Tag Archives: Steve Sailer

“Don’t Trust One-Offs”

Jim Manzi in City Journal:


Another way of putting the problem is that we have no reliable way to measure counterfactuals—that is, to know what would have happened had we not executed some policy—because so many other factors influence the outcome. This seemingly narrow problem is central to our continuing inability to transform social sciences into actual sciences. Unlike physics or biology, the social sciences have not demonstrated the capacity to produce a substantial body of useful, nonobvious, and reliable predictive rules about what they study—that is, human social behavior, including the impact of proposed government programs.

The missing ingredient is controlled experimentation, which is what allows science positively to settle certain kinds of debates. How do we know that our physical theories concerning the wing are true? In the end, not because of equations on blackboards or compelling speeches by famous physicists but because airplanes stay up. Social scientists may make claims as fascinating and counterintuitive as the proposition that a heavy piece of machinery can fly, but these claims are frequently untested by experiment, which means that debates like the one in 2009 will never be settled. For decades to come, we will continue to be lectured by what are, in effect, Keynesian and non-Keynesian economists.

Over many decades, social science has groped toward the goal of applying the experimental method to evaluate its theories for social improvement. Recent developments have made this much more practical, and the experimental revolution is finally reaching social science. The most fundamental lesson that emerges from such experimentation to date is that our scientific ignorance of the human condition remains profound. Despite confidently asserted empirical analysis, persuasive rhetoric, and claims to expertise, very few social-program interventions can be shown in controlled experiments to create real improvement in outcomes of interest.


After reviewing experiments not just in criminology but also in welfare-program design, education, and other fields, I propose that three lessons emerge consistently from them.

First, few programs can be shown to work in properly randomized and replicated trials. Despite complex and impressive-sounding empirical arguments by advocates and analysts, we should be very skeptical of claims for the effectiveness of new, counterintuitive programs and policies, and we should be reluctant to trump the trial-and-error process of social evolution in matters of economics or social policy.

Second, within this universe of programs that are far more likely to fail than succeed, programs that try to change people are even more likely to fail than those that try to change incentives. A litany of program ideas designed to push welfare recipients into the workforce failed when tested in those randomized experiments of the welfare-reform era; only adding mandatory work requirements succeeded in moving people from welfare to work in a humane fashion. And mandatory work-requirement programs that emphasize just getting a job are far more effective than those that emphasize skills-building. Similarly, the list of failed attempts to change people to make them less likely to commit crimes is almost endless—prisoner counseling, transitional aid to prisoners, intensive probation, juvenile boot camps—but the only program concept that tentatively demonstrated reductions in crime rates in replicated RFTs was nuisance abatement, which changes the environment in which criminals operate. (This isn’t to say that direct behavior-improvement programs can never work; one well-known program that sends nurses to visit new or expectant mothers seems to have succeeded in improving various social outcomes in replicated independent RFTs.)

And third, there is no magic. Those rare programs that do work usually lead to improvements that are quite modest, compared with the size of the problems they are meant to address or the dreams of advocates.

Razib Khan at Discover Magazine:

A friend once observed that you can’t have engineering without science, making the whole concept of “social engineering” somewhat farcical. Jim Manzi has an article in City Journal which reviews the checkered history of scientific methods as applied to humanity, What Social Science Does—and Doesn’t—Know: Our scientific ignorance of the human condition remains profound.

The criticisms of a scientific program as applied to humanity are deep, and two pronged. As Manzi notes the “causal density” of human phenomena make teasing causation from correlation very difficult. Additionally, the large scale and humanistic nature of social phenomena make them ethically and practically impossible to apply methods of scientific experimentation. This is why social scientists look for “natural experiments,” or involve extrapolation from “WEIRD” subject pools. But as Manzi notes many of the correlations themselves are highly context sensitive and not amenable to replication.

Arnold Kling:

If David Brooks is going to give out his annual awards for most important essays, I would nominate this one.

One of the lessons that is implicit in the essay (and that I think that Manzi ought to make explicit) is, “Don’t trust one-offs.” That is, do not draw strong conclusions based on a single experiment, no matter how well constructed. Instead, wait until many experiments have been conducted, in a variety of settings and using a variety of techniques. An example of a one-off that generated a lot of recent excitement is the $320,000 kindergarten teacher study.

Mark Kleiman:

I’m sorry, but this is incoherent. What is this magical “trial-and-error process” that does what scientific inquiry can’t do? On what basis are we to determine whether a given trial led to successful or unsuccessful results? Uncontrolled before-and-after analysis, with its vulnerability to regression toward the mean? And where is the mystical “social evolution” that somehow leads fit policies to survive while killing off the unfit?

Without any social-scientific basis at all (unless you count Gary Becker’s speculations) we managed to expand incarceration by 500 percent between 1975 and the present. Is that fact – the resultant of a complicated interplay of political, bureaucratic, and professional forces – to be accepted as evidence that mass incarceration is a good policy, and the “counter-intuitive” finding that, past a given point, expanding incarceration tends, on balance, to increase crime be ignored because it’s merely social science? Should the widespread belief, implemented in policy, that only formal treatment cures substance abuse cause us to ignore the evidence to the contrary provided by both naturalistic studies and the finding of the HOPE randomized controlled trial that consistent sanctions can reliably extinguish drug-using behavior even among chronic criminally-active substance abusers?

For some reason he doesn’t specify, Manzi regards negative trial results as dispositive evidence that social innovators are silly people who don’t understand “causal density.” So he accepts – as well he should – the “counter-intuitive” result that juvenile boot camps were a bad idea. But why are those negative results so much more impressive than the finding that raising offenders’ reading scores tends to reduce their future criminality?

Surely Manzi is right to call for metholological humility and catholicism; social knowledge does not begin and end with regressions and controlled trials. But the notion that prejudices embedded in policies reflect some sort of evolutionary result, and therefore deserve our respect when they conflict with the results of careful study, really can’t be taken seriously.

Manzi responds at The American Scene:

This leads Kleiman to ask:

What is this magical “trial-and-error process” that does what scientific inquiry can’t do? On what basis are we to determine whether a given trial led to successful or unsuccessful results? Uncontrolled before-and-after analysis, with its vulnerability to regression toward the mean? And where is the mystical “social evolution” that somehow leads fit policies to survive while killing off the unfit?

I devoted a lot of time to this related group of questions in the forthcoming book. The shortest answer is that social evolution does not allow us to draw rational conclusions with scientific provenance about the effectiveness of various interventions, for methodological reasons including those that Kleiman cites. Social evolution merely renders (metaphorical) judgments about packages of policy decisions as embedded in actual institutions. This process is glacial, statistical and crude, and we live in the midst of an evolutionary stream that we don’t comprehend. But recognition of ignorance is superior to the unfounded assertion of scientific knowledge.

Kleiman then goes on to ask this:

Without any social-scientific basis at all (unless you count Gary Becker’s speculations) we managed to expand incarceration by 500 percent between 1975 and the present. Is that fact – the resultant of a complicated interplay of political, bureaucratic, and professional forces – to be accepted as evidence that mass incarceration is a good policy, and the “counter-intuitive” finding that, past a given point, expanding incarceration tends, on balance, to increase crime be ignored because it’s merely social science?

My answer is yes, it should be counted as evidence, but that it is not close to dispositive. We can not glibly conclude that we now live in the best of all possible worlds. I devoted several chapters to trying to lay out some principles for evaluating when, why and how we should consider, initiate and retrospectively evaluate reforms to our social institutions.

Kleiman’s last question is:

Should the widespread belief, implemented in policy, that only formal treatment cures substance abuse cause us to ignore the evidence to the contrary provided by both naturalistic studies and the finding of the HOPE RCT that consistent sanctions can reliably extinguish drug-using behavior even among chronic criminally-active substance abusers?

My answer to this is no, and a large fraction of the article (and the book) is devoted to making the case that exactly such randomized trials really are the gold standard for the kind of knowledge that is required to make reliable, non-obvious predictions that rationally outweigh settled practice and even common sense. The major caveat to the evaluation of this specific program (about which Kleiman is deeply expert) is whether or not the experiment has been replicated, as I also make the argument that replication is essential to drawing valid conclusions from such experiments – the principle that Arnold Kling called in a review of the article, “Don’t trust one-offs.”

Steven Pearlstein at WaPo

Steve Sailer:

That all sounds plausible, but I’ve been a social science stats geek since 1972, when the high school debate topic that year was education, so I’m aware that Manzi’s implications are misleading.

First, while experiments are great, correlation studies of naturally occurring data can be extremely useful. Second, a huge number of experiments have been done in the social sciences.

Third, the social sciences have come up with a vast amount of knowledge that is useful, reliable, and nonobvious, at least to our elites.

For example, a few years, Mayor Bloomberg and NYC schools supremo Joel Klein decided to fix the ramshackle admissions process to the gifted schools by imposing a standardized test on all applicants. Blogger Half Sigma immediately predicted that the percentage of Asians and whites admitted would rise at the expense of blacks and Hispanics, which would cause a sizable unexpected political problem for Bloomberg and Klein. All that has come to pass.

This inevitable outcome should have been obvious to Bloomberg and Klein from a century of social science data accumulation, but it clearly was not obvious to them.

No, the biggest problem with social science research is not methodological; it’s that we just don’t like the findings. The elites of America don’t like what the social sciences have uncovered about, say, crime, education, discrimination, immigration, and so forth.

Andrew Sullivan:

But there is a concept in this crucial conservative distinction between theoretical and practical wisdom that has been missing so far: individual judgment. A social change can never be proven in advance to be the right answer to a pressing problem. We can try to understand previous examples; we can examine large randomized trials; but in the end, we have to make a judgment about the timeliness and effectiveness of certain changes. It is the ability to sense when such a moment is ripe that we used to call statesmanship. It is that quality that no wonkery can ever replace.

It is why we elect people and not algorithms.

Will Wilkinson:

In my thinking about the contrasts between Rawlsian and Hayekian liberalism, I’ve begun to think about the former as the “liberalism of respect” and the latter as the “liberalism of discovery.” The liberalism of discovery recognizes the pervasiveness of our ignorance and the necessity of liberty for the emergence of useful knowledge. I would argue that the ideal of a social order embodying respect for persons as free and equal–the ideal of the liberalism of respect–comes to seem appealing only after a society has attained a certain level of economic development and general education, and these are largely consequences of a prior history of the relatively free play of the mechanisms of discovery celebrated by liberals like Hayek and Jim. But liberals of respect have tended to overlook the conditions under which people come to find the their favored ideal worth aspiring to, and so have tended to fail to acknowledge in their theories of justice the role of the institutions of discovery in creating and maintaining a society of mutual respect and fair reciprocity.

Via Sullivan, Kleiman responds to Manzi:

I suppose I’ll have to read Manzi’s book to find out how existing practices constitute “(metaphorical) judgments about packages of policy decisions;” I’m inclined to regard them as mostly mere resultants-of-forces, with little claim to deference. (Thinking that existing arrangements somehow embody tacit knowledge is a different matter from thinking that big changes are likely to have unexpected consequences, mostly bad, though both are arguments for caution about grand projects.)

I’m also less unimpressed than Manzi is with how much non-obvious stuff about humans living together the social sciences have already taught us. That supply and demand will, without regulation, come into equilibrium at some price was a dazzling and radical social-scientific claim when Adam Smith and his friends suggested it. So too for Ricardo’s analysis of comparative advantage, which, while it doesn’t fully support the free-trade religion that has grown up around it, at least creates a reasonable presumption that trade is welfare-increasing.

The superiority of reward to punishment in changing behavior; the importance of cognitive-dissonance and mean-regression effects in (mis)shaping individual and social judgments; the intractable problem of public-goods contributions; the importance of social capital; the problems created by asymmetric information and the signaling processes it supports; the crucial importance of focal points; the distinction between positive-feedback and negative-feedback processes; the distinction between zero-sum and variable-sum games; the pervasiveness of imperfect rationality in the treatment of risk and of time-value, and the consequent possibility that people will, indeed, damage themselves voluntarily: none of these was obvious when proposed, and all of them are now, I claim, sufficiently well-established to allow us to make policy choices based on them, with some confidence about likely results. (So, for that matter, is the Keynesian analysis of insufficient demand and what to do about it.)

But, if I read Manzi’s response correctly, my original comment allowed a merely verbal disagreement to exaggerate the extent of the underlying substantive disagreement. If indeed Manzi can offer some systematic analysis of how to look at existing institutions, figure out which ones might profitably be changed, try out a range of plausible changes, gather careful evidence about the results of those changes, and modify further in light of those results, then Manzi proposes what I would call a “scientific” approach to making public policy.

Manzi responds to Kleiman:

I think that he is reading my response correctly. While I don’t think that “all I meant” was that “you shouldn’t read some random paper in an economics or social-pysch journal” and propose X, I certainly believe that. Most important, I acknowledge enthusiastically his “sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander” point that the recognition of our ignorance should apply to things that I theorize are good ideas, as much as it does to anything else. The law of unintended consequences does not only apply to Democratic proposals.

In fact, I have argued for supporting charter schools instead of school vouchers for exactly this reason. Even if one has the theory (as I do) that we ought to have a much more deregulated market for education, I more strongly hold the view that it is extremely difficult to predict the impacts of such drastic change, and that we should go one step at a time (even if on an experimental basis we are also testing more radical reforms at very small scale). I go into this in detail for the cases of school choice and social security privatization in the book.

Megan McArdle:

I have been reading with great interest the back-and-forth between Mark Kleiman and Jim Manzi on how much more humble we ought to be about new policy changes.  I know and like both men personally, as well as having a healthy respect for two formidable intellects, so I’ve greatly enjoyed the exchange.

Naturally, this has put me in mind of just how hard it is to predict policy outcomes–how easy it is to settle on some intuitively plausible outcome, without considering some harder-to-imagine countervailing force.

Consider the supply-siders.  The thing is intuitively appealling; when we get more money from working, we ought to be willing to.  And it is a mathematical truism that revenue must maximize at some point.  Why couldn’t we be on the right-hand side of the Laffer Curve?

It was entirely possible that we were; unfortunately, it wasn’t true.  And one of the reasons that supply-siders failed was that they were captivated by that one appealing intuition.  In economics, it’s known as the “substitution effect”–as your wages go up, leisure becomes relatively more expensive relative to work, so you tend to do less of the former, more of the latter.

Unfortunately, the supply-siders missed another important effect, known as the “income effect”.  Which is to say that as you get richer, you demand more of some goods, and less of others.  And one of the goods you demand more of as you get richer–a class of goods known as “superior goods”–is leisure.

Of course, some people are so driven that they will simply work until they drop in the traces.  But most people like leisure.  So say you raise the average wage by 10%.  Suddenly people are bringing home 10% more income every hour.  Now, maybe this makes them all excited so they decide to work more.  On the other hand, maybe they decide they were happy at their old income, and now they can enjoy their old income while working 9% fewer hours.  Cutting taxes could actually reduce total output.

(We will not go into the question of how much most people can control their hours–on the one hand, most people can’t, very well, but on the other hand, those who can tend to be the high-earning types who pay most of your taxes.)

Which happens depends on which effect is stronger.  In practice, apparently neither was strong enough to thoroughly dominate, at least not when combined with employers who still demanded 40 hour weeks.  You do probably get a modest boost to GDP from tax cuts.  But you also get falling tax revenue.

Naturally, even-handedness demands that I here expose the wrong-headedness of some liberal scheme.  And as it happens, I have one all ready in the oven here:  the chimera of reducing emergency room use.  The argument that health care reform could somehow at least partially pay for itself by keeping people from using the emergency room was always dubious.  As I, and others argued, there’s not actually that much evidence that people use the emergency room because they are uninsured–rather than because they have to work during normal business hours, are poor planners, or are afraid that immigration may somehow find them at a free clinic.

Moreover, we argued, non-emergent visits to the emergency room mostly use the spare capacity of trauma doctors; the average cost may be hundreds of dollars, but the marginal cost of slotting ear infections in when you don’t happen to have a sucking chest wound, is probably pretty minimal.

But even I was not skeptical enough to predict what actually happened in Massachusetts, which is that emergency room usage went up after they implemented health care reform.

Leave a comment

Filed under Go Meta

And Now The Caplan Has Been Cloned!

Bryan Caplan:

Now that I’m finishing up Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, another controversial passage is on the chopping block.  In the current draft, this paragraph concludes my discussion of cloning:

I confess that I take anti-cloning arguments personally.  Not only do they insult the identical twin sons I already have; they insult a son I hope I live to meet.  Yes, I wish to clone myself and raise the baby as my son.  Seriously.  I want to experience the sublime bond I’m sure we’d share.  I’m confident that he’d be delighted, too, because I would love to be raised by me.  I’m not pushing others to clone themselves.  I’m not asking anyone else to pay for my dream.  I just want government to leave me and the cloning business alone.  Is that too much to ask?

My reasons to keep it, as before, are: (a) it makes a good point, and (b) angry reactions would confirm my broader thesis that many people senselessly oppose assisted reproductive technology.  The downside, of course, is alienating otherwise sympathetic readers.  The upside of the downside is that controversy is excellent publicity.  Should my cloning confession make the final cut?

Advise me.

Tyler Cowen:

If you don’t like his proposal for a cloned son, I will ask why you think your preferred degree of genetic similarity — between you and your next kid — is right and Bryan’s is wrong.

More Cowen:

I don’t have the same preference as Bryan, far from it.  I think most of us desire children who are “too similar to us” and there are obvious Darwinian reasons why this is the case.  Nonetheless we should try to overcome this attitude and there are many successful instances of adopted children or various other “mixed” arrangements, such as foster parents.  We can only hope there will be more and that means we need a greater flexibility of intuitions about parenting and inheritance.

As a proud step-parent, I find it increasingly odd how many of you insist on the “fifty percent solution.”  Ew!  What if it — heaven forbid — looks like you?  What if you’re both economists named Keynes?  But there’s more: the rest of your daughter looks just like the woman you chose to marry?  Yuck!!!!!  And so on.  Maybe you all think that fifty percent is great but one hundred percent is unacceptable, when it comes to the genes.  Good luck arguing that one with a committed nominalist.  And I bet most of you don’t find it repugnant if a father wants a son rather than a daughter, but similarity of gender is pretty important too.

If I have any criticism of Bryan, it’s that he’s pro-natalist (fine in my book) but I’ve never heard him promote the idea of adopting a child or defend the idea of raising a biological child who is, for whatever reason, very different from his or her parents.  (Don’t overreact here and interpret his silence in a negative way, I’m simply goading him to take up these issues, which I think will force him to revise his thought.)  Furthermore I think his intuitions about similarity, and child-rearing, will change once (some of) his kids start rebelling against him.

Most of all, I found this thread to be a lesson in how quickly smart people will side with their Darwinian intuitions, and attack another smart person with intolerance, just because something feels icky to them.  It’s not so different from how some people find gay people, and also “what they do,” to be disgusting.  They also don’t want gay people to be adopting children because they see that as offensive too.  It’s not, least of all for the child.

That all said, I guess he shouldn’t put the passage in his book.

Brad DeLong:

Before, all he wanted was to claim that women in the 1880s were “more free” than women today–than, for example, the character Carrie Bradshaw played by Sarah Jessica Parker in “Sex and the City.”

Now–well, read for yourself


He wants to take the genes of the mother of his children out of the baby she is carrying and substitute his own genes in their place.

Wow. Just wow.

Steve Sailer:

Unfortunately, Professor Caplan doesn’t inform us what his wife thinks about his desire to create a child untainted by her genes. Does Professor Caplan intend to have Mrs. Caplan bear his clone for him? Does Professor Caplan intend to have Mrs. Caplan pick up after his clone for 21 years? Will Mrs. Caplan appreciate it when she and her husband’s immature clone get into an argument and Professor Caplan sides with his clone against his wife? Will she be concerned that he might favor his clone in his will over their mutual children?

Of course, that’s assuming that Bryan’s assumption that he and his clone would be Best Friends Forever is correct. More likely, the opposite would be true.
Generally speaking, people who would like to clone themselves tend to be arrogant and lacking in common sense. Their children will tend to also be arrogant and lacking in common sense. The interpersonal dynamics between cloner and clonee would likely be disastrous.
Are families in which the sons are exactly like the fathers happier? I don’t see a lot of evidence for that. In fact, I see a lot of evidence from memoirs and fiction that strong-willed fathers tend to have strong-willed sons, and the two clash relentlessly over who will be dominant. Too much similarity does not always make for happiness within a family.

Both Sailer and DeLong via Andrew Sullivan

More Sullivan

Jim Henley:

Caplan’s paragraph isn’t creepy because he wants to rear his own clone, but Caplan’s paragraph is creepy. Wanting to rear your own clone is eccentric, sure, and more than a little narcissistic, but I have a “Keep the Blogosphere Weird” bumper sticker across my Macbook screen, and man does it make blogging harder. To this day, I’m glad that Kim du Toit wrote the hilarious “Pussification of the Western Male” because, ridiculous as the essay was, it was exactly the kind of eccentricity – total, fucking eccentricity – DARPANet knew the country needed if it was going to survive a nuclear attack by the Russians.

The creepy part is compounded of his certainty that he and his clone-son will share a “sublime bond” and his avidity for it.

Tyler Cowen is right that it’s a bit narcissistic when we men prefer at least one son to only daughters. Caplan’s narcissism is so much greater and denser than that that I suspect it has an event horizon. But it’s worse than that.

For one thing: Let’s consider the Cap-Clone as a person in his own right for a second. That’s a hell of a lot of expectation to burden a kid with. Returning to Tyler’s “50-percent solution” parents again, we already know the minor and major tragedies that can ensue when parents have too-specific, too-intense hopes for their children. Caplan’s rebounding conviction that “he’d be delighted, too, because I would love to be raised by me,” is every overbearing Dad’s determination that Junior become the same great athlete dad was/heir to the family business/doctor he could never be collected together and crushed down until the electrons all collapse into their nuclei. And Caplan is old enough that he should realize this.

For another thing: no, it’s not misogynist as such, but wanting to cut your wife out of the breeding program in hopes of a super-special dad-son relationship of a kind your actual existing children can’t provide strikes me as, at the very least, something better kept to yourself.

And, then, what if the joke’s on Caplan? Meaning, why is he so certain his bond will be all that sublime? Those of us who read Gide’s La Symphonie Pastorale in French class are surely thinking, “Thank heavens there was a movie version, even if it had subtitles.” But also: “Man, sometimes these things don’t work out so well.” cf. “Pygmalion.” (Why can’t a baby / be more like a professor?) Our protegées have a distressing habit of not being us, and resenting us for not being cool with that. The Google tells me that there’s no evidence that twins suffer higher degrees of sibling rivalry than singleton kids, and the anecdotal literature includes, yes! some sublime bonding (that causes its own problems). But monozygotic twins don’t just share chromosomes. They share environments, experiences and generational context. They are peers. Bryan Caplan and the Cap-Clone will be different ages, from different eras. Whatever experiences they share, one of them will experience it as a naive, only partially matured intellectual, emotional and moral being, and the other as a little kid. (STOP MAKING ME SAY THESE THINGS, DAVID HOROWITZ!) Plus, the Cap-Clone’s music will be just noise.

Jason Kuznicki at The League:

Bryan, I’m right with you about the stupidity of anti-cloning arguments. Most of them are just plain silly and not even worth discussing (“Will clones be less than human?” Only if you treat them that way…). Many anti-cloning arguments were trotted out not so long ago about IVF, and before that they had an equally dismal run against the smallpox vaccine. Hooray for cloning!

But here’s where you’re wrong. You are deluding yourself when you say you will experience a “sublime bond” with your cloned son. The bond will be no more, and possibly a good bit less, than the bond shared between identical twins. Romanticizing cloning is just as silly as demonizing it. And the more you insist on the reality of that sublime bond, the more your cloned son is going to rebel against you. Perhaps he will even end up as a Marxist. It would serve you right, frankly.

I also have to say I am always puzzled when people — it seems to be exclusively straight people — valorize their own genes so much. Your genes are nothing special. They are shared by thousands of other people, in different combinations, all across the world. What you do or don’t do with them will scarcely affect your genes’ chances of survival at all. This is thanks to the thousands of others who also carry precisely the same genes — the same genes for brown hair, or pale skin, or hemoglobin, or whatever. Will your genes survive? It depends vastly more on what they do, and hardly at all on what you do.

Your genes are not little avatars of your Self. They are not post-theistic souls on which to pin your dashed hopes for immortality. They are not even alive, for crying out loud. Want to save your genes for all eternity? Build a fifty-foot granite monument and inscribe them. It would work about as well for your purposes.

More Caplan:

I’m touched to see Tyler publicly defending me and my clone, and think I ought to respond to his only reservation:

If I have any criticism of Bryan, it’s that he’s pro-natalist (fine in my book) but I’ve never heard him promote the idea of adopting a child or defend the idea of raising a biological child who is, for whatever reason, very different from his or her parents.  (Don’t overreact here and interpret his silence in a negative way, I’m simply goading him to take up these issues, which I think will force him to revise his thought.)
I probably haven’t addressed these issues because my views are conventional.  On adoption: I think that adoption is a noble, generous act, and admire those who do it.  But I personally don’t want to adopt.  On raising a biological child very different from myself: Of course I’d still love and raise him/her.  My post on “parenthood as the trump of all past regret” is predicated on this endowment effect.  Still, I’m honest enough to admit that I’d be happier if my child and I had a lot in common.

More Kuznicki:

I am astonished that someone writing a book about children can have such prejudiced views about adoption. I see these views all the time among friends and family, but never, as a rule, among experts in the field.

I wonder how many adoptive parents Bryan talked to in his research. How many books and articles did he read about adoption? Did he talk to any social workers, child psychologists, or even — call me crazy — actual adopted kids? Or did he just recycle the same glurge I always get from casual acquaintances when I tell them that I adopted a daughter? (“Oh wow, that’s so great of you. Tell me though, why didn’t you get a surrogate mom?”)

Overwhelmingly, parents adopt for exactly the same reasons that lead others to have kids in the biological way. The “mode” adoptive parent in the United States is heterosexual, married, and infertile. But they want kids just like anyone else, and for the very same reasons. The only catch is that they aren’t able to have kids in the cheap, fun, and conventional way.

Adopting is a pain — it means tons of paperwork, hours of interviews, repeated hearings before various officials, thousands of dollars in fees, criminal background checks, home safety inspections, financial reviews, invasive medical tests, and possibly years of waiting. (All for good reasons, I’d add.)

Compare all that to an evening of sexual intercourse, and it’s obvious why adoption is a second choice — as a method.[1] But that doesn’t mean that adopted kids are a second choice. If anything, it may mean that adoptive parents are more committed to parenting than many “natural” parents. It’s not like we end up here on accident. Which quite a few bio-parents do, of course. And many infertile couples — those among them least committed to parenting — don’t ever adopt.

Perhaps all this is what brought Bryan to think of adoption as noble. But saying that adopting a child is “generous” is both an insult and an undeserved, patronizing compliment.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Families, Science

This Is The Thanks He Gets For Not Being Risk-Averse?

Dan Shaughnessy at Boston Globe:

The Patriots lost to the undefeated Colts in unbelievable fashion last night. Leading, 31-14 in the fourth quarter, and 34-21 with 2:30 remaining, the Patriots took the choke and lost to their hated rivals, 35-34.

So the conference is gone, the playoff bye is probably bye-bye, and the (6-3) Patriots are saddled with a loss that will haunt them for the rest of the season.

And Belichick gets the blame. Too smart for his own good this time. The sin of hubris.

Here’s the situation: With the Patriots leading, 34-28, and 2:08 remaining, Coach Hoodie elected to go for a first down rather than punt when he faced fourth and 2 from his 28-yard line. Guess he was afraid of what Peyton Manning might do.

Tom Brady’s fourth-down pass to Kevin Faulk was complete but inches shy of the first down. So the Colts took over and went 29 yards in four easy plays, winning the game when Manning connected with Reggie Wayne on a laser-like 1-yard pass with an unlucky 13 seconds left on the clock.

Ouch. Bob Kraft’s $9 million federally funded footbridge project just became a bridge over troubled waters.

This game was in the win column. A Stephen Gostkowski field goal with 4:12 left made it 34-21. Unfortunately for New England fans, Belichick elected to play soft defense and Manning quickly had the Colts in the end zone. It was 34-28 with 2:23 left. Then came the tragic set of downs and Belichick’s bold and crushing gamble.

In the postgame confusion, Belichick twice made a reference to the Patriots trying to gain 1 yard.

“I thought we could get that yard,’’ he said.

Asked if he knew the team needed 2 yards, Belichick said that he did. But then he said, “I don’t know how we could not get a yard on that.’’

Brady was simply spectacular in defeat. It was the 2007 Tom. He completed 29 passes for 375 yards and three touchdowns. Ditto for Randy Moss, who caught nine passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns. The Patriots shredded Indy’s depleted secondary, scoring 24 straight points in the first half, then bolting to a 31-14 lead early in the fourth.

Steven Levitt at Freakonomics:

I respect Bill Belichick more today than I ever have.

Last night he made a decision in the final minutes that led his team the New England Patriots to defeat. It will likely go down as one of the most criticized decisions any coach has ever made. With his team leading by six points and just over two minutes left in the game, he elected to go for it on fourth down on his own side of the field. His offense failed to get the first down, and the Indianapolis Colts promptly drove for a touchdown.

He has been excoriated for the choice he made. Everyone seems to agree it was a terrible blunder.

Here is why I respect Belichick so much. The data suggest that he actually probably did the right thing if his objective was to win the game. Economist David Romer studied years worth of data and found that, contrary to conventional wisdom, teams seem to punt way too much. Going for a first down on fourth and short yardage in your end zone is likely to increase the chance your team wins (albeit slightly). But Belichick had to know that if it failed, he would be subjected to endless criticism.

Daniel Drezner:

Of course, the problem with football — and politics — is that decision-makers are usually judged by the quality of the outcomes rather than the quality of the processes.  So, the result in both worlds is often excessive risk-aversion.

And so this blog post might end with absolution for Bill Belichick and a plea for a stronger appreciation for expected-utility analysis.  Except life is not that simple.

On that play, it appears that Belichick made the right call.  Except that Belichick also did the following:

  • Called his last two time-outs during the series, thereby removing his ability to challenge a ruling on the field during the crucial play;
  • Decided, on third down and two, to call a pass play rather than a running play, which would have run more time off the clock and made the fourth down percentages a little easier.

Sooooo… it’s possible to defend Belichick’s call on fourth down as the rational, utility-maximizing decision, but conclude that he committed a series of small blunders that got the Patriots to the point where they had to convert a high-risk, high-reward play.

Question to readers:  Looking at the Obama administration’s foreign policy, which move echoes Belichick’s play-calling?

Ed Morrissey

Steve Sailer:

Eventually, an NFL offensive juggernaut might start going for two after each touchdown, but that hasn’t happened yet. Coaches would rather have their players lose the game than the coach lose the game.

One thing to keep in mind, though, when apply two-point conversion rates to fourth-and-two rates is that two point conversions are usually attempted when the offense is hitting on all eight cylinders, while 4th and two attempts are made when the offense is sputtering.

So, all this theorizing is interesting, but you still have to execute on the football field, which the Patriots did not: Brady hit Kevin Faulk, running a pattern where he was coming back toward the line of scrimmage for a three yard gain, but Faulk juggled the ball and didn’t grab it firmly until he was only a yard past the line of scrimmage, turning the ball over to the Colts.

Not surprisingly, Peyton Manning marched them 29 yards for the winning touchdown.

Matthew Yglesias:

I bow to none in my hatred of Boston sports teams, Boston sports fans, and generally any phrase that involves both “Boston” and “sports.” That said, I’ve always admired Bill Belichick’s willingness to be more aggressive than the average coach in terms of going for it on fourth down. The evidence is pretty overwhelming that most coaches are too conservative about this, and the rest of the NFL ought to take a clue from the fact that it’s the most successful organization in recent NFL history that’s most eager to push the envelop on this.

Last night, however, provided a great example of why most coaches do the wrong thing. New England went for it in a situation when most teams would have punted. And it didn’t work out. If they’d punted, people would be criticizing their defense. But since they went for it, it’s the coach who’s getting criticized. In coaching, like in banking, the safe bet is to make the same mistake as everyone else. But just because a call doesn’t work out 100 percent of the time doesn’t make it the wrong thing. The numbers show pretty clearly that going for it is the smart play.

Jonathan Cohn at TNR:

The second-guessing started with the Belichick post-game press conference and hasn’t stopped since. Maybe it’s the shock of seeing Belichick, widely considered the smartest coach of his generation, have a call backfire. Or maybe it’s the shock of seeing such a rare decision. Whatever. Nobody seems to think he got it right. “Belichick call unrivalled,” writes the Boston Globe‘s Dan Shaugnessy–employing gentler language than what, I’m sure, callers into Boston talk shows are using this morning.

But statistics show pretty conclusively that football coaches are far too conservative about fourth down decisions–that they should go for it, rather than punt, far more frequently. Apparently, statistics also show that Belichick made the right call here, notwithstanding what everybody thinks. From the website “Advanced NFL Stats“:

With 2:00 left and the Colts with only one timeout, a successful conversion wins the game for all practical purposes. A 4th and 2 conversion would be successful 60% of the time. Historically, in a situation with 2:00 left and needing a TD to either win or tie, teams get the TD 53% of the time from that field position. The total WP for the 4th down conversion attempt would therefore be:

(0.60 * 1) + (0.40 * (1-0.53)) = 0.79 WP

A punt from the 28 typically nets 38 yards, starting the Colts at their own 34. Teams historically get the TD 30% of the time in that situation. So the punt gives the Pats about a 0.70 WP.

Statistically, the better decision would be to go for it, and by a good amount.

Brian Burke, writing at the New York Times, and Nicholas Beaudrot agree.

All of this comes courtesy of Matt Yglesias, who–I know–took little joy in making this case. For what it’s worth, I feel the same way. Although my devotion to another Boston franchise is a matter of public record, my pro football loyalties remain with the team I grew up watching in South Florida.

Update: Readers are already writing in to suggest that the pro-Belichick analysis fails to account for the specifics of the situation–it was Peyton Manning at QB, etc. Actually, that’s not true. I just didn’t excerpt those parts. Here’s more from Advanced NFL Stats:

You’d have to expect the Colts had a better than a 30% chance of scoring from their 34, and an accordingly higher chance to score from the Pats’ 28. But any adjustment in their likelihood of scoring from either field position increases the advantage of going for it. You can play with the numbers any way you like, but it’s pretty hard to come up with a realistic combination of numbers that make punting the better option. At best, you could make it a wash.

Freddie at The League:

Defending Bill Belicheck’s indefensible decision to go for it last night on fourth and two seems to be becoming a movement and gathering steam. It’s driven, I think, by sports contrarianism, but never mind about that.  The general argument you hear is that they had to try to go for it because Peyton Manning is unstoppable. That would make a lot more sense to me if the Colts hadn’t punted seven times and turned it over twice in that very game. By my count, the Colts had fourteen possessions; they were unsuccessful on nine of them. If you’re going to argue against punting because a team is unstoppable, this is not the game to do it.


Filed under Sports

“Busted” Busted!


New York Times reporter Edmund Andrews “Busted” has set off quote a firestorm.

First, Andrews had had a piece in the New York Times magazine, along with a bit on NPR‘s “All Things Considered.” Bloggers blogged about it, including Matt Y., Tim Fernholz in Tapped and Megan McArdle. Steve Sailer was less sympathetic.

Then McArdle read the book:

So this weekend, I read the book from which the New York Times article I blogged about on Friday was excerpted.  I feel a little differently now, though not enough to take back anything I wrote.

Andrews spends a lot of time defending not feeling bad, because after all, the banks shouldn’t have lent him money.  This is true, they shouldn’t, and anyone who did should be profusely apologizing to their shareholders.  But when you read the book, what you discover is that while the book is ostensibly about our Great National Borrowing Binge, for Andrews, the debt is really a sideshow.  He couldn’t afford to get married.  At all.

After his alimony payments, Andrews was taking home $2770 a month, or about what I took home when I was a junior web editor at The Economist.  On this, he expected to support a wife and several children who came attached to a meagre $700 a month in child support.  Presumably, their joint income was so low because the emotional (though not yet physical) relationship between Andrews and his now wife is what triggered their respective divorces.

McArdle posts again:

But en route to that moral, it turns out the story has been tidied up a little.  Patty Barreiro, Andrews’ wife, has declared bankruptcy twice.  The second time was while they were married, a detail that didn’t make it into either the book or the excerpt that ran in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.

Andrews’ desire to shield his wife is understandable–hell, laudable.  No decent person wants to parade their spouse’s financial trouble in front of the world.  But this is material information that changes the tenor of his story.  Serial bankruptcy is not a creation of the current credit crisis, and it doesn’t just happen to anyone, particularly anyone with a six figure salary.

And the pile-on continued:

New York Magazine Blog

Alexandra Gutierrez at Tapped


Via The Newshour website, Andrews responded:

But Megan McArdle, a blogger for the Atlantic, accuses me of omitting crucial information: namely, that my wife, Patty, was involved in two bankruptcies, one in 1998 with her former husband; and one in 2007, while she was married to me. McArdle says this is “material information that changes the tenor of the story,” and then accuses Patty of “serial bankruptcy.”

These bankruptcies did occur, but they had nothing to do with our mortgage woes. They were both tied to old debts from before we were married or bought a house. They had nothing to do with my ability to get a mortgage; nor did they have anything to do with our subsequent financial problems.

Clark Hoyt, public editor at NYT, responds to the critiques.

McArdle responds to Andrews’s response.

More later.

UPDATE: Matt Welch in Reason

Ezra Klein writes that NYT should have mentioned McArdle by name, instead of “a blogger for The Atlantic.”

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Culture, Economics, New Media

Size Doesn’t Matter?


Victor Davis Hanson:

It is generally known that Americans want it both ways — green giddiness and plenty of oil and gas for their cars and homes; lots of government services and low taxes; a big military but spasms of isolationism. But now California is where the rubber meets the road, and we just saw the big government side of the equation dissolve. With the highest income taxes, highest sales taxes, and biggest deficits, Californians finally said “no mas,” and let the cutting begin. Of course, we have expanded government to such a degree that “radical” cuts will only get us back to about 2005-sized government, and “tax cutting” in this loopy state will mean holding firm at a 9% sales tax and 10%-plus income tax. But one must begin somewhere.

Conor Friedersdorf responds to the point about the military, arguing that one can support a large military and isolationism at the same time, ala Switzerland. He then quotes John McPhee. Conor:

Though I’d stop short of advocating the Swiss model for the United States, I nevertheless favor a large army and high defense spending mostly because I want to avoid wars, not because I want the ability to start more of them. I am troubled by Mr. Hanson’s apparent belief that once one possesses a large army, it follows logically that it must be used. Indeed, were his belief sufficiently widespread I’d feel compelled to agitate for a smaller army.

Daniel Larison:

While there is no absolute contradiction between favoring a relatively large military and a neutral foreign policy–Switzerland shows this to be true–in the American context we have rarely seen the two combined. In his railing against FDR’s preparations for entry into war, Garet Garrett did make calls for building up defenses against any possible invasion or attack as part of his argument for continued neutrality, but on the whole it has been true that those who want to avoid foreign entanglements do not want to create a military force that would enable us to become entangled in foreign conflicts. One of the reasons why we have such a large military is that there are not all that many Americans who oppose foreign entanglements as such, and even fewer who have influence oppose them, much less do they see a problem with America’s superpower status.

UPDATE: Steve Sailer

1 Comment

Filed under Go Meta

Sailing Past The Outer Limits

We have linked to Steve Sailer beause this blog links to everyone who speaks up about a subject. We don’t comment on who we think is right or wrong or acceptable or not.

Noah Millman does our job for us in this post, documenting an argument between Will Saletan and John McWhorter. About Sailer, Millman states:

“To be clear: whatever you think of the Ricci case, or affirmative action generally, I don’t see how you can make race go away as a political category (which seems to be what Saletan wants) if its salience as such hasn’t gone away. And if such categorization is to persist, how are we to have a dialogue that excludes neither uncomfortable data nor any member of the polity from the conversation?

The last relates to the Steve Sailer “problem.” I didn’t link in the above to Sailer’s contributions to the dialogue because, upon re-reading, his contributions were overwhelmingly focused on his own place in the dialogue, or lack thereof. (And they are easy enough for anyone to find who’s interested; just go to his site.) Sailer should recognize by now that, by writing for an implied reader who is already sympathetic to him and to his view of himself, and in particular by evidencing no concern for how an African-American reader might receive his writing, Sailer has effectively excluded himself from most conversations. Given that I still think he has interesting things to say, and is worth reading for those things, this poses a peculiar burden on me, and other readers (like Saletan) who apparently feel the same way, in how we treat him. The general approach (preferred by Saletan) is to telegraph repeatedly one’s basic distaste for disrespectable characters like Sailer, which gives Sailer the opportunity to wave his hands and say, “see: even when they agree with me they exclude me because they can’t handle the truth!” I’m unsatisfied with that approach myself, which is why I don’t follow it, but I don’t know what a better approach is given that Sailer himself is, plainly, not going to change on this score.”

Sully has two posts up about this, here and here. Sully block quotes McWhorter:

“Now, I take it Saletan is still worried that just such people, such as [openly racist blogger] Steve Sailer, are still a force to be feared. Respectfully, however, I am still not sure why.

Think about it: our public discourse is at a point where when Saletan even entertains the data that makes us so uncomfortable he is excoriated endlessly. Where is the space in this discourse for people like Sailer to acquire any kind of meaningful influence? … What legislation would have Steve Sailer’s imprint? What steps can we imagine [where] we would get to a point where black people were routinely herded apart as mental deficients? Or whatever dystopian horror we are supposed to be worried about.”

Steve Sailer’s blog is here.

UPDATE: Saletan has his own post with the links and comments.

1 Comment

Filed under Go Meta, Race

Do Charles, Kenny, or E.J. Read The New Yorker?


Malcolm Gladwell has a piece in the New Yorker about how the full court press and up-tempo help the underdog. Of course, the post is about broader subjects as well as just basketball. But B-ball bloggers and others are scratching their heads.

Chad Orzel, in a post titled “Malcolm Gladwell is no Charles Barkley:”

“[T]he press works, as long as the other team isn’t ready for it. The idea of a full-court press is to force the opponent into a rushed and frenetic game and get them out of their routine. A team that’s ready for it, though, and has skilled and disciplined players, won’t get rattled by the press, and can pick the press apart for lots of easy baskets. You can use the full-court press to rattle a superior team that isn’t expecting it, but if they know it’s coming, there are a lot of ways that pressure defense can fall apart– missed traps in the back court lead to two- or three-on-one breaks, over-aggressive defense leads to fouls, etc.. The teams that have won titles using pressure basketball have also had lots of talent, because you need something to fall back on if the press doesn’t work.”

Kevin Drum:

“Like Chad, it’s stuff like this that makes me wonder about Gladwell.  He’s an engaging writer and he picks interesting subjects, but there are really only two alternatives here.  Either (a) he wrote this piece without bothering to learn enough about basketball to understand why the press isn’t used much above the kiddie league level or (b) he knew the answer but chose not to share it with his readers because it would wreck his story.  Unfortunately, I suspect the answer is (b).  He seems like a guy who sometimes decides not to let the facts get in his way once he’s settled on a good narrative.”

Megan McArdle looks at the broader question of unconventional tactics:

“Worse, unconventional tactics can trigger an adverse reaction in opponents.  If they have the ability to punish you, you’ll regret it.  I suspect that most of Al-Qaeda were surprised and horrified when the US reacted to attacks on US soil differently from attacks on military installations abroad:  not with surgical strikes on moderately important targets, but by invading Afghanistan.  Similarly, if the players on the basketball court think you’re going too far, as any basketball player can tell you, they have lots of ways to retaliate.”

At NBA Fanhouse, Michael David Smith defends Gladwell:

“The full-court press embodies the values that we should hope a 12-year-old would learn from basketball: Namely, that hard work pays off and that physical fitness is important. If employing the full-court press helps those girls win games, that’s a nice bonus. Gladwell’s story is a fun, interesting look at the kind of coach that any 12-year-old would be lucky to have.”

Okay, but we won’t have the final word until we have Kenny or Charles’s thoughts on the matter. Does anyone have the e-mail for “Inside?”

Apropos of nothing, we post this video from last year’s play-offs. Because it is still hilarious, one year later.

What does Gladwell have to say about that? Kobe is an Outlier, no doubt. The next TNT broadcast is Sunday. Plenty of time to respond!

Nothing from Matt Y. yet. Or John S. When they respond, we will update.

UPDATE: Ezra Klein for the defense. (Of Gladwell, not the full court press.)

UPDATE #2: Steve Sailer

UPDATE #3: Gladwell responds to the critiques on his blog

Alan Jacobs at The American Scene.

1 Comment

Filed under Go Meta, Sports