Irregular verb watch

by Kieran Healy on July 21, 2011

I am someone focused on trying to figure out what the right answer is. You are a skeptical aggressor. He, on the other hand, is an asshole.

{ 45 comments }

1

otto 07.21.11 at 8:29 am

Yes indeed. And if you were a student going to a meeting with a famously asshole-ish university president, who scarcely bothered to pretend to listen to tenured faculty or even deans in the Harvard system, you might indeed think about putting on a jacket or tie.

2

rea 07.21.11 at 1:05 pm

Two guys in suits meet with a university president to complain about a multimillion dollar business transaction gone bad. The university president quite reasonably points out that this has really nothing to do with the university–the fact that everyone involved was a university student at the time doesn’t make it the university’s problem. The two guys in suits are . . . less than pleased with this response. Had the come to him dressed as students, and asked for advice, they might have got a more sympathetic reaction.

3

Bloix 07.21.11 at 1:50 pm

“Did we 10 years ago foresee everything that happened with respect to derivatives? Absolutely not. Would I have acted differently with the benefit of everything that I’ve seen over the last 10 years? Of course.”

Asshole.

4

ajay 07.21.11 at 1:50 pm

if an undergraduate is wearing a tie and jacket on Thursday afternoon at 3 o clock, there are two possibilities. One is that they are looking for a job and have an interview; the other is that they are an asshole.

Sounds about right, yes.

5

dsquared 07.21.11 at 1:57 pm

If you are making a speech to an audience of female science professors, about your thoughts on the biological reasons why there aren’t many successful science professors, then there are two possibilities … but I’m not sure what the other one is.

6

Jared 07.21.11 at 2:51 pm

@Bloix: yes, that sounds extremely Rumsfeldian.

7

jaggedi 07.21.11 at 3:11 pm

Jared: Fitting, given that Larry Summers is the Rumsfeld of economics.

8

Michael Bérubé 07.21.11 at 4:47 pm

dsquared @ 5: surely he was simply focused on trying to figure out what the right answer was?

9

hartal 07.21.11 at 5:40 pm

http://www.cordeliafine.com/delusions_of_gender.html
Couldn’t put it down, very well-written. I have two daughters.

10

More Dogs, Less Crime 07.21.11 at 7:08 pm

I suppose if you’re in a subjectively important meeting with the university president, it wouldn’t be odd to wear a tie. It’s as likely that Larry decided he didn’t like them, and then recalled their attire thinking “Dead giveaway”.

My recollection of his controversial remarks were that he said there were social pressures which hampered women and universities like Harvard should reform themselves to correct for that problem, which isn’t controversial but sometimes forgotten that he said it. His claims about math ability were misreported so that later data was trumpeted as disproving him when in fact it support the actual point he was making (about variance):
http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2008/07/summers-vindica.html

11

Patrick 07.21.11 at 8:57 pm

With notably rare exceptions, we approached the economic future, including derivatives, with perspicacity and caution.

With no exceptions, the people in that room wearing ties were assholes.

This is fun.

12

stostosto 07.21.11 at 10:13 pm

It would seem Mr Summers changes his opinions when the facts change. Which is more than you can say about many other assholes.

13

John Protevi 07.21.11 at 11:31 pm

@ hartal, #9: excellent book. This is a true LOL moment, on p. 129:

“And so it seems as though fetal testosterone has become the explanation of choice for gender inequality in science. In a 2005 conference on diversifying the science and engineering workforce, Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard University, controversially suggested that women might be intrinsically less capable, on average, of high-level science. Fetal testosterone was rushed to the scene of the mishap. In the New Republic, Steven Pinker … “

14

hartal 07.21.11 at 11:47 pm

Yes of course let us move beyond the fetal testosterone hypothesis. Still Summers was quite right to raise the possibility that genetics plays some role in the achievement gaps that we see. After all, were it not for genetic superiority of women and blacks, the gaps would be much bigger than they in fact are, given the social forces arrayed against them. I am not sure that this is the point that Summers was trying to make, however.

15

hartal 07.21.11 at 11:57 pm

John,

Just to be clear: that was my attempt to make a bad joke. But as Ned Block once pointed out the “genetic hypothesis”, the modern day equivalent of accusations of being a witch, insinuates itself into reasonableness by situating itself in between those who say genetics plays no role and those who think it is sufficient to explain the extant gaps.

So reframing the choices as
the disadvantaged group is genetically inferior to some extent;
there are no group-based genetic differences and
the disadvantaged group is genetically superior to some extent

makes the truthful position the middling, reasonable one.

16

John Protevi 07.22.11 at 12:29 am

Hi hartal, #14 is not really a bad joke, though it’s good to get your clarification in #15. Fine’s book, as well as Rebecca Jordan-Young’s recent Brainstorm (link here) should be widely discussed, in any case. I take one of their points to be that “male” and “female” are just too abstract to be useful categories. Leaving aside intersex issues (but that’s a big thing to leave aside in this context), I find a number of common strategies Fine and Jordan-Young use in criticizing reductionist accounts gender differences (non-exhaustive list):

1) what is the sample size?;
2) from what population are the male and female sub-populations drawn?;
3) are the studies ignoring greater variation within the sub-populations than between the means of the sub-populations?;
4) have they *really* controlled for ontogenetic / developmental effects?

But let’s not get too far away from the topic of the thread, Our Dark Lord Himself, Dr Summers.

17

hartal 07.22.11 at 12:56 am

Yet the male and female forms are not simply abstract , though as you suggest the categorial system does violence to those whose genetic, chromosomal, hormonal and morphological sex are not concordant. Human sex differences are to some extent performative– no citation necessary there. Yet there seems to be the question of why the evolution of male and female forms proved useful at all, given the advantages of parthenogenesis from the (reified) gene’s point of view. Reproduction through sex reduces by half one’s genetic representation in each progeny. Why did it evolve? It was really some time ago that I read John Maynard Smith’s explanation for the evolution of sex; I think Gabriel Dover mocked it. Oh to have that knowledge on one’s fingertips. . .
And what were we supposed to be talking about. . .

18

Lee A. Arnold 07.22.11 at 4:09 am

#17 “Why did it evolve?”

Look at it the other way: it may have been from a split into two, by some very rudimentary, partly-diffentiated SINGLE organism. After the split the two halves co-evolved into the recognizable sexual dimorphism. So it wasn’t selected because it was particularly useful — it was a spandrel that gathered functions.

It is probably tied into the appearance of bilateral symmetry. If a radially symmetrical creature with a defined anterior/posterior pole were to split like the slices of an orange, you would get a bunch og left/right, dorsal/ventral bilaterally symmetrical creatures.

19

John Protevi 07.22.11 at 4:13 am

And what were we supposed to be talking about. . .

I think it was the relation of Dr Summers (or more precisely, his character) to the nether regions of human anatomy.

But more seriously, I’d say (or better, Fine and Jordan-Young say) that “male” and “female” are categories that are too abstract to account for behavioral differences in highly cultural activities like mathematics and engineering.

About the evolution of sex, I have the Margulis and Sagan book, Origins of Sex, but I haven’t worked my way carefully through it. But I love her / their other stuff, so I’m sure it’s a great read.

20

Lee A. Arnold 07.22.11 at 4:14 am

a bunch OF left/right, dorsal/ventral creatures… If you took , say, eight blueclaw crabs and tied them elbow-to-elbow to make a circle, you rearrive at the radial symmetrical forebear perched on some coral reef a billion years ago that foraged and reassembled over and over until one day it finally split for good.

21

hartal 07.22.11 at 5:45 am

John: “I think it was the relation of Dr Summers (or more precisely, his character) to the nether regions of human anatomy.”

Are you saying that in an earlier time he may have mused in that very vicinity about the anatomical existence of a witch’s teat used to suckle familiars?

22

JP Stormcrow 07.22.11 at 6:42 am

Global capital markets pose the same kinds of problems that jet planes do. They are faster, more comfortable, and they get you where you are going better. But the crashes are much more spectacular, and the people making money from them don’t get hurt in the crash.

23

hartal 07.22.11 at 7:18 am

Clever! And because you can get hurt in a jet crash, you won’t take too much risk for a thrill; but you can go broke for a profit in the capital markets. Still haven’t the read relevant paper by Akerlof and Romer that Krugman featured on his blog a year ago.

24

ajay 07.22.11 at 9:12 am

Reproduction through sex reduces by half one’s genetic representation in each progeny. Why did it evolve? It was really some time ago that I read John Maynard Smith’s explanation for the evolution of sex; I think Gabriel Dover mocked it. Oh to have that knowledge on one’s fingertips.

There are really two questions: why sex, and why sexes.

The reason why sex is (an increasingly large amount of evidence suggests) that it reshuffles gene complexes from generation to generation to allow either

a better chance of some offspring surviving in unpredictable conditions (this has been observed in, IIRC, rotifers and aphids),

or more commonly

it allows hosts to keep ahead of parasites by reshuffling things like the MHC1 complexes which determine susceptibility to infection (this is the Red Queen hypothesis).

Why sexes is another way of asking “why do some creatures produce a few big gametes and other produce millions of small ones, rather than everyone just producing a number of medium-sized ones” – after all, you don’t need sexes to get the reshuffling advantages listed above – and the answer seems to be that the latter is an unstable equilibrium; you get a bit of an advantage by moving away from it in either direction.

18 and 20 are bonkers, of course, but entertainingly bonkers.

25

ajay 07.22.11 at 9:15 am

22 is great, but in defence of modern jet planes it is worth saying that they are much, much safer than old prop planes (as well as being faster and more comfortable) and the same isn’t necessarily true of modern capital markets.

26

Tony Lynch 07.22.11 at 9:23 am

Thank you for all the Foster Wallace.

27

derek 07.22.11 at 11:13 am

Reproduction through sex reduces by half one’s genetic representation in each progeny.

That’s only relevant if the two sexually-reproducing parents are having half as many progeny as two asexually-reproducing parents would have. If they have the same number of progeny between them, then they have the same total genetic representation, albeit mixed up in the case of reproduction through sex.

28

dsquared 07.22.11 at 11:55 am

“albeit mixed up” is a bit of a huge caveat in context. I have the same genetic material as Barbara Streisand, albeit mixed up.

29

JP Stormcrow 07.22.11 at 12:02 pm

dsquared@28: I have the same genetic material as Barbara Streisand

With notably rare exceptions.

30

ajay 07.22.11 at 1:05 pm

27 also makes a good point. If one bird can gather enough food to raise one chick, then it doesn’t really make much difference, from an evolutionary point of view, whether she raises one asexually produced chick on her own, or two sexually produced chicks with the help of a mate. One times an r of 1 is the same as two times an r of 0.5.

28 misses the point.

31

Lemuel Pitkin 07.22.11 at 1:33 pm

18 and 20 are bonkers, of course, but entertainingly bonkers.

Yes. Someone seems to have mistaken The Symposium for a biology textbook.

32

roac 07.22.11 at 2:03 pm

Having been pipped at the post on the Plato reference, let me ask this about 18: The spandrel thing is Gould’s, right? But my impression was that it hadn’t gone down at all well with other students of evolution. Am I mistaken?

33

dsquared 07.22.11 at 2:43 pm

If one bird can gather enough food to raise one chick, then it doesn’t really make much difference, from an evolutionary point of view, whether she raises one asexually produced chick on her own, or two sexually produced chicks with the help of a mate.

“From an evolutionary point of view”, though, in this case just means that the gene for sexual reproduction will continue to itself be reproduced. So actually you don’t have to stop at two sexes – “from an evolutionary point of view” in this sense, it doesn’t matter if you’re a worker bee who doesn’t reproduce at all but gathers food for a queen bee that’s fertilized by a hundred different drones. Niles Eldredge, IIRCAIMN, uses this example in “Why We Do It” as a reductio for why the gene-centric view isn’t a good way to think about things from an evolutionary point of view.

34

More Dogs, Less Crime 07.22.11 at 3:22 pm

Protevi:
Again, my recollection was not saying there was a difference for averages, but variance. I know psychometricians have tried to make culture-free tests (one of them even has the phrase in the name), but I don’t know if that changes the relative sizes of variance between genders.

A new theory:
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2011/07/everything-i-didnt-know-about-sex/

The number of intersex people seems small enough not to have any bearing on Summers’ take on the representation of women at elite universities.

35

Lee A. Arnold 07.22.11 at 7:30 pm

@32 –Right, spandrel isn’t the concept, or fuzzy concept. For one thing, a spandrel is supposed to be an unused portion of a structure. I don’t know if there is a word for a mutation that survives but doesn’t at first have an evolutionary advantage, i.e. it is not “selected” for a long time to come.

If a sort of ancient coral sponge had some sort of tube insertion structures, but after the regular dispersal it didn’t recruit and reaggregate, (because of a new gene mutation), then you might have male and female individuals floating in the water that wouldn’t function until they accidentally met.

What I am trying to point out is that on the question of the origin of sex, “why sex is,” many evolutionists seem to be looking for an explanation of its appearance in “the survival of the fittest”, but perhaps it did not have a selective advantage at first, and perhaps not for a long time to come. (E.g. it may not have been because of provision of genetic variation.) If the organisms were small and incredibly numerous, that would suffice. But if you entertain a structural explanation like this, the next step is to wonder why, in the higher animals, the sex organs are in the center line of the bilateral symmetry, (as are the beginning and ending of the digestive system). What selective advantage would the origin of bilateral symmetry have over radial symmetry? There is greater motility, and two eyes, ears, arms, antennae give you certain stereoscopic advantages, thus extending your perception and manipulation, but it is hard for me to imagine that these are all selective at the very small scale. Was it just an accident of structural bifurcation?

36

John Protevi 07.22.11 at 7:49 pm

Dogs: yes, I went for the quick-and-dirty summary as discussion continued after what I thought was a one-off LOL moment in which I quoted Fine’s brilliant “fetal testosterone was rushed to scene of the mishap. In [Even The Liberal; my addition] New Republic, Steven Pinker…”

But yes, to be precise, History’s Greatest Martyr, Dr Summers, said there was greater male variance in aptitude for traditional male occupations. In other words, there are more smarter and dumber men, whereas women had less variance, so the smartest women aren’t as smart as the smartest men, while the dumbest women are not as dumb as the dumbest men. Or better, once you get into the “smartest” and “dumbest” ranges there are more men than women in those ranges.

But the important point, my dear Dogs, as I’m sure you know, is not the means vs variance bit, but the innate vs acquired bit. Let’s continue.

How is smartness and dumbness measured according to the Poor Persecuted President of Harvard? Newspaper reports said he was looking to “top scores on science and math tests in late high school years,” adding later: “”Research in behavioral genetics is showing that things people previously attributed to socialization weren’t” due to socialization after all.”

Here is Jordan-Young’s take on it (I really do recommend her book): “Quite a few pundits and scientists have claimed that Summers was skewered [by vicious, bloodthirsty feminazis, {my addition, JP}] for simply mentioning the possibility of innate sex differences, and that these comments ‘cost him his job’ [casting him onto the cold streets of Cambridge, er, pushing him even further into the arms of Wall Street {my addition, JP}]. Summers did not simply “mention the possibility” of innate differences, though. He skipped an entire morning of presentations that were devoted to exploring recent empirical research on structural and social factors that exert differential pressure on male and female faculty members, then delivered a speech in which he proffered the opinion [that’s a polite was of saying he was talking out his ass {my addition, JP}] that the most important factors in sex disparities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers are probably not social factors like discrimination or structural factors like a needlessly male-oriented tenure clock, but sex differences in interests (what he called the “high powered job hypothesis”) [that’s a fancy way of saying women are felines, if you see what I mean, and I think you do {my addition, JP}] and in abilities.” (p. 293, n. 2).

37

Lee A. Arnold 07.22.11 at 8:34 pm

I did not mean to derail the thread. I think it is absolute nonsense to say that women aren’t as well equipped for hard sciences. I think there are already more females graduating in life sciences and medicine, which are more complicated anyway. I think genetic determinism on this issue is mostly nonsense and it isn’t going to matter soon, in any case.

On the original matter: When he was chief economist of the World Bank, Lawrence Summers also wrote the following memo, which was leaked:

“Just between you and me shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging more migration of dirty industries to the LDCs [less-developed countries]?…

“A given amount of health-impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which would be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that….

“Only the lamentable facts that so much pollution is generated by non-tradable industries (transport, electrical generation) and the unit transport costs of solid waste are so high prevent world-welfare-enhancing trade in air pollution and waste.”

–quoted by Stephen A. Marglin in his book, The Dismal Science: How Thinking Like an Economist Undermines Community (Harvard, 2008) p. 37. Marglin adds,

“The Economist (February 8, 1992, p. 66), to which the memo was leaked, found the language ‘crass, even for an internal memo,’ but [the Economist further wrote] ‘on the economics his points are hard to answer.’ “

Herman Daly writes that in the same period of time, he asked World Bank chief economist Summers at a Smithsonian conference whether the basic ecological economics diagram of the human economy (as a open subsystem within the larger ecosystem) suggested that the size of the economy could be a pressing issue, and whether economists should be looking at the question of an optimal scale for the economy relative to the environment. Summers replied, “That’s not the right way to look at it.” –Herman Daly, Beyond Growth (1996, p.6)

Around the same time, Summers’ response to the question, “What’s the single most important thing to learn from an economics course today?” was the following:

“What I leave my students with is the view that the invisible hand is more powerful than the hidden hand. Things will happen in well-organized efforts without direction, control plans. That’s the consensus among economists.”

Which is equal, of course, to saying “That’s the consensus among half-wits.” Because you would have to be rather precisely half-witted to make that statement to students. There are surely two sides to economic growth, the advantages to trade and the reduction of trade costs, or rather specialization and institution.

Buckminster Fuller once commented upon viewing a boxing match in Las Vegas was that he was sure that humans are evolving, though perhaps not all in the same direction. Summers has no right to call anybody stupid.

38

Straightwood 07.22.11 at 9:37 pm

Like many star professors, Summers considered himself one of THE CHOSEN, but having an intellect 10% better than his peers did not equip him for problems 1000% more difficult than what he could handle. His insufferable arrogance is a symptom of the behavioral distortion that the academic star system creates. Henry Kissinger rolled off the same Harvard super-star assembly line. The best and the brightest, indeed!

39

bad Jim 07.23.11 at 8:45 am

Bacteria, though they reproduce asexually, can still enjoy conjugal relations with other bacteria, which suggests that sex is more about information sharing than hygiene.

Concerning Larry Summers and his notorious sexist remarks, one thought I never shared in the ensuing furor was that he was probably right to think that the star performers in math and physics would nearly certainly be male in the foreseeable future even if the differences in performance are merely cultural, so hiring only men could be a smart bet in the short term.

40

TGGP 07.23.11 at 7:26 pm

It appears Summers’ speech is no longer at its previous URL. Somebody hosts a transcript here though:
http://designintelligences.wordpress.com/lawrence-h-summers-remarks-at-nber-conference/

41

David 07.23.11 at 9:07 pm

My small contribution to the Summers love-fest:

http://bit.ly/mOqjty

42

Lee A. Arnold 07.23.11 at 10:08 pm

I’m stuck immoderately in comment moderation.

43

hartal 07.24.11 at 3:43 pm

Ezra Klein recently quoted Summers:

‘ “I think Keynes mistitled his book,” Summers says. “The correct title would have been ‘A Specific Theory of Collapsing Employment, Interest and Money’. What his book really was about was the proper understanding of the convulsive downturns to which a free-market economy is intermittently prone.” ‘

Yet by “understanding” I do not think Summers means “explanation”; to develop an explanation of convulsive downturns, Summers and Keynes would have to engage Marx more carefully (and a Marx not formalized in terms of the straight jacket of the inherently static linear production theory). For Summers, understanding means framing convulsive downturns in such a way that it can be reversed by technocratic measures. He is true to Keynes here, for Keynesianism is essentially what Henry is calling left neo-liberalism.

44

Lee A. Arnold 07.24.11 at 6:12 pm

When he was chief economist of the World Bank, Lawrence Summers also wrote the following memo, which was leaked:

“Just between you and me shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging more migration of dirty industries to the LDCs [less-developed countries]?…

“A given amount of health-impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which would be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that….

“Only the lamentable facts that so much pollution is generated by non-tradable industries (transport, electrical generation) and the unit transport costs of solid waste are so high prevent world-welfare-enhancing trade in air pollution and waste.”

—quoted by Stephen A. Marglin in his book, The Dismal Science: How Thinking Like an Economist Undermines Community (Harvard, 2008) p. 37.

Marglin adds, “The Economist (February 8, 1992, p. 66), to which the memo was leaked, found the language ‘crass, even for an internal memo,’ but [the Economist further wrote] ‘on the economics his points are hard to answer.’ ”

Herman Daly writes that in the same period of time, he asked World Bank chief economist Summers at a Smithsonian conference whether the basic ecological economics diagram of the human economy (as an open subsystem within the larger ecosystem) suggested that the size of the economy could be a pressing issue, and whether economists should be looking at the question of an optimal scale for the economy relative to the environment. Summers replied, “That’s not the right way to look at it.” —Herman Daly, Beyond Growth (1996, p.6)

Around the same time, Summers’ response to the question, “What’s the single most important thing to learn from an economics course today?” was the following:

“What I leave my students with is the view that the invisible hand is more powerful than the hidden hand. Things will happen in well-organized efforts without direction, control plans. That’s the consensus among economists.”

Which is equal, of course, to saying “That’s the consensus among half-wits.” Because you would have to be rather precisely half-witted to make that statement to students. There are surely two sides to economic growth, the advantages to trade and the reduction of trade costs, or rather specialization and institution.

Buckminster Fuller once commented, upon viewing a boxing match in Las Vegas, that he was sure that humans are evolving, though perhaps not all in the same direction. Summers has no right to call anybody stupid.

45

ajay 07.25.11 at 10:02 am

So actually you don’t have to stop at two sexes – “from an evolutionary point of view” in this sense, it doesn’t matter if you’re a worker bee who doesn’t reproduce at all but gathers food for a queen bee that’s fertilized by a hundred different drones.

Not quite sure what you’re driving at here. Bees only have two sexes: male and female. If you want multiple sexes, you have to look at simpler organisms like yeasts and bacteria, which have large numbers of compatibility groups for conjugation. (10-20 in some cases.) But I am not sure whether that really counts as multiple sexes in any meaningful sense.

many evolutionists seem to be looking for an explanation of its appearance in “the survival of the fittest”, but perhaps it did not have a selective advantage at first, and perhaps not for a long time to come.

If the Red Queen theory holds then it had a selective advantage from day one.

Comments on this entry are closed.