Thursday, 31 August 2006

If you don't submit an SAT score, one will be imputed for you

This New York Times article (þ: Margaret Soltan) probably makes more of the vague trend towards deemphasis of the SAT in college admissions than is probably justified. Then again, I’m one of those weird social scientists who thinks that psychometrics are reliable and valid measures of student abilities, albeit—like all measures—subject to error. The real issue with the SAT is not its psychometric foundations or learning effects from “test prep,” but rather its wide error bounds, which make it too advantageous for students to repeat the exam. The scale of the numbers probably psychologically amplifies this effect; put the score on a range from 1.0 to 4.0, and I suspect you’d see retake rates plummet with absolutely no other changes to the exam.

Even though most admissions committees probably don’t do this in a very sophisticated way (at least, not yet, although one suspects that some of the SAT-optional trend can be attributed to admissions committee innumeracy or hostility towards numeric measures than any real problem with the SAT), the lack of SAT scores can be worked around with some fancy stats: you can just impute the missing data from the information you do have (mean SAT scores, likely available at the school or school district level; GPA; some measure of school quality; grades in math and English classes), albeit with an adjustment to account for an important selection effect: that the SAT score, which is probably known to the student, is more likely to have been reported if it is above the mean imputation (my gut suspicion is that reporting is distributed complementary log-log about the mean SAT score).

Wednesday, 30 August 2006

Fantasy Bud ads

Frequent Commenter Scott sent me a link to this blog post that answers the unasked question, “What if Bud made an ad celebrating bloggers?”

Tuesday, 29 August 2006

First day

I’m now 2/3 of the way throgh my first day of classes; I have my American politics class in about 40 minutes. Except for overpaying for lunch, missing my Metrolink train by two minutes (which wouldn’t really be much of a problem, except for trying to catch SLU‘s infrequent twice-hourly shuttle along Grand), and ending up with a Cherry Coke at a vending machine, it’s been a pretty good day thus far.

Plus I get a real paycheck tomorrow for the first time in three months, which is a nice bonus.

For the morbidly curious, here’s my pathetic collection of Metrolink photos thus far. No jumpers, tunnel collapses, or broken train windows yet.

Monday, 28 August 2006

Blame Wal-Mart

Diet Coke with Splenda is Wal-Mart’s fault. Keep this up and I may join the legions of liberals and communitarians suffering from Wal-Mart derangement syndrome.

Friday, 25 August 2006

Tales from the positional arms race

Two posts from a couple of my favorite academic bloggers crossed the wires today, on two different aspects of what Stephen Karlson calls the “positional arms race” in higher education. Margaret Soltan excerpts a Newsweek piece looking at the argument that more prestigious undergraduate institutions do a better job of educating the masses than the “mid-majors”:

Underlying the hysteria [of parents wanting their children to attend “elite” institutions] is the belief that scarce elite degrees must be highly valuable. Their graduates must enjoy more success because they get a better education and develop better contacts. All that’s plausible—and mostly wrong. “We haven’t found any convincing evidence that selectivity or prestige matters,” says Ernest T. Pascarella of the University of Iowa, co- author of “How College Affects Students,” an 827-page evaluation of hundreds of studies of the college experience. Selective schools don’t systematically employ better instructional approaches than less-selective schools, according to a study by Pascarella and George Kuh of Indiana University. Some do; some don’t. On two measures—professors’ feedback and the number of essay exams—selective schools do slightly worse. ...

Kids count more than their colleges. Getting into Yale may signify intelligence, talent and ambition. But it’s not the only indicator and, paradoxically, its significance is declining. The reason: so many similar people go elsewhere. Getting into college isn’t life’s only competition. In the next competition—the job market, graduate school—the results may change.

At another end of the spectrum, Prof. Karlson takes note of Richard Vedder’s report that his colleagues at Ohio University have voted themselves a reduced teaching load without a lot of public accountability; quoth Vedder:

In 1960, the teaching load in the OU economics department was 12 hours a week When I started work in the mid 1960’s, it was already reduced to 9 hours. In 1967, in moving to the quarter system, we reduced it to eight hours. Now, it is the equivalent of 6.7 hours, a 44 percent reduction in roughly 44 years. That is not at all atypical. Quality liberal arts colleges these days very often have a 6 hour load—two three hour courses per semester. Top research universities have still lower loads.

When my department voted to go from six courses a year (two per quarter) to five, it essentially eliminated at least 10 classes a year from being taught. To make up for that, my department could have hired two professors, at a cost of perhaps $200,000 a year (counting fringe benefits). Or, it could turn away more kids from classes needed to graduate, increasing the length of their education and thus the cost of it. Or, it could increase average class size. In fact, it is probably doing a combination of all three of these, for example, adding one professor at a total cost of perhaps $100,000.

Why are they doing this? Supposedly, to increase the research output of the faculty. My prediction is the departmental output of articles may rise from 15 to 16 or 17 a year – roughly 10 percent. Is it worth $100,000, bigger classes, and more closing out of students in classes to publish perhaps two more papers per year, each one of which will probably be read by a best a few dozen readers? Is anyone doing a cost-benefit analysis of the advantages of this move? The answer, of course, is no. Universities simply do what they want, namely the things they like (writing papers which help get faculty promoted and tenured), rather than the things the public that is paying the bills thinks is most important, teaching students. No one is accountable, the decisions are hidden from the public, and the returns on many of those decisions are very low in relation to the costs.

Karlson concurs in part and dissents in part:

Is it the number of articles, or the quality of the articles? Will the Economics faculty use the reassigned time to polish their work so as to make it more attractive to Journal of Political Economy or Economic Inquiry or Economics Letters, or will they simply be ensuring that Rivista Internazionale Numere Due di Bovini will be able to meet its production schedules? If the latter, perhaps the decision will inefficiently allocate resources. But what’s special about the former journals? Publish in the former journals and your department moves up in the disciplinary league tables. Why does that matter? Because the league tables color the impression observers have of the prestige of a university. So what? People engage in positional arms races to get into universities with a lot of prestige.

Ultimately, then, the responsibility is on the public to quit spending money on getting their kids into “prestige” universities with brilliant research faculties that spend no time with undergraduates, particularly not with freshmen, and on the public to quit recruiting their entry-level employees from those universities. But until there are changes in those behaviors, it is not an error on the part of the Ohio faculty of Economics to offer working conditions more like those prevailing at the “prestige” campuses. Ohio might secure a recruiting advantage thereby, and some Ohio faculty might publish work that attracts the attention of a department higher up the academic food chain.

Note that “people” in the arms race are not just students but also faculty; the preordained superstars (and occasionally those who manage to publish their way out of the ghetto) go where the teaching load is lowest—and, since they’re the superstars, their pay is the highest. This is rational behavior for a department seeking to attract bright young faculty to a place more known for its reputation as a party school than its research output, and (indirectly) to create upward pressure on salaries for the department’s faculty—after all, if OU needs to attract bright young faculty, they’ll have to pay market rates for that labor, and concerns about salary compression and fairness to the longtimers will ensure everyone else gets paid too.

Everyone wins—well, except the public, who will be, over the long term, paying more money for less work, and the students, who will see the shortfall in offerings filled by adjunctification or auditoriumization of classes, or an extended undergraduate career spent chasing classroom space in the major and gen-ed distribution requirements while padding the required courseload in the meantime with filler.

Freedom's end

Classes commence on Monday, and I’d say I’m around 85% organized—the only things I really need to take care of are fixing the room assignment for my research methods course and setting up my class stuff in WebCT.

On the job application front, I sent out six more Thursday, and have a stack of about twenty more to work on, about half of which I hope to take care of this weekend. No news yet on the 15 or so applications I’ve already sent, but I suppose that’s hardly a surprise…

Wednesday, 23 August 2006

Triangle rapid transit plan on life support

Stephen Karlson and Craig Newmark take note of the most recent developments in the rapid transit plan proposed to link Raleigh and Durham, which has been placed on deathwatch after the regional transit authority has decided to stop seeking federal funding for the project.

I can’t say I’m particularly surprised, for a few reasons. First, not only does the region largely lack the sort of dense developments necessary to support transit, it also lacks the need for those dense developments. My suspicion, from looking around at the “transit-oriented development” going on here in St. Louis, is that most of these developments would end up attracting well-to-do people who like the cachet of saying they live on a transit line (and the amenities of new construction, with the pricetag to match) but end up using their car for everything anyway; while it may make for nice visuals outside the stations, the aesthetics probably don’t translate as well into ridership as one might hope.

Moreover, while a Raleigh-Durham link makes some logical sense to outsiders, it really doesn’t reflect commuting patterns in the region; people who work in Durham either live there or in Chapel Hill, and those who live in Cary work in Raleigh (or in Cary). There’s a giant state park in the middle where nobody can live. The only major magnet for commuters from both directions is Research Triangle Park, which is not the sort of employment center that attracts transit riders—most of the workers at RTP are “choice” commuters, who aren’t going to walk more than a block or two from a station or transfer to a bus to get to their place of employment. The bottom line is that this route wouldn’t serve many more people than the bus service already in place.

Monday, 21 August 2006

Not a conspiracy theory

Every time I feel like I’m making progress in turning “the damn strategic voting chapter” into a final paper worthy of submission, I stumble across a new bug in Zelig. I’d theorize that Gary King doesn’t want me to publish anything, but I’m afraid I’m far too insignificant a microbe in the whole political science universe to be squashed so deliberately.

If I were better organized, I’d spend the time I’m waiting for the bugs to be fixed writing up the changes I’ve made already—most notably, tossing the interviewer measure of sophistication in favor of an item-response theory model. That would probably cover the real reason I don’t seem to be able to publish anything—well, besides my lack of a research budget, RAs, and course releases for research, and a computer on my desk at work that probably was the cheapest thing Dell marketed to its education customers three years ago.


Megan asks:

How did I end up on the Libertarian circuit anyway? I am quite the bleeding heart; I give change to homeless people and play team sports and volunteer in a community garden and shit. It’s like I’ve fallen in with a bad crowd, just ‘cause they’re all funny and cool. Marginal Revolution is totally a gateway drug.

I’m not sure any of those things would qualify or disqualify anyone from being a libertarian (or even a Libertarian), since none of them have to do with the use of the government’s monopoly on the legitimate use of force to coerce certain individual behavior. No libertarian I’m aware of would forbid† Megan from giving change to homeless people, playing team sports, or volunteering in community gardens; nor would any* make her do any of those things.

† Hardcore Objectivists would probably make fun of her for doing some of these things, but one need not subscribe to Objectivist beliefs to be a libertarian. Thank God.
* Well, except a few liberals who like to call themselves “libertarian” because they’re for some unfathomable reason embarrassed to be known as liberals, like Bill Maher. But that’s a whole other kettle of fish.

Saturday, 19 August 2006

The inner ring prepares to get ridin' dirty

Today’s Post-Dispatch has almost all the information you need to know about the grand opening of Metrolink’s Cross-County Extension next Saturday.

U.S. News clearly unaware of my hiring

SLU has moved up a few spots in the latest U.S. News rankings of the best national universities to 77th, in a four-way tie with Virginia Tech, UC-Boulder, and Stevens Institute of Technology.

In a completely unrelated development, the Spreadsheet of Death™ 2007 edition is up to around 30 entries already.

Rapid transit geekery

Via Stephen Karlson, I found a site that will let you display all the urban rapid transit systems you have used in the world:

Got at!

With a little source hacking, I added the Munich U logo (which is the same as the Berlin U logo anyway).

Friday, 18 August 2006

I'm glad my artist friends are relatively well-adjusted

Ok, this is just weird, although I have to give the “artist” props for originality, even if it strikes me as some sort of bizarre attempt at borderline necrophilia-slash-bestiality.

Then again, maybe I don’t.

Rashomon, Israeli conflict edition

Matthew Shugart and David Bernstein read the exact same passage in Ha’aretz and come to pretty much diametrically opposite conclusions—Shugart, that the war was foolhardy; Bernstein, that the Israeli defense minister didn’t take Hezbollah’s missile arsenal seriously enough.

Granted, I tend to think Shugart is right (far) more often than Bernstein, but here I’m just bemused by the juxtaposition—and would be more likely to be concerned that the IDF didn’t take Hezbollah’s missile capability all that seriously.

Thursday, 17 August 2006

Cards win! Cards win!

I took advantage of my free time today by going to see the Cardinals beat the Cincinnati Reds 2–1 this afternoon at New Busch. The price was reasonable—$19 for the ticket, plus $3.50 in Metrolink fare to and from the park-and-ride at Delmar Loop—and it was a fun diversion for a few hours, even if I had to overcome some mild agrophobia due to being seated literally in the highest row at the stadium. If nothing else, I can tell my kids I saw the Reds’ Ken Griffey Jr. hit a home run.

Here’s a bunch of photos I took today at the new stadium—it’s very nice.

There was a minor snafu on the trip back; since I had read the Metrolink travel advisory I wasn’t annoyed (unlike many other occupants) when the train I was on decided to kick everyone off at Forest Park, but I was getting irritated when the promised empty train to Lambert didn’t show up until after another full Lambert train had passed. Even so, I was back home within an hour of the end of the game, despite rush hour traffic virtually everywhere on my driving route back from the station (Skinker, Forest Park Pkwy, and Brentwood).

Tuesday, 15 August 2006

At least they spelled "school" right

My new neighbor notes a poster from the St. Louis Public Schools that makes me seriously wonder where my 1% city payroll tax dollars are going.

Which reminds me, I think I can finally go on a “taxation without representation” rant for the first time in my adult life…

Monday, 14 August 2006

reportbug gaining interfaces

After what charitably may be two years of stagnation, reportbug is gaining a couple of new interfaces soon. Probably the more high-profile effort—and the one that’s closer to primetime—is Philipp Kern’s “Summer of Code” project to add a Gnome2 interface to reportbug, which should be hitting the experimental distribution soon.

Meanwhile, I’ve started fiddling with the urwid library and have made startlingly rapid progress constructing a UI with it, even though I am still getting the hang of the widget system… some widgets just refuse to go inside other widgets in ways that are not completely obvious to me, leading to strange runtime exceptions that are hard to debug. In any event, before it hits the mirrors, there’s more stuff to be done—most notably, the bug tracking system query interface (I haven’t even started tackling that yet) and figuring out how to suspend the urwid session to launch an editor that may want to use the console. On the latter point, I may go back to running each dialog as a separate session, which would also give me the console log back.

Anticipatory Rejection

JMPP explains why she won’t be dating you—yes, you. Me, I know I’m quality… heck, my mom says so, and whose mom would lie to their kid?

Sorta-kinda credit to Amber Taylor, although I saw it in Google Reader before she mentioned it.

Update via Amber’s comments: If you know your SAT or GRE score, find out if you are worthy of JMPP here (broken in Safari, use Firefox instead). Fun for the whole family!

Sunday, 13 August 2006

Football rule changes, then and now

Craig Depken at Division of Labour looks back at the 1905–06 overhaul of football rules and looks ahead at the more modest changes to be implemented in the NFL this coming season.

Saturday, 12 August 2006

Annoyances of the day

A couple of noteworthy blemishes on my otherwise pleasant day thus far:

  • What logical reason could exist for using a different lock (which my key doesn’t open) on the door to a building facing the street when I can walk (but really wouldn’t want to while carrying a 50-pound box of books) through a breezeway and unlock the door facing a giant open space in 30 seconds?
  • People who get in line at Sam’s Club with memberships they know are expired to try to put something over on the cashier are, in a word, irritating.

I can’t say my day has been that productive, but I did unpack a few boxes of books in my office, flip through the (limited) amount of information I received about my advisees, and start to get the computer in my office pointed in the direction of being functional.

Fun with Pythagoras

How to calculate the effective size of a 16:9 television when viewing 4:3 material:

effsize = √((diag × 0.654)² + (diag × 0.49)²)

where diag is the diagonal size of your 16:9 television.

For example, the viewing area of a 27-inch 16:9 HDTV is about the same as that of a 22-inch 4:3 television when viewing old-school, non-widescreen material.

Reader exercise: solve for diag to figure out how to replace an existing 4:3 television with a 16:9 one that provides the same viewing area as that TV.

Friday, 11 August 2006

A new job for Cynthia McKinney

Daniel Drezner is soliciting reader advice on a new job for Atlanta U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, who lost her primary race this week. Of course, that assumes McKinney doesn’t get her recount.

Me want Mac Pro

Reminder to self: specify that I want a Mac Pro on my desk when negotiating my tenure-track contract this fall (with whomever that might be).

ABC Sports is dead, long live ESPN on ABC

I can’t say I’m particularly surprised that Disney has decided to ditch the ‘ABC Sports’ brand in favor of promoting all of its sports programming under the ESPN banner, especially considering that the network’s “Wide World of Sports” theme is more often seen being mocked on Cheap Seats than on ABC proper.

It’s just as well, seeing as the man most people today would identify with ABC Sports, Al Michaels, is now on NBC with John Madden and the network primetime NFL package anyway.

Tuesday, 8 August 2006

Afternoon entertainment

I went to see Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby at the movie theater a stone’s throw from my apartment at the Galleria this afternoon; except for the $6 matinee ticket, and perhaps the relative invisibility of Andy Richter’s role (I think he may have managed one line in the whole film), it was quite enjoyable, and probably more consistently funny than the film it will be inevitably compared with, Farrell’s Anchorman, which I found more “weird” than “humorous.”

For what it’s worth, it seems that the crowd here was rather less turned off than that in “Clerksville” by the more outlandish characteristics of Sacha Baron Cohen’s character.

Life has too many secret decoder rings

In this day and age, with increased personal mobility, relying on people to know the local rules and mores is getting a bit outmoded. The most recent case in point is encapsulated in Steven Taylor’s last run-in with the good people protecting the skies from toenail clippers at the Transportation Security Agency:

[I]f they want everyone to remove their shoes, there should be a sign.


Nifong and the paper trail

I’ve generally lost interest in the whole Duke lacrosse imbroglio, but KC Johnson notes some very interesting developments in the case that reinforce my prior belief that Durham DA Mike Nifong is, as the kids say, “completely full of shit.”

Saturday, 5 August 2006


I think I’ve now tracked down most of the books in my study, but I imagine some more will turn up over the coming days, as there are still boxes marked “study” that need to be triaged.

Friday, 4 August 2006

Mac developers: please follow Opera's lead

If you’re going to tell me to drag the little icon of your application into my Applications folder… do me a favor and include an alias to Applications in the disk image, so all I have to do is drag the little icon over an inch or so, rather than fooling around in the Go menu and raising and lowering windows to make the drag work right.

Keyboard woes

My fancy Belkin MediaPilot wireless keyboard doesn’t play nicely with my new USB KVM switch (the Mac handles it OK, but Windows XP doesn’t like it for some reason, alas), so I’m back to using my trusty IBM Active Response Pro keyboard with one of those PS/2-USB adapters.

Frankly, I’m surprised that’s the only real problem I’ve had so far in setting up my computer stuff. I was expecting (knock on wood) to blow out a fuse or three instead.

Wednesday, 2 August 2006

I now have one Mizzou ticket in my grubby hands

I now have an appointment to see Brent Schaeffer demolish the Missouri Tigers on September 9th. That is, if Brent can manage to be eligible to play by then…

Update: As Alfie notes in the comments, the Brent Schaeffer era has now commenced in Oxford.

The runaround

After spending the best part of 3 hours on hold today, I finally found someone who could activate my cable modem in St. Louis.

I know I’m going to just love Charter Communications.