People respond to incentives

By Razib Khan | December 4, 2011 9:28 am

Fascinating story about the re-identification of people of Eurasian ancestry as white to get into elite universities. Some Asians’ college strategy: Don’t check ‘Asian’:

Lanya Olmstead was born in Florida to a mother who immigrated from Taiwan and an American father of Norwegian ancestry. Ethnically, she considers herself half Taiwanese and half Norwegian. But when applying to Harvard, Olmstead checked only one box for her race: white.

Asian students have higher average SAT scores than any other group, including whites. A study by Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade examined applicants to top colleges from 1997, when the maximum SAT score was 1600 (today it’s 2400). Espenshade found that Asian-Americans needed a 1550 SAT to have an equal chance of getting into an elite college as white students with a 1410 or black students with an 1100.

In the article Steve Hsu observes that the Ivy League universities have a suspiciously similar proportion of Asians, about 2/3 of the fraction of a “race blind” admissions college like Cal Tech. Here’s Alex Tabarrok with the numbers: “At Yale the class of 2013 is 15.5 percent Asian-American, at Dartmouth 16.1 percent, at Harvard 19.1 percent, and at Princeton 17.6 percent.” I assume that the “Asian Quota” will start to change as the current generation of Asian American students become established as alumni donors.

I’m not a big fan of the “Asian Quota” personally. But, I do think one can make a case for it based on the fact that children from families with an Asian background have a strong bias toward optimizing measured outcomes. But, this entails making a profile, or “stereotype,” of a population. I’m not someone who actually objects to this on principle, but I find the hypocrisy on this issue rather annoying, because the same administrators who would decry stereotypes feel they have to employ them implicitly for practical (so the alumni don’t see their university overwhelmed by “yellow hordes,” and so reduce giving) and idealistic reasons (to maintain some ethnic balance).

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Demographics
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  • observer

    As you say, Asians — perhaps quite deliberately — tend to emphasize measurable outcomes such as high SATs and GPAs.

    But suppose you don’t believe that the traits corresponding to these measures represent ALL that is important in college and in life. Then, there would be no reason to believe that a college should be obliged to admit on the basis of these measures alone.

    That’s really the fallacy lying behind the argument that Asians are in any important way discriminated against. They need to show first that they’ve distinguished themselves on all the traits colleges and society regard as important in the higher ranges of achievement, and have done so at least as well as they have on the measurable traits.

    There’s very little evidence so far that Asians have managed to do that.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    They need to show first that they’ve distinguished themselves on all the traits colleges and society regard as important in the higher ranges of achievement, and have done so at least as well as they have on the measurable traits.

    There’s very little evidence so far that Asians have managed to do that.

    say more. you seem to have thought about this. give me the traits, and give me your evidence. (i expect you to answer the question directly btw)

  • observer

    I don’t think that, for example, there is any evidence that Asians (by which I mean here Asians particularly from China and Korea — less so from India or other parts of Asia) have distinguished themselves in leadership qualities AT THE SAME HIGH RATE at which they have distinguished themselves in GPA and SAT scores.

    I’d use as evidence of this the relatively low percentage of Asian (again, as I am narrowing the term here) entrepreneurs and CEOs in Silicon Valley, despite the very high percentage of such Asians who excel at STEM programs in universities and colleges. That is, perhaps 20-30% of STEM graduates of high prestige programs are Asians (again, so restricted), but only a miniscule number (likely in the low single digits) of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs/CEOs are such.

    Maybe that will change. But until it does, there’s a serious open question as to whether such Asian students really are as outstanding in the relevant leadership traits as they are in other respects. And colleges are right to care about such things, I believe.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    I’d use as evidence of this the relatively low percentage of Asian (again, as I am narrowing the term here) entrepreneurs and CEOs in Silicon Valley, despite the very high percentage of such Asians who excel at STEM programs in universities and colleges. That is, perhaps 20-30% of STEM graduates of high prestige programs are Asians (again, so restricted), but only a miniscule number (likely in the low single digits) of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs/CEOs are such.

    yeah, you need some numbers. i’ve seen proportions quoted on the magnitude of 25% for people from china and india, but that includes those not educated at american universities.

    Maybe that will change. But until it does, there’s a serious open question as to whether such Asian students really are as outstanding in the relevant leadership traits as they are in other respects. And colleges are right to care about such things, I believe.

    this is a fair point. but you didn’t add much to the discussion. though many asian americans themselves agree that the culture does not foster leadership capabilities appropriate to the USA.

    btw, your IP doesn’t indicate that you live in the bay area. out of curiosity, have you visited silicon valley enough to make that assessment? (i think there is something to the assertion that asian americans shy away from high risk/high reward strategies, but your “low single digits” number is not really credible to me, so i’m wondering if you are basing it on anything at all)

  • http://lyingeyes.blogspot.com ziel

    I assume that the “Asian Quota” will start to change as the current generation of Asian American students become established as alumni donors.

    Is there a stereotype about Asians that they’re not so generous with their donations? I have no idea but I’m wondering if anyone’s heard any such generalities. That would certainly put a damper on Asian admits if admissions departments have found that their more successful Asian graduates weren’t as generous as their non-Asian counterparts.

  • S.J. Esposito

    “I don’t think that, for example, there is any evidence that Asians (by which I mean here Asians particularly from China and Korea — less so from India or other parts of Asia) have distinguished themselves in leadership qualities AT THE SAME HIGH RATE at which they have distinguished themselves in GPA and SAT scores.”

    If I may just ask why must they distinguish themselves at leadership qualities at the same high rate? Because they do disproportionately better on the measured qualities, shouldn’t they be able to just demonstrate leadership qualities at the same level or above their competitors?

  • Darkseid

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=tQhoxZVLNT8#t=224s

    “You know, this is a white and Asian world here. It just is.”

  • zxcv

    It would be good to see another study like the one done by Espenshade to systematically evaluate the effect and to look at collateral factors in admissions like extracurricular achievement and personal essays.

    The effect of race-blind admission on Asian enrollment to the University of California Berkeley certainly has the appearance of racial discrimination.

    Related:

    Obama Administration Gives Colleges Broad Leeway on Affirmative Action
    http://chronicle.com/article/Obama-Administration-Gives/130008/

  • http://ironrailsironweights.wordpress.com Peter

    Of course this “check white” option exists only because we do not have a one-drop rule for Asian ancestry. It also helps that in most cases the applicants have non-Asian surnames, given the gender distribution of white-Asian marriages.

    The rule exists in only a weakened fashion with respect to Hispanic ancestry, but that would be irrelevant in this context because obviously there’s a very big advantage to checking Hispanic on the application, and in any event the applicants usually would have Hispanic surnames.

    Is there a stereotype about Asians that they’re not so generous with their donations? I have no idea but I’m wondering if anyone’s heard any such generalities.

    From what I understand, college alumni don’t usually start making donations in big amounts until 20 or so years after graduation. It may be too early to start jumping to any conclusions about Asian alumni.

  • Miley Cyrax

    Those pesky Asians, always being smart and hard-working and ruining our narrative of white oppression to excuse latino and black under-achievement.

    I’m glad this article is getting well-deserved attention from the “blogosphere.” Even though the perils of affirmative action have been known for years now, hopefully the information-sharing on the internet will cause more people to realize the injustice of it.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    “G differences might be what they are, but an elite that is overwhelmingly White and Asian isn’t going to look out for the interests of people who aren’t White and Asian”.

    sure. but remember the fineness of grain. pat buchanan used this argument to suggest that ivy leagues exhibit a bias against white christians:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2010/04/it-doesnt-matter-if-theres-no-protestant-on-the-supreme-court/

  • DK

    I assume that the “Asian Quota” will start to change as the current generation of Asian American students become established as alumni donors.

    Part of the trouble here is that, in agreement with the tightfisted Asian stereotype, Asians don’t seem to give as much. From http://www.princeton.edu/ceps/workingpapers/150rosen.pdf – “Whites are more likely to contribute than American Indians, African-Americans, Hispanics or Asians. The gap is largest with African-Americans, who are 16 percentage points less likely to make a gift than whites. These gender and ethnic/racial differentials are similar to those reported in previous studies (Monks [1993])”. An indirect support for this notion comes from a lack of strong tradition of alumni giving in Asian countries.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #13, re: giving. how much does alumni giving matter in nations where most o the best universities are state run? i guess canada could be a check on this….

  • DK

    Razib, I am too lazy to check on Canada but I am working at a state Uni and alumni donations are 1) very significant, 2) the Uni administration cares deeply about them (oh yeah, they do!). Quick check of the budget: for this state university, the State gives 20% of total revenue. A revenue category called “Gifts, grants and segregated funds” provides the same 20% of total (it excludes all federal grants and programs).

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    If elite schools were just places where we recruited engineers and scientists and technocrats, then I think race and income-blind admission would be fine. But it’s not! It’s where we pick people who make normative decisions about what goals to pursue, not just technocratic decisions about how best to pursue them.

    1) i tend to agree about the reasonability of a “two-track” admissions process.

    2) OTOH, though a disproportionate # of harvard grads are in congress, how many harvard grads go into public service? the reality is that you have a ~50% movement into the de facto rent-gobbling financial sector right now. your argument makes more sense for something like the JFK school of gov., but even there i’ve heard that lots of graduates go into lucrative fields, basically cheating the system because that’s not the school of gov’s intent in the first place.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #15, i know where you work :=) [there's only one major university where you IP traces] the issue with “state universities” in the USA, like the “private universities,” is that really their funding sources are pretty diversified. some state universities get only a small minority of their funding from the state (e.g., university of oregon was getting less than 20% in the early 2000s). i find it plausible, all things equal, that asian americans exhibit less public spiritedness frankly. but that tends to change with assimilation/generations (just like the tendency toward moving into “non-traditional” careers also starts to pop up with later generations).

  • bfgc

    Quoth Razib Khan:

    I assume that the “Asian Quota” will start to change as the current generation of Asian American students become established as alumni donors.

    Quoth DK (#13):

    An indirect support for this notion comes from a lack of strong tradition of alumni giving in Asian countries.

    Probably, but given what I’ve seen, I wouldn’t expect parity. As far as I can tell looking around at my high school’s alumni weekends, Asian & Asian-American alumni generally seem less interested in school spirit-type events. As I wrote earlier:

    My private high school was about 1/3 Asian, but for the past two reunions, the groups who’ve shown up were pretty darn white (90–95%). While I don’t have a good feel for what the racial compositions of past graduating classes were, my hunch is that it only got whiter and whiter as you go back through the history books. Eyeballing the crowd (which is composed of alumni from the classes of ’05, ’00, ’95, ’90, …) I’d say about 5% of the people there were East Asian.

    While it may very well be possible that they’re writing large checks behind the scenes and I’m not paying close attention to it in the alumni quarterly, my hunch is that Asian students, fobby or not, tend to not have as large institutional attachments as white people do. Put more crassly, they’re a good bit less likely to think “My alma mater was so awesome! I’m going to donate a gajillion dollars and a new building to them!”

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    someone has to know the breakdown of donors at places like cal tech or uc berkeley. if the difference is very great, that makes the university’s discrimination much, much, more rational in a dollars & cents manner.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan
  • TonyGrimes

    In the field I work in – programming and development – there seems to be a lot of underachieving Asians (South and East). They know their stuff usually (the South Asians might try to bluff their way a little more). In fact they are often the smartest and most qualified folks in the room, but they don’t seem to have the skills of their white counterparts in the social and human-interaction departments. Less rounded. This means that they progress less than they should. It must be all that tiger-mothering, and not enough playtime.

  • nebbish

    “From what I understand about the German university system, they don’t really have them”

    The German universities of Heidelberg and Gottingen could be considered somewhat more prestigious than other German universities, although perhaps the prestige gulf is not as great as that between some state universities and Yale.

  • observer

    Razib,

    Sorry about the late response, but I just got back from some real life adventures.

    I’ll admit that the numbers I quoted were based mostly on my recollections of the more prominent Silicon Valley companies and highly successful startups. It’s certainly possible that if one takes a look at ALL Silicon Valley companies, the numbers will be quite different. But I think the real issue here is: who runs the real successes in Silicon Valley, the big winners — not who runs companies of possibly quite minor importance.

    To do at least a quick and dirty survey to see if my impressions were roughly correct, I went to a recent list of the top 150 Silicon Valley companies, and looked up the first 40 companies (the extreme end of my patience) to see who were their CEOs. By my count, there were two names of Chinese, Koreans, or Japanese, one for Nvidia (at #26) and one for Lam Research (#26). Now, of course, this is just 40 companies — but, bear in mind, they are the 40 BIGGEST companies in Silicon Valley, so this is much more important a sample than a random one. You are of course welcome to double check my numbers here.

    Link for 150 top Silicon Valley companies:
    http://www.docstoc.com/docs/document-preview.aspx?doc_id=76830259

    Now there were a number more CEOs of Asian origin who were, for example, of Indian or some other background, though I didn’t track those numbers exactly (in part because I was less sure how to categorize them). As I had said in my original post, it was mainly those of Chinese and Korean (and probably Japanese) background who seemed not to be represented in leadership positions in anything like their numbers in elite colleges and particularly elite STEM programs. It would seem to be hard to explain this by prejudice — as some are wont to do — because why, then, would Indians (whom I wouldn’t expect would experience much less prejudice than other Asians) be relatively well represented? According to Wiki, Indians are, in number, in the US, less than half the combined total of Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese — yet they appear to be considerably more likely to be in a leadership role.

    Now maybe in the next generation of big winners in Silicon Valley there will be a good number of Chinese/Korean/Japanese CEOs. We’ll see. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and it seems a bit thin so far.

    And as to your question whether I’ve had direct experience with Silicon Valley, let me just say merely that I work in the technology corridor outside Boston, and the interplay with Silicon Valley is quite considerable, and that my major client is in Silicon Valley.

    Beyond Silicon Valley, one obvious measure of leadership success is to lead a business so well that one becomes a billionaire. I haven’t counted the numbers, but a simple browse through the Fortune 400 for the US reveals a quite strikingly low number of Chinese, Koreans, or Japanese — I’d guess possibly less than their numbers in the overall population, and most certainly far less than their numbers in elite colleges.

    Link:
    http://www.forbes.com/forbes-400/

    Look at it this way: if one were trying to stock elite colleges with the sort of student who would most likely become a top business leader, would anyone claim that Chinese, Korean, or Japanese students are now being UNDER-represented?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #25, thanks for the numbers look up! i’ve done some similar things in the past, and came to the general similar conclusion. though i don’t think it has as much as to do with ‘leadership’, as it does with particular aspects of personality (which are inculcated to some extent by parental norms, and which has been written extensively by some asian americans trying to change this, though there may be gene-environment correlation here).

  • Miley Cyrax

    @25, Observer

    “because why, then, would Indians (whom I wouldn’t expect would experience much less prejudice than other Asians) be relatively well represented?”

    South Asians are more phenotypically similar (and phylogenetically closer, for that matter, although it’s much less relevant) to whites, so that could play a role in the level of discrimination (if there is said discrimination) directed toward South Asians vis a vis East Asians.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    and phylogenetically closer

    wow!?! is there something i didn’t know about white people? do they have the ability to do a quick & dirty 10 locus random sampling to ascertain phylogenetic closeness? :-) seriously, that’s a stupid point if you think about it. so think.

  • Miley Cyrax

    @28 Razib

    I threw that in as an aside, not that I think most people understand phylogeny–much less evaluate others based upon it. Hence the qualification I threw in after it (bless the fifteen minute window), but it may had occurred after you read it.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #29, phylogeny is irrelevant when decoupled from phenotype at this grain. we’re not olfactory tuned insects. so it makes you silly to throw it as an aside (some people, like rushton, make a big deal about ‘genetic similarity’ decoupled from phenotype, but it’s silly). also, i’m wondering if on phenotype some darker skinned indians actually look more like whites than east asians. skin color is a super salient trait, and in the early modern period before a well defined and fine tuned racism some europeans considered east asians, especially japanese, koreans, and north chinese, ‘white.’ (similarly, they assumed that the ainu were distant relatives on phenotype alone)

  • observer

    “though i don’t think it has as much as to do with ‘leadership’, as it does with particular aspects of personality”

    I don’t really disagree with your assessment here — I’m kind of using “leadership” as a catchall trait that covers “the-mysterious-X-that-enables-one-to-rise-to-the-top-of-a-company-or-an-organization”.

    God only knows what it really amounts to; some has it; some don’t.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #31, i think on the individual level there’s a lot of randomness to this. the systematic differences only shake out at the population wide scale. also, where asian americans are going, 25% of physicians under 40 are asian:

    http://hschange.org/CONTENT/1078/

  • Simon

    Suppose high standardized test scores is not as relevant to those who possess “leadership” qualities, perhaps the higher score requirements for Asian Americans actually pushes those who possess the trait away from “elite” universities?

    I don’t know how reliable this source is, but it reported that average SAT score for CEOs of firms listed in the NYSE is 1218.86 +/- 147.20 (out 1600 I believe), well below the 1550 “Asian” score reported by Espenshade.

    http://webpage.pace.edu/mmorey/publications%20pdfs/CEO%20educational%20background%20and%20firm%20performance.pdf

  • Mike

    I haven’t read Espenshade’s work, but according to the media coverage of it, he found that lower-income white’s fair worst of all in admissions to the elite colleges he studied. The attitude among admissions officers was that if they were going to admit someone from a lower-income background it is better to admit a minority because it would give them a “twofer” in terms of diversity.

    He also found that membership in and leadership in professional groups and JROTC and are penalized by admissions officers at the elite schools he looked at. H said that admissions officers say students with such items on their resume are not likely to be serious scholars.

  • chris w

    I’ve always had a thing for Eurasian girls, so I’m a little disappointed that Lanya Olmstead isn’t as cute as I hoped.

  • chris w

    “G differences might be what they are, but an elite that is overwhelmingly White and Asian isn’t going to look out for the interests of people who aren’t White and Asian”.

    I don’t think a Euro-Asian elite will look out for the interests of whites and Asians who aren’t part of said elite either. You’re only reliant upon members of your own network, and don’t have much incentive to act in the interests of those who aren’t members.

  • Miley Cyrax

    @34, chris w

    Unfortunately not every half Asian girl can look like an in-prime Leah Dizon.

  • Simon

    I apologize if this is not the right place to ask, but are there some rules regarding comment posting? My earlier comment did not show up!

  • syon

    RAZIB:”also, i’m wondering if on phenotype some darker skinned indians actually look more like whites than east asians.”

    Purely anecdotal, but I have met some lower class Whites who, after seeing/meeting a darker skinned South Asian*, have made remarks to the effect that the individual looked like a “White person painted black.”

    * Some of these people have even asked me to identify the race of South Asians.Apparently, they find the combination of dark skin plus “Caucasoid” facial features and hair texture confusing in terms of their folk taxonomies of race.

  • observer

    #6

    “If I may just ask why must they distinguish themselves at leadership qualities at the same high rate? Because they do disproportionately better on the measured qualities, shouldn’t they be able to just demonstrate leadership qualities at the same level or above their competitors?”

    Sorry not to respond to this earlier.

    The point I’m making is to address the claim that Asians are somehow being discriminated against because, when one controls for SAT scores and GPA, they are less likely to be admitted than whites.

    Suppose Asians distinguish themselves in the categories of combined SAT and GPA (by some formula) so that they should represent, say, 30% of elite college admissions on that basis alone.

    Now that’s all well and good, but here’s the problem: what if one wishes to give weight to OTHER traits? Well, if Asians don’t distinguish themselves at the same high rate, then that weighting will pull them down to some “correct” percentage less than 30%. The exact percentage depends both on the weighting and the actual rate at which Asians fare on this trait.

    Suppose that Asians display leadership abilities ONLY at the rate of the overall population. Then they should, at the highest levels of leadership, have the same proportion of students as their proportion in the larger population. If Asians are, roughly, 4% of the population, then they should represent only4% of the top leaders.

    So then the remaining issue would be: how much weight is attached to leadership? If it is given 0% weight in elite college decisions, then the number of Asian students would be, as before, 30%. If it is given 100% weight, then that number would be only 4%. Assuming a linear scheme, if the weight was effectively 50% (though the formulas might be pretty complicated, of course), then it would be half way between those numbers, or 17%.

    Now of course it’s not only leadership, but such things as creativity and even geographical diversity that are given non-trivial weight in these decisions. Certainly in aggregate they might amount to 50% or considerably more.

    It is therefore pretty groundless for some Asians to claim that they are being discriminated against because they aren’t selected exactly in the rank order of some combination of GPA and SAT. That claim really amounts to the idea that no other trait should be of any importance in selecting students for any private university. No reasonable person believes this.

  • http://infoproc.blogspot.com steve hsu

    > It is therefore pretty groundless for some Asians to claim that they are being discriminated against because they aren’t selected exactly in the rank order of some combination of GPA and SAT. <

    That's not the argument. Do a little research.

    http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2006/10/10/asian#ixzz1fim6bjTG

    … He also said that the bias is real — and cited his experience in his previous job as part of the admissions office at Stanford University. There, he said, the office did a study some years ago in which it compared Asian and white applicants with the same overall academic and leadership rankings. The study was only of “unhooked kids,” meaning those with no extra help for being an alumni child or an athlete. The study found that comparably qualified white applicants were “significantly” more likely to be admitted than their Asian counterparts.

    http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2011/02/demography-and-destiny.html

    OCR = Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which conducted an investigation of anti-Asian bias in Harvard admissions around 1990.

    {The Chosen, p.510: … Asian Americans had the highest SATs of all [among groups admitted to Harvard]: 1450 out of a possible 1600. In 1991 the Asian-American/white admission ratio [ratio of percentages of applicants from each group admitted] stood at 84 percent — a sharp downturn from 98 percent in 1990, when the scrutiny from OCR was at its peak. Though [this ratio] never dropped again to the 64 percent level of 1986, it never returned to its 1990 zenith. Despite Asian Americans’ growing proportion of the national population, their enrollment also peaked in 1990 at 20 percent, where it more or less remained until 1994. … by 2001 it had dropped below 15 percent.}

    So the “subjective but fair” measures used in admissions resulted in a record high admit rate for Asians during the year Harvard was under investigation by the federal government. But mysteriously the admit rate (relative to that of white applicants) went down significantly after the investigation ended, and the overall Asian enrollment has not increased despite the increasing US population fraction of Asians.

  • observer

    steve hsu,

    To begin with, all we have in the article you quoted is an paraphrased assertion from someone who was connected to the Stanford admission office that, when both leadership and academics are ranked and controlled for, Asians still were admitted at a lower rate.

    Honestly, that doesn’t provide a great deal of detail, does it? A deep problem here is that leadership isn’t a very reliably measurable trait, no matter how one goes about it. One might make up rankings for leadership as an independent trait, and yet find that in assessing the overall quality of individuals, one attaches a significantly higher ranking for a given individual than any weighted sum of his various rankings, including any ranking for leadership. This may be a quite legitimate case of “subjective, but fair,” which you seem to believe can be nothing more than a smokescreen for prejudice. Your criticism seems in general to assume that every important trait is, in fact, measurable. I don’t know why you would believe this. (It’s also important to note that it’s not only leadership that can’t easily be measured — likewise creativity can’t be, among others. Yet creativity is also an important trait in college admissions.)

    Now I’ll grant that some decisions which invoke some subjective calls as to the quality of candidate might be infected by bias, and that, indeed, it’s too easy for such calls to be so infected.

    But I would simply claim that eliminating these sorts of calls is ultimately destructive of a sound decision process; in many cases in real life — and assessing the quality of a student is certainly one such — non-quantifiable, subjective assessments are the only means we have of getting the best possible result. Eliminating them because of fear of bias would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    And, with regard to the case you mention about Harvard’s “backsliding” regarding admission rates for Asians — well, I should think that easy enough to explain. When they are under the eagle eye of the Federal government, knowing that they could be taken to the woodshed if they don’t improve the number of Asians, their “subjective judgments” suddenly start to favor Asians more. That is of course an example of how subjective judgements can be distorted by extraneous constraints; but where is the true, unfair bias — in the decisions before and after they were being watched by governmental agents, or when they had the threat hanging over them? You certainly haven’t proven that the government watchdogs made things fairer.

  • AG

    Certainly elite schools admission is quite creative.

    http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2011/12/1/creativity-study-cheating-link/

    Well, creativity is linked to cheating. If you can not win by strength, you have to be `creative’

    Creative individuals are more likely to rationalize their behavior through ethical shortcuts, according to “The Dark Side of Creativity,” a new study by Harvard Business School Associate Professor Francesca Gino that shows a link between creativity and cheating.

    Lack of fairness seems to be mark of these `creative’ people. Certainly we can observe a lot of creative comments here.

  • Douglas Knight

    Steve Hsu @41, I think it is important to distinguish between unconscious discrimination and quotas. They could both be true, but unconscious discrimination doesn’t seem relevant once there is a quota. The claim in that quote is that Stanford was surprised to discover that it was holding Asians to a higher standard. That seems to require it not to have a quota. Of course, there are complicated possibilities, such as some admissions officers being unconscious of a quota enacted by others.

  • Douglas Knight

    Silicon Valley: In Steve Hsu’s comment thread, Yan Shen quotes the book “The Chinese in Silicon Valley.” It says that of the top 150 companies of SV, 10% had Asian CEOs (including Indians) in 1999. But the percentage of high tech firms in general is much higher and much more Chinese than Indian. I find implausible the claim of 20k Chinese engineers and 2-3k Chinese high tech CEOs.

    The book has a lot of statistics, but they are badly organized, alternating lumping and splitting, absolute numbers and percentages, different years, etc. I don’t trust that the author correctly describes them, but his sources might be useful.

  • SeekTruthFromFacts

    “As far as I can tell looking around at my high school’s alumni weekends, Asian & Asian-American alumni generally seem less interested in school spirit-type events.”

    School spirit is very important in most East Asian countries. In relationship-based cultures, the personal networks made in university are vital for career success. However, funding education is seen as a state responsibility – and that means a lot more than 20%.

    Whether that carries across to Asian-Americans in a very different cultural context, I have no idea.

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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Edifying books

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