Tag Archives: quantitative revolution

The deprofessionalization of teaching

The theme Barry touches on is the deprofessionalization of teaching.

The same thing happened with postal masters. Formerly, working at a post office was a professional position. Workers had to know the overall logistical system of the United states, to be able to read any arbitrary address in the world, and provide the correct routing information for that address.

Zip codes ushered in deprofessionalization. Instead of having educated, intelligent, well-paid post masters, one could simply provide every post office in the country with a table that has every zip code in the country on one column, and a truck that connects to that post office in another. No thought necessary. Just look up the zip on the table, and put it in the right basket. No zip code? There’s a basket for that, too.

The advantage, of course, is that society can get away with paying a lot less for postal workers. Additionally, because there is now a “right” answer for every situation, this can be measured in a scientific manner. The post office can use industrial engineering principles, reducing the variation in outcomes while improving the average accuracy of the process.

The same thing is and will happen to education, I think. “Programmed instruction,” No Child Left Behind, and other techniques allow the deprofessionalization of education. Teachers may be given a workbook to follow, classroom rules to follow, and a “right” answer to every thing. Give every student a rugged $100 netbook loaded with Rosetta Stone-like software, hook it up to Paypal so that students get more with every right answer on a standardized test, and suddenly we really don’t need educated teachers.

Barry’s emphasis on virtue, moral work, practical wisdom, etc, is a call for the mass professionalization of the work place. This is as likely to happen in education as the public’s willingness to support professional-level salaries for teachers.

Quality Control of Children

Eugenics (the improvement of the mean and variance of the phenotype of the next generation through manipulations of the genotype) is as important, necessary, inevitable, and morally correct as anti-poverty initiatives, programs to teach middle class values, and “euSES” (the improvement of the mean and variance of the phenotype of the next generation through manipulation of socio-economic status).

Gene Expression: Picking the perfect baby

“But the main issue is the idea of treating the child as an object, as product for which you are seeking quality control,” Dr Tonti-Filippini says.

1) Part of this is publicity, you can get only so much information out of genetic tests right now (see Genetic Future). Take a look at Genetic determinants of hair, eye and skin pigmentation in Europeans, and note how much higher the odds ratio (20-30 vs. ~5) for OCA2 “blue-eye” markers are vs. the ones which might give some information about hair color. The same differences in effect size apply to disease loci. I suspect many people will balk at paying up when confronted with the provisionality of some of the inferences.

“Quality Control” (the scientific regulation of variance and mean production outcomes) is what you get when you do not want to pay professionals enough to do the job as a craft. For instance, law has no ‘quality control,’ in the strict sense, because those who have an interest in high-quality law simply pay more money for a better lawyer. The factory that made your iPod, however, is all about ‘quality control,’ as its payscale is just enough to attract and hold off-the-farm uneducated female laborers.

As a society, we long ago decided we weren’t going to pay teachers enough to avoid quality control. So now we’re getting it, with No Child Left Behind.

Through No Child Left Behind, Bush proved himself to be the greatest pro-education and pro-civil-rights President since Abraham Lincoln. It is easy to denounce your enemies and send in the troops. Such destructiveness can even be politically popular. But it does not help in the real goal of increasing the knowledge base of learners. Quality control does that.

Interestingly, through the 2009 Stimulus, Barack Obama may prove himself to be the greatest pro-eugenics American since Margaret Sanger. As long as health care (incudling physical health, mental health, wellness, and aptitude toward financial literacy) is considered to be a private problem, the role of the federal government in improving it is limited. However, Obama’s quest to expand health care to children, the unemployed, and other groups is a stalking horse for a truly national health care system.

When the difference between in vitro gene therapy is $100,000 in later medical bills out of parents’ pockets, it’s a private matter. When the difference is out of the taxpayer’s pockets, we get into the world of policy.

Unless Obama overturns the substantive parts of No Child Left Behind, Bush’s education legacy will continue until the end of the Republic. Unless the next President overturns the substantive parts of Obama’s national health care proposals, Obama’s eugenics legacy will continue until the end of the Republic.

Confirmatory research, not physics envy

As part of the roundtable on Clausewitz’s On War, Joseph Fouche makes this point regarding Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan:

One of Taleb’s main themes is the tendancy for specialists in any field to develop physics envy and attempt to reduce the horrifically complex phenomena that they are studying to a deterministic and mechanistic theory complete with complex equations. This doesn’t lead to a higher level of truth and accuracy. It leads to a higher level of systematic self-deception and delusion. It creates financial weapons of mass destruction such as an MBA armed with a spreadsheet and the belief that manipulating rows and columns bestows the ability to prophesy. Vain is the life of man.

Joseph’s mention of ‘physics envy’ is a common put-down against quantitative research by those who enjoy qualitative research. But there is another, better, way of framing the debate: exploratory research and confirmatory research.

Confirmatory research includes the tools that most researchers think of as “quatitative,” such as analysis of variance (ANOVA), multiple regression, chi-square tests, and so on. Confirmatory research is also what we might call Popperian science, after the famous philosopher of science Karl Popper. In confirmatory research, we begin by having a research question, we translate it into null and alternate hypothesis, we device our experimentals, and attempt to reject or fail to reject our null hypothesis, as the case may be. Confirmatory research can be thought of as the process of trying to infer the parameters of a population from the statistics of a sample.

Exploratory research, on the other hand, is an attempt to understand the world so that a sensible research question can be asked in the first place. Some exploratory techniques are also quantitative. Exploratory Factor Analysis (EFA) and exploratory Principle Components Analysis, for instance, are exploratory statistical techniques without any null hypotheses that allow researchers to examine the various rotations of the hidden factor structure in a data set. Other exploratory techniques may be called theoretical research. In this approach, a researcher goes through large body of research to tease out hidden themes and discover gaps in existing research. Lastly, the sort of qualitative research implied by the initial questions to this problem are exploratory qualitative research. The focus is on understanding a process, rather than estimating the parameers of a population from the statistics of a sample.

While not all quantitative resarch is confirmatory, all qualitative research is exploratory. Hence the intended gist of the questions in this problem. The difference between exploratory research and confirmatory research is that the former attempts to understand a process, while the latter seeks to estimate the parameters of a population from the statistics of a sample. The first of these is always true of qualitative research. The last of these is sometimes true of qualitative research. To phrase it more simply: confirmatory reseach (that is,some of quantitative research) is driven by theory, or should be; exploratory research (that is, all qualitative research, and the rest of quantitative research) drives theory.

Boyd and the Quantitative Revolution

First impressions of the new book, The John Boyd Roundtable: Debating Science, Strategy, and War are popping up all over the blogosphere. On the second day of its general availability, both Mike Tanji add their thoughts. My chapter in the Roundtable, the History of the OODA loop, was based on an earlier post on my blog.

As was this piece, which criticized the usefulness of the OODA loop:

While I’ll always be a fan of the OODA loop, a great conceptual model of human cognition, it does not help me in predicting outcomes. That’s why I generalized Horn et al to create a domain-knowledge/general-ability/motivation/behavior model of performance.

The OODA loop is certainly a “true” model of two-system processing, where a good Orientation can allow you by bypass conscious Decision making. However, it does not have a good way of telling reasonable applications from just-so stories.

Boyd’s OODA loop was a product of the Cognitive Revolution, that burst through psychology discovering internal mental processes that mediated behavior. However, the OODA loop may become a victim of the Quantitative Revolution, that is currently overthrowing much of the academy and the public schools, and is needed for any form of quality control. As OODA is described as a reaction to the Zero-Defect mentality, an early attempt to bring the Quantitative Revolution to military affaris, this would be an ironic fate.

The Destruction of the Academy in the United States

The American Academy is under unreletening assault. It will not survive.

American Politics Aren’t ‘Post-Racial’ – WSJ.com
Still, what happened at IUPUI is a pungent reminder of all that’s possible now in the rarefied ideological atmosphere on our college campuses – and in this presidential election year, not perhaps only on our campuses.

The story began prosaically enough. Keith Sampson, a student employee on the janitorial staff earning his way toward a degree, was in the habit of reading during work breaks. Last October he was immersed in “Notre Dame Vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan.”

Mr. Sampson was in short order visited by his union representative, who informed him he must not bring this book to the break room, and that he could be fired. Taking the book to the campus, Mr. Sampson says he was told, was “like bringing pornography to work.” That it was a history of the battle students waged against the Klan in the 1920s in no way impressed the union rep.

The assistant affirmative action officer who next summoned the student was similarly unimpressed. Indeed she was, Mr. Sampson says, irate at his explanation that he was, after all, reading a scholarly book. “The Klan still rules Indiana,” Marguerite Watkins told him – didn’t he know that? Mr. Sampson, by now dazed, pointed out that this book was carried in the university library. Yes, she retorted, you can get Klan propaganda in the library.

Of course, the universities will be successful. Higher (in the sense of graduate and post-graduate) learning will be successful. Science will be successful.

But the intellectualism that only barely existed for a century in the United States is a goner.

Its most visible enemies have been the Leftists and their fellow-travelers, who beginning with the rising generation of the 1960s and 1970s overthrew traditional fields of study like geography, history, archaeology, and literature in the service of Leftist ideals.

Both the old Academy and the Leftists, however, are under even more heartless attack from the Quantitative Revolution, the measurement-and-control movement that subjects everything to test-and-reject, measure-and-fund, quantitative certainties.

The romantic academia that lives in our heart is dying or dead. Given a future between the Tyranny of Leftists and the Tyranny of the Quantitative Revolutions, my sympathies go to the quantitativists. They save what can be saved, submitting the universities to Research, Application, and funded Goals.

A colder but more efficient academy is being born. One that has as much room for Leftism, or the joy of learning, as IBM Global Services.

The Quantitative Revolution

Revolutions break eggs to make omelets. Omelets are tasty. Broken eggs are messy. Hence, the essential problem of revolutions.

Of all the controversies I have learned about since entering the University of Nebraska, none has fascinated me so much as the Quantitative Revolution. The Quantitative Revolution, or QR, has radically transformed social research in academia. It is as much of a revolt against all that has gone before as Marxism. QR is a rejection of all that would interest a bright adolescent in social research. It is also, I think, all that can save social research from Marxism.

To understand this war, think about politics, or psychology, or geography, or any of those subjects that interested you when you read an Encyclopedia as a kid. Think of the Plato and Machiavelli pondering Politics, Freud and Adler plumbing the subconscious, and explorers and theorists deciding what is a Sea and what is a Bay. This is social research as it existed from antiquity to sometime in the 20th century.

Now throw that out. Instead measure things, and note what varies with what.

That’s the Quantitative Revolution. It’s very powerful, because it’s actually science: It provides a way of showing you when you are wrong, and a methodical way for supporting your intuition when it is right. Is man, for instance, truly a political animal? Well, measure where his nature comes from (neatly dividing it into biological influences, non-biological influences shared with one’s siblings, and non-biological influences not shared with one’s siblings) among a diverse enough population, regress it, and suddenly you get answers. More than that, you get repeatable answers which allow you move on to something else without throwing your old work away.

Yet QR is a profoundly dull revolution. All the great questions become matters for vertical thinkers and technicians. An academic career in the era of the QR essentially is the process of limiting your imagination to one or two good tools, and measuring variation with those tools. The sort of people who enjoy being accountants, I think, love life under the Quantitative Revolutionaries.

Yet the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and QR targets its wrath most consistently against the Marxists, dead-ender followers of a 19th century Revolution that have burrowed themselves deep into academia. Marxists have spent a century developing a self-consistent toolbox of rhetoric that has dispatched non-Marxists in nearly every academic field. Every place the Quantitative Revolution has not taken and held, it seems, is territory in which Marxists rapidly make their home.

I despise, I think, the Quantitative Revolution for depriving academia of the qualitative give-and-take that is so common in the better parts of the blogosphere. But I delight in the ease at which the Quantitative Revolution unseats the Marxists every time it gains a foothold, overwhelming the Marxist immune system through dull questions of covariation and how-do-you-know-if-you-are-wrong?