Tag: Culture

The American Historical Association seems nuts to me

By Razib Khan | July 23, 2013 9:59 pm

Why the title? Read it for yourself: American Historical Association Statement on Policies Regarding the Embargoing of Completed History PhD Dissertations. Here’s the conclusion:

By endorsing a policy that allows embargos, the AHA seeks to balance two central though at times competing ideals in our profession–on the one hand, the full and timely dissemination of new historical knowledge; and, on the other, the unfettered ability of young historians to revise their dissertations and obtain a publishing contract from a press. We believe that the policy recommended here honors both of these ideals by withholding the dissertation from online public access, but only for a clearly stated, limited amount of time, and by encouraging other, more traditional forms of availability that would insure a hard copy of the dissertation remains accessible to scholars and all other interested parties.

I’m going to try hard not to go “Michael Eisen” on this: did the AHA just compare the dissemination of knowledge with careers? It strikes me that if you do scholarship of any sort the discovery and dissemination of knowledge is all, it is the summum bonum. All else is secondary and marginal. As it is the academic job market is brutally Darwinian in the most extreme sense, and more so for humanities scholars. Can you truly push this thread any further by open access requirements for dissertations? I doubt it. But let’s test this proposition.

Note: I am granting many of the premises of the argument in the statement for the purposes of this post. Even allowing for those premises, when a scholarly discipline goes too far down the careerist rabbit-hole, then it is time for people to start thinking about become actuaries to put bread on the table.


The neglected regionalism of these United States

By Razib Khan | July 2, 2013 6:37 pm

Non-Hispanic White vote for John McCain 2008 according to National Exit Polls
Red = 100% for McCain
Blue = 100% for Obama

As we come up to the day celebrating American independence from the Britain there will be the standard revelries and reflections. Personally, I have no problem with that. A modicum of patriotism seems healthy in all, and if appropriately channeled a surfeit is often useful in the populace as a way to maintain civic engagement. That being said I did admit that in the positive and descriptive sense I am far more ambivalent about the consequences and rationale for the rebellion than I was as a child. I don’t accept that the American revolution was indisputably about Virginia gentry who wished to avoid financial ruin, New England fundamentalists yearning for oppression of Quebecois Catholics, or upcountry Scots-Irish chafing at the bit to explode into the western hinterlands, heretofore restrained by the Empire. But I believe that this narrative is as true as the story I was told as a child about an unjust and oppressive British monarchy battling the cause for the cause of freedom and liberty. When Patrick Henry declared ‘Give me liberty, or give me death!’, it was not a universal declaration. It was implicitly a call to arms for the rights of white male property holders in the context of colonial Virginia. This is not a palatable message for elementary school age children, so such subtle but true details are neglected in the standard narrative.

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Why atheists can speak in the West

By Razib Khan | April 22, 2013 5:06 am

Recently Bill Maher ripped into CSU San Bernadino professor Brian Levin for making the ridiculous equivalence between Christian extremism and Islamic extremism. The problem, which Maher pinpoints, is that Islamic extremism is not that extreme. By this, I mean that Islamic extremism (e.g., Muslim Brotherhood) has much greater broad based support than Christian extremism (e.g., Christian Reconstruction). The difference here is that you’ve heard of the Muslim Brotherhood, while far fewer have heard of Christian Reconstructionists. That’s because the former have democratic support in a populous Muslim country as the ruling party.

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The positional game and the end of the age

By Razib Khan | February 20, 2013 3:27 am

By most material measures we’re doing better as a species than we ever have. That is, in an absolute sense. But a lot of human life is about relative prosperity. I recall hearing once that role playing games which emphasized egalitarianism, with no “winners” or “losers,” often had a difficult time gaining users. We are a cooperative species, but we’re also a competitive species. The idea of a rising tiding lifting all boats is appealing, but so is the idea that one needs to have a larger McMansion than the Jones’. Non-zero sum interactions are splendid, but as social organisms we evolved to a great extent in a world dominated by zero sum games. Our rationality counsels that we trust in reason’s logic, but our emotions drive us toward cognitive biases such as loss aversion.

Three articles in The New York Times prompt me to reflect on the shortsightedness of modern life in the developed and aspiring developed world. First, It Takes a B.A. to Find a Job as a File Clerk. Basically the transformation of college into the new high school. Second, As Families Change, Korea’s Elderly Are Turning to Suicide. The focus of this article is how modern economic and social tumult are tearing apart the fabric of South Korean life. But it also focuses on the mad scramble for the “best” education which drives many to penury: ‘Some parents, the “edu poor,” drained their savings to pay for cram schools that operate after regular school and on weekends.’ Finally, In China, Families Bet It All on College for Their Children. This despite the fact that there is a surfeit of graduates in many areas.

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Why culture is chunky and genes are creamy

By Razib Khan | February 6, 2013 2:24 am

My daughter has four grandparents. Genetically she is a little over 25 percent her paternal grandfather and maternal grandmother, and a little under 25 percent her maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother.* Why? Because she is 50 percent genetically identical by descent with her mother and likewise with her father. This is all rather straightforward. But what about culturally?

With biological heredity we can speak of genes, the substrate by which inheritance occurs. With culture memes have been far less fruitful as anything more than an illustration, as opposed to the basis of a formal system of logic and analysis. Nevertheless, we can describe with relative clarity many aspects of culture as a trait or phenotype. And this is important. Recall that evolutionary process was characterized by Charles Darwin despite lacking a satisfying theory of inheritance.

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Facebook and Google: the $$RN

By Razib Khan | February 5, 2013 4:28 am

By now you will have seen the Facebook generated map of NFL fan distributions by county. The map itself is fascinating for two reasons. Substantively it illustrates the power of state lines and regionalism. The latter is not surprising, but I suspect that the former may be. The boundary between the territory of the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants may not surprise you, but it aligns almost perfectly with where people shift from saying “pop” to “soda.” On the other hand you have strange phenomenon such as northern Mississippi and Alabama’s attachment to a New Orleans team which is much more distant than the Tennessee Titans (granted, the Titans are relatively new).

But a deeper more “meta’ point is that some of the most cutting edge and data swollen social science now occurs in the private sector. Facebook and Google are obvious cases. But credit rating and marketing firms also have a very deep understanding of your behaviors, and how you should behave. I do think people should be somewhat concerned about his, but I also suspect that if a really blockbuster fact was discovered “in house,” it would leak soon enough.


We all react to ‘market signals’…eventually

By Razib Khan | January 20, 2013 1:34 pm

It looks like law school applications are finally declining precipitously. The specific issue here is that it’s not necessarily easy to leverage a non-elite law school degree into a lucrative career (see the bimodal distribution of law school graduate pay) which makes servicing student loans (which can not be wiped out by bankruptcy) manageable. This is layered on top of the fact that many non-elite law schools seem to have been engaged in de facto marketing fraud in cooking-the-books on the prospects of their graduates for years. There have been many who have criticized Paul Campos of The Law School Scam, but I have plenty of anecdata to support his assertions in a qualitative sense. If you lack quantitative skills but have above average, but not stellar, verbal skills then loading up on $100,000+ debt in law school is not a path to riches (assuming you lack connections and are not on track to simply take over your family firm).

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I, for one welcome our yellow overlords!

By Razib Khan | October 29, 2012 9:33 pm

The above infographic from The New York Times article For Asians, School Tests Are Vital Steppingstones, was titled “1027-asians” when I tried to save it. No idea why, but I think that’s an amusing file name. My offensively titled post is inspired by the cliche reference to Confucianism in the piece. As my previous posts on “Tiger Mom’s” indicate I am not a big fan of the “Asian” way of obtaining academic laurels through brute force alone. In places like South Korea a cram-school bidding war has distorted the culture. The single-minded focus on a specific test means that the whole society has to shift to keep up with the innovators in the educational “arms race.” Think of it as the analog to the doping scandal in cycling. And it’s an irony that the term innovation is being used here by me, because this sort of “education” destroys the creativity, flexibility, and originality which is the engine which motors modern civilization. Sufficient for producing engineers, but I doubt fruitful as the seedbed for an individualistic scientific culture which aims to shift paradigms.

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Free speech Über Alles!

By Razib Khan | September 29, 2012 2:45 am

Will Saletan has has published a piece making a traditionalist American absolutist case for free speech. He points out that in most Western nations there are in fact curbs on speech which is considered offensive, disturbing, and perhaps dangerous. Therefore, Muslims who point to Western hypocrisy have a point. I agree with this argument without reservation. But, I do want to reiterate the putative targets of offense are illustrative of a divergence of values in and of themselves. Though I wouldn’t criticize non-Western Muslims for pointing out the existence of laws banning denial of the Holocaust, I do have issues when Western Muslims bring this point up even innocuously. The reason is simple: the Holocaust concerns the systematic state-sponsored murder of millions of human beings. This is a far more serious issue than the reputation of the prophet Muhammad. Of course that statement reflects my particular values. And, whether you accept the idea of hate speech or not I suspect most Westerners would accept the validity of this proposition.

More generally a major thread running through conflicts about speech is globalization and technology. Today communication and propagation is nearly frictionless, and government curbs on speech either have to be very robust (e.g., Saudi Arabia or China), or, they have to be nominal and selective. The great thing about American free speech absolutism is that the implementation is relatively easy and clear. The problem with speech laws in other nations is that it seems that they are enforced sporadically and at the pleasure of the authorities. This may seem coherent in nations with heavy censorship, but it seems peculiar and out of place in those nations where censorship in the exception and not the rule.


The delta quadrant of American politics & culture

By Razib Khan | September 24, 2012 10:43 pm

Apparently when he was a consultant Mitt Romney would praise the merits of ‘wallowing in data.’ I agree with this, you can’t get more data than you need. Therefore I highly commend Public Religion Research Institute‘s survey of the “white working class.” More specifically, do read the full PDF. It’ll take you some time, but just trade that in for commenting on a weblog! Of course the results are strongly contingent upon the definition of what the white working class is. In this survey they fix upon the white population which does not have a college education (though may have some college) and is not employed in salaried labor. This seems like serviceable definition. The incomes range from low to lower upper middle class, with a mode in the lower middle class, so you get a broader cross-section of non-elite white America than Honey Boo Boo, which is to working class white America what the “ghetto life” is to working class black America.

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The waning of the nuclear family

By Razib Khan | September 2, 2012 5:09 pm

‘The Waltons’ Meets ‘Modern Family’:

A Pew Research Center study, “The Return of the Multi-Generational Family Household,” published long before the most recent, even higher census figures, revealed that in 2008 a record 49 million Americans, or 16.1 percent of the country’s population, lived in a family household that contained at least two adult generations or a grandparent and at least one other generation.

Those figures, according to that Pew report, represented a significant trend reversal that started right after World War II. In 1940, about a quarter of the population lived in a multigenerational home (my mother-in-law, in fact, grew up sharing a house with her aunt, uncle and cousins), while in 1980, only 12 percent did.

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The rot in the heart of the "meritocracy"

By Razib Khan | July 9, 2012 8:11 pm

70 Students to Retake Exams After Cheating Case:

Seventy students were involved in a pattern of smartphone-enabled cheating last month at Stuyvesant High School, New York City officials said Monday, describing an episode that has blemished one of the country’s most prestigious public schools.

The cheating involved several state exams and was uncovered after a cellphone was confiscated from a 16-year-old junior during a citywide language exam on June 18, according to a city Department of Education investigation.

Dr. Drew Cashes In:

It’s not surprising that some doctors would take drug company cash—even when doing so potentially runs counter to the interests of their patients. But the $760 million figure gives a sense how widespread the problem has become. Throw a few names into the ProPublica database—names of medical doctors you know—and there’s a reasonable chance you’ll discover that one has been suckling from Big Pharma’s teat.

And the Libor scandal. Are we seeing the end of the Mandate of Heaven for this ascendant order? Who knows.


Calcification of the merit castes

By Razib Khan | June 23, 2012 11:38 pm

After ragging on Chris Hayes for a week I decided to check out the conversation above between Hayes and Mike Konzal about his new book, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy. As Mike suggested the book does seem more nuanced in its take than the piece in The Nation which highlighted the role of high-stakes testing at Hunter College High School. In the conversation above Hayes supports his suppositions that test-prep was excluding blacks and Latinos by asserting that that is what the teachers themselves believe. I wouldn’t dismiss this out of hand, but it certainly isn’t enough to make me accept that portion of Hayes’ argument. People have all sorts of weird misconceptions.

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Political ideologies as optimization strategies

By Razib Khan | June 19, 2012 10:36 pm

Chris Mooney’s latest book has got me thinking about the nature of political ideology. One of the major insights from works such as The Origin and Evolution of Cultures is that human societies can adapt and map themselves upon the environment with a few simple heuristics. A primary dynamic by which group behaviors propagate and enforce themselves is the do-what-my-neighbor-does rule-of-thumb. Obviously this is not always optimal. Sometimes it is needful to think for oneself. But thinking for oneself is cognitively expensive. Doing what everyone else does is cheap. Figuring out what you want to do for yourself is time consuming, and requires deliberation. There are analogies here between “hard & fast” reflexive cognition, and “slow & deliberate” reflective cognition.


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America: as if it is 1970

By Razib Khan | April 26, 2012 11:19 pm

I noticed that The Washington Post had an article up, Number of biracial babies soars over past decade, based on 2010 Census data. I was immediately curious if my expectations were correct in this case, because the term “biracial” has a very specific connotation. That is, there are two races, and in America that is black and white. If you want to break out of this old dichotomy you usually say multiracial. This paradigm has a historical valence, because the “race issue” in America has traditionally been in black and white, with a minor secondary role for native populations. I say traditionally, because by any measure the minority of America’s minorities are now black.

And sure enough the article does focus on the black-white dimension, with honorable mention for a woman of Asian heritage. But it is notionally based on the Census, right? It was easy to find the press release on the Census website. Here is the table accompanying it:


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MORE ABOUT: Culture, Interracial

Cultural Folkways in Flux

By Razib Khan | March 31, 2012 10:43 am

A fascinating post over at The Crux, Votes and Vowels: A Changing Accent Shows How Language Parallels Politics. Here’s the section which I might quibble with though:

Labov points out that the residents of the Inland North have long-standing differences with their neighbors to the south, who speak what’s known as the Midland dialect. The two groups originated from distinct groups of settlers; the Inland Northerners migrated west from New England, while the Midlanders originated in Pennsylvania via the Appalachian region. Historically, the two settlement streams typically found themselves with sharply diverging political views and voting habits, with the northerners aligning much more closely with agenerally being more liberal ideology.

But first, here is a map of the dialects in question:


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When independent thought flourishes

By Razib Khan | March 18, 2012 10:09 pm

One of the things I instinctively hated about my “ancestral culture,” that of Bangladesh, is that there wasn’t that great of an emphasis on individual independent thought. Why, for example, was it important never to drink water while you were eating, as opposed to after you were done? The response was simple: that’s the rule. Even if there was a functional rationale, there wasn’t even any pretense at offering a reasoned explanation for why a custom was a custom. It’s just how it was.

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The educated want more children than they have

By Razib Khan | September 27, 2011 2:30 pm


The post below is probably going to elicit a lot of comments. Some of it will repeat chestnuts of historical wisdom which illustrate the ignorance of the typical modern. For example, it is false that the lower classes always have more children than the upper classes. In general it is the reverse, because the lower orders are more squeezed on the Malthusian margins (this explains how downward social mobility worked in early modern Europe; the less successful children of the elites drifted down to replace the masses who were not replacing themselves).

In any case, Angela M. Cable asks:

Has it not occurred to anyone that perhaps the more educated a woman is, the less she *wants* children. How do we know these women are not child-free as opposed to child-less?

If I was Angela I would go look for the literature on this. I’m not one to ask questions imperiously without taking the time out to actually do some legwork. But I’m a peculiar beast. Let’s satisfy Ms. Cable’s curiosity, which probably remains unsated by any compulsion to find out the truth of the matter. The General Social Survey has a variable which asks the ideal number of children an individual would like to have. Let’s replicate the analysis with that variable, and look at the difference between ideal and realized number of children.

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A college degree as contraceptive

By Razib Khan | September 27, 2011 12:57 pm

Update: The Slate piece is not accurately representing the original research:

Lerner’s article is spreading misinformation. What the Guttmacher Institute study shows is not that the educated are having fewer children vis a vis the uneducated, but that there is a growing gap in family planning: the children of the uneducated are increasingly unplanned.

Knocked Up and Knocked Down: Why America’s widening fertility class divide is a problem:

You hear about the “haves” versus the “have-nots,” but not so much about the “have-one-or-nones” versus the “have-a-fews.” This, though, is how you might characterize the stark and growing fertility class divide in the United States. Two new studies bring the contrasting reproductive profiles of rich and poor women into sharp relief. One, from the Guttmacher Institute, shows that the rates of unplanned pregnancies and births among poor women now dwarf the fertility rates of wealthier women, and finds that the gap between the two groups has widened significantly over the past five years. The other, by the Center for Work-Life Policy, documents rates of childlessness among corporate professional women that are higher than the childlessness rates of some European countries experiencing fertility crises.

Childlessness has increased across most demographic groups but is still highest among professionals. Indeed, according to an analysis of census data conducted by the Pew Research Center, about one quarter of all women with bachelor’s degrees and higher in the United States wind up childless. (As Pew notes, for women with higher degrees, that number is actually slightly lower than it was in the early 1990s—but it is still very high.) By comparison, in England, which has one of the highest percentages of women without children in the world, 22 percent of all women are childless. According to the new Center for Work-Life Policy study, 43 percent of the women in their sample of corporate professionals between the ages of 33 and 46 were childless. The rate of childlessness among the Asian American professional women in the study was a staggering 53 percent.

At the same time, the numbers of both unplanned pregnancies and births among poor women have climbed steadily in recent years. About half of all pregnancies in this country are unplanned, with poor women now five times more likely than higher-income women to have an unplanned pregnancy, and six times more likely to have an unplanned birth, according to the Guttmacher Institute’s recent analysis of government data.

It being Slate, the author does not broach what I like to term the “Idiocracy hypothesis”. I invite you to make some observations at a Walmart Supercenter as you stand behind the pregnant 16 year old holding her adorable chubby infant, and then deny the possibility of this outcome. But you don’t need to “go there.” If you have a strong environmental leaning you can still admit that the cultural traits of the middle class may be heritable through acquisition in childhood, while the dysfunctional tendencies of the underclass can also be perpetuated by modeling the behavior of parents and peers. The skewed parental origins of the next generation, and the inferred long term divergence in reproductive output, are issues of some consequence for the broader social order. Systems which shift out of equilibrium may eventually reach a new “stable state,” and one not to our liking.

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MORE ABOUT: Culture, natalism

Liberals more politically picky in mates?

By Razib Khan | July 31, 2011 9:08 pm

In the early 2000s I recall Joel Grus telling me how reality television would become a pretty powerful exploratory tool for social science. I’m not quite sure of that now (there here’s a game-theoretic analysis of Survivor!). For example, consider The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. If you watched this series you might think that we’re still living in the same country where a episode of Star Trek was not shown in the South because of an interracial kiss. In some ways “appointment television” has become a lagging indicator.

Rather, it looks like firms whose bread & butter is “the social web” are where the gold in social science is. Consider the OkTrends blog, which is affiliated with and has access to OkCupid. These companies have sample sizes not in the thousands, but in the millions! The Financial Times has a fascinating piece on the “secret sauce” of Match.com, Inside Match.com: It’s all about the algorithm:

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Data Analysis
MORE ABOUT: Culture, Data, dating

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