We’re #2!

Hey look, NC is #2.  Alas, that’s #2 in the nation in the real-dollar decline in teacher pay.  Bested only by Indiana (shockingly, another state run by Republicans).  Oh, and please don’t give me the retort that Democrats were in charge for most of this period, it’s quite clear when the declining commitment to public education in NC started.

nc

Oh, and the actual graphic at the link is interactive, so worth clicking through and checking out.

Too many PhD’s

I really enjoyed this Atlantic Post from PhD and former Political Science professor (I had a great conversation with her about blogging after a panel at a PS conference many years ago), Laura McKenna.  Short version: colleges and universities are producing way more PhD’s than there are appropriate jobs for:

Getting a Ph.D. has always been a long haul. Despite calls for reform, the time spent in graduate programs hasn’t declined significantly in the past decade. In 2014, students spent eight years on average in graduate school programs to earn a Ph.D. in the social sciences, for example. It takes nine years to get one in the humanities, seven for science fields and engineering, and 12 for education, according to NSF. In other words, Ph.D.s are typically nearing or in their 30s by the time they begin their careers. Many of their friends have probably already banked a decade’s worth of retirement money in a 401K account; some may have already put a down payment on a small town house.

First, I trust the data on this, and it tells us that there’s a lot of people pursuing PhD’s who should be.  Speaking on behalf of the social sciences– if you are taking 8 years, you are doing something wrong and this is not the path for you.  Virtually every single professor I know has taken 6 years or less to get a PhD, most in 5.  I knew plenty of people in grad school who took 7 and longer.  They were not generally on a path to success.  Fair to say, more of these should be weeded out before hitting the job market.  Now, of course, I’m sure there’s the high-qualified individual who take 8 years due to exceptional circumstances, but that’s definitely the anomaly.

Okay, more:

It may not be surprising that Ph.D.s in the humanities and social sciences are struggling to find tenure-track faculty jobs. After all, graduate schools producedtwo new history Ph.D.s for every tenure-track job opening in 2014…

So, you would think that this kind of information, which has already been discussed in many news articles and books over the years, would dissuade universities from admitting more students. You might even think that super-smart students would try their hands at other careers. [emphasis mine] After all, when news about the bad employment market for lawyers came out, the number of applications to law schools plummeted. Wouldn’t the same thing happen to Ph.D. programs? Apparently not.

In 2014, doctoral programs in the United States awarded 54,070 Ph.D.s—12,000 more than 2004. All fields, except for education, saw an increase, with the biggest increases in science and engineering…

Why hasn’t all this information helped winnow down the ranks of aspiring professors—why hasn’t it proved to be an effective Ph.D. prophylactic? Are people risking so much in the hopes of getting a cushy job with a six-figure salary and no teaching requirements? Is it because academia is a cult that makes otherwise sane people believe that there is no life outside of the university? Are graduate programs failing to inform their students about the realities of the job market? There are no answers to those questions in the charts and graphs from the NSF.

Good questions.  Short answer on the demand side… yes, being a professor is clearly such an awesome job that many are willing to go for it even though the odds are against them.  Furthermore, it’s also pretty clear to me that lots of PhD students have no idea what they are getting into.  I blame their advisers for that.  I’ve sent students on to a PhD who have dropped out, but I guarantee you they would not tell you I failed to sufficiently warn them.

Anyway, I really think this is very much a supply-side issue.  Build it and they will come.  Universities create way more PhD programs than are actually needed.  Why?  Administrators are rewarded for creating new PhD programs.  From what I can tell, there’s little incentive for creating high-quality new PhD programs were the graduates will get jobs.  And as long as there is the incentive to create these programs, they will be created and entice students into them (due to the demand side issues) even if there’s little chance of a good job from a mediocre PhD program.

I’m sure there’s more to it than this, but I do think these factors, especially the supply-side ones, go a long way in explaining our glut of PhD’s.

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Ryan Lizza makes the case that Paul Ryan is actually still running for president.

2) If Sweden and Denmark were US states they would be among the poorest.  And yet who really doubts that they are superior places to live than Alabama and Mississippi.

3) Jim Rutenberg on the squeeze on modern media outlets.

4) Jon Cohn on the difference between Clinton and Sanders:

Keep in mind that many experts think the Sanders plan, as currently written, would actually require a lot more money than he has said — so asking him to go back and find yet more revenue, to cover the exposure these low-income Americans would face, is no small thing.

This is the point that the liberal wonks have been making. (And, yes, I am one of those wonks.) Sanders is holding up his healthcare plan as an alternative to the status quo. But the status quo is a result of real-world compromises and sacrifices. If Sanders became president and had a chance to push his plan through Congress, he’d quickly discover all kinds of other complications — like the fact that many people with employer-sponsored insurance don’t want to give it up, or that severely ratcheting down payments for doctors and hospitals would reduce access and threaten real economic disruption.

To address these issues, Sanders would have to make painful concessions. What came out of the other side of the legislative process would look very different, and less attractive, from what he’s proposing now, in much the same way that Obamacare looks very different, and less attractive, from what Obama sketched out as a candidate in 2008.

5) When it turns out the bully is your kid.

6) I’ve come to enjoy vexillology as Mike Pesca is always plugging it on the gist.  Here’s a pretty cool flag infographic to warm the hearts of vexillologists everywhere.

7) Hey, look, I’m in Mother Jones about Ted Cruz and NC’s HB2.

8) Really interesting, thoughtful, interview on free trade.  I think this part is especially revealing:

ZB: So the US policies like permanent normal trade relations with China only accelerated something that was ultimately going to happen?

GH: It was inevitable.

Once China became part of the global economy, what was going to happen was the US getting out of the really labor-intensive stuff as China moved into that, and that’s specializing, and more skill- and technology- and capital-intensive industries. It didn’t happen earlier because, for many complicated historical reasons, China just wasn’t part of the global economy. Latin America wasn’t that much part of the global economy either until the 1980s and 1990s.

9) John Oliver’s year in criminal justice.

10) Satisficing is so important.  I need to work harder at it.

11) Andrew Prokop on Kasich’s strategy for winning the nomination.

Indeed, Kasich’s actual plan seems to fit perfectly into the classic South Park“underpants gnome” framework, in which step 1 is “lose every primary and caucus except Ohio,” step 2 is “???” and step 3 is “party turns to Kasich at a contested convention.” He really does not seem to have even the slightest plan to get from step 1 to step 3.

12) Liked this list of “podcasts for grownups who still dig learning” as I already listen to most of them.  Oh, I still really dig learning.

13) Enjoyed this post from my good friend (and great promoter of my research), Matt Shipman, on how his role as a dad makes him oppose HB2 all the more.

14) Speaking of HB2, N&O editorial on the Republicans just digging in their heals come hell or high water.  It takes a big person to admit when they are wrong.  Not even any modestly-sized persons in sight.

Now it seems the Republican schisms and blind zeal that let this law pass will also obstruct its necessary repeal. Until HB2 is repealed, jobs will continue to be lost.

“We’ve had some companies choose to suspend their site selection search in North Carolina and consequently in Wake County,” said Adrienne Cole, executive director of Wake County Economic Development. “Some have said they’re taking North Carolina off the list, others have said they’re postponing things to see what happens.”

Unfortunately, Berger and Moore represent districts in less-populated areas of the state, and although their constituents might well benefit from economic development in cities (Moore’s Kings Mountain isn’t that far from Charlotte, and Berger’s Eden is fairly close to Greensboro), they have such antipathy for cities they just don’t care. They are putting an anti-urban ideology ahead of the best interests of North Carolina, a reprehensible position for two supposed leaders.

15) Being rich (or comfortably middle class) means having more money to spend to perpetuate that with your kids.

16) Dahlia Lithwick’s excellent take on the 4-4 Supreme Court and the recent immigration case.

17) Given how much I hate extended fight scenes in movie, I love this analogy about Hillary Clinton from Drum:

For some reason this got me thinking about fight scenes in movies. Bear with me here. If you watch a movie from 50 years ago, the fight scenes will mostly strike you as ridiculous. The staging is weak, the sound effects are amateurish, and the choreography is slapdash. Things improved over the next couple of decades, but then they went overboard. Fight scenes began to devour blockbuster movies, with directors all trying to one up each other. But really, a fight is a fight. After a while, there’s little new you can do, and all the CGI in the world can’t hide that. Anyone who saw the most recent Star Trek movie knows what I’m talking about. The final fight scene was absurd, tedious, and completely unnecessary. But JJ Abrams put it in because he figured his audience demanded it. And I suppose they did. But those of us who have been watching movies since the 60s or 70s found it boring and predictable.

Now on to politics. To me, Bernie is like one of those fight scenes: I’ve seen it all before. On the Democratic side, primaries have specialized in having at least one bold truthteller like Bernie in every cycle since the 1960s. Sometimes they’re lefty truthtellers, sometimes they’re “hard truths” truthtellers, and sometimes they’re a bit of a mishmash. But the one thing they have in common is that they can afford to tell the truth—in the beginning, at least—because they’re mostly running as rebels who don’t really expect to win. And if you’re not seriously trying to win, there’s no downside to being entirely candid. Who cares if you’re going to lose a few important demographics in the process?

18) Sub-hunting drones.  Cool!

19) Really enjoyed the “Steve Jobs” movie, but totally agree that with David Edelstein that there’s way too much focus on what kind of a father Steve Jobs was.

20) Damn straight buying a car should be more like buying an Apple product.  You’ll be hearing more on this from me.

21) Progressively fewer ear infections in each of my children.  My family is representative of a larger, and very good, trend here.

 

Are colleges too obsessed with “smart” people?

So argues a Stanford professor.  And as elite universities go, I expect he’s right.  Interesting interview in the Chronicle of Higher Ed:

Mr. Astin, a professor emeritus at the University of California at Los Angeles, believes that too many faculty members “have come to value merely being smart more than developing smartness.” That line comes from his new book, Are You Smart Enough? How Colleges’ Obsession With Smartness Shortchanges Students.

In the short yet provocative text, Mr. Astin peers into the faculty lounge as well as the admissions office. There he finds more concern with “acquiring” smart students, as defined by conventional metrics, than with helping students improve after they enroll. [emphases mine]

“When the entire system of higher education gives favored status to the smartest students, even average students are denied equal opportunities,” he writes. “If colleges were instead to be judged on what they added to each student’s talents and capacities, then applicants at every level of academic preparation might be equally valued.” …

Q. What’s your sense of the prevailing definition of smartness at selective colleges, and what’s so wrong with it?

A. Because of the culture they find themselves immersed in, faculty members tend to be preoccupied with smartness. It’s largely unconscious, I think. We’re often trying to show off our smartness to each other, or avoid being judged as not smart enough. The problem is the consequence of that emphasis.

“If colleges were instead to be judged on what they added to each student’s talents and capacities, then applicants at every level of academic preparation might be equally valued.”

We concentrate far too much on our smartest students. Smartest in the traditional sense, kids who get the highest grades and test scores. We put tremendous emphasis on these students to the detriment of everybody else — the average student, the underprepared student.

We have created an institutional structure that reflects this bias. Teaching an average student doesn’t get any value in academia. And a side effect of all this is we define smartness in a very narrow sense.

Speaking for my non-elite department at my non-elite university, I don’t actually think this is all that true.  That said, the overarching point of focusing on achievement rather than student improvement certainly rings true.  I do know for me, it really is more rewarding and I invest more to get a C student to a B/B+ performance than to see a really bright individual earn another A without necessarily working as hard.

We certainly don’t need to start evaluating college professors with a flawed “value-added” metric like so many K-12 teachers, but higher education should certainly start taking the idea of value-added for all of it’s students more seriously.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Richest zip code in Oklahoma cannot even afford an art class in public schools?  Pathetic.  This is what you get from a Republican war on taxes and public schools.

2) The adult skills every 18-year old should have.  Not a bad list.  Need to work on these with my 16-year old.

3) The absurd primary of the car in American life.

4) Interesting take on why the Republican Party won’t be able to wrest the nomination from Trump.

5) Yes, campus rape is a genuine problem.  But, boy do I hate when people lie and mislead with statistics.  Here’s a nice, succinct video on the matter.  Meanwhile, my university this week was encouraging people to believe that 1 in 5 women on campus will be raped.  (Reality check).

6) Aren’t you glad that people like Jeff Sessions are making important public policy decisions for this country?  Good people don’t smoke marijuana!!

 

Caucus member Jeff Sessions (R.-Al.) spoke of the need to foster “knowledge that this drug is dangerous, you cannot play with it, it is not funny, it’s not something to laugh about… and to send that message with clarity that good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

Oh, and the government spent $18 million eradicating marijuana plants last year.  Ugh.  Even worse, the money for those efforts came from civil asset forfeiture.  It’s like the trifecta of bad policy.  Meanwhile, the public increasingly knows better.

7) Hillary Clinton and Kevin Drum in defense of politics.

8) Well done billboard funders, well done.

9) Finding answer to disease in genetic superheroes:

“I had an a-ha moment,” says Friend. “If you want to find a way of preventing disease, you shouldn’t be looking at people with the disease. “You should look at people who should have been sick but aren’t.”

These people, unbeknownst to them, carry genes that all but guarantee that they’ll get fatal diseases. And yet, somehow, they’re completely healthy. They might carry other genes that mitigate their risk. Or perhaps, some aspect of their diet, lifestyle, or environment shields them from their harmful inheritance. Either way, Friend reasoned that if he could find these “genetic superheroes,” and work out the secrets of their powers, he could find ways of helping others to beat the odds.

10) Why teachers need to know the wrong answers.

11) Open tab too long– Yglesias on the anti-free trade backlash that doesn’t really exist.

12) You know would be awesome?  Basic scientific literacy among Republican members of Congress.  Presumably, that’s too much to ask for.

13) I loved David Kessler’s The End of Overeating.  Had as much of a lasting impact on my thinking (and that of my wife) as any book I’ve read in recent years.  I’m very much looking forward to his Capture.

14) Great Dahlia Lithwick on the insanity that is Charles Grassley on judges:

Wait, what? So the problem for Grassley isn’t “political” justices—it’s justices appointed by Republicans who don’t advance “conservative policy” 100 percent of the time. And with that, he revealed his real issue. His Senate floor attack isn’t about depoliticizing the court at all. It’s about calling out Roberts for being insufficiently loyal to the Tea Party agenda when he voted not to strike down Obamacare.

What is really being said here is that there is only one way to interpret the Constitution and that is in the way that “advances conservative policy.” According to Grassley’s thinking, a justice who fails to do that in every single case before him or her is “political” and damaging the court. By this insane logic, the only way to protect the court from politics is to seat nine Chuck Grassleys and go home. And to achieve this type of court he will stop at nothing, including trash talking the entire institution from the Senate floor

 15) One of my best friends from way back at Duke is in the photo of this story about surf gangs.  Fascinating story, though my friend’s only involvement was looking at the beach.
16) The Post on the difficulty of being McCrory in today’s Republican party.
17) The best 71-second animation you’ll watch today.  Indeed.
18) Innovation is overrated.
19) Post editorial in favor of Kasich:
IN A different election year, Ohio Gov. John Kasich would not be the moderate in the Republican presidential race. An instinctual tax-cutter who wears his religion on his sleeve and signed a bill defunding Planned Parenthood, Mr. Kasich is more Jack Kemp than Bob Dole. Yet it is a sign of how cracked the GOP has become that Mr. Kasich is the only Republican left in the race who acknowledges many of the principles essential to this country’s democracy.
 20) Time magazine ran a horrible cover story on the national debt.  Yglesias wonderfully deconstructs it’s awfulness (as do good pieces in Wonkblog).  Shame on Time.  Drum with the succinct take:
 Sigh. Matt Yglesias draws my attention to this week’s cover ofTime, a Trump-friendly warning that we’re all doomed thanks to the national debt. Matt takes apart this inane argument just fine, but I’ll do it more quickly: You will never have to pay down this debt. Nor will your children. Or your grandchildren. Just forget about it.

And if we ever do have to pay some of it down? We’ll get to pay it off over decades, just like any other debt. And the rich will pay a bigger share than you. But I guess “You might someday owe $145 per year” doesn’t make a very good magazine cover.

Quick hits (part I)

1) More evidence that anti-bacterial soaps do more harm than good (the point of soap is to actually wash the germs away, not kill them).  I’ve tried to use regular soap for years, but it can actually be hard to find the liquid soap that is not anti-bacterial.

2) Really enjoyed reading about Peggy Orenstein’s new book on girls and sex.  I think I’ll be giving this to Sarah in 8-10 years.

3) How to get your children to behave through positive behavioral reinforcement.  Maybe too late for my kids.  But I probably should try, because they sure won’t behave.

4) Just a video of a submarine surfacing through ice.  Nothing cool to see here.

5) Had this article about the lawyer who took on Dupont in an open tab for a long time.  Glad I finally read it.  Really good stuff.

Bilott doesn’t regret fighting DuPont for the last 16 years, nor for letting PFOA consume his career. But he is still angry. ‘‘The thought that DuPont could get away with this for this long,’’ Bilott says, his tone landing halfway between wonder and rage, ‘‘that they could keep making a profit off it, then get the agreement of the governmental agencies to slowly phase it out, only to replace it with an alternative with unknown human effects — we told the agencies about this in 2001, and they’ve essentially done nothing. That’s 14 years of this stuff continuing to be used, continuing to be in the drinking water all over the country. DuPont just quietly switches over to the next substance. And in the meantime, they fight everyone who has been injured by it.’’

Bilott is currently prosecuting Wolf v. DuPont, the second of the personal-injury cases filed by the members of his class. The plaintiff, John M. Wolf of Parkersburg, claims that PFOA in his drinking water caused him to develop ulcerative colitis. That trial begins in March. When it concludes, there will be 3,533 cases left to try

6) Apparently, it is quite exhausting when your full-time job is blurring out people’s exposed private parts for a television show.

7) Steve Benen on the amateurishness of Trump’s delegate operations.

8) Thanks to Pat McCrory, it’s not easy being Pat McCrory.

9) Time to re-think how we think about the “tree of life.”

Existing genetic studies have been heavily biased towards the branches of life that we’re most familiar with, especially those we can see and study. It’s no coincidence that animals made up half of the “comprehensive tree of life,” and fungi, plants, and algae took up another third, and microscopic bacteria filled just a small wedge.

That’s not what the real tree of life looks like.

We visible organisms should be the small wedge. We’re latecomers to Earth’s story, and represent the smallest sliver of life’s diversity. Bacteria are the true lords of the world. They’ve been on the planet for billions of years and have irrevocably changed it, while diversifying into endless forms most wonderful and most beautiful. Many of these forms have never been seen, but we know they exist because of their genes. Using techniques that can extract DNA from environmental samples—scoops of mud or swabs of saliva—scientists have been able to piece together the full genomes of organisms whose existence is otherwise a mystery.

Using 1,011 of these genomes, Laura Hug, now at the University of Waterloo, and Jillian Banfield at the University of California, Berkeley have sketched out a radically different tree of life. All the creatures we’re familiar with—the animals, plants, and fungi—are crowded on one thin branch. The rest are largely filled with bacteria. [emphasis mine]

10) The octopus who escaped back to the ocean.

11) NYT Editorial on the endemic racism in the Chicago PD.  Also, a good occassion to plug the old, but truly not at all dated, Courtroom 302.  

12) Evan Osnos on Trump’s convention strategy.

13) Apparently, Republicans only think Zika virus affects blue states.  Or maybe, they are just against doing something about it because Obama is for it.  Ugh.

14) Mike Munger on the beauty of the virtual classroom discussion.  It’s got it’s value, but I think Munger is over-selling it.

15) Should we have government-sponsored childcare?

In a new report published Wednesday, a group of economists argued the market alone can’t fix this problem. Researchers at the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank in the District, say daycare should become a national priority, a human right on par with public education, because it contributes to academic achievement gaps, among other unequal outcomes later in children’s lives.

In order to make high-quality child care — with well-trained staff and a cognitively enriching environment — available to all in the current system, many children would have to be crammed into the best day care centers and safety would have to be severely compromised, said co-author Josh Bivens, EPI’s research and policy director.“The easiest way,” he said, “would be to shove 70 kids in one class.”

Rather than encourage this dystopia, he said, America should invest more resources into building a national childcare system, one that rewards quality.

16) 538 on how a Penn State lab is predicting sunset quality.  Cool.

17) Speaking of the sun, the Sunlight Foundation on how lobbyists effectively prevent saner tax policy.

18) How about a space probe to the “nearby” star Alpha Centauri?  Mostly, this caught my eye because despite having almost no creative ability, the one good story I remember writing in elementary school was “journey to Alpha Centauri.”  The beginning and end of my career as a science fiction author.

19) This is pretty damn cool– click on the caterpillar and see the moth/butterfly it becomes.

Quick hits (part II)

1) NC legislative Republicans are happy to see NC cities bear the brunt of the direct fallout from HB2 because they hate cities.  Of course, that’s only because they don’t actually understand that the cities drive the NC economy.

2) Bernie is further behind in total votes than in total delegates.  I think there’s a good argument that matters.

3) Great Rob Schofield piece on how NC government has become the worst hybrid of Ayn Rand and Franklin Graham.

4) I haven’t seen much national coverage of the student protests at Duke University, but dare I say it almost strikes me as a movement looking for a pretext.

5) How Republicans are plotting economic disaster?  Easy– see Louisiana and Kansas and repeat.

6) Brokers are no longer allowed to scam you on your retirement investment.  Hooray!  What’s appalling is that they have been able till now and just how hard they fought against this change.  Drum with a good take.

7) Anybody who ever needs a recommendation from a professor, bookmark this.

8) Good, sad essay on the murderer (a Jihadist) of the author’s father being celebrated in Pakistan.

9) We so need to pay state legislators so much more in so many states.  It really is as simple as this analogy:

In an op-ed published in January, the amendment’s sponsor, Terry McMillan, argued that a volunteer legislature has its limits. We tend to prefer a professional fire department to a squad of volunteers, he said — why don’t we feel the same about the people in our government?

10) Yes, yes, yes we should have automatic tax returns.  Why don’t we?  The venal cynicism of those who hate government and want you to hate paying your taxes combined with all the money at stake in the tax preparation industry.  Ugh.

11) New Yorker cartoon editor has fun with gluten-avoidant whiners.

12) Drum with a nice summary of the issue of publication bias.  Given my own history in academia, this certainly deserves a full post with my further thoughts on it.  Some day.

 

13) Vox on how our Libya intervention really was a success.

14) Sure taxes are high in Sweden.  But they are not that high, and what you get is more than worth it.

15) On what a “theory” really means in science.

16) On the budgetary “pillaging” of America’s great public universities.

A type of delusional thinking seems to convince American policymakers that excellent public colleges and universities can continue to be great without serious investment. As the former Secretary of State and Stanford University provost Condoleezza Rice and Joel Klein, the former New York City schools chancellor, wrote in a Council of Foreign Relations report, higher-education investments are a form of national security at least as important as direct investments in bombers, military drones, missiles, or warships. In other words, these education investments have a very high payoff for states, the nation, and the larger world.

All this amounts, arguably, to a pillaging of the country’s greatest state universities. And that pillaging is not a matter of necessity, as many elected officials would insist—it’s a matter of choice.

17) Nice set of myths and realities about Trade.

18) Hooray for this judge who does not send people to jail for being poor.  If only there were more like him.  And, yes, just to be clear, we do have debtor’s prison in America.

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