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The title refers to the basic thrust of a piece in The New York Times, Confessions of an Application Reader. The piece ends with a paragraph like so:

Underrepresented minorities still lag behind: about 92 percent of whites and Asians at Berkeley graduate within six years, compared with 81 percent of Hispanics and 71 percent of blacks. A study of the University of California system shows that 17 percent of underrepresented minority students who express interest in the sciences graduate with a science degree within five years, compared with 31 percent of white students.

You may or may not agree with this particular type of admissions policy (I do not, because I do not care if minorities are underrepresented at universities if that underrepresentation is due to transparent academic deficiencies, which I believe to be the case). Rather, I want to focus on the term ‘underrepresented minorities’ and ascertain how underrepresented minorities truly are at Berkeley. That’s easy enough to do. About ~80% of UC Berkeley undergraduates are California residents. The Census allows us to query the racial makeup of a range of age brackets for various localities. What I did was look for the percentage of individuals between the ages of 15-19 in the 2010 Census for California, approximately the source population of students who are freshman in the 2012 class.

Here are the percentages in the 15-19 age category in 2010:

30% Non-Hispanic White
6.5% Non-Hispanic Black
11% Non-Hispanic Asian
48% Hispanic

Comparing to UC Berkeley’s student data Non-Hispanic Whites are nearly perfectly represented (though they are underrepresented in freshman admits, making up for it in transfers). Hispanics are represented at 1/3 the proportion you’d expect, and Blacks at about 1/2. The unsurprising reality is individuals Asian ethnicity are overrepresented. The Berkeley website attempts to elide and obfuscate this obvious reality by disaggregating the Asian ethnicities. But it also allows one to compare to the Census data on these ethnicities.

 

California UC Berkeley Ratio
Chinese 3.4 21.2 6.2
Filipino 3.2 2.6 0.8
Japanese 0.7 1.6 2.3
Korean 1.2 5.4 4.5
South Asian 1.4 8.1 5.8
Vietnamese 1.6 3.4 2.1

 

A few notes. I assumed that Indian American is a good proxy for South Asian (in California it almost certainly is, as 90% or more South Asians probably are Indian). Second, I’m comparing against the whole population. Unlike Hispanics Asians are not that young-skewed (their fertility is lower than Non-Hispanic Whites), but because they are an immigrant community they are not as old-skewed as Non-Hispanic Whites. A quick scan shows that there is variation among Asian groups.

Finally, I decided to revisit the ethnic proportions at the various UC campuses. Taking all the undergraduates, and removing international students and those who refuse to provide racial information, here are the proportions on each campus:

Institution Black Native American Asian/Pac Is Filipino Latino White
Berkeley 4 1 42 4 14 35
Davis 3 1 38 4 16 37
Irvine 3 1 49 8 17 24
Los Angeles 5 1 37 5 18 36
Merced 8 1 26 7 37 22
Riverside 8 0 36 6 32 17
San Diego 2 1 50 5 15 28
Santa Barbara 4 1 17 3 24 51
Santa Cruz 3 1 21 4 22 49

 

The main thing that surprised me is that while Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz have reputations as schools for White kids, they actually have many Latinos as well. Though I have no idea if these are ‘White Hispanics,’ especially children of mixed-marriages who are putting down their more advantageous identity despite being functionally Non-Hispanic White in social contexts.

 

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Berkeley, Education 
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My question is simple: why so few Asians at University of California Santa Barbara? Freshman admissions profiles are easy enough to get for the UC system, while Ron Unz has put his demographic data online. For what it’s worth 27 and 9 percent of the children in the California educational system (primary and secondary) were non-Hispanic white and Asian in 2010-2011.

 
Freshmen admitted profile:


GPA ACT SAT Reading SAT Math SAT Writing White Asian
Berkeley 4.16 30 674 701 692 30.3 37.4
Davis 4.03 28 611 658 632 33.6 37.7
Irvine 4.02 27 588 645 611 20.2 49.1
UCLA 4.11 30 659 702 681 31.5 34.3
Merced 3.57 23 525 559 533 19.5 29.3
Riverside 3.7 25 550 595 566 15.6 37.6
UCSD 4.07 29 639 691 661 24.3 45
UCSB 3.96 28 614 654 635 44.6 15.9
UCSC 3.78 26 573 597 586 42.4 20.8

My impression is that Santa Barbara is relatively weak in the sciences in comparison to an equivalent school like Irvine. Note that at four of the UC’s non-Hispanic whites are underrepresented, using the source population profiles as the benchmark (and in fact, if I limited it to just 18 year olds, a cohort which probably has more than 27 percent non-Hispanic whites, then they may be underrepresented at a few other campuses).

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Education 
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The Myth of American Meritocracy, Ron Unz

A recent conversation I had with a friend whose parents are immigrants from Germany made me reconsider and reflect on the power of implicit information in shaping one’s life; that information being culturally mediated. Though my friend was raised in the United States, because of her parents’ immersion in the German expatriate community her upbringing was very bicultural. In fact, she is much more German than I am Bangladeshi. Despite the fact that to anyone who is a Baby Boomer or older she looks American, and I do not, there are many similarities in outlook due to our 1.5 generation background. Both of us are from families where graduate educations in the sciences are the norm. We succeeded in academics and pursued higher education without much effort or obstacles. This is not a story of overcoming the odds in a conventional sense. In explicit terms we are entirely American, but there are nevertheless implicit aspects of being American of a particular social class which we had to experience after leaving home at 18.

This brings me back to the issues which were highlighted in Ron Unz’s recent piece in The American Conservative, The Myth of American Meritocracy (note: I was an Unz Foundation Junior Fellow between February 2007 and February 2012). You can see further discussion of the topic at The New York Times, as well as Unz’s weblog. Steve Hsu has also been discussing the results as well. My primary focus here is not going to be on the article itself. I broadly accept many of the empirical findings. The chart above shows to me that it is clear there has been implicit collusion between Ivy League universities in regards to the proportion of people of Asian ancestry who attend these institutions. In hindsight it should not be too surprising. I commend you to read Austin Bramwell’s perspective in the Top of the Class, where he outlines exactly how elite prep schools cooperate with the admissions offices of Ivy League universities to perpetuate the pipeline which maintains the generations of the customary American gentry (of which he is a member).

Institutions like Harvard exist to shape the nature of the American ruling class. It makes sense that they would be keen toward particular demographic considerations. I am personally not particularly pleased as the prospect of racial quotas, but then again my image of an “elite university” is that it should be elite in scholarly terms, rather than as a finishing school for the next generation of America’s rulers (and I have no interest in the types of demographic diversity which are of concern for most). But I am not the dictator of this world, and I am rather confident that no matter what the Supreme Court rules in the near future, a de facto quota system will continue, with some marginal modifications, at private universities for the indefinite future. The American ruling class, whether it be intellectuals, politicians, or corporate executives, favors some form of affirmative action and diversity, and I am convinced that they will get their way, no matter legal obstacles or populist sentiments.

Reality is what it is, and it is on the matter of transparency, and explicit comprehension, where I think we need to make our stand. There are many people who have long been aware of the “Asian quota,” or the fact that “holistic admissions” serve to allow particular universities to modulate their demographic outcomes appropriately. But not everyone is aware of this. I am thinking, for example, of a friend who was raised by a single mother. He happens to be 1/4 Asian in ancestry, and when applying to elite private universities he made sure to put “Asian” as his race, under the false assumption that being a minority would aid his chances of admission. Raised by a white single mother he was not in a milieu where the “real rules” on what counts, and doesn’t count, as a minority, were understood. We live in a system where the child of Korean shopkeepers is not an underrepresented minority, while the child of a Venezuelan doctor most certainly is. Similarly, when elites talk about “diversity,” it is implicitly clear that this alludes to very particular and specific demographic diversities. Race, sex, and the reality of some ancestry derived from Latin America most certainly. Our modern elites may give a rhetorical nod to socioeconomic diversity, but there will never be any substantive action in this direction which might jeopardize the chances of their own children ascending the ladders of power. The extant scholarship on elite university admissions suggests that non-Hispanic whites who are below the middle class are extremely underrepresented at elite private institutions, but there is no prospect to my knowledge that this deficit in the texture of the future ruling classes will be addressed. This is just understood by all who count, and requires no great public discussion.

Success in life in the United States today demands that you understand the implicit and subtextual filaments which thread their way through the American cultural landscape. My daughter is an Asian American because her father is an Asian American (thanks to the reclassification of South Asians as Asian Americans in 1980). But the reality is that her physical appearance strongly favors her Northern European heritage. With that in mind we quite consciously gave her a series of names which allowed her own ethnic identity to be optional and situational. As I have no great emotional interest or preoccupation with collective identities I feel no pang of guilt or regret about this. The world is a bureaucratic machine, and there are those born who understand that the machine must be manipulated, and those who allow themselves to be tossed about by its machinations. If you don’t have a cynicism and mercenary attitude toward the machine, you will be consumed by it. The children of the American elite take the machinery for granted by dint of the implicit cultural wisdom they receive with their mother’s milk. The machine will always load the die so as to favor then. Those who are outside can only even the odds through information, and being better than those who are to the American manor born.

Of course there are many serious issues to address in regards’ to Unz’s piece. Many point out that perhaps there are rational reasons to discount the academic successes of Asian Americans (i.e., are these tests truly representative of intellectual vigor and curiosity?). But these honest discussions can only be had once honesty and transparency is the foundation and starting point. Until then we will continue to muddle on, trying to make sense of a complex world.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Education 
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Before a Test, a Poverty of Words:

Things are very different elsewhere on the class spectrum. Earlier in the year when I met Steven F. Wilson, founder of a network of charter schools that serve poor and largely black communities in Brooklyn, I asked him what he considered the greatest challenge on the first day of kindergarten each year. He answered, without a second’s hesitation: “Word deficit.” As it happens, in the ’80s, the psychologists Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley spent years cataloging the number of words spoken to young children in dozens of families from different socioeconomic groups, and what they found was not only a disparity in the complexity of words used, but also astonishing differences in sheer number. Children of professionals were, on average, exposed to approximately 1,500 more words hourly than children growing up in poverty. This resulted in a gap of more than 32 million words by the time the children reached the age of 4.

This makes sense. It certainly explains the dearth of the children of working class Korean immigrants in higher education, seeing as their parents often have rudimentary English vocabularies. Oh wait…. These tales of the power of upper middle class homes to give their offspring a leg up are commonly distributed because they appeal to common sense, as inferred from cultural presuppositions. One of them is that parents matter, a lot. To some extent this is certainly true. If your parents have the income and wealth to give you a university education so that you don’t need to take out student loans, then that’s a major leg up. Perhaps even more importantly it is critical in many fields if you come from enough money so that you can toil away in unpaid internships.

But I am more skeptical of research which purports to draw a line between the vocabulary of children at age 4 to the vocabulary of children at age 18, because they often imply that parental input is critical. To some extent parental input is important; intelligence is at least moderately heritable. But if parental input in English vocabulary at an early age was so critical then the children of all immigrants would be at major disadvantage. This is just not the case for admissions to elite New York City public schools. The children of Hispanic immigrants are at a disadvantage, but not those of Asian immigrants.

Let me offer myself as an example. My English was rudimentary when I entered kindergarten. By the end of the school year I had moved up to the top of the class in verbal abilities according to standardized tests, but I also exhibited some blind spots in my language fluency up until the age of seven (e.g., I had difficulties with male vs. female pronouns, as my home language did not have that feature). Eventually these lacunae were rectified, and I don’t perceive any differences in my fluency with those raised in homes where English was the first language. More importantly I grew up with a cohort of children of highly educated immigrants where the families did not speak English at home, and I’m rather certain that almost all these children scored highly on the verbal portion of the SAT.

My point is that looking at vocabulary at age 5 is an indicator of underlying conditions. It is not necessarily the cause, and it may be at some causal remove, so fixing the conditions which lead to this result may not solve the problem with different academic outcomes. Finally, as an Asian American I do think it is incumbent upon the cultural elites concerned about gaps between the achievement of various groups to admit that many of the Asian American students who have de facto driven non-Hispanic whites out of elite public schools like Stuyvesant are not economically privileged. This does not negate the broader issues which are being addressed, but it seems farcical to engage in a discussion of the demographics of elite New York City high school, and ignore the plural majority (Asian Americans) because they do not neatly fit into the narrative of privileged white vs. underrepresented minority of color.

Addendum: The Nurture Assumption is worth reading.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Education 
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A few days ago I stumbled upon a really interesting post. And I’m wondering if my readers are at all familiar with the phenomenon outlined here (it was a total surprise to me), The myth of “they weren’t ever taught….”:

Stage One: I will describe this stage for algebra I teachers, but plug in reading, geometry, writing, science, any subject you choose, with the relevant details. This stage begins when teachers realize that easily half the class adds the numerators and denominators when adding fractions, doesn’t see the difference between 3-5 and 5-3, counts on fingers to add 8 and 6, and looks blank when asked what 7 times 3 is.

Ah, they think. The kids weren’t ever taught fractions and basic math facts! What the hell are these other teachers doing, then, taking a salary for showing the kids movies and playing Math Bingo? Insanity on the public penny. But hey, helping these kids, teaching them properly, is the reason they became teachers in the first place. So they push their schedule back, what, two weeks? Three? And go through fraction operations, reciprocals, negative numbers, the meaning of subtraction, a few properties of equality, and just wallow in the glories of basic arithmetic. Some use manipulatives, others use drills and games to increase engagement, but whatever the method, they’re basking in the glow of knowledge that they are Closing the Gap, that their kids are finally getting the attention that privileged suburban students get by virtue of their summer enrichment and more expensive teachers.

At first, it seems to work. The kids beam and say, “You explain it so much better than my last teacher did!” and the quizzes seem to show real progress. Phew! Now it’s possible to get on to teaching algebra, rather than the material the kids just hadn’t been taught.

But then, a few weeks later, the kids go back to ignoring the difference between 3-5 and 5-3. Furthermore, despite hours of explanation and practice, half the class seems to do no better than toss a coin to make the call on positive or negative slopes. Many students who demonstrated mastery of distributing multiplication over addition are now making a complete hash of the process in multi-step equations. And many students are still counting on their fingers.

The author is involved in education personally, so is posting their own reflections as well as what others report to them. In personal correspondence they explain that this phenomenon is common among children of average intelligence. The lowest quartile presumably would never have been able to master many of these rules in the first place. Some of the information resembles the stuff that a friend of mine experienced when he went in to do tutoring for disadvantaged students in Boston when he was getting his doctorate at MIT. At first my friend was totally taken aback at the level of ignorance (e.g., the inability to see the relationship between 1/10 and 10/100). Today he works at a major technology firm as a scientist, but continues to be involved in mentoring “at risk” kids. At some point you have to muddle on. He does his best, and does not indulge in the luxury of shock and disappointment. That helps no one.

This matters because American society is notionally obsessed with education. All this isn’t too clear or important to be frank when you aren’t a parent. It’s somewhat in the realm of the abstract. That changes when you become a parent. Suddenly you become immersed in the data of your local schools, and begin to weight various options to optimize your child’s schooling experience. Of course the real differences in school metrics have not only parental relevance, they matter in terms of national policy and attention. Both the political Left and the Right have their own pet solutions. More money, reform teachers’ unions, charter schools, vouchers, etc.

But the biggest problem at the heart of the matter is the fundamental populist drive to ignore human difference. American schools were designed to produce the citizen, and the citizen has the same rights and responsibilities from individual to individual. In some ways the public school system as it emerged in the 19th century was a project by the Protestant establishment to assimilate white ethnics, in particular Catholics (who of course created their own alternative educational system to maintain cultural separation and distinctiveness). In the 21st century the drive to produce H. Americanus seems quaint, rather, we want to citizens of the world with skills and abilities to navigate an information economy.

What American society on a deep philosophical level, no matter the political outlook, detests acknowledging is that a simple and elegant public policy solution can not abolish human difference. Some children are more athletic than others, and some children are more intelligent than others. Starting among conservatives, but now spreading to some liberals, is a rejection of this premise via blaming teachers. The premise is bewitching because it presents tractable problems with solutions on hand. Here is John B. Watson, the father of behaviorism:

Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors. I am going beyond my facts and I admit it, but so have the advocates of the contrary and they have been doing it for many thousands of years

I think if Watson were alive today he’d have to admit he was wrong. Your ancestors are not destiny, but they are probability. If your father plays in the N.B.A., the probability that you will play in the N.B.A. is not high. But the probability is orders of magnitude higher than if you are a random person off the street.

With all this I am not saying conditions which are non-hereditary are irrelevant. What I am saying is that we can’t ignore the shape of the pre-existent landscape before we attempt to reshape it to our own image. Excoriating teachers for having pupils who can’t master mid-level secondary school mathematics is in some cases like excoriating someone for the fact that their irrigation canals from the plains into the mountains are failures. You need to level the mountains before your canals can work (or, barring that design and implement a mechanical system which will move water against the grade). Easier said than done. E. O. Wilson said of Communism, “Great Idea, Wrong Species.” The reaction of Communist regimes to this reality was brutal and shocking. Obviously the modern rejection of unpalatable aspects of human nature are not so grotesque. But they have a human toll nonetheless. I’m skeptical that this generation will pass before we have to acknowledge these realities and calibrate our policies accordingly.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Culture, Education, Evolution 
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I’ve been aware of the whole “law school scam” genre for years. The basic issue is pretty straightforward: all the problems of higher education with easy loans and inflated tuition for credentialing are manifest writ large in law schools. Here are some plausible numbers, Law Grads Face Brutal Job Market:

The numbers suggest the job market for law grads is worse than previously thought. Nationwide, only 55% of the class of 2011 had full-time, long-term jobs that required a law degree nine months after graduation. The ABA defines “long-term” jobs as those that don’t have a term of less than one year.

Read the whole article, and you see how law school deans try to present weasel explanations for the damning statistics. There’s also a nice interactive graphic. Whittier College of Law has a 40% unemployment rate for the class of 2011. The bar passage rate is 66%, and the tuition is $38,000. In contrast, Columbia 2011 grads have an unemployment rate of less than 1%, with a tuition of $51,000. Obviously the inputs matter here. Columbia professors aren’t that much better than Whittier professors. Rather, Whittier is probably taking $38,000 a year from individuals who are marginal lawyer material. They’re selling people a dream.

This where cognitive biases come in. A rational person will ask if an individual with a unimpressive LSAT and low G.P.A. and lack of genuine passion for law can be a great lawyer. Most people are quite rational…about other people. When it comes to oneself there’s a strong bias, perhaps for evolutionary reasons, to delude oneself about one’s intelligence, attractiveness, conscientiousness, etc. Despite the “market signal” of the collapse of vast swaths of the legal industry in the wake of 2008, and the real correction in the number of applicants an students, these sort of data still imply that the supply of self-deluded suckers is large enough to saturate the market.

One might point out the same issues that plague people who get law degrees also apply to graduate school. I would point out two mitigating factors. First, at least for science graduates usually there isn’t a large debt load. Second, people who gain a Ph.D. at least know something of theoretical interest. This applies even to an unemployed history Ph.D.! The main issue which one can bring up in favor of law school is the opportunity cost due to time invested for graduate school. Law school is 3 years of your life. A science Ph.D. takes on average 7 years. A humanities Ph.D. tends to take even longer. On the other hand the typical Whittier College of Law graduate has $140,000 in debt.

The takeaway is that law school in the USA is the apotheosis of the deep foundational problems with higher education. Higher education is marketed as a way to “invest in yourself.” Who doesn’t want to invest in themselves? More relevantly, who doesn’t overestimate the basic raw human capital in which they’re investing? The problem is when you start out with a low principal in regards to human capital the returns aren’t going to be that great. No one wants to admit that their own principal isn’t all that great in the first place due to natural human cognitive biases, and American society today has an ideology of self-esteem and self-worth which positively amplifies this tendency. Voila, you get a substantial proportion of the population borrowing to invest in improving human capital which they didn’t start out with in the first place. A number multiplied by ~0 is going to be ~0.

H/T Half Sigma

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Education 
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John Hawks pointed me to this really strange article, Just Because We’re Not Publishing Doesn’t Mean We’re Not Working:

We have no concise term to describe what we spend much of our time doing. Our colleges are focused on scholarly products that can be peer-reviewed and published, but the reality is that many of us spend much of our time on being scholarly, not on producing scholarship. We are, and should be, consuming the scholarship of others. Consuming scholarship includes preparatory time for teaching but is much broader. We need a name for this ubiquitous activity. I offer “consumatory scholarship.”

I suppose the arguments is that by consuming the production of others you become a better teacher and communicator. But is this good bang-for-the-buck? One could argue that argue that I’m a “consumatory scholar,” but at least I have 10 years of a huge amount of text production of commentary which is widely circulated (e.g., I’ve been cited in a few books, just query “Razib Khan”).

Obviously there is some truth to the charge that publish-or-perish leads to a surfeit of crap. Quantity over quality. But this seems to take it to the extreme level. Publications do end up being a way to maintain careers, but the reason publishing is important is that you become part of the record of scholarship. Consumatory scholarship has much more individualized and evanescent outcomes.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Academia, Education 
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Educational Realist elaborates on some of the concerns I have had with Chris Hayes’ ballyhooed piece on the failure of elites:

Hayes is correct about one thing, though: the elites are locking out the hoi polloi from highest-level institutions. But it takes a real ignorance to pretend that the rich are doing this because of over-reliance on test scores or test prep, as opposed to buying their way in, using their powerful networks to only hire from the “right” schools, and the fuzzy math of the “holistic” evaluation process. Give me test scores any day.

ER also observes that in fact minorities, and in particular Asians, make use of test prep:

Use of Test-Prep Courses and Gains, by Race and Ethnicity

Group % Taking Test-Prep Course Post-Course Gain in Points on SAT
East Asian American 30% 68.8
Other Asian 15% 23.8
White 10% 12.3
Black 16% 14.9
Hispanic 11% 24.6
When I was in kindergarten I scored in the bottom 5 percent on an IQ test in the first week. At the end of the year I scored in the top 5 percent. I didn’t know English very well at the beginning of the year, and full immersion helped me catch up by year’s end (my English converged to nearly 100% fluency by 1st grade). Additionally, I might add that until I was in about 12 I assumed that my generally good standardized test cores and academic performance was due to my own work ethic, and that the vast majority of children who scored lower than me were just lazy (that is what my parents told me; a teacher had to explain to me that it was obvious I actually spent less time on schoolwork than some of my peers, whose realized performance was weaker).

One thing that immediately struck me about Hayes’ focus on high-stakes testing in the New York City public school system is that while it is true that investment in cram schools and test-prep can allow some students to “game” the system, this is far easier for lower and lower-middle class parents to afford than the polish, grace, and breeding, which only the upper and upper class have access to by virtue of their connections and the rich well-rounded experience of comfort.

In other news, Why Family Income Differences Don’t Explain the Racial Gap in SAT Scores:

Here, the first point made is that for black and white students from families with incomes between $80,000 and $100,000 in 1997, there still remains a huge 141-point gap in SAT scores.

Second and most difficult to explain is the fact that in 1997 black students from families with incomes between $80,000 and $100,000 did in fact score lower on the SAT test than did students from white families with incomes of less than $10,000.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Culture, Education 
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In Chris Hayes’ piece in The Nation, Why Elites Fail, there is a particular lacunae which I noted: he does not make it clear to a non-New York audience which is well known to any New York based reader: elite public schools in the city are dominated by Asians. I pointed this out to both Hayes and Matt Yglesias on Twitter. Hayes makes much of the advantages accrued to the wealthy via test prep, but neglects to mention the racialized cast of this: test prep and competition for these public school slots is driven by the children of Asian immigrants. Consider, Test Fuels Anxiety—And An Industry:

The challenging test, known as the “Sci-Hi” exam for short, consists of a math and verbal sections. More than 27,000 kids took the test last fall. Only about one in five students wins admission to the specialized high schools. Asians and South Asians were 57 percent of the students who learned in February that they’ve been admitted to one of the eight competitive specialized high schools.

The city’s Department of Education offers free prep classes for economically disadvantaged students. But many immigrant families pay for private test prep classes despite having incomes that in many cases are low: In the case of Bangladeshis, their per capita income in New York City was reported in the last census as $10,479—less than half of the citywide figure of $22,402. Mostly by word of mouth over the years, the Bangladeshi community of New York City picked up on the importance of these schools, valued by previous generations of working class immigrants as a stepping stone to American mainstream.


As I have said before, South Korea is a great nation, but I do not think the USA should emulate South Korea, or many other Asian nations, in the fixation on test prep. The tests are supposed to measure something real, they are not the ends in and of themselves. But that’s not how it seems when you’re a kid whose future depends on the test.

In contrast to New York public schools, see this write-up about an elite private school by Austin Bramwell (himself, a graduate of the school in question). This section is horrifying, but not surprising to me:

By this method, St. Paul’s claims to inculcate nothing less than mastery of Western (if not world) civilization. According to course descriptions, the third form (ninth grade) Humanities curriculum follows the “central ideas in the Western tradition through literature, religion, and history.” In fifth form (11th grade), students “encounter … a rich interdisciplinary study of European civilization from the beginnings of the Renaissance to the First World War, integrating [sic] literary, visual, musical, historical, philosophical, and religious themes that help develop perspectives useful to the understanding the complexities of the twenty-first century.” If one takes these words at face value, St. Paul’s routinely graduates an army of young Arnold Toynbees.

Not surprisingly, the reality is somewhat less impressive. During his year teaching at St. Paul’s, two seniors asked Khan to lead them on an independent study of Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Kant. Bemused by their ambitious proposal, Khan agreed, only to find on the first day of class that the two boys—described by their former Humanities instructor as “two of the finest philosophical minds in the school”—were unable, when asked to define the Enlightenment, “to generate any ideas that might even loosely connect with Enlightenment developments.” It turns out that they did not even know who Spinoza was. They only chose the name because it sounded cool. St. Paul’s teaches 17-year-olds that, no matter how ignorant, they can bluff their way through anything. After all, the two boys who approached Khan had already persuaded their Humanities teacher that they had the makings of fine philosophers.

According to the theory of the Humanities curriculum, knowledge doesn’t matter. Students are rewarded for blurting out “Like Everyman!” or “Kinda like Dostoevsky!” but not for knowing who wrote The Prince or who fought the Peloponnesian War. Arch-humanist Francois Rabelais recommended that one learn at least five ancient languages, memorize the best texts, and keep one’s mind well stocked with every tale from history. St. Paul’s recommends instead that to keep one’s mind wholly un-stocked by anything. St. Paul’s own claim that Humanities helps “develop perspectives useful to the understanding the complexities of the twenty-first century”—whatever that means—gives the game away: a claim need not be true so long as it sounds impressive. In a twist that Rabelais, the old scatologist, might have enjoyed, St. Paul’s teaches not knowledge but bullshit.

I assume that Bramwell exaggerates somewhat for literary effect. But this “name-checking” sounds all too familiar to me. It’s more disgusting than being plainly stupid. If one is given the gift of intelligence, one should attempt to cultivate it with decent humility and a genuine sincere striving toward excellence, not the pretense of intelligence suitable only to impress the dull. One’s life is finite. What will you say when you face your inevitable death? That you applied your mind to impressing callow adolescents and gullible adults, rather than daring to actually understand something deeper about the world to which you are are but a stranger? That’s why I react with such disgust to those who leave comments more to show off their false erudition or preen and prance about, signalling to their ideological peers their suitability and virtuosity. How one wastes one’s own life is a matter of personal choice. How you waste the seconds of the lives of others is a matter of grave concern.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Education 
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So there is a website out there, Educational Realist (via Steve Sailer), which made me aware of some statistics from ETS on the intellectual aptitudes of those who passed a teaching certification. This is relevant because those who major in education at university are notoriously rather weak students. The implication here is that teachers are substandard as a whole, a narrative long favored on the American Right, but now spreading in some parts of the Left.

Below are the verbal and mathematical scores by licensing domain. The solid line represents the average SAT score of a college graduate.

First, as a whole it seems the teaching profession is a high verbal and low math area, with math & science teachers being exceptions. But it really looks to me like there’s a sharp discontinuity between two groups of teachers here. Physical and special education instructors, as well as elementary school teachers, are less intelligent than the average college graduate. The other fields far less so, and in their domain of specialization they seem to be superior to the average college graduate.

Another table also caught my eye. You see see in the table to the left that teachers are far whiter than their students. It is clear that the “Other” category is mostly Asian from later tables. Observe that both Asians and Hispanics are underrepresented in the teaching corps by a factor of 7 in relation to the number of Asian and Hispanic students. I suppose someone might start wondering as to whether this is a problem, but last I checked Asian students are not having difficulties despite not having Asian ethnicity teachers. And in any case, no offense to the teaching profession, but if there is outreach to Asian Americans to encourage their children to become teachers there may be violent repercussions. There’s enough ostracism already when children decide to go graduate school, instead of medical or law school. Trying to change the professional priorities of the community is going to be viewed as insensitive.

To be more explicit at what I’m getting at, below are mean SAT test scores comparing individuals of various races between those who are college bound (not necessarily graduates!) and those who pass teaching certification.


College bound seniors, 2010 Passed teacher certification, 2002-2005
Asian White Black Asian White Black
SAT Math 591 536 429 521 524 459
SAT Verbal 519 528 428 510 534 482

As you can see, Asian teachers, who presumably have a college degree, actually score lower than college bound Asians! This means they’re almost certainly drawn from a below average set of college graduates. For whites there is not so much discrepancy. And interestingly for blacks teachers seem to be drawn from the higher end of the distribution.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Education 
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Update: Stephen Dubner emailed me, and pointed me to this much longer segment which has a lot of Bryan Caplan. So it seems like the omission that I perceived was more of an issue with the production and editing process and constraints of the Marketplace segment than anything else.

End Update

I play a lot of podcasts during the day as I go about my business on my iPod shuffle. One of them is Marketplace, which has a regular Freakonomics Radio segment, where Stephen Dubner “freaks” you out with incredible facts and analysis, often with a helping hand from Steven Levitt. With all due respect to Dubner and Levitt, this still has very pre-Lehman feel. Economics has “solved” the workings of the explicit market, so why not move on to other areas which are ripe for conquest by the “logic of life?”

In any case this week’s episode kind of ticked me off just a little. It started off with the observation that college educated women apparently put 22 hours weekly into childcare today, vs. 13 hours in the 1980s. I guess fewer latchkey kids and more “helicopter parents?” Dubner basically indicates that the reasoning behind this is many parents are in a “red queen” arms race to polish the c.v.’s of their children for selective universities. This makes qualitative sense, but can we explain an increase of 9 hours on average for the ~25% of women who are college educated on striving to make sure that their kids have Wesleyan as the safety school?

Let’s put our quantitative “thinking-caps” on “freakonomics” style. ~25% of adults have university degrees. ~80% of these have public university degrees, which are usually not too selective. Some of the ~20% are from not particularly elite religious colleges. So the subset of Americans who graduated from elite universities is actually not too large a number. You can include these as natural aspirants for the best spots for their children. And a proportion of the large remainder, I’d estimate ~90%, who didn’t go to a university which required a great deal of stress and c.v. polishing would certainly strive and hope for better for their kids. But can this explain a 9 hour average rise among tens of millions of women? Doesn’t seem to pass the smell test for me. I suspect there’s a more general norm of shifting toward “high investment parenting” among the college educated cohorts.


A second aspect of the Dubner piece for Marketplace is that it totally doesn’t clue the listener in to the reality that there’s a huge behavior genetic literature which predates the interest of economics in the outcomes of parenting. ~10 years ago Judith Rich Harris came out with The Nurture Assumption, which reported the conventional finding that shared family environment only explains a small proportion of the variation in many behavioral outcomes within the population. The remainder is split between genes and “other environment” (which is a catchall category). More recently Bryan Caplan’s Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids is steeped in Harris’ work. It’s gotten a lot of media exposure, so I was surprised that Dubner didn’t mention Caplan. Instead he focused on Bruce Sacerdote at Dartmouth, who has done some research on outcomes for adoptive and biological children.

His research in this area seems about right, judging from what I know about findings in behavior genetics. In other words, he’s not a trail-blazer as much as a trail-tender. You can find a representative paper online, What happens when we randomly assign children to families?:

I use a new data set of Korean-American adoptees who, as infants, were randomly assigned to families in the U.S. I examine the treatment effects from being assigned to a high income family, a high education family or a family with four or more children. I calculate the transmission of income, education and health characteristics from adoptive parents to adoptees. I then compare these coefficients of transmission to the analogous coefficients for biological children in the same families, and to children raised by their biological parents in other data sets. Having a college educated mother increases an adoptee’s probability of graduating from college by 7 percentage points, but raises a biological child’s probability of graduating from college by 26 percentage points. In contrast, transmission of drinking and smoking behavior from parents to children is as strong for adoptees as for non-adoptees. For height, obesity, and income, transmission coefficients are significantly higher for non-adoptees than for adoptees. In this sample, sibling gender composition does not appear to affect adoptee outcomes nor does the mix of adoptee siblings versus biological siblings.

If you are an adopted kid there are some traits where parents matter a lot. For example, what religion you follow. There are some traits where parents don’t matter much at all. For example, how tall you’re going to turn out to be. And there are all the traits in between, like whether you’re going to finish college or are a regular church attender. Like most economics papers there’s a lot of fancy regressions. But a few figures and tables will give you the right idea.

The table below shows the proportion of the variation of adopted and biological children as explained by the variation of the parents. The key is to look at the ratio column. You probably wouldn’t be too surprised variation in parents’ heights can explain 10 times more of the variation in their biological children’s heights than their adopted children (ratio ~0.10). But variation in parents’ education explains 3.6 times more of the variation in their biological children’s outcomes than their adoptive children!

Overall, I agree with Dubner, Levitt, Sacerdote, Harris, and Caplan, that our society has convinced many parents that there are huge marginal returns in investment in quantity of time as opposed to quality. Falsely. By “our society,” I don’t mean specific people. Rather, I think the Zeitgeist changes from generation to generation, and some prominent people reflect that Zeitgeist. There was a time where nature was all dominant, and then the pendulum swung back to nurture during the era of the “frigid mother.” In the 1960s and 1970s despite the ascendant anti-hereditarian paradigm in the social sciences the rapid emergence of the “working mom” through female labor force participation resulted in less supervision in kids in households where both parents were working. But after this cultural “shock” perhaps we’ve adapted to the idea of women at work to the point where latchkey kids are no longer a culturally acceptable option? Or at least if you do have latchkey kids you’re negligent. Much of the reaction to the free-range kids movement seems to verge on moral panic, indicating to me that helicopter-parenting has less to do with individual rational action and more to do with group norm adherence. “It’s just what’s done!”

In hindsight I would have to admit that I was a de facto latchkey kid, and I had a stay at home mom! I Just mapped the route to and from the public library I regularly walked over the summers starting at the age of 8, alone, and it comes it at 0.8 miles. My dad was always at work, and my mom had less interest in books than I did. I do recall some young librarians asking if I was “OK” as I was carting stools back and forth because I was way too short to reach the top shelves in the adult stacks, as if I was lost, but after a while they got use to my presence and didn’t bug me (though I do recall one security guard who always seemed to be think I was up to no good as I lugged the huge oversized biogeography books around).

If this post piqued your interest, don’t stop. To understand what this all means you need to think and read about this more.

- Gene-environment correlation
- Gene-environment interaction
- Heritability
- Norm of reaction

For example, if you are thinking, “OK, so Razib just explained that getting a college education is mostly genetic,” you don’t get what I am trying to say here.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
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Josh Rosenau points me to a new infographic from The Chronicle of Higher Education. A lot of the stuff isn’t too interesting or surprising. Are you surprised that 25% of the state legislators in Arkansas don’t have a college degree, the highest in the nation? The lack of public investment in education Arkansas has deep historical and cultural roots, back to its founding in the 19th century. On the other hand there are a few surprising nuggets. You are surely aware of the preponderance of Esquires in the profession of lawmakers in these United States. But can you guess which state has the highest proportion of lawyers in their legislature?

Don’t mess with Texas! They’ll sue you!

How about doctorates? This one might surprise you too:


I suspect the dominance of Nebraska here is because of the prominence of agriculture in the state economy. “Cow colleges” are often factories for the production of local leaders who become the captains of agriculture with education and scientific knowledge in hand. They have interests to be defended! Farm subsidies to maintain! So of course they’ll get involved in politics. In New Jersey PhDs leave it to the large staff of lawyers who work for the pharmaceutical company where they’re employed to do the lobbying and politicking.

One of the more peculiar aspects of the United States is the dominance of graduates of public institutions in those regions ostensibly most hostile to generous disbursement from the public fisc. In contrast, very Lefty states are often much more weighted toward graduates of elite private universities. Here’s the breakdown:

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Data Analysis, Education 
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If you’re like me you have friends and acquaintances who want to go to law school. I often respond sarcastically that “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.” There have long been “law school scam” blogs, but it seems that right now there’s a veritable bubble in media reports on exactly how law schools are screwing their students. Remember, law school debt is not dischargeable in bankruptcy.

First, an article in The New Republic, Served: How law schools completely misrepresent their job numbers:

When we take temporary employment into account, it appears that approximately 45 percent of 2010 graduates of this particular top-50 law school had real legal jobs nine months after graduation. And the overall number is likely lower, since it seems probable that the temporary employment figures for the graduates of almost any top 50 school would be better than the average outcome for the graduates of the 198 ABA-accredited law schools as a whole.

Even this grim figure, however, may be unduly optimistic. All these statistics are based on self-reporting, and neither law schools nor NALP audit the data they publish. In the course of my research, I audited a representative sample of individual graduate responses and found several instances of people describing themselves as employed permanently or full-time, when in fact they had temporary or part-time jobs (I found no instances of inaccuracies running in the other direction). Perhaps some graduates exaggerate their employment status out of embarrassment, or for strategic reasons, but, whatever their reasons might be, this apparently not uncommon practice suggests that the true employment rate should be lowered even further.

This is old news. The New York Times now has a piece up with a new twist, Law Students Lose the Grant Game as Schools Win:

To keep her grant, all that Ms. Leumer had to do was maintain a grade-point average of 3.0 or above — a B or better. If she dipped below that number at the end of either the first or the second year, the letter explained, she would lose her scholarship for good.

“I didn’t give it much thought,” she said. “I didn’t think it would be a challenge.”

Her grades and test scores were well above the median at Golden Gate, which then languished in the bottom 25 percent of the U.S. News and World Report annual rankings of law schools.

How hard could a 3.0 be? Really hard, it turned out. That might have been obvious if Golden Gate published a statistic that law schools are loath to share: the number of first-year students who lose their merit scholarships. That figure is not in the literature sent to prospective Golden Gate students or on its Web site.

But it’s a number worth knowing. At Golden Gate and other law schools nationwide, students are graded on a curve, which carefully rations the number of A’s and B’s, as well as C’s and D’s, awarded each semester. That all but ensures that a certain number of students — at Golden Gate, it could be in the realm of 70 students this year — will lose their scholarships and wind up paying full tuition in their second and third years

Why would a school offer more scholarships than it planned to renew?

The short answer is this: to build the best class that money can buy, and with it, prestige. But these grant programs often succeed at the expense of students, who in many cases figure out the perils of the merit scholarship game far too late.

It’s true that people should go into these sorts of decisions with eyes wide open, even taking into account cognitive biases which we as humans have to strongly overestimate our skills and ability to “beat the odds.” But a lot of this stuff would clear out if educational debt was treated the same way as other debt when it comes to bankruptcy. Of course that would kill the cheap gusher of money, as creditors will be more vigilant and stingy if there’s a probability that they will lose all legal grounds to collect at some point in the future. But this sort of discipline is necessary when making a rational calculus. As it is, law schools, and higher education more generally, has a other-peoples’-money problem right now. At some point the music will stop, people will be left holding the bag, and the bubble will burst.

The fact that the mainstream media is now devoting so much time to the issue is a good sign that there’s a change in the offing. Outrage and disillusionment has percolated out far enough socially that this is a story that many people are interested in. In the higher socioeconomic stratum enough people have relatives, friends, and acquaintances, who have been played. Stories about how check cashing places exploit the lower orders often have an anthropological feel. Not so when it comes to law schools. These are “our kind of people.”

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Culture, Education 
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Matt Yglesias has posted some charts showing that

1) Childlessness among women is becoming more common

2) The variation of this state by education is disappearing

Here’s the chart which illustrates the second phenomenon:

758-2

I think the reason this may be occurring is a dilution of the sample bias of women who have higher education in relation to the general ppoulation. In other words, as more women attain advanced degrees the pool of those women become less atypical vis-a-vis the general population

To gauge the shift in education and peculiarity I only needed a few variables in the General Social Survey. I limited SEX to women, YEAR to 1992-1994 and 2006-2008, DEGREE allowed me to break down educational attainment, and finally GOD was a variable which probed them on a culturally indicative variable.

First you can see women as a whole have become more well educated. This is a well known dynamic. The absolute change in the proportion of women who have advanced degrees is small, only a few percent, but in the GSS the proportion increase is around 50%. This includes masters and doctorates into one category.

womeedu

The sample sizes for GOD across the periods of interest are small, but look at the enormous increase in the proportion who have no doubts in the existence of God. There was no change in this result in the general population across this time period.

womegod

UPDATE: For the second chart I forgot to note that that’s only women with advanced degrees.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Culture, Data Analysis, Education, Natalism, Women 
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In the post below, Colder climates favor civilization even among Whites alone, I made a few comments about possible differences between Germans in Illinois and Germans in Texas, based on nothing much more than a hunch. I trust my hunches, but there’s no reason you should, so I decided to see if there was anything here in regards to my assumption about interregional differences in intelligence and how they might track across ethnic groups. So of course I went to the GSS website, and checked the mean WORDSUM scores of various white ethnic groups broken down by region. I specifically focused on whites who stated that their ancestors were from England & Wales, Germany and Ireland. My reasoning is that these are three groups with very large N’s within the GSS sample and they are well represented across the regions in absolute numbers. My main motivation was see if the differences across regions were similar for all three groups. Here are the states for each region (the Census made up these categories):

New England – Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut
Middle Atlantic – New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania
East North Central – Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin
West North Central – Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas
South Atlantic – Delaware, Maryland, District of Columbia, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida
East South Central – Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi
West South Central – Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas
Mountain – Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada
Pacific – Washington, Imbler, California, Alaska, Hawaii

Obviously the breakdown isn’t ideal. I think Delaware and Maryland arguably should be Mid-Atlantic. I also believe that Wisconsin is more plausibly in the West North Central than Missouri or Kansas is. But those are the regional breakdowns and I can’t do anything about them.

So, WORDSUM is a vocabulary test on a 0-10 scale. For the whole GSS sample the mean was 6.00, with 1 standard deviation being 2.16. Below is a chart which shows the relationship between WORDSUM scores (Y axis) for various regions (X axis) for each of the three ethnic groups:


The tables below are pretty self-explanatory. At the top you see the mean WORDSUM scores for each ethnic group for each region. I put the N’s in there as well so you can see that the sample sizes were pretty big. Note that there is more interregional variation within an ethnic group than there is interethnic variation within a region (the standard deviation across the columns is 50% bigger than across the rows). Just to be clear, I also included some tables which show the differences in WORDSUM mean scores between the regions like so: (row – column) = value.

New England

Middle Atlantic

East North Central

West North Central

South Atlantic

East South Central

West South Central

Mountain

Pacific

N

England & Wales

7.4

7.09

6.71

6.65

6.66

6.2

6.87

6.84

7.1

2,462

Germany

7.7

6.31

6.01

6.33

6.16

5.83

6.2

6.37

6.36

3,316

Ireland

6.98

7.07

6.15

6.46

6.06

5.66

6.03

6.51

6.88

2,207

tyle="text-align: left; width: 1.3673in;">

England & Wales

New England

Middle Atlantic

East North Central

West North Central

South Atlantic

East South Central

West South Central

Mountain

Pacific

New England

-

0.31

0.69

0.75

0.74

1.2

0.53

0.56

0.3

Middle Atlantic

-

-

0.38

0.44

0.43

0.89

0.22

0.25

-0.01

East North Central

-

-

-

0.06

0.05

0.51

-0.16

-0.13

-0.39

West North Central

-

-

-

-

-0.01

0.45

-0.22

-0.19

-0.45

South Atlantic

-

-

-

-

-

0.46

-0.21

-0.18

-0.44

East South Central

-

-

-

-

-

-

-0.67

-0.64

-0.9

West South Central

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

0.03

-0.23

Mountain

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-0.26

Pacific

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

Germany

New England

Middle Atlantic

East North Central

West North Central

South Atlantic

East South Central

West South Central

Mountain

Pacific

New England

-

1.39

1.69

1.37

1.54

1.87

1.5

1.33

1.34

Middle Atlantic

-

-

0.3

-0.02

0.15

0.48

0.11

-0.06

-0.05

East North Central

-

-

-

-0.32

-0.15

0.18

-0.19

-0.36

-0.35

West North Central

-

-

-

- <
/p>

0.17

0.5

0.13

-0.04

-0.03

South Atlantic

-

-

-

-

-

0.33

-0.04

-0.21

-0.2

East South Central

-

-

-

-

-

-

-0.37

-0.54

-0.53

West South Central

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-0.17

-0.16

Mountain

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

0.01

Pacific

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

Ireland

New England

Middle Atlantic

East North Central

West North Central

South Atlantic

East South Central

West South Central

Mountain

Pacific

New England

-

-0.09

0.83

0.52

0.92

1.32

0.95

0.47

0.1

Middle Atlantic

-

-

0.92

0.61

1.01

1.41

1.04

0.56

0.19

East North Central

-

-

-

-0.31

0.09

0.49

0.12

-0.36

-0.73

West North Central

-

-

-

-

0.4

0.8

0.43

-0.05

-0.42

South Atlantic

-

-

-

-

-

0.4

0.03

-0.45

-0.82

East South Central

-

-

-

-

-

-

-0.37

-0.85

-1.22

West South Central

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-0.48

-0.85

Mountain

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-0.37

Pacific

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

(Republished from GNXP.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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Razib Khan
About Razib Khan

"I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com"