Friday, April 27, 2018

Affluent Technology, Squalid Human Capital

Technology is a multi-edged sword, or better, a mace with unpredictable effects.  One of the effects is that the technological medium has become the message. Marshall McLuhan  published his claim in 1964, the same year that the IBM 360 was first sold,  but it has become increasingly true in an era of addictive, distracting, and mind-wrenching iPhones, social networking sites, and fake news.

Attention spans deteriorate, interpersonal skills become frayed, and the ability to focus on sustained objectives wanes. Garbled, ad hoc acronyms and misspellings that would have been disgracefully illiterate a generation ago replace the English language, and they do so in a way that reduces comprehensibility. 

The deterioration in America's human resource endowment follows generations of increasing human resource investment. In 1958, more than a decade after the GI Bill was passed in 1944, John Kenneth Galbraith complained of private affluence and public squalor, but education spending as a percent of GDP had been increasing since the 1940s, and by the 1970s it had increased five- to six-fold. 

However, there does not appear to have been improvement in popular scientific, historical , English writing, reading, or mathematical ability or knowledge.

As well, interpersonal skills have not improved as public morality as measured by out-of-wedlock birth rates, which have more than doubled since 1970, has deteriorated.  

Rich technology will not compensate for the iPhone generation's lack of focus, troubled interpersonal skills, and lack of basic knowledge.  The impoverishment of human capital comes at a time when American resources are stretched.  Federal indebtedness is 105% of Gross Domestic Product, and economists Reinhart and Rogoff argue that indebtedness over 90% will result in sluggish future growth.   They write:

The relationship between government debt and real GDP growth is weak for debt/GDP ratios below a threshold of 90 percent of GDP. Above 90 percent, median growth rates fall by one percent, and average growth falls considerably more. We find that the threshold for public debt is similar in advanced and emerging economies.  Shortfalls in Social Security and public pension plans will also strain resources.  

As well, the higher education system has generated $1.3 trillion in student loan indebtedness, much of which has not created value.  Colleges have resisted measuring the extent to which skills are acquired from education, so discussion about any value that higher education creates is purely speculative. It is likely that much of it is pure waste.  Arum and Roksa find that one-half of graduates do not gain cognitive skills in college.

Strains from indebtedness come at a time when the prerequisites for successful industrial enterprise--interpersonal skills, focus, clear goals, communication skills--are weakened.  The claim that technology alone can produce growth is illusory.  Without human capital, growth is impossible, but government-funded educational institutions have failed. Spending on valueless education is like spending on drug addiction. If a drug addict inherits $5 million, he can fund his $500 per day habit for decades. Eventually, though, the addict will find his way to the streets.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Mark Lutchman on Jamie Glazov Says "No" to Facebook

Mark Lutchman reminds me of several of my students.  He makes some good points.  It seems that Facebook threw him off because he thinks for himself, which is a good reason to stay away from Facebook.  Lutchman's offending video is on Frontpagemag. Lutchman gives a more honest and thorough attack on racism, especially the racism of the Democratic Party, than I have heard in academia since going to work in 1991.

Washington Times Coverage of "Homogeneous"

The Washington Times covers my recent Academic Questions article  Homogeneous: The Political Affiliations of Elite Liberal Arts College Faculty.


The Subtle Incivility of Political Correctness.

I received the politically correct email copied below from a management listserv. Political correctness has become a standard of acceptable behavior in universities. In a way, it resurrects medieval courtly courtesy.  

According to Debra Kelly on Urban Ghosts, in the Middle Ages and Renaissance courtesy books were popular to help people of different social ranks deal with each other.  Each era has its own interpretation of etiquette and appropriate behavior. According to Tim Nash in The Finer Times, vagrancy was a capital crime during the Middle Ages, and people were suffocated in water, boiled in oil, had their fingers torn off, and had their eyes burned out for this and more serious offenses.

Improving our skill at dealing with others is an important and useful goal, but when rules of etiquette become legally enforceable and punitive, they become authoritarian.   

Among the etiquette issues that were salient in the Middle Ages were avoiding bringing your horse into the house, checking yourself for fleas, and avoiding the attentions of your lord's wife by feigning illness.  In his poem Liber Urbani Daniel of Beccles advises us not to play with our spoons, not to steal a host's spoon, and not to put our used spoons into the serving dish.     
Today, the field of management plays an equivalent role to that of Daniel of Beccles. According to the email, sent by a management professor on behalf of the special issue of a journal, incivility abounds, and it costs firms money.  

In particular, the professor is concerned that insufficient attention has been paid to selective incivility because of gender, race, ethnicity, minority sexual orientation, minority religion, immigrant status, and so on.  The extensive list of workplace regulation on the books, which includes the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991, the Equal Pay Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Pregnancy Disability Act, child labor laws, and the Americans with Disabilities Act--not to mention abundant state and local laws--have apparently failed to help. The professor's solution seems to be to extend the academic rules of politically correct etiquette to the workplace. Soon, management professors will be advocating corporate safe spaces.  

Nash points out that in the Middle Ages the poorer classes tended to suffer the worst punishments, and the same is likely true today. The elite etiquette advocated by politically correct professors targets working class prejudices and mostly white males.  A university professor in today's America is at least three times more likely to have been born in a foreign country than to be a Republican. Republicans are marginalized in academia to a greater degree than any class of individuals is marginalized in the private sector.

The professor proposes that identifying sources of slights to a wide range of groups is an important management issue.  My guess is that it is one of two things: (1) one more useless academic study that will do little or nothing to help real world managers but will generate conferences and publications of no importance outside the management field or (2) one more effort to generate laws that target working class men (and to a lesser degree working class women) and to marginalize them, much as the medieval rules of etiquette and criminality targeted and marginalized the lower classes.  
The professor's email reads as follows:

Recent news headlines and political discourse underscore the relevance and salience of incivility in our everyday lives and workplaces. Incivility seems to permeate our work lives, manifesting in experiences such as being ignored or disregarded, being excluded from professional opportunities, or having your judgement unfairly questioned over a matter for which you are responsible ...Research over the past 20 or so years has started to document the prevalence, costs, and correlates of incivility, finding that targets suffer personally and professionally and that organizations face financial and productivity loses...

While we have made great strides in understanding general experiences of incivility, less attention has been paid to how these experiences affect those with stigmatized identities. In 2008, Cortina introduced the concept of selective incivility to describe how subtle, ambiguous acts of rudeness may function as a covert manifestation of bias against devalued, stigmatized, or marginalized people in organizations.  Such biases may be based on one, or multiple, identity groups such as gender, race, ethnicity, minority sexual orientation, minority religion identification, immigrant status, transgender identity, disability status, language, or accent.

Initial research in a test of this theory found disproportionate uncivil treatment may provide an explanatory mechanism for the lower rates of women and racial minorities found in the upper echelons of organizations...However, not all research finds increased risk of incivility for stigmatized groups...

The purpose of this special issue is to foster constructive insights into the selective incivility phenomenon. We welcome papers of an empirical or theoretical nature that investigate questions such as (but certainly not limited to):
•    What are the ways in which selective incivility may act as vehicle to communicate larger organizational and social values and ethical norms?
•    What kinds of cultural considerations should be taken into account when conducting selective incivility research internationally? How do we meaningfully include cultural norms into our work?
•    How do intersections of multiple social identities affect risk of experiencing mistreatment? Do certain identities act as a mitigating factor?
•    What are group and organizational-level factors that might predict experiences of selective incivility?
•    What are individual differences that may explain how targets respond to selective incivility? Incivility, by definition, is ambiguous: Does labeling the experience as discriminatory matter for target outcomes?
•    What factors predict instigation of selective incivility?
•    How might organizations address the issue of interpersonal slights being experienced by some employees more than others? 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Where to Be a Real Estate Agent?

Wallet Hub asked my expert opinion as to the best cities to be a realtor. The answer is obvious: those with right-to-work laws and the least regulation.

Source: WalletHub

Sunday, April 22, 2018

New NAS Report on the Irreproducibility Crisis of Modern Science

The National Association of Scholars has published a report on the irreproducibility crisis in modern science.  The report is written by David Randall and Christopher Welser. As well, NAS president Peter Wood has coauthored a Wall Street Journal op-ed with David Randall on the topic.  Irreproducible research is another term for junk science.  Wood and Randall point this out:

In 2012 the biotechnology firm Amgen tried to reproduce 53 “landmark” studies in hematology and oncology. The company could only replicate six. Are doctors basing serious decisions about medical treatment on the rest? Consider the financial costs, too. A 2015 study estimated that American researchers spend $28 billion a year on irreproducible preclinical research.

As the Randall and Welser report emphasizes:

Incompetence and fraud together create a borderland of confusion in the sciences. Articles in prestigious journals appear to speak with authority on matters that only a small number of readers can assess critically. Non-specialists generally are left to trust that what purports to be a contribution to human knowledge has been scrutinized by capable people and found trustworthy.  

The glorification of peer review by wide-eyed, incompetent journalists contributes to the junk science problem.  The problem is probably worse in the social than in the physical sciences, but the report suggests that it has become increasingly worse in the physical sciences too.  

Much research involves fishing for significant correlations that may be statistical artifacts and then playing them up. He who plays up best is most pleasing to the elite journals and is hence best at getting published in those journals.  

Many years ago, with respect to the management field (related to my own field of industrial relations), Lex Donaldson wrote a book American Anti-Management Theories of Organization, in which he describes how the gamesmanship associated with the publication process had led to junk management theories.  The Randall and Welser report is a broader discussion of the same problem.

 Here are the first few of Randall and Welser's recommendations: 

1. Researchers should avoid regarding the p-value as a dispositive measure of evidence for or against a particular research hypothesis. 

2. Researchers should adopt the best existing practice of the most rigorous sciences and define statistical significance as .01 rather than as  .05. 

3. In reporting their results, researchers should consider replacing either-or tests of statistical significance with confidence intervals that provide a range in which a variable’s true value most likely falls.  

4. Researchers should make their data available for public inspection after publication of their results. 

5. Researchers should experiment with born-open data—data archived in an open-access repository at the moment of its creation, and automatically time-stamped.

These recommendations are sensible to anyone who has done research in the social sciences, and I assume the same is true of the natural sciences. 

Astonishingly, tendentious left-wing bloggers (see Cory Doctorow's blog here and Michael Schulson's piece on Wired here) aim to turn these recommendations into a smear campaign against the National Association of Scholars.  

Indeed, the reactions of tendentious "progressives" like Doctorow and Schulson offer evidence as to why university science has deteriorated in quality.