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Hate Crime Training for Police Is Often Inadequate, Sometimes Nonexistent

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A.C. Thompson, Rohan Naik, and Ken Schwencke report in ProPublica:

To become a police officer in the U.S., one almost always has to enroll in an academy for some basic training. The typical academy session lasts 25 weeks, but state governments — which oversee police academies for local and state law enforcement officers — have wide latitude when it comes to choosing the subjects that will be taught in the classrooms.

How to properly identify and investigate hate crimes does not seem terribly high on the list of priorities, according to a ProPublica review.

Only 12 states, for example, have statutes requiring that academies provide instruction on hate crimes.

In at least seven others — Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Nevada, Missouri, South Dakota and Texas — recruits aren’t required to learn about hate crimes at all, according to law enforcement officials.

Even states that provide new recruits with at least some education on hate crimes often provide training that is cursory at best.

Officials overseeing police training in three states — Wisconsin, North Carolina and Washington — told ProPublica that their recruits spent about 30 minutes of class time on the subject.

Hate crimes in America have made no shortage of headlines over the last year as the country has once more confronted its raw and often violent racial, religious and political divisions. Just how few hate crimes get formally reported and analyzed has shocked many. Fewer still get successfully prosecuted, a fact that has provoked frustration among some elected officials and law enforcement agencies.

But the widespread lack of training for frontline officers in how to handle potential hate crimes, if no great surprise, might actually be the criminal justice system’s most basic failing. There is, after all, little way to either accurately tabulate or aggressively prosecute hate crimes if the officers in the street don’t know how to identify and investigate them.

Hate crimes are not, by and large, simple to deal with. Different states identify different categories of people to be protected under their laws. And the authorities must prove not only guilt, but intent. It isn’t enough to find fingerprints on a weapon. The authorities must explore a suspect’s state of mind, and then find ways of corroborating it.

“Hate crimes are so nuanced and the laws can be so complex. You’re trying to deal with the motivation of a crime,” said Liebe Geft, director of the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, which has for years provided training to officers as expert consultants.

“Thirty minutes in the academy is not enough,” Geft said.

Though each state operates its police academies differently, most of them rely on a training council or commission to oversee the institutions, shape the curriculum and set minimum standards for graduation.

ProPublica spent weeks trying to answer the question of how, if at all, police departments prepare their officers to respond to possible hate crimes, which are known as bias crimes in some jurisdictions. We interviewed key officials in 45 states and the District of Columbia about the lessons being taught to new recruits during their police academy classes. We reviewed thousands of pages of training material — curricula, detailed lesson plans, legal guidance, PowerPoint presentations and videos. We studied the statutes and regulations governing police training around the nation and interviewed experts who have spent years educating officers and federal agents. Several states declined to discuss their instructional practices, or provide ProPublica with any training materials.

Among our findings:

A key federal training program was scuttled during the early days of the Obama administration as police leaders concerned about violence colored by race, religion and politics shifted their focus toward Islamic extremists and terrorism. That program, which was run by an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, sent experts around the country to teach local and state police officers how to respond to hate crimes.

State leaders at times displayed a lack of even basic knowledge about hate crimes. In Alaska, the state Department of Public Safety told ProPublica that officers in that state don’t learn about hate crimes during their time in the academy because Alaska doesn’t have a hate crimes law. In fact, Alaska’s hate crimes statute has been on the books since 1996.

Training materials used in Kansas explain the history behind the federal hate crimes law, but make no mention of Kansas Statute 21-6815 — the state’s hate crimes code — which is likely to be of more use to a local officer in Topeka or Wichita.

Some states that require hate crimes training often combine the instruction with what has long been called cultural sensitivity training. Such instruction typically involves material on the subtleties of dealing with specific ethnic or religious communities. Our review, however, showed some of those materials to be either hopelessly out of date or downright inflammatory.

Law enforcement leaders point to several factors to explain, if not justify, the lack of emphasis on training for hate crimes. While the offenses can be dramatic and highly disturbing — like the incident earlier this year in which a white supremacist impaled an African-American man with an 18-inch sword in New York’s Times Square — they . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2017 at 1:42 pm

How to Get Your Mind to Read

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In the NY Times Daniel Willingham has an interesting column on what is required to be a good reader. It begins:

Americans are not good readers. Many blame the ubiquity of digital media. We’re too busy on Snapchat to read, or perhaps internet skimming has made us incapable of reading serious prose. But Americans’ trouble with reading predates digital technologies. The problem is not bad reading habits engendered by smartphones, but bad education habits engendered by a misunderstanding of how the mind reads.

Just how bad is our reading problem? The last National Assessment of Adult Literacy from 2003 is a bit dated, but it offers a picture of Americans’ ability to read in everyday situations: using an almanac to find a particular fact, for example, or explaining the meaning of a metaphor used in a story. Of those who finished high school but did not continue their education, 13 percent could not perform simple tasks like these. When things got more complex — in comparing two newspaper editorials with different interpretations of scientific evidence or examining a table to evaluate credit card offers — 95 percent failed.

There’s no reason to think things have gotten better. Scores for high school seniors on the National Assessment of Education Progress reading test haven’t improved in 30 years.

Many of these poor readers can sound out words from print, so in that sense, they can read. Yet they are functionally illiterate — they comprehend very little of what they can sound out. So what does comprehension require? Broad vocabulary, obviously. Equally important, but more subtle, is the role played by factual knowledge.

All prose has factual gaps that must be filled by the reader. Consider “I promised not to play with it, but Mom still wouldn’t let me bring my Rubik’s Cube to the library.” The author has omitted three facts vital to comprehension: you must be quiet in a library; Rubik’s Cubes make noise; kids don’t resist tempting toys very well. If you don’t know these facts, you might understand the literal meaning of the sentence, but you’ll miss why Mom forbade the toy in the library.

Knowledge also provides context. For example, the literal meaning of last year’s celebrated fake-news headline, “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President,” is unambiguous — no gap-filling is needed. But the sentence carries a different implication if you know anything about the public (and private) positions of the men involved, or you’re aware that no pope has ever endorsed a presidential candidate.

You might think, then, that authors should include all the information needed to understand what they write. Just tell us that libraries are quiet. But those details would make prose long and tedious for readers who already know the information. “Write for your audience” means, in part, gambling on what they know.

These examples help us understand why readers might decode well but score poorly on a test; they lack the knowledge the writer assumed in the audience. But if a text concerned a familiar topic, habitually poor readers ought to read like good readers.

In one experiment, third graders — some identified by a reading test as good readers, some as poor — were asked to read a passage about soccer. The poor readers who knew a lot about soccer were three times as likely to make accurate inferences about the passage as the good readers who didn’t know much about the game.

That implies that students who score well on reading tests are those with broad knowledge; they usually know at least a little about the topics of the passages on the test. One experiment tested 11th graders’ general knowledge with questions from science (“pneumonia affects which part of the body?”), history (“which American president resigned because of the Watergate scandal?”), as well as the arts, civics, geography, athletics and literature. Scores on this general knowledge test were highly associated with reading test scores.

Current education practices show that reading comprehension is misunderstood. It’s treated like a general skill that can be applied with equal success to all texts. Rather, comprehension is intimately intertwined with knowledge. That suggests three significant changes in schooling.

First, it points to decreasing the time spent on literacy instruction in early grades. Third-graders spend 56 percent of their time on literacy activities but 6 percent each on science and social studies. This disproportionate emphasis on literacy backfires in later grades, when children’s lack of subject matter knowledge impedes comprehension. Another positive step would be to use high-information texts in early elementary grades. Historically, they have been light in content.

Second, understanding the importance of knowledge to reading ought to make us think differently about year-end standardized tests. If a child has studied New Zealand, she ought to be good at reading and thinking about passages on New Zealand. Why test her reading with a passage about spiders, or the Titanic? If topics are random, the test weights knowledge learned outside the classroom — knowledge that wealthy children have greater opportunity to pick up.

Third, the systematic building of knowledge must be a priority in curriculum design. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2017 at 11:18 am

Toppling the Grammar Patriarchy

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Carmel McCoubrey writes in the NY Times:

I still remember my sense of indignation when my high school French teacher told us about the rule: French nouns have a gender, even seemingly sexless ones like “table.” And if you had a mixed group of masculine and female nouns — say, a bunch of male students (étudiants) and female students (étudiantes) — you had to describe them, as a group, in the masculine.

“What if there are 99 female students and one male student?” I demanded.

It didn’t matter, the teacher said. What’s more, if you wrote a sentence about attractive (beaux) étudiants and attractive (belles) étudiantes, the adjective used to describe them had to be masculine, too: “Les étudiants et les étudiantes sont beaux.”

That was just the way French was, she said.

The sexism of that stung. And that was even before I discovered that one of the rationales for this rule in which one man trumped an infinite number of women was that the masculine gender is deemed more noble than the feminine gender because of the superiority of man over woman.”

That line, from a 1767 grammar book, was cited last week in a declaration signed by 314 teachers in France that they would no longer teach the rule that “the masculine prevails over the feminine” when it came to plural nouns.

The teachers’ objection was not just philosophical; it was philological. The rule, they said in the French version of Slate, was a parvenu (it was enunciated in the 17th century and became widely taught only in the 19th century) and politically motivated (it buttressed French laws that denied women equal rights). Besides that, they said, the rule encourages children “to accept the domination of one sex over the other” to the detriment of women.

In its place, the teachers suggested using “the rule of proximity,” in which the adjective matches the gender of the noun closest to it, which was common practice for centuries. Or they said, people could use “majority agreement,” with the adjective matching the gender of the noun with the biggest number of members. Or even, they said, writer’s choice.

Unsurprisingly, in a country that defends its language with an official grammar arbiter and has a fondness for the circumflex, efforts to make French more gender-inclusive have been met with dismay; members of the grammar-policing French Academy complained that they put French in “mortal peril.”Even the French minister for equality between men and women, Marlène Schiappa, seemed taken aback by the teachers’ declaration, though she said it was a worthy topic of discussion by language experts. Naturally, she was careful to describe such experts as both “grammairiens” (masculine) and “grammairiennes” (feminine).

As a person in the 21st century, I have to applaud the teachers’ revolt; as a person whose job it is to make sure writers are using correct grammar, I worry about my mortgage. Still, given how slowly French has changed over the centuries, at least compared with English, it seems likely that this is a debate that could continue for, well, centuries. (It’s not just French, by the way. Other languages, including Spanish and Arabic, also give the masculine the starring role.)

But before we Anglophones congratulate ourselves on having a language that has pretty much jettisoned grammatical gender, we should consider “everybody” and the default “he.”

Everybody is a problem. It’s singular, and so when it’s the subject of a sentence, it gets a singular verb. But then what happens later when it’s time for a possessive pronoun? Logically, grammatically, it should be singular too. But what sex is everybody?

Like many Americans, I was taught that the answer was male by default, with the classic example being “Everybody brought his own lunch.” Yet it’s rare to hear such a construction in spoken speech, and in my experience as an editor, increasingly rare in writing. “Everyone is bringing their own lunch,” or “Everybody sees themselves differently,” we say, swapping the matching singular pronoun for a plural one.

That default he no longer sits right with us, while alternating he and she may come across as intrusive or self-conscious. Yet The Times’s stylebook is adamant: “Anybody, anyone, everybody, everyone, no one, someone, all require he or she (never they) on further reference: Has anybody lost his ticket?” It goes on to say, “As a last resort, the awkward his or her is tolerable; a plural pronoun with a singular antecedent is not.”

Most of the time, it’s easy enough to rewrite to avoid both the jarring default he and the agreement error, but sometimes I stare at a sentence and long for the day the “singular they” (which, Merriam-Webster says, has been used since the 1300s) is acceptable everywhere. That seems to be the case in Britain; with everybody, Fowler’s Modern English Usage approves of the use of a singular verb and a plural pronoun.

Oddly enough, it’s French, with all its gendered nouns, that sidesteps the everybody problem: . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2017 at 11:11 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

Tagged with ,

Why philosophy is important in science education

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Subrena Smith, assistant professor in philosophy at the University of New Hampshire, writes in Æon:

Each semester, I teach courses on the philosophy of science to undergraduates at the University of New Hampshire. Most of the students take my courses to satisfy general education requirements, and most of them have never taken a philosophy class before.

On the first day of the semester, I try to give them an impression of what the philosophy of science is about. I begin by explaining to them that philosophy addresses issues that can’t be settled by facts alone, and that the philosophy of science is the application of this approach to the domain of science. After this, I explain some concepts that will be central to the course: induction, evidence, and method in scientific enquiry. I tell them that science proceeds by induction, the practices of drawing on past observations to make general claims about what has not yet been observed, but that philosophers see induction as inadequately justified, and therefore problematic for science. I then touch on the difficulty of deciding which evidence fits which hypothesis uniquely, and why getting this right is vital for any scientific research. I let them know that ‘the scientific method’ is not singular and straightforward, and that there are basic disputes about what scientific methodology should look like. Lastly, I stress that although these issues are ‘philosophical’, they nevertheless have real consequences for how science is done.

At this point, I’m often asked questions such as: ‘What are your qualifications?’ ‘Which school did you attend?’ and ‘Are you a scientist?

Perhaps they ask these questions because, as a female philosopher of Jamaican extraction, I embody an unfamiliar cluster of identities, and they are curious about me. I’m sure that’s partly right, but I think that there’s more to it, because I’ve observed a similar pattern in a philosophy of science course taught by a more stereotypical professor. As a graduate student at Cornell University in New York, I served as a teaching assistant for a course on human nature and evolution. The professor who taught it made a very different physical impression than I do. He was white, male, bearded and in his 60s – the very image of academic authority. But students were skeptical of his views about science, because, as some said, disapprovingly: ‘He isn’t a scientist.’

I think that these responses have to do with concerns about the value of philosophy compared with that of science. It is no wonder that some of my students are doubtful that philosophers have anything useful to say about science. They are aware that prominent scientists have stated publicly that philosophy is irrelevant to science, if not utterly worthless and anachronistic. They know that STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education is accorded vastly greater importance than anything that the humanities have to offer.

Many of the young people who attend my classes think that philosophy is a fuzzy discipline that’s concerned only with matters of opinion, whereas science is in the business of discovering facts, delivering proofs, and disseminating objective truths. Furthermore, many of them believe that scientists can answer philosophical questions, but philosophers have no business weighing in on scientific ones.

Why do college students so often treat philosophy as wholly distinct from and subordinate to science? In my experience, four reasons stand out.

One has to do with a lack of historical awareness. College students tend to think that departmental divisions mirror sharp divisions in the world, and so they cannot appreciate that philosophy and science, as well as the purported divide between them, are dynamic human creations. Some of the subjects that are now labelled ‘science’ once fell under different headings. Physics, the most secure of the sciences, was once the purview of ‘natural philosophy’. And music was once at home in the faculty of mathematics. The scope of science has both narrowed and broadened, depending on the time and place and cultural contexts where it was practised.

Another reason has to do with concrete results. Science solves real-world problems. It gives us technology: things that we can touch, see and use. It gives us vaccines, GMO crops, and painkillers. Philosophy doesn’t seem, to the students, to have any tangibles to show. But, to the contrary, philosophical tangibles are many: Albert Einstein’s philosophical thought experiments made Cassini possible. Aristotle’s logic is the basis for computer science, which gave us laptops and smartphones. And philosophers’ work on the mind-body problem set the stage for the emergence of neuropsychology and therefore brain-imagining technology. Philosophy has always been quietly at work in the background of science.

A third reason has to do with concerns about truth, objectivity and bias. Science, students insist, is purely objective, and anyone who challenges that view must be misguided. A person is not deemed to be objective if she approaches her research with a set of background assumptions. Instead, she’s ‘ideological’. But all of us are ‘biased’ and our biases fuel the creative work of science. This issue can be difficult to address, because a naive conception of objectivity is so ingrained in the popular image of what science is. To approach it, I invite students to look at something nearby without any presuppositions. I then ask them to tell me what they see. They pause… and then recognise that they can’t interpret their experiences without drawing on prior ideas. Once they notice this, the idea that it can be appropriate to ask questions about objectivity in science ceases to be so strange.

The fourth source of students’ discomfort comes from what they take science education to be. One gets the impression that they think of science as mainly itemising the things that exist – ‘the facts’ – and of science education as teaching them what these facts are. I don’t conform to these expectations. But as a philosopher, I am mainly concerned with how these facts get selected and interpreted, why some are regarded as more significant than others, the ways in which facts are infused with presuppositions, and so on.

Students often respond to these concerns by stating impatiently that facts are facts. But to say that a thing is identical to itself is not to say anything interesting about it. What students mean to say by ‘facts are facts’ is that once we have ‘the facts’ there is no room for interpretation or disagreement.

Why do they think this way? It’s  not because this is the way that science is practised but rather, because this is how science is normally taught. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

13 November 2017 at 10:27 am

Posted in Education, Science

Against Productivity This Essay Took Four Years to Write

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Quinn Norton writes at Medium:

Four years ago I temporarily moved to Puerto Rico. I went to PR to seek the New American Dream, a dream that had swept through American business culture, launched a billion dollar self-help industry, alienated my generation, and killed uncounted people through its wild pursuit. I went to escape the distractions and social obligations of the mainland and to try to truly capture the elusive quality that rises above all considerations in the contemporary American psyche: I went to Puerto Rico to work on being more productive.

I had a place to stay, and I didn’t speak the language. I went with the idea that I would avoid distractions and get a lot of writing done. I would organize my time, my thoughts, and my notes. I would have to-do lists and subject clouds and create outlines and fill them in, everyday between 9 and 6 or 7. I would have a word count, discrete articles, a body of material. I could pitch them and massage them into house voices as needed on a schedule to woo editors. I’d make habits that let me produce content, on time, regularly, without last minute stress.

I didn’t do any of that. I got a little writing done, and I stared up at the beautiful old ceiling of my apartment a lot.

When I went to Puerto Rico I was, like everyone I knew, not only incredibly busy, but absorbed in trying to figure out how to produce more in my busy time. Even my leisure time had to be productive: Was I having enough fun? Was I sufficiently recharged for my next round of work? Was I getting enough out of the island? I had to be a productive learner as well: was I getting a good picture of PR’s culture? Was I mining my experience of this beautiful place for all it was worth.

I visited with new friends, and tooled around on the net (albeit always at 2G speeds). I watched rain fall. I cooked. I considered the shape of the buildings a lot, and looked after cats periodically. I walked to old forts and lookouts. At one point I took pictures of doors for no reason I could discern. I berated myself for being unproductive, for wasting this precious time I’d set aside to put my professional life together. I spent hours anxious to craft my time to be quantitatively better for writing. Then it all collapsed, and the only habit I fell into was depressive empty afternoons when I was alone with the cats and the rain. But I also, and wholly by accident, thought the thoughts that would take my career and life in a new and unimagined direction.

In the end my trip to Puerto Rico didn’t turn out how I’d hoped. I barely wrote anything. I complained to myself about myself a lot. I took a lot of long walks and so-so pictures. I edited part of a book, but that didn’t take long. I sat around getting both anxious and bored from how little I had gotten done. I had no idea how vital that time was when it was passing.

I have always had a flirtatious interest in the ever morphing American dream, from The Great Gatsby to Fear and Loathing, from the chickens and picket fences of the 50s to the foreign adventures and many attempts to bring democracy to ourselves and others. Every age of America reinvents and transforms the dream and thereby some part of the national soul. But sitting in Old San Juan in a tropical rain, trying to keep mosquitos off my ankles, I began to think no iteration was quite as vile as this one. Despite all the greed and hatred of the past iterations, no version of the dream had been so mechanical — so dehumanizing — as this dream of productivity.

We dream now of making Every Moment Count, of achieving flow and never leaving, creating one project that must be better than the last, of working harder and smarter. We multitask, we update, and we conflate status with long hours worked in no paid overtime systems for the nebulous and fantastic status of being Too Important to have Time to Ourselves, time to waste. But this incarnation of the American dream is all about doing, and nothing about doing anything good, or even thinking about what one was doing beyond how to do more of it more efficiently. It was not even the surrenders to hedonism and debauchery or greed our literary dreams have recorded before. It is a surrender to nothing, to a nothingness of lived accounting.

This moment’s goal of productivity, with its all-consuming practice and unattainable horizon, is perfect for our current corporate world. Productivity never asks what it builds, just how much of it can be piled up before we leave or die. It is irrelevant to pleasure. It’s agnostic about the fate of humanity. It’s not even selfish, because production negates the self. Self can only be a denominator, holding up a dividing bar like a caryatid trying to hold up a stone roof.

I am sure this started with the Industrial Revolution, but what has swept through this generation is more recent. This idea of productivity started in the 1980s, with the lionizing of the hardworking greedy. There’s a critique of late capitalism to be had for sure, but what really devastated my generation was the spiritual malaise inherent in Taylorism’s perfectly mechanized human labor. But Taylor had never seen a robot or a computer perfect his methods of being human. By the 1980s, we had. In the age of robots we reinvented the idea of being robots ourselves. We wanted to program our minds and bodies and have them obey clocks and routines. In this age of the human robot, of the materialist mind, being efficient took the pre-eminent spot, beyond goodness or power or wisdom or even cruel greed.

There’s so many casualties to this view of the mechanical human. Wisdom itself has vanished from the discourse, replaced by mere knowing. I don’t mean that these are less wise times, but that the very idea of wisdom has vanished from the culture. If I hear the word being discussed it’s generally as a game stat. Evidence is everything, but the context that gives it meaning is worthless. The very idea of the liberal education that was once the foundation of our Enlightenment culture is mystifyingly irrelevant, even for the rich rulers it was invented for. How, we collectively ask, does understanding history, philosophy, or art make us more productive? The vibrant life was replaced with mere health. Wonder became a pump for applicable creativity. How shall we get everything done? Despite having more labor-saving technology than anyone in history, we have made it so we have more to get done than any form of society before us. We even created a social obligation to enjoy ourselves with maximal efficiency, and called it a tourism industry.

Productivity, the word, was born at the beginning of the 19th century as the ability to bring forth. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 November 2017 at 11:22 am

Science is broken

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A disturbing article in Aeon by Siddhartha Roy and Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech:

The rise of the 20th-century research university in the United States stands as one of the great achievements of human civilisation – it helped to establish science as a public good, and advanced the human condition through training, discovery and innovation. But if the practice of science should ever undermine the trust and symbiotic relationship with society that allowed both to flourish, our ability to solve critical problems facing humankind and civilisation itself will be at risk. We recently explored how increasingly perverse incentives and the academic business modelmight be adversely affecting scientific practices, and by extension, whether a loss of support for science in some segments of society might be more attributable to what science is doing to itself, as opposed what others are doing to science.

We argue that over the past half-century, the incentives and reward structure of science have changed, creating a hypercompetition among academic researchers. Part-time and adjunct faculty now make up 76 per cent of the academic labour force, allowing universities to operate more like businesses, making tenure-track positions much more rare and desirable. Increased reliance on emerging quantitative performance metrics that value numbers of papers, citations and research dollars raised has decreased the emphasis on socially relevant outcomes and quality. There is also concern that these pressures could encourage unethical conduct by scientists and the next generation of STEM scholars who persist in this hypercompetitive environment. We believe that reform is needed to bring balance back to the academy and to the social contract between science and society, to ensure the future role of science as a public good.

The pursuit of tenure traditionally influences almost all decisions, priorities and activities of young faculty at research universities. Recent changes in academia, however, including increased emphasis on quantitative performance metrics, harsh competition for static or reduced federal funding, and implementation of private business models at public and private universities are producing undesirable outcomes and unintended consequences (see Table 1 below).

Quantitative metrics are increasingly dominating decision-making in faculty hiring, promotion and tenure, awards and funding, and creating an intense focus on publication count, citations, combined citation-publication counts (h-index being the most popular), journal impact factors, total research dollars and total patents. All these measures are subject to manipulation as per Goodhart’s law, which states: When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. The quantitative metrics can therefore be misleading and ultimately counterproductive to assessing scientific research.

The increased reliance on quantitative metrics might create inequities and outcomes worse than the systems they replaced. Specifically, if rewards are disproportionally given to individuals manipulating the metrics, well-known problems of the old subjective paradigms (eg, old-boys’ networks) appear simple and solvable. Most scientists think that the damage owing to metrics is already apparent. In fact, 71 per cent of researchers believe that it is possible to ‘game’ or ‘cheat’ their way into better evaluations at their institutions.

This manipulation of the evaluative metrics has been documented. Recent exposés have revealed schemes by journals to manipulate impact factors, use of p-hacking by researchers to mine for statistically significant and publishable results, rigging of the peer-review process itself and over-citation practices. The computer scientist Cyril Labbé at the Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble even created Ike Antkare, a fictional character, who, by virtue of publishing 102 computer-generated fake papers, achieved a stellar h-index of 94 on Google Scholar, surpassing that of Albert Einstein. Blogs describing how to inflate your h-index without committing outright fraud are, in fact, just a Google search away.

Since the Second World War, scientific output as measured by cited work has doubled every nine years. How much of the growth in this knowledge industry is, in essence, illusory and a natural consequence of Goodhart’s law? It is a real question.

Consider the role of quality versus quantity maximising true scientific progress. If a process is overcommitted to quality over quantity, accepted practices might require triple- or quadruple-blinded studies, mandatory replication of results by independent parties, and peer review of all data and statistics before publication. Such a system would produce very few results due to over-caution, and would waste scarce research funding. At another extreme, an overemphasis on quantity would produce numerous substandard papers with lax experimental design, little or no replication, scant quality control and substandard peer-review (see Figure 1 below). As measured by the quantitative metrics, apparent scientific progress would explode, but too many results would be erroneous, and consumers of research would be mired in wondering what was valid or invalid. Such a system merely creates an illusion of scientific progress. Obviously, a balance between quantity and quality is desirable.

It is hypothetically possible that in an environment without quantitative metrics and fewer perverse incentives emphasising quantity over quality, practices of scholarly evaluation (enforced by peer review) would evolve to be near to an optimum level of productivity. But we suspect that the existing perverse-incentive environment is pushing researchers to overemphasise quantity in order to compete, leaving true scientific productivity at less than optimal levels. If the hypercompetitive environment also increased the likelihood and frequency of unethical behaviour, the entire scientific enterprise would be eventually cast into doubt. While there is virtually no research exploring the precise impact of perverse incentives on scientific productivity, most in the academic world would acknowledge a shift towards quantity in research. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2017 at 7:03 pm

Posted in Business, Education, Science

Endowments Boom as Colleges Bury Earnings Overseas

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The blurb:

American universities are using offshore strategies to swell their coffers, skirt taxes and obscure investments that could spark campus protests.

Stephanie Saul describes the corruption of academe:

n 2006, the endowments of Indiana University and Texas Christian University invested millions of dollars in a partnership, hoping to mint riches from oil, gas and coal.

The partnership was formed by the Houston-based Quintana Capital Group, whose principals include Donald L. Evans, an influential Texan and longtime supporter of former President George W. Bush. Little more than a year earlier, Mr. Evans had left his cabinet position as commerce secretary.

Though the group had an impressive Texas pedigree, presidential cachet and ambitions for operations in the United States, the new partnership was established in the Cayman Islands. The founders promised their university and nonprofit investors that the partnership would try to avoid federal taxes by exploiting a loophole called “blocker corporations,” which are typically established in tax havens around the world.

A trove of millions of leaked documents from a Bermuda-based law firm, Appleby, reflects some of the tax wizardry used by American colleges and universities. Schools have increasingly turned to secretive offshore investments, the files show, which let them swell their endowments with blocker corporations, and avoid scrutiny of ventures involving fossil fuels or other issues that could set off campus controversy.

Buoyed by lucrative tax breaks, college endowments have amassed more than $500 billion nationwide. The wealth is concentrated in a small group of schools, tilting toward private institutions like those in the Ivy League and other highly selective colleges. About 11 percent of higher-education institutions in the United States hold 74 percent of the money, according to an analysis in 2015 by the Congressional Research Service.

“It’s overwhelmingly weighted towards the 1 percent,” said Dean Zerbe, former tax counsel to the Senate Finance Committee. “Most of the schools are the most elites in the country.”

The House Republican tax plan includes a 1.4 percent tax on the investment income of private colleges and universities with endowment assets of $250,000 or more per student. It would not apply to public schools. If passed, the new tax would affect about 70 elite private colleges, though it would not touch the type of offshore benefits the Texan partnership pursued.

On Monday, 45 education groups declared their opposition to the bill in a letter to Kevin Brady, the Texas Republican who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee.

Tax ‘Blockers’

College and university endowment earnings are usually tax-exempt. But as endowments have sought greater investment returns in recent years, they have shifted more of their money out of traditional holdings like United States equities to alternative, potentially more lucrative investments. These include private equity and hedge funds that frequently borrow money, opening them up to tax consequences.

When schools earn income from enterprises unrelated to their core educational missions, they can be required to pay a tax that was intended to prevent nonprofits from competing unfairly with for-profit businesses.

Establishing another corporate layer between private equity funds and endowments effectively blocks any taxable income from flowing to the endowments, the reason they are called blocker corporations. The tax is instead owed by the corporations, which are established in no-tax or low-tax jurisdictions like the Cayman Islands or the British Virgin Islands.

“Congress is essentially subsidizing nonprofits by allowing them to engage in these transactions,” said Norman I. Silber, a law professor at Hofstra University who co-authored a paper on blocker corporations in 2015. “They’re allowing them to borrow so that they can build up their endowments.”

The use of blocker corporations has raised concerns among policymakers in recent years. That’s partly because . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

8 November 2017 at 10:34 am

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