Tuesday, January 24, 2017

More than a flesh wound, less than a coup de grace

In the week or so after the election, I kept track of the reason's advanced for the unexpected outcome. They were legion. We have now, for the time being, settled on Russian Influence with a salting of Fake News. None of which, I suspect, is materially true. Trump and Clinton won and lost on their respective merits, regardless of any one individual's perceptions of those merits.

There were several problems for those advancing the Fake News angle. One issue was that no one could agree what constituted fake news. A second was that not many people seemed to have been aware of some of the actual fake news coming out of Romania or wherever it was. A third problem was the quality of reporting on the part of the Mainstream Media. They were so obviously partisan that their veracity was called into question. Even separate from the bias and partisanship was the issue that they so often got their facts wrong, conducted erroneous empirical analysis, presented information confusingly or omitted contextual information. Truly fake news (from Romania) was combined with native biased news along with erroneous news, inaccurate news, incomplete news and confusing news. The focus on pushing the Fake News line has softened in the face of these realities.

Now there is further evidence that calls in to question the reality and materiality of Fake News as an influencer of the outcomes. From Researchers Created Fake News. Here’s What They Found. by Neil Irwin.
Hunt Allcott of New York University and Matthew Gentzkow of Stanford commissioned a survey in late November hoping to discern just how deeply some of the fake news embedded itself with American voters. The two asked people, among other things, whether they had heard various pieces of news that reflected positively or negatively on one of the candidates — of three varieties.

There was completely true news: Hillary Clinton called some Trump supporters a “basket of deplorables,” for example, or Mr. Trump refused to say at a debate whether he would concede the election if he lost.

There was fake news, as identified by fact-checking sites like Snopes and PolitiFact — big things like the Pope Francis story and smaller items, like Mr. Trump threatening to deport the “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda to Puerto Rico.

The third category was most interesting. The researchers created “fake fake” news. That is, they invented some headlines that were the type of thing fake sites produce, but had never actually been published during the campaign. One of these placebo headlines was that “leaked documents reveal that the Clinton campaign planned a scheme to offer to drive Republican voters to the polls but then take them to the wrong place,” and its inverse in which it was the Trump campaign scheming to take Democrats to the wrong polling place.

There is some good news in that more people reported having heard, and believed, the true statements than the false statements. Only 15.3 percent of the population recalled seeing the fake news stories, and 7.9 percent recalled seeing them and believing them.

The more interesting result: Those numbers are nearly identical to the proportion who reported seeing (14.1 percent) and believing (8.3 percent) the placebos, the “fake fake” news stories. In other words, as many people recalled seeing and believing fake news that had been published and distributed through social media as recalled seeing fake news that had never existed and was purely an invention of researchers.

That’s a strong indication about what is going on with consumers of fake news. It may be less that false information from dubious news sources is shaping their view of the world. Rather, some people (about 8 percent of the adult population, if we take the survey data at face value) are willing to believe anything that sounds plausible and fits their preconceptions about the heroes and villains in politics.
The study, in my opinion, bolsters the case that Fake News was an immaterial issue, but does not completely put the issue to bed. Indeed, I suspect that it cannot be resolved because, to some degree, how you see Truth depends on where you are standing.

It is true that, on average, everyone benefits from increasing global trade. It is a huge engine for the betterment of everyone's lives, on average. It is also true that while the average improve, specific individuals may suffer. It is also true that you can be 100% enthusiastic about the value of global trade but also be 100% for managing the pace of globalization to a speed that is more tolerable. All these statements are true but depending on your goals and priorities, any one of them might have primacy and the others be deemed "Fake News."

As a matter of record, below are the explanations I saw in various articles, in the space of a week, immediately after the election. Specifically, each of these were identified by pundits and opinion pieces as the reason for the unexpected outcome of the election. I started keeping track 2-3 days after the election when it began to appear that there might be a prolonged coping period. The items are presented in close approximation to the sequence in which I encountered them. Some were much more frequently cited than others but I did not keep track of that. It is interesting to look at the list two months later.

It is also worth noting that the overwhelming number of items on this list were from Democratic operatives, pundits, insiders and sympathizers. These are the root causes as identified by Democrats.
Causes of the unexpected election of Donald Trump

White men
White women
Coastal elite bubbles
Facebook
Social media
Celebrities
Russian hacking and influencing
Rural Midwesterners
The DNC shenanigans
Gary Johnson and Jill Stein
Pervasiveness of political correctness (in the sense that PC prevented people talking about what was really going on.)
American disgust with political correctness
College-educated Americans
James Comey of the FBI
Fake News
Low minority turnout
Misogyny
Racism
Blue collar uneducated men
Obama
Obamacare
Arrogance on the part of the elite
Late breaking independents
The Media and their misreporting and biases
Abandonment of the white working class by the Democrats
Google
Pundits and Talking Heads
Media Bubble
Electoral College
Bad algorithms
Not money
Two party structure
Crooked Insider vs. Uncouth Outsider
Election cycles
Bad economy
Nationalism
Fascism
Anti-LGBT
Democratic turnout
Epistemological closure
Poor campaign management
Complacency
Poor millennial turnout
Failure of transferability of Obama coalition
Prioritizing social diversity over economic fairness by Democrats and media
Overconfidence
Anti-dynasty sentiment
Health scares (about Clinton's health)
Avoidance of press conferences by Clinton
Avoidance of rallies by Clinton
Overemphasis on money raising by Clinton
Insensitivity to desire for change
Taking Rust Belt for granted
Ignoring Bill Clinton advice
Clinton Foundation corruption
Email server scandal
Lying
Failure of Union campaign drives
Inability to adapt to a non-standard campaign
Identity politics - stench (general dislike for)
Identity politics - miscalculations (criticism about not managing it well)
Astro-turf vs. grassroots
Anti-Trump violence by DNC
DNC corruption
Wikileaks
Past corruption
Bill Clinton sexual misconduct legacy
Weakened and exposed by Sanders campaign
Ad hominem campaign
Emotions driven campaign
Not distinguishing rhetoric from logic
Taking core voters for granted (African-American and Hispanic)
No acknowledgment of problem of economy
Big donor money versus small donors
Democratic violence
Affiliation with BLM
Affiliation with attacks on police
Rising crime
Party of the professional class
Focus on diversity over economy
Virtue signaling versus honesty
Ignorant voter
Press's lack of focus on policy differences
Failure to identify Trump's real weakness (privilege rather than unfitness)
Tone deaf data-driven campaign
Insularity of advisers
Ground game numbers versus zeal
Mis-targeting of ground campaign (accidentally turning out Trump supporters)
Alcohol meme
Gimmicks over authenticity
Low energy
Cult of inevitability
Cultural misalignment
Anti-labor stance (coal)
Democratic Party obsession with race
Bigotry and demonization of opponents
Crony capitalism
Hubris
Woman is not an "identity"
Social media
Ignoring feedback from the field organization
Media focusing on accusing Trump of racism distracted them from legitimate criticisms
Condescension
Islamophobia
Xenophobia
Misweighting of demographics in polling


A deep continuing reshaping of the battlefield of communication or instinctive master class trolling?

Back in November I had a post, Trump, our new FDR? in which I speculated about his use of Twitter.
It occurs to me that Donald Trump's twitter account is the contemporary equivalent of FDR's radio fireside chats. A means for a president to directly connect with the American people while circumventing the media. In the 1930's according to Wikipedia:
Roosevelt understood that his administration's success depended upon a favorable dialogue with the electorate — possible only through methods of mass communication — and that the true power of the presidency was the ability to take the initiative. The use of radio for direct appeals was perhaps the most important of FDR's innovations in political communication. Roosevelt's opponents had control of most newspapers in the 1930s and press reports were under their control and involved their editorial commentary. Historian Betty Houchin Winfield says, "He and his advisers worried that newspapers' biases would affect the news columns and rightly so." Historian Douglas B. Craig says that he "offered voters a chance to receive information unadulterated by newspaper proprietors' bias" through the new medium of radio.
FDR faced a biased conservative press while DJT faces a biased liberal press - nothing new under the sun. All that has changed is the direction of the bias and the mechanism for circumventing the entrenched interests.

Just as with FDR, Trump is circumventing the entrenched media and setting his own agenda with the American people and driving his own news cycle. In some ways, it is masterful. Twitter is free, it is nearly universally accessible, and it is asynchronous (i.e. the public does not have to rearrange their schedule to watch the news or buy a paper; they can access his twitter account whenever it is convenient for them).
I now wonder whether he is playing an even deeper communications game. From Jon Gabriel.
The major media have warned that Donald Trump would wage a war on the First Amendment. His quick draw to call out bad reporting, boot disruptive journalists, and mock fake news were obvious signs that the freedom of the press would hang by a squib during the Trump administration.

And, lo, it came to pass Monday that all their fears were realized. Did the new President sent red-hatted mobs to smash printing presses and hijack the cable news to run non-stop ads for Trump Steaks? Even worse. In his first official White House press briefing, Sean Spicer called on reporters from the wrong side of the tracks.

[snip]

Apparently, in an unwritten rule precious only to careerist Beltway journos, the Press Secretary calls on an Associated Press reporter first then follows with questions to other large media companies. For the first time, Spicer chose less storied agencies for the first handful of questions. Did he blacklist journalists from CNN, the New York Times, etc? No, he got to them a few minutes later. In fact, Spicer stayed as long as the reporters wanted, answering questions for well over an hour.

What so appalled the press was that Spicer upset the media’s caste system. After calling on the New York Post, he went to CBN (Christian cable network), Univision (Spanish-language channel), Fox Business Network, and American Urban Radio Networks (African-American focused service). He also announced the creation of “Skype seats” that will allow reporters who live 50 miles or more from Washington DC to ask questions.
Maybe it was out of ignorance of the tradition. Maybe it was an accident. Is he just trolling them? Or maybe it was part of a deep continuing reshaping of the battlefield of communication.

With his twitter account, Trump reaches directly to the American people without the intermediation of the mainstream media.

It would appear that his press secretary might be hoisting the mainstream media on their own petard. AP, NYT, WaPo, MSNBC - all are overwhelmingly white (presenters and audience), rich, urban, college educated, left leaning knowledge workers, DNC supporters.

What is Saul Alinsky's Fourth Rule in his Rules for Radicals?
4. “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules. You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity.”
AP/NYT/WaPo/MSNBC/CBS/ABC/NBC say they value diversity and Trump's press secretary gives them diversity - Conservative news outlets, Christian news outlets, Hispanic news outlets, African-American news outlets. How can they object? Spicer gave them what they say they want and stripped them of their privileges at the same time.

Accident, instinct, deliberate strategy? We'll only know in time but the evidence is accumulating that it might be option C, a Deliberate Strategy. And will it be effective? Again, we don't know yet but all the signs so far are that it is. The mainstream media hate Trump and show no signs of giving him equal treatment to his predecessor or even professional treatment. If that is a given, then his actions seem very effective at circumventing and defanging them.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Philosophy in practice

Heh.


Thank you twelfth century

The frequency illusion at work. A couple of weekends ago I purchased a nice copy of the Folio Society 1969 edition and translation of The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth, originally written in 1136.

Nine days later, I come across The British Past and the Welsh Future: Gerald of Wales, Geoffrey of Monmouth and Arthur of Britain, a 1999 paper by Julia Crick tackling the relationship between these two ancient texts.

Crick opens with:
In 1197, Gerald de Barri [Gerald of Wales], archdeacon of Brecon, in the course of revising an earlier work, launched a devastating rhetorical attack on a compatriot and fellow writer.
A Welshman from the neighbourhood of Caerleon was endowed with occult and prophetic gifts. Most notable among them was his ability to detect lies, whether written, spoken, or merely thought, a process facilitated by devils who indicated to him the offending person or passage (the man himself was illiterate).

When he was harrassed beyond endurance by these unclean spirits, Saint John’s Gospel was placed on his lap, and then they all vanished immediately, flying away like so many birds. If the Gospels were afterwards removed and the History of the Kings of Britain by Geffrey of Monmouth put there in its place, just to see what would happen, the demons would alight all over his body, and on the book, too, staying there longer than usual and being even more demanding.
Successive readers of Geoffrey’s ‘History’ have recognised Gerald’s sentiments and no doubt allowed them to colour their perceptions of Geoffrey’s work. Yet few commentators have stopped to question whether Gerald’s hostility was occasioned by anything more than his offended historical sense. This question lies at the heart of this paper.
It has to be more than a couple of years since I registered or thought anything about Geoffrey of Monmouth and yet here he is, twice in nine days. The serendipity and frequency illusion both struck me.

I am also taken with the idea, in this time of obsessing over Fake News, of unclean spirits helping to detect lies and offending passages. Thank you twelfth century.

We should be kind While there is still time.

The Mower
By Philip Larkin

The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
Killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Constitution was the internet of its time

Returning to the US at age sixteen, having grown up in various countries in South America, Africa and Europe, I was, for a number of years, puzzled by the seeming primitiveness of the Second Amendment guaranteeing the right to ownership of guns. However, there were many aspects of America which I had to puzzle through at that age and at that time, the Second Amendment was by no means the greatest in its inexplicability. Another mystery for me, at that time, was why the Second Amendment was not treated similarly as the First.

To an adolescent's reading, all those rights seemed to be of a like in the explicitness by which they were guaranteed in the Constitution. But in the mid- and late-1970s, guns were regulated in a fashion not extended to speech or assembly or religion, etc.

That second mystery sorted itself out on its own. As became apparent in hindsight, my teenage observation was correct that the First and Second Amendments were being treated differently even though they represented the same guarantee. In a series a Supreme Court cases, culminating in District of Columbia v. Heller, it was decided that the Second Amendment did represent an individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense.

But what about that first mystery? Why, in a modern society, should people need, much less be guaranteed, the right to bear arms? That was a long, and perhaps not completed, evolution in my understanding. With greater reading in American history and the philosophical experiment that was the Constitution, I did come to an understanding that, to some degree, the Second Amendment represented yet another check-and-balance in the complex mesh of checks-and-balances that is the Constitution.

The power of the State in part rests on its monopoly of sanctioned violence and the Second Amendment can be seen as deliberate mechanism that limits that monopoly.

OK - that makes philosophical sense but it was still difficult to reconcile with the toll taken by an armed citizenry.

Another dawning awareness of the possible sense of the Second Amendment can best be illustrated by an incident related by Tom Wolfe.
“He [Gunter Grass] sounded like Jean-François Revel, a French socialist writer who talks about one of the great unexplained phenomena of modern astronomy: namely, that the dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe.”
Why does left- and right-wing fascism manifest primarily in Europe (and elsewhere) and not in the USA? In Europe, the State(s) do explicitly restrict access to arms solely via the state. There are likely many other reasons why the dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe but one cannot ignore the possibility that indeed, and uniquely, that the Second Amendment does in fact function as a restraint on the State.

This secondary view of the Second Amendment is that the individual right to bear arms is not only a guarantee against the State's monopoly on violence but that it also represented something of a tactical-strategic trade-off. Yes, with individual right to arms ownership, you are going to have more civilian deaths on a yearly basis than in other modern countries. But at a strategic level, that civilian loss of life has to be set-off against the apparent frequency in which all other modern societies tip into totalitarianism with the consequent loss of life attendant to that tragedy.

In a recent conversation, I characterized the US Constitution as the Internet of its era. It is designed to route around damage via subsidiarity. It is a contraption of checks-and-balances, any one element of which can be justifiably criticized (Second Amendment, Electoral College, Near Absolute Free Speech) but which in aggregate has functioned admirably to forestall the totalitarian threat represented by vested interests, intolerant majorities, and the State itself.

There are a couple of recent books out with tangential themes linking war and violence with the development of democracy and war and its relationship with inequality (The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century by Walter Scheide, Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization by Branko Milanovic, Forged Through Fire: War, Peace, and the Democratic Bargain by John Ferejohn and Frances McCall Rosenbluth, etc.) which illustrate just how complex is the interplay between guns, governance and democracy.

My teenaged callow skepticism of the Second Amendment has given way to at least a recognition that things are far more complex than we are usually willing to acknowledge and that the Second Amendment quite possibly plays a far more consequential and strategic role than the bien-pensant acknowledge.

Is war a necessary predicate to participative democracy?

Hat tip to Tyler Cowen regarding a new book that has an intriguing hypothesis. The book is Forged Through Fire: War, Peace, and the Democratic Bargain by John Ferejohn and Frances McCall Rosenbluth.
If the modern democratic republic is a product of wars that required both manpower and money for success, it is time to take stock of what happens to democracy once the forces that brought it into being are no longer present. Understanding war’s role in the creation of the modern democratic republic can help us recognize democracy’s exposed flanks. If the role of the masses in protecting the nation-state diminishes, will the cross-class coalition between political inclusiveness and property hold?

…a second question is what is to become of the swaths of the world that were off the warpath in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries when the European state was formed? Continued and intense warfare forged democracies with full enfranchisement and protected property rights in the Goldilocks zone: in countries that had already developed administrative capacity as monarchies, and where wars were horrendous but manageable with full mobilization…

The bad news is that in today’s world, war has stopped functioning as a democratizing force.
Adding it to the the always lengthening list of books to read.

"With work, maybe results" vs. "With work, always results."

Oh, dear. Another faddish psychology finding called into question. From A Mindset “Revolution” Sweeping Britain’s Classrooms May Be Based On Shaky Science by Tom Chivers.
Michael Jordan didn’t make his high school basketball team in 1978. He went on to become the greatest player in the game’s history. This is what he says about failure: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

According to a theory that has swept education in the last few years, Jordan has what psychologists call a “growth mindset”. He believes that even if you can’t do something initially, you can improve your abilities, whether they involve basketball or maths or playing the oboe, through hard work. “I can accept failure,” he said. “Everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”

Psychologists say the growth mindset is contrasted to a “fixed mindset” – the belief that your skills are innate, genetically endowed and fixed. Someone with a fixed mindset, according to the theory, would look at a maths problem they couldn’t do, and think, I can’t do that, I’m not gifted at maths. They might give up. But someone with a growth mindset might apparently think, I just haven’t learnt enough maths to do that; I’ll learn some more and try again. They will keep trying in the face of difficulty – believing they can improve to meet challenges.
On the other hand . . .
But some statisticians and psychologists are increasingly worried that mindset theory is not all it claims to be. The findings of Dweck’s key study have never been replicated in a published paper, which is noteworthy in so high-profile a work. One scientist told BuzzFeed News that his attempt to reproduce the findings has so far failed. An investigation found several small but revealing errors in the study that may require a correction.

[snip]

Bates told BuzzFeed News that he has been trying to replicate Dweck’s findings in that key mindset study for several years. “We’re running a third study in China now,” he said. “With 200 12-year-olds. And the results are just null.

“People with a growth mindset don’t cope any better with failure. If we give them the mindset intervention, it doesn’t make them behave better. Kids with the growth mindset aren’t getting better grades, either before or after our intervention study.”

[snip]

Nick Brown, a PhD student in psychology at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, is sceptical of this: “The question I have is: If your effect is so fragile that it can only be reproduced [under strictly controlled conditions], then why do you think it can be reproduced by schoolteachers?”

Using a statistical method he developed called Granularity-Related Inconsistency of Means or GRIM, Brown has tested whether means (averages) given for data in the 1998 study were mathematically possible.

It works like this: Imagine you have three children, and want to find how many siblings they have, on average. Finding an average, or mean, will always involve adding up the total number of siblings and dividing by the number of children – three. So the answer will always either be a whole number, or will end in .33 (a third) or .67 (two thirds). If there was a study that looked at three children and found they had, on average, 1.25 siblings, it would be wrong – because you can’t get that answer from the mean of three whole numbers.

Brown, who has previously debunked an influential study into “positive psychology”, looked at the 1998 study with the GRIM method. He found that of 50 means quoted in the data, 17 of them were impossible.
And on. The article overall is quite good at giving the pros and cons from both sides. Admirably so. Chivers doesn't provide sufficient evidence to completely debunk the Growth Mindset movement but he does introduce enough counterfactuals to call it sharply into question.

I like one of the summaries of the status quo:
Bates doesn’t think that the mindset hypothesis should be thrown out. He said that there is an uncontroversial reading of the idea – “a very conservative, old-fashioned one: ‘If you don’t work at it you won’t get the results’” – but that, in her TED talks and books, Dweck pushes a more dramatic version, that instilling a growth mindset in children “really works, and you can expect big things from it. She thinks it’s really big, that it’s massive.”
"If you don't work, you won't get the results" versus "If you work hard you will always get the results."

Neither is completely true but the former is more true than the latter, but it is the latter which has caught on. It feels so good, utopian optimists want it to be true. Even if it quite possibly/likely isn't.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Regulatory review for all

I had not thought about this for a while until this recent article brought it to mind, Harvard, Too? Obama’s Final Push to Catch Predatory Colleges Is Revealing by Kevin Carey.

The Obama administration has for some years been pursuing the private education sector for exploitive practices - basically promising too much to prospective students and delivering too little in terms of an education valued in the marketplace. I don't disagree with the policy given that students are often taking out loans for near worthless certificates. My only disagreement has been with the fact that the scope is restricted to private sector schools.

If it is a problem there, why might it not be a problem in traditional four-year schools as well? There is certainly plenty of anecdotal data to support that the problem is real there as well. The past administration's stance of only going after for-profit school has appeared ideological at best (profit = bad) or collusive at worst. Academia (four year schools) have provided much funding and certainly a lot of intellectual covering fire for the administration. They are clearly an ally. And while most are not for profit institutions, all or them are commercial institutions. Any commercial enterprise is always concerned about competition. Going after for-profit schools appeared to me also as the Administration doing a commercial favor to their academic allies by reducing the number of competitors in the field.

It has also concerned me that the result of the Administration's structuring of the regulatory review process has effectively meant that the programs most used by the poorest are the ones most targeted while the universities most attended by the upper middle class get a free pass. This has seemed discriminatory to me. By all means, protect students from unscrupulous programs which promise more than they can deliver. But protect all students, not just the ones who it is easy to ignore if you get it wrong.

Carey reports an interesting datum to support my skepticism about the differential effectiveness. Most for-profit schools do not offer a four year degree. They confer certificates and it is certificate-granting schools which have been the target for scrutiny. But by a quirk, one Harvard program got caught up in the methodological review and indeed, they were found to be equally bad at serving the interests of their students.
For the past eight years, the Obama administration has waged a battle against predatory for-profit colleges. On Monday, the Department of Education released a final salvo — a list of hundreds of college programs that load students with more debt than they can afford to repay.

The failing-program list included ITT Tech, which filed for bankruptcy under federal pressure late last year, as well as industry leaders like Kaplan University and the University of Phoenix. And there — among a host of local graphic design, fashion, cosmetology and barber schools — is Harvard University.

The fact that such a world-famous institution of higher learning was caught in a regulatory net devised to protect students from exploitative trade schools suggests that even the most prestigious colleges may not be paying enough attention to whether their degrees are worth the price of admission.

The Obama administration’s rules on for-profit colleges are based on two statistical measures of individual programs: how much money typical program graduates are required to spend on student loan payments every year, and how much they earn in the job market two years after graduation. If this “debt-to-earnings ratio” is too high for multiple years — if graduates need to spend too much of their income paying down loans — then the program is ruled ineligible to receive federal financial aid.

Republican members of Congress and people working with the incoming Trump administration have called for rolling back the for-profit college regulations. Harvard’s inclusion suggests it might make sense to expand the rules to include nonprofit programs with similar problems.

The Harvard program is run by the A.R.T. Institute at Harvard University (A.R.T. stands for American Repertory Theater). It’s a small program, admitting about two dozen students each year into “a full-time, two-year program of graduate study in acting, dramaturgy or voice pedagogy.” On average, graduates earn about $36,000 per year.

The problem, from a regulatory standpoint, is that they borrow a lot of money to obtain the degree — over $78,000 on average, according to the university. The total tuition is $62,593. And because it’s a graduate program, students can also borrow the full cost of their living expenses from the federal government, regardless of their credit history.

After accounting for basic living expenses, the average Harvard A.R.T. Institute graduate has to pay 44 percent of discretionary income just to make the minimum loan payment.
Were the new administration to apply the same regulatory scrutiny to all institutions of higher learning, it would be much fairer and likely would dramatically improve life outcomes for all incoming students.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Pervasive groupthink among media elites

Nate Silver has an important analysis of media coverage of the 2016 election in The Real Story of 2016.

In its broadest outline, I am in agreement with his points. A few nits here and there but I think he is on the right track. Regarding answers to the question about why the mainstream media got the election so wrong:
They also suggest there are real shortcomings in how American politics are covered, including pervasive groupthink among media elites, an unhealthy obsession with the insider’s view of politics, a lack of analytical rigor, a failure to appreciate uncertainty, a sluggishness to self-correct when new evidence contradicts pre-existing beliefs, and a narrow viewpoint that lacks perspective from the longer arc of American history.
Well, yes. I have been harping on the issue of analytical rigor (both narrative and empirical) and lack of perspective for some time but all the other points are pertinent as well.

We want to know the truth in order to make better, and more useful, forecasts about a whole range of things be it climate change, conservation, the criminal justice system, economic development, productivity growth, etc. We none of us benefit if our mainstream media are not interested in truth but only focus on ideological or partisan winning. The Truth is out there.