Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Talent, hard work, and superstars

March 24, 2011 5 comments

Jonah Lehrer attributes success to grit and “deliberate practice” rather than talent:

The first thing Duckworth, et. al. discovered is that deliberate practice works. Those kids who spent more time in deliberate practice mode – this involved studying and memorizing words while alone, often on note cards – performed much better at the competition than those children who were quizzed by others or engaged in leisure reading. The bad news is that deliberate practice isn’t fun and was consistently rated as the least enjoyable form of self-improvement. Nevertheless, as spellers gain experience, they devote increasing amounts of time to deliberate practice. This suggests that even twelve year olds realize that this is what makes them better, that success isn’t easy.

I found this message appealing and, to a certain degree, intuitive. Not too surprising that strenuous, repeated hard work is necessary for success. Malcolm Gladwell even wrote an entire book about theme a few years ago.

My biggest problem with studies like these (and I’ve looked at a few) is their focus on superstars. Yes, it’s true that the Mozarts and Michael Jordans of the world worked incredibly hard over their entire lives. But not everyone is going to be the spelling bee champion, or even compete at the national stage. For these people, the moderately successful, I’m not sure we can conclude anything from Lehrer’s post. The pretty good but not quite super-awesome may be able to get by on talent alone.

Categories: Uncategorized

Anecdotes, more evolution, exaggerations, and expertise

March 1, 2011 10 comments

Another very busy week this week. Things should get less hectic next week, when I will hopefully have time to write something more substantial. Until then, here are some semi-coherent thoughts and links:

  1. Facebook became the discussion ground for this positive review of the No Child Left Behind legislation. The generally positive statistical evaluations were countered with stories of teachers’ concerns. A theoretical physicist and good friend responded that statistics should trump anecdote, and thus we must conclude that NCLB is a success! Just a couple years ago I probably would have given him my unequivocal support. Now I’m not so sure. Statistics are definitely important. But for complex questions, qualitative methods, case studies and even anecdotes can be useful. I now see them as a complement to, rather than in competition with, data and statistics. Thoughts?
  2. Rod Dreher interviews a co-author of the recent study on evolution in U.S. high schools. The introduction of the interview describes evolution as “the unshakable bedrock of high school biology courses.” As I said a long time ago, that assertion is dubious. Much of biology can be taught without reference to evolution. Whether it should is a different question of course. I really want to comment more, and promise to get it soon!
  3. A few British neuroscientists protest exaggerations by their colleagues. I didn’t think scientists ever did that! The post made me think that this situation is partially driven by forcing scientists to identify the outcome or impact of their work. Basic research often doesn’t have direct positive outcomes, and asking scientists to demonstrate otherwise is a recipe for distortions and misleading publicity campaigns (h/t Roger Pielke Jr.)
  4. Over at The League, they’re discussing why liberals trust expert consensus on global warming but not free trade. I’m sure this has been mentioned in the comment thread, but it’s the politics silly!
Categories: Uncategorized

All the cool blogs are doing it

May 10, 2010 3 comments

A couple months ago, Tyler Cowen kicked off a “top ten influential books” list.   Ezra Klein, Conor Friedersdorf, Matt Yglesias, and Ta-Nehisi Coates (twice!) quickly followed, although Klein substituted magazines and blogs.  Cowen even compiled a handy list of other bloggers’ books.  I figure I should follow suit, although somewhat like Ezra I’ll include articles as well as books.  And like TNC, I’ll list fewer than ten just to show my ignorance.  Here it goes.

  1. Liberal Pluralism: My first introduction to political theory, William Galston’s book is quite accessible even though it was written by an academic. His eighth chapter lays out a great, simple history of the philosophy of education.
  2. The Practice of Liberal Pluralism: I have to include Galston’s second book.  This phrase on page 5 on the limits of politics continues to blow my mind:  “not parsimony in declaring truth, but restraint in the exercise of power.”  This sentence alone greatly influenced my approach to the intelligent design debates.
  3. Frontiers of Illusion: Dan Sarewitz’s eloquent, extended critique of the social contract for science should be required reading for all Ph.D students.
  4. The Fifth Branch: Sheila Jasanoff’s dense treatise is one of the best on regulatory science and science in policy.

And now for the articles:

  1. The lies we must live with: Dan Sarewitz (yet again!) on science and religion is fantastic.  It’s the type of writing I dream about doing.  Check out these few sentences:
    As is so often the case when we frame a problem as bimodal, however, we get the problem itself wrong.  The alleged debate between science and religion is an incoherent distraction from the real issue, which is how to most satisfactorily reduce the conflict, injustice, inequity, and suffering that seems so intimately a part of humanity itself.”
  2. The resolution of technically intensive public policy disputes:  Harvey Brooks’ journal article is a classic, and offers one of the best explanations of the interplay between facts and values in regulatory science.  He describes something I call the Harvey Brooks rule to help resolve disagreement:
    “Differences among experts resulting from disagreements over the burden of proof might be “smoked out” by requiring each side in a controversy to specify in advance what type of experiment or evidence or analysis would convince them to alter their policy position on a controversial issue.”
    (Brooks, H., The resolution of technically intensive public policy disputes, Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol. 9, No. 1, Winter 1984, pp. 39-50.)
  3. The politics of problem definition: The first few pages of this article draws a great analogy between policy and the Rodney King incident.  The rest gets a bit dense, but is still insightful.
    (Rocheford, D. and R. Cobb, Problem definition: an emerging perspective in David Rochefort and Roger Cobb (eds.) The Politics of Problem Definition: Shaping the Policy Agenda, University of Kansas Press 1994, pp. 1-31.)

There are definitely more that could make this list, but I’ll cap it here for now.  I may update when I have time to go over my journal.

Categories: Uncategorized

Sorry for the light posting…

April 20, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s been VERY busy the past couple weeks. Will try to post something later this weekend.

Categories: Uncategorized

I’m (sort of) back…

January 2, 2010 Leave a comment

Hello world.  One of my New Years Resolutions (which I generally take very seriously) was to start blogging and writing more.  Creating this site was the first step, and replaces my dying personal blog at  Here I’ll mostly post on science, policy and politics.  In the off chance that anyone reads my posts, comments will be appreciated.

Categories: Uncategorized