Steve Hsu

Again I control for quality.

From his blog

  • Katz is right on the money. If I had a son or daughter about to embark on a scientific career, I would ask them to read this essay first.
  • I do disagree with all the nutty idealists who deny that ordinary labor economics plays a role in our field. If salary or working conditions are bad, you *will* lose good people from the talent pool. Of course you can sit on your high horse and say that physics doesn’t need anyone who really cares about crass material things, but then you are only left with very atypical personalities in the pool (oops, are we already there?).

    Wall St. quants (or Silicon Valley technologists) are not necessarily losers who couldn’t make it in academic science. Many are very, very able types who just made a career decision, balancing economic return against intellectual reward. The sad thing is that occasionally in some committee or faculty meeting (esp. those with non-physicists) I am reminded that many of my “peers” in academia are actually not as smart as people I know at hedge funds.

  • I cannot stand the lip service paid to math and science by our “leaders” when in fact they routinely cut funding and send their kids to study law at Harvard. Sure, we all benefit from those busy drones advancing science and technology. But do you want your kid to be one of those underpaid drones?
  • I don’t know how you measure “leadership” except through high school activities. I’d be surprised if Espenshade doesn’t have access to that data and therefore can (try to) control for it when he, e.g., holds all factors fixed and examines race as an independent variable. My suspicion is that if a white applicant is President of the student body the admissions people tag her as a future go-getter, whereas if an Asian kid is President they tag him as a nerd padding his resume. But we can’t know without looking deeper into the data. It’s also possible that recommenders (teachers, coaches) are more often rating the white applicants as future leaders and less often doing so with the Asians. In that case you can’t blame the admissions people — the letters say what they say.
  • China’s development is broad based and real. They have capabilities across a range of technologies and industries, and have first rate infrastructure in many places. If the rest of the world vanished (with the exception of oil producing states!) China could maintain a modern level of development using just its domestic industry and technology. There’s not much they can’t do at this point, from chips to software to airplanes to cars to nuclear power to satellites and space launch. I think India is on the other end of the spectrum – very unbalanced.
  • Aggressive or glib salesy types are more common among the S. Asians. There is even a stereotype among E. Asians (from Asia, even in my father’s generation) that S. Asians can be big talkers who don’t back it up. In Confucian culture, this is considered very bad. Traditional E. Asians are more “under promise — over deliver” types.
  • High verbal ability is useful for more than just impressing others — it typically implies a certain facility with concepts and relationships between ideas — but high V alone is a dangerous thing. The most confused people I meet in the academy tend to be high V, low (modest) M types.
  • Something to keep in mind is that Harvard et al. would like to have influence abroad as well as at home, and Chinese ethnicity alumni are well placed to influence what will soon be the largest economy on the planet. Underperformance vs predictor in the US may be compensated by overperformance in the new reality of the coming century. Ask yourself why BGI was more willing to work with me than, say, the Sanger or Broad institutes might have been.
  • If you read the whole AIP interview there is another revealing part where F discusses the kind of grilling typical at IAS. Note the questions often ask the speaker to relate his work to some larger context or very esoteric earlier work. Those kinds of questions, which F felt very uncomfortable with, because of the holes in his knowledge, were typical high V theorist questions — i.e., from erudite know-it-alls who have been absorbing and structuring/compressing knowledge at a high rate throughout their lives. F felt more comfortable with “practical” self-contained questions, e.g., about the method of calculation or some numerical factor.

From other sources

  • You have to remember that BGI is an independent, maverick organization, it’s not part of the Chinese government. People in the West, who we talked to, like even my colleagues at Oregon that I talked to about this project, they say, oh can’t the Chinese government just ORDER all the smart kids to show up, they’ll just order all the smart kids to spit in a tube and you’ll get their saliva, and I said well I wish that were the case.
  • The best humans have not been produced yet, the smartest humans, or the longest lived humans. The more we know about the coding, the more we can optimize and move toward the direction that we want to move in. If you want to produce smart humans or nice humans, honorable humans, caring humans, whatever it is, those are traits that are related the presence or absence of certain genes, and we’ll much finer control over the types of people that are born in the future through this. But it’s an essentially mathematical description of there’s a trait that you’re interested in you want to push it in one direction or the other, which switches do you turn on and off in order to do that. We do it with cows, we have super cows and super chickens, we have animals that mature ten times, well several times faster than the wild versions, so we’ve pushed those animals in direction we want to push them, but we haven’t really pushed ourselves, and I think people will push themselves.
  • If you’re a cognitively gifted person, if you’re above average in ability, there are lots of frustrations in living in a society where the average is where it is today, and at least, one could imagine that if you sort of overnight shifted the mean of the population in one direction that somehow not just small quantitative changes but huge qualitative changes in the way that we organize society can occur, all kinds of solutions that you know are totally unworkable now and totally impractical now could possible in that hypothetical population. So, I don’t think it would hurt us to be a little bit smarter; I think in fact it could help us in some very qualitative way that people often don’t understand.
  • As someone who teaches g-loaded stuff like quantum mechanics, general relativity and quantum field theory, I would say that I can detect differences in ability out to 1 in 10^4 or 10^5. I’m not saying these differences can be easily measured by tests, but they are real. I can easily tell the difference between my weakest PhD students (e.g., two had 800’s on the pre-1995 SAT-M, putting them in the top 0.5 percentile) and the strongest ones, who won national Olympiads in math or physics. You just need conceptually difficult subject matter as a testing ground. If you’re talking about less demanding stuff, then it’s possible that other non-g factors are more important once you’ve reached the 140 threshold.

    When I interact with other theoretical physicists (i.e., tenured professors at good research universities working in abstract areas) it is obvious that almost everyone is at least at the level of, say, the top 5 Caltech grads each year. It is rare for me to meet an experimental physicist or economist or (non-theoretical) CS person at this level.

    • Email response from Steve Hsu (publicized on autoadmit)