William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Page 4 of 758

The Weakening Of College Credentials

Picture from The Audacious Epigone

The picture above is the result of a 10-question quiz given to (purported) college graduates from 1974 until last year, taken from the site The Audacious Epigone. That gentleman’s description and analysis of the plot should be read by all.

The GSS vocabulary test may be this, as discussed at the Inductivist. It is a series of 10 questions, each multiple choice, where one has to know the definition of these words:

Level 1: Edible (96.2%), Broaden (96.1%).

Level 2: Space (84.4%), Pact (84%), Accustom (82.1%), Animosity (77.9%).

Level 3: Cloistered (38.6%), Caprice (35.3%).

Level 4: Emanate (28.7%), Allusion (25.7%).

This was taken from the comments of somebody calling himself Jason Malloy. The percentages are the average correct responses, perhaps over the entire public and not just the graduates.

Now I take it as a given that every regular reader of this site would score 100% on this quiz, and would not be taxed unduly in the effort. Indeed, I take it that knowledge of these words (and the words used in the multiple choices) would be the bare minimum, and really below that minimum, for a college graduate. If you can graduate “college” and not know what allusion means, the degree awarded has little value.

There is a fuzziness to the plot not shown, which must be accounted for when we want to apply the results to the public as a whole. But we’ll take it rough and ready, and not read too much into it.

When we’re asked by some social service worker, or whomever, “Here, take this vocabulary quiz”, the average, and indeed more intelligent person, might become bored and rush through. Mistakes not related to knowledge happen. Which is why, the Epigone plotted nine or ten correct.

Four decades ago, 12% of the population had degrees. Today, 33% does. If, in the early seventies, that 12% roughly corresponded with the top 12% of the IQ distribution, then the 6% of the population that aced the Wordsum test would comprise 1 in 2 of those grads. If today that 33% roughly corresponds with the top 33% of the IQ distribution, then the 6% of the population acing the Wordsum test would be a bit more than 1 in 6 of today’s grads.

More or less, plus or minus. What’s more concrete is the increase in the public who have “degrees”. The Census bureau estimates in 1940 about 5% who had a Bachelors or higher, rising to about 25% in 2009. High school was completed by about 25% (by age 25) in 1940, jumping to somewhere north of 80% in 2009.

In 1940, one had to come from a non-poor family or be of high intelligence to graduate college. And we have all have seen the tests from the days of yore and know that the material that the graduates were expected to know then was of a much higher difficulty than today. Here is a test from 1912 for eighth-graders, containing a spelling test at least much more taxing than the GSS WORDSUM.

It is obvious that the material from 1912, even suitably updated for our current year (“Which president was impeached, and on what charge?”), would be too much for many enrolled college students today. The score for college graduates on the WORDSUM should be 100%, or very close to it, recalling the ambiguity in identifying college degree holders and the impatience with taking a boring test and so on. But in 1974 it was only 50%. And today it is about 15%.

Obviously, 1974 is after the turmoil of the ’60s, when the inflation in education set in hard. We can’t look to dates before this because of the GSS’s inception, but I can’t see anybody seriously arguing that something well north of (say) 95% of college students graduating in 1940 would not have aced the test. There would have been a tailing off after World War II, as we might expect, because of the GI Bill, but the sharpest descent began around 1968.

Just think:
the “first accredited women’s studies course was held in 1969 at Cornell” (Wiki). It was straight downhill after that.

The conclusion is obvious: the majority of college degrees are of little value in judging a person’s intellectual capacity. Inflation has set in with a vengeance. Given the push by our leaders for more to enter college—to get a “degree” and not to gain an education—the value of the degree will continue to decline.

In the limit and if our masters have their way, everybody by age 25 (or whatever) will possess a Bachelors degree. At that point, the degree is of no value in discriminating intellectual ability. How could it? Everybody, by definition, has one.

You Will No Longer Be Able To Trust Anything You See

Creating doubt was not the goal of the fine people who created the technology highlighted in the following video, which is required viewing:

From their abstract:

We present a novel approach for real-time facial reenactment of a monocular target video sequence…Our goal is to animate the facial expressions of the target video by a source actor and re-render the manipulated output video in a photo-realistic fashion…The mouth interior that best matches the re-targeted expression is retrieved from the target sequence and warped to produce an accurate fit. Finally, we convincingly re-render the synthesized target face on top of the corresponding video stream such that it seamlessly blends with the real-world illumination. We demonstrate our method in a live setup, where Youtube videos are reenacted in real time.

Emphasis please: reenacted in real time.

And, to my simple eye at least, they have done a marvelous job. I am sure there is, as there always is, more work to be done. But they are well in stride.

I can imagine with ease that NBC has their checkbooks out now, ready to fund this new and profound way of “enhancing” the news. Helping certain personages say what they really meant to say must and will be seen as a great benefit at that network (among others). Do recall that TV now adds sounds of all kind (like laughter, etc.) to programs, including news programs. Enhancing and “sweetening” the video will not be seen as different.

Question: how will you be able to trust anything you see?

Answer: you will not. Not wholly. The suspicion of enhancement will always be there, lurking.

Why Is Rape Wrong? Science Has No Answer

The sobbin’ women.

Rape, right or wrong? Depends on how you define rape, you might say, Very well, define it how you like. Now answer the question: right or wrong?

Here is what science tells us about rape. It occurs more often at this time of day than at that time. It is, science might say, more likely to be perpetrated by a person known to the victim than a stranger. Women in the years from twenty to fifty have a better chance of being raped than women younger or older. Women commit rape at rates less than men. Rape is common in prisons of a certain sort. Men will rape women and other men. Rape in times (so-called) pre-historic, rape accounted for some non-negligible proportion of births.

When a woman is raped, she undergoes the following list of traumas, some physical, some psychological. These traumas will very in severity based on this set of circumstance. Pregnancy via rape occurs at such-and-such a rate, depending on these mitigating factors. Women who are raped abort their babies this number of times more than women who conceive absent rape. The children produced from rape are like compared to children conceived in absence of rape. Women almost always view their rapists in a negative light, but sometimes this emotion softens over time, as in the case of the Sabine women. Some, both men and women, submit to rape in order to avoid more drastic violence, like a beating or a murder. Some submit to rape because of blackmail.

Men rape for the following reasons, and women for these. The observed rates of these reasons varies according to this formula, which accounts for a given set of circumstance. To prevent rape or to greatly reduce its likelihood, follow these guidelines. Men who are convicted of rape are seen to serve the following sentences. The punishment women rapists face differs in this and that degree, and matching here. A man who has raped before is this much more likely to rape again, and that much for women recidivists.

Now all these rates, proportions, severities, lists, circumstances, mitigating factors and so forth, can be quantified to various degree, some being fairly certain, some carrying substantial doubt. The list of subjects tracked and observed can be added to or subtracted from. Predictions can be made based on the uncertainties in any of these things, and these predictions can be verified. The models responsible for the predictions can tweaked, fixed, abandoned, or be validated.

But here is what science says when asked whether rape is right or wrong. Nothing.

Whether rape is moral or immoral, good or sinful, legal or illegal, is not something which can be decided by science. Science, you will recall, tells us what is or what might be about the contingent. It never says what should be.

Now rape occurs at a rate of x per 1,000 (this figure is also conditional on some set population). Does that mean rape is x/1000% moral and 1-x/1000%? That implies if we found ourselves in a (let us call it) robust land where there was lots of rape (x is large), then rape would be akin to speeding on the freeway. Such “lands” exist, for instance in countries beset by large-scale war. Rape is war is mostly good, not evil. But then in a quiescent land, where x=0, a rape, should it occur, would be infinitely bad.

Women rape at rates less than men. Is a woman caught raping guilty of a lesser crime because women on the whole rape less than men? This would be like saying a Dane who murders is guilty of a lesser crime than a United States citizen who murders, because Americans murder with more frequency than the Danish. The exact severity of the crime in either instance can be quantified (to whatever degree) based on some function of the observed rates.

Maybe rape is wrong because it can cause “unwanted” pregnancies? If that is so, women cannot be guilty of rape, and neither can a fertile man having unwanted sexual intercourse with a pre-pubescent girl or a post-menopausal woman be considered rape. Either way, that a pregnancy is not desired is not a scientific question. Whether human desire can be crudely quantified is a scientific question; whatever that quantification is is not.

Yet rape is good way to pass on genes. A man who can successfully rape lots of women heightens his chance of passing on his genetic material. And does not science say that the “goal” of life is to pass on genes? If so, then whatever boosts the opportunities of sexual transmission is good. The more a man can rape, and not be prevented in doing so, say by being restrained, the better his actions are. This is tricky because having acting towards a “goal”, or rather calling that goal good, is extra-scientific; it is itself a judgment. One might say that rape is not good for the species as a whole, perhaps arguing that the rapist cannot care for his progeny adequately. But the good of a species, whether that species thrives or expires, is again a judgement and is not scientific.

This exercise can be continued for every trait thought related to rape, and the answer will be the same in every instance. Science cannot extrapolate from the observation to morality. And there is another difficulty, Even the list of traits thought related to rape is not free of moral judgment. A man is convicted of statutory rape. “But judge,” he pleas, “She told me she was sixteen—and just look at her!” Whether the judge is right to consider this a mitigating factor, and whether he alters his judgment based on that factor, is also not a scientific question, even though science can (perhaps) quantify how likely fifteen-year-old girls pass for sixteen.

Two choices are thus possible. If ones want to swear allegiance to reason and science only and to nothing else, then one has to admit rape is not wrong, and it’s not right, either. It just is. Worse, it depends on a subjective definition, which itself has no scientific bearing. Rape happens, and that is that. Even the word rape is a prejudice. Some people have sex in this way and some in that, and that the best that can be said. This view is scientism, the argument that only scientific judgments count. Yes, science will say, some people claim rape is wrong, evil, or sinful. But that is merely yet an another emotion that can be quantified. One can make decisions based on the measurement of these emotions, of course. Don’t try to have this kind of sex in this place, because the natives will call it “rape” and punish me. But the desire not to meet this punishment is itself not a scientific judgment; it itself is only another prejudice. Indeed, every action you—or anybody—takes about anything is prejudice and wholly arbitrary.

The second choice is to look outside science, to philosophy, metaphysics, and religion. There why rape is immoral can be discovered. This is acknowledgement that science cannot provide the answer. Rape really is wrong because of a principle derived or deduced from these areas of knowledge. How to make these deductions is non-scientific, although science, via observation or projection, can inform these deductions. Science is not useless in deciding morality because we all these deductions move from the observed to the principle. But the deductions and derived principle is not itself scientific.

Rape was chosen as an example because it so obviously wrong.

Why I’m Unconvinced By Penrose’s Entropy/Anthropic Argument

There are a number of “constants” used in physics, such as the speed of light, the Planck constant, elementary charge and so forth. Some of these constants are bare, meaning they do not have a dependency on other constants, and some are derived from other constants, like vacuum permittivity (which is an exact formula of the speed of light and vacuum permeability, the latter being dependent on the definition of ampere).

Now these constants appear in certain formulas, and these formulas are derived by arguments, the lists of premises of which are very long and contain both observation and (ultimately) metaphysical premises. For instance, all use math, which is not observational. The constants “fall out” of these formulas, and are estimated via experiment. Their values are not deduced directly as, say, the value of π is in mathematics (there are many formulas for calculating the value of π, all based on argument).

If in any of these physics formulas a constant’s value can be derived, it is no long really a constant, but an assumed true (given the prior argument) value.

Though experiment can assist in estimating constants, conditional on the arguments which imply the constants’ existence, what follows is nobody knows why these constants take the values they do (nobody knows why π takes the value it does, either, though we can compute its value). Since constants are not derived, it could be that they are not real, in the sense they are not really part of the universe; it may be that they are estimating or summarizing groups of effects, that because the formulas which imply them might be incomplete, the constants are only parameterizations, in the same sense of probability models, or of encapsulating more fundamental processes as yet unknown. Or it could be they are real, in which case their values might be deduced. But it’s only “might” because it does not follow that we will ever know the right and true premises which lead to their deduction.

If the constants are only parameterizations, then arguments based on “choosing” constants, as is Penrose’s anthropic-like entropy argument, rely on false premises.

But, like most physicists do, I think the constants are real: they are the Way Things Are. And that means they were caused to be the way they are. They were made to take the values they did. The question then becomes why these values and not others.

It turns out, physicists like Penrose say, that assuming the arguments in which the constants appear are true, that if the certain values of these constants were to vary in only a minuscule way, the universe would look far different than it does now, even to the extent that life like us could not possibly exist. These non-life-universe arguments appear sound, remembering they are all conditional on assumed physical theory.

It turns out that only an exceedingly narrow range of the standard constants allow a universe anything like this one. Using an entropy argument well summarized in Robert Spitzer’s New Proofs for the Existence of God (pp 52-59; we’ll be going through this whole book), Penrose shows the creation of the constants had to have the “accuracy of one part in 1010123“, which is mighty precise! (In case your browser does not render that math, it’s 10 to the 10 to the 123rd power.)

This argument is not only premised on assumed physical theory, which is uncontroversial, but it also assumes there was a choice possible in the value of the constants.

There is no way to know or prove this choice existed, even for God. It could be, do not forget, that one or more of the values of the constants might be deducible, we just yet do not know how. We might some day discover how. In that case, we will have proven this constant had to have this particular value, with no choice about it. Penrose’s number would be reduced by some amount for each new deduction. If we could deduce all the constants, then it would appear the universe was inevitable, under Penrose’s interpretation.

But this is all doing it the hard way. That the universe exists at all, rather than nothing, is sufficient proof of the existence of God.

One possible line of escape, used by some and also summarized by Spitzer, is to assume all the “universes” which had the “allowable” values of constants really do or did exist; thus, they say, solving the choice problem. Or quantum mechanical arguments imply the constants are chosen “randomly”.

It should be obvious these are fallacies. The same unproven premise is there, that the constants could be different than they are, that a choice was possible. If a choice was possible, there had to be a chooser, or some simpler, more basic mechanism that led to the particular values.

But then what accounts for this constant chooser? It could be God directly, or other more fundamental still physical processes. If the latter, these had to come from somewhere: they could not have come from nothing.

Every path taken by these arguments leads to the same origin, which is Ultimate Chooser, the real true and sole reason the way things are are The Way Things Are. The nature of nature has to have an explanation, and that explanation can never, not ever, be nothing. The explanation has to be something outside nature, and the only candidate for that is God.

Incidentally, I do not agree with any probabilistic argument used to prove God’s existence, e.g. this one from Swineburn.

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