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Meritocracy: Gelman's Sixth Column
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Meritocracy For reasons best known to himself, Columbia University statistics professor Andrew Gelman has now seen fit to publish his sixth(!) lengthy blogsite column discussing or sharply critiquing my analysis of Ivy League university admissions. Just like most of his previous ones, he seeks to rebut my particular claim that there is a highly suspicious degree of Jewish over-representation in elite college enrollment.

Unfortunately, this latest 3,100 word piece contains new little substance beneath the paired photos of President Obama and House Speaker Boehner. He continues to avoid the overwhelming bulk of the quantitative evidence I had provided in my 30,000 word Meritocracy analysis, instead producing a mass of obfuscatory verbiage mostly disputing the accuracy of a couple of my scattered sentences here and there, while characterizing my motivation as that of an ideological “political activist” following a pattern of “stubbornness” rather than “scholarly discourse.” I’m no expert in psychoanalysis, but I believe Gelman’s reaction might be a classic example of what I think Freud called “psychological projection.”

As I had previously mentioned, after our initial blogsite debate became heated I sent Gelman a detailed private note outlining my own quantitative framework and suggesting that he do the same, thereby allowing us to determine exactly where we agreed and disagreed and narrowing down the scope of our dispute. His response was that he hadn’t really investigated the issue himself and therefore didn’t have any contrasting estimates of his own. But he asked for permission to publish our private exchange on his blogsite, which I readily granted.

I suggest that neutral observers read this Unz/Gelman exchange for themselves, and decide whether his response is as vacuous as it seems to me, even with the substantial P.S. he afterwards appended. I believe it also provides a good indication of which of us is playing the role of the dispassionate researcher. Indeed, Gelman’s complete refusal to engage with my data alarmed one of his agitated and anonymous commenters, who accused Gelman of pursuing an “escape route,” adding “Now that you’ve gotten into the fight don’t run away.” Perhaps this sort of angry accusation from his erstwhile supporters helps to explain Gelman’s added P.S., plus his two subsequent columns on the subject.

Under normal circumstances it would be perfectly reasonable for Gelman to claim that he is just too busy or uninterested in the topic to produce his own quantitative estimates to compare against my own. But given that he’s now written well over 10,000 words about my article across six separate postings, that claim begins to grow rather doubtful.

 

It is obvious that unavoidable emotional attachments, including those of an ethnocentric nature, may easily cloud one’s analytical thinking. For example, my initial substantive response in the original comment-thread with Gelman had been as follows:

I had claimed that across the combined NMS lists, the Jewish estimates produced by the sampling technique of Weyl Analysis almost exactly matched those produced by direct inspection, thereby validating the latter approach. You devoted a major section of your column to debunking this claim by pointing out that Weyl Analysis actually produced a substantially higher Jewish estimate than my direct inspection for the 8 states you listed. However, you neglected to note that Weyl Analysis also produced a substantially *lower* estimate for the other 17 states I used. This is exactly what one would expect of any sampling technique, and is fully consistent with my claim that the overall averages converged across the very large sample of 25 states. Your blogsite does describe you as an award-winning Ivy League statistics professor, does it not?

America’s national elites in academics, finance, media, and politics are today drawn overwhelmingly from Harvard (which rejects some 95% of all applicants) and the rest of the Ivy League. These universities publicly claim that they admit applicants less on objective academic merit than on broad “holistic” factors, which are known only to them. This policy is partly to ensure that their student body is fully “diverse” and reasonably reflects America’s overall population.

According to Hillel, whose estimates are accepted everywhere, Ivy League undergraduates are 23% Jewish, implying that they are some 3,000% more likely to be enrolled than non-Jewish whites of a similar age. You challenge the Hillel figures, suggesting that they are probably incorrect. However, Jews constitute roughly 1.8% of the national college-age population, and unless the true enrollment figure were that low, Jews would be considerably overrepresented. Given the extremely large gap between 23% and 1.8%, I tend to doubt Hillel’s numbers are off by nearly a factor of 13.

The least troubling possible explanation for the 3,000% overrepresentation of Jewish students is that Jewish academic performance is so enormously greater than that of white Gentiles, they are admitted by the Ivies at correspondingly greater rates, even though the Ivies publicly discount academic performance as an overriding factor in admissions. The best means of testing this “Jewish out-performance” hypothesis is to estimate the number of Jewish students ranked as NMS semifinalists. But unless an unreasonably large fraction of top-performing Jewish students actually have completely non-Jewish names, this approach fails. I would suggest that the burden of proof is upon those who argue that Jewish students are actually 3,000% more likely to be high-performing than their non-Jewish classmates.

Let us consider the following thought-experiment. The number of college-age Mormons in America is roughly the same as the number of college-age Jews. Suppose an astonishing fraction of all top Ivy League officials were either Mormons or married to Mormons, while a leading Mormon campus organization reported that young Mormons were 3,000% more likely to be enrolled in the Ivy League than young non-Mormons. To avoid dark suspicions, one would surely attempt to locate some solid evidence that Mormon students were 3,000% more likely to be top-achievers than non-Mormons, or perhaps were 3,000% more likely to apply to the Ivy League.

To which he responded in part:

Regarding your last point, nobody has shared with me the data you discuss on Mormons. My impression is that Mormons mostly live far away from Ivy League schools and are less likely to apply to them and that Mormons are not represented in the same proportion as Jews in the various groups that you looked at in your article. But, again, I haven’t looked at these numbers.

Readers may draw their own conclusions from this. I’ve been told that Gelman originally studied physics, but perhaps he never encountered the term “thought-experiment.”

 

ORDER IT NOW

Turning to a far more substantive matter, a couple of very prominent academic scholars, both of Jewish background, have indicated that they found my quantitative evidence of Jewish over-representation at the Ivies reasonably persuasive, but were puzzled at the actual mechanism. After all, relatively few admissions officers are Jewish, and although a huge fraction of the top university officials have that ethnicity, it seems very implausible that they would actually order their subordinates to maintain a particular level of Jewish enrollment.

My short answer is that I just don’t know. But if I were forced to provide a speculative hypothesis, it would be along the following lines.

First, consider the evidence that most admissions officers are of shockingly unimpressive academic quality, partly because the job usually pays quite badly. For example, my article had mentioned that the head of admissions at one of America’s most prestigious liberal arts colleges had previously been employed as an animal control officer, and I provided numerous similar examples.

Next, let us consider the revealing 1999 Princeton case, in which it was discovered that Jewish admissions had been gradually drifting downward for the previous decade or two. The decline partly reflected the changing demographics of the college-age population and was less severe than the decline in non-Jewish white numbers at Harvard, Yale and the rest of the Ivy League, but nonetheless provoked a massive national media firestorm, in which Princeton’s top officials—who were themselves both Jewish—apologized for their university’s apparent “anti-Semitism” and agreed to drastically reform the obviously flawed admissions process. Presumably, many or most of the responsible admissions officers were terminated, and had to go back to catching raccoons for a living.

The world of elite admissions officers is an extremely small one, and it seems likely that admissions officers at all the other Ivy League and highly selective schools immediately took that lesson to heart, recognizing that any substantial decline in Jewish enrollment might have career-ending consequences. This would certainly lead to the results we now see in the data.

Consider the analogous reasons that industrial production statistics were very often unreliable in Soviet Russia. Although officials were probably not ordered to fabricate their numbers, they quickly discovered that those who reported insufficiently positive results risked being purged.

I strongly suspect that if Princeton’s 1999 admissions officers had attempted to persuade Prof. Gelman or his agitated commenters that their sharply declining admission of Jews was simply due to the objective academic weakness of their Jewish applicants, those arguments would have fallen on unsympathetic ears. And it is far more pleasant to sit in a warm university office selecting America’s future ruling elites than having to wander around the Northeastern countryside during wintertime in search of a possibly rabid dog.

(Republished from The American Conservative by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Race/Ethnicity • Tags: Meritocracy 
The Meritocracy Series
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  1. Ron–

    In my view at least, you would be a *lot* better off and a *lot* more convincing if you talked about an end-of-the-twentieth century cultural-intellectual style that is now reproducing itself–as people in admissions offices overrate their own cultural-intellectual style of smartness and underrate other styles of smartness as they try their damnedest to make meritocratic judgments. It’s not just Jews: it’s people like me who you think have too large a proportion of elite university places.

    As it is, you write like this: “For reasons best known to himself… Andrew Gelman has now seen fit to publish his sixth(!) lengthy blogsite column discussing or sharply critiquing my analysis… a highly suspicious degree of Jewish over-representation in elite college enrollment. Unfortunately, this latest 3,100 word piece contains new little substance beneath the paired photos of President Obama and House Speaker Boehner. He continues to avoid the overwhelming bulk of the quantitative evidence I had provided in my 30,000 word Meritocracy analysis… a mass of obfuscatory verbiage mostly disputing the accuracy of a couple of my scattered sentences here and there…. Gelman’s reaction… Freud called “psychological projection.”… Ivy League undergraduates are 23% Jewish, implying that they are some 3,000% more likely to be enrolled than non-Jewish whites of a similar age…. The least troubling possible explanation for the 3,000% overrepresentation of Jewish students…. Turning to a far more substantive matter, a couple of very prominent academic scholars… were puzzled at the actual mechanism… few admissions officers are Jewish… a huge fraction of the top university officials have that ethnicity…. [M]ost admissions officers are of shockingly unimpressive academic quality… previously… employed as an animal control officer…. Next, let us consider the revealing 1999 Princeton case, in which it was discovered that Jewish admissions had been gradually drifting downward… a massive national media firestorm, in which Princeton’s top officials—who were themselves both Jewish—apologized for their university’s apparent “anti-Semitism”…. Presumably, many or most of the responsible admissions officers were terminated, and had to go back to catching raccoons for a living… admissions officers at all the other Ivy League and highly selective schools immediately took that lesson to heart, recognizing that any substantial decline in Jewish enrollment might have career-ending consequences…. Consider the analogous reasons that industrial production statistics were very often unreliable in Soviet Russia.”

    And when you write like this, you do sound like a nut.

    Yours,

    Brad DeLong

  2. Another possibility: urban Jewish folks are better at “signalling” the types of things admissions officers are looking for. I doubt admissions officers would have been impressed with tales of chopping wood for heat because we couldn’t afford natural gas, being kicked off the debate team for … going to work instead of practices, or working in a factory for low wages to buy bags of rice and carrots, so I could afford physics classes. Had I campaigned for some fashionable cause, that probably would have been viewed more favorably.

  3. @Brad: when you post something like that, you sound like someone attempting to avoid the issue, by disagreeing with the “tone.” The standard strategy of modern political correctness: shut down the conversation with moral hectoring. Worked for bigoted Church ladies for centuries!

    You’re a numerate guy: why don’t you simply address Ron’s numbers? If he’s wrong, he’s wrong no matter how he said it.

  4. Thos. says:

    “… and had to go back to catching raccoons for a living”

    You caught me off guard and now coffee’s all down my broadcloth shirt. Cruel, unfair, almost certainly false, but very funny.

  5. TGGP says: • Website

    Ron, I thought your initial piece on meritocracy was very interesting, and well deserving of it’s Sidney award (even if Brooks doesn’t deserve to be the one deciding such things). I don’t know if I qualify as a neutral observer, but your participation in the Gelman exchange has done not you any favors. Characterizing his disagreement as about “the accuracy of a few sentences” rather than wrong numbers (and as a stats professor, he cares about those) resulting from faulty methods? Steve Sailer, who sometimes publishes here, has discussed similar matters with Gelman. If they happen to disagree on something, does Sailer react the same way? No, because the two have some intellectual respect for each other and don’t need to gasp at what mysterious motivation could result in the other possibly disagreeing with one’s own obviously correct position. That is, or at least should be, par for the course with a social scientist like Gelman (someone might bring up cultural anthropology as a counter to my generalization, but they voted not to call their discipline a science). If Gelman starts publishing responses in opinion magazines aimed at the general reader, it might make more sense to take the combative pundit stance. But as of now you’re visiting Rome, and should do as Romans do.

  6. TomB says:

    Mr. Unz:

    If *this* is the best they’ve got—Gelman and the DeLongian calling of names—it seems to me you ought to consider having hit it out of the park.

    Now to sit back and hope to see your work translate into some lawsuits against the Ivy’s for anti-white gentile ethnic discrimination. With an initially estimated 3000% disadvantage that even a guy like Gelman can show no even significant flaw in much less no blatant huge one, almost no matter what margin of error they can ascribe to your work means nothing.

    And who knows? If such sort of discrimination goes back far enough we may be treated to the delicious spectacle of white gentiles demanding court-supervised affirmative action for awhile so as to rectify such past discrimination.

    Next set of figures I’d like to see: Statistics regarding possible anti-white gentile discrimination in the newsrooms of the major elite media corporations. Given their constant braying about the need for open-nesss and transparency and hatred of discrimination they ought to be open about their employment rolls. So let’s see how well they walk their talk.

  7. What do you mean “wrong”? Do people with–call it a New York literary-intellectual-culture style of argument–have a much easier time getting into Ivy League universities than people with other kinds of smarts I suspect are equally as smart in some transcendental smartness sense and equally capable of benefiting from elite education? Probably. Are Ron Unz’s numbers the right numbers? Probably not: the thumb seems to be on the scale more often on one side than on the other. Is Ron a bad actor? I don’t believe so: inevitably you make decisions as to how to conduct analyses, and inevitably your priors lead you to make judgments that people with other priors think overstate the strength of the evidence on your side. Are “the Jews” bad actors? No. Is there something suspicious and bad in there being lots of Jewish provosts at Ivy League colleges? No. Do admissions officers fear they will be fired and have to go back to catching raccoons if they don’t admit enough Jews? No.

    Ron sounds like a nut–which means that anybody coming to the debate from outside will in all likelihood fairly conclude that Ron is a nut. You need to present yourself as a not-nut if you want people to think it is worth investing time in crunching your numbers…

  8. Thos. says:

    Sheesh! You can’t accuse Ron Unz of picking on defenseless small-fry, can you?

  9. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    What would appear an otherwise measured response loses itself in hyperbole when you, in a blanket statement, again characterize the admissions staffs of America’s top colleges as “shockingly unimpressive.” One might equally as well say that all the authors in The American Conservative are intellectually unaccomplished because of Joe the Plumber or Sarah Palin? I’m sure you’d appropriately take umbrage to this claim.

    Further, just because someone has worked as an animal control officer, a camera store manager, or the director of a psychiatric halfway house does not make them unqualified for the job! What kind of experience do they bring and what judgement did they learn in their former roles? Are they young university alumni who have shown great dedication to the institution and are part of the 50% who have actually succeeded in finding a job in this dismal economy for recent graduates, despite however overqualified for managing Ritz Camera they may have been?

    One of my fellow Ivy League graduate classmates currently works for the welfare office in a major US city, essentially “screening food-stamp recipients.” I can tell you that I would be very excited if our alma mater were able to get him on their admissions staff because I think his perspective would help create a strong and balanced student body.

    Lastly, you denigrate not just an individual’s competence and judgement, but an entire class of university employees based on cherry-picked job experiences that appear on the resume of select few while ignoring a presentation of any balancing merits. These individuals may truly lack merits, as you seem to imply, but you do your argument on their competence a disservice by not balancing your discussion of their resume.

    My resume includes two degrees from Ivy League universities, a year on faculty at Oxford, and four years with a management consultancy – but the full version would also show a work history that includes custodian, short-order cook, construction worker, and executive assistant. Were I to be an admissions officer at one of the establishments you’re skewering would you end with the gibe that “a warm university office selecting America’s future ruling elites” is better than flipping burgers or scraping gum off of desks? It’s a cheap shot and takes your post down with it.

    With 50% unemployed/underemployed, I guarantee you the competitiveness to work for the admissions office is still high among recent graduates, despite its (perhaps, in fact, because of its) middle-class salary. It’s a rude and unnecessary insult to not represent the strengths these individuals must have exhibited to get these positions in a very competitive market. And ruder still to judge all admissions officers by association.

  10. I think that there are a lot of possibilities here:

    1. Jews simply made a concerted effort to join the US elite and succeeded. This is a generally accepted notion.

    2. WASPS have made a concerted and targeted effort to promote Jews to visible positions of power. This is a generally unspoken notion that harkens back to other empires who used Jews and other targeted minorities to interface with the empire’s subjects. This is not a particularly desirable position to be in when things go bad.

    3. WASPS made a concerted effort to integrate these institutions by religion, race, and class and Jews simply took more advantage of the opportunity then Catholics, African-Americans, or low-income Protestants. I think it would be interesting to compare third and fourth generation Jews (mostly Eastern European) with third and fourth generation Catholics (Ireland, Italy, Poland, French-Canada, etc.)

    A caveat for all of this is that it has always struck me how few Jewish institutions of higher learning there seem to be compared to Catholic, and other denominations. This deserves some study on a per capita basis.

  11. Thos. says:

    @Harvard WASP – You can’t accuse Ron Unz of picking on defenseless small-fry, can you?,/i>

    Agreed – I look forward to a solid response from Prof. Gelman, and perhaps even some solid self-research by the Ivies under scrutiny. But I also agree with TGGP that a moderate tone is in order.

  12. Anthony says:

    I thought your original piece was compelling and I was open to being convinced. But the evidence produced by Janet Mertz took apart the Jewish-related part of your argument. Gelman isn’t writing about the quantitative evidence now because there’s no need to anymore. But there are other bits of this that incident that are interesting.
    One of the parts of being in the political state of mind is that you think everyone else is, too. But consider that maybe Gelman actually isn’t – that he was initially open to your argument, but when better evidence arrived, he changed his mind. That’s what you’re supposed to do.

  13. It appears that the reality of the Holocaust has propelled a “whatever it takes” policy on behalf of Jewish people to create an entirely pragmatic and unassailable “Never Again” approach to attaining power.

    The idea that Israeli policy should drive a subsidiary U.S. foreign policy is also consistent with this paradigm.

    It is entirely understandable, even if one disagrees with it from the perspective of being non-Jewish.

  14. Another thing to consider when comparing Jewish and non-Jewish admissions to elite colleges is that Catholics, particularly the urban Irish, had a political stranglehold on employment related to government jobs, government contracts, liquor licenses, lobbying, and regulated industries (including organized crime).

    If you were Irish and you goofed off you wound up with a government job. If you were Jewish and you goofed off, you wound up hungry. To this day the word “hungry” is associated with ambition.

    To paraphrase what the Chinese-American elite student said on the Bill Moyers show. “My mother told me that if you can keep someone out of jail or cure them of an illness they won’t mind that you look different”.

  15. See my 7-page official response to Ron Unz’s “Meritocracy” article at:
    http://andrewgelman.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Mertz-on-Unz-Meritocracy-Article.pdf

  16. TGGP says: • Website

    I don’t think it’s merely a matter of “tone”, so saying the same thing in different words wouldn’t be much of an improvement. It’s treating it as a political argument rather than a technical dispute about statistics.

  17. Reader says:

    Prof. Mertz, your critique seems very strong overall, and obviously your direct communication with IMO students and adjustment for foreign students in the Putnam show that Unz was severely wrong about a collapse of high-end Jewish math achievement. But why not actually contact Hillel to find out how their numbers are computed and inform us?

    http://hillel.harvard.edu/contact-us/undergraduate-leadership

  18. bjk says:

    Brad DeLong calling for a better tone? Why oh why can’t we have better concern trolls?

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