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Does It Matter Where You Go to College? - The Atlantic
"Research suggests that elite colleges don’t really help rich white guys. But they can have a big effect if you’re not rich, not white, or not a guy."


"These findings send three different messages to three different parties.

First, to high-strung affluent parents, well-compensated counselors, and other members of the elite-admissions industrial complex: Just relax, okay? You are inflicting on American teenagers a ludicrous amount of pointless anxiety. Even if you subscribe to the dubious idea that young people ought to maximize for vocational prestige and income, the research suggests that elite colleges are not critical to achieving those ends. In the aggregate, individual characteristics swamp institutional characteristics. It’s more important to be hardworking and curious than to receive a certain thick envelope.

Second, to academics researching the benefits of college: Keep working. The robust debate over the benefits of attending an elite college lives concentrically within a larger conversation about whether college is worth it in the first place. It’s critical—to not only the country’s economic future, but hundreds of millions of individual Americans’ futures—that we learn more about how and why college matters, so that it can help the right people.

Third, to admissions officers of elite colleges: Do better. America’s most selective colleges can, it seems, change the lives of minorities and low-income students. But they’re still bastions of privilege. They enroll more students from the top 1 percent of the income scale than the entire bottom 60 percent. In this way, elite institutions are like factories of social mobility being used as storage facilities for privilege; they have the potential to use their space to manufacture opportunity at scale, but mostly they clear out real estate for the already rich, who are going to be fine, anyway. In America today, high-income parents are desperate to find the right colleges for their kids. It should be the opposite: The highest-income colleges should be desperate to find the right kids for their seats."
derekthompson  colleges  universities  data  education  highered  highereducation  admissions  addedvalue  anxiety  parenting  competition  inequality  academia 
december 2018 by robertogreco
A World Without Work - The Atlantic
"Decades from now, perhaps the 20th century will strike future historians as an aberration, with its religious devotion to overwork in a time of prosperity, its attenuations of family in service to job opportunity, its conflation of income with self-worth. The post-work society I’ve described holds a warped mirror up to today’s economy, but in many ways it reflects the forgotten norms of the mid-19th century—the artisan middle class, the primacy of local communities, and the unfamiliarity with widespread joblessness.

The three potential futures of consumption, communal creativity, and contingency are not separate paths branching out from the present. They’re likely to intertwine and even influence one another. Entertainment will surely become more immersive and exert a gravitational pull on people without much to do. But if that’s all that happens, society will have failed. The foundry in Columbus shows how the “third places” in people’s lives (communities separate from their homes and offices) could become central to growing up, learning new skills, discovering passions. And with or without such places, many people will need to embrace the resourcefulness learned over time by cities like Youngstown, which, even if they seem like museum exhibits of an old economy, might foretell the future for many more cities in the next 25 years.

On my last day in Youngstown, I met with Howard Jesko, a 60-year-old Youngstown State graduate student, at a burger joint along the main street. A few months after Black Friday in 1977, as a senior at Ohio State University, Jesko received a phone call from his father, a specialty-hose manufacturer near Youngstown. “Don’t bother coming back here for a job,” his dad said. “There aren’t going to be any left.” Years later, Jesko returned to Youngstown to work, but he recently quit his job selling products like waterproofing systems to construction companies; his customers had been devastated by the Great Recession and weren’t buying much anymore. Around the same time, a left-knee replacement due to degenerative arthritis resulted in a 10-day hospital stay, which gave him time to think about the future. Jesko decided to go back to school to become a professor. “My true calling,” he told me, “has always been to teach.”

One theory of work holds that people tend to see themselves in jobs, careers, or callings. Individuals who say their work is “just a job” emphasize that they are working for money rather than aligning themselves with any higher purpose. Those with pure careerist ambitions are focused not only on income but also on the status that comes with promotions and the growing renown of their peers. But one pursues a calling not only for pay or status, but also for the intrinsic fulfillment of the work itself.

When I think about the role that work plays in people’s self-esteem—particularly in America—the prospect of a no-work future seems hopeless. There is no universal basic income that can prevent the civic ruin of a country built on a handful of workers permanently subsidizing the idleness of tens of millions of people. But a future of less work still holds a glint of hope, because the necessity of salaried jobs now prevents so many from seeking immersive activities that they enjoy."
2015  universalbasicincome  labor  work  society  economics  automation  technology  derekthompson  us  inequality  wpa  history  future  ubi 
july 2015 by robertogreco
Why Experts Reject Creativity - The Atlantic
"The physicist Max Planck put it best: "Science advances one funeral at a time.”

One place to watch the funeral march of science is America's peer-review process for academic research, which allocates $40 billion each year to new ideas in medicine, engineering, and technology. Every year, the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation review nearly 100,000 applications for funding. The vast majority—up to 90 percent in some years—are rejected. For many breakthrough ideas, this selection process is the difference between life and death, financial backing and financial bankruptcy.

What sort of proposals do NIH evaluators approve? It’s a critical question for scientists. And the answer is nobody knows. Submissions receive such widely varying treatment that the relationship between evaluators' decisions is “perilously close to rates found for Rorschach inkblot tests,” according to a 2012 review.

A new ingenious paper raises a dangerous question: Are expert evaluators subtly biased against new ideas?

Researchers Kevin J. Boudreau, Eva Guinan, Karim R. Lakhani, and Christoph Riedl recruited 142 world-class researchers from a leading medical school and randomly assigned them to evaluate several proposals. Sometimes, faculty were experts in the subject of the submissions they read. Often, they were experts in other fields. But in all cases, the experiment was triple-blind: Evaluators did not know submitters, submitters did not know evaluators, and evaluators did not talk to each other.

The researchers found that new ideas—those that remixed information in surprising ways—got worse scores from everyone, but they were particularly punished by experts. "Everyone dislikes novelty,” Lakhami explained to me, but “experts tend to be over-critical of proposals in their own domain." Knowledge doesn’t just turn us into critical thinkers. It maybe turns us into over-critical thinkers. (In the real world, everybody has encountered a variety of this: A real or self-proclaimed expert who's impatient with new ideas, because they challenge his ego, piercing the armor of his expertise.)

Experts might be particularly biased against new ideas*, but most people aren't too fond of creativity either. In fact, they can be downright hostile.

A 1999 study found that teachers who claim to enjoy creative children don't actually enjoy any of the characteristics associated with creativity, such as non-conformity. A famous 2010 study from the University of Pennsylvania showed that ordinary people often dismiss new ideas, because their uncertainty makes us think, and thinking too hard makes us feel uncomfortable. "People often reject creative ideas even when espousing creativity as a desired goal," the researchers wrote. People are subtly prejudiced against novelty, even when they claim to be open to new ways of thinking.

* * *

How should creative people fight this widespread prejudice against creativity? Perhaps by disguising their new ideas as old ideas. If people are attracted to the familiar, it’s crucial for creative people to frame their ideas in ways that seem recognizable, predictable, and safe.

We're not prejudiced against all creativity, Karim Lakhani told me. In fact, his team studying academic submissions found that slightly novel medical proposals got the highest ratings. The graph below shows evaluation scores on the Y-axis plotted against the measured novelty of each submission. The overall trajectory is downward. Newer ideas generally got worse ratings. But you'll notice that something important is happening at the left end of the curve ...

[image]

... the line goes up. Indeed, that small bump at the beginning suggests there is an "optimal newness" for ideas that lives somewhere between the fresh and the familiar, Lakhami said.

In Hollywood, the "high-concept pitch" offers a useful example. Film producers, like NIH scientists, have to evaluate hundreds of ideas a year, but can only accept a tiny percentage. To grab their attention, writers often frame original ideas as a fresh combination of existing ideas. "It’s Groundhog Day meets War of the Worlds!” Or “It’s Transformers on the ocean!" In Silicon Valley, where venture capitalists also shift through a surfeit of proposals, the culture of the high-concept pitch is vibrant (Airbnb was once eBay for homes; Uber, Lyft, and Zipcar were all once considered Airbnb for cars; now, people want Uber for everything).

Creative people often bristle at the suggestion that they have to stoop to marketing their ideas. It's more pleasant to think that one's brilliance is self-evident and doesn't require the gloss of sales or the theater of marketing. But whether you're an academic, screenwriter, or entrepreneur, the difference between a brilliant new idea with bad marketing a mediocre idea with excellent marketing can be the difference between success and bankruptcy.

American culture worships creativity, but mostly in the abstract. Most people really don't like new ideas that sound entirely new, particularly the experts that often have to approve them. The trick is learning to frame new ideas as old ideas—to make your creativity seem, well, not quite so creative."
creativity  expertise  experts  framing  communication  novelty  2014  bias  innovation  derekthompson  newideas  ideas  acadmemia  science  research  marketing 
october 2014 by robertogreco
The Agony of Perfectionism - Derek Thompson - The Atlantic
"The fortress of classic economics was built on the slushy marsh of rational consumer theory. The once-popular belief that we all possess every relevant piece of information to make choices about buying fridges, TVs, or whatever, has since given way to a less commendable, but more accurate, description of buyers, which is that we basically have no freaking clue what we're doing most of the time. Prices, marketing, discounts, even the layout of store and shelves: They're all hazards strewn about the obstacle course of decision-making, tripping us up, blocking our path, and nudging us toward choices that are anything but rational.

Today, rather than consider consumers to be a monolith of reason, some economists and psychologists prefer to think of us as falling into two mood groups: maximizers and satisficers. Maximizers are perfectionists. They want the best of everything, and they want to know they have the best of everything. Satisficers are realists. They want what's good enough, and they're happy to have it.

The trouble with perfectionists is that, by wanting the best, they aspire to be perfectly rational consumers in a world where we all agree that's impossible. It's a recipe for dissatisfaction, way too much work, and even depression.

In "Maximizing Versus Satisficing: Happiness Is a Matter of Choice," published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that maximizers are more likely to be have regret and depression and less likely to report being happy, optimistic, or have high self-esteem.

To be a maximizer requires an "impossible" and "exhaustive search of the possibilities," that invariably ends with regret when the person realizes, after the purchase, that there might have been a better choice. This regret actually "[reduces] the satisfaction derived from one’s choice." The paradox of caring too much about having the perfect version of everything is that you wind up feel dissatisfied with all of it.

A new paper published in the Journal of Consumer Research further illuminates the onerous woe of perfectionism. Maximizers apply for more jobs, attend more job interviews, spend more time worrying about their social status, and wind up less happy, less optimistic, "and more depressed and regretful" than everybody else.

In a battery of tests designed to prime subjects to act like maximizers and satisficers, the researchers validated just about every stereotype about perfectionists: They work harder, search more deeply, and perform better in their jobs, but the emotional byproducts of their accomplishments are regret and dissatisfaction. (You might say that hard-earned success in life is wasted on the people least likely to appreciate it.)

Both papers concluded that the Internet is a briar patch of misery for maximizers. Not only does it allow them to more easily compare their lot to the sepia-toned success stories of their peers on Facebook and Instagram, but also it makes comparison shopping hell. From the first paper's discussion section:
The proliferation of options [online] raises people’s standards for determining what counts as a success, [from] breakfast cereals to automobiles to colleges to careers. Second, failure to meet those standards in a domain containing multiple options encourages one to treat failures as the result of personal shortcomings rather than situational limitations, thus encouraging a causal attribution for failure that we might call “depressogenic.” [ed: had to look that one up.]

In short: The Internet doesn't have to make you miserable. But if you insist on comparing your choices and your life to every available alternative accessible through a Google search, it will.

For consumers, this means embracing the limitations of classical economics. We don't know everything. We don't have everything. And that's okay. Pretending otherwise is, in fact, anything but rational."

[See also: http://www.swarthmore.edu/SocSci/bschwar1/maximizing.pdf ]
choice  choices  paradoxofchoice  perfectionists  satisficers  economics  rationality  reason  2014  unhappiness  happiness  depression  jobhunting  perfectionism  optimism  regret  worry  anxiety  possibilities  satisfaction  caring  self-esteem  realism  derekthompson  advertising  internet  infooverload  information  comparison 
march 2014 by robertogreco
The Spectacular Rise and Fall of U.S. Whaling: An Innovation Story - Derek Thompson - Business - The Atlantic
"The life and death of American whaling might seem like a precious nostalgia trip, but it's really a modern story about innovation. It's about how technology replaces workers and enriches workers, how rising wages benefit us and challenge companies, and how opportunity costs influence investors and change economies. The essay can stand on its own, without my muddying the waters with political points about how Washington or CEOs should learn from yesterday's Ahabs. Suffice it to say that whaling became the fifth largest industry in the United States in the 1850s, and within decades, it had disappeared.

And yet, perhaps with a mischievous sense of curiosity, some time late last Sunday night, I scoured my notes for a graph I remembered, which ranked US sectors by employment. Would you guess what the fifth largest sector in the US economy is today? It's manufacturing. The parallels are obvious, but also easy to overstate. Manufacturing is in decline as a fount of jobs…"
2012  employment  technology  jobs  manufacturing  us  change  whaling  business  history  economics  derekthompson 
february 2012 by robertogreco

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