Chasing Amy

Amy Harmon keeps making mistakes.  Right now she thinks that the math establishment  must be out to get black mathematicians, since there so few of them.  But with an IQ gap, the fraction of a low-scoring group that scores over a high threshold will be significantly lower than the fraction of an IQ-100 group that does so.  As you raise the threshold, this disparity becomes larger and larger. While the threshold IQ for being a professional mathematician is about as high as it gets for any profession.  Even higher than the threshold IQ for being a reporter.

To be fair, not many people to seem to understand this point. I talked about it some time ago, here.

Reminds me of the school where the math faculty was hiring Argentine Jews to satisfy their Hispanic quota.



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41 Responses to Chasing Amy

  1. Polynices says:

    The Argentine Jews hiring story prompts me to share the story of the Spaniard I went to medical school with. They admitted him to fill their “Hispanic” quota. A white European guy who happened to speak Spanish. He was brilliant and going for a simultaneous PhD so no harm done. But still.

    • That happens a lot in a chemistry department at a midwest University whose name I don’t want to share. They have hired seven grad students, two professors and a bunch of postdocs and are very happy about it.

    • Unladen Swallow says:

      Similar to how the NYT has referred to Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem as “Latino” actors nominated for Oscars.

  2. Peter Connor says:

    Yes, 1 SD+ is a tough hurdle to overcome when competing against those uncool Northern Europeans, Jews, and North Asians….Unfair, even.

    • Edward says:

      Around a 20-point IQ gap between African-Americans and East Asian-Americans; a 25-point gap separating them from Indian-Americans; and close to a 30-point IQ gap separating them from Ashkenazi Jewish-Americans.

      This gaps aren’t insignificant, as the likes of Amy Harmon might one day claim (when they accept the evidence). They are huge.

  3. Leonard says:

    I doubt Harmon’s problem is not understanding the implications of different means of bell curves on the proportions of their extremes. (Although I agree with you in doubting that she does understand that, I expect she could in a non-wrongthink context.) Her problem is that she doesn’t know that an intelligence gap exists, and indeed fervently believes the opposite. She may know that a gap has been measured in certain contexts, i.e., IQ or SATs or Fields Medals or whatever, but she will believe that these measurements are wrong in some way as a measurement of intelligence, and as such just another artifact of racism. Again: blacks and whites are, and should be, equal. Any purported measurements that contradict that statement are prima facie part of the problem.

  4. She’s not making mistakes. She’s advancing her career by helping some folks carve out a bigger affirmative action windfall for themselves. She almost certainly believes that they deserve it, so you can’t even say it’s cynical. She’s doing well by doing good.

    Remember the power pose lady? She explained that she stretched the truth to help people. I think you underestimate the degree to which these people believe that when you put on some credentials and announce something from a bully pulpit, the stuff you’re spouting actually becomes true.

  5. skeptic16 says:

    I wonder how Neil Turok’s search for the “African Einstein” is going.

  6. Space Ghost says:

    BSc in mathematics and physics from Caltech and PhD in mathematics from Stanford. So this guy is probably in the top .01% of mathematical ability. Unfortunately you need to be in the top 0.0001% of mathematical ability to be a tenured professor at a top-50 research university.

    • ASR says:

      My impression is that even highly intelligent people outside the field have considerable difficulty understanding the level of intelligence, special mathematical gifts, and pure dedicated enjoyment of the effort required to understand and contribute to mathematical research, even at the level of a fourth or fifth rate mathematician. I seriously doubt that Hamon has the intellectual chops to even grasp what I’m getting at..

      • Frau Katze says:

        People do underestimate how difficult Math and related Physics are. I’m forced to note that despite graduating with high marks (in the mid-70s) I had since totally forgotten about “completing the square” until reminded and had trouble reading equations typed in (I am used to the easier-to-read handwritten or book style). True, I hadn’t used Math much in the intervening decades but still.

        • Rosenmops says:

          People tend to forget math if they don’t use it for a few years. But it would come back to you easily it you started studying again. Once you have used a particular topic repeatedly over a period of time (usually longer than 1 semester) it will stay with you.

    • Edward says:

      Those estimates are a bit off. The Fields Medalist Richard Borcherds has a full-scale IQ of 137. His performance IQ was 147 (which is in the top 0.09%), so I suspect that his mathematical ability will be in the top 0.01%, at most.

      I suspect that Borcherds probably has a fairly low IQ for a Fields Medalist, but the statement that you need to be in the “top 0.0001% of mathematical ability to be a tenured professor at a top-50 research university” is very likely to be false.

    • liamtheobscure says:

      The top 0.0001% is one in a million, so there are only like 325 people in the country in the top 0.0001%. And I doubt they’re all tenured professors.

  7. Spanky says:

    the threshold IQ for being a reporter.
    Can that pinnacle be reached by mere mortals?

  8. Gringo says:

    Here is an excerpt from her article:
    What I Learned While Reporting on the Dearth of Black Mathematicians. My recent reporting has highlighted why racial exclusion in “the queen of the sciences’’ may matter most of all.

    No one tallies the number of black mathematicians in those departments, but as best I can tell, there are 13. That comes to seven-tenths of 1 percent of the total — perhaps as far as any job classification gets from accurately reflecting the share of black Americans in the general adult population, which stands at 13 percent.

    It’s a fair bet that most math Ph.Ds. got 750 or above on the Math SAT. How do blacks do on the Math SAT? Of those who score 750 or above on the Math SAT, what proportion are black? How does this compare with the 0.7% of math professors who are black?

    Journal of Blacks in Higher Education: The Widening Racial Scoring Gap on the SAT College Admissions Test provides us with the answer.

    In 2005, 153,132 African Americans took the SAT test. They made up 10.4 percent of all SAT test takers…
    If we raise the top-scoring threshold to students scoring 750 or above on both the math and verbal SAT — a level equal to the mean score of students entering the nation’s most selective colleges such as Harvard, Princeton, and CalTech — we find that in the entire country 244 blacks scored 750 or above on the math SAT and 363 black students scored 750 or above on the verbal portion of the test. Nationwide, 33,841 students scored at least 750 on the math test and 30,479 scored at least 750 on the verbal SAT. Therefore, black students made up 0.7 percent of the test takers who scored 750 or above on the math test and 1.2 percent of all test takers who scored 750 or above on the verbal section.

    Blacks comprised 0.7% of those who scored 750 or above on the Math SAT, and also comprised 0.7% of Math professors. Looks to me as if there is no racial exclusion at all in doctoral level mathematics. On the contrary, Math SAT scores and blacks as math professors track very well.

  9. Citizen AllenM says:

    The moment I realized she is literally chasing her tail

    “That includes the well-documented racial disparities in public-school resources, the selection of students for gifted programs — and the fact that having a parent with a Ph.D. is helpful to getting one in math, while black children are less than half as likely as white children to live with such a parent.”

    Um, well, okay.

    Math is so biased because of teh Ashburgers- so the real question is how have we given so many PhDs to those on the spectrum? The lovely insensitivity she documents is a well known problem in Special Ed- so now what we should instead do is force those who have poor social skills into a remedial class or two….

    Then maybe….
    Should we have a special track for normies in programming and math?


    • Should we have a special track for normies in programming and math?

      We do. It’s called “Community College”.

    • dearieme says:

      “having a parent with a Ph.D. … black children are less than half as likely as white children to live with such a parent.” There are a hell of a lot of numbers that are less than a half, but it still sounds like a remarkably obtuse thing to say.

  10. ccscientist says:

    Many activists like her simply deny that there is any need for special skills in any profession, when in fact the IQ needed to be a math prof is pretty stratospheric.
    Another factor here is that blacks smart enough to be math profs probably become doctors instead.

  11. “In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is…in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.”

    Theodore Dalrymple

    • Pincher Martin says:


    • Harold says:

      This always sounded like a load of crap to me.

      • gcochran9 says:

        Me too, especially if we’re talking real Communist states. I wouldn’t rule it out for today though.

      • Pincher Martin says:

        Theodore Dalrymple wasn’t the one to come up with this idea. For example, you can read Vaclav Havel and come across very similar thoughts. I also recently made the acquaintance of an old Russian-American lady in San Francisco, educated at Berkeley late in her life, who believes the same thing and made an explicit comparison to political correctness in America as being similar to the type of propaganda she often heard as a young woman when living in the Soviet Union.

        Can these former communist citizens be wrong? Yes. Political correctness in America doesn’t have the full power of the state behind it yet, as Commie ideology would have in the former Communist states, but I am surprised to the degree that the U.S. courts and bureaucracies support it in little ways that make it difficult to challenge without feeling that the transgressor of the new PC norms will be punished.

        • Frau Katze says:

          But it has strong social effect on the people who have been fed the propaganda. I remember reading “The Mismeasure of Man” but I couldn’t figure out how he was able to discredit “The Bell Curve.” (I had not read the latter at that point). I still had faith in “experts” especially someone like Stephen Gould. I just assumed I was too stupid to understand it.

          That was years ago, I wasn’t very old. I would have been in my early 20s.

          But I have seen how the echo chamber works by observing my daughter. She is very sharp, won some award after her undergrad degree in Chemistry. But she wanted to go to medical school. She was accepted on her first try. She’s also got the ability to speak well and sound professional. She was like that from an early age,

          But it goes like this: medical school + residency is extremely demanding. It leaves no time for outside studying. Then she started worked as a surgeon, with a short time off for each of her two kids. With a family and a demanding job she is in no position to research the mainstream media claims for errors.

          Furthermore she is surrounded by friends (and her husband), all themselves successful at demanding jobs. Why would any of them think the MSM are liars?

          I tried very gently to try to convince but both she and her husband were shocked that I was apparently such a bigot, although she had to admit I hadn’t ever spoken of it before. I changed the subject and never brought it up again. (They did mention that her husband’s mother was “like me.”)

          9/11 was the turning point for me. Both kids were moving out, leaving my evenings free. I soon discovered that the MSM were in some cases telling outright lies. “Islam is peace.”

          If they could lie about that they could lie about anything.

          My less successful son is much more street wise than his sister, despite all her professional success. Indeed, that very success operates against her.

  12. Amy may be suffering from blind sight. She cannot see stuff, but to her great surprise she can reach out and touch it. Baffling.

  13. Steve Hsu: Psychometric thresholds for physics and mathematics

    “We find evidence of a non-linear threshold: below SAT-M score of roughly 600, the probability of success is very low.”

  14. Scott Locklin says:

    Fun anecdote which I get to tell as the protagonist is no longer around to tell me I’m a jerk for mentioning it (not fun he’s gone; he was an amazing friend):

    Famous physics guy got pulled into a witch hunt looking for sexism in the UC Berkeley math department since they didn’t have any lady mathematicians (he was never good at adding accurate time stamps to his anecdotes; this could have taken place anywhere from 1965 to 2005 or so; my impression is it was 90s). They tried to find evidence of some kind of hostile work environment, angry female post docs or grad students who felt slighted, obvious problems with the search program; mean sexist things any of the professors had said or done. They came up with nothing, as most mathematicians are too busy being nerdy to do such things, and as it was Berkeley and all, they’re generally up to date on the latest in political correctness to avoid triggering anyone. At the end the committee internally agreed there was no sexism in the UC Berkeley math department. But, when making their report, they had to phrase it as “there is definitely sexism here, but we couldn’t find it.” My late pal was never asked back on other such committees due to him asserting it was silly to make such assertions despite there being no evidence. He also thought it was weird the younger professors in the physics department thought being on such committees was a great way to get a promotion.

    Anyway, they have all kinds of diversity now; maybe later committees found the hidden sources of bad juju:

  15. Xenophon Hendrix says:

    Maybe a sports analogy will help someone. The number of players with a PGA Tour card, that is, playing privileges on the Tour, on a given year is about 175, plus a few more. On the PGA Tour’s junior tour, presently called the Tour, are roughly another 200 players. The best players are about as good, on average, as the worst PGA Tour players. We know this because there are several golfers who bounce back and forth between the two tours over the course of several seasons.

    The European PGA and its junior tour are roughly the same size, with just slightly less average ability (because the best European players tend to also play on the American tours). Then there are a few international players – from the Japan, Korean, South African, Australian tours, etc. – that can play with the big boys, as can be seen at the major tournaments and the World Golf Championships.
    Added together, there are approximately 800 top male professional tournament golfers in the world. This is roughly the same order of magnitude as the number of tenured mathematicians – 1,769, according to Harmon’s article – employed by top U. S. universities.

    Now, a good athlete who practices a lot and tries hard can get his handicap into single digits. A few excellent amateurs can get their handicaps down to zero, scratch. Scratch golfers are excellent golfers. Most dedicated amateurs can never reach scratch no matter how much they try and practice.

    Professional-level tournament golfers are at least four strokes better than scratch. Being a tenured mathematician, by analogy, looks to be the equivalent of a golfer that is three strokes or so better than scratch. It’s an impressive accomplishment that most of us could never achieve even if we really wanted to.

  16. Boswald von Bollocksworth says:

    Given the numbers of Koreans and Chinese in math, it’s plausible the mean level of wacism among phds is quite high. Really any STEM field.

  17. uhoh says:

    I think this guy’s story makes complete sense and has little or nothing to do with racism. I met him a few times back around 2000. We were postdocs working in roughly the same area. There’s always a pool of them bouncing around between contract jobs and visiting positions at top places in the US and Europe, waiting and hoping to get called up to the big leagues. He always seemed like a good guy. Generous, kind, soft-spoken, not posturing. Not a complainer.

    He never struck me as one of the ones who would make it, but it’s always hard to tell with the modest ones. According to the article, he was working on a big problem (not named) and had the ear of RT. So probably RT thought he had some promising ideas, and he got a tenure-track job based on the strength of RT’s letter. Those ideas didn’t pan out. He has one paper in a rank-50 journal and a couple in a rank-150 journal, and others in some very minor journals. That’s got to be well below his department’s standards. But he’s apparently wonderful at teaching and mentoring students and is willing to help run things, both locally and nationally. Since some fraction of their department also has stalled research, that’s not the worst thing and they give him tenure. Maybe his race played a part too. I don’t even think there’s anything wrong with that if it’s for a real reason, like he’s been successful at attracting lots of black of students to the major (instead of, say, being a diversity badge for a department head with his eye on a deanship).

    But in research departments, being a good researcher is what gets you respect. If you’re not, you’re not asked to be on hiring committees. Everyone tries to be polite and respectful, but he can tell who they really respect. And he can read his own CV. So he gets a job at a quality teaching college in sunny CA, where he’s from and where they will value him for what he enjoys and is good at. I’d probably do the same.

    If you read what he wrote himself, it’s really all about research versus teaching and being valued for what he actually cares about. It seems the journalist went fishing for a racial discrimination story and was able cobble together enough quotes to make it sound like there was something there.

  18. Pingback: Useless idiot – posttenuretourettes

  19. Steven Wilson says:

    Re your golf analogy. I don’t know if you play or not, but I have for sixty plus years and for a about three very sweet years had a handicap that hung around six. It’s a truth generally acknowledged among those in the know that a five, or in my case six, handicapper is closer to becoming a fifteen than he is to becoming a two. It’s simply a matter of diminishing returns as there is a natural talent level that can be honed to a certain sharpness but no further. I assume the same principal applies in mathematics and to an even greater degree. If you don’t have the basic smarts, and I don’t, then no matter of study is going to allow you to be a tenured mathematician.

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