Shalizi on Page on Diversity

by Henry Farrell on July 13, 2007

While messing around on Cosma Shalizi’s “website”: (surely the _Wunderkammer_ of the blogosphere) I came across this “piece”: on Scott Page’s ideas about diversity, which sums them up rather better and more crisply than I did in my own “review”: of Page’s new book from a few weeks back.

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07.16.07 at 7:21 pm » Blog Archive » The Finnicky Wisdom of Crowds
07.23.07 at 6:46 pm



asdf 07.14.07 at 8:10 am

Diverse groups, good at solving problems, will tend to be ones whose members have diverse ideas about which problems they ought to solve.

That’s ideological diversity. Not the same thing as racial diversity. Unless you believe that two people of different races must always think differently.


JP Stormcrow 07.14.07 at 3:28 pm

Thanks for the pointer. Maybe time to *gasp* read the book.

I was amused to see that he used the UMich law school admissions as an example. Undoubtedly it would be of “interest” to a specific poster on the last thread.


seth edenbaum 07.14.07 at 3:55 pm

“That’s ideological diversity. Not the same thing as racial diversity. Unless you believe that two people of different [genders?] must always think differently.”


Slocum 07.14.07 at 6:09 pm

Again, Page’s ideas lend no real support for diversity as actually practiced in higher education, since universities would be happiest if they could find people with the ‘right’ skin tones but who otherwise scored as uniformly high as possible on other measures (GPA, LSAT scores, whatever). I have to say that this kind of argument being presented as supporting evidence for racial diversity programs seems to me to be flirting with intellectual dishonesty.

And then, with respect to problem solving — yes, escaping from ‘local minima’ is a real issue in AI problem solving. But there are two problems with this when looking at Michigan’s Law School. First of all, it’s not at all obvious to me that there’s any meaningful sense in which all of the students and faculty of the law school are working together to solve of problems (or set of problems) and trying to find a ‘best’ answer.

And second, if that were the case, for the purposes of escaping local minima, you *would* want people who had skills and abilities that were quite different than what you get among the set of people who qualify for admission to an elite law school (with or without racial preferences). You’d want to pull not just low-scoring students into the process, but department secretaries and building maintenance people, and so on. These people would move you to very different locations in the state space.


engels 07.14.07 at 6:54 pm

The trouble with “diversity” is that it seems to have established itself firmly at the top of the list of empty buzz words beloved of nice-but-dim management types who want to sound like they care about the oppression and injustice in which they are complicit while doing close to bugger all about it. I’m all for affirmative action to address racial, class and gender injustices but imho “diversity” ranks several places below “work/life balance” in the G.M. Vauxhall Conference of largely meaningless Panglossian politically correct bollocks.


seth edenbaum 07.16.07 at 5:43 pm

Interesting that Shalizi refers to free market theory to defend the artificial manipulation of the academy.
Also of course the reference to markets presumes that markets are foundational. “Diversity of heuristics and perspectives tends to be linked to diversity of values and interests.” That’s a case for strengthening or reinforcing those systems that counter the market. There are those who say that individualism itself does not need a counter-force, but they would have to document the degree to which individuals are actual free agents, and so far the reach of that argument has far exceeded its grasp. In the meantime individualism can not counter itself.

There are two questions involved here: how to do things well, and what to do. Diversity and democracy are concerned with both. In the long run that requires not an understanding of complex systems but of the fact of overlapping and conflicting, even mutually exclusive complex systems: the definition of “consciousness”


johne 07.16.07 at 7:11 pm

Slocum, I think Shalizi is talking about more than education, and more than the law.
But, to restrict ourselves to your argument, consider the various law schools’ “innocence” projects (reviewing what seem to be egregiously wrongful convictions), certainly an endeavor to solve a problem of justice. Your drawing the situation as one pertaining to elite law schools also seems overly restrictive, since the Michigan case affected all law schools’ admissions policies. Not that the law is influenced only by the elite — as consider the case of the Regent University School of Law alumni who have lately figured in congressional testimony regarding Justice Department administration, or for that matter, Thurgood Marshall’s rehearsal of his Brown v. Board of Education arguments at Howard University, at a time when it would not have figured on most lists of “elite” American law schools.

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