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Black Swans and Ron Paul

March 14, 2012 1 comment

 

I am in complete agreement with Taleb here. Ron Paul is the only one talking economic sense in the entire Presidential race. I give Newt some slack because he is the only one that has actually done the seemingly impossible, balanced a Federal Budget. But we don’t need a balanced budget, we need a reduced budget. We don’t need to control the growth of Government, we need to reduce Government. All this Bullshit about contraception is lipstick on a pig. It’s obfuscation to the real and only problem we are facing, fiscal meltdown.

My quibble is not with Taleb, but with this idea that the economic morass is a Black Swan. Black Swans are unpredictable. The mess we are in was/is very predictable.

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College is essentially worthless.

January 22, 2011 5 comments

Two reports came out this week showing that college is really just a big waste of time and money.

The first shows that after two years, college kids haven’t really learned much of anything.

Nearly half of the nation’s undergraduates show almost no gains in learning in their first two years of college, in large part because colleges don’t make academics a priority, a new report shows.

Instructors tend to be more focused on their own faculty research than teaching younger students, who in turn are more tuned in to their social lives…

After two years in college, 45% of students showed no significant gains in learning; after four years, 36% showed little change.

Students also spent 50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago, the research shows.

The second report (both are really from the same book) shows that many college students aren’t learning any critical thinking skills what so ever. No wonder they are all liberal!

Many of the students graduated without knowing how to sift fact from opinion, make a clear written argument or objectively review conflicting reports of a situation or event, according to New York University sociologist Richard Arum, lead author of the study. The students, for example, couldn’t determine the cause of an increase in neighborhood crime or how best to respond without being swayed by emotional testimony and political spin.

Only one word can be used to describe this, DUH!

I think the two things that are driving this are grade inflation and the money thrown at academia by government.

The grade inflation angle comes down to this. As grade get inflated higher and higher, employers can’t simply rely on a diploma or even a associate degree, as a measure of work potential. A HS diploma is worthless, they will give them to anyone as long as they go to class. So then employers look for a 4 year degree. As those have been going downhill, thanks to grade inflation, employers are going to be looking for Master’s degrees and higher to try to determine if the person is even worth all the time and capital required to bring someone on board. It’s not cheap to hire a new employee, especially for any technical field.

Schools are more than happy to spew out the paper for a bachelor’s degree. It’s easy money. Kids come to class if they want to, the professor has their grad students teach the class and grade papers and tests. The schools require all sorts of worthless classes in order to get a degree, none of which involve logic or reason anymore. The more classes the schools require means more student loan money in the schools coffers.

I’m sure if the schools could, they’d require 200 credits to graduate, all for the students best interests of course. /sarc

Now with the Federal Government handing out student loan money like it grew on trees, expect standards to get even worse.

Schools and academia are corrupt. Make no mistake that they are all motivated by money, just as everyone else is.

Categories: Academia, Books, Inflation, Schools

Plagiarism

August 3, 2010 1 comment

The NY Times has an interesting article on plagiarism yesterday.

At Rhode Island College, a freshman copied and pasted from a Web site’s frequently asked questions page about homelessness — and did not think he needed to credit a source in his assignment because the page did not include author information.

At DePaul University, the tip-off to one student’s copying was the purple shade of several paragraphs he had lifted from the Web; when confronted by a writing tutor his professor had sent him to, he was not defensive — he just wanted to know how to change purple text to black.

And at the University of Maryland, a student reprimanded for copying from Wikipedia in a paper on the Great Depression said he thought its entries — unsigned and collectively written — did not need to be credited since they counted, essentially, as common knowledge.

The article goes on to wonder if it has something to do with the digital age. I say nay. I say it has less to do with copy/paste making it easier to plagiarise than before and it has everything to do with kids not getting the proper education up to and through college.

I agree with Jonathan Adler at Volokh (the comment section is gold, read them all);

Another possible explanation for the apparent rise in plagiarism is that many college students are simply unprepared for the type of academic work that is expected of them and engage in plagiarism even though they know it’s wrong.

At the University of California, Davis, of the 196 plagiarism cases referred to the disciplinary office last year, a majority did not involve students ignorant of the need to credit the writing of others.

Many times, said Donald J. Dudley, who oversees the discipline office on the campus of 32,000, it was students who intentionally copied — knowing it was wrong — who were “unwilling to engage the writing process.”

“Writing is difficult, and doing it well takes time and practice,” he said.

I find this explanation more persuasive.  I also think the apparent rise in plagiarism is of a piece with the apparent rise in cheating by students generally.  The problem is not that academic standards are too strict for the Internet Age.  Rather, it’s that students are not taught that such standards really matter.

I see it getting played out like this. Student A has written papers in high school, where the teacher maybe didn’t catch plagiarism or didn’t care to do anything about it. The teacher doesn’t want to hurt the students self-esteem so give the kid an A for a mediocre paper with sub par citing. (A product of grade inflation in high schools trying to keep kids going through the system.) The student thinks that doing mediocre work is not only acceptable but the way it should be done. After all the kid did get an A right?

So now the kid goes to college and has to write a research paper. They think, “Well it was good enough for an A last time.” Couple that with the fact that this paper is probably for a class that the student doesn’t want to take anyway, say psychology, sociology or freshman english. Not only are they going to wait until the last-minute to do the paper, but in their race to finish it, they are going to lift a few lines, paragraphs or the whole damn paper. After all it’s just a fuck off class anyway, why should they have to do any actual work.

They submit the paper and the teacher sees obvious plagiarism, most likely because half the class somehow used the exact same wording for one or more sentences for the class wide paper. What does the teacher do? Reporting the problem to the dean is a hassle. Maybe if one or two kids were caught, but when half the class does it…that’s a lot of paper work. Too much hassle, so it goes unreported. (I linked to a few of the comments at  Volokh.)

Since a lot of the comment from the Volokh post are from actual college teachers and professors, I think that their input is very relevant. The common theme is lack of accountability , lack of academic integrity and lack of ethics. To me it all points to my favorite subject in Academia, grade inflation.

If you think about it, all plagiarism is, is a mode of how grade inflation works. A kids plagiarizes, if the teacher doesn’t do anything about it or if the administration doesn’t do anything about it (lack of ethics and accountability) then the kids gets off free with a passing grad (lack of academic integrity). Now they think that is acceptable behavior.

So what happens when that student goes into the real world? If they go into private business, and they get caught plagiarizing, they get fired and the company gets sued. If they go into public sector, they become Senators or Vice Presidents. Ha ha just kidding…or am I?

Teachers can easily stop plagiarism.

Ronald C. Den Otter: A few more thoughts. (1) When I assign papers, I try to make sure that the question(s) to be addressed are narrow enough that it would difficult to lift something from the Internet. As far as I know, this minimizes academic dishonesty.

Yet most teachers don’t do that. I see that as merely another form of grade inflation. They make the assignments easy. So easy that the kids don’t think they need to actually think about it, just copy down what someone else did.

Another reason that kids just don’t care about plagiarism is summed up nicely in this comment.

Angus says:

They are at school to learn…

That, I think, is one of the fundamental disconnects with students. Many of them are not there to learn, but because college is a hurdle they must overcome in order to get a job/career. They don’t see college classes in a broad sense (how will this teach me to think for myself in the future), but in a narrow sense (how will this help me to get a job?). Worse, administrators are now pursuing the same “standardized test” mentality so prevalent among K-12 grades, where student achievement has to be boiled down into numbers for pre-set “assessment outcomes.” You can’t really put a number on, for example, whether a student has become a good writer or thinker. So instead, assessment-minded administrators are pushing us to test for predetermined factoids, names, and dates that can be learned by pure memorization and easily counted on multiple choice exams. And scores showing “successful teaching” will increasingly involve teaching to the assessment test.

Categories: Academia, Inflation

Harvard no longer needs exams, they just know their kids are smart!

File this under lazyness and lax standard at America’s institutions of higher learning.

At its meeting on May 11, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) adopted a bland-sounding motion that henceforth, “unless an instructor officially informs the Registrar by the end of the first week of the term” of the intention to end a course with a formal, seated exam, “the assumption shall be that the instructor will not be giving a three-hour final examination” and no slot will be reserved for it in the schedule.

No need to give exams, they just know that their students are smart. Giving an exam might hurt the self-esteem you know. So how are professors going to know if their students have learned anything during a semester?

I know the students will love it. Students don’t like tests, they tend to bring down ones grade. Students like easy, high point value busy work that requires no thinking what so ever. It seems like that is what they are getting at Harvard these days.

James Engell, Gurney professor of English literature and professor of comparative literature, rose to suggest that the trend toward fewer exams was not a trivial matter. Last fall, the English department (he is chair) had just five courses that ended with exams. Whatever the merits of requiring just a long final paper, he said, it meant that perhaps nothing beyond the paper itself was being used to evaluate what students were learning. Given that many departments—English, history, classics, for example—have also given up senior-year general examinations, it is increasingly unclear how to answer the question, “How are we assessing students?”

So remember that, the next time someone tells you that so and so is smart, he went to Harvard! In reality that doesn’t mean jack shit.

Hey let’s inflate some grades to make our dumb students look better!

June 22, 2010 4 comments

Yeah that’s the ticket! Hey at least it’s in Law, not like they are competent anyway. We have a lawyer in the White House!

One day next month every student at Loyola Law School Los Angeles will awake to a higher grade point average.

But it’s not because they are all working harder.

The school is retroactively inflating its grades, tacking on 0.333 to every grade recorded in the last few years. The goal is to make its students look more attractive in a competitive job market.

Grade inflation, just like monetary inflation, robs would be employers of competent people. Employers respond by raising their own barriers of entry; instead of just a B.S./B.A. they will require that plus 3 years work experience. Employers that already require degree plus experience, will just start requiring Masters. If grade inflation gets worse they’ll start requiring PHds for entry level jobs.

You know who are the worse culprits? The elite Ivy League schools.

Harvard and Stanford, two of the top-ranked law schools, recently eliminated traditional grading altogether. Like Yale and the University of California, Berkeley, they now use a modified pass/fail system, reducing the pressure that law schools are notorious for. This new grading system also makes it harder for employers to distinguish the wheat from the chaff, which means more students can get a shot at a competitive interview.

Do you still think Harvard graduates are any better than your local state college? Remember this graph!

Grade Inflation by SchoolAnother thing to worry about is how lax grading shifts resources (in this case students) away from more productive majors, in favor of the more lax majors. Everyone who has been to college knows why the football players all major in Communications and English (at my school, probably different for some schools). They do it because it’s an easy A. Now take a student who might be contemplating majoring in Law or Chemical Engineering, that wants to go past a bachelors. Which are they going to pick? Engineering and risk getting Bs and Cs? Or Law, knowing that once they are in Law school, they are going to get As and Bs. Which major do you think is needed more?

The ones that are trying to tell everyone that grade inflation isn’t a problem are who? School administration, professors, and Alumni. Don’t you think they have a huge financial motive to say, “Nothing to see here, move along.”

UPDATE: Forgot to link to the damn article, sorry bout that!

What’s the Value of a Bachelors Degree?

April 20, 2010 6 comments

I say not much at all. I thank grade inflation for some of it. I thank the over supply of bachelor degrees in the workplace for the other.

The oversupply is easy to understand. When there are more people with bachelors degrees in the workplace, they are less scarce, seems obvious. The Law of supply and demand dictates, that if a product (degree) is less scares then it’s value drops, in this case the wage of the worker.

From NACE, Spring Salary 2010 Survey: (It’s gated, so you might have to consult the Oracle of Google)

Starting salary offers to the college Class of 2010 are down compared to last year at this time, according to a new report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

The Spring 2010 issue of NACE’s Salary Survey shows the overall average salary offer to a bachelor’s degree candidate is $47,673, which is 1.7 percent lower than the average offer of $48,515 made to Class of 2009 bachelor’s degree candidates.

Graduates earning liberal arts degrees may be the hardest hit by the effects of the recession: Currently, their average salary offers remain well below last year’s levels—8.9 percent lower at $33,540.

It’s not all bad news, Computer Science majors saw their salaries increase “by 4.7 percent, bringing it to $60,426.” I’d say that has more to do with demand being high than anything else. Also, the other majors with increases are the “harder” majors anyway, those with a high demand of math, which is hard to grade inflate away. (Math being one of the few subjects that is almost completely objective)

So why the big decrease in Liberal Arts majors? Well for one, they aren’t in demand. Why? Because they are worthless. A note on my personal bias, I’m a chemistry major so I have always seen Liberal Arts as the “can’t do anything hard, so I’ll get an art or english degree.” I know it’s wrong, but old habits are hard to break.

I still think that my opinion that Liberal Arts degrees are worthless, does have basis in reality. They are easier than science degrees, at least in the objective sense. They are more subjective, and therefore lead to be more apt to suffer from grade inflation. It’s a lot easier to give a C English paper an A, than it is to give a biology student that doesn’t know the what DNA Pol II does in a genetics class.

It would be interesting to see a trend line of the data. I’m sure it’s out there somewhere, I just don’t have the time to search for it right now. Unless anyone knows of a link they can send me.

So what does this mean really? Well if your an engineer of some kind, that bachelors is still worth something. So if your starting school, an engineering or computer degree is you best bet. If you plan on majoring in any other field, bad news…that bachelors isn’t worth jack. If your a biology major and want to make a decent living, consider medical, nursing, dental or pharmacy school. Maybe even graduate school. Business majors, your better off going for an MBA. Liberal Arts majors, I think your screwed. Even a Ph.D., will not guarantee you a good salary. But don’t fret, they are doing their best to subsidize you.

Categories: Academia, Inflation

Krugman: Naive or a Political Hack?

March 27, 2010 6 comments

Now there is a question that answers itself.

If Krugman is such an expert on International Trade (that’s what his Nobel is in), then why does he want Obama to pursue policies that might cause another recession?

(Quick answer: so we can get more stimulus and increase government some more maybe?)

This is a good piece titled: Krugman’s Chinese renminbi fallacy

Paul Krugman is one of the international economists I most respect. He is a towering figure in the study of international trade. But his understanding of some international economic policy issues is, to put it generously, naïve. In fact, were the Obama administration to follow his policy advice, the world economy could encounter more serious difficulties, if not another recession, in the years ahead.

In 2010, Krugman suddenly found a new and passionate interest in China’s exchange rate policy. On 1 January, in his piece “Chinese New Year”, Krugman claimed that America had lost 1.4 million jobs because of the undervalued renminbi and, therefore, he endorsed trade protectionism against China. On 11 March, in another piece, “China’s Swan Song”, he advised the Treasury Department to name China as a currency manipulator. And on 12 March, at an Economic Policy Institute event, in Washington, he said that global economic growth would be about 1.5 percentage points higher if China stopped restraining the value of its currency and running a trade surplus.

So what would happen were the Obama administration to follow Krugman’s advice? First of all, it would delay, not accelerate China’s exchange rate policy reform.

In fact, some American politicians may be secretly hoping that China does not do anything. Many of them understand perfectly well that the revaluation of the renminbi will not bring jobs back to the US. If such a change in Chinese policy does happen, then they will have to find a new scapegoat for the double-digit unemployment problem. In the meantime, the Chinese government is reluctant to make any significant change under foreign pressure. This is why Krugman’s intervention would only make things worse.

Let’s imagine some scenarios in which Krugman gets what he asks for. The US Treasury Department names China as a currency manipulator and the Obama administration launches a trade war against China. If this were to happen, the most likely scenario is that China would then stick to its current exchange rate regime and retaliate with trade sanctions against America. This would reduce trade between the two countries and, more importantly, seriously damage investor confidence worldwide. A trade war between the two largest economies is a non-trivial event for the world economy. In face of a much more uncertain economic future, investors would scale back their investment plans and consumers would cut back their spending.

A trade war with China will bring on a World Wide Economic Collapse. Remember Smoot-Hawley (if your a product of a public school system, you probably don’t even know about it at all). The increase in Tariff will cause a firms inputs to skyrocket, which will lead to higher prices for EVERYTHING. That’s called inflation folks. Whether we like it or not, we are dependent on China for basic goods. The level of price inflation would destroy the US economy.

A less likely scenario is that China would be forced to appreciate the currency sharply by, say, 40 %. This is likely to cause significant difficulties for Chinese companies. Again, there could be two possible outcomes. The first is that Chinese companies would no longer be able to export because of sudden loss of competitiveness. The market vacuum newly made available by the exit of Chinese products would be taken up by products from other low-cost countries like Vietnam and India. American companies would not be able to compete with these countries. So this would not add new jobs in the US, but the inflation rate would move higher.

The second possible outcome is that China would continue to export to the US market, at higher prices but lower profits. This would push up inflation rates significantly in the US and force the Fed to tighten monetary policy quickly. Both steps could hurt the momentum of America’s recovery, which is still not yet on steady footing. New difficulties in the US and China, the two largest economies of the world, would impact global investor confidence negatively.

So why does Krugman want a revaluation of the renminbi? The answer is simple, because it makes for great talking points that Unions love! Remember Austan Goolsbee?

Categories: Inflation, Trade