Some public intellectuals are pretty vacuous, but others (Caplan) make serious cases via data.

Maybe we just need more serious public intellectuals to figure out exactly where Caplan and these establishment authors are reading the data differently, and illuminate that point of difference so that we can figure out who's correct.

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I think that there is a bit of a danger that someone can convincingly write a book that is incorrect and in contrast with not just the majority opinion but reality as well. I take the side that Caplan is actually correct. I think we can't really put any fault on him for writing well and in a fun manner.

Now, maybe it would be a concern if he was fun, but totally unrigorous. Is he insufficiently rigorous or is there evidence that he has not done a deep dive of the literature? I'm skeptical because he has explained his research process and been critical of others for not fully reviewing the literature such as in this debate linked below.[1][2]

Caplan: "There is the ideal thing, which is you go to google scholar yourself and try reading it. And of course, don't just do google scholar to find the paper that says what you want it to say but rather do a large search. By the way, one of the main when I search is I deliberately search for things that are going to say the opposite of what I want to believe and then take a look at that and read that as well as I can. "

The article that you linked to is critical of the signaling method and references Caplan and his arguments explicitly. Is Caplan less rigorous than those authors? Should we trust them because they are less fun or entertaining? Probably not. And you admit to not being certain of who is correct, which is fine but to note, my copy of Caplan's book has about 43 pages of references with roughly 19 per page, for a total of ~817 citations.

A very intelligent and interesting writer Philip E. Tetlock, who's career was largely based off critical analysis of expert opinion and how to accurately predict the future, says this of Caplan: "Bryan Caplan is as dedicated to discovering the truth as any scholar I've met in my 40 years in academia—plus a really nice guy." I am not sure what further arguments to make about the correctness of Caplan's argument without diving into the specific arguments, which I found convincing.

Imagine an opposite world in which ~99% of people believe that education is purely for the purpose of signaling and few people attends high school or college. In fact, the government spends 1 trillion dollars on discouraging people from attending high school and college. Within the contrasting 1%, there is an author who writes a book citing 817 sources making an argument that education is actually probably 80% human capital and only 20% signaling. But the book is chided as dangerous. Should we be against this public intellectual?

My take on this is that the burden of proof is far on the side of those advocating for the trillion+ dollar subsidies that are given to education. If Caplan is correct, this is a colossal waste of not just money, but time as well. This is literally millions of years of productive adults time spent engaged in a behavior that could potentially be mostly a waste of time. This level of waste is so incredibly large it boggles my mind if Caplan is correct.

I'd like to make a quick point. Imagine you started an Anki deck 4 years ago and haven't reviewed it longer than 1 month. Then someone hires you on the basis of your ability to retain those Anki cards. I think that would be pretty preposterous. It doesn't make sense, because you know--since you're familiar with Anki-- that you quickly forget what you do not recall. The memory decay function is exponential. Knowledge quickly approaches 0. It seems difficult to imagine the information learned being particularly worthwhile if it is not recalled. This is discussed more in chapter 2 of his book of course.

"Sometimes I write about political science and reference a couple of papers I’ve read without really knowing what I’m talking about. The last thing I would ever want is for someone to think that because I had said something, it was probably true." You write interesting things. I expect the individual facts to mostly be true but to not always agree with the interpretation or weigh the evidence in the same way. If I thought what you said wasn't at least probably true, then I wouldn't read you. If I thought it was nonsense, then literally nobody should read you. Your blog would just be pollution and noise. But obviously, you put thought behind things and you fairly interpret sources but make some mistakes or I disagree with interpretation, it happens. Don't see yourself _that_ short! ha

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOa53H96K0s?t=57m

[2] [1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOa53H96K0s?t=61m

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i think there is a better equilibrium than “public intellectuals are bad” which is “other intellectuals should present their work more interestingly”

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Mar 9, 2022Liked by Sam Atis

Another not-totally-fleshed-out-idea: The counterfactual world is not one where people are critically reviewing the literature themselves. Nor are they even doing the work to determine expert consensus. Absence someone grabbing their attention, their opinion will be shaped by some combination of intuition and local authorities (parents, grade school teachers, religious leaders). Those are all great ways to come up to speed on local, concrete knowledge, but are not clearly better Vs. “public intellectuals“ when both are venturing far outside of their domains.

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It's hard to trust the boring stuff too. Someone who makes a better case without too many appeals to academic studies is more convincing.

On education: the paper you linked was not convincing at all. Their only source that the certification value of US university degrees are small is Kane and Rouse (1995), a 28 year old study which looked at both 2 and 4 year degrees. That's the best academia can do to defend itself?

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>It might signal you have some skills, because you were able to get into a good university and had the willpower and intelligence required to pass all the courses

Yes, immensely so. But the word for that is not "signalling" (even less so within a false dichotomy with "human capital building") -- the word for it is "filtering". "Filtering" in a world where not all people were created equal, and where the employers are looking for a subset-of-all-people that was *filtered* in a very particular fashion.

The word "signalling" implies superficiality and shallowness, often with hypocrisy mixed in. It is adequately applied to Hollywood stars in gated mansions with bespoke private security tweeting about defunding the police.

The word "filtering" is *anything but* shallow. What do those employers who have their head screwed on right, really wish to filter for? Don't take it from me, take it from Spolsky and his hiring advice for software companies: https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2006/10/25/the-guerrilla-guide-to-interviewing-version-30/ To spare you a long (and very good) read, it is two things. In Spolsky's words, "a) Smart, and b) Gets things done."

In your own words above, it is *precisely* the combination of a) intelligence, and b) willpower. Spolsky lays out all the reasons why an employer must look for both a) + b). There is an abundance of people who are intelligent but without particular willpower, and also an abundance of people with willpower but without particular intelligence -- and a discerning employer will not wish to hire any of them, as Spolsky elaborates.

Any additional "human capital development" that the schooling might or might not have instilled, is a nice-to-have. Whereas the a)+b) is a must-have. The value of an educational degree had, until relatively recently, indeed been proof of you having passed a solid filter for intelligence and willpower both.

The segments of modern academia that are overrun by wokeness have annihilated both of those long-standing foundations. Its coddling of students all but eliminates the filtering on willpower. Its introduction of dogmatic doctrines (which "challenge preconceptions" without ever allowing *themselves* to be challenged) is simply doing away with filtering for intelligence, replacing it by filtering for blithe conformism. In short, they are making academia and its titles to stop having any practical value to employers.

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How do you update your priors when someone with a following (peterson/chomsky) says something highly incongruous (various peterson claims/chomskys imprisoning on non-vaxxed people). What I’m trying to express is how I will just completely lose trust in public intellectuals the when they make a strong statement I find deplorable. Similar to correcting for gell-mann amnesia.

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Thanks for the counterpoint.

Are the "likes" of the post just for your personally or is substack evaluating the number of likes?

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