Coding Error

James Coleman published an influential study in 1966, “Equality of Educational Opportunity”. It found that variation in school quality (per pupil expenditure, size of school library, and so on)  had little influence on  educational achievement, while students’ family backgrounds did.  Which is consistent with genetic influences.

He did find that a student’s educational attainment was related to that of other students in the school – somehow, educational success rubbed off on others. This was often cited as evidence to support policies of forced integration and busing.

But that finding was a mistake – due to a coding error.  Which I first thought meant missing a parenthesis in some computer program, but more likely had to do with mislabeling or misclassifying entered data.






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Everyone makes mistakes

Razib Khan dredged up an article that talked about the role of Japanese intelligence and/or the Black Dragon Society in furthering the developing of  black nationalist groups before WWII – one such group eventually developed into the Nation of Islam. Perhaps this accounts for some of the odd Yacub stuff, which I’m pretty sure isn’t in the Koran.

But there was a very interesting point mentioned in that article that Razib did not notice, or perhaps did not find interesting:

“”After Nation of Islam members participated in what was reported as a human sacrifice, NOI founder W. D. Fard was instructed by Detroit detectives to leave the city in December 1932. ”

Probably everybody knows about this, except me.





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Learning to Decode

(Stolen from David Kahn’s _The CodeBreakers_.


In the presidential election of 1876, Samuel J. Tilden had a quarter-million majority of the popular vote,. but the outcome of the electoral college vote depended on which of the rival returns from Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina and Oregon were accepted. If all of the disputed ballots went Republican, Hayes would win by one electoral vote. A special electoral commission awarded all of  them to Hayes, by a straight party-line vote – and Hayes became President.

During the ensuing controversy, a Congressional committee investigated persistent Democratic rumors of Republican purchase of electors’ votes. As part of this investigation, they subpoenaed 641 political telegrams – those that hadn’t been burned by Western Union.  27 of those enciphered telegrams were leaked to the New York Tribune, run by Whitelaw Reid.

Now it’s 1878.  Manton Marble, one of Tilden’s closest political advisors, had written an open letter to the New York Sun contrasting dark Republican practices with Tilden’s station in “the keen bright sunlight of publicity.” Reid wants to decipher those messages, but doesn’t know how. Many people suggest ideas, but they fail. One meta-idea was good  – the Secretary of State suggested hiring a young mathematician.

The managing editor, John Hassard, decide to try and crack the cryptograms. Shortly thereafter, William Grosvenor, the economic editor of the Tribune, did as well.  A little later Edward Holden, a mathematician at the U.S. Naval Observatory, added his efforts.

They made a fundamental advance in cipher analysis, and they read almost all of the coded messages.  My, but they were interesting.

Tilden’s campaign manager ( and nephew) , Colonel William Pelton, had been offering to pay electors to switch their vote. He only needed one ! He offered an elector  from South Carolina $85,000 – a fair piece of change in those days.

All this came out a few weeks before the 1878 off-year elections.  The Democrats did poorly, and although Tilden claimed he had no idea that his nephew/manager was doing all this ( in Tilton’s house !), the disclosures ended his presidential aspirations.  As his old supporter, the Sun, sadly conceded, “Mr. Tilden will not again be the Presidential candidate of any party.”

Reid ended up Ambassador to the Court of St. James.



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Free Parameter

What if this coronavirus were 10 times more deadly? 20 times?  What if it hit all ages equally, or was especially lethal to young adults ( like the 1918 flu)? What if it crippled, like polio?

Would people in those hypothetical scenarios have been as crazy as they are now,?  They are not impossible: the idea  that natural selection tightly limits  possible virulence is not correct.  In the famous misapplied example, myxomatosis, virulence in rabbits dropped from > 99% to ~ 50% – but I wouldn’t quite call  that having a cold. And it involved selection acting on the rabbits, as well – old-fashioned rabbit strains exhibit much higher than 50% mortality when exposed to current strains of myxomatosis.

I don’t believe that there’s a reserve supply of sanity that is called out when it’s truly needed.  Not this year, anyhow.






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Too Many Muons

There is a notion that radiation may be  limiting qubit lifetime. Even if you use low-radiation materials and shielding, you still have to worry about muons generated by cosmic rays.  They are very penetrating – some reach kilometers down into the rock.

If so,  we may need to build quantum computers several klicks underground.  The deeper, the better:  another factor of ten attenuation of the muon flux could materially extend qubit lifetime and drastically improve performance.

We could perhaps use the old Homestake mine in South Dakota,  now the location for DUSEL (Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory ).   But it’s only 2.4 km down.

The best mines ( for our purpose) are more than 3 kilometers deep, and a few approach 4 km.  The problem is, of all the ten deepest mines in the world, only one is in the US.

The United States faces a mine shaft gap.





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Blood Will Tell

Most psychological traits are significantly, although not overwhelmingly, heritable.  So if you are given information about the psychology of close relatives of some person, you know more than you did before about that person. On average. If his kids, sibs, parents are all extremely smart ( or extremely dumb, or extremely crazy), you have a better estimate of his true nature than you did in the absence of that information about relatives.  For that matter, group membership will also alter your estimate, if the two groups in question are fairly different.   In some cases, it can make a big difference: if someone tells you that a Pygmy is 6′ 6″  ( and not a pituitary case)  you would assign that a very low probability.

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Isogenic Rats

It strikes me that isogenic rat lines would be well suited to the commercial production of Rat Kings.

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The Paras

The French Generals that had fought the Algerian war for a long time came to think that Algeria was important.  Terrible things would happen of France gave it up.

Gee, I wonder if the chuckleheads that spent most of their professional careers in Iraq and Afghanistan are that dumb.

Of course they are !



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Sword of Honour

Early in his Sword of Honour series, Evelyn Waugh’s autobiographical hero rejoices in the purity of his country’s cause: all the big dictatorships of Europe are on the other side. The Soviet Union is actively aiding the Axis – vitiating the British blockade with megabushels of raw materials, freeing up the Wehrmacht to attack Western Europe, divvying up Poland,  having the local Communist parties strike defense plants and argue for surrender. The Soviets even asked to join the Tripartite Pact.

And Guy Crouchback thinks that this is just the greatest thing in the world.

No compromise !

Because he’s an idiot.

So.  Why is Russia the “real threat” to the US, rather than China? Do we want to make absolutely sure that they never get close enough for us to catch their cooties? Have the members of the Establishment in Washington never played a single game of Risk?

Well, maybe they’re idiots too.  Probably a different kind of idiot.





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O-Ring Industries vs the Seven Wonders.

O-Ring industries are ones in which a number of interrelated tasks must all be completed successfully – ones in which a moderate increase in workers’ skills greatly increases the probability of success.  The idea was originated by Kremer, and further developed by Jones.  It helps explain why the richest, smartest  countries produce entirely different, much more sophisticated ( and profitable)   goods than the poorest, dumbest countries – because they can.

It strikes me that maximally-complexity O-ring-type projects might be serve as an index of a society’s capabilities – something like the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, but a better measure. This tells you something different from peaks of individual intellectual accomplishment.

So, Boeing and Airbus jets are pretty O-Ringish. Same for jet fighters and nuclear submarines.  CERN and LIGO certainly qualify.  Jack Parson’s Lab is a steady producer.    Modern computer chips are good examples, as are operating systems.

What were the O-Ring Wonders in 1500? ? 1 AD?

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