Linkfest 2017-07-07

Sixtus Dominus Boniface Christopher

Sixtus Dominus Boniface Christopher

Jacob Rees-Mogg announces baby Sixtus

Initially, I was sure this was a joke. Then I saw this on BBC.

Should Tyler Cowen Believe in God?

Yes. But he needs to be convinced.

Why a record number of university places might not be a good thing

Ed West cites Peter Turchin on the over-production of elites.


I probably would have called this the "obvious BS" heuristic.

Suffering in the land between black and white

The Charlie Gard case is not a straightforward one, and this is a good look at what Catholic teaching says on the matter.

No, research does not say that you produce more when working 40 hours per week

I admire the precision in thought here that distinguishes between peak output rate, and peak output over a given interval of time. Luis links to some empirical research that matches up with my own experiences: after a certain point in hours worked, no additional [or not much] output is produced. It also matches up with something Steve Sailer's father told him, that the peak output came from 52 hours of work in a week.

Average Work-week is Over, a few Thoughts on Productivity

This is an earlier post from Luis Pedro Coelho on productivity and working that was linked in the above post. This one is probably worth me blowing out into a whole blog post of my own.

Why I Write about Race and IQ

Glenn, John, and Philip K. Dick

Robert VerBruggen and pseudonymous blogger Ed Real explain why talking about race and IQ doesn't have to mean incipient fascism.

College Learning Assessment Plus

The Wall Street Journal has an article up on the CLA+ test, with an accompanying data set from 68 public colleges obtained through FOIA requests. I put all the data in an EXCEL style spreadsheet as well.  

I always like to plot my data, so here is a scatterplot matrix of the whole thing:

CLA+ Scatterplot Matrix

CLA+ Scatterplot Matrix

There are several columns that are just different ways of saying the same thing, like Freshman Score and Freshmen with Below Basic Skills. So I dropped everything that was just the same data in a different format and we get this:

Subset of CLA+ Scatterplot Matrix

Subset of CLA+ Scatterplot Matrix

Just about the only scatterplot that stands out to me is that higher freshman scores are pretty correlated with higher senior scores. I never would have guessed.

The next most interesting is the relationship between freshman score and the difference between freshmen and senior scores. The correlation is negative, perhaps implying there is a score ceiling in the test, or that average college graduates tend to end up in about the same place by the end of school.

Both freshman scores and senior scores are correlated with graduation rates, but since we are supposed to be using this data to see whether a given college does anything useful, I plotted both freshman and senior scores against graduation rates, but I color-coded the points by the improvement between freshmen and senior scores.

CLA+ relationship between senior score and graduation rates, color coded by score improvement

CLA+ relationship between senior score and graduation rates, color coded by score improvement

CLA+ relationship between freshman score and graduation rates, color coded by score improvement

CLA+ relationship between freshman score and graduation rates, color coded by score improvement

The color-coding looks random on the senior scores graph, but against freshman scores the highest improvements are concentrated at the lower-left. This might be interesting, since point difference versus graduation rates in general looks pretty random in the first scatterplot matrix.

I don't see anything groundbreaking here, which is probably why colleges don't talk about this much. If there was something to crow about, they would.

Linkfest 2017-06-03

Speaking from experience: a note on mysticism and religion

Niall Gooch's attempt to expand on a distinction between a mystical experience and a religious one.

Three Polish Poems

BD Sixsmith agrees with Niall in poetic form.

The History of U.S. Government Spending, Revenue, and Debt (1790-2015)

Morphing graphs on US government spending over time. 

Stratolaunch rolls out giant aircraft

Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, continues testing on his launch vehicle.

How to build a fallout shelter

The Swiss have always taken preparedness to a new level.

This data set took six years to create. Worth every moment

Every US department now rolls up budgeting data into one source.

New evidence that lead exposure increases crime

A series of analyses to test Kevin Drum's theory that lead exposure explains much crime in the US.

Why we should love null results

Knowing what doesn't work is important too.

Linkfest 2017-03-17: St. Patrick's Feast Day Edition

No evidence to back idea of learning styles

Steven Pinker [among others] writes a letter to the Guardian against currently fashionable learning styles fads in education. In the post pointing to this, Steve Sailer offers a mild counterpoint based on his position that a lot of "neuroscience" findings are better thought of as something like marketing, a real benefit, but nothing lasting like science should be.

Why so many conservative Christians feel like a persecuted minority

Damon Linker pens a sympathetic and critical take on Rod Dreher's The Benedict Option.

Geoarchaeologist Proposes There Was a “World War Zero”

I first came across this idea on Jerry Pournelle's website as the first dark age. This was a period of steep decline that makes the dissolution of the Western Roman Empire seem minor in comparison. In the first dark age, even the memory of writing was lost. When the Greeks began to rebuild, the fortifications of their predecessors were seen as the work of monsters, rather than men, because no one could conceive of building anything as massive. I had not heard the term 'Luwians' to describe the people of the Anatolian peninsula who may perhaps be the 'Sea People' who overran much of the civilized Eastern Mediterranean in that time.

The Fall of Rome and "The Benedict Option"

I'm not really sympathetic to Rod Dreher's Benedict Option, and a big part of the reason is that his metaphor is a really bad description of what actually happened in the fifth century.

When Public Policy meets Elementary Biology

To go along with Ross Douthat's plan to create a series of immodest proposals to try and shift public policy debates into more useful channels, here is Henry Harpending's take on how we should shift welfare policies to take into account human biology. Henry implied at the end of the post that his suggestion needed amendment to prevent bad consequences, but to my knowledge, Henry never published a followup to this before he died, which is a damn shame.

An Oxford comma changed this court case completely

I've always been a fan of the Oxford comma.

Immigrations and Public Finances in Finland Part I: Realized Fiscal Revenues and Expenditures

Emil Kirkegaard posted this on Twitter. The graph in the source report is astonishing.

Net current transfers without indirect taxes by country of birth in 2011.

Net current transfers without indirect taxes by country of birth in 2011.

Net fiscal effects by country of birth in 2011. Averages for populations aged 20-62 years old.

Net fiscal effects by country of birth in 2011. Averages for populations aged 20-62 years old.

The originating organization is a Finnish anti-immigration group, but the results astonished just about everyone. The methodology is an attempt to account for all taxes, direct and indirect, as well as government spending of all kinds. I'm not sure I would hang my hat on it, but I'm not sure it's wrong either.

Lean In’s Biggest Hurdle: What Most Moms Want

Any attempt at statistical parity in childcare is doomed to failure, because many women actually like having kids and raising them. This isn't to say that every woman wants kids, or that every woman must stay home, but given the option, many women do choose to either work part-time, or leave work entirely for a period of time.


I can't improve on SSC's opening paragraph:

Seeing Like A State is the book G.K. Chesterton would have written if he had gone into economic history instead of literature. Since he didn’t, James Scott had to write it a century later. The wait was worth it.

Right or wrong direction: The nation generally

This Reuters poll on whether the nation is generally going in the right direction is pretty striking. Especially if you compare it to this Gallup poll on President Trump's approval ratings.

I naively expected these results would roughly track [keep in mind the timeframes are very different]. They don't at all, which is pretty interesting. 

Consistent Vegetarianism and the Suffering of Wild Animals

I also have a hard time taking complaints about modern animal husbandry seriously.

LinkFest 2016-05-20

The Real Reason College Tuition Costs So Much

Colleges and universities provide an incredible array of services today. They aren't free.

Why Doesn't Personality Psychology Have A Replication Crisis?

In part, because it is boring. In practice, that is a synonym for successful.

John McAfee and what really happened in Belize

John McAfee is a weird duck. However, I believe pretty much everything he says about Belize, since I knew someone who moved there to retire, and then moved back to the US in exasperation.

Mixed gender teams come up short in Marines' infantry experiment

The results here don't really surprise me. There is this big board of local records at my gym, all the fastest times and heaviest weights for various workouts. Every single one of them has a male list and a female list, because in almost every workout men outcompete women. Almost. Women do very well in bodyweight exercises, and are almost at parity in pure cardio, which is similar to what the Marines found.

Texas Fracking and the Death of Big Oil

I found the comments on this post, interesting. And by interesting I mean crazy. However, the gist of the article and the more credible comments matches up with what little I know of the oil industry in the US. I have been to a joint medical device/oil industry conference in Houston twice, and I've spoken with oil folks there. Several friends or friends of friends work in oil, in both Texas and California. To whit: ExxonMobil has something on the ball. I was really impressed by their technical folks, and Exxon seems to be ready for whatever may come businesswise. The technological leap of new fracking methods is incredible. Recently, I read that modern technology is either stagnant, or doubling every 18 months. Fracking seems to be doing the latter.

New Wrinkle in UVA / Rolling Stone Lawsuit

Now it seems there is proof that Haven Monahan didn't exist. Clusterfake indeed.

Courage vs. Boldness: How to live with Spartan bravery

I really like the work Brett McKay does at the Art of Manliness. This is a good piece that highlights exactly why Sparta has been held up as an exemplar for 2500 years, without being overly sentimental.

Deirdre McCloskey on the bathroom battle

This is an interesting piece. I've suspected that World War T is less about the tiny tiny number of trans people, and more about sticking it to the losers of the Culture War after winning the gay marriage battle. I also suspect that actual incidents of harassment have gone up because of the extra attention focused on this right now. Sometimes, shutting the hell up is a far better policy, but that assumes what you want is for people to pee in peace, rather than lord your superiority over your political opponents.

On a related note: I've used women's bathrooms for several years, because not everywhere has changing tables in men's restrooms. Logically, one might think of this as a feminist issue, but it isn't. I have dark theories about this. And, I will also note not one damn person has once said anything to me. Probably because I have an infant in tow when I do this.

New poll finds 9 in 10 Native Americans aren't offended by Redskins name

Again, I'm not surprised. I tend to interpret most culture war fights like this as one group of whites trying to assert superiority over other whites using minorities as a proxy. Whatever the actual people involved want just complicates the narrative. An exception seems to be Black Lives Matter, which is run by black people and is actually about black people. 

Has Intelligence Declined in the Modern Era?

I mentioned this subject a couple of times before.

Simple reaction time data from Woodley et al.Bruce Charlton is the first person I know of to discuss the implications of the change in simple reaction time data in the paper by Woodley et al.  Charlton claims the data shows a 1 standard deviation reduction in IQ based on the correlation [r = .3] between simple reaction time and IQ or the g factor. I remain unconvinced that that intelligence has declined in the last 100 years. For one, that is a terrible fit [see scatterplot]. For another, with that kind of correlation, I need better evidence that the model is correct. Charlton's best arguments focus on the way in which intellectual inquiry in general still seems to be dominated by the same famous men of the last century.

My late friend John Reilly used to sum it up thus:

How do we know that the 500 or so years of the Modern Age are at last drawing to a close? Lukacs's answer to this, and it's a good one, is to draw attention to the remarkable intellectual barrenness of the 20th century. In 1914, when the century began to manifest its characteristic features, the guiding spirits of the time were Freud and Marx and Darwin and Einstein. In 1989, when in a political sense the 20th century was already over, the guiding spirits of the time were Freud and Marx and Darwin and Einstein. There was no other century of modern times that produced so little new intellectual history. Indeed, all but the earliest part of the Middle Ages was livelier.

In a general sense, I agree with Charlton that the rate of the big gosh-wow discoveries in science seems to have slowed remarkably. I've come to the same conclusion myself. Where I differ is the cause. It is not apparent that the problem is our minds have gotten weaker. Rather, I think we [we meaning the West] have chosen to focus on other things. The problem is cultural.

What I lack here is any sort of quantitative data. My sense is that the tasks to which we apply ourselves have if anything, gotten harder. We just are getting less output partly because our best minds think about other things, and partly because the easy scientific discoveries have already been made. Now if only I could prove it.

There is a cracking good discussion of the technical details of the SRT paper over at Greg Cochran and Henry Harpending's blog, West Hunter, that makes some of the same points I want to make here. However, I am more interested in the cultural aspect than the scientific aspect at present.

I think we don't make big scientific discoveries anymore because we don't want to. This seems strange, this sort of thing is frequently in the news and a subject of discussion. However, if you look at our priorities as a civilization, we have decided to do other things. You might also say that our civilization is decadent. I use this in the technical sense proposed by Jacques Barzun in From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present 1st (first) edition, a decadent society is one that wills the ends, but not the means. We say we want big science, but we have a remarkably inefficient way of doing it.

So what are we interested in? I think the things we are interested in are actually very good things, but they don't produce good headlines. For example, one thing the Victorians were terrible at was industrial hygiene and product safety. A fad for green dye made with arsenic in Victorian England lead to thousands of deaths. The manufacturing process for safety matches produced a condition known as phossy jaw, which could actually make your bones glow in the dark before it killed you. The discovery of radium by Marie Curie lead to the incorporation of radium into a wide variety of products, contaminating much of Paris. It is not very hard to multiply examples like this ad infinitum. The Victorians discovered lots of new things, but they left a lot of collateral damage in their wake in the form of dead and maimed factory workers and widespread environmental pollution.

There are now systems in place to verify that products are safe before they enter the market. Designing nearly any product is vastly more complicated now than 100 years ago, not only because science and engineering have progressed and we are pushing the limits of our knowledge, but because you have to make certain every material and manufacturing process you use is safe not only for consumers, but for the workforce that creates it. The big scientific discoveries made life better for everyone on average, and the systems and techniques and regulations we have developed help make sure each individual is able to benefit from that knowledge personally. We have chosen to spend our effort on mitigating the clear downsides of progress, rather than plowing ahead with new discoveries.

This dynamic is illustrated by the development policy the Chinese seem to be following: explicitly trading pollution and worker safety for faster progress in order to catch up with the West. A brutal policy, but in fairness to them, didn't we do the same thing, with perhaps a little less self-awareness? The current Western policy is far more boring, even though it probably has greater benefits for the common man. For example, who knows the name of the man who invented the plastic barrels that sit at exit ramps and highway abutments? That man has saved thousands, maybe tens or hundreds of thousands of lives. Preventing something from happening will always be less interesting than making something happen, no matter how useful it is. Yet, our culture happens to promote this. Is that really a bad thing?

Immigration and High-Skill Employment in the US

I had been wanting to look into this subject, and lo, I find that someone else has already done it.

Guestworkers in the High-Skill U.S. Labor Market.

I've long been dubious that we don't have enough native-born STEM graduates in the US. My reasoning is based on my own experience rather than exhaustive data, but I think the things I have noticed are nonetheless potent arguments. First, wages in technical fields are good, but not that good. If we truly had a shortage, in the economic sense, of programmers or engineers or what have you, wages should respond appropriately. If there were a shortage of programmers, I would expect to see companies fighting to pay 18 year old high school graduates $50,000 a year. A real worker shortage looks like thisInstead, you can make that kind of wage, but you need at least a bachelor's degree, if not a master's. Programming is still a field where a true talent can rise to the top regardless of credentials, but in any discussion of larger job trends, such folks are an exception.

Mark Zuckerberg has been in the news lately pushing for more H-1B visas for high-skilled tech workers, but many tech moguls have been pushing for expansion of the H-1B program for many years, along with other different, but related programs. Zuckerberg et al. have been claiming that there aren't enough quality workers available in the US, but I find this less plausible than they simply want to keep their labor costs down by importing cheaper workers.

I can think of one explanation that would support the claim there are not enough skilled STEM workers available in the US. Plausibly, one could claim the existing industry has already skimmed the high-IQ high-motivation graduates, and the remaining workers aren't good enough to do the needed work. However, I don't think the available data supports this either. Let's look and see. Here is what the EPI report notes:

Consider that U.S. students make up one-third of the entire global population of high-performers on tests of science knowledge.


For STEM graduates, the supply exceeds the number hired each year by nearly two to one, depending on the field of study. Even in engineering, U.S. colleges have historically produced about 50 percent more graduates than are hired into engineering jobs each year.

ln the computer and information sciences field, which is where nearly half of high-skill guest workers are employed, we see that about two-thirds of college graduates find jobs in their field 1 year after graduation, and of those who don't find a job, nearly half cite low pay and poor working conditions as the reason. For some of these, I would find it plausible that they weren't actually qualfied for the job. There is a skill distribution amongst college graduates, and not everyone is qualfied to do every job in this field. However, it does seem that the higher number of guest-workers in IT compared to engineering may be associated with a higher number of US college graduates being unable to find IT work because the pay is too low.

College grads working in fieldReasons for not finding work in field

This matches the rate of growth we see in guestworkers compared to US citizens and permanent residents graduating with degrees in computer and information sciences.

Guestworker growth

The authors of the study go on to look at the responsiveness of the domestic supply of graduates to wages over time, looking at both IT and petroleum engineering. In both cases, they find that increasing wages lead to increasing numbers of graduates in the field, while decreasing wages lead to a decrease in domestic graduates, with a suitable time lag. So in a sense, Zuckerberg is correct that the domestic supply of graduates in the computer and information sciences field is decreasing. However, the problem is he's not paying well enough, and importing workers only makes the problem worse. Unless, the domestic supply isn't what Zuckerberg is after, in which case he's getting exactly what he wants. Last time I checked, Mark Zuckerberg is really, really smart. Which is more likely?

Two Good Articles

Two good articles came out in the last week. Ross Douthat exposes the anti-egalitarian heart of our top universities in the New York Times, and Dalliard defends g at Human Varieties.

Nothing Douthat said came as a surprise to me, but I have been following this train of thought for over ten years. However, I think Douthat's article is well done and worth a read.

SUSAN PATTON, the Princeton alumna who became famous for her letter urging Ivy League women to use their college years to find a mate, has been denounced as a traitor to feminism, to coeducation, to the university ideal. But really she’s something much more interesting: a traitor to her class.

Her betrayal consists of being gauche enough to acknowledge publicly a truth that everyone who’s come up through Ivy League culture knows intuitively — that elite universities are about connecting more than learning, that the social world matters far more than the classroom to undergraduates, and that rather than an escalator elevating the best and brightest from every walk of life, the meritocracy as we know it mostly works to perpetuate the existing upper class.

A couple of weeks ago, Steve Sailer wrote on this same subject, using the Hoxby-Avery study as evidence that elite colleges don't bother to cast a very wide net when they recruit students. I wrote an email to Steve about my own choice to go to Northern Arizona University, instead of something more prestigious, which would be almost anywhere. In retrospect, I think my life turned out as well or better with a college education from little-known NAU as it would have with a name-brand university on my diploma. But things are different in the technical world, where you are judged more [not solely!] on talent than education. STEM is healthier than the rest of higher education in this way, although there are still some of the same mechanisms at work. In the physics world, a lot of talented physicists have left academia for quantitative finance in Wall Street, with correspondingly exorbitant salaries. This has slowed down some with the economic downturn, but quant recruitment depends heavily on degrees and connections.

Different but related, is Dalliard's defense of Spearman's g against Shalizi's attack.

As an online discussion about IQ or general intelligence grows longer, the probability of someone linking to statistician Cosma Shalizi’s essay g, a Statistical Myth approaches 1. Usually the link is accompanied by an assertion to the effect that Shalizi offers a definitive refutation of the concept of general mental ability, or psychometric g.

In this post, I will show that Shalizi’s case against g appears strong only because he misstates several key facts and because he omits all the best evidence that the other side has offered in support of g. His case hinges on three clearly erroneous arguments on which I will concentrate.

Shalizi's essay is a more numerate version of Gould's The Mismeasure of Man. Gould was completely off base too, but his book was far more widely read than the many rebuttals it received from psychometricians.


Well put, Steven

This book review is over 3 years old at this point, but it is worth re-reading: Steven Pinker on What the Dog Saw in the NY Times.

Have you ever wondered why there are so many kinds of mustard but only one kind of ketchup? Or what Cézanne did before painting his first significant works in his 50s? Have you hungered for the story behind the Veg-O-Matic, star of the frenetic late-night TV ads? Or wanted to know where Led Zeppelin got the riff in “Whole Lotta Love”?

A third of the essays are portraits of “minor geniuses” — impassioned oddballs loosely connected to cultural trends.

Another third are on the hazards of statistical prediction, especially when it comes to spectacular failures like Enron, 9/11, the fatal flight of John F. Kennedy Jr., the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, the persistence of homelessness and the unsuccessful targeting of Scud missile launchers during the Persian Gulf war of 1991.

The final third are also about augury, this time about individuals rather than events. Why, he asks, is it so hard to prognosticate the performance of artists, teachers, quarterbacks, executives, serial killers and breeds of dogs?

The themes of the collection are a good way to characterize Gladwell himself: a minor genius who unwittingly demonstrates the hazards of statistical reasoning and who occasionally blunders into spectacular failures.

An eclectic essayist is necessarily a dilettante, which is not in itself a bad thing. But Gladwell frequently holds forth about statistics and psychology, and his lack of technical grounding in these subjects can be jarring. He provides misleading definitions of “homology,” “sagittal plane” and “power law” and quotes an expert speaking about an “igon value” (that’s eigenvalue, a basic concept in linear algebra). In the spirit of Gladwell, who likes to give portentous names to his aperçus, I will call this the Igon Value Problem: when a writer’s education on a topic consists in interviewing an expert, he is apt to offer generalizations that are banal, obtuse or flat wrong.

The common thread in Gladwell’s writing is a kind of populism, which seeks to undermine the ideals of talent, intelligence and analytical prowess in favor of luck, opportunity, experience and intuition. For an apolitical writer like Gladwell, this has the advantage of appealing both to the Horatio Alger right and to the egalitarian left. Unfortunately he wildly overstates his empirical case. It is simply not true that a quarter­back’s rank in the draft is uncorrelated with his success in the pros, that cognitive skills don’t predict a teacher’s effectiveness, that intelligence scores are poorly related to job performance or (the major claim in “Outliers”) that above a minimum I.Q. of 120, higher intelligence does not bring greater intellectual achievements.

The Little Book of Talent Review

by Daniel Coyle
$18.00; 160 pages

This is indeed a little book. It contains 52 brief techniques for improving skills, based on Daniel Coyle's research into human excellence, and how we get there. What you will not find here is a lengthy treatise expounding Coyle's theory of greatness, with footnotes. That would be The Talent Code. This book is an extended commercial for Coyle's other book, which was apparently effective, because I was curious enough to buy a copy after reading The Little Book of Talent.

The tips you find in this book seem pretty simple. I think that is a feature not a bug. Most excellent coaching seems really simple after the fact. The hard part is doing the right thing at the right time that will help the student push harder than they ever thought they could. With a new batch of tricks, that should help a coach find that right thing faster, and more often. The same idea could easy be expanded to one's self, along the lines of Getting Things Done or the 4-Hour Workweek. Try to find ways to boost yourself just a little bit everyday, and aim for a cumulative effect to achieve a bigger payoff.

The tips are pretty interesting, and I find them intuitively accurate. They match up with my own experience. What I am less impressed with is Coyle's theoretical framework. The 10,000 hour rule serves nicely as a synecdoche of Coyle's theory:

Rule of Ten Thousand Hours (n): The scientific finding that all world-class experts in every field have spent a minimum of ten thousand hours intensively practicing their craft. While this number is sometimes misinterpreted as a magical threshold, in reality it functions as a rule of thumb underlining a larger truth: Greatness is not born, but grown through deep practice, no matter who you are.

Coyle has a lot of interesting research, but the one thing he can't conquer is the popular impression that some people are born more talented than others. That is because this popular belief is true. The semantic flaw in the popular belief is that we are not born with ready made skills; we have to learn them. Thus is entirely correct to say that all geniuses must perfect their skills through intensive practice. What is missing is the genius had a greater capacity for that talent than you when he started, and if you both went through an identical training regimen, the difference would rapidly become obvious.

The other important thing Coyle has going for him is very few of us are so skilled in anything that we are bumping up against our capacity limits. You can almost always get better at whatever it is you are doing with more effective techniques. The talented people will just learn faster, and learn more than the rest of us. This grates against the American national character, however, so Coyle shouldn't have any trouble finding a willing audience.

My other book reviews

What is Conscientiousness?

Brent W. Roberts at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign has a nice page summarizing the concept of conscientiousness. Roberts mentions interesting challenges in this field of study, and even talks about the effect behaviors associated with conscientiousness have on the fate of nations.

What is Conscientiousness?

Conscientiousness refers to individual differences in the propensity to follow socially prescribed norms for impulse control, to be task- and goal-directed, to be planful, delay gratification, and follow norms and rules (John & Srivastava, 1999).  As can be seen by the definition, conscientiousness is not really a single, unitary entity.  Rather, it is better thought of as a conglomeration of more specific traits and trait domains. 

Our research on the lower-order structure of conscientiousness has revealed at least 5 replicable facets of conscientiousness:

1.  Orderliness:  The propensity to be organized and neat versus messy and disorganized.

2.  Self-control:  The propensity to inhibit prepotent responses.

3.  Industriousness: The propensity to work hard

4.  Responsibility: The propensity to be reliable, especially in social situations

5.  Traditionality: The propensity to follow socially proscribed norms and traditions

We have done several studies to investigate the underlying structure of conscientiousness and each of these studies has revealed specific facets that have not replicated. 

1.  Decisiveness: The willingness to make a decision and to be firm in one's commitments

2.  Punctuality: The propensity to show up on time to appointments

3.  Formality: The propensity to follow the rules of social decorum

3.  Virtue: The propensity to be honest and to tell the truth

These remaining facets should be considered preliminary and await further replication.

Why is Conscientiousness Interesting?

Conscientiousness is interesting for many reasons. As a trait domain conscientiousness shows an interesting association with age--it goes up.  Not only does it go up, but it does so well into middle and old age (Roberts, Walton, & Viechtbauer, 2006).  This pattern is conspicuous for several reasons.  First, most developmental theories assume personality traits stop changing some time in childhood or adolescence.  The most charitable theories propose that traits continue to develop through young adulthood.  The fact that conscientiousness continues to develop well past young adulthood contradicts established scientific assumptions.  It is also something of a mystery.  Why would people continue to increase on conscientiousness in middle and old age?  What purpose do these changes serve?

Conscientiousness is also interesting because as a trait domain it represents one of the key psychological fulcrums between the individual and society.  Many societies spend inordinate time and energy attempting to make their citizens more conscientious. People are punished and rewarded in order to facilitate greater conscientiousness. Also, people who are more conscientious tend to grease the skids of social intercourse and social functioning--they make society work better for others by simply being conscientious. There is no more compelling personality trait domain for studying the interface between the individual and society.

h/t Dennis Mangan


The big business news of the moment, other than cheap oil and gas from fracking, is the continuing growth in US manufacturing. What this hasn't meant is a ton of new jobs. The reason for this is pretty simple, US workers are about three times more efficient than Chinese workers doing the same job. That means you need a third of the staff to get the same output.

The other thing this means is you need to be more efficient to get these jobs. Assembly lines no longer represent rote tasks you can train anyone to do. You have to be capable of learning to operate a complex machine, and meet all the complicated social rules of the modern workplace too. This leaves a lot of people at the bottom of the ability distribution without a means of making a decent living.

The massive productivity of American workers means that we can actually afford to have a significant fraction of the population not doing useful work, but this is ultimately dehumanizing to those stuck at the bottom. I have no idea what to do about this, but it is only going to get worse as the economy improves.

h/t Steve Hsu


The Art of Manliness has an article today on how willpower is depleted, part 2 of a 3 part series. I find this post very interesting, because it discusses training your willpower to be stronger, just like you would a muscle. Given the importance of the ability to delay gratification and work hard, this is a subject I've been very interested in of late.

Related items:

Decision Fatigue


Taking me to task

The Family Social Scientist takes me to task in the comments on my post on Decision Fatigue:

while this is an interesting quirk of the data and warrants further exploration, its hardly conclusive . To say that the marshmallow test is "known to predict future success in life" is a little misleading and perhaps a misinterpretation of the results.

Touché. I really cannot complain that the FSS is calling me out in the same way that I do to others all the time. It is indeed perilous to try to glean science out of popular articles. I am a rank amateur in the field, and I know how that seems to an expert because I have not always had the grace to deal lightly with those who have trespassed into my own technical specialty.

Yet, nevertheless, I will persist on this topic, despite the many landmines, because it is absolutely fascinating to me. The FSS brings up some really good points in his comment that need to be considered:

grades are hardly a proper measurement of academic progress and intelligence

Quite true. This was arguably less true in the past, but grades, both high school and undergraduate, have a pretty loose connection with both academic progress and intelligence. This is actually one of the things that first attracted me to psychometrics, because it gave me the mental tools to understand why grades aren't a measure of intelligence. 

By way of example, consider this work by Steve Hsu and Jim Schombert on college GPA and SAT scores. Hsu and Schombert explain some of the complexities their work demonstrated in an interview:

“Freshman GPA is not a satisfactory metric of academic success,” Hsu explains. “There is simply too much variation in the difficulty of courses taken by freshmen.” More able freshmen typically take more difficult courses, whereas less able freshmen take introductory courses “not very different from high school classes,” he says. Under these circumstances, academic success—an “A” in an introductory course versus a “B” in an advanced course—becomes too relative to accurately measure. Course variation decreases in later years, as students settle into their respective majors, working hard in required classes.

The new approach bore fruit: SAT and ACT scores, their analysis showed, predict upper-level much better than lower-level college grades, “a significant and entirely new result,” Schombert says. 

Hsu and Schombert are now working on including personality inventories in this assessment to see whether they can improve their model. As a guess, conscientiousness will probably be a big hitter. But, there is a difficulty here. How do you measure conscientiousness? The short answer is: we don't know how. The longer answer is we try various techniques to quantify a quality, such as personality inventories or the marshmallow test. Personality inventories are easy, but they are also easy to game. If you know what the questions are getting at, you can manufacture any result you want. The marshmallow test, and the ice bath test, are a little better in this respect because they push up against a hard limit that we hope is correlated with the thing we are interested in. Thus, even if you knew that holding your hand in the water was going to be used to judge your mental toughness, this would be a good thing because your ability to endure unpleasantness for a positive social judgement is exactly what the test is after.

This is also related to why grades aren't the best predictor either: the system is easy to game. In college admissions, this is part of the reason grades have become de-emphasized. Good grades in high school aren't by themselves a good predictor of doing well in college, but if you factor in participation in sports and other extracurriculars, you can get a rough estimate of a student's ability to stick something through and their ability to manage competing priorities. This can be gamed too, as Amy Chua demonstrates, but if you can successfully game this system, it means you are probably smart and likely to be wealthy, which is something colleges want anyway. 

Decision Fatigue

An Art of Manliness article on the power of morning and evening routines linked to an article that discusses an important concept: decision fatigue. Since I have argued that willpower is a finite resource, I am not surprised. The NY Times article cites the work of Roy F. Baumeister, but another classic is the Stanford marshmallow experiment

The adult version of this test goes like this:

A nearby department store was holding a going-out-of-business sale, so researchers from the lab went off to fill their car trunks with simple products — not exactly wedding-quality gifts, but sufficiently appealing to interest college students. When they came to the lab, the students were told they would get to keep one item at the end of the experiment, but first they had to make a series of choices. Would they prefer a pen or a candle? A vanilla-scented candle or an almond-scented one? A candle or a T-shirt? A black T-shirt or a red T-shirt? A control group, meanwhile — let’s call them the nondeciders — spent an equally long period contemplating all these same products without having to make any choices. They were asked just to give their opinion of each product and report how often they had used such a product in the last six months.

Afterward, all the participants were given one of the classic tests of self-control: holding your hand in ice water for as long as you can. The impulse is to pull your hand out, so self-discipline is needed to keep the hand underwater. The deciders gave up much faster; they lasted 28 seconds, less than half the 67-second average of the nondeciders. Making all those choices had apparently sapped their willpower, and it wasn’t an isolated effect. It was confirmed in other experiments testing students after they went through exercises like choosing courses from the college catalog.

This is a rough and ready test of conscientiousness, but it is worth remembering that conscientiousness is a very big bucket. There are lots of sub-traits that fall in this category. Here is a list of sub-traits from one test:


  • Self-Efficacy
  • Orderliness
  • Dutifulness
  • Achievement-Striving
  • Self-Discipline
  • Cautiousness 

The sub-traits have formal similarities, but they can actually have a complete lack of correlation. My sub-trait scores on C have almost exactly zero correlation.

For all that, the marshmallow test is known to predict future success in life. The individual traits of C are harder to predict than the overall bucket, but the whole mess of them are generally helpful in life. 

An interesting result from the work of Baumeister: eating restores willpower. 

The researchers set out to test something called the Mardi Gras theory — the notion that you could build up willpower by first indulging yourself in pleasure, the way Mardi Gras feasters do just before the rigors of Lent. In place of a Fat Tuesday breakfast, the chefs in the lab at Florida State whipped up lusciously thick milkshakes for a group of subjects who were resting in between two laboratory tasks requiring willpower. Sure enough, the delicious shakes seemed to strengthen willpower by helping people perform better than expected on the next task. So far, so good. But the experiment also included a control group of people who were fed a tasteless concoction of low-fat dairy glop. It provided them with no pleasure, yet it produced similar improvements in self-control. The Mardi Gras theory looked wrong. Besides tragically removing an excuse for romping down the streets of New Orleans, the result was embarrassing for the researchers. Matthew Gailliot, the graduate student who ran the study, stood looking down at his shoes as he told Baumeister about the fiasco.

Baumeister tried to be optimistic. Maybe the study wasn’t a failure. Something had happened, after all. Even the tasteless glop had done the job, but how? If it wasn’t the pleasure, could it be the calories? At first the idea seemed a bit daft. For decades, psychologists had been studying performance on mental tasks without worrying much about the results being affected by dairy-product consumption. They liked to envision the human mind as a computer, focusing on the way it processed information. In their eagerness to chart the human equivalent of the computer’s chips and circuits, most psychologists neglected one mundane but essential part of the machine: the power supply. The brain, like the rest of the body, derived energy from glucose, the simple sugar manufactured from all kinds of foods. To establish cause and effect, researchers at Baumeister’s lab tried refueling the brain in a series of experiments involving lemonade mixed either with sugar or with a diet sweetener. The sugary lemonade provided a burst of glucose, the effects of which could be observed right away in the lab; the sugarless variety tasted quite similar without providing the same burst of glucose. Again and again, the sugar restored willpower, but the artificial sweetener had no effect. The glucose would at least mitigate the ego depletion and sometimes completely reverse it. The restored willpower improved people’s self-control as well as the quality of their decisions: they resisted irrational bias when making choices, and when asked to make financial decisions, they were more likely to choose the better long-term strategy instead of going for a quick payoff.

Again, not too surprising for me. I've known for a long time that I lose my temper when I get hungry. People who have more C can suffer fools gladly longer than I can when hungry. Since mental energy is material, this is to be expected. There is a fun Newtonian twist to this. One of Baumeister's students didn't believe that glucose could really affect willpower. He proved that overall energy usage didn't really change in the brain, no matter how much willpower the subject had. What he didn't expect, however, was that there was an equal and opposite reaction in which areas of the brain receive energy when your willpower is depleted, and the balance is restored by eating.

The results of the experiment were announced in January, during Heatherton’s speech accepting the leadership of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, the world’s largest group of social psychologists. In his presidential address at the annual meeting in San Antonio, Heatherton reported that administering glucose completely reversed the brain changes wrought by depletion — a finding, he said, that thoroughly surprised him. Heatherton’s results did much more than provide additional confirmation that glucose is a vital part of willpower; they helped solve the puzzle over how glucose could work without global changes in the brain’s total energy use. Apparently ego depletion causes activity to rise in some parts of the brain and to decline in others. Your brain does not stop working when glucose is low. It stops doing some things and starts doing others. It responds more strongly to immediate rewards and pays less attention to long-term prospects.

If you wish, you can apply the standard evolutionary biology mental shortcut at this point.

One of the virtues of the Aristotelian account of the virtues is that as you become more experienced in living a virtuous life, good choices become habits that no longer require thought. This frees up your mental energy for bigger and better things.


John D Cook linked to an article on "grit" by Venkatesh Rao. This article really got me thinking. Ever since I discovered the utility of psychometrics for personality, I have spent a great deal of time pondering the relationship between the gifts we are given, and what we do for ourselves.

Venkat's primary point in his post is our modern economy doesn't align well with the academic disciplines the elite are educated in. He says people call him a generalist because he has a PhD in Aerospace Engineering and he ended up in marketing. However, from his perspective, there was a straight line between those two points. Thus his physics metaphor of external and internal coordinate systems.

The trouble is, we still tend to think in that external coordinate system, and may spend years trying to make that aerospace education turn into an aerospace job when our true skills and interests may lie elsewhere. Katz's now infamous article, Don't Become a Scientist, addressed precisely this mismatch between the disciplinary expectations produced in grad school, and the actual behavior of the job market.

Venkat then turns to what he calls grit, and I would call conscientiousness. He correctly notes this is probably the best predictor of success, over IQ, over family connections, over just about anything. People who bust ass almost always do well.

One point where I would disagree with Venkat is this:

Grit is the enduring intrinsic quality that, for a brief period in recent history, was coincident with the pattern of behavior known as progressive disciplinary specialization.

I don't think this should be in the past tense. Progressive disciplinary specialization is becoming more and more associated with C and less and less with g. What we may be getting is less and less value for our money and effort, because disciplinary specialization [in science at least] often means working under your 50- or 60-something PI in relative anonymity as cheap, but skilled labor.

This is a really good working definition of conscientiousness:

Grit has external connotations of extreme toughness, a high apparent threshold for pain, and an ability to keep picking yourself up after getting knocked down. From the outside, grit looks like the bloody-minded exercise of extreme will power. It looks like a super-power.

Venkat goes on to discuss how what can look like brutal hard work can actually be easy, depending on your skills and interests. Quite true. I think the big takeaway here is that building on your strengths can be more effective than trying to remedy your weaknesses. This is a subject of intense personal interest to me, because once I discovered that I have low conscientiousness, many of my frustrations became comprehensible.

Conscientiousness is a finite resource. As a Thomist, this doesn't surprise me. The part of our mind that touches infinity is our intellect, the rational, reasoning, undying part of us. The rest of us is mediated through a thoroughly material, fallible, limited body. Willpower, like strength, can be depleted because it is material.

Once I knew this, I could understand why my reach continually exceeded my grasp. I like Renkat's point about flow and the results that can come from just keeping doggedly at something. But for me, doggedly keeping at something is very, very difficult. I just don't have a lot of capacity [potentia] for self-discipline. The revelation for me was realizing this is a stable personality trait. There are things I can do, for sure, but it is a limitation I will probably struggle against for my entire life. Since my conscientiousness is so low, I actually do need to exert continual will just to keep showing up.

Engineers sometimes talk about "finding the cliff". This means looking for the failure point so you know where your assumptions are still valid, and where they are not. I found the cliff in my own conscientiousness in college. I was a junior in a physics program, and I knew that I had the mental horsepower to do as well as anyone in the program. I seriously expected to be at or near the top in all my courses. My assumption of mental horsepower is probably accurate. What I was missing was an accurate assessment of my capacity for hard work. This was the point in college where I had to stop goofing off and seriously apply myself if I wanted top honors. I tried to do that. I pushed myself beyond my limits. [who can't give 110%?]

The price I paid was I became sicker than I have ever been in my life. It was years before I really recovered. I fear that I treated my friends poorly during this time. I'm surprised they still talk to me. I was miserable. The worst part of it all was that in order to save myself, I had to give up. I'm being hard on myself. I did just fine in college, but I had to seriously adjust my expectations [the soft bigotry of low expectations] about what I was capable of. This runs against the grain of everything my education had instilled in me, so I thought I was a failure.

Thus it was an incredible relief when I discovered that I had indeed fought the good fight, and finished the race. First place just wasn't for me. I did well with what I had been given.

Thus, while I like the insight with which Renkat advises us to take the path of least resistance, I cannot take him literally, for me the path of least resistance involves a couch, videogames, and that computer guy shape. I have a family to provide for, so I have to keep grinding it out. There are some weaknesses that can simply be avoided, using the mountain metaphor. These are simply relative weaknesses, what are called contraries. To be decisive is the opposite [contrary] of carefully considering the options. Both are strengths in their place. Being too lazy to show up to work is a privation of the good of being a hard worker. This simply needs to be resisted with the tools we have at our disposal.

Further reading:

Nice Guys Earn Less

So says CNN. The Magistra sent me this today. Apparently she's trying to tell me something. I'm not really surprised at the results. The article focuses on social interactions, but I think the real effect likely comes not from being a jerk per se, but the willingness and ability to take risks, to provide critical feedback, and the ability to ignore naysayers. Being a jerk is just a side effect of the personality traits that enable these other things.

Steve Hsu had a post that touched on this. Look at Figure 7. The one we are interested in is A, agreeableness.

DiSC Assessment

I continue to be a big fan of the OCEAN model of personality, but I find that it tends to be too abstract for most people. I was recently introduced to the DiSC assessment, created by William Moulton Marston in the early twentieth century. Marston himself is possibly even more interesting than his model of personality. He is known as a bigamist and the creator of Wonder Woman. More on that later.

Moulton's key work here is his 1928 book, Emotions of Normal People. Jung and Freud worked mostly with abnormal people, but Moulton was more interested in the rest of us. Moulton postulated four different mental energies that shape our behavior, dominance, influence, submission, and conscientiousness. I was confused at first because conscientiousness here is not identical to that in the OCEAN model, but once you see what Moulton was getting at it the model makes sense.

The quick and dirty way of categorizing people into these four categories is to ask just two questions. Are you loud and high-energy or moderately paced? Then after that question has been answered, you need to decide whether you are questioning or accepting. This is really quick and dirty, but it works well enough. D is high energy and questioning, I high energy and accepting, C moderate energy and questioning, and S moderate energy and accepting.

The model is simple enough to be easy to remember, but accurate enough that most people identify with their primary mental energy. The assessment tool I used also characterized each energy on a scale, which is better than the absolute contradictories of the MBTI. In a sense, you could set up the DiSC like the MBTI, with 16 types by characterizing each energy as either high or low. In practice, you just characterize people by their dominant energy, which is close enough.

This is copied from the Wikipedia article:

These four dimensions can be grouped in a grid with "D" and "I" sharing the top row and representing extroverted aspects of the personality, and "C" and "S" below representing introverted aspects. "D" and "C" then share the left column and represent task-focused aspects, and "I" and "S" share the right column and represent social aspects. In this matrix, the vertical dimension represents a factor of "Assertive" or "Passive", while the horizontal dimension represents "Open" vs. "Guarded".[2]

  • Dominance: People who score high in the intensity of the "D" styles factor are very active in dealing with problems and challenges, while low "D" scores are people who want to do more research before committing to a decision. High "D" people are described as demanding, forceful, egocentric, strong willed, driving, determined, ambitious, aggressive, and pioneering. Low D scores describe those who are conservative, low keyed, cooperative, calculating, undemanding, cautious, mild, agreeable, modest and peaceful.
  • Influence: People with high "I" scores influence others through talking and activity and tend to be emotional. They are described as convincing, magnetic, political, enthusiastic, persuasive, warm, demonstrative, trusting, and optimistic. Those with low "I" scores influence more by data and facts, and not with feelings. They are described as reflective, factual, calculating, skeptical, logical, suspicious, matter of fact, pessimistic, and critical.
  • Steadiness: People with high "S" styles scores want a steady pace, security, and do not like sudden change. High "S" individuals are calm, relaxed, patient, possessive, predictable, deliberate, stable, consistent, and tend to be unemotional and poker faced. Low "S" intensity scores are those who like change and variety. People with low "S" scores are described as restless, demonstrative, impatient, eager, or even impulsive.
  • Conscientious: People with high "C" styles adhere to rules, regulations, and structure. They like to do quality work and do it right the first time. High "C" people are careful, cautious, exacting, neat, systematic, diplomatic, accurate, and tactful. Those with low "C" scores challenge the rules and want independence and are described as self-willed, stubborn, opinionated, unsystematic, arbitrary, and unconcerned with details.

That S energy is interesting. Moulton's original name was submission, and he really meant it [Wonder Woman has long been noted for having a bondage undercurrent]. Later proponents of the DiSC model softened it into steadiness, which is the name it is given today. I like the DiSC because every mental energy has a positive interpretation. The OCEAN model doesn't have that. Almost all societies value extraversion over introversion, but there really is a place in the sun for each of the dimensions of the DiSC. Submission probably didn't really fit the bill here, it was just an obsession of Marston's.

Introverts Are Not Shy

A friend passed along this article from The Atlantic about introverts. Shy is not a synonym for introvert.

Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice?

I liked the article a lot, although I would definitely caution that not all introverts are actually good at public speaking. Sometimes they really are just awkward anti-social misanthropes. This is one of the reasons I like the OCEAN model of personality. You can drill down and see why a given introvert is the way they are, because the other four dimensions of that model are orthogonal. A introvert can be agreeable or disagreeable, conscientious or not. Each one is independent.

When I first came across the OCEAN model, I was explaining it to my former office mate, who is massively extroverted. She could not believe that I was an introvert because I am so composed and eloquent. I told her that she was extroverted enough for the both of us, but also that extraversion/introversion is really about mental energy. Does interacting with other people energize you or drain you? That is the fundamental question to determine whether someone is an extravert or an introvert. I do like people, but they wear me out.

One of the interesting adaptions I have developed is that I enjoy situations where I can be around people but I don't need to devote a lot of mental energy to personal interactions. A quiet bar on a weekday night or a coffee shop in a bookstore work pretty well. People are around, so I feel more connected, but I don't have to work up the gumption to engage strangers in substantitive conversations. I think this is a major benefit of public spaces in cities: you can be around people while maintaining a comfortable anonymity.

Something else in the article I was cautious about was this statement:

Are introverts oppressed? I would have to say so. For one thing, extroverts are overrepresented in politics, a profession in which only the garrulous are really comfortable. Look at George W. Bush. Look at Bill Clinton. They seem to come fully to life only around other people. To think of the few introverts who did rise to the top in politics—Calvin Coolidge, Richard Nixon—is merely to drive home the point. With the possible exception of Ronald Reagan, whose fabled aloofness and privateness were probably signs of a deep introverted streak (many actors, I've read, are introverts, and many introverts, when socializing, feel like actors), introverts are not considered "naturals" in politics.

Nearly all human cultures value extraversion over introversion. The Japanese are about the only counter-example I can think of. Since I am very data-oriented, the question for me is: why? Since Aristotle famously noted that we are political animals, I think the very clear answer is that extraversion represents a very real natural human good. As political [social] animals, we need interaction with one another to be fully human. We are dependent upon one another to live. Considered in isolation, extraversion is oriented towards this good, while intraversion is oriented against it. In practice, introverts and extraverts both have their places in the sun, but it is not really surprising that extraversion is socially rewarded. Given the kind of interactions necessary in politics, it isn't surprising that extraverts are more common. It is just too hard for most introverts.

Conversely, there are kinds of tasks that extraverts just can't do well. If you need someone to spend large amounts of time alone, an extrovert is a bad choice. Senties, forest fire observers, and other jobs that require a great deal of patience and loneliness require someone who won't go crazy because they are alone for an hour. These jobs are fewer and farther between than jobs that require social interaction, so the predominant preference is for people who can interact well for longer periods.