Links, 11/16/09

  • Steven Pinker on Malcolm Gladwell (h/t – he has lots of good things to say about Gladwell, who really is a fine essayist. The criticisms offered are solid even where I agree with Gladwell, for example – Another example of an inherent trade-off in decision-making is the one that pits the accuracy of predictive information against the cost and complexity of acquiring it. Gladwell notes that I.Q. scores, teaching certificates and performance in college athletics are imperfect predictors of professional success. This sets up a “we” who is “used to dealing with prediction problems by going back and looking for better predictors.” Instead, Gladwell argues, “teaching should be open to anyone with a pulse and a college degree — and teachers should be judged after they have started their jobs, not before.” But this “solution” misses the whole point of assessment, which is not clairvoyance but cost-effectiveness. To hire teachers indiscriminately and judge them on the job is an example of “going back and looking for better predictors”: the first year of a career is being used to predict the remainder. It’s simply the predictor that’s most expensive (in dollars and poorly taught students) along the accuracy-­cost trade-off. Nor does the absurdity of this solution for professional athletics (should every college quarterback play in the N.F.L.?) give Gladwell doubts about his misleading analogy between hiring teachers (where the goal is to weed out the bottom 15 percent) and drafting quarterbacks (where the goal is to discover the sliver of a percentage point at the top).
  • Charles Johnson, “Nontroversy of the Weekend” – Go read this. You have to see the comment from the “gentleman” at HotAir. From the article: On his first visit to Japan, one of America’s most valued allies, President Obama greets Emperor Akihito with a traditional bow and the right wing blogosphere completely loses it.
  • “3 Lessons I Learned Building 4,000 Subscribers in 12 Months” – one of the better reads on blogging I’ve seen in a while. You get a real sense of how much work this is, and there’s practical advice too.
  • “How a state takeover revitalized a city” (h/t Josh) – Amazing what “law” and “order” and people willing to fight corruption can do. Also amazing is how corrupt many of us are in letting all sorts of minor corruption stand; in some ways, you’re reading a miniature version of The Prince in this article.

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