a series of unfounded assumptions as to what might happen if public colleges and universities were tuition-free, without once outlining any of the major problems the current system has. Indeed, the current student debt crisis in the United States is seen by many economists as one of the potential “bubbles” that could send us into another recession, further reducing public college and university funding!

    As a website that continuously claims to being committed to increasing diversity in academia, you might want to reconsider the next time you post a half-baked article that argues against the single greatest action our country could take towards remedying the current inequities in academia.

    • “I could go on and on, but the article is basically a series of unfounded assumptions as to what might happen if public colleges and universities were tuition-free, without once outlining any of the major problems the current system has. Indeed, the current student debt crisis in the United States is seen by many economists as one of the potential โ€œbubblesโ€ that could send us into another recession, further reducing public college and university funding!”

      Here’s a recent piece by the same author on the student loan debt crisis: https://www.sltrib.com/opinion/commentary/2018/11/06/noah-smith-student-loan/. And here’s another, that discusses Sanders’ plan: http://www.thedailyworld.com/opinion/noah-smith-cheaper-college-makes-more-sense-than-free-college/. And here’s a recent piece of his on Elizabeth Warren’s plan: https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2019-04-25/elizabeth-warren-s-college-loan-plan-is-a-decent-start

      “As a website that continuously claims to being committed to increasing diversity in academia, you might want to reconsider the next time you post a half-baked article that argues against the single greatest action our country could take towards remedying the current inequities in academia.”

      There is scope for legitimate disagreement about what policies will best provide access to higher education. Some of that disagreement arises from disagreement over political feasibility. Fair enough if you disagree with my policy views, or Noah’s, and thank you for taking the time to comment and share your reasons for disagreeing. But please don’t impugn my motives, or anyone else’s, or accuse me or anyone else of hypocrisy or ignorance.

      Not agreeing with every one of Bernie Sanders’ policy proposals doesn’t mean that I don’t support the same broad goals as you or Bernie Sanders, including diversity in academia and access to higher education. If you wish to claim otherwise, please do so elsewhere.

    • Re: non-universal programs purportedly not being able to survive politically:

      I don’t claim any particular wisdom about political survivability of universal vs. non-universal programs. But it doesn’t seem like a question with a dead-obvious answer. And so I don’t think anyone who disagrees with your preferred answer can be safely assumed to be ignorant or arguing in bad faith.

      • Depends what you mean by “law”.

        I think the whole question of whether biology has “laws” (in the same sense that physics does) is overrated. It’s very disconnected from actual day-to-day scientific practice. Even the actual day-to-day scientific practice of biologists who think of themselves as discovering or explaining “laws” doesn’t hinge on whether biology actually has “laws”. Everyone could, say, agree with Robert Brandon’s argument that biology has no laws. In response, all biologists–including those who used to think of themselves as seeking/explaining “laws” but are now revealed to be seeking/explaining “patterns” or “regularities” or “other things that aren’t laws”–could just keep going about their business as they were before.

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