## If I can’t do math, I don’t want to be part of your revolution

1. Emma Goldman, the fiery early-20th-century anarchist, is credited for giving the world the immortal refrain “if I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution” (actually it’s not clear that she ever said it so pithily, but she did express such a thought).  Admittedly, no one would mistake me for either a dancer or an anarchist, but I’ve always felt a kinship with Goldman over her terpsichorean line in the sand.  The other day, it occurred to me that there’s a parallel sentence that sums up my entire political philosophy—on the one hand, my default instinct to side with the downtrodden and with the progressive left, but on the other, my dissent from any even vaguely anti-STEM, anti-rationality, or anti-nerd undercurrents, and my refusal to join any popular uprising that seems liable (for example) to delay the discovery of a P≠NP proof, by inconveniencing the people working on one.

So, here’s my sentence, which you should feel free to reprint on t-shirts and coffee mugs as desired:

If I can’t do math, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.

2. Over at Scientific American‘s website, John Horgan posted an account of a workshop on Integrated Information Theory, which I attended a couple weeks ago at NYU (along with David Chalmers, Giulio Tononi, Christof Koch, Max Tegmark, and a dozen or so others).  I was the “official skeptic” of the workshop, and gave a talk based on my blog post The Unconscious Expander.  I don’t really agree with what Horgan says about physics and information in general, but I do (of course) join him in his skepticism of IIT, and he gives a pretty accurate summary of what people said at the workshop.  (Alas, my joke about my lunch not being poisoned completely bombed with the IIT crowd … as I should’ve predicted!)  The workshop itself was lots of fun; thanks so much to David, Giulio, and Hedda Hassel Morch for organizing it.

3. As you might have noticed, I’ve created a new category on this blog: “Obviously I’m Not Defending Aaronson.”  This category—reserved for posts that caused at least a hundred people to hate me—refers to a peculiar phrase I encountered over and over, in the social media threads denouncing me as a horrible person.  The phrase tends to occur in passages like: “look, obviously I’m not defending Aaronson, but it’s worth pointing out that, if you carefully reread everything he wrote, he never actually said that war orphans should be roasted alive and then eaten for fun.  That’s just something we all know that a clueless, arrogant nerd like him would think.”

4. Right now I’m at the “ThinkQ” conference at IBM in Yorktown Heights.  Here are the PowerPoint slides from my talk yesterday, entitled “The Largest Possible Quantum Speedups.”  Regular readers of this blog will find a lot that’s old and a little that’s new.

### 154 Responses to “If I can’t do math, I don’t want to be part of your revolution”

1. Tim May Says:

In my opinion, if commies like Emma Goldman can’t do math, this is a good thing.

I’ve spent the past 50 years of my life dealing with Emma Goldman types who can’t do math. Sometimes they called themselves feminists, sometimes they railed again co-dependency, sometimes they claimed to be whatever minority they perceived to be under the thumb of the white man.

They have made made their own bed. The more they call themselves victms, the worse it gets.

[sorry, rest of comment removed, for racial rhetoric that seems very unlikely to lead to a useful conversation. also, I certainly won’t defend everything Emma Goldman said or did, but she was an anarchist, not a communist, who gets some credit for being one of the first leftist intellectuals to understand the evils of the Soviet Union and denounce them unequivocally. –SA]

2. William Says:

I am sad that the internet’s Social Justice Wars are finding their way into your life to the point that you bother posting about them on your blog. Note that I’m not saying you’re wrong or misguided or evil to do so; I am simply lamenting such a state of the world.

3. Rahul Says:

Scott, my impression was that you gave some pretty strong arguments against IIT in your blog post on the matter.

Is there a response to those critiques from the IIT proponents? Is there a canonical version of this response somewhere or if not perhaps you can summarize their defense of IIT?

4. luca turin Says:

Horgan’s article is excellent, and highlights the —in my opinion— intellectual high vacuum in which the “science of consciousness operates”. Some mechanism or other is always flavor-of-the-week/month/year and is superseded by the next thing. When one complains about this the answer is always “well, we have to start somewhere”, ignoring the opportunity cost of nonsense. I stick to my Cartesian axiom, from which all else must surely follow: “The only thing we know about consciousness is that it is soluble in chloroform”.

5. Doug Says:

If you aren’t going to stomach *inconvenience* to your math, then there’s really no revolution you’re going to be a part of. Maybe a little polite concern for the downtrodden on the weekends? Hey, better than most! (That is not a joke.)

6. Scott Says:

Doug #5: The Enlightenment arguably did more for the downtrodden, and also more for science and math, than any other development in human history—and those two effects were directly linked to each other; they both came from suddenly having rational mechanisms to rule out bad ideas and arguments. So, that’s an example of a revolution that I would’ve strongly supported then, and think we should continue to support now. ¡Viva la revolución!

7. fred Says:

If consciousness is related to “information”, one problem is that information is just too relative/subjective (the same thing that makes randomness so hard to measure) and is too independent of the physical world.
An analogy would be like saying that, unlike other machines, running computers have a high degree of an intrinsic property called “softwareness”, the absolute measure of the amount and complexity of code they contain/execute (the more abstract and high level the programming language used to program them, the better).
But there’s really no such thing as software telling the running hardware what to do.

Maybe a more absolute metric for consciousness would be the degree of self-similarity, like the potential for a system to simulate/describe itself (there is no consciousness without the “I”).
Hofstadter’s book “I am a Strange Loop” has some really interesting ideas on this.

8. Scott Says:

Rahul #3: Well, of course Giulio himself wrote a detailed response to my first post. As for the second post, Larissa Albantakis gave a “rebuttal talk” at the workshop right after my talk. Most of her talk ended up focusing on other issues, not directly related to what I said, but she did give the following argument, in response to my contention that IIT plays “heads I win, tails you lose” in its appeals to common sense. She said: because IIT starts from phenomenology rather than from the physical world, and we know that the brain is the seat of our own phenomenology, the empirical evidence bearing on IIT must come from the brain. And that’s why, if the cerebellum has low Φ, then that’s evidence in favor of IIT, but if a regular mesh of XOR gates has huge Φ that’s not evidence against IIT.

In the discussion, Giulio agreed with this, and added remarks about what led him to think of IIT in the first place. He said it came from thinking for years about different brain regions: in particular, how is it possible that the cerebellum has four times as many neurons as the cerebral cortex, and yet you could scoop the entire cerebellum out while leaving a patient conscious (not recommended 🙂 ), whereas scooping out the cerebral cortex would extinguish consciousness immediately? So, he concluded that there must be some purely physical or organizational difference between the cerebral cortex and the cerebellum, which would explain why one is conscious and the other isn’t. And then he noticed that the cerebral cortex seems to have much higher connectivity.

Personally, I found all of this quite interesting, but I liked the way one of the philosophers of science at the workshop put it: that there’s a difference between the “context of discovery” and the “context of justification.” I.e., you can be inspired by any observations you want when inventing your theory, but then once it is invented, it better be able to survive whatever counterexamples other people can come up with.

9. luca turin Says:

Scott #8

The arguments of Tononi and Albantakis, if they were indeed as you describe them, makes no sense. You can indeed scoop out vast areas of the cortex, namely visual, motor, much of the frontal cortex etc without causing unconsciousness, just sensory loss, motor loss, aphasia, etc, as many victims of bullets, accidents and tumors will attest. Conversely, I seem to recall that there are instances of damage to small areas in the midbrain that cause irreversible coma. So: bollocks. Plus my mother was born without half a cerebellum, and while brilliant, she has always been quite weird.

10. Scott Says:

William #2: Thanks.

Despite my desire to stick up for those who are unfairly shamed, I actually made a conscious decision that I’m not going to blog about the specific outrage-incidents that regularly sweep across the Internet, with rare exceptions (e.g., if the people involved are connected to me in some way). I simply don’t have the emotional energy for it.

On the other hand, when the person getting viciously attacked in innumerable comment threads is you—when any commenter who tries to point out the cruelty and absurdity of what’s going on, then gets accused by everyone else of “tone policing,” until they meekly apologize and promise that they’ll never defend you again—well, it’s hard to explain, but you can’t not read this stuff or be affected by it. I’ve now spent a year reading through it (and I’m still not finished). For me, the experience has been like peering into some dystopian sci-fi future, with standards of morality that I barely recognize, and that appeal neither to my reason nor my compassion nor my common sense. And then I reemerge into real life, and I’m amazed that my friends and colleagues—kind, brilliant people who I admire and respect and usually agree with—aren’t frightened at all by what’s happening, but possibly for no better reason than that they don’t spend all this time like I do on the parts of Internet where new social norms are being invented that all of us will have to abide by in 25 years, just like today we all abide by the social norms of the previous generations’ radicals.

I can’t resist sharing my current vision for the future of the world. Climate change meetings, like the one in Paris, will continue to be held, but with zero concrete impact on CO2 emissions. The earth’s temperature will continue to rise. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet will fall into the ocean and melt, ultimately raising sea levels by 10 feet (while Greenland raises them still more). Meanwhile, the oceans will continue getting more acidic, and that (combined with trawling and ordinary pollution) will kill off marine life until the few fish that survive are ones you’d be wise not to eat. Large parts of the world—the parts still above sea level—will run out of fresh water and experience crop failures and famines, and that will cause huge wars (decisively ending the Pinkerian decline of violence), which might or might not be nuclear.

And then, 500 years from now, the surviving humans will log in to Salon or Facebook or Tumblr or whatever has replaced them (because yes, the Internet or something like it will still exist). And they’ll all be outraged—absolutely livid—that somewhere in the remaining semi-habitable parts of the globe, a white guy ate lunch with chopsticks and thereby committed an act of cultural appropriation.

11. Jay Gischer Says:

I find that I am happier when I remind myself that those advocating for social justice on the internet are among those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. They want things to be better. They have terrible methods for it, in many cases, but they do want things to be better, in ways that I want things to be better.

However, they frequently appropriate the tools of oppression to fight oppression, and that flat-out doesn’t work. I number shame as one of the primary tools of oppression, by the way.

The other complaint I have about some of my fellow travelers is that they care a lot about a few axes of oppression, but not at all about others.

For instance, there are those who will tee off on someone because he is a white male while ignoring the fact that he may be short, Jewish, non-neurotypical, and from a working-class background – just to mention a few of the axes of oppression that don’t get a lot of airtime these days.

Of course, what makes this complicated is that many, many women are trying to reclaim their anger, and their voice in anger. When someone challenges them, it can easily seem to them that the challenge means “don’t express anger”. They have lots to be angry about, and they will be healthier when they can express it freely and simply.

These days though, no distinction is made between “I’m angry” and “you’re a terrible person”. The latter is favored since it draws more attention, even though the former, in the long run, is more powerful in terms of changing lives.

12. Edward Measure Says:

I personally am rather upset that Scott wrote that “war orphans should be roasted alive and then eaten for fun.” Frankly, it will make it harder for me to defend him in the future.

13. fred Says:

Scott #10
“The West Antarctic Ice Sheet will fall into the ocean and melt, ultimately raising sea levels by 10 feet (while Greenland raises them still more)”

Capitalism will save us: sell Antarctica to Nestle for 30,000and let them bottle it all. 14. pierre menard Says: I wonder if you could provide some context for item 1. Are there people out there who want to ban math? 15. Scott Says: pierre #14: Well, here in the US, there are lots of people who try to make sure (for example) that mathematically precocious children are held back, prevented from accelerating academically, and deliberately mixed in with the kids who will bully them and make their lives miserable—because to let them advance in math with like-minded peers, the way many of them are desperate to, would be elitist and antidemocratic and would perpetuate inequality. Of course, as Carl Sagan once pointed out, grooming the best talent for the football team is never similarly criticized as “elitist.” The same kids who, in the Soviet system, would’ve been prepared early on for mathematical greatness (which might be the one thing that the Soviet system got right!), in most parts of the US are instead thrown into the grotesquerie described in Lockhart’s Lament, into a world that’s tedious when it isn’t terrifying. I could almost forgive the people who do this for the childhoods they make miserable. What I can never forgive them for is the great theorems that remain unproved, because of the would-be Gausses and Terry Taos who were never exposed to nontrivial math at the right age, or who had it beaten out of them with years of mind-deadening doofosity. Anyway, there are many broader ways in which our culture denigrates and immiserates STEM nerds and non-neurotypicals (a strongly overlapping group), but I hope that provides one example for how my “bumper-sticker slogan” would get cashed out in practice. 16. James Cross Says: 1- When the revolution comes your comrades will decide P≠NP. You will learn to be more circumspect with your bourgeois math or you will be exiled to Peoria to spend your days calculating grain production quotas. 🙂 2- I think you kind of mangled this explanation. “In particular, how is it possible that the cerebellum has four times as many neurons as the cerebral cortex, and yet you could scoop the entire cerebellum out while leaving a patient conscious (not recommended 🙂 ), whereas scooping out the cerebral cortex would extinguish consciousness immediately? So, he concluded that there must be some purely physical or organizational difference between the cerebrum and the cerebellum, which would explain why one is conscious and the other isn’t. And then he noticed that the cerebrum seems to have much higher connectivity.” Not sure exactly what you meant or what Tononi’s argument is, but you talk about three different parts of the brain. 1- Cerebral cortex – outer layer of gray matter over the cerebrum often associated with higher mental activities 2- Cerebrum – the big part of the brain 3- Cerebellum – part of the brain at the back of the skull that regulates coordination and muscular activities To luca’s point, I wrote at the end of my Blindsight post: “Remarkably, however, damage to a small area the size of thumb in the brainstem can result in a deep coma. Mark Solms and Oliver Turnbull writes in The Brain and The Inner World: “We might say, then, that these tiny nuclei [in the brainstem] are the seat of consciousness. On this view, consciousness is generated not by specific cortical zones but by the activation of specific cortical zones by these deep structures (2002, p. 88).” These structures arose for the evolutionary purpose of monitoring and adjusting the internal states of the body. Consciousness is an extension of that function through engagement of the cerebral cortex.” http://broadspeculations.com/2015/08/30/blindsight/ What is clear in the phenomenon of blindsight is that the cortex (with its large number of connections noted by Tononi) can process inputs but not be conscious. My hunch increasingly is that consciousness itself is actually generated by small part of the brain, probably the small structures in the brainstem coordinating with circuits in the cortex and other parts of the brain. This aligns closely with the idea that most of the psyche and mental activity is unconscious. http://broadspeculations.com/2014/06/01/consciousness-much-ado-about-almost-nothing/ One other note. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet may be melting in part from geothermal heating. http://news.ucsc.edu/2015/07/antarctic-heating.html 17. Sam Hopkins Says: It seems pretty myopic (if not imperialistic) to equate “rationality” and “nerdiness” with appreciation for and/or aptitude in math and science. C.P. Snow famously compared the question, “Can you describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics” with, “Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s?” Yet it seems important both to know in general terms what thermodynamics is about as well as to have read Shakespeare (and Dostoyevsky, and Kafka, and Virginia Woolf, and…) I don’t know why only one of these is a prerequisite for being a revolutionary. 18. tod Says: I learned a new word today, “terpsichorean.” At least it is new to me. I like how it sounds and it evokes images of dancing turtles. It is turtles all the way down. I should have payed closer attention to the Greek muses, but there are so many of them to keep track of. Thanks for the word. 19. Michael P Says: Scott #15: the state of math education in American public schools is sad indeed. Fortunately, one can usually find after-school clubs such as http://www.russianschool.com/ to fill the gaps left by public schools, just like there are after sports and music clubs. 20. Scott Says: James #16: Sorry, I meant the cerebral cortex throughout, rather than the cerebrum. Any remaining errors are hopefully Giulio’s. 😉 21. Rahul Says: Michael P #19: What’s the evidence for “the state of math education in American public schools is sad”? Not contesting the oft repeated claim but just curious. In particular, what’s the cohort we benchmark against? i.e. American math education is sad compared to who / what? Based on the level of innovation Americans produce in “mathey” fields it’s hard to believe that we are a lot worse than other nations. Also, anyone know the validity of this argument I’ve heard repeated in some (sadly often racist) circles: “If only we control for racial demographics the performance of American school kids is very good as compared to Scandinavian, European or other gold standards for math education” 22. Rahul Says: Scott #15: “What I can never forgive them for is the great theorems that remain unproved, because of the would-be Gausses and Terry Taos who were never exposed to nontrivial math at the right age,” Empirically, did a large fraction of Nobel laureates or Fields medal winners etc. go through accelerated learning in the schooling system? Or special schools? The contemporary thinking on kids with learning disabilities seems to be to try to integrate them with the regular kids in regular schools but just give them additional help & support. Why couldn’t the approach be similar on the highly gifted kid cohort i.e. Integrate them & yet challenge them more simultaneously? In fact, from some of the anecdotal narrations of smart people this approach seems to have worked. i.e. studying with the rest of average kids in neighborhood schools but being pushed and challenged in a specific subject they were gifted at by a teacher who recognizes their precocious talent. e.g. Feynman. Isn’t there a downside to all the accelerated learning? We only see the examples where it all worked out. But aren’t there burnouts & other developmental risks associated with fast tracking a kid? I think the great theorems will get proven just fine & in good time without fast-tracking & other antics at a delicate age but let’s not risk burning out kids in the greed of speeding up the theorem machine. 23. James Cross Says: #20 Honestly I get confused all of the time about brain structures and I had to look it up myself when something didn’t seem right in your wording. An interesting corollary to my idea about consciousness occurred to me after I wrote the above. It is that the consciousness of other mammals and even birds may actually not be much different in quality or degree from human consciousness. The cerebral cortex is found in all mammals. Birds apparently have evolved some sort of alternate structure. We just have more neurons and more connections in our cerebral cortex than other mammals. But all of those connections Tononi talks about primarily give us greater intelligence which is what makes us different. Consciousness in us and other animals is produced by a small subset of neurons and circuits in the brain. 24. luca turin Says: James Cross #23 “Consciousness in us and other animals is produced by a small subset of neurons and circuits in the brain.” Or not, or maybe, or something, or maybe something else, or whatever. 25. Abel Says: Rahul #22 This is not in the US, and of course YMMV, but I used to go to a summer camp for gifted kids, who came from regions where the regulation took different approaches, either: a) Keeping the kids in the class from the corresponding age cohort, or b) Allowing them to skip years. I can say that overwhelmingly the kids in a) ended up getting into more trouble related to school. Of course keeping the kids with the age cohort class and working to make sure they have less problems could work as well – it requires more resources from the schools than b), though. In fact, I believe the reason b) was allowed in my region is that the government would save money that way. My more anecdotal personal experience of the social cost of skipping years is also that relations with the slightly older kids were no harder, even easier sometimes – I ended up sitting in the last high school year with the kids who had failed a year, and had then a 3-year age gap. I’d also add that fast-tracking because of curiosity/wanting to be around more like-minded people, and because of pushy parents are vastly different things. And related to the general topic, that having some established way for fast-tracking within education systems seems important for equality of opportunities – there’s always gonna be informal stuff for people that want to expand their knowledge, but its existence is way more likely to reach people in say rural areas as it becomes more formal. 26. Scott Says: Sam #17: I actually agree with you, and would add something. Historically, the people who had no room for math and science in their revolutionary agendas, typically also had no room for literature. Literature has always been somewhat dangerous to mass movements, for example because of its tendency to focus intently on individual human stories that don’t fit neatly into the politically-relevant axes of oppression. Having said that, there’s also a great deal of cultural license extended to literary types that’s not extended to STEM nerds. For example, a male writer like John Updike or Philip Roth or Michel Houellebecq can say things that, if a male scientist said them, would cause him to get denounced as a monstrous misogynist. It also seems to me that many of the characteristic problems nerds face—e.g., extreme social isolation—are more common for STEM nerds than for literature nerds (perhaps because STEM nerds are less able to express themselves?), though I might be wrong about that. In the end, though, I will always want to be on “the side of math and science and literature,” certainly whenever those things are on the same side as each other. Since the Enlightenment, math and science and literature have typically been more associated with the political left than with the right—but in any situation where the left parts ways with math, science, and literature, I part ways with the left. 27. Rahul Says: Isn’t a lot of this quibbling about labels? When we talk of a left that parts with math / sci / literature what defines such a left as left other than self identification? 28. Scott Says: Rahul #22: To expand on what Abel #25 said, “providing more enrichment within the same grade level” is always what schools want to do when confronted with mathematically precocious kids. In practice, that often amounts to giving the poor kid even more of the same busywork that was the problem in the first place! Frankly, the main advantage of skipping grades is simply that it hastens the time when the kid can get to college, and there be surrounded by people who are actively creating new knowledge. They should not have to wait until age 18 for that—ideally, by age 18 they’d already be creating new knowledge themselves. Math camps can also fulfill the purpose, but why should they only be for the summers? Why not the whole year? In theory, serious math/science magnet high schools can fulfill the purpose as well, but those only exist in a few lucky places in the US. Of course no one should be accelerated against their will. The goal here would be to give students more choice, not less. Yes, acceleration can absolutely create social problems—but ironically, the main reason for that is simply that so few students accelerate! As soon as it becomes commonplace, and the accelerants have a community—poof, the special social problems evaporate, leaving only the “ordinary” problems of teenagerhood. Like with Abel, these are not theoretical issues for me—while the circumstances were unusual (involving moving between Hong Kong and the US), I chose to skip three grades and start college at 15. I was warned by all the adults around me that, while skipping might make sense intellectually, it would also create severe social problems—for example, it would make it almost impossible to date. I took this argument seriously. In the end, though, the deciding consideration for me was that social life already sucked, without skipping, so much that it was hard to imagine how skipping could make it any worse. 29. Mike Says: ” . . . social life already sucked, without skipping . . .” Skipping grades and/or changing to magnet or other schools with advanced programs can seldom make things worse, especially if the move is voluntary. And sometimes they might even improve the situation. I’ve seen it happen with my stepson. 30. Douglas Knight Says: Scott, why do you insist that Goldman was “an anarchist, not a communist”? These are hardly exclusive labels. Don’t most anarchists self-describe as communist? For example, Berkman 1929. In the context of the First International or the Spanish Civil War where it is important to distinguish the Anarchists from a party called Communist, one tends not to use the word for the sake of clarity, but that doesn’t mean that it is wrong. 31. Scott Says: Incidentally, while there have been many tweets that depressed me, here was a tweet that totally made my day this morning: Scott Aaronson, ¿el Richard Dawkins de la computación cuántica? Despite my almost nonexistent Spanish, no need for Google Translate here. 🙂 I have no idea whether the twitterer meant it as an insult or a compliment, but either way, I take it as one of the highest compliments I’ve ever gotten. 32. Rahul Says: My fear is that we might have a selective sampling issue: i.e. The people for whom skipping grades did work out well are more likely to be whom we’d hear from on this blog or similar ones. The casualties just get lost in the cracks. 33. Scott Says: Douglas #30: OK, she might or might not have been a communist—I don’t know nearly enough about early 20th-century far-left taxonomy! In any case, the relevant point for me was just that she opposed the Soviet Union early and emphatically, and even for some of the right reasons. 34. Michael P Says: Rahul #21: Given US resources scoring #35 in the World in math proficiency is rather sad, don’t you think? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_student_performance 35. Jay Says: >Don’t most anarchists self-describe as communist? At the risk of stating the obvious, most anarchists self-describe as “anarchists”. 36. Rahul Says: @Michael P #34: Indeed. I’m only curious about this argument I’ve heard that this crappy performance of US students mostly disappears if you control for student body demographics. i.e. It’s not that the schools are bad on average but more that they just have a harder job. 37. Paul Says: – The post-modern view of math and science as arbitrary cultural artifacts is so utterly absurd and off base that that it is hard to take seriously or get exorcised about. I have largely tired of my sense of duty in correcting these things: Let those who believe this go figure out with their alternative cultural artifacts how to navigate to their destinations using their cell phones… – On the notion of accelerating students in school, I have a somewhat mixed impression. I have seen a high rate of success among students who have been perfectly fine starting at college early (in the 15-16 year old range) and who have gone on to be strong researchers etc. However, the success rate of those I have seen who have started much earlier (at or pre puberty) has been much smaller. One of the risks is that the acceleration is based merely on “absorbing” material rather than getting facility with thinking creatively about it. Of the three students whom I have interacted with as PhD students who started much earlier, one was so focused on absorbing material that he just jumped from area to area without every focusing, and eventually dropped out. The second finished a bachelors degree before age 15, finished a PhD at age 22, got an initial faculty position at a low rank university and then moved on to a generic industry position – I don’t think he got tenure. The third finished his bachelors degree at age 16 or 17, took 10+ years to complete his PhD and is off in industry somewhere. There seems to be a critical level of maturity that the “enrichment” experience of those who weren’t accelerated quite as fast seems to help with. 38. Daniel Seita Says: Your quote: I chose to skip three grades and start college at 15. I was warned by all the adults around me that, while skipping might make sense intellectually, it would also create severe social problems—for example, it would make it almost impossible to date. I took this argument seriously. In the end, though, the deciding consideration for me was that social life already sucked, without skipping, so much that it was hard to imagine how skipping could make it any worse. is exactly what I would have loved to tell people. The only problem is that I never skipped any grades. 🙁 39. Rahul Says: Scott says: “Since the Enlightenment, math and science and literature have typically been more associated with the political left” The left seems to side with the “new” & the right the status quo. When we came from the dark ages to the Enlightenment rationality, math & science were the novelty challenging the superstition & ignorance of previous ages. But today when the established status quo is, broadly speaking, rational, scientific & technological, I fear the revolutionary ideas that attract the left tend to be the converse. 40. Joe Shipman Says: Rahul #21: The argument is valid. European-ancestry kids in America do better on those tests than kids from all European nations except Finland. Hispanic kids in America do better than kids from all the Latin American countries. East Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) ancestry kids in America do better than kids from China (taken as a whole), Japan, and South Korea. Black kids in America do better than the (very few) majority-black nations that take the tests. Furthermore, within every nation that has much racial diversity, the different racial groups always end up ranked in the exact same order on the tests. That does NOT imply anything about the CAUSE of differential racial achievement, but it DOES strongly suggest that the USA’s schools are not inferior to those of other highly developed nations. (Don’t fall for the fallacy that because they are the best, they must therefore be good.) 41. Rahul Says: One naive question about accelerated grades is whether it is mostly possible to accelerate across the board? i.e. Say you are precocious in Math what happens to say History or Biology. Are these kids super achievers across the board so that you can have them skip a few grades in the context of all / most subjects being taught? 42. luca turin Says: I skipped two grades (early on, moved around a lot, not sure how it happened, but it was certainly not manifest genius) and was bullied at school as a result. Don’t recommend it except in rare cases where anything short of sending the kid to MIT at 13 would be a crime. 43. Scott Says: Rahul #41: My ideal solution would be to have K-12 schools that were organized more like universities—i.e., a whole bunch of classes and activities would be offered, and each student would enroll in some subset of them based on ability and interest rather than age. (Like in college, there would also be graduation requirements, but flexibility in how one fulfilled the requirements.) This way, someone who was advanced in some subjects but not others would simply accelerate in whatever was the right subset for them—just like an undergrad (e.g., me 🙂 ) might be taking graduate-level CS classes at the same time as freshman chemistry (and find the freshman chemistry much harder). Alas, in the current school system, skipping is sometimes an all-or-nothing choice, simply for logistical reasons. E.g., the first time I skipped—from 8th to 9th grade, at Hong Kong International School—I would have been OK only to accelerate in math. The trouble was that the math I needed was at the high school, which was on a completely different schedule than the middle school, so the only way to make it work was to skip to high school in everything. In convincing the administrators to approve this, it helped that I was “well above grade level” in reading and writing in addition to math. On the other hand, I didn’t show any particular talent in lab sciences, social studies, art, music, or gym (incidentally, has there ever been such a thing as a “social studies prodigy”?), though I could sort of do physics, to whatever extent it was reducible to math. As for emotional intelligence—well, my wife would probably tell you that I still haven’t caught up to 8th-grade level in that. 😉 44. luca turin Says: “As for emotional intelligence—well, my wife would probably tell you that I still haven’t caught up to 8th-grade level in that. ?” Emotional Intelligence (large, equal portions of each) is why people read your blog, Scott. 45. Rahul Says: Why not just have a set of some kind of School Graduation Exams for each subject? Perhaps an oral exam component too? If you can clear it, you are certified ready for college and off you go, totally age agnostic. Most might get this school diploma at 18 while some precocious geniuses at 10, maybe? 46. Scott Says: Rahul #45: Yup. 47. luca turin Says: Rahul #45 My understanding is that ETH Zurich has an optional entrance exam (in German) that does just that: you pass it, you’re in, no questions asked about your age or diplomas. https://www.ethz.ch/en/studies/registration-application/bachelor/other-certificates/eth-entrance-exam.html 48. JimV Says: The fact that consciousness seems to be processed in a specific part of the brain is consistent with my own model of it (based on no specialized knowledge or study, but it gets me through the night): consciousness is like the operating system of a computer, e.g., Windows. It receives external inputs, passes them on to specialized parts of the brain for processing – similar to the way Windows passes on keyboard inputs to a spreadsheet program – and transmits the results externally if necessary – like Windows displaying a spreadsheet calculation on a monitor. Windows can’t do spreadsheet calculations itself, and our consciousness receives results of specialized neurons without knowing how or where those results were obtained (since there are no nerves which monitor neurons). This has led to the dualism hypothesis in which some people think magic is involved. As to why consciousness “feels” the way it feels, that is a separate issue, equivalent in my view to the question, “why does a rose smell as it does” (instead of some other way). Things have to feel or smell in some distinct way to be experienced, and that is the way things feel (to our senses) in this universe. This may or may not be true, but as I said, it satisfies me and frees me to ponder other questions. 49. Marnie Dunsmore Says: Sure, there’s a lot of people who can’t do math, but then again, there’s lots of people that can do math who are out of work. I was sitting at a café in Berkeley recently listening to two guys who are professors in the Berkeley Math department. They sounded embittered, underpaid and underfunded. You’re a math guru, so you should be able to look at the statistics that show we don’t have a shortage of math or science talent, not in the US, not in Canada and not in any country in Europe. Face it, employers are not very good at recognizing or developing technical or mathematical talent. So most people worth their salt using end out leaving engineering and science careers. Sure, there’s a small number of people in academia who manage to actually work and get properly compensated in math and science, but that’s a very small number of people compared to the total STEM workforce. Lots of people get full on degrees with you name it, calculus, advanced statistics, information theory, stochastics, control theory, quantum mechanics, comp sci, and then in their careers are pigeon holed into doing simulation and verification grunt work. At lot of this is deathly boring. Now in the US, with the H-1B and OPT visa induced surplus of engineers, unfortunately, this not so technically challenging but needed work is no longer very well compensated or particularly appreciated. I have no intention of pushing my daughter into STEM. She’s very good at math, but looking at the poor compensation, long and unlikely trajectory toward job stability, and general poor STEM policy making, I will probably encourage her not to enter a STEM field. Again, there is no lack of bright people with excellent math and science skills. We don’t need entrance exams, and we don’t need to bash Emma Goldman. What we need is to can the H-1B, the OPT, and legislate career stability for engineers and scientists. 50. Rahul Says: I am curious, do University Professors, including Scott offer such a fast-track option in all the courses they teach? i.e. Can one sign up for Scott’s course, no pre-requisites needed, attend none of the lectures, ignore the homework, projects etc. & just clear one deciding exam and you get full credit & an “A” grade on the course, no questions asked? Isn’t this the analog of what we are asking the school system to do? 51. William Says: > Admittedly, no one would mistake me for either a dancer or an anarchist Ah Scott, but we would love to have you! In fact I’m probably going to press some patches and buttons for the next anarchist bookfair I table with your line. Although personally I’m still more fond of the longstanding anarchist nerd riff: “It’s not my revolution if I have to go to dance parties.” 52. Scott Says: Rahul #50: It’s not exactly like that, but it’s certainly a lot closer than the K-12 system is. Every year, I have a few students who never show up to lecture in my 6.045 class (especially when the lecture is in the morning…), and who earn an A or A+ just by turning in the problem sets and showing up to the midterm and the final. But there are even more students who don’t even do that for the courses they think they’ve already mastered—they just take the later courses for which the earlier one was a prerequisite, with the permission of those courses’ instructors. And if the earlier course was a requirement for their major, then they petition to get out of the requirement, or to substitute a more advanced course. Whether to allow these substitutions is at the discretion of the faculty, principally the student’s undergraduate adviser. But if the student obviously knows the material, then the adviser is likely to be favorably disposed, given that the adviser likely did the same things herself when she was an undergrad! 🙂 All in all, it’s a totally different mindset and attitude than in the typical K-12 school, and that can be even more important than the formal rules. 53. Scott Says: Marnie #49: What will you encourage your daughter to enter, which has better job prospects than STEM fields? (Genuine question, not rhetorical one) 54. luca turin Says: JimV #48 “This may or may not be true, but as I said, it satisfies me and frees me to ponder other questions.” Funniest and wisest take on theories of consciousness I’ve heard in a long while! 55. Aula Says: Jay #35: “At the risk of stating the obvious, most anarchists self-describe as “anarchists”.” They do *now*, but things were different a hundred years ago. In that time, when such a thing as a communist government was unheard of, many people who actually wanted anarchy thought that communism (as described by Karl Marx) was the right way to get it, so of course they considered themselves to be communists. Later, after the Russian revolutions eventually led to the birth of the Soviet Union, which made it pretty clear to everyone what practical communism actually looked like, these people still failed to grasp the fact that an organized government of any ideology is unavoidably an enemy of anarchy, and kept complaining that Lenin (and later Stalin) somehow got it all wrong. 56. Rahul Says: The more I read the IIT stuff the more it smells like crack-pottery. e.g. This line from Tononi & Koch reminds me of Feynman’s description of attending Philosophy seminars: “The central identity of IIT can be formulated quite simply: an experience is identical to a conceptual structure that is maximally irreducible intrinsically.” In spite of reading that bit a couple of times I’m stumped as to what it means, if it means anything at all. 57. Scott Says: Rahul #56: There are also lots of statements in the “IIT oeuvre” that I don’t understand—but to its credit, IIT also sticks its neck out and says things that are fairly clear (e.g., giving formulas for Φ and worked-out examples for how to apply them to simple systems), and that’s enough to start thinking about counterexamples. 58. luca turin Says: Scott # 57 “that’s enough to start thinking about counterexamples.” I agree. As I think you said in your original post, IIT can at least be wrong, a huge step forward from not-even. 59. Marnie Dunsmore Says: Scott #57: “Marnie #49: What will you encourage your daughter to enter, which has better job prospects than STEM fields?” You have to consider the long term impact of salary manipulation on the part of companies like Intel, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Avago, Qualcomm, IBM, etc., through their performance review system, routine layoffs, and hiring practices. Outside of university, across the STEM workforce, these companies, to a greater or lesser degree, operate to compress STEM salaries and reduce benefits. The average salary for a STEM engineer or computer scientist is about100,000 per year (in very costly Silicon Valley). This, with very little vacation, generally poor work environment, frequent vulnerability to being laid off, no retirement benefits and lots of unpaid overtime. Most STEM workers in the commercial workplace are not sent to conferences and do not have an opportunity to interact socially outside of their immediate work situation.

Regarding your question, first of all, I do not segregate intelligence into “STEM” and otherwise. For instance, I’ve noticed that people musical ability are often very good at math. Yes, I’d like my daughter to be introduced to calculus, statistics, and computer programming, but I’d also like her to have a chance to develop her musical, dance and artistic talents.

The grand-daughter of Max Born is Olivia Newton-John. Think about it.

The way that we think about math as separate from other creative endeavours, is broken.

Again, at a policy level, we should recognize the fact that people are not going to develop their talents in STEM when the average salary for a STEM professional is less than 100/year , and has not increased in 15 years, while the average salary for a physician, attorney, those in the financial industry, real-estate agent, school principal, etc., is well above that. Generally, most non-STEM professions, especially those in the public sector, have better benefits. This has occurred due to calculated policy making. It’s not an accident. 60. Pointless Observer Says: A possibly pointless observation: after reading the comments, it seems that a couple of them were written based on the incorrect assumption that “I can’t” in the title is supposed to mean “I’m not able to” instead of the intended “I’m not allowed to“. English is a weird language. 61. Scott Says: PO #60: I’d totally missed that! Which comments? 62. Scott Says: Marnie #59: Everything you say about the pressures on Silicon-Valley STEM workers could be true, but it could still be the case that the overall job prospects are clearly, vastly better in STEM fields than they are in the alternatives you mentioned: music, dance, and art (!!). (And I’ll go out on a limb and speculate that most music, dance, and art folks will emphatically agree with me here…) An artistic career could have countless rewards, including personal and social ones—it’s just that high confidence about drawing a comfortable salary isn’t normally considered one of them. 63. Marnie Dunsmore Says: @Pointless Observer #60: ““I’m not allowed to“ . . . Yes, Pointless Observer, I’m one of those “not allowed” to workers. Yes, I did get a A’s and A+’s in subjects like control theory, quantum mechanics, microwave theory, semiconductor device modeling, data structures. I really love math, in fact. However, I was forced out of my last job at a semiconductor startup in Silicon Valley, because several of my coworkers interrupted me virtually every time I tried to present my work (on a high performance GaN amplifier), kept talking about using AK-47s, and dipping coworkers in acid as an excruciatingly painful way of killing them. And management thought that was just fine. This company gets funding from DARPA. Just one of a long line of companies with a deliberate hostile work environment against women and minorities. Nothing new. 64. Marnie Dunsmore Says: 1. @Scott #62: (I rewrote my last comment as I noticed some errors that make it hard to read.) “Marnie #59: Everything you say about the pressures on Silicon-Valley STEM workers could be true, but it could still be the case that the overall job prospects are clearly, vastly better in STEM fields than they are in the alternatives you mentioned: music, dance, and art (!!).” Let’s break it down: A: “Everything you say about the pressures on Silicon-Valley STEM workers could be true, ” Consider Michael Moritz’s recent comments, stating for instance that he would not consider a women with small children or the potential to have children, as worthy of venture funding. http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2015/12/03/michael-moritz-sequoia-capital-women-diversity-silicon-valley/76736642/ That pretty much eliminates most women under the age of 50 as worthy of venture funding. Moreover, as someone who has worked at several early stage Sequoia funded startups, I can attest to the fact that comments like “if you have children, don’t expect to work” and “if you have children, don’t complain if your husband is working all the time and cheats on you” and “poor people and minorities should be exterminated” are tolerated. This is the climate that Sequoia funded startups, and their ilk, have fostered and tolerated in the last twenty years. No surprise then that the number of women, Latinos and Latinas, African Americans, and other minorities, has dramatically dropped in the last twenty years. B: “but it could still be the case that the overall job prospects are clearly, vastly better in STEM fields” I’m not so sure about that. If you look at the statistics for STEM workers over 40, and some have (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lf1DhyOZ1FE) you cannot, with a straight face, argue that STEM prospects are “overall” “clearly, vastly better in STEM fields”. Furthermore, you don’t address that fact that most STEM funding these days is going into security, defense, IT and genomics. Many people are discriminated against in these industries. Furthermore, many may be more interested in applying their math and technical talent to other (unfortunately poorly funded) endeavours such as environment and ecosystem studies and advocacy, climate change study and mitigation, and capacity building (here and abroad). For instance. C: “overall job prospects are clearly, vastly better in STEM fields than they are in the alternatives you mentioned: music, dance, and art (!!). ” At this point, for the “not allowed” portion of the workforce, if you look at the overall all career trajectory, I strongly doubt that total compensation and benefits are better in STEM fields than many artistic endeavours. For instance, I know quite a few people in the San Francisco music and dance scene who are happily employed and reasonably compensated. Their talents allow them to travel, have a broad network of friends, and work to old age. Some even have used their combined interests in music and technology to start companies in the recording industry and online networking (for musicians). At this point, I strongly doubt that the majority of STEM professionals working at companies like Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook and Twitter are better off than someone working at and within the SF Jazz, or ODC Dance, community (for instance.) I’m not rejecting STEM, per se. What I’m objecting to is the current commodification of the STEM workforce, to the point that it is no longer attractive to work there for most people. 65. Scott Says: Marnie #64: If it were actually true that musicians and artists had better average career prospects than STEM nerds, that would be incredibly useful for my “agenda”! For I could then argue that STEM nerds were oppressed, not merely by being bullied and socially ostracized all through their school years (which aren’t generally recognized as legitimate axes of oppression—or at least not in this case), but also economically. But I need statistical evidence all the more for surprising claims that would help my agenda if true. 66. William Says: > They do *now*, but things were different a hundred years ago. In that time, when such a thing as a communist government was unheard of, many people who actually wanted anarchy thought that communism (as described by Karl Marx) was the right way to get it, so of course they considered themselves to be communists When it comes to “anarchism” contra “communism” there’s basically a bunch of different namespaces, sometimes overlapping, with different associations between languages like English and Spanish. So you still have plenty of people calling themselves anarcho-communists who openly disagree with basically every other person on the planet who identifies as a communist about what communism means. Most of these people position anarchism as a subset within communism mutually exclusive with marxism (also a subset of communism). Other leftwing anarchists don’t feel much like fighting over the term “communism” and stick to trying to defend the already maligned term “anarchism” alone. Most anarchists just kinda avoid the term “communism” but note when they’re critiquing communists that they’re critiquing “STATE communists”. But for the record the divide between Marxism and Anarchism goes back to the very beginning. Marx talked shit on his predecessor Proudhon (the first person to call himself an anarchist and popularize it, he occupied a kind of similar role as Glenn Greenwald today). In turn Marx’s contemporary Bakunin critiqued Marxism and state communism as being incoherent because ends and means are often deeply interconnected and seizing state power in order to eventually abolish it has a notable “???” step. (Incidentally Marx, Bakunin and the individualist anarchist Stirner — basically Nietzsche’s predecessor) were all buddies at one point in their youth and debated their ideas in a cafe long before they grew to historical figures. The fight between Marx and Bakunin permanently split marxists and anarchists many decades before the Russian revolution. And while there were a few hopeful anarchists in 1917, anarchists as a whole had long predicted everything the Bolsheviks ended up doing. This is why the anarchists that seized major territory in Ukraine at the same time fought a war with the Marxists for years. Marxists have *always* claimed their end goal to be anarchy. And they still do. The split between marxists and anarchists proper has always been over whether the means that marxists propose are a viable path. Anarchists arguing that bottom up organizing, persuasion, and consistent resistance to all coercive institutions is the harder and longer path, but the only one with any remote likelihood of working. 67. Marnie Dunsmore Says: @Scott #66: “If it were actually true that musicians and artists had better average career prospects than STEM nerds, that would be incredibly useful for my “agenda”! For I could then argue that STEM nerds were oppressed, not merely by being bullied and socially ostracized all through their school years (which aren’t generally recognized as legitimate axes of oppression—or at least not in this case), but also economically. But I need statistical evidence all the more for surprising claims that would help my agenda if true.” Why don’t you contact Robert N. Charette (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lf1DhyOZ1FE). He has already done a lot of work in this area. If you’re serious, I’d be interested in working on this. Hey, I got an A+ in advanced statistics. It’s been a while, but, yeah, I would be interested to assist with such a project. By the way, I don’t ascribe to the idea of nerd. Rather, I think that a lot of mathematical and technical work requires intense specialization, which sometimes doesn’t often doesn’t allow for other activities. But truth be told, many of the “nerds” I have met are quite well rounded, with diverse interests. It’s the current over competitive climate that is excessively narrowing to people in STEM. Max Born, and Hermann Minkowski were very good dancers. Gerhard Herzberg enjoyed singing, music and hiking. I think the term nerd has become a way to normalize and glamorize the current situation, where people are worked so hard that they don’t have time for diverse interests or their families. It’s not a good situation. 68. Jay Says: Douglas #55, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarchism 69. James Cross Says: #67 Marnie Exceptional musicians and artists will make more than average or even above average STEM nerds. For a salary of a STEM nerd to compare, he or she would need to invent something significant or create a company (and then become an entrepreneur). But even below average STEM nerds will make more than most above average musicians and artists. And average musicians and artists will probably not being doing art or music as their primary job. #48 JimV I don’t really get the comparison of consciousness to an operating system. Most of the brain’s management of resources is unconscious. We do not consciously tell the eyes and brain to perform the steps involved in seeing. Rather those steps occur unconsciously to us and the end result is visual consciousness. 70. anonymous Says: @ Marnie #64 In the US Today link you provided on Moritz, I don’t see any mention of him stating “he would not consider a women with small children or the potential to have children, as worthy of venture funding”. Perhaps I missed it — did he actually say that specifically and, if so, where? 71. Marnie Dunsmore Says: @James Cross #71 “For a salary of a STEM nerd to compare, he or she would need to invent something significant or create a company (and then become an entrepreneur).” James Cross, I don’t know what your background is, but in my own experience, venture funding in Silicon Valley is often not given based on merit, so your assertion that there is a direct connection between company creation and STEM ability is false, for most people. I can speak from my own experience pitching a wireless IC company back in the early 2000s. The VCs didn’t have a clue and weren’t willing to listen to actual technical expertise. They didn’t want to hear about the actual physics of the problem they were trying to tackle. Instead, they wanted to hear about “secret sauce”. Four years and60 million down the tubes later, they finally figured out that the “secret sauce” team they funded didn’t have the goods. That’s very common. There’s a disconnect between STEM ability and what gets funded in Silicon Valley. That’s why, these days, Silicon Valley funds so many online ordering dog food delivery companies, and online dating sites, rather than attacking research that would address climate change.

“But even below average STEM nerds will make more than most above average musicians and artists. And average musicians and artists will probably not being doing art or music as their primary job.”

It really depends who you are. The point is that there are a lot of highly creative people who got advanced STEM degrees and top marks, who are opting out of the STEM work force, for the reasons mentioned above. We’re not really talking about average people here.

The way it is now:

A: I could slave away in a start up, put up with being called a bitch, the bizarre interrupting behavior, the sexism, the low pay compared to other fields with similar years of training, the long hours, the incompetent usually not STEM trained management, the racism and hatred common in many startups, or

B: I could sit at home working on technical and artistic problems that I enjoy and find meaningful, many of which are not easy to fund, and also trade options on my investments, and probably make more money and affect more positive change in the world than working at A.

I do not think I am alone in this decision. In fact, I’ve recently met many engineers who refuse to work at startups. Some of these are former Bell Labs and HP directors. They’re opting out, because the STEM workplace is now so dysfunctional. Others have moved on and are working outside of STEM in various companies. Real-estate is a common destination.

Based on your statements, James, I don’t think you understand the magnitude of the problem.

72. James Cross Says:

Marnie,

I have worked in IT since the early 1980’s.

There are thousands of people employed in applied technology jobs- not start ups or funded by VCs. The companies range in size from small to large but most of them pay reasonably well compared to average salaries and they don’t require you to be a slave.

Maybe you are not considering this STEM but it certainly is technology. It is not fundamental science or from an academic standpoint challenging but it pays more than what average musicians and artists earn.

73. Marnie Dunsmore Says:

@anonymous #70:

The comment about not hiring women with children was made by Paul Graham, not Moritz:

He is a Y-Combinator Founder who said ” he “would be reluctant to start a startup with a woman who had small children, or was likely to have them soon,” and didn’t really distance himself from those remarks when asked by Valleywag about them in 2013.

I hear these comments all the time. As I approached my mid thirties, I noticed that I became a ticking time bomb in the eyes of any tech company at a job interview. “Well, Miss Dunsmore, this job will require a lot of travel. Are you planning on having a family???” “You took time out to be a mom. I’m sure you’ve forgotten everything . . . I know you’ve got more than 15 years of design experience, but since you were out of the workforce, we can only hire you as a junior engineer.”

“Are you a housewife?” in a demanding, nasty voice. Seriously, I got that in a recent interview. From a guy with a way less experience than me and a degree from last chance U.

Don’t think this only happens at a few startups. I’ve seen it everywhere, including Apple, Intel and Google.

Having worked at a very well known Sequoia funded startup in its early stages, I can attest first hand that Sequoia did not address gender bias when I worked there. It was completely acceptable for managers at this startup to withhold key projects from highly trained female engineers. It was acceptable for my manager to stand over my desk as I was under the gun to finish a project, and declare loudly to the team that women didn’t have spatial ability and that’s why they shouldn’t be engineers. Right before I delivered on a key project which required integration, debug and test of a communication system, I caught my manager, who knows some of the executives at Sequoia, disparaging my work during an executive conference call. Let’s be clear here. I got this system working for them. They made millions of dollars from my work.

I know, I know, you’ll call this an isolated incident. For years, I had to put up with that, as there were so few women. But, increasingly, the EEOC, and many other people, are onto the fraudulent statements of Moritz, Graham and others.

No, our STEM “shortage” is not due to a lack of skill. It’s due to a lack of brains, guts and grit on the part of VCs like Moritz, Graham, and many others.

74. Marnie Dunsmore Says:

Yep, I just looked up the background of Moritz:

Degrees are a Bachelor of Arts in history and a Master of Business Administration degree from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Pretty narrow training, I have to say, to be regarded as an expert on whether or not there is a STEM shortage.

75. Marnie Dunsmore Says:

By the way, Scott, I just applied to a job in Yorktown Heights working as an analog/mixed signal designer for a quantum computing company (not at IBM, but a nearby startup.)

No response.

I noticed the quantum computing conference there that you just attended is almost all men.

I guess that quantum computing doesn’t need people, certainly not women anyway, who took graduate level classes in QM and device modeling ( at the UBC physics department (ranked 49th in the world), as well as graduate level engineering classes.)

Also, I would point out that IBM has been laying off people for years. It’s legendary for laying people off.

It just sold off all of its semiconductor device processing to Global Foundries, headquartered in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi through its subsidiary, Advanced Technology Investment Company (ATIC).

76. anonymous Says:

Your statement: “he would not consider a women [sic] with small children or the potential to have children, as worthy of venture funding”

Actual quote: “would be reluctant to start a startup with a woman who had small children, or was likely to have them soon”

———————–

I’d like to point out that (1) it was the wrong individual you quoted and (2) you got the quote wrong.

I wouldn’t equate “reluctant” to not being “worthy of venture funding”. In Graham’s experience, the responsibilities of being a new mother are too much to handle in tandem with a startup. That’s what I infer from the actual quote.

But being “reluctant” is not an absolute. If the female candidate with a newborn says “my husband is a stay-at-home dad”, then that might change things completely and nothing in Graham’s quote precludes hiring her.

That’s different than saying someone isn’t “worthy”. I think that’s an unfair interpretation that implies a lack of respect, which is not what Graham appears to be saying. Two years later, when the child is in daycare, that same unworthy candidate may be hired on the spot according to Graham’s actual quote, but not yours.

77. Rahul Says:

So I’m trying to figure out the details of which parts exactly of Moritz’s quote were the offensive one.

I’m quoting from the Bloomberg interview Marnie linked to:

“Oh, we look very hard [for female investing partners]. In fact we just hired a young woman from Stanford who’s every bit as good as her peers, and if there are more like her, we’ll hire them. What we’re not prepared to do is to lower our standards. If there are fabulously bright, driven women who are really interested in technology, very hungry to succeed and can meet our performance standards, we’d hire them all day and night. … Our job is to field the very best team.”

He doesn’t sound misogynist to me. Are we saying he’s being insincere when he says “we look very hard”?

Or are we saying Sequoia rejects woman candidates that were, in fact, really good in favor of men just because of crappy (or malicious) interview procedures?

I got my PhD from a US University Department that had 15 male faculty & 2 females. Should I conclude that my Department Head / Deans / Hiring Committee was evil?

78. Tim May Says:

I’ll be brief, especially as SA has not allowed parts of some my posts to appear here. (His right, as he owns and controls the blog, but it sure does cause me to think some of my comments may be deleted. I thin this is why his blog has been drifting so steadily into the leftist/feminist/social justice warrior direction.)

A part of me thinks Marnie’s comments that women and minorities should avoid “STEM” and instead focus on arts and dance and social stuff is GOOD. Another score for my team!

Another side of me thinks this is tragic. Anyone arguing that people (of any race, color, background) are better off going into the obviously-lower-paid “arts” area is probably doing an injustice to whatever their favored race/gender/whatever group is.

Myself, I always loved science. Lots of science fairs. I was accepted for college in 1970 at Berkeley, Stanford, and MIT. The latter two expected me to work 25 hours a week in the food service thing. (My background was NOT from wealth or “privilege.”) The first gave me a Regent’s Scholarship, which helped a lot and so made Berkeley my likely choice.

Then UC Santa Barbara offered me a deal (College of Creative Studies) where I could take grad classes freely. I transferred my Regent’s Scholarship to them. I did a lot of work in solid state physics, including work in a Josephson junction (superconductivity) lab.

I decided to spend a few years in actual practice of what had interested me and joined a then-young Intel in 1974.

A few years later, in 1977, I discovered what was flipping bits in our RAMs and CCDs: alpha particles from low levels of uranium and thorium in our packaging surrounding the chips themselves. (And, yeah, I worked on the cosmic ray issue, but this was a tiny part of the contribution, so made only a one paragraph mention in the 1978 paper.)

I never called myself a nerd, or a dweeb, or a dork, or a geek. I was just an engineer or a scientist. I left Intel in 1986 and have done various other things since, mostly in crypto (Cypherpunks). My work at Intel and some investment decisions (blame STEM!) gives me a comfortable living without actually working.

We had a few women engineers in Intel at the time. They were usually “deprecated” because of pregnancies and transfers. I freely admit they were deprecated. It was a major risk for a small group with a time-critical schedule to hire a female who might become pregnant at a critical time. Most of them didn’t work like the way we twenty-something engineers did–few of them were pulling all-nighters. A significant fraction of them transferred into “Personnel,” as “Human Relations” was then called. (We did have one great female engineer, Sandy XXXX, who invented stuff and basically worked the way the guys did. She was a rarity. Most of the women engineers just didn’t “get it.”)

It’s a biological reality that females are going to have more sick days, more visits to doctors, and even more times when they vanish for several months due to giving birth and then dealing with a child. This is biological reality. How can one argue with this? Maybe society as a whole should deal with, but freely-formed enterprises should not be beset by quotas and laws forcing males to work extra to cover for females.

But should males be mandated to work more hours per week to compensate for these biological realities? My company, Intel, did not think so. And so single white and Asian males tended to get more done, more discoveries made, and did really well.

And how can one argue that this affects decisions of people to commit money to risky ventures where some of the workers may fail to be present at critical times?

To any advocate of freedom, such considerations are freely to be made.

But to Marnie’s point about encouraging women and minorities not to enter “STEM,” I guess this is sort of a good thing. More women and more minorities in non-STEM fields means more service staff at Forever 21, The Gap, and Abercromie and Fitch.

Let the white males and Asian males reap the whirlwind. Let the females and other minorities get by at near-subsistence wages working for the county and state in the usual bullshit civil service jobs.

Works for me. A pretty bad deal for women and so-called minorities (who are actually the majority in many places), but a great deal, memetically, for white and Asian males.

79. Rahul Says:

Marnie Dunsmore #75

“By the way, Scott, I just applied to a job in Yorktown Heights working as an analog/mixed signal designer for a quantum computing company (not at IBM, but a nearby startup.)

No response.”

Hell, when I got out of Grad School I must’ve applied to at least 50 companies that never gave me a response. Not even an automated email bot.

So what?!

If Marnie thinks this is happening *because* she’s female that’s nuts. It sounds like a persecution complex.

A no-response means nothing. To read a signal into this is a Rorschach test.

80. Scott Says:

Marnie #75: It’s true that the IBM conference last week skewed somewhat male-heavy, even by the usual standards of quantum computing conferences. On the other hand, the field of quantum information as a whole is blessed with lots of superb, creative women, who regularly show up at conferences like this one, and who I’m lucky to count as colleagues and friends. E.g., off the top of my head, and just in the parts of the field closest to me, Dorit Aharonov, Barbara Terhal, Debbie Leung, Anne Broadbent, Shelby Kimmel, Stacey Jeffery… anyway, I have no idea whether the issue was that more women weren’t invited to this particular conference, or that they were invited but couldn’t make it. I had nothing to do with organizing the conference; I just showed up, gave my talk, drank the coffee, the usual!

I’m sorry to hear about your difficulties applying for jobs. (Though I had no idea there was anything in quantum computing in Yorktown Heights other than IBM … or for that matter, any anything in Yorktown Heights other than IBM! 🙂 ) Given that you were decent to me over on the West Hunter thread, I wish I could help in some way, even if it were just by offering advice. Since I’m on the theory side of QC, and about as far as possible from the device side, I don’t know whether any I could give any useful advice, but let me know if so (email is fine).

81. luca turin Says:

Rahul #79

These days you often don’t get a response even when applying for full professor jobs in major universities other than the automated “thank you for applying” when you click “submit”. Weird.

82. Luca turin Says:

Tim May #78
Which reminds me: must download the complete set of Married With Children.

83. Anish Says:

My friend (an actual anarchist, in the tradition of Emma Goldman no less) wrote up a piece called “Science as Radicalism”, which I think you’ll find interesting, and anyone who’s interested in the intersection of science and revolutionary politics should read.

84. Marnie Dunsmore Says:

@Scott #80,

Great to know about these women (and men) working in quantum information. I’ve been peripherally following developments in quantum computing. I’ll have to read a few of these quantum information papers.

Technically speaking, the quantum computing startup that I mentioned is a few miles from Yorktown Heights. I’m not holding my breathe on that one, but if there really were all these unfilled jobs in STEM, these companies would be responding to resumes. That’s not the case.

Thanks, Scott, for your nice words. I’m not really in need of help, but thanks. I’ve got more than several irons in the fire, anyway.

85. anonymous Says:

@ Tim, comment #78

Thanks for being brief 🙂

I disagree with your comment that this blog is “drifting into the leftist/feminist/social justice warrior direction”. Assuming we’re talking about the same thing, have you read the following?:

(1) Ordinary Words Will Do
(2) 97% environmentalist
(3) How can we fight online shaming campaigns?
(4) What I believe
(5) Walter Lewin

To me, these posts and the corresponding comments illustrate that no such bias exists. Indeed, the online reaction to these posts — particularly 4 and 5 — has been a wake-up call to just how poisonous these communities can be.

I’m curious, in which posts do you see this “drifting” occurring?

86. Marnie Dunsmore Says:

@Rahul

“He doesn’t sound misogynist to me. Are we saying he’s being insincere when he says “we look very hard”?”

I’m not saying Moritz is a misogynist. You can read my comments above. They’re very specific. I worked in a Sequoia funded startup, and was in fact employee number 50. Moritz is saying he can’t find any women with the technical or business background to be a potential partner at Sequoia. Yet, I can think of at least twenty women with STEM PhDs, business degrees or degrees in finance and brilliant track records in industry and technology.

Moritz himself has only an arts degree and an MBA.

On top of that, I know what the culture is like in Silicon Valley, where Moritz is a VC. The culture is very unfriendly to women. Moritz, unless he is blind and dumb, knows that.

So his statement that he “can’t find” women qualified to work at Sequoia, is just a bunch of baloney. Not that I care.

The stock market actually outperforms most venture funds. But go ahead, waste your money taking advice from a VC.

87. Rahul Says:

@Marnie Dunsmore

That’s shifting the goalposts. You brought up both Moritz as well as Paul Graham as well as the whole VC domain into this thread.

So maybe I can be excused for thinking that you *did care* about those domains?

PS. Does the fact that you can think of “twenty women with STEM PhDs, business degrees or degrees in finance and brilliant track records in industry and technology” make it necessarily true or even likely that these women are better than whoever is on Sequoia’s existing partner list? Do you even know that these women *want* to be in Sequoia? Even be in VC firms in general?

There can be various reasons why a candidate is hard to find for a particular job but the way you mentioned Moritz it sounded to me like an insinuation that he was doing something evil or malicious.

If other commentators feel I read your seemingly negative comments about Moritz wrong they can correct me please.

88. Scott Says:

I don’t know anything about Moritz, but I’ve been reading Paul Graham’s essays for a decade and have noticed only a clear, broad-minded thinker and a brilliant prose stylist. Incidentally, when (prompted by this discussion) I checked his essays page just now, the topmost essay is all about the central role that his wife, Jessica Livingston, played in Y Combinator’s success. It is not the essay of a misogynist. (Incidentally, another of his recent essays says some of the same things that I said in “Ordinary Words Will Do”—but better, of course, so that I expect Graham will be attacked less than I was!)

89. Marnie Dunsmore Says:

@Rahul,

I’ve seen and heard first hand comments from Stanford professors and VCs that are in patent violation of California and US law. Within their companies, they willfully silence women and minorities on these issues. It’s almost routine now for a company to immediately retaliate against any woman who reports harassment or a hostile work environment at work, regardless of the circumstances.

They are the robber barons of the 21st century.

But, go ahead, delude yourself that discrimination, human arbitraging and willful violations of employment law by these highly touted Silicon Valley business leaders, doesn’t happen.

Sorry, Rahul, I’m not going to debate you further on these issues. I have to get back to my php programming.

90. Marnie Dunsmore Says:

@Scott

(sorry, correcting several misspells in previous post)

Note: I did not call Graham or Moritz misogynists. I simply wrote down what happened to me at work, and what their comments are in the press. If you want to justify their comments, that’s up to you.

Strangely, I have a hard time even identifying with many feminists, because for so long, many feminists have dismissed the plight of women scientist and engineers. I generally do not use the word misogynist, because I don’t think the problem for women in STEM can be so easily defined as a problem due to men “hating” women (which is what misogynist means.)

Again, see my comments above. I did not use the word misogynist. That’s coming from you guys, not me.

In any case, regardless of definition, in California, saying you won’t hire someone with children, or who is about to have children, is a violation of the law. This pervasive attitude directly and immediately affected my career as an engineer. It has probably cost me more than $2,000,000 in lost work time, and lost stock options (which several of my employers failed to give me, in gross violation of the law.) This is not a hypothetical issue for me. 91. Marnie Dunsmore Says: @Scott “Women also continue to face persistent pregnancy discrimination. Last year, EEOC issued a comprehensive update to the agency’s pregnancy guidance. In 2014, thousands of women filed charges alleging pregnancy discrimination with EEOC, and we obtained over$14 million in monetary relief through voluntary resolutions. Through our litigation, EEOC has successfully challenged pregnancy discrimination in areas including hiring, promotions, assignments, failure to accommodate pregnancy-related work restrictions, and retaliation.”

http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/statistics/reports/american_experiences/women.cfm

*thousands* of women reported pregnancy discrimination in California, in 2014, alone.

92. Scott Says:

Marnie: Yes, I apologize, I know you didn’t say Graham was a misogynist—though I also didn’t say you did! 🙂 I do think people should read his “Jessica Livingston” essay (and his other essays, for that matter!) for a fuller picture.

I’m basically a maximalist in the amount of support I think academia should give to pregnant women and mothers. (And yes, this is an issue with which I have personal experience too—at least, through Dana.) And I think companies that adopt such “maximalist” policies in hiring, over and above what’s required by law, are also likely to help their own bottom lines, by attracting and retaining the best people.

Now, saying what Graham once said—“I wouldn’t want to cofound a company with a woman who was about to have kids”—to me seems analogous to saying “I wouldn’t want to date someone from another race.” I.e., it’s a preference that it’s infinitely better and more polite to shut one’s mouth about, even if it applies to such an intimate sphere of life that, yeah, an individual in a free society is legally and morally allowed to have such a preference, though obviously not to impose it on anyone else. And I bet Graham even realizes that! (Or if he didn’t then, he does now.)

Unfortunately, the category “things it’s OK to think, but not to share with others” is one that nerds famously have enormous trouble with—which I’ve always suspected might be another reason, beyond the ones Graham examined, Why Nerds Are Unpopular.

93. fred Says:

Marnie #90

“In any case, regardless of definition, in California, saying you won’t hire someone with children, or who is about to have children, is a violation of the law. This pervasive attitude directly and immediately affected my career as an engineer.”

My experience is that white men in IT rarely think seriously about this sort of issues… until they reach their 40s and start to be the ones discriminated against because of their age.

94. chris b Says:

Any chance that a video of your IIT workshop talk will be posted?

95. Scott Says:

chris #94: No, sorry, there was no video.

96. anonymous Says:

@ Scott, comment #92

“I wouldn’t want to cofound a company with a woman who was about to have kids”

“I wouldn’t want to date someone from another race”

———————

I don’t see the analogy. My (perhaps charitable) interpretation of the first statement is:

“I wouldn’t want to cofound a company with a woman who was about to have kids and who would then (1) face the physical and psychological challenges of pregnancy, and (2) spend many hours per day caring for the newborn, all at the expense of participating in our startup.”

That sounds reasonable — and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that’s what Graham is getting at. As a new parent, my productivity has suffered greatly. The hardships facing new parents are recognized by companies via maternity/paternity leave (as abysmal as it is in the US). Closer to your neck of the woods in academia, one can freeze the tenure clock because it’s so tough.

And the context here seems qualitatively different than industry or academia where merit is demonstrated over several years before, say, promotion or tenure review. My impression is that startups can succeed or fail in a matter of months. Why would you start such a high-risk, time-sensitive partnership with someone who *likely* cannot contribute fully during that window of time?

The second statement doesn’t seem motivated by concerns of the same analytical nature. What is being optimized here — marital success, sexual preference, religious or cultural metrics? This statement seems to be a valuation of a wider set of (arbitrarily personal) issues.

It also has the property of being more rigid. The previously-undesirable startup partner may be greatly sought after a few years down the road when productivity has been regained. But someone of race X will always be of that race and, therefore, always undesirable.

97. Scott Says:

anonymous #96: The similarity is just that they’re both preferences that aren’t particularly noble or admirable, and that no one would argue should be universal laws, but that—unlike bans on discrimination in hiring, etc.—we really couldn’t make illegal without infringing on freedom of association.

Maybe a closer analogy would be someone who says, “I don’t want to date anyone who’s going through a mental breakdown or other crisis—when their crisis is over, then I’ll consider dating them.” Again, we could understand someone who didn’t want to deal with that particular kind of stress, without celebrating them as a hero for it.

98. Marnie Dunsmore Says:

@Scott:

Thanks. I appreciate your consideration of my comments.

Regarding Why Nerds Are Unpopular, the fact is that being popular in high school requires a lot of devotion to social networking. Smart kids in high school are busy thinking about other things, and are often so “in their heads” that they end up getting left out of this.

This is my highschool: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magee_Secondary_School

In spite of looking quite a bit like Julianne Moore, I really couldn’t have cared less about social networks or popularity in high school, and still don’t really care about it. Most of the smart, interesting people I know had this kind of experience in high school.

99. Marnie Dunsmore Says:

@anonymous #100

In my experience, hiring managers have no way of knowing when a woman is going to have a child, so they categorically eliminate hiring women, period. And it’s easy for them to do this, given the surplus of engineers, scientists and CS grads. Among women, this phenomena is widely discussed. Many women note that they have great difficulty even being hired for an interview once they are past 35. On top of that, there is age discrimination for both male and female engineers. But for women, this happens 5 to 10 years earlier than for men.

Average age of employee at these companies (in 2013): Facebook 26, Google 29, Apple 31, Akamai 31, EMC 34, IBM 37.

So, no, I don’t think this is just a little problem of a few VCs not wanting to hire women with newborns.

Only an idiot would spend 7 to 12 years post high school, incurring thousand of dollars of debt, slaving away earning a STEM degree, only to be able to work at a professional level salary for ten years. It’s a joke.

100. Marnie Dunsmore Says:

@fred #97

“My experience is that white men in IT rarely think seriously about this sort of issues… until they reach their 40s and start to be the ones discriminated against because of their age.”

Yes, my experience too. Most men in the 20s and 30s haven’t got a clue. I’ve listened to many conversations where really very average engineers in their 20s and 30s talk glibly about “older engineers” who can’t get back into the engineering workforce like they were yesterday’s trash.

101. Rahul Says:

Scott #97:

“The similarity is just that they’re both preferences that aren’t particularly noble or admirable”

Can you expound on what’s not noble about a very specific statement Graham made: “[He] would be reluctant to start a startup with a woman who had small children, or was likely to have them soon.”

He’s not talking about employment nor of generic hiring. He’s not talking of mature STEM or IT companies in general. He’s talking of the right sort of co-founder for a startup.

Now, let’s assume small kids take time & effort and let’s also assume that nurturing a successful startup needs significantly more risk taking, effort, long hours, unpredictable travel & sacrifices than the typical job in the market.

Against the light of this, why is what he is saying “not noble”? Can there not be some people more suitable for certain jobs than others?

What if I said: “For a bouncer’s job I’d probably not hire a 4’11”, skinny guy.” or “I would be reluctant to hire as a nanny someone who lives more than a 30 min. commute away from my home” or even “For this position I need a full time guy” or “This guy is not willing to leave his day job / relocate for his startup idea so maybe he’s not as committed to it”

To me they seem preferences quite similar to what Graham expressed.

102. Tim May Says:

I think the advice given here of telling girls and others they should avoid science and math (the nouveau term being the ugly word “STEM”) is a backwards move.

For sure, if someone is very gifted in music or art or writing, and not so gifte in math or science, then it makes sense to go in those directions.

But, bluntly, way too many college students are majoring in things like English, Women’s Studies, Queer Studies, and so on and finding themselves with few employment prospects after a BA. Many, perhaps even most, get jobs in retail. (That is, selling clothes to slightly younger women.) Or working as barristas.

I live in Santa Cruz, and the town is swarming with college grads working in bars and coffee houses and places like “Forever 21” and “American Apparel.”

Meanwhile, of a bunch of us who worked together in various projects at Intel, every one of us is a multimillionaire. I say this not to brag but to point out that earning a better-than-average (and the Forever 21 clerks a far, far below even average) salary plus some prudent investments of the surplus usually works out very well.

Marnie seems to argue for women and others to pick dance over science. Maybe Emma would approve.

But it seems to usually work out very poorly for the dancers.

103. Scott Says:

Rahul #101: I didn’t say there was anything bad about the preference, only that there was nothing noble about it either!

If you want to engage in moral-philosophy exercises: yes, if you were racing against the clock to cure some horrible disease, I could imagine there might be something “instrumentally noble” (is that a term?) about rejecting any partner who couldn’t commit themselves 100% to your cause, including nursing mothers, those caring for elderly relatives, or those who had anything else that might compete for their attention. But the same “nobility” doesn’t carry over if you’re just trying to found a startup and get rich—only the liberty to make the choice.

More generally, a lot of people today probably think of me as someone who delights in offending people with politically-incorrect statements, but nothing could be further from the truth. I have been acutely conscious, since the age of 7 or so, that there are true things that are nevertheless bad and hurtful to say out loud. So, as a rule, I’ll only say such things if I feel like I’ve been cornered—e.g., if a debate opponent has gleefully, knowingly maneuvered me into a situation where my only choices are to
(1) concede that I’m a horrible person (“and so is everyone else like me”), or else
(2) say something that’s true but politically incorrect.
In those cases, and only those, I’ll bite the bullet and go for (2).

104. fred Says:

That co-founding argument is a bit absurd because everyone knows that creating a startup requires a lot of sacrifices – it’s tough on health, social life, family life.

In the same way, properly raising a family in itself requires some personal sacrifices. It’s incompatible with lots of other goals, like going on a 4 year Mars mission, etc.

So, if someone comes to you and insists that they can balance their family responsibilities and also commit 100% into a startup, maybe the noble thing to do is to make them realize that they might be deluding themselves.

105. Scott Says:

Incidentally, Marnie: here is a list of the 30 best-paying college majors. Every single one of them is STEM and/or business (they’re mostly engineering, with petroleum engineering at #1). And here’s a list of the 30 worst-paying majors. They’re almost all non-STEM, with the exceptions being Exercise & Sports Science, Horticulture, and Animal Science. (Of course, this just looks at average salaries, not at broader quality-of-life issues.)

106. Marnie Dunsmore Says:

@fred #104

“That co-founding argument is a bit absurd because everyone knows that creating a startup requires a lot of sacrifices – it’s tough on health, social life, family life.”

I’ve been in several highly successful startups. At least half the engineers had families. And yes, we sometimes worked 10 hours a day, but most of us didn’t work weekends that often.

My husband was VP of Engineering at one of the first IoT startups. Yes, he worked long hours, but not really longer hours than he does now. He’s also a great and involved father. There really is no justification for saying that someone can’t be involved in a startup who has kids in school. People do it all the time. There are mothers who have created successful startups and are highly competent leading scientists. Think Elizabeth Blackburn. Many other examples. They just are not benefactors of the hype that people like Moritz have slavishly fond upon the likes of Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and others.

I worked for a while in the same office as a VC firm. It was really a comedy of errors to listen to all these 20 somethings telling me how Silicon Valley started (when they’d only been here after the dot com bust and were basically regurgitating the Moritz-Not-An-Engineer generated myth of Silicon Valley.)

Steve Jobs did not invent the smart phone. The idea was thought of at Bell Labs many years earlier. The touch pad/screen was invented at Synaptics and Bell Labs.

“In the same way, properly raising a family in itself requires some personal sacrifices. It’s incompatible with lots of other goals, like going on a 4 year Mars mission, etc.”

Yes, but people live long lives, and there is no reason to force women to permanently end their careers at 30 because the establishment is devoted to the myth of the stay at home mom. Hell, my great uncle, a Rhodes scholar and actuary for the Government of Canada, had a career that lasted 50 years:

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/ottawacitizen/obituary.aspx?pid=172220374

“So, if someone comes to you and insists that they can balance their family responsibilities and also commit 100% into a startup, maybe the noble thing to do is to make them realize that they might be deluding themselves.”

I think you yet again are trying to contrive a reason not to hire women as scientists and engineers.

And by the way, the age and gender discrimination extends way past venture funding. It’s part of the fabric of Silicon Valley. Seriously, I think we are completely dumbing down our technical workforce in the Valley. Even Andy Grove admitted a few years ago that we are relying too much on the startup model and our harming our long term ability to innovate:

http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/magazine/content/10_28/b4186048358596.htm

107. Marnie Dunsmore Says:

@Scott #109:

Yes, I know about the payscale website.

My cousins are petroleum engineers in Calgary. With the drop in the price of oil, they’ve told me that they’re companies have had massive layoffs. They’re hoping that don’t get cut, as most of the engineers laid off from their companies have not found other similarly paying work.

The payscale statistics don’t incorporate the effect of layoffs on long term compensation. They don’t account for the lack of retirement benefits compared to other professions.

Again, it’s not my intent to poop on engineering here. It’s the other way around. We need to do something about the long term career trajectory for engineers and the work environment. We need to stop allowing non-engineers to direct policy decisions affection STEM career trajectories. Even the IEEE is culpable at this point as they get too much corporate funding.

Until this happens, I intend to tell young people, especially young women, what it is really like. At least then, they can navigate away from some of the worst offenders in terms of damaging their potential career prospects.

108. Scott Says:

Marnie: The lists I linked to did claim to account for long-term compensation. But setting that aside, can you find a list of the best- and worst-paying majors that properly accounts for all the factors you think should be accounted for (including layoffs)? That would probably be more useful for this particular conversation than anecdotes, which of course we all have.

Incidentally, I completely agree that petroleum engineering is an inherently limited field—if nothing else, it’s over once all the oil is out! (Maybe half of it’s out already, and a lot of the rest better never come out if we want civilization to survive.) But that’s a special case, and other kinds of engineering seem like there should be continuing demand for them all the way from now until the Singularity. 🙂

109. fred Says:

Marnie #106

“I think you yet again are trying to contrive a reason not to hire women as scientists and engineers.”

Hmm, I did not single out women in my post, I only talked about “raising a family”, imo it all applies equally to mothers and fathers!

And I don’t understand why you say “Yet again”…
AFAIK I never said anything in this blog about not hiring women as scientists and engineers.
Quite the opposite, I’ve written here in the past that I’ve been lucky to work in financial software companies where the majority of the dev managers were women, and the working environment was great.

110. fred Says:

Scott #108

“But setting that aside, can you find a list of the best- and worst-paying majors that properly accounts for all the factors you think should be accounted for (including layoffs)?”

And it’s impossible to know what fields are going to get deprecated or suddenly relevant based on future discoveries and inventions!

111. James Cross Says:

#110

Ultimately probably almost every career will be deprecated except for some highly specialized areas and artistic fields.

There is a good post on Turing’s Radiator about that.

http://vicgrout.net/2015/11/05/will-the-robots-take-our-jobs-isnt-really-the-important-question/

I picked up on it and some other things when I wrote about Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End.

112. fred Says:

on the dynamics of current social networks:

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/12/08/opinion/bret-easton-ellis-on-living-in-the-cult-of-likability.html?referer=https://t.co/dnfi8yfD89

113. fred Says:
114. Marnie Dunsmore Says:

@fred #110

“Quite the opposite, I’ve written here in the past that I’ve been lucky to work in financial software companies where the majority of the dev managers were women, and the working environment was great.”

OK. Maybe in financial software companies, things are a little different.

115. Marnie Dunsmore Says:

New study published today : )

“Low wages, not education, to blame for skills gap”

Dr van Rens also argues that reform of the education system is not an answer to the perceived lack of appropriately skilled workers. As long as wages do not reward certain skills, workers will be less likely to acquire them, and even if they do, will find employment in higher-paid occupations that do not utilize these skills.

He added: “While firms complain about a shortage of qualified physicists and engineers on the labour market, a very large number of graduates in these fields work in the financial sector, where they only use their STEM skills to a very limited degree.

“Encouraging universities to educate more physicists and engineers will not make any difference if these additional STEM graduates look for jobs in investment banks.”

http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/news/low_wages_not/

116. Marnie Dunsmore Says:

@Tim May #1 and #106

“Meanwhile, of a bunch of us who worked together in various projects at Intel, every one of us is a multimillionaire. I say this not to brag but to point out that earning a better-than-average (and the Forever 21 clerks a far, far below even average) salary plus some prudent investments of the surplus usually works out very well. ”

Judging by your comments in the first message (#1), you probably acquired your stock options at Intel before 1994.

Look at the stock price. That little graph of stock price versus time. You can do it. If you have a look, you will note that if you worked at Intel before 1994, and not after 2000, when their salaries and stock price flatlined, yes, you probably did very well for yourself.

If you worked at Intel after 2000, like I did, you probably made zilch. I have friends there, who never left, who haven’t been promoted in 15 years. Their stock, the little they have been granted, is worth peanuts.

It’s just this kind of arrogant, out of touch, narcissistic, clueless attitude that is driving the economy into the ground.

Here you go:

“Record Number of Men Not in Labor Force”

http://freebeacon.com/issues/38151000-record-number-of-men-not-in-labor-force-participation-rate-dips-to-lowest-level-ever-recorded/

117. max Says:

118. Rahul Says:

@Marnie Dunsmore:

“If you have a look, you will note that if you worked at Intel before 1994, and not after 2000, when their salaries and stock price flatlined, yes, you probably did very well for yourself.

If you worked at Intel after 2000, like I did, you probably made zilch. I have friends there, who never left, who haven’t been promoted in 15 years.”

If I sense any arrogance and cluelessness here it is on your side, sadly and not Tim’s.

Intel was and still remains a fantastic job with a fantastic pay package. I am not sure what world you live in.

I graduated from a US-top-10 department (Engineering) circa 2010 and we got a lot of hirers from the Chemicals / Food / Semiconductors / Polymers sectors. Among all the hiring companies Intel was handing out the absolute best pay packets. And from what I hear the trend still continues.

No doubt Intel had a reputation of working you hard, but that’s a separate issue. I’ve no clue about internal promotions but at those starting salaries, even if you got no promotions for a decade you’d be doing no worse than others who had to be forced into post-docs, scientists or school teaching etc.

Further, if you compare to those non-STEM majors who had to end up working in coffee shops, bookstores or other non-major related jobs (and believe me there’s a huge cohort like that!) then I’d wager an Intel job today even with no promotions for your whole career, you might still be better off.

The problem with you Marnie is that when you deride STEM jobs or badmouth Intel jobs your baseline is just so skewed. I think you are so lost in your rarefied ivory tower atmosphere of startups and stock options and million dollar lost earnings that you have no clue how bad things can get at the bottom.

I’m still amazed that someone could associate an employer like Intel with “making zilch”. For most students out there it is one of the best things that could happen.

119. Daniel Seita Says:

Scott 103,

It seems like it’s about the one-year anniversary of when the “Obviously, I’m not defending Aaronson” blog posts and corresponding comments began. It would be nice to have a comprehensive overview of what you have learned since then, what has changed in your beliefs, and what you do differently now in light of your previous experience. Right now your comments about that are too dispersed across this site (and other blogs) for us to see the big picture.

120. Rahul Says:

“While firms complain about a shortage of qualified physicists and engineers on the labour market, a very large number of graduates in these fields work in the financial sector, where they only use their STEM skills to a very limited degree”

So what?! What’s wrong with that.

Firms hire people with skills that best fit the job. (Some) Finance jobs need good numerical / analytical / coding skills. STEM grads have them so they get hired.

Students look for jobs that best match their goals (salary, fun, passion whatever) and apparantly some STEM grads find those in finance jobs. Good for them.

If someone came up with a new non-STEM degree that was a better match I guess finance companies would hire from there.

What we should care more about are how employable STEM grads are in general. Whether they end up working in Finance or Factories shouldn’t matter much.

121. Tim May Says:

Marnie, #116, more money has been made in high tech companies AFTER 1994 than before. (And for what it’s worth, my last profitable stock option grants were granted in 1980. When I left in 1986 all of my exercisable options were underwater. Yeah, there was later a big run-up….but profited only from excercised as stated above, plus buying the maximum amount in the Stock Participation Plan, plus buying Sun, Microsoft, etc. And later on, I poured money into Qualcomm, Apple, and others. $16,000 I put into Apple when many were writing them off went up to more than$2 million. I got out of Apple completely over the past 3 years.

Frankly, you seem to be very bright (and I like your stuff on the migrations of early post-Ice Age people…the rise of languages and tools is fascinating.

But you seem to be missing the incredible opportunities that are all around. (Yeah, I’m skeptical about the unicorns, but plenty of opportunities.

Advising someone with the chops to go into math, science, and engineering (“STEM”) to instead pick something in the areas you listed seems like incredibly bad advice. Sure, some people in music, the arts, dance, even social work, do OK. Some even become fabulously wealthy. (Ironically, the wealthiest musician in the world by a long shot is Bono, of U2. More on that later.)

I see a lot of folks with artsy-craftsy degrees complaining that their degree prepared them for no job offers. Plenty of reports that many of them are now barristas or clerks at clothing stores.

Oh, about Bono. His billions come from his investment stake in Facebook. And Facebook, which like you I don’t have an account with, is just one of the many Valley start-ups which have left Intel in the dust. So, no, I think your colleagues who have remained at Intel through the 15 years it has been dead money are reaping the implications of chip companies becoming what steel companies became.

(I would sell my remaining Intel were the tax implications more reasonable. And if “Feel the Bern!” is elected, and taxes go up to the 90% marginal rate, I’ll look into moving to another branch of the infinite multiverse.)

But I do like your comments here, really. I just don’t have the same “priors,” as that thread a while back (“A celebrated 1976 theorem of Aumann asserts that honest, rational Bayesian agents with common priors will never “agree to disagree”: if their opinions about any topic are common knowledge, then those opinions must be equal.”).

I’ve never had any luck with complaints about unequal treatment, and I’m unwilling to call for more laws about discrimination against males and whites/Asians (a point I think you effectively admits is happening when you say that males and whites/Asians are playing a sucker’s game….Scott even said he’d like to help prove this with data…I can’t speak from memory about Scott’s exact words, much less his rationale, but there was something of the “nerds may be the oppressed ones” flavor.)

I think women and people of color would be best served by a kind of Reformation, a changing of their outlook. Perhaps they should even “appropriate” the learning values so many Jews have. They do disproportionately well in science, math, law, medicine, etc. precisely because learning and studying are valued. Any culture which says “Reading fo’ whitey” is marginalizing itself.

The future will be even more high-tech, even more intensely focused on abstraction than today. And there are fewer and fewer jobs for those with little useful education.

If young girls are led to believe that the “patriarchy” is holding them down, or are encouraged to use words like “nerd” or “dork” when referring to boys interested in math or science, then this will “back react” on them.

Aren(I despise the terms “nerd” and “geek.” These are not terms of honor, and engineers and programmers are NOT “reclaiming the terms” by yammering about “nerd culture.”

What should scientists and engineers and programmers call themselves, then? I just said what they should call themselves.

–Tim

122. Luke G Says:

“a very large number of graduates in these fields work in the financial sector, where they only use their STEM skills to a very limited degree.”

That seems like an unfair remark. A sizable number of financial sector jobs are software engineering and mathematical modeling. Presumably the STEM grads are going to those roles, where they are indeed making use of their STEM skills.

123. amy Says:

Coming in late, then maybe circling back to pick up the rest of the conversation:

Updike and Roth vanished from syllabi decades ago precisely because — well, for several reasons, actually. One was the misogyny, which doesn’t play in English departments anymore. Another is the fact that they don’t play particularly well outside the northeastern US — they have a cultural specificity that doesn’t resonate well elsewhere. Salinger has the same problem. A third is that the publishing world blew open in the 80s and suddenly there were warehouses full of stories that were not about the travails of married middle-class white men waiting for the 5:35 to Bernardsville, or wherever, which nicely suited the new multiculturalism that had run all over English lit (and still left us plug-ignorant of non-USian literatures). And a fourth is that lit classes are not writing classes, and are not about the quality of the writing but about textual analysis: they really are there to study literature, not read it. Aesthetics went out most of a century ago and have only recently started tiptoeing back in, but in unrecognizable form.

I recently taught a section from _Let Us Now Praise Famous Men_, Agee’s discovery of the South, and I let the kids know what was coming in advance, because they’re not generally hit with this kind of thing anymore. It’s beautiful writing. It’s also bald about racism, from the perspective of a white man at a time when an open and virulent racism was so deeply normed that its language was used even by those who despaired at it. Most of the kids I was reading to – some white, some not – have no context, anymore, for such language.

Most of the early 20th-c writers have similar problems, except perhaps Faulkner, the most sex-and-race-obsessed I can think of offhand. His stories are about almost nothing but race and destruction of women, the language is brutal, and yet he’s so ferociously human throughout, aware throughout of the humanity of every person in every story, that the horror and irony make him Vonnegut’s much more talented cousin.

Anyway. No, Updike and the others get no pass. Houellebecq — oh, I imagine he gets assigned sometimes for drawing and quartering; I startled a writing prof by saying I admired the beginning of one his books. He’s kind of a jagoff, though — Houellebecq, not the…well, the prof, too. I wrote something once about admiring the quality of the literary nihilistic porn, but how H. kept insisting on having ideas, which he wasn’t very good at, and how I was damned if I wanted a half-assed white paper in the middle of my literary nihilistic porn. It’s childish stuff in the end though.

As for defensiveness, enemies lists, etc: I don’t think it’s particularly healthy, Scott, I really don’t. The world will always have people who enjoy playing circular firing squad; always have stupid ideas that attract crowds. This country will always have bright, persecuted, undereducated kids escaping their rural/impoverished/suburban-anomie hellholes, pick one, and grabbing the first idea train out of town. The fraction willing and able to entertain complex ideas will always be small. And when it comes to new, alarming worlds that look entirely foreign: I regret to inform that this comes for all of us, and is called “getting old”. (You know what was a rough year for me? The year that Updike and Samuelson both died. My whole century, sliding right off the table. My students have no idea who either of those guys might be; the 20th c. doesn’t exist for them. Tell you all about monetizing Call of Duty play, though.)

124. Carven Says:

Well I think this appropriation of Emma Goldman’s quote distorts the original meaning. Goldman said what she said, knowing full well that she *was* part of the revolution; the contribution of her point was you don’t want the change to go a certain way.

In Scott’s version, “dancing”/”math” is valued over whatever thing the other group is up to (their mental model of what executing a revolution should entail.) That is, math is taken to become the revolution.

And that’s not a parallel application, at all. The words are parallel but the meanings are inverted.

125. Scott Says:

Carven #124: No, I still think it’s pretty parallel. I’m not nearly as famous as Goldman, of course, but I’d like to think of myself as trying to do what little I can to advance the ongoing revolution called the Enlightenment (a revolution that’s under attack from counterrevolutionary forces on all sides…). Goldman didn’t want the change to the world to go in such a way that there would be no longer be room for dancing—dancing, for her, was a symbol of what made the world worth inhabiting and of what she was fighting for. I don’t want the change to go in such a way that there will no longer be room for math, science, or socially-inept nerds.

126. Scott Says:

amy #123: Good to have you here as always! And thanks for your “field report” about how Updike, Roth, and Houellebecq are viewed in modern literature departments. This is not something I have firsthand knowledge about, but I have to confess that neither possibility thrills me that much. To whatever extent these authors are venerated by literary types, I feel like saying: “so then why are they allowed to talk about so many things that I’m not allowed to?” Conversely, to whatever extent they’re jeered at, I say: “so you’re not even allowed to talk about the things they talk about in literature? Then where are you allowed to talk about them?”

I only just started reading Houellebecq a month ago, but I have to admit that so far, the “white papers” (where the author just comes right out and explains his view of something, or puts it into the mouth of a character) are my favorite parts! 🙂

Finally: you write about how “aesthetics went out a century ago” (so presumably, since then it’s been all about the writer’s political sympathies?), as though that were something you supported, or at worst were neutral about. But how can I possibly square that with your comment, in the “Ordinary Words Will Do” thread, that the art is really what you care about, in the end?

127. luca turin Says:

Amy #123
Your take on Houellebecq is a blast. Made my day!

128. Jay Says:

amy #123
For non native speakers, would you mind to define: “a writing prof”, “jagoff” (wikipedia suggests several meanings that would work for your sentence), “the prof” (he’s professor?) and “literary nihilistic porn” (a subfield of english literatory?)?

129. Jordan Says:

As the great unsung 20th century philosopher poet Terence McKenna said, “The cost of sanity in this society, is a certain level﻿ of alienation”. 15 years after his death, a relevant-as-ever quote.

Commiseration aside, I graduated high school in 2004. Very few of my peers cared about issues of any kind in that time – ecology, war, social problems. In my observation, it was not until ~this decade (BP Deep Horizon spill and Fukushima) that it became ‘mainstream’ to care about much at all (the last example being the 1960s). The zeitgeist between the assassination of MLK and RFK through to the Iraqi insurgency outbreak was a mini dark age imo. Now that, as you point out, we’re on the verge of imminent planetary destruction – it seems even the ‘privileged’ humans care on a significant scale… It’s like some kind of collective Gaian immune response.

While I do agree it is somewhat disturbing to see people 10 or less years younger than I revert into a Lord of the Flies type self-enforced psychological fascism – it is promising. Promising in the sense that this is the first major step towards a new enlightenment.

For a revolution to occur first the youth must care *at all*, and eventually life (exposure to new data, work, travel, family crises, psychedelic experiences, heartbreak/mending, child rearing, so forth) will dissolve the boundaries of their brittle world views. — I personally remember having incredibly strong, self-righteous opinions in my undergrad years (chiefly scientism and post-911 ‘West > East’), but life humbles all who claim to have an open mind.

This is the first generation ever to be in a position to establish a healthy planetary civilization, and it begins with sometimes-legit-sometimes-hypocritical accusations of tone policing, mansplaining and privilege.. Hopefully.

130. Amy Says:

I’m actually wondering how much of my appreciation of H’s style is appreciation of his translator’s style. Last night I started reading a trilogy by Patrick Modiano, also translated by Wynne, and it’s got the same intelligent astringency, a very midcentury voice. Really terrific. My French isn’t good enough for me to be able to read either of them in the original.

131. Vadim Kosoy Says:

My profuse apologies for being blatantly off-topic, but. Prof. Aaronson, what do you think of this: http://arxiv.org/abs/1502.04573

132. luca turin Says:

Amy #130

” My French isn’t good enough for me to be able to read either of them in the original.”

Native French speaker here: Modiano is a great stylist, Houellebecq a trivial writer.

133. Marnie Dunsmore Says:

@amy #123

“Most of the early 20th-c writers have similar problems, except perhaps Faulkner, the most sex-and-race-obsessed I can think of offhand. His stories are about almost nothing but race and destruction of women, the language is brutal, and yet he’s so ferociously human throughout, aware throughout of the humanity of every person in every story, that the horror and irony make him Vonnegut’s much more talented cousin.”

What about 19th century writers?

The Cotton Kingdom, Frederick Law Olmsted

http://www.amazon.com/Cotton-Kingdom-Travellers-Observations-1853-1861/dp/0306807238/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1449702581&sr=8-1&keywords=cotton+kingdom

134. Marnie Dunsmore Says:

Tim May #125

I’m too busy today to explain to you how the framing of your discussion in this post makes a lot of assumptions that don’t fit for me.

If you want to talk more, you can invite me for lunch. I’m in the Bay Area. We could discuss IC design, Intel, alpha particle detection, investments, whether someone should or should not report a hostile work environment, math, evolutionary biology, etc.

135. Tim May Says:

Marnie, #134, thanks, but no thanks.

You may be too busy to write, but I am too busy to drive 100 miles each way for a brief lunch meeting in SF. Or 60 miles over the the mountains each way for a meeting somewhere around Palo Alto or Mountain View. I live about 20 miles south of Santa Cruz, in Corralitos.

Even in my dating days, which are long gone, I found a typical lunch to be sufficient to establish _anything_. We would like spend most of the non-eating time just establishing our already-established basic positions.

Almost nobody have I ever persuaded of anything, except in some unsual fora (such as thousands of postings to the Cypherpunks list, which apparently converted some former Marxists to a more cryptoanarchist point of view….but very slowly.) With simple discussions with family and friends, views have seldom changed. Anyone who has argued politics with family and friends knows how this works.

So, best wishes, but I shant be driving over the mountains to either the South Bay, or Mid-Peninsula, or East Bay, or SF, or Marin to have a lunch that is overwhelmingly likely to be pointless.

This is why online discussions are probably pointless, but vastly more efficient in time and effort.

–Tim (my address in either of tim@functor.org or tcmay@att.net)

136. Tim May Says:

I meant to say that a one hour lunch is mostly _IN_sufficient to establish antyhing.

(A strange writing tic that many of us have, of dropping the “NOT” or “IN-” in precisely the cases where emphasis is intended. Perhaps we are mentally hearing or thinking of the emphasis, but then leave it out.)

Anyway, I rarely drive over the hill, and certainly not for an hour or so meeting which is not likely to even get the groundwork laid, let alone change either of our minds.

Just too low an ROI.

–Tim

137. Tim May Says:

Here’s what I can say about my experience at Intel Corporation, 1974-86.

1. I never saw any signs of discrimination against minorities or acts of aggression, micro- or otherwise against same.

(Caveat: I was not a minority and was not looking closely for such things. But I saw nothing that rose to any prominence.)

2. Indeed, nearly all engineers were either whites or Asians (Indians, Chinese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese toward the end of my time at Intel).

3. Nearly all engineers were males, either white or Asian (as above).

4. I would estimate that 1 out of 20 engineers were female.

5. And about 1 out of 300 engineers were black. (I knew of 3, one from an African country, two from the American South). Two of these engineers were let go and sued Intel, with undisclosed settlements. I did not consider them successful hires, and I certainly don’t think they were let go for race reasons….far from it, as Intel was seeking any hires to lessent the pressure on them to “hire more minorities.”

6. Ironically, Intel was hiring vast numbers of minorities….Asians. (This was happening about the time the UC system was advised by the EEOC to no longer all Asians “minorities.”)

7. Women who did well did well. One woman, a Chinese engineer, was seminal (no pun intended) in our EPROM and EEPROM (later “flash”) technology. Everybody knew she was competent in all ways. Oh, and she was married.

8. But a lot of the women engineers I worked with were unwilling to work late, or on weekends. Who knows what pressures they faced from societal norms about women being expected to be home to prepare dinner?

9. But my position then, and now, is that it is not the job of corporations to change societal norms and expectations.

10. What I saw then, and have heard many comments about since, is that may women engineers were NOT PULLING THEIR WEIGHT. The young (Intel once skewed young, as Facebook does now, and most engineers were under 30) male engineers were expected to work long (12-hour) days to meet schedules, but the female engineers usually left before 6.

11. I often saw a casual interest in science from the women and some other ethnic groups. It seemed that many female engineers (I am including scientists and programmers into this category) were just not much interested in the things the males were interested in.

12. During this period, circa 1976-80 (when I was transferred to Intel’s Oregon facilities), I attended many Homebrew Computer Club meetings held at the SLAC Auditorium. I assume all of you know the significance of the Homebrew Computer Club. Well, while attendance was open to ANYONE, literally, we had something like 200 white males, about 2 Asian males, and rarely a white woman. These are the facts. Anyone looking at the many auditorium photos of the period can check this easily.

13. Years later, I attended the Hacker’s Conference most years from 1988 to 2005 or so. There were major “outreaches” to minorities. And yet typical attendance was similar to the Homebrew Computer Club.

14. It got strange when a couple of black women were attendees. Neither were technical. One was an clerical worker at SLAC. The other was in dance. The organizer said “Dance is sort of like hacking.” (I’m not making this up because of the Emma Goldman line.)

15. Today, women should be looking at science and math (“STEM”), but they are apparently not.

16. BTW, when I was centrally involved in Cypherpunks (PGP, remailers, BitTorrent, Tor, Tahoe-LFS, Bitcoin, even Assange, all were part of the legacy), we had about the same gender/race makeup as cited above. Of about 100 or so regulars at our physical monthly meetings, 97% were white males, about 2% per Asian males, and the remaining 2-3 were often two women and a black male. (The women seemed to be groupies….one had died blue hair and ranted incoherently.)

17. So, after observing this for about 40 years (further back if I look at my physics and math classmates), I think the stats are pretty clear.

18. Furthermore, we pretty much know what the outlook for such distributions will be in 20 years. Why? BECAUSE THE ENGINEERS AND SCIENTISTS OF 20 YEARS FROM NOW are now in age 10-20 years range. “Do the math.”

19. Am I bothered or sad by these invevitable (for the demographic future, what is already “cooked into” the next 20 years) future? No. I believe people make their own fate.

20. And cultures make their own fate. Some ethnic/religious cultures/groups succeed in a percentage beyond their numbers. Some other groups grossly under-succeed.

(We can all write scenarios and stories about how and why this happens.)

21. Something we have seen in the past 50 years of “hard affirmative action” is that it has not worked. Besides the deep Constitutional issue, it just seems to give some groups a justification for not working hard enough, not have a culture of education and trying. To put it ways Scott may disapprove of here, but surely must see the truth of: think of blacks versus Jews. Even of the same economic staus (esp. 60-90 years ago), Jews greatly, greatly excel compared to blacks (in most fields other than sports or music).

22. These realities are seldom discussed. Sometimes black spokesment like Bill Cosby (“shame!) have talked about the need for black culture to change. Malcom X was a better role model than Martin L. King was.

23. Regrettably, to me, in some sense, “identity politics” is causing more and more whites to move into this “I’m a victim, we need more laws, meanwhile I’ll boycott the patriarchal rape system!” tarpit of failure.

24. Vast numbers of women (and many men) are studying subjects basically known to have few if any job prospects. And often with hithertoo-unknown amounts of student debt. There are many causes and aspects. Beyond the scope of this list, but a devastating problem.

25. And this education problem is now being explosively carried into the “jucos” (junior colleges, community colleges) which are letting students who are basically trying to learn what was once expected of high school graduates, in many cases if not all) which are being built at great cost. (There are many such JCs in Silicon Valley and the Monterey Bay area which have more poured-concrete lecture halls and parking structures than university had when I was there!)

26. Most of the graduates of these jucos end up jobs with no futures. Some fraction will end up store managers of their Gap or Forever 21 store because of their AA in Business Administratoin, but this is no improvement of how managers were picked 50 years ago.

27. Basically, there’s too much nonsense education. I am happy that MIT has a place for a scientist list Scott, and so for many such examples. The world needs a handful of great historians, but doesn’t need ten thousand mediocre history majors graduating per year. Extend this example in the obvous ways.

28. And in many ways it’s the minorites (Jews, Asians not counted as minorities, natch!) who are being sold the bill of goods for these so-called colleges. (That kid in Ferguson who got was lauded for being “headed for college.” Turns out he was poor student in high school, socially-promoted, and was on his way to a diploma mill paid for with FedGov grants.)

29. Can it be fixed? Probably not, at this point. Only run off the edge of the cliff will possibly trigger a reboot.

That’s the memo.

–Tim May

138. Marnie Dunsmore Says:

@Tim May #136

OK, Tim. That’s too bad.

Regarding this statement:

“I think women and people of color would be best served by a kind of Reformation, a changing of their outlook. Perhaps they should even “appropriate” the learning values so many Jews have. They do disproportionately well in science, math, law, medicine, etc. precisely because learning and studying are valued.”

Men Explain Things to Me:
http://www.amazon.com/Men-Explain-Things-Rebecca-Solnit/dp/1608464660

139. Scott Says:

Marnie: I’m sorry that Tim’s busy, but if I’m an acceptable substitute, I’d be happy to have lunch the next time I visit the Bay Area.

140. anonymous Says:

After reading all the comments, Marnie appears to be someone who:

(1) interprets a lack of response from a job application as a slight (comment 75).

(2) believes the USA should “can the H1B visa and OPT” (comment 49). I guess I could say goodbye to a lot of the talent at top CS conference, for example.

(3) in response to someone else’s personal experience that differs from her own, cites the book `Men Explain Things to Me’ (comment 138) in order to dismiss it.

(4) evaluates people on their educational credentials: “a degree from last chance U” (comment 73), “Moritz himself has only an arts degree and an MBA” (comment 86). On a side note, doesn’t Moritz get bonus points for going into a profession outside STEM? 🙂

The tactics of trying to claim umbrage, shut out competition, and dismiss other people’s points of view based on sex or university credentials — these are warning signs. They may be effective initially (as many vocal online personalities have discovered), but in my experience, they speak to a weak argument.

141. Marnie Dunsmore Says:

@Scott #143

That would be great. I’ll send you my linkedin and email you with my contact info.

Thanks for hosting the blog, by the way. I really enjoyed the D-Wave discussion today.

142. Marnie Dunsmore Says:

anonymous #140

“(1) interprets a lack of response from a job application as a slight (comment 75).”

In fact, I’m not slighted at all, but mildly amused at the overall situation. Robert N. Charette, an IEEE Spectrum contributing editor, also notes that the job market for engineers is not behaving as if there were a skills shortage.

“(2) believes the USA should “can the H1B visa and OPT”

See Economic Policy Institute studies:

http://www.epi.org/blog/the-department-of-homeland-securitys-proposed-stem-opt-extension-fails-to-protect-foreign-students-and-american-workers/

http://www.epi.org/blog/disney-h1b-scandal-in-spotlight-meet-american-workers-whose-jobs-careers-were-destroyed/

http://www.epi.org/blog/bernie-sanders-is-correct-on-immigration/

http://www.epi.org/blog/new-data-infosys-tata-abuse-h-1b-program/

http://www.epi.org/publication/congressional-immigration-reforms-needed-to-protect-skilled-american-workers/

“(4) Moritz himself has only an arts degree and an MBA” (comment 86). On a side note, doesn’t Moritz get bonus points for going into a profession outside STEM?”

Numerous press articles have called out Moritz for, on the one hand, saying that he can’t find any women to recruit onto Sequoia’s board because “women aren’t graduating with STEM degrees”, and on the other hand, not having a STEM degree himself. No apologies from me for pointing out the hypocrisy in such a statement.

4. “evaluates people on their educational credentials: “a degree from last chance U” (comment 73),

Who doesn’t evaluate people in part on their educational credentials when it comes to professional qualifications?

143. Tim May Says:

Scott, #138, I didn’t say I was “busy.” I clearly said I have no interest in driving between 100 and 200 miles, taking between 2 and 4 hours, depending where in the Bay Area the lunch location wouild be, for a typical 1 to 1.5 hour lunch.

As I said, I live about 20 miles south of Santa Cruz, and it typically takes me over an hour to get to Sunnyvale, and about 2 hours to get to San Francisco….if the traffic is light.

Your mileage may vary, as the saying goes.

144. Amy Says:

Oh dear.

Scott, I’ll get back to your questions, which are interesting to me and the reason I’ve never lived in an English department (except administratively), later on tonight (I hope).

Tim, none of what you’re saying is new, and I’ve watched people bat it back to the point of tedium. So your position appears to be, in the end, “this should not be my problem, go fix it yourself if you’re unhappy.” Which, of course, ignores the choruses and reams pointing out with varying degrees of articulateness and poignancy why “fix it yourself” is at best naive. Less often do you hear why “this should not be my problem” is untenable. If you share a society with large groups of people who can’t, by the society’s own rules, do well without extraordinary effort and a fair amount of luck, their problems become your problems. You live with them in how you choose your neighborhoods and schools, in the uneasy awareness of how much of our population is either imprisoned or enlisted (something no less damaging psychologically, I think, than eternal, imbalanced war must be to Israelis, or apartheid was to South Africans)…these things become objects of fascination, culturally, because we can’t get away from them. Orange would never be the new black anywhere else. My friend’s son in Saffron Walden doesn’t have lockdown drills at school.

Anyway. The irritation with the women not “pulling their weight”, for instance — this turns out not to be so very difficult to deal with. You’ve already got a workday based on someone healthy with no major responsibilities outside himself, but you do recognize that he needs to sleep sometimes and spend a few waking hours not working. You’ve already chunked the work into sets of hours representing some number of employees. You can change the hours/day and the number of employees, and if you prorate the sal/ben the only expenses come in terms of managerial overhead and ensuring suitable communication when more people are on a project. But if you’re hiring more people for shorter chunks of time because those people, though skilled, are also responsible for other things and people in their lives, odds are good that they’re also quite responsible people with strong communication skills, so it’s not quite the managerial problem it looks at first blush.

Once you stop attaching virtue to the hard-man model and x-hour days, much is possible. I can’t remember the last time I worked in a “kill yourself thirty hours a day and call that your only standard of productivity” environment, and I find that the germane question is never “how many hours a day is this person putting in” or “how big a slice of this project does this person own” but “what is the quality and reliability of the work done and how well does the person integrate it with other people’s work; what good does this person do for the team”.

I am Jewish, incidentally, and am more aware with each passing year of the advantages of being born into a culture that prizes (and always has prized) literacy and argumentation, calls its central text the Law (because it is), has a long history that includes having been thrust into financial industries and having rather powerful breadwinner-wives supporting scholars, and is curiously (in any Christian context) unflapped when it comes to agnosticism and atheism, leaving biological sciences more open to us than they might otherwise have been. It’s relatively easy to succeed in the world we’ve got with this background (and it’s remarkable to me how readily the training and modes of thought are handed down. My daughter’s family will never likely be a music family, for instance, or a sports or military family, but she’s generations deep now in professors on both sides. She wants to be — surprise — a teacher, and her conversation is full of pedagogical observations. I work in STEM; so did my father, and my house was full of things brought home from the lab, Radio Shack kits, TRS-80-related bits, stoppers and squares of tempered glass). So to say to someone from a culture forcibly deracinated, then enslaved and kept illiterate, then exceedingly grudgingly freed, “go be like those other people” — this seems to me ignorant about how people learn to do as they do, and the effect of a family and a culture on a person’s mind, thoughts, abilities.

One other thing about Jews, by the way, Tim — according to a recent Pew survey, we tend not only markedly left (even now), but tend also to be acutely aware of discrimination against non-Jewish groups (except evangelicals and Catholics), and tend to view ethical behavior and intellectual liveliness as much more important to being Jewish than, say, belief in God is. So this entire post is, i’m afraid, a cultural cliché much more likely to come from an American Jew than from a mainline or black evangelical Protestant.

Oh, and Marnie, if I’m out there, I’d like to look you up too, if that’s okay.

145. Marnie Dunsmore Says:

Hi Amy,

Yes, I’ll look you up and email and link you. I think we would have a lot to talk about. Your posts are very thoughtful. I would love to read Faulkner.

Let me briefly say that I don’t need a pep talk about pulling up my boots to enter the professional workforce. I have three STEM degrees (two in EE, with a minor in CS, and one in Math and Physics). Although invited to continue to a PhD, I did not do that because I had the chance to join PMC-Sierra, a hot Sequoia funded startup (Mike Moritz was involved) back in the early 1990s.

It is considered to be de rigueur to work until 6pm in most of the Silicon Valley workforce. I make it a point to do this. And I’ve many times worked until 8pm, and weekends. (That being said, I would note that now with remote computing, it is possible to design, simulate and layout an entire ASIC sitting in bed at home in your pajamas, but that is a point for another time.) With remote design capability, in Silicon Valley today, it is now common to go home for dinner, and continue on with emails and IC design for several hours after dinner. A lot of designers now do this. Tim May’s description of Silicon Valley work style are somewhat outdated.

Regarding my family’s background:

I don’t normally go around parading my family background, but since several people here seem to think that I, and non Jewish people in general, lack the intelligence and work ethic to make it Silicon Valley, I’m going to be explicit.

My paternal grandmother was an Olmsted, a 13th generation descendant of the Founders of Hartford, Connecticut. While they murdered the Pequot Algonquians, a lack of hard work and professional work ethic cannot be attributed to this family. My grandmother’s father and grandfather built the town of Sutton, in Southern Quebec, just over the Vermont border. Through their family connection, they knew Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape designer of Central Park in New York, and many American University campus designs, founder of “The Nation” magazine, and author of “The Cotton Kingdom”.

Sutton, is a popular destination spot for tourists these days, and is known for the beautiful new England style buildings that my great great grandfather built.

My paternal grandmother was educated at McGill as a teacher and raised seven children.

My mother’s mother is descended from a prominent family in Manitoba, of Scottish descent, who were active in founding the University of Manitoba, and pushing for social justice. Like many Manitobans of her day, she was involved in organizing the Winnipeg General Strike (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winnipeg_general_strike). She knew Nelly McClung, and other women who were involved in the debate as to whether or not women under the law, were persons. She was highly active through her Church, the United Church of Canada, in social activism. After WWII, she was an English teacher who taught in Vancouver’s beautiful old Chinatown. Her cousin was a Rhodes Scholar and mathematician, who led the development of policy for the Canada Pension Plan and universal health care in his role as the lead actuary for the Finance Department, from 1947 to 1995.

Educated at McGill in Agriculture, my father’s father, was the head beef inspector for the Government of Alberta. His job involved travelling all over Alberta, as well as insuring the agricultural and financial integrity of the Alberta beef industry. He had diverse interests including hiking, photography, paleontology, the rock art of Southern Alberta, archaeology, gardening and classical music.

My mother’s father was a farm insurer for farms in the Fraser Valley. He was also a musician of classical recorder. One of his cousins was a professor at the University of British Columbia, in botany.

Both of my mother’s parents were huge fan’s of Broadway and especially of Gershwin. Through their various musical, advocacy and intellectual activities, they had many Jewish friends, some Japanese and Chinese friends, and some Native Salish friends.

Anyway, neither by training, ability, family background or work ethic, can my horrendous experiences as a woman engineer in Silicon Valley, be explained away.

Amy, again, I’ll contact you soon. I’m a bit piled up this weekend. Thanks for the great critique. It’s superb.

146. Amy Says:

luca turin #132: I believe it. Even in translation, he’s terrific so far.

Marnie #133: boy, I just don’t have a good enough background in 19th-c lit to be able to say. Who’s not trapped by their own time’s divisions of humanity and language about them, and simply accord all their people humanity? I haven’t read Olmstead. Not Hardy, for sure. Or Henry James, or Eliot, or any Victorian I can think of. Thackeray? I don’t think so. Not Stendhal either. Who knows what happened to the Russians in translation. I can’t think of anyone. But I haven’t read enough. Chekhov? I don’t know, sorry. With me you’re stuck with moderns.

That’s really the thing, isn’t it. Are all your people human, bit players and all.

147. Amy Says:

So Scott, your questions about aesthetics and who can say what. (#126)

A lot of what I saw seemed to involve doing bad amateur work in other fields (political science, history, etc.), “through the lens” of literary texts (not stories, plays, or poems, mind: texts). But since they talk only to each other, I guess nobody’s the wiser on the outside. I doubt very much whether many of the English profs in the country really understand their big theorists well enough to carry on the conversation. But — like I say — it’s not my field and I don’t really know what I’m looking at there.

So — am I neutral about the disappearance of aesthetics? No, but I also accept the reality as reality. It’s like these peppery conversations you get with ed people about talent, where they’re certain ain’t no such thing because they don’t like the inherent elitism. I don’t know what to tell them; I do know not to argue with them. Goes nowhere.

As for who can say what: well, consider Updike’s years, golden years of American lit. Rich country, doesn’t take too much to get along. A publishing industry manned by people who can actually read and do care very much about aesthetics, and who’ll babysit writers and give them allowances, waiting for something to develop. Magazine stories that paid, were you imprudent enough, as a writer, to acquire a wife and reproduce. A vast audience of overeducated housewives killing time in book clubs. You could live, as a writer, even if your daddy wasn’t rich, and you were beholden to almost no one. Sure, if you wanted to write approvingly about homosexuals and Commies, you’d have some trouble, maybe get blacklisted, maybe have an FBI file. But you could go on writing and eating.

By the late 1980s…you know, that literary world was dead in the US. Life had gotten more expensive, you didn’t know where you were going to get health insurance from (and you’d be ruined if you didn’t), the real editors were gone, replaced by marketing sharpies; the publishers were subsidiaries of media corporations. The housewives had gone to school and work. Magazines were born and folded after a few years; nobody had time for Norman Mailer. Even the bookstores were starting to die; B&N was taking over and that game would last only a couple of decades. The only people who really wanted literary writers were the universities, which had discovered that you could sell people master’s degrees in creative writing, and that industry boomed like crazy for about 25 years afterwards, first in fiction, and then — because fiction turns out to be hard, you have to have stories — in nonfiction, especially the memoir. So writers went stampeding into the academy and you had new ones grow up in there, thinking they were supposed to go be professors, because how else would you make a living.

This had not been Faulkner’s path. Or Updike’s.

You know yourself that academia’s an enforcedly polite place. There’s a great deal you can’t say even if you’ve got tenure. So writers shut up, choose safe things. If you’re a tenured poet teaching poetry, maybe you can be a little racy, maybe you can be impolitic, but you’re going to feel considerable heat anyway if someone takes notice and makes something of it. “It’s okay, it’s literary” doesn’t work so well with governors and marketing people. I know writers who simply hide what they write so long as they’ve got university jobs — particularly jobs outside the humanities, where anything to do with the experience of sex is taboo, and modern themes like alienation aren’t really welcome. I certainly wouldn’t publish some of my stuff right now; wouldn’t be worth my job to do it. That’s before you get to the question of the police state and keyword scanning. (My university, like others, is changing the name of its online registration system, currently called ISIS — not because they find the name offensive, but because students are worried about typing it in. I imagine that’s a serious concern for the international students.)

My guess is that between streaming kids into creative-writing programs through English-lit-theory programs and the tiptoeing in order to pay the bills and look inoffensive, we’re ensuring that the most vivid, interesting work’s being done elsewhere. Someone else’s stories. That has real consequence, but I don’t see a way for things to change. To have any important freedom of speech at this point, I think, you need either suicidality or independent wealth. And I’m not really convinced the wealth will do it.

Note, incidentally, that none of this discussion of who can say waht has been about avoiding shame or public pillorying. It’s been about the ability to stay fed and free.

148. Amy Says:

Rahul #50 – that’s actually exactly how my sixth-grade gifted math class used to work. Set of modules, take the pre-test, score high enough on a pre-test and you can skip the module. Feeling bold? Jump several modules ahead and try that pre-test. I don’t know what they did with the kids who came out the top (I got hung up on long division: the teal module); as far as language arts went, they more or less allowed me to do whatever I wanted. But that was a long time ago, long before the testing industry got to be so lucrative.

My courses revolve around papers and discussion, not tests. Even so, now and then I get a student who’s the real thing, and I take these students aside and let them know that the course is useless for them, and that if they want to do this as a de-facto independent study that’s fine with me; I just don’t want them wasting their time. They come and talk with me, and bring some work, so I can understand what they can do, who they read, where they’re weak, what they want to do, and then we design a project or two substantial enough to account for the number of semester hours, preferably something they can also use for something else — a portfolio piece of some kind, or specifically for publication somewhere. If they want to keep on coming to class and participating in the conversation, fine. If they don’t, and they’d rather stop by now and then to show me what they’re doing and talk about it, also fine. But I have the freedom to get away with this sort of thing, and few K12 teachers do.

*Could* they do it? Maybe, but probably not usually. I used to hang around on a gifted-ed listserv, teachers mostly; staunch advocates for the kids, but most of them were aware they didn’t have the academic chops to follow the kids deep into their own interests, so there was always the question of how to arrange independent-study sorts of classes or activities to the kids. Too often, I think, the kids were left to figure things out on their own, mentorless; the hope was they’d find a professor or someone else in the wide world who could evaluate their work. The teachers understood the need, in other words; just didn’t have good ways of addressing it.

Strikes me, now that I think of it, that this is an area where the MIT K12 network could be helpful, particularly for rural kids. Scott, what do you think? Do you know any of those people?

149. Marnie Dunsmore Says:

Amy, I can’t track your contact information down. My email is above, so feel free to send me an email.

NASA does fund some programs in rural areas to help kids gain skills in STEM.

Your comment about writers (and artists and musicians) not thriving in the US since the 1980s does resonate with me, to some degree. The situation is somewhat different in Canada. If you’re interested, I can share my thoughts with you about what is different about arts funding and the K-12 system in Canada, versus the US.

150. Scott Says:

Amy: I’m gratified that, despite our differences, we both seem deeply concerned about how to carve out space for people to say uncomfortable things and still keep their livelihoods.

I confess that I don’t know exactly what you’re referring to by the “MIT K-12 network.” I do know that there are lots of K-12 students who’ve been taking advantage of OpenCourseWare and EdX, and I think that’s a fantastic development. But it’s also extremely important that the K-12 schools cooperate—for example, by giving the students who need it a free period to sit in front of a computer and take these online courses, to release them from the requirement of taking the regular courses that they don’t need, and to count the online courses for graduation credit. (When I was 14, had finished BC calc, and wanted to take multivariate calculus through Stanford’s EPGY program, I found that my high school wasn’t willing to make any of those accommodations—even though the school wouldn’t have to pay a cent for them, or really do anything. So, that was the trigger that I seized on to go to skip out of HS and start at Clarkson University the following year.)

151. Amy Says:

Scott #150: right; my concerns are about who is harmed in what way by what kind of speech — because I do recognize that “sticks and stones” isn’t true, and I do worry about propaganda — and about the costs of speaking. US-centric, but while the First doesn’t guarantee an audience or a market or friends, impoverishment, imprisonment, and death threats…you can’t have important speech freedoms under those conditions. I am sure that sounds hopelessly old-fashioned, but I’m also aware of how the Stasi had nothing on an enemy with a search engine. Also of how our current sense of public/private affects how children are learning to speak, as they grow up.

The K12 network is a thing; let me do a little digging and see if I can post a link. We have projects here to do with rural STEM outreach, developed by faculty who themselves come from rural areas and are quite fervent about the cause. Might be nice to see if the two can work together. I was extremely lucky, by the way, in having some counselors and teachers who realized it was useless to try to stop me from reading in class, and just let me wander off to the library as I pleased. (They were less happy about my ditching K12 altogether.)

And Marnie #149, yes, I’d like very much to hear about those differences. I know some about CanArts support, much less about Canadian public schools. I’ll be in touch soon, too.

152. Marnie Dunsmore Says:

Amy,

Through grants, the Canadian Government (federal) and the provinces, fund a lot of cultural activities:

These events get a lot of funding also from businesses, but government funding provides a base from which these activities can be organized.

There are also government grants for writers, conservation, youth programs, fine arts, musicians, and Native Canadian Language preservation and revitalization.

Some of these programs have taken cuts under the Harper government. Harper’s government has finally fortunately been voted out of office ( I think, many people are breathing a sigh of relief.)

The K-12 education system in Canada is funded by the provinces. Funding is leveled across school districts, so poorer neighborhoods do not receive significantly less funding per head than wealthy districts. Schools are primarily administered by the professional staff of the school. The curriculum is determined at the provincial level, but is also relatively uniform across Canada.

Nine out of ten Canadians graduate from high school. There is no strict tracking, but in the eleventh and twelfth grades, students can specialize and take elective classes. Elective classes include subjects such as advanced geometry, world history of the twentieth century, environmental studies, indigenous studies, logic, world religions, shop (metal working, auto maintenance), and music. This varies to some degree by school. Core subjects include science (physics, chemistry, biology), math(pre-calculus, calculus), language arts (grammar, literature, essay writing, creative writing), physical education, geography, history, social studies and second language (usually French for English speakers).

There is no SAT test in Canada.

Canadians generally rank with European countries such as Finland and the Netherlands on the International PISA test, on all three components (Math, Science and Reading).

One recent focus in Canada is to improve the educational attainment of Canadian Native People, and to make the education system in these districts more compatible with traditional Native knowledge systems.

The Center for American Progress in 2013 did a study looking at how some Canadian provinces fund their schools:

“Canada’s Approach to School Funding:
The Adoption of Provincial Control of Education Funding in Three Provinces”

153. mtraven Says:

I’m surprised to find no mention of Ursula LeGuin’s novel The Dispossessed here, since the protagonist is an anarchist physicist and a large part of the plot involves him arguing that the revolution should in fact let him do his mathematics.

154. Marnie Dunsmore Says:

@mtraven

: )

Here’s the Amazon write up for that book:

“A bleak moon settled by utopian anarchists, Anarres has long been isolated from other worlds, including its mother planet, Urras—a civilization of warring nations, great poverty, and immense wealth. Now Shevek, a brilliant physicist, is determined to reunite the two planets, which have been divided by centuries of distrust. He will seek answers, question the unquestionable, and attempt to tear down the walls of hatred that have kept them apart.”

“To visit Urras—to learn, to teach, to share—will require great sacrifice and risks, which Shevek willingly accepts. But the ambitious scientist’s gift is soon seen as a threat, and in the profound conflict that ensues, he must reexamine his beliefs even as he ignites the fires of change.”

But what if Shevek is not seen as a threat, but as someone, who although very bright, keeps solving not most critical problems, and insists on blindly aggregating resources, at the expense of other capable, though less flamboyant, mathematicians, scientists and engineers?