Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It's Time to Hold Colleges Accountable

The Occupy Wall Streeters are certainly justified in railing against their student loans. College recruitment efforts manipulate students into thinking for the enormous time and money, they'll learn a lot and be professionally employable. The truth is far different.

Perhaps most insulting, the powerful higher education lobby has pressured the government to make student loans the ONLY loan that cannot be discharged through bankruptcy. Indeed it is time to rage against the higher education machine.

My latest Washington Post Big Idea column argues that we must shine a light on what colleges actually do: that is, to prominently post a Report Card with such items as:
  • What percent of freshmen graduate in four years, broken down by high school record?
  • What percent of graduates are, within six months of graduation, professionally employed, broken down by major and high school record?
  • How much do students grow in critical thinking from freshman to senior year, disaggregated by high school record?
Not only would that inform consumers, it would likely finally pressure colleges into spending less on ego-driven new buildings, fat administrations, and silly-research-focused professors and more on transformational undergraduate instructors, mentoring, and a career center that actually is helpful. It might even push colleges to replace lackluster lectures with courses taught on video by a dream team of the world's most transformational instructors.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Direct Evidence that Intelligence is Half Genetic: New Hope for Closing the Achievement Gap?

Many people believe that intelligence, like most human characteristics, is affected both by genes and environment.

Indeed, studies of fraternal and identical twins, especially those of identical twins raised apart, summarized in the chart above and, for example, THIS, provide strong evidence that intelligence is roughly half genetic. A survey of 661 experts on intelligence found that the large majority believe intelligence has a significant genetic component.

But there hasn't yet been an analysis of actual genomes to prove that...until now.

THIS study of 3,511 people's genomes was published on the prestigious last month but remains largely unreported by the media. The abstract reports, "Our results unequivocally confirm that a substantial proportion of individual differences in human intelligence is due to genetic variation."

What are the implications?

The bad news

This has to be a blow to educators and social policymakers, who, for a half century now, have been betting billions of tax and charity dollars that the achievement gap could be significantly reduced or eliminated by redistributing resources to improve the environments of low-achieving children and adults by more spending on education, job training programs, self-esteem programs, etc. But just as in a long-distance car race, tuning-up a VW Bug that's running miles behind a Porsche doesn't make it likely to catch up, it appears ever less likely that tuning-up low achievers' environment will close the achievement gap to the extent we all hope it will.

Indeed, that study may help explain why, despite massive expenditures on the widest range of such programs, from Head Start (which, in the definitive metaevaluation, alas has been found to have no impact on the achievement gap) to Stop Drop, the achievement gap remains as wide as ever.

Especially in this era of massive federal, state, and local deficits, we might want to ask ourselves how wise is it to continue to reallocate billions of dollars from gifted education to special education, from regular education to compensatory education. Indeed, our core federal education mandate, No Child Left Behind, and other major programs such as Title I, plus much nonprofit funding do that.

The good news

The good news is that the Nature study would seem to point to a new direction and new hope for reducing that achievement gap. In light of that study, the next steps would seem to be to discover the specific genes responsible for intelligence (something China is already doing) to develop a safe and ethical way to replace defective genes and then making available, on a purely voluntary basis, the option to have that gene therapy so prospective parents could help ensure that their kids don't start life with a genetic strike or two against them.

To ensure that option doesn't exacerbate the gap between rich and poor, it should, like most medical services, be fully covered under MediCal (the free health care program for the poor,) and under ObamaCare. In addition, special outreach to low-income communities should be provided, emphasizing both the therapy's availability and its being completely optional.

I would imagine that the therapy would most benefit families of multigenerational low achievement. If my parents were low achievers, I were a low achiever, and now I heard that intelligence was half genetic and there was a free, safe, and effective therapy that would improve my children's chances of having high intelligence and, in turn, be more likely to be successful in school and in career, I'd sign right up.

Here is the study's abstract.

Genome-wide association studies establish that human intelligence is highly heritable and polygenic

G Davies, A Tenesa, A Payton, J Yang, S E Harris, D Liewald, X Ke, S Le Hellard, A Christoforou, M Luciano, K McGhee, L Lopez, A J Gow, J Corley, P Redmond, H C Fox, P Haggarty, L J Whalley, G McNeill, M E Goddard, T Espeseth, A J Lundervold, I Reinvang, A Pickles, V M Steen, W Ollier, D J Porteous, M Horan, J M Starr, N Pendleton, P M Visscher and I J Deary

General intelligence is an important human quantitative trait that accounts for much of the variation in diverse cognitive abilities. Individual differences in intelligence are strongly associated with many important life outcomes, including educational and occupational attainments, income, health and lifespan. Data from twin and family studies are consistent with a high heritability of intelligence, but this inference has been controversial. We conducted a genome-wide analysis of 3511 unrelated adults with data on 549692 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and detailed phenotypes on cognitive traits. We estimate that 40% of the variation in crystallized-type intelligence and 51% of the variation in fluid-type intelligence between individuals is accounted for by linkage disequilibrium between genotyped common SNP markers and unknown causal variants. These estimates provide lower bounds for the narrow-sense heritability of the traits. We partitioned genetic variation on individual chromosomes and found that, on average, longer chromosomes explain more variation. Finally, using just SNP data we predicted ~1% of the variance of crystallized and fluid cognitive phenotypes in an independent sample (P=0.009 and 0.028, respectively). Our results unequivocally confirm that a substantial proportion of individual differences in human intelligence is due to genetic variation, and are consistent with many genes of small effects underlying the additive genetic influences on intelligence.

Deathbed Courage

May deathbed courage yield a 10.3.

And a tsunami.

Note: No, I'm not dying.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Holiday Season is the BEST Time to Find a Job

Many job seekers make the mistake of stopping their job search during the holidays. There are terrific opportunities that could get you a job offer as a Holiday present:

I'm not social and so I avoid parties but if I were looking for a job, I'd make myself go to as many Holiday parties and fundraisers as possible.

There, I'd introduce myself to the people most likely to help me, and be my most engaging self: asking about them, listening well, asking follow-ups and talking about myself just enough that it doesn't seem like I'm interrogating them. My rule of thumb: talk 25-40% of the conversation.

Before asking for a job lead, I'd try to find an opportunity to help the person, for example, volunteer to help them with something, introduce them to someone they might like to meet, or even just give them some information they'd like to know. For example, if they love Thai food, I'd tell them about my favorite Thai restaurant.

That said, I would mention that I was looking for work. I'd keep it brief and positive, for example, "I'm looking for my next job. This time, I'm going after what I really want." (insert target work.)

If appropriate, at the end of a conversation, I'd hand the person an understated business card. VistaPrint offers great cards and THIS special discount link to VistaPrint offers unbelievable prices.

A day or two later, I'd send a hand-written note card to people with whom I've had a good conversation.

Send Holiday cards. Non-religious, peace-and-good-will-types are safe. If you insert a Holiday letter, mention your job-seeking only briefly and positively, per the above. Mail or email your cards early so people receive them in time to invite you to Holiday parties.

Volunteer. There are many opportunities during the Holiday season. It's a great way to meet other charitable folks as well as to make career connections.

The day after Thanksgiving and during the few days before Christmas right up to Christmas Eve afternoon, contact prospective employers. They're less likely to be busy and more likely to be in the Holiday spirit.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Is it Too Risky to Advocate for Men and Boys?

I have written much on the terribly unfair--relative to their merit-- treatment of white men and boys.

Just one example: the longevity gap between men and women has increased from just one year in 1920 to 5.2 years now. Yet 95+% of the gender-specific medical research over the last 60 years has been on women's health. There's a federal agency and 39 state agencies on women's health, none on men's.

The Obama Administration has created a powerful White House Council on Women and Girls but rejected our compelling proposal for a White House Council on Boys and Men. Forbes recently did a long article on it.

Perhaps even more frightening are the distortions on race and gender issues. For example, the media and even the president continue to promulgate the misleading statistic that women earn 77 cents on the dollar, when there is solid evidence, for example, THIS, that for the same quantity and quality of work, women earn--depending on the study--only slightly less or slightly more than men. And that when women earn less, while there of course are a few Neanderthal sexists out there, the main reason is not prejudice but the choices women make. For example, see THIS National Academy of Sciences study about why women scientists are "underrepresented."

An easy way to access some of my writings on race and gender is to click on "men's issues" and "race" in the label cloud on the right side of this blog.

The unfairnesses to men and boys are terrible not just for them but for society. My most deeply held belief is that meritocracy is more likely than egalitarianism to yield the greatest long-term good.

But we must know which battles are worth fighting lest we squander the precious little time we are given. As the Serenity Prayer wisely says, "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

Alas, after fighting this fight for two decades now, I'm forced to conclude that the net impact of my efforts to bring merit-based fairness to men and boys has been negative. I have written perhaps 100 articles, op-eds, letters to the editor, and a book, The Silenced Majority, submitting each to 10 or more media outlets and they're almost always rejected. HERE is one reject that particularly disappointed me. Perhaps their being rejected is simply because my work is inferior, although somehow when I write about politically correct matters, my work is routinely published. I'll leave you to judge my work's quality, but certainly my long-sustained efforts seem not to have helped the situation at all. Indeed, white men and boys are, net, treated more unfairly than when I began writing and speaking on the topic. The main effect of my efforts seems to be damage to my career.

So I've concluded, subject to revision, that this is the wrong era to write honestly about race and gender. It seems that today, we can hear only that women and minorities are victims or heroes. And in my judgment, that is unlikely to change for the foreseeable future.

So if you notice that my future writings discuss such issues less or not at all, that's why.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Reinventing Federal Taxation

HERE is the link to my latest Washington Post "What's the Big Idea" column. It proposes replacing the federal income tax with a progressive national sales tax. It would likely end up being only around 10% because I would legalize and tax prostitution and would tax internet sales--it's unfair that local retailers must charge tax while corporations like Amazon needn't.

On this blog, I mentioned that the Post had only committed to my writing five columns, but now, they've extended it to being an ongoing column. My next one will advocate requiring all colleges to post an externally audited, substantive report card on themselves, including student growth, graduation rates, employment of graduates by major, etc. That would both help students pick a college wisely and embarrass colleges into reallocating resources from fancy new buildings and fancy-salaried administrators to better teaching, mentoring, and career services.

The column after that, unless something more news-pegged emerges, will be on reinventing our system of criminal justice.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Getting Motivated, Staying Motivated

Tomorrow, I'll be giving a talk to a large group of long-term unemployed professionals. My topic: getting and staying motivated.

Today, for many people, even many solid professionals, a job search has become a marathon. The willpower to stay that long course has become essential.

Whether or not you're looking for a job, perhaps you might appreciate seeing a draft of the handout I'll be distributing to them. Feedback welcome.

Getting and Staying Motivated

If you haven't already, redo your resume. Inventorying yourself usually increases your confidence.

Do it the fun, easy way. Is it more fun for you to network, e.g., always lunch with someone? Cold contact? Answer ads?

Try something new: For example, if networking events haven't worked for you, try a professional conference or trade show, especially the exhibitors. Or answer ads--but only if you can write a top-of-the-heap application.

Break it down into baby steps. Use the fundraising thermometer my wife used?

Choose a narrow focus and become expert at it. Remember my client who decided to specialize in software product management.

Commit publicly. Tell everyone you're looking. Your fear of embarrassment may motivate you.

Get confronted. I'm finding myself more motivated to lose weight since my doctor said, "You're not cosmetically fat but you're getting medically fat. Your BMI is 27."

Daily check-in, perhaps with a ProMatch colleague, perhaps using a reward and/or punishment for each daily goal. Or use

Establish a deadline. For example, wife said, "No job in six months? I'll take over your job search."

Volunteer or take a low-level job to put structure in your life, get you moving, and meet people. Particularly good are organizations in your field--that makes you more knowledgeable and connected.

Afraid of admitting you're looking for a job? Remember, today, so many are looking. Also, frame it as a positive: "This time, no settling. I'm going after what I really want (insert your target work.)

Afraid of sounding stupid? Practice, then start with your least desirable leads. And realize that with each subsequent contact, you get a fresh start.

Afraid of rejection? Successful people are rejected a lot. They learn from failures and move right on. No wallowing. And remember: being ignored is the new rejection. It's not that you're not worthy even of a rejection.

Afraid of imposing? You're asking for no more time than in asking for directions. If the person wants to give you more, that's his choice. Too, you're not asking for a handout; you're asking to work for fair pay.

Ambivalent about success? 1. Even bad people deserve a shot at redemption--honest work redeems. 2. If your success gets you more work, you can set limits. 3. Is it right to sabotage yourself because someone wishes you ill? Perhaps that person shouldn't be part of your life.

Find inspiration: a personal role model? A book? A quote? Religious faith? A famous person? Remember Churchill's so-frequent failures.

Make your job search not a choice. Simply force yourself to start working. No excuses. This is so basic, but for many people it's what most-often works. If necessary, just start with a one-second task. My father didn't think about whether it's pleasant--Snow or shine, he took a bus, two trains, and a six-block walk to open that miserable, little store every day.

One-minute struggle. If you haven't made progress over a stumbling block in a minute, you're unlikely to. You'll just get frustrated and be less likely to job-search. Get help or do it without solving the stumbling block.

Procrastination is a career killer. Remember: 80% of unemployed people say they're procrastinators versus 25% of employed professionals.

Stop abusing drugs/alcohol. Some people are helped by a 12-step programs, others by behavioral therapy, others by support from friend(s) and family.

Might you be clinically, not situationally, depressed or be bipolar? If so, exercise, music, and some cognitive-behavioral therapy, perhaps without drugs, may help. HERE is a link to solid information on depression. HERE is a link to solid information on bipolar disorder.

Might you have ADD/ADHD? If you're highly distractible, try eliminating distractions, and exercising. If that's insufficient, it might be worth asking a specialist if ADD medication is worth a try.

Embrace work. S/he who tries to accomplish as much as possible rather than as little as s/he can get away with is much more likely to stay employed, avoid depression, feel good about himself, and make a difference.

Remember my dad's story: Never look back. Always look forward.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Is it Time to Diminish the Importance of Sex "Scandals?"

Why is humankind so silly as to continue to judge our candidates based on issues so marginal to their ability to lead?

I would never vote for Herman Cain, mainly because I've found him to be unintelligent, vague on the issues, and more evasive even than the typical politician. But before accusations of unwanted advances, he was on top of the GOP heap. Why in the world should he said/she said, old accusations about such matters bring down any human being, let alone a leader?

For me, the most outrageous example is of course, is Bill Clinton who was impeached, yes impeached, because he lied about having had consensual sex with a temptress. And smart up-and-comer Elliot Spitzer had his political career ended merely because he saw a high-priced prostitute and didn't admit it. Would you?

How ironic that is in an era in which sexuality from gay marriage to open marriage, YouPorn to transexuality have become matter-of-fact. HERE is a list of 20 such U.S. politicians merely since the sexual revolution of the '60s. *

In part, this is yet another feminist power grab: Women milk a slight--real or trumped-up--for all they can get: "You played around with me? Okay, now give me what I want or I'll bring you down." And among journalists, a man refusing to write about such "invasions," risks being called insensitive by his female colleagues, which in this terrible job market for journalists, is enough to ruin his career.

Feminists say that women have what it takes to rise to heights in the workplace, yet some of those same people can't seem to endure an "unwanted advance," or the psychological aftermath of consensual sex with their boss without running to their lawyer or to the press.

Let us take this Herman Cain "scandal" as an opportunity to look inward and ask ourselves whether we're viewing sex "scandals" fairly. More important, shouldn't we redouble our efforts to select and judge our leaders based on factors more central to their ability to lead than whether they propositioned their secretary, oops, "administrative assistant?"

Update: I've just become aware that Cain is now being accused of having offered a woman a job if he had sex with her. If that is true, in my opinion, that rises to the level where it should be considered in assessing his fitness to lead.