The Physics Nobel, Gaussian BosonSampling, and Dorian Abbot

1. Huge congratulations to the winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics: Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselmann for climate modelling, and separately, Giorgio Parisi for statistical physics. While I don’t know the others, I had the great honor to get to know Parisi three years ago, when he was chair of the committee that awarded me the Tomassoni-Chisesi Prize in Physics, and when I visited Parisi’s department at Sapienza University of Rome to give the prize lecture and collect the award. I remember Parisi’s kindness, a lot of good food, and a lot of discussion of the interplay between theoretical computer science and physics. Note that, while much of Parisi’s work is beyond my competence to comment on, in computer science he’s very well-known for applying statistical physics methods to the analysis of survey propagation—an algorithm that revolutionized the study of random 3SAT when it was introduced two decades ago.


2. Two weeks ago, a group at Google put out a paper with a new efficient classical algorithm to simulate the recent Gaussian BosonSampling experiments from USTC in China. They argued that this algorithm called into question USTC’s claim of BosonSampling-based quantum supremacy. Since then, I’ve been in contact with Sergio Boixo from Google, Chaoyang Lu from USTC, and Jelmer Renema, a Dutch BosonSampling expert and friend of the blog, to try to get to the bottom of this. Very briefly, the situation seems to be that Google’s new algorithm outperforms the USTC experiment on one particular metric: namely, total variation distance from the ideal marginal distribution, if (crucially) you look at only a subset of the optical modes, say 14 modes out of 144 total. Meanwhile, though, if you look at the kth-order correlations for large values of k, then the USTC experiment continues to win. With the experiment, the correlations fall off exponentially with k but still have a meaningful, detectable signal even for (say) k=19, whereas with Google’s spoofing algorithm, you choose the k that you want to spoof (say, 2 or 3), and then the correlations become nonsense for larger k.

Now, given that you were only ever supposed to see a quantum advantage from BosonSampling if you looked at the kth-order correlations for large values of k, and given that we already knew, from the work of Leonid Gurvits, that very small marginals in BosonSampling experiments would be easy to reproduce on a classical computer, my inclination is to say that USTC’s claim of BosonSampling-based quantum supremacy still stands. On the other hand, it’s true that, with BosonSampling especially, more so than with qubit-based random circuit sampling, we currently lack an adequate theoretical understanding of what the target should be. That is, which numerical metric should an experiment aim to maximize, and how well does it have to score on that metric before it’s plausibly outperforming any fast classical algorithm? One thing I feel confident about is that, whichever metric is chosen—Linear Cross-Entropy or whatever else—it needs to capture the kth-order correlations for large values of k. No metric that’s insensitive to those correlations is good enough.


3. Like many others, I was outraged and depressed that MIT uninvited Dorian Abbot (see also here), a geophysicist at the University of Chicago, who was slated to give the Carlson Lecture in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences about the atmospheres of extrasolar planets. The reason for the cancellation was that, totally unrelatedly to his scheduled lecture, Abbot had argued in Newsweek and elsewhere that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives should aim for equality for opportunity rather than equality of outcomes, a Twitter-mob decided to go after him in retaliation, and they succeeded. It should go without saying that it’s perfectly reasonable to disagree with Abbot’s stance, to counterargue—if those very concepts haven’t gone the way of floppy disks. It should also go without saying that the MIT EAPS department chair is free to bow to social-media pressure, as he did, rather than standing on principle … just like I’m free to criticize him for it. To my mind, though, cancelling a scientific talk because of the speaker’s centrist (!) political views completely, 100% validates the right’s narrative about academia, that it’s become a fanatically intolerant echo chamber. To my fellow progressive academics, I beseech thee in the bowels of Bertrand Russell: why would you commit such an unforced error?

Yes, one can imagine views (e.g., open Nazism) so hateful that they might justify the cancellation of unrelated scientific lectures by people who hold those views, as many physicists after WWII refused to speak to Werner Heisenberg. But it seems obvious to me—as it would’ve been obvious to everyone else not long ago—that no matter where a reasonable person draws the line, Abbot’s views as he expressed them in Newsweek don’t come within a hundred miles of it. To be more explicit still: if Abbot’s views justify deplatforming him as a planetary scientist, then all my quantum computing and theoretical computer science lectures deserve to be cancelled too, for the many attempts I’ve made on this blog over the past 16 years to share my honest thoughts and life experiences, to write like a vulnerable human being rather than like a university press office. While I’m sure some sneerers gleefully embrace that implication, I ask everyone else to consider how deeply they believe in the idea of academic freedom at all—keeping in mind that such a commitment only ever gets tested when there’s a chance someone might denounce you for it.

Update: Princeton’s James Madison Program has volunteered to host Abbot’s Zoom talk in place of MIT. The talk is entitled “Climate and the Potential for Life on Other Planets.” Like probably hundreds of others who heard about this only because of the attempted cancellation, I plan to attend!

Unrelated Bonus Update: Here’s a neat YouTube video put together by the ACM about me as well as David Silver of AlphaGo and AlphaZero, on the occasion of our ACM Prizes in Computing.

62 Responses to “The Physics Nobel, Gaussian BosonSampling, and Dorian Abbot”

  1. Sergio Boixo Says:

    Just a small comment about our paper on approximating GBS. Indeed the experiment continues to win if you look at the kth-order correlations for large values of k, no issue there.
    Nevertheless, our claim is not that we outperform the experiment in “total variation distance from the ideal marginal distribution, if (crucially) you look at only a subset of the optical modes”. Our claim is that we outperform the experiment in total variation distance (and KL divergence) for the full distribution on all the 144 modes.
    As we can not estimate the total variation distance for the full distribution, we base our claim in extrapolations of marginal distributions of increasing size, up to 14 modes for total variation distance and up to 27 modes for cross-entropy. Please note that: 1) we sampled an approximate classical distribution on 144 modes and 2) we used only 2nd order marginals in defining this distribution, not 14 or 27 order marginals. We think that the regularity in the marginal distance up to 14 or 27 modes (>> 2) allows us to extrapolate to the full distribution. In conclusion, without capturing higher order marginals, we have better total variation distance and KL divergence than the experiment for the full distribution.

  2. HasH Says:

    “I plan to attend!”

    I watch everything you say “watch, attend, read, etc.”

  3. Alexis H Says:

    I read through the linked Newsweek article and I don’t really come away with the same take as you that it represents a highly centrist position. I would put it fairly right-of-centre. It repeats myths about meritocracy and “objective” qualifications that, at least to this Canadian reader, seem very much to be beyond the centrist Overton window. Regardless of where it fits on any political spectrum, though, I think there are a few critical points that I think can be made.

    Before I make them, though, I will say that if Prof. Abbot’s explanation of why his talk at MIT was cancelled is correct, then I do not see any reason to agree with it. The reason he provided was that it was “to avoid controversy”. I think that, if true, this amounts to little more than institutional cowardice. I do not believe that academic freedom extends to the right to espouse any views one wants. The core of academic freedom is not arbitrary freedom of speech, it is protection of research. Open Nazism, as you cited, would be an excellent example of a viewpoint so awful that it needs to be denounced and distanced from. Personally, I think it is well past the line, and there are many less obviously-evil viewpoints that I think are equally deserving of censure.

    But if his vjew is one such, an institution choosing not to engage with him should do so on that basis. It should say outright that the institution wishes to distance itself from his views, that it believes they are too inseparable from his academic work to offer a platform. Or else it should take the opposite position: that his views were not so radical as to warrant censure, and therefore academic freedom demands that the lecture continue. What absolutely should not take place is an institution bowing to the mere existence of controversy. That strikes across the core of academic freedom and is very dangerous, because it means that to move the dial one need not be right, only loud.

    But as for Prof. Abbot’s actual comments in the article, I think that it is not so obvious at all that they are far from the line, and here is my chain of reasoning as to why:

    1. Prof. Abbot’s argument in the article relies on an assumption that the students or hires being selected as a result of DEI programs have less “merits and qualifications” than do some of the other applicants.

    While it’s not stated outright, this is absolutely a necessary implication. The article reads “It requires being willing to tell an applicant ‘I will ignore your merits and qualifications and deny you admission because you belong to the wrong group, and I have defined a more important social objective that justifies doing so.'” If the candidate being hired as a result of the DEI programs always had better merits and qualifications than the rejected ones, then this entire line of thinking would be moot.

    2. Prof. Abbot’s position therefore implies that, on the whole, non-DEI professors (or students, or post-docs, whichever is applicable), are less qualified than DEI professors.

    This follows on as a straightforward logical conclusion from the previous point. If the hiring system does in fact have a bias to be more permitting of weaker candidates coming from diverse backgrounds, then the candidates actually hired must be worse. Assuming Prof. Abbot’s views to be logically consistent, he must believe, even though he does not say it outright, that the average white professor is more qualified than the average Black one, that the average female student is less qualified than the average male one, etc.

    3. Prof. Abbot’s comments create a very real fear that he is acting on the biases above.

    Suppose that you have some professor, a hypothetical Prof. Q., who genuinely and explicitly believes in what I put in point 2 above. And suppose that Prof Q. is grading papers for a major assignment, or participating on tenure committee. If Prof Q. were to grade all their Black students approximately equally to the white ones, or to see his female colleagues as being equally deserving of tenure as the male ones, these evaluations would be at odds with Prof. Q’s preconceived bias. If Prof. Q were to act on the bias, he might consciously downgrade the marks for his Black students or his evaluations of female tenure candidates, because he believed his first pass had to be mistaken.

    Now, I don’t think Prof. Abbot is Prof. Q. But he might be Prof. Z instead: Prof Z holds the same viewpoint explicitly as Prof. Q, but when grading papers and doing reviews, the results do match his preconceived notions. He does give his non-white students worse grades and does evaluate women lower for tenure. And since they match his preconceived notions, he sees no reason to challenge his own assessments, see if maybe he’s going easy on white students or giving men a pass where he would give women a fail. Because the results he arrives at are in line with his preconceived notions, he considers them totally fine. And that is a problem when it turns out that, in fact, Prof. Z’s biases are wrong and therefore he has been mistreating his students & colleagues.

    I do not know if Prof. Abbot is Prof Z. He may be, he may not be. But many professors who hold the view set out in point 2 are Prof. Z. So there is a decent possibility. And that is the critical thing.

    Even though Prof. Abbot doesn’t explicitly say point 2, his argument requires it. And that creates a reasonable basis for a fear that he might be Prof Z. His argument makes it difficult for many people to sustain the default assumption that he is a neutral evaluator.

    If I were a Jew, I would not want a Nazi grading my papers or on my thesis or tenure committee. If I were Black, I would not want Prof. Abbot doing those things either. At best, I am being reviewed by someone who misunderstands the process that led to my presence for his evaluation. At worst, he is actively biases against me.

    I am still not sure this justified the level of censure against him. Certainly I do not think a first offence would: there would have to be opportunity for education and an apology. If he doubled down and subsequently descended into more radical points of view, he could easily cross my line. I don’t really care to spend much more on this than I already have, so I am not going to try to chart out the full history to come to a fully reasoned judgment.

    But regardless, it is not clear cut for me.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Alexis H #3: If you think Dorian Abbot’s views are “fairly right of center” and “very much beyond the centrist Overton window” then I would guess you spend much of your time talking to people in academia or industries with a similar leftward slant (though this guess could be wrong). Academia, journalism, tech and a few other areas are much further to the left than the country as a whole, in both the US and Canada. I suspect Abbot’s views would still put him left of center in the US. Recall that just last year, a fairly large majority of California voters rejected a ballot proposition to reinstate affirmitive action in college admissions and government jobs.

    I am also not convinced by your other arguments. Let me ask you a question. There is a famous blog post by a mathematician which calls (perhaps semi-ironically) for white cis men in math to quit and for hiring committees to not hire any more of them. There is at least one math professor at Berkeley who left a comment praising this blog post and stating that “any cis-white-male hire is a missed opportunity.” In your view, how does this compare to Abbot’s views? Would it be reasonable to cancel the speaking engagements of the Berkeley professor on the basis of their views? To make my own beliefs clear, I believe it would be immoral to do so and I also believe that the Berkeley professor stated a bias against a certain group of students and employees in much clearer and undeniable terms than Abbot (I personally think that what Abbot said does not imply that he harbors any bias against non-white students but I accept that different people interpret his words differently and I don’t wish to argue that point right now). I believe that trying to mandate moral positions is a very fraught thing to do and that in other societies where this has occurred (or even our own society in the past), it has not gone well. To me, the Berkeley professor’s views do not rise nearly to the level where opportunities should be denied to them and neither do Abbot’s.

  5. Dfeldmann Says:

    #3 : Sorry, but there is something very wrong in your argument : if we are selecting on the basis of qualification, say criteria A, it is possible that this is statistically evenly distributed between group X and group Y, so it doesn’t matter statistically if we try to get parity, even when Y is much smaller than X : in the end, the candidates selected will perform about the same as judged by A. But this gets ridiculous for individual members of those groups, as being in group X now lowers unfairly your probability of getting hired.

  6. Vladimir Says:

    > Huge congratulations to the winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics: Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselmann for climate modelling, and separately, Giorgio Parisi for statistical physics. While I don’t know the others, I had the great honor to get to know Parisi […]

    That’s… probably not a coincidence. While some of Parisi’s work is taught at physics graduate-level courses, I’d guess that no more than one physics professor in a hundred had ever heard of Manabe or Hasselmann prior to the announcement. It’s a travesty.

  7. asdf Says:

    Scott, in case it wasn’t clear, Giorgio Parisi’s Nobel was at least in part for how his work has been connected to climate science. This was fun to read:

    https://theconversation.com/my-phd-supervisor-just-won-the-nobel-prize-in-physics-heres-how-his-research-on-complex-systems-changed-science-169297

    This also discusses it a little:

    https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/oct/05/nobel-prize-physics-scientists-sykuro-manabe-klaus-hasselmann-giorgio-parisi-win-climate

  8. Scott Says:

    Vladimir #6: I figured the fact that I work in complexity theory, and have never worked in climate science, was a perfectly adequate explanation for why I only knew Parisi.

  9. Scott Says:

    I had to leave several comments in moderation that supported “my” side on topic 3, but that were written in a way that I knew was going to stoke angry responses, with woke commenters making no distinction whatsoever between what the commenter had said and what I myself had said. When discussing such charged matters, it’s extremely important that we bend over backwards to be classy, charitable, and generous! As, for example, Abbot himself was, in pointedly refusing to blame any of the students or faculty who had cancelled him.

  10. Obviously i'm not defending Heisenberg Says:

    While there were of course good reasons to be not on speaking terms with Werner Heisenberg after the war, putting his case so close after “e.g., open Nazism” seems very unfair in it’s implications.

  11. OhMyGoodness Says:

    Dr Aaronson

    After reading your post I felt equal measures of admiration and envy. Admiration for your supportive stance on open discourse in academia and envy that you will attend the lecture. Abbot is interested in better determining habitable zones based on atmospheric water signatures I believe. James Webb is now scheduled to launch December 18th and will look for atmospheric oxygen signatures to indicate potential biologic activity. The University of Chicago is known colloquially in the midwest as The Little Red Schoolhouse but as an institution they have taken a strong stand defending open discourse.

    Interesting that plant life on earth shows optimum growth at higher carbon dioxide levels and temperatures than current terrestrial conditions.

    The common curve with respect to carbon dioxide is as follows-

    https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/images/greenhouse-carbon-dioxide-supplementation/1.png

    The common curve with respect to temperature at elevated carbon dioxide is as follows-

    https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/images/greenhouse-carbon-dioxide-supplementation/2.png

    The above curves are actually used in commercial greenhouses to optimize commercial plant growth and yields.

    Above considerations have resulted in many exobiologists suggesting that Webb will be more likely to find oxygen signatures from exoplanets closer to the actual inside boundary of a circumstellar habitable zone than is earth.

    If indeed a Nobel Prize is awarded for current climate models then my conclusion would be that politics have another conquest over an organizational bastion of science.

  12. Scott Says:

    OhMyGoodness #11: Why envy?? The Zoom lecture is open to the public; you’re welcome to register for it too.

  13. jonathan Says:

    I believe the portion of Dr. Abbott’s article that generated the angry response is the following:

    Ninety years ago Germany had the best universities in the world. Then an ideological regime obsessed with race came to power and drove many of the best scholars out, gutting the faculties and leading to sustained decay that German universities never fully recovered from. We should view this as a warning of the consequences of viewing group membership as more important than merit, and correct our course before it is too late.

    Now in my view this is fairly unobjectionable. He’s pointing to an extreme example that illustrates the general point that “centering” identity (to use modern parlance) can have destructive consequences for society and academia.

    But here’s something I’ve come to realize over the years: most people aren’t good at understanding analogies. If you say “A is to B as C is to D”, a common response will be, “How DARE you compare A to C?”. The idea that it is the RELATION of A to B that is being compared to the RELATION of C to D is beyond most people.

    Thus Dr. Abbott’s crime was that he compared DEI advocates to the Nazis. Naturally, saying, “Advocates of DEI are just like the Nazis” would be terribly insulting, and this is how it was taken.

  14. jonathan Says:

    Alexis #3:

    There are two possibilities. Either underrepresented groups are underrepresented in certain positions because (1) there are fewer qualified applicants (for whatever reason — there are many possibilities), or because (2) there is bias in the selection process. [obviously reality may be some linear combination of these]

    You claim that it is problematic that Abbot believes (1), since this will lead him to view DEI students, professors, etc as less qualified, which may lead to statistical discrimination. You conclude that if you were a black student or professor you would be uncomfortable with Dr. Abbott evaluating you.

    However, it is equally true that if someone believes (2), they should believe that students and professors from currently overrepresented groups are less qualified, which may lead to statistical discrimination. In that case, shouldn’t a white or asian student or professor feel equally uncomfortable with such a person evaluating them?

    Perhaps we should instead worry about which of (1) or (2) is in fact true. Or even better, focus on hiring based on merit and treating people as individuals, which will be the correct approach whichever combination of (1) or (2) is correct! Which is precisely what Dr. Abbott advocates! [By the way, I take ‘treat people as individuals’ to mean ‘don’t engage in statistical discrimination based on group membership’]

  15. Scott Says:

    jonathan #13: That’s … the best analysis I’ve seen so far of what’s going on here! Yeah, I would certainly have advised Abbot to go easier on the Nazi analogy—both for the reason you state and because, knowing the subsequent events, most people find it difficult or impossible mentally to rewind themselves to the situation in 1933, when many “reasonable moderates” in the US and elsewhere were indeed saying, in effect, “hmm, the Jews really do seem to have wildly disproportionate wealth and power in Germany, so maybe Hitler’s policies are a necessary and useful corrective. Let’s wait and see what happens!”

  16. fred Says:

    At some point will it become clearer and clearer to everyone with a bit of common sense that “woke” and “identity” politics are really just repackaging of hard core Bolshevism.
    And I’m not talking about vague romantic ideology (like the rebellious French youth in the 60s was in love with Mao), but in actual practical terms: the thing National Socialism and Communism have in common is that they only ever got in power by using coercion and violence, which they always initially sell as a worthy honest “grass-root revolution” everyone has been waiting for, but they truly mean a revolution by force at all costs, i.e. an overthrow of the democratic process, which always starts with first shutting down all moderate voices in society.

  17. Anon93 Says:

    Scott #15: I found some papers on the Jews in Germany. There is https://www.uni-trier.de/fileadmin/fb4/prof/SOZ/APO/WindolfMS577June10.pdf and also https://www.uni-trier.de/fileadmin/fb4/prof/SOZ/APO/Windolf/ZUGJewishElite.pdf . It seems that the “higher level of social capital”, the explanation the Nazis pushed, was wrong. Indeed https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/jewish-communities-of-prewar-germany Jews were overrepresented in academia, business, finance, and so on.

    It’s instructive to compare https://www.ias.edu/in-the-media/2017/mathematics-hitlers-germany and https://www.ias.edu/diversity .

    I don’t believe:

    “As expressly prescribed in 1930 in its founding statements, the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) admits scholars with all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to all scholars at IAS without consideration of any race, color, gender, and national and ethnic origin. Accordingly, today IAS reiterates that in the appointment of faculty and staff and administration of its educational and acceptance policies as well as in all other IAS administered programs, no person shall be discriminated against on account of race, religion, color, disability, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or national and ethnic origin.”

    I think they do affirmative action.

  18. OhMyGoodness Says:

    Scott#12

    Thanks and registered. I am not envious of you now. 🙂

  19. Alessandro Strumia Says:

    I see that various moderates understood the problem and now try defending free speech. Their attempt may be unsuccessful, because polarization is too strong.

    As another example of the status of US academia, arXiv does not accept my publication about gender & physics (https://direct.mit.edu/qss/article/2/1/225/99129/Gender-issues-in-fundamental-physics-A).

  20. OhMyGoodness Says:

    Fred#16

    It’s likely time to have a calm political dialogue about a two state solution in the US. One would be post modern and central statist with new or no constitution while the other would retain the current US constitution and be a federation of states. If the statists would allow the considered primitive misguided half of us to quietly go their own way it will likely save an immense amount of strife in the long term and all trends suggest that real strife is destined to come.

    When a country is deeply divided nearly 50/50, and with a geographic component, the prospects are not good for a functioning harmonious society. Like Abbot I won’t disparage the other side and don’t begrudge them living as they wish but for around 50% it is unacceptable. Likely better to accept the experiment is over and move on in our separate directions and allow the electorate to choose individually which path they prefer.

  21. Stephan Says:

    Recently a version of survey propagation was shown to solve another NP hard problem on average: https://arxiv.org/pdf/1812.10897.pdf

  22. Anon93 Says:

    Anon93 #17:

    IAS: “Accordingly, today IAS reiterates that in the appointment of faculty and staff and administration of its educational and acceptance policies as well as in all other IAS administered programs, no person shall be discriminated against on account of race, religion, color, disability, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or national and ethnic origin.” https://www.ias.edu/diversity .

    The IAS has this which is a blatant contradiction: https://www.ias.edu/math/wam It’s an IAS administered program which discriminates on account of gender! There are arguments to be made for the IAS to have such a program but you can’t have mutually contradictory nonsense on the website. That’s not a stable equilibrium. The IAS also reminds us https://www.ias.edu/in-the-media/2017/mathematics-hitlers-germany that those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. If the IAS is going to say “we have racial and gender discrimination in favor of blacks and women” then that they should write that on their website, and not this garbage statement.

  23. Scott Says:

    Alessandro Strumia #19:

      I see that various moderates understood the problem and now try defending free speech.

    People might disagree on whether I’m a “moderate,” depending on which issues they care about and where they themselves stand, but I’ve ALWAYS tried to defend free speech! 🙂

    In general, I feel like my basic moral views have barely changed since I was a teenager in the 1990s. What changed was the rest of the world, with the woke left and the authoritarian right feeding off one another, getting increasingly insane in different but complementary ways!

  24. Ryan Alweiss Says:

    https://twitter.com/sc_cath/status/1445752639895965700

  25. Chaoyang Lu Says:

    #1: The computational complexity of BosonSampling in the supremacy regime sits on high-order correlations. BosonSampling in a small subsystem (the average clicked number is from 1 to 6, the regime Google colleagues investigated), is dominant only by low-order correlations. It is not surprising that the classical approximation using 1 to 2-order correlations seems to have good performance (for the reason why this happens, see below). However, In a larger system, high-order correlation (the exponential decrease of the high-order correlations is not a big problem, because the number of combinations grows super exponentially) will dominant the output distribution as the average clicked number increases. In fact, in Fig. 4 of Google’s paper, some figures already show a flat or even rising trend at the 10-14 mode regime. So, what is going on in the full-scale case (144 modes), at the least, needs more investigations.

  26. STEM Caveman Says:

    > Prof. Abbot’s position therefore implies that, on the whole, non-DEI professors (or students, or post-docs, whichever is applicable), are less qualified than DEI professors.

    The only way that could fail to be true is if the school somehow makes the goods so much more attractive to the DIE’s than the non DIEs that they apply in extremely disproportionate numbers so that selection under an equal standard (no special DIE consideration) would produce the desired representation. You could, for example, quadruple the salary for black postdocs, or guarantee them tenure, and offer those benefits only to blacks. That would certainly boost the numbers without compromising quality!

    At the actual levels of underrepresentation of major DIE groups, differential recruitment can only succeed with extreme and clearly illegal inducements, and it fails anyway if other schools do the same. It is far easier to collude with competitors to avoid bidding wars and just have everyone lower the threshold of selection (i.e., discriminate) for favored DIEs. Which is exactly what happens and what anyone who has been to an American research university can observe. Abbot is not tendering some debatable hypothesis, he is describing what people these days call ‘settled science’.

  27. Pat Says:

    Did something change about the configuration of your site? For me the line width is about twice what it used to be, making it much less usable on my phone.

  28. Boaz Barak Says:

    Hi Scott,

    To paraphrase the words of a friend, I am only 33% on board with you regarding Abbot.

    I think Abbot is:

    1) Wrong on diversity and inclusion: I don’t want to get into this argument, but I believe that on the whole, while not always perfect, the efforts of universities to become more inclusive have been net positive.

    2) Offensive: If you are comparing people to the Nazis, you should not be surprised if they take offense. And yes that’s true even if you’re only comparing people to the Nazis in one aspect (e.g., if you tell me “your brown shirt reminds me of the Nazis” then I will take offense)

    but I do agree that:

    3) He should not be disinvited from unrelated academic lectures about his work as a planetary scientist.

  29. fred Says:

    “as many physicists after WWII refused to speak to Werner Heisenberg.”

    I just watched the 2002 BBC drama “Copenhagen” (it’s based on a play), with Daniel Craig playing Heisenberg, it’s pretty interesting (it’s free on Prime).

  30. Laurence Cox Says:

    Jonathan #13 Scott #15

    Agreed. If I had been choosing a WW2 parallel for Americans, I would have looked West rather than East and talked about the treatment of Japanese-Americans in the USA, with the deportation of them to concentration camps in Wyoming, Colorado, Arkansas and the Californian deserts and its comparison to the ‘Trail of Tears’ for the Native American population just over a century earlier. Using the Nazis is too much like touching the live rail for many, even when it is a valid analogy. It is also more useful to illustrate that democracy and a written constitution are no safeguard against discrimination.

  31. CS professor (staying anon due to woke McCarthyism) Says:

    Hi Boaz,

    Your argument is self-contradictory. You have just agreed that the net effect of DEI is 33% negative in this instance: cancellation of scientists due to political disagreement with left ideology. Extrapolating, we can agree that the net effect of DEI is *also* negative, non-negligibly.

    As for 2), I agree. He made a mistake using Nazis. Woke and DEI tactics are almost one to one McCarthysm/Bolshevism. There’s no need to invoke Nazism here for the sake of sensationalism. The immorality of Woke/DEI can be clarified without resorting to provocative analogies.

  32. STEM Caveman Says:

    > the efforts of universities to become more inclusive have been net positive

    More positive for whom? Diversity, like a large number of other progressive projects, is a “high and low against the middle” phenomenon.

    The high performing academic elite whose positions and funding and prizes would be much the same with or without D.I.E., don’t suffer from it and can consume diversity (or the appearance of caring about it) as a luxury good. The “low”, in this case D.I.E. beneficiaries who would have little chance of being hired or admitted without special consideration, support it because they benefit. The “middle”, the ordinary and mediocre academics whose chances and working conditions are negatively affected, are a lot less likely to see it as necessary, shiny and positive. It’s easy enough for top people at institutions with the clout and funding to not have “diversity” work out badly (except for the junior faculty who are denied promotion or have to teach the remedial classes) to judge it a Net Positive for everyone else. That’s at best a misguided extrapolation from their gilded experience, and at worst, cynical status warfare against the lower rungs within the non D.I.E majority.

  33. DR Says:

    On the “unrelated bonus update” : Your 30 second summary is wonderful. The clip is very well made.
    On the MIT news : I think most people are just letting themselves get bullied because there is too much cost to fighting the bullies alone. It is a small group of incoherent extremists bullying a large group of reasonable people. If I am right, the large group of reasonable people should get together and strategize how to deal with this bullying. Maybe Princeton has shown the way here. To me, America is a role model for intellectual freedom and debate. I cannot imagine a world where that changes.

  34. Arul Says:

    On the award.. is it reasonable to state the complexity zoo did to theory what imagenet did to deep learning but years before? On the other hand how difficult would it be to create a zoo for learning theory and machine learning? If you had useful thoughts it might turn out important.

  35. Vampyricon Says:

    I’m having the same problem as Pat #27. Changing it to desktop mode seems to do the trick.

  36. Anon93 Says:

    “If people are assumed to start out identical but some end up wealthier than others, observers may conclude that the wealthier ones must be more rapacious. And as the diagnosis slides from talent to sin, the remedy can shift from redistribution to vengeance. Many atrocities of the 20th century were committed in the name of egalitarianism, targeting people whose success is taken as evidence of their criminality. The kulaks (“Bourgeois peasants”) were exterminated by Lenin and Stalin in the Soviet union; teachers, former landlords, and “rich peasants” were humiliated, tortured, and murdered during the Chinese cultural revolution; city dwellers and literate professionals were worked to death or executed during the reign of the Khmer rouge in Cambodia. Educated and entrepreneurial minorities who have prospered in their adopted regions, such as the Indians in East Africa and Oceania, the Ibos in Nigeria, the Armenians in Turkey, the Chinese in Indonesia and Malaysia, and the Jews almost everywhere, have been expelled from their homes or killed in Pogroms because their visibly successful members were seen as parasites and exploiters.”

    – Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate

  37. PublicSchoolGrad Says:

    STEM Caveman #32,

    I think you are arguing against a world that only exists in your head. It sounds like you are implying that what you call “DEI beneficiaries” are all low performing and you imply that high performers are not from categories of people who would benefit from DEI programs.

    But, I think you can relax. Most DEI programs really exist to protect the institutions from legal and PR liabilities. They make a lot of noise but I do not believe that they make any significant change other than a few cosmetic things here and there. Here is an interesting article from the Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2016/01/diversity-policies-dont-help-women-or-minorities-and-they-make-white-men-feel-threatened

    I do agree that a lot of the beneficiaries of DEI programs are those running them. It is the hot new field now, kinda like “Data Science” was a few years ago: everybody piles in because that is where the money is. Another interesting article for your perusal (ignore the “woke” language which is triggering to some on this board and just read the article: https://www.statnews.com/2021/09/23/health-equity-tourists-white-scholars-colonizing-health-disparities-research/?commentID=b7088003-a231-4b16-a620-25570c7f34b3)

  38. Shtetl-Optimized » Blog Archive » Gaussian BosonSampling, higher-order correlations, and spoofing: An update Says:

    […] The Blog of Scott Aaronson If you take nothing else from this blog: quantum computers won't solve hard problems instantly by just trying all solutions in parallel. Also, next pandemic, let's approve the vaccines faster! « The Physics Nobel, Gaussian BosonSampling, and Dorian Abbot […]

  39. Gadi Says:

    If we’re already discussing both Nazis obsession with Jewish representation, and the current obsession with racial “diversity” in the academia from the woke, it’s really easy to see the parallels.

    You’ve got two ideologies based on absurd ideas of obsessing over the representation of races in various places, getting people’s tribal instincts of race triggered to the extreme and acting harshly sand emotionally. You have both of them convincing people that somehow race, skin color, is the most important thing that controls every interaction. Both of them also blame a certain race for being selfish. Nazism blamed the Jews and wokeism blames white people.

    In my personal opinion, wokeism is Nazism. It’s the exact same ideology and world view, with only slight differences in which race plays which role. I challenge you to describe both views and replace Jews/Aryans/blacks/whites with “blue” and “red” race, and then to tell apart which view belongs to which ideology.

  40. Scott Says:

    Gadi #39: No, I’d strongly caution you and others against going that far. In the woke ideology, even straight white males can partially redeem themselves by renouncing their inborn privilege and becoming allies, although they always remain suspect. Nazism, infamously, never offered anything remotely analogous to Jews.

    Also, of course, wokeism currently lacks anything that matches even 1% of the Nazi glorification of violence—there’s only some feeble braggadocio about “punching Nazis” (where “Nazi,” of course, might encompass anyone they disagree with). They’re getting their enemies fired, deplatformed, doxxed, shamed, etc., not gunning them down in the streets.

    Sure, there are plenty of illuminating partial parallels between wokeism and the various totalizing ideologies of the last century, but I see no need here to go all the way to Nazism, which lies at the end of a very long road. (Trumpism, incidentally, is much further along that road than wokeism is, but still far from the end.)

  41. DR Says:

    I’d like to thank the person on this comment thread who recommended Copenhagen. My husband and I just watched it on Prime. Gripping movie. Now I’m going to enjoy reading reviews of it by smart people. 🙂

  42. Anon93 Says:

    Gadi #39: Let me take your argument seriously, what I understand to be the core of the woke-Nazi analogy, and then say why I think it’s unproductive.

    It is true that a big core of Nazism was the “Jewish problem”, i.e. that Jews were overrepresented and this representation was solely due to racism, see the paper at https://twitter.com/RichardHanania/status/1410582524502315009 . It’s also true that if you look at https://richardhanania.substack.com/p/woke-institutions-is-just-civil-rights Nazism did have (1) a belief that the Jew-German gap was due to discrimination, (2) restriction of speech who argued against (1), and (3) bureaucracies and governmental power to advance (1) and (2).

    I think rather than arguing the wokes were Nazis, it makes more sense to argue that the Nazis were woke. The Soviets were also woke. They advanced the idea that the gaps between Jews and ethnic Russians was due to discrimination, restricted the speech of anyone who advanced hereditarianism as an explanation for this (they were even Lysenkoist), and (3) had a lot of governmental power to restrict those beliefs. One need not go to the Nazis or Soviets to find this. Modern-day Malaysia is woke as well; there are (1) absurd anti affirmative action Chinese people, (2) hate speech laws, (3) governmental discrimination against Chinese to enforce these laws. It would likely be hard to keep your job as a Chinese-Malay if you said the gap between Chinese and Malay was because of genes, and/or because of culture with Malay not working as hard. Post-1994 South Africa also has these sorts of policies, and Helen Suzman was rightly and sharply critical of them. Zimbabwe certainly had this.

    Still, no one would ever say that the Soviets were Nazis, or that modern Malaysia is Nazi (they have had an antisemitic PM, but no they’re not Nazi), or that Jacob Zuma or Thabo Mbeki, or even Robert Mugabe was a Nazi even though they shared these 3 elements with the Nazis. Understood properly, and per Hanania, wokeness is a subset of authoritarianism. Any sort of authoritarian belief system that purports to represent some aggrieved group, claims that aggrieved group is only suffering due to external factors, suppressing the speech of its people who disagree, and wants to use government force to achieve its ends is woke. This includes some of the nastiest regimes like the Nazis and Soviets, but also includes something like Mugabe’s Zimbabwe or even Malaysia. It would also include Donald Trump whining about how most intellectuals are liberal and saying that it’s 100% due to discrimination, rather than the Republican positions on Christianity and climate change, and trying to use government power to censor liberals.

    What is really different about modern-day wokeness, and I think why it’s so pernicious, is that unlike most historical examples of wokeness, which include not only the Nazi and Soviet regimes but also much more benign modern day Malaysia and South Africa, is that modern wokeness is about helping *minority* groups (though women are barely a majority in the US, Blacks and Hispanics are minorities). Even worse than that, modern day wokeness is about helping groups that actually have very legitimate grievances. It’s similar to the Zimbabwe and South African examples. Another very pernicious thing about wokeness is that it’s often pushed by the majority groups. Women are more woke than men, but white leftists are very woke, maybe moreso than black people.

    It’s *far more pernicious* to pretend the Jew-German gap is entirely due to discrimination than to pretend the White-Black gap is. Obviously both are very bad. However, the former scenario is far more likely to lead to genocide. Indeed, the same sort of thing happened in Rwanda. When the overachieving group is a minority, and when the grievances are totally made up, it’s much less ridiculous than something that happens when the minority is *underachieving* and we’re 2 generations out of Jim Crow.

    Wokeness is comparable to Nazism in that both are “left-wing” authoritarian movements (the Nazis were ostensibly “right wing” but were socialist, and had a big victim and inferiority complex re the Jews). There were and are many other such movements tough.

  43. Gadi Says:

    Anon93 #42: I think the whole idea of identity and race politics is ridiculous. The concept that you can reduce complex human interactions to race and skin color is completely detached from reality. To claim it is a dominant factor, or even a significant factor, is completely nonsense in my opinion, regardless of the groups of skin colors you choose. (Culture, on the other hand, is very significant factor, but the Nazis and the woke intentionally confuse them).

    But it has been historically proven again and again that this idea is a literal backdoor in the human psyche. From my point of view, anyone accessing this psychological backdoor is equally amoral and I don’t care about his intentions.

    Scott, I think your point is unfair because you’re comparing late stage Nazism, when the state has already brainwashed people into the ideology and has complete state control freeing them from consequences of violent threats, to early stage wokeism, which aren’t free to act as violently as they would like to.

    I think wokeism is actually quite similar in its claims that the jews/whites can’t change. If you look at critical race theory, they are already claiming every white person, with no exceptions, is racist.

    I also saw no indications that wokeism won’t use the maximum amount of violence they can get away with. Cancel culture is violence. It’s similar to early stage violence against jews in the Nazi regime, where the Nazis arranged boycott against Jewish businesses. Wokeism already went further than that – just look at the BLM riots of 2020. Businesses burned, and some businesses had put up “black owned” signs in hopes to avoid the mob.

    You’re also very brainwashed into the narrative that Trump is somehow closer to Nazis and a bigger racist. It can’t be further from the truth. Trump has never gave any significance to race in any of his views. That’s what racism is all about. There has been a systematical propaganda redefining racism. Racism isn’t about oppression, victimhood or statistical differences. It’s simply about whether you care about race when it’s irrelevant.

    It’s part of a broader propaganda campaign that’s hell bent on twisting people’s understanding of values and ideologies that are the foundation of the western culture. This campaign was extremely successful, and many people are already holding a wrong mental model of what these values mean. The values twisted range from racism, to democracy and democratic elections (twisted from “holding the government accountable” to just “choosing representatives”), liberals (twisted from the etymological emphasis on liberty – freedom – to the American liberals that somehow care more about “equality”. It would be literally unthinkable to the original philosophers of liberalism that “liberals” would give their freedoms because of a virus. ).

    The real liberalism, the one of philosophers from the Age of Enlightenment, I would fully support. What you have is people who have been programmed to have a completely different mental model of those words. We might use the same word but we mean completely different things.

    If you really want to understand me, start with the idea that the media can change people’s mental model of ideologies (because lying about what an ideology or abstract concept is consequence-free lie). Start with acknowledging that people’s mental model of abstract concepts can be very different, and while we might think it’s simply derived from the historical record or dictionary definition, it’s actually derived from the every-day usages of the word. The dictionary definition of racism isn’t necessarily what’s in your mental model of racism. If you are constantly bombarded with usages of the word which have other or even contradictory meaning, you’ll practically think like racism has a different meaning. If you’re confronted with the difference, your cognitive dissonance might not even try to change the mental model but will instead try to justify how your mental model actually fits the dictionary definition.

  44. PublicSchoolGrad Says:

    Anon93,
    This is turning into a litany of alt-right talking points.

    Gadi,
    “I think the whole idea of identity and race politics is ridiculous. The concept that you can reduce complex human interactions to race and skin color is completely detached from reality…” I think that is exactly the claims of anti racists (whom you refer to as “wokeists”. Race is a social construct created in part to justify certain economic and political structures. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_(human_categorization)#Historical_origins_of_racial_classification

    But just because it is a social construct does not mean it has no effect on the world today, as I’m sure you’ll agree. I also don’t see anything wrong with people studying the history and nature of this concept, as it has had a tremendous role in shaping the present world. The panic over CRT, an academic discipline that interrogates this role, is politically generated: https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2021/06/19/critical-race-theory-rufo-republicans/ :

    “We have successfully frozen their brand—’critical race theory’—into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions. We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category,” Rufo wrote. “The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think ‘critical race theory.’ We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.”

    Here is the wikipedia article of CRT: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_race_theory if you are interested.

    As for the “canceling”, you should take a look at the states passing laws barring the teaching of anything having to do with race or CRT. These have the force of the state behind them.

    Anyway, happy Indigenous Peoples Day!

  45. Armin Says:

    Racism comes in many forms and guises, and as society develops, new forms come into being that did not exist before. I think if we as a society ever want to get to the point of racial healing, we have to honestly confront all of its manifestations.

    The canceled lecture, to me, is just another example of
    a novel form of racism that did not exist until recently.

    An attempt at a definition:

    Alt-left racism: attitudes and actions adopted and undertaken under the profession of anti-racism, but consisting of the removal of agency from minority groups, either directly by appointing (or self-appointing)non-members of those groups as their agents, or indirectly, by absorbing those groups into not necessarily representative proxy categories which are targets of those attitudes and actions.

    I believe it is important to articulate this because otherwise the only robust critical narrative of cancel culture comes from the right or alt-right, which is based on its own set of lies or half-truths.

    The above criticism is fully consistent with an acknowledgment that systemic racism still exists and is not at all rare, and that many of the current social problems involving racial minorities are due to them being targets of racism in many forms both in the past and the present. As such, I consider the above a left-wing criticism of cancel culture.

    Alt-left racism has some similarity to that of the missionaries of past who went into exotic lands in order to transform the “savages” into humans. It was well-intended but manifestly racist nonetheless, its manifestation being that it took agency away from the natives, sometimes completely so.

    An example of direct removal of agency:
    https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/08/19/creative-writing-professor-cleared-discrimination-saying-slur-quoting-james-baldwin

    The person who instigated the investigation was white. This person appointed themselves as an agent for their African-American classmates and thereby took their agency away, when they had equal opportunity to speak for themselves. To me that is racist, no matter what this person’s intentions were. (There are situations in which a group does *not* have an equal voice [Georgia voting precincts come to mind]. In those cases, someone speaking on behalf of those groups is not taking agency away from them because they did not possess it in the first place.)

    An example of indirect removal of agency: any affirmative action program that is not based on the specific characteristics of its target group, but some unjustified generalization. This becomes most obvious when the generalization turns into a racial stereotype.

    AA is a complex subject, and any argument against or in favor of it without considering its manifoldly diverse implementations is bound to be too simplistic. Unfortunately, most discussions, both pro and con, tend to operate at the simplistic level.

    The narrative of cancel culture is heavily dominated by the right, with lots of help from the alt-left. This narrative, in turn, is used as tool for manipulating significant portions of the population, with enormous success, it seems. One thing that the trivialization of racism by the alt-left, such as this lecture cancelation, has accomplished is that it has convinced many Americans there is no more “real” racism in America.

    I think progressives should attempt to take the narrative back

  46. Scott Says:

    Armin #45: Thanks, that’s a beautiful comment. I won’t betray confidences here, but anecdotally, I’ve found my Black colleagues to be especially scathing about “white saviors” who swoop in to protect them from campus racism that they themselves never noticed.

  47. Anon93 Says:

    Gadi #43: I totally agree tribal politics is pretty ridiculous, and it’s far better to emphasize our common identity and common humanity in the public sphere. However, this is a prescriptive claim, not a descriptive one. When we are describing society as it currently is, it is often correct to think and speak in tribal terms. You’re from Israel. There it makes sense to speak about the “Arab sector”, the “Haredi sector”, and so on.

    When we look at societies like Malaysia, definitely they are very tribal. There are separate Chinese schools, anti-Chinese affirmative action policies, and so on. I was giving Malaysia as a far less incendiary example of a “woke” country than Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union.

    It’s certainly true that there are successful multicultural/multiethnic states (Switzerland, Canada, the United States) and unsuccessful monocultural/mono-ethnic ones (Haiti, North Korea, Lesotho). Not every multicutural society is Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan, and not every mono-ethnic society is Finland, Japan, or South Korea. Still ethnic division is very important to understanding the history and development of countries. Switzerland manages to have very few sectarian issues. Even in Canada, another successful multicultural state, divisions between English and French Canadians affect the society in all sorts of ways. The United States has a lot.

    Still there are very important ethnic divisions in societies. I’m totally on board with judging people as individuals, but when we speak about history and politics we must acknowledge these differences. The rest of the world treats people as groups, and so people are organized into groups. Different groups often disproportionately occupy different socioeconomic positions and so on within a society. Amy Chua made some comment that those of us who are WEIRD (Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic) often underestimate how much people care about their tribal identity.

    PublicSchoolGrad #44: Criticizing the Nazis for believing that the entire German-Jewish gap was due to discrimination, and criticizing them for their complaints about Jewish overrepresentation, is an “alt right talking point”? How is that an alt right talking point? The alt right denies the advantage of Jews is due to genetics/culture and instead says it’s due to discrimination. That’s why there is this analogy between the Nazis/alt-right and woke floating around that Scott discusses in Comment #15. I’m really confused how what I wrote is a “litany of alt right talking points”. It is really not. I totally agree with you that it’s wrong for the government to pass a law banning CRT. It’s not the right policy prescription.

    I also think it’s wrong for the government to have laws against anti-white and anti-male discrimination and not enforce those laws. My solution is to either just repeal all anti-discrimination laws, or enforce the existing ones consistently. In other words, universities and other institutions should not get government money if they discriminate based on race and gender in hiring, as per Civil Rights Law, Title IX, and so on. I’m fine with either. Do you not think that’s fair? I think I’d prefer to repeal all anti-discrimination laws. I’m a believer in freedom.

  48. Armin Says:

    Thanks, it occurred to that I should have given a concrete example of the type of AA that would be in my view unequivocally racist, if it had been implemented:

    https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2020/09/16/professor-who-questioned-students-request-reinstated

    In this case, the professor did not fold to alt-left racist pressure, but if he had, then the race-based lenient grading would have been an AA based on a racial stereotype (“Blacks are less able to do their work when there is an outburst of racial tension”). That it is a racial stereotype is especially clear here because the white student who demanded it apparently made no attempt whatsoever to gather evidence on whether his black peers were actually traumatized.

    Needless to say, anyone who uses this example to demonize AA in toto is simply a tool for the alt-right. I believe AA programs properly designed are an important tool in counteracting the effects of systemic racism. The devil is in the details, including the details of what it means for such a program to be properly designed.

  49. Armin Says:

    #47
    This post inspired me to write a little poem

    “I’m a believer in freedom”

    I don’t care if some people have to go through life with one hand tied behind their backs (as long as it’s not me), ’cause I’m a believer in freedom.

    I don’t care if redlined households were held back over generations from adding wealth (as long as it’s not me), ’cause I’m a believer in freedom.

    I don’t care if teachers at all levels depreciated a student’s Intellect based on the shade of their skin (as long as it’s not me), cause I’m a believer in freedom.

    I don’t care if police brutality is correlated with integumental hue (as long as it’s not me), cause I’m a believer in freedom.

    I don’t care if these and more conspire to rob more people of their freedom than any other place on earth (as long as it’s not me), cause I’m a believer in freedom.

    I don’t care as long as it’s not me.
    But I am a believer in freedom.

  50. Anon93 Says:

    Armin #47: I am an Ashkenazi Jew. We faced quotas, and then a huge proportion of us were wiped out in one of the worst genocides of the 20th century, and we win more Nobel Prizes than anyone, go figure. No one cares about our oppression, because why? We’re successful? If you look at the 20th century, Jews faced far more oppression than Black people did. Black Americans have not been victims of genocide and thrown in camps. We’re more successful. Why is this? How do you explain the success of Jews vis-a-vis WHITES? Genetics? Culture?

    Of course I care about people who experience disadvantages in their lives, based on their race, height, gender, country of origin, and so on and so forth. Of course I care about redlining and I think it’s terrible. Jews were also redlined (not as much as Blacks, but a fair amount) and we’re some of the richest people in America. People should be judged as individuals. Police brutality is *far more correlated with gender* than it is with race. No one cares that 85% or whatever of people in jail are men, and that black women are less likely to be shot by cops than white men. Of course I believe in freedom.

    Police brutality is not a very large problem in the US, compared to crime. Indeed, being Black increases your risk of being murdered, and your chance of being murdered is *far higher* than your chance of being killed by a policeman (especially nowadays) to the point that BLM on net has cost thousands of black lives.

  51. Scott Says:

    Let me precommit right now that I will no longer participate in this thread. Armin and Anon93, if you want to continue arguing… 🙂

  52. Armin Says:

    #50 Anon93
    In the last paragraph of your comment #47 you made a consistency argument against any type of AA. I don’t agree with it, but I accept it as a defensible stance.

    But then you tacked on “I’m a believer in freedom”.

    I guess as someone who for some time as a child lived in a society where my parents strongly admonished me not to share their political views with any of my elementary school classmates for fear of being found out and persecuted, I am a little sensitive when the word “freedom” is abused.

    The abuse of this word is rampant in American society. It has been abused to oppress LGBTQ (“religious freedom”), to make everyone less safe from gun-related deaths and injuries (“freedom to bear arms”) and most recently, to let people infect and kill others with a virus. To many people, “Freedom” seems to have become synonymous with sociopathic egotism.

    You may not have abused the word in that sense, but, apart from the fact that your last sentence was a self-serving non-sequitur, it did constitute an abuse of the word, given the paragraph it concluded. ​

    This provoked me to point out that your consistency argument has nothing to do with freedom except that it tends to in the final analysis inhibit attempts aimed (in part) at reducing the US prison population, the largest by far in the world, and something someone who “believes in freedom” would therefore be expected to deeply care about.

  53. Anon93 Says:

    I definitely want to reduce the US prison population and do lots of CJR. I’m no more concerned by racial discrepancies in the prison system than I am by gender discrepancies. I totally want to reduce the number of people – white and black, men and women – in prison. I want shorter sentences, and also give people the choice to have caning and/or community service/forced labor instead of those sentences. I’m a huge proponent of CJR.

  54. Anon93 Says:

    Furthermore, the fact that people have abused “freedom” to do various things that I don’t agree with (gun rights absolutism, anti vax) doesn’t mean that it’s somehow bad or problematic to … believe in freedom? Yes I definitely want to reduce the prison population! I care a lot about this topic. Does it bother you that white men are more likely to get shot by cops than black women though? Doesn’t it bother you that the number of black men who are murdered is *far* higher than the number of black men killed by the police, and certainly the number of essentially nil black men killed by police while resisting arrest?

    The fact that you view the word “freedom” as fundamentally problematic is pretty bad. Yes the government should not be executing anyone, and it should be incarcerating far fewer people for far less time, and should provide choices (freedom) like corporal punishment and labor. People should always have the option to just pick the sentence instead, and the sentence should be shorter. I don’t understand why you think I wouldn’t support CJR. Why wouldn’t I support it? I also support reducing our intake of meat, and oppose industrial farming. I also support legalizing embryo selection and so on so we can make everyone 180 IQ, colonizing space, ending climate change through carbon tax and nuclear power (both fission and fusion), and so on. I think the US Republican party is wrong in that it’s anti-abortion. I believe not only in the freedom to get an abortion, but also the freedom to do eugenics. Jews do eugenics all the time and we more or less got rid of Tay-Sachs in both the US and Israel.

    The argument was that either we ban all AA, or we repeal all anti discrimination laws and give people the freedom to only let people of some race or gender into some program, university, store, and so on. Removing these laws, and removing all of this bureaucracy (Title IX, DEI) would be totally great. I’m totally fine with either of these two, but we must choose one of them.

  55. Anon93 Says:

    This tweet summarized my position on group achievement gaps nicely: https://twitter.com/RichardHanania/status/1404803220690681856

  56. Anon93 Says:

    https://research.calvin.edu/german-propaganda-archive/imbild1.htm

    The murder of Ernst vom Rath did not slow legal measures aimed at solving the Jewish Problem, but rather sped them up. The Jews living in Germany had to pay a fine of a billion marks to discourage them from repeating the cowardly murder. Jewish-democratic voices abroad complained about the “poor” Jews. Yet after six years of a National Socialist government, the 700,000 Jews in Germany were worth 8 billion marks, while the nearly 80 million German citizens were worth only 200 billion marks. Each Jew on average had 4.57, or four-and-a-half times, as much as the average German. Jewish net worth, which had been 4 billion marks in 1918, had doubled, at the expense of the German people. Jews also owned substantial property (for example, more than half — about 60% — of Berlin belonged to the Jews, although they were only 3.8% of the population). That proves the extent to which Jewish parasites had exploited the German people. Truly, it is only a small bill that the National Socialist leadership of the German people gave to the Jews. The series of laws and regulations laid out on the following pages bring us nearer to a solution of the Jewish Question in Germany in every regard.

  57. tim Says:

    https://quantumfrontiers.com/2017/07/14/the-world-of-hackers-and-secrets/

    already mentioned the boson sampling

  58. Alexis H Says:

    I decided to hold off on replying for a while but now it looks like I have lots to respond too. oops!

    #4:

    > In your view, how does this compare to Abbot’s views? Would it be reasonable to cancel the speaking engagements of the Berkeley professor on the basis of their views?

    I think this is a very good question. I think the sorts of views you quoted are definitely on the edge, and sometimes definitely cross the line into going too far. I intentionally have lower tolerances for those in privileged positions than those in underprivileged ones, and I think that this is actually the correct position to take.. We regularly hold those with power to a higher standard of discourse, and I think the same applies to the privileged because privilege is itself a form of power.

    Personally, I find those quotes of yours distasteful. But I think, from glancing at them, that the context is probably pretty important. If the post was, indeed, ironic or satirical for instance, then I would think it probably wouldn’t be worth a major condemnation campaign. A big difference, though, would be how they responded to criticism. If someone challenged them on the topic, and they said “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t intend that to be taken literally”, that would be pretty different from if they said “No, I literally believe this is true; we should enact a policy disqualifying cis white men from hiring.” (And it’s also worth noting that I would not likely accept a similarly-worded apology from someone in a privileged position, because I believe they have a duty to be more careful with their words.)

    All in all, I think that your views as you state them seem fairly coherent and reasonable. I think I would need to speak to students who actually felt unsafe if I wanted to actually build a strong case against them (and of course, in doing so I might discover that you are entirely correct).

    #5:

    > if we are selecting on the basis of qualification, say criteria A, it is possible that this is statistically evenly distributed between group X and group Y, so it doesn’t matter statistically if we try to get parity, even when Y is much smaller than X : in the end, the candidates selected will perform about the same as judged by A.

    This would only be true if your selection process was indifferent to quality A. If A is indeed distributed identically across X and Y, and you select the top N candidates based on A, then you would expect the ratio of members of X and Y selected to typically match the ratio of total members of X and Y. If you selected only members of X, or only members of Y, you would very likely be passing up some members more qualified than others.

    If you start from an assumption that the hiring process is biased, and passes up members of Y in favour of X, then the easiest quick fix is to add a corrective term that favours members of Y to restore parity, thereby maximizing your overall return.

  59. Alexis H Says:

    Oops, accidentally hit submit after the last bit…

    #13: Yes, that’s a good point. The comparison certainly is not a flattering one.

    #14:

    > In that case, shouldn’t a white or asian student or professor feel equally uncomfortable with such a person evaluating them?

    An interesting argument, one that I haven’t seen before… hm. I think that talking about what people “should” or “shouldn’t” feel is unhelpful here, because if we’re talking about safety then the only thing that matters is what people actually feel, and what we choose to do about it. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone express that they feel equally uncomfortable, and without that, the question is academic. But if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say that people are less likely to feel personally threatened by seeing a member of a minority group getting special treatment, and more likely to feel resentful of perceived unfairness. I don’t really know.

    > Or even better, focus on hiring based on merit and treating people as individuals, which will be the correct approach whichever combination of (1) or (2) is correct!

    I think part of the problem in these discussions is that, time and again, systems which are purportedly based purely off of merit have been shown to suffer predominantly from (2). Folks who argue “my” side are often painfully aware of this. If you come into the conversation without this understanding, then it can be difficult to accept the rejection of “merit” based systems.

    Most of us would love systems that were actually based on merit, but I’ve yet to see any examples that, on scrutiny, didn’t turn out to suffer from (2).

    #16: I think it is worth considering that, particularly if you expand the definition of “violence” to include more than literal warfare, the same is true of most power structures in our society. It’s not at all unique to left-wing ideologies.

    #39: Thanks, Scott, for calling that out. There is indeed a huge gulf in between and it’s very important to recognize that. I personally, although I do identify with much of the “woke” left, am very much an active campaigner against allowing us to proceed down the road to hell.

    #43:

    > If you look at critical race theory, they are already claiming every white person, with no exceptions, is racist.

    We are, though. We are all racist in certain ways, have our built-in biases … but that’s okay, if we are conscious of that and seek to correct for it (in *both* directions, whenever needed!). We are never going to eliminate all of our biases, ever!

    More importantly, though, even the least racist white person out there still benefits from the privilege of the racially stratified society that has been built up over the years. I am safer walking on the streets simply because I am white. I am safer when interacting with authorities simply because I am white. I have a better chance at landing a job simply because I am white. Frankly it’s infuriating and I want it to stop.

    #45 & 46:

    Yes, absolutely, this is very important! I’m not sure I like the term “alt-left”, but there definitely is a problem of people white-knighting, inserting themselves into situations where they perceive they are helping but are actually using their privilege to trample over the very people they wish to help.

    Sometimes this is done honestly, but it can also be exploited. An excellent example from local politics is the pictures of Justin Trudeau in brownface makeup at a costume party when he was in university. When he was first running for Prime Minister, the pictures emerged, and he made a very sincere apology, acknowledging that at the time he did not understand the implications. Every BIPOC person I know basically considered the matter closed at that point, especially given the stark contrast between Trudeau and many politicians faced with similar accusations who simply deny & discredit them.

    In the recent election last month, more pictures—from the *very same party*—made their way into the hands of the media. And (big-C) Conservatives tried to use this to point Trudeau as a racist and discredit him. The BIPOC folk I know & follow were having absolutely none of it, and called it out as an openly shallow and transparent attempt to profit off of perceived nothingburger racism, and ultimately with the goal of electing the party that, of the mainstream options, is clearly and consistently the most white-friendly. It’s absolutely horrific to see people’s genuine struggles against oppression turned against them like that.

  60. Jerry Coyne Says:

    Good take on Abbotgate; I agree with your assessment 100%. MIT is coming away from this with egg on its face.

  61. OhMyGoodness Says:

    Roughly 5% of the MIT faculty signed a letter of protest concerning the Abbot cancellation. God help us that those in society that should be the staunchest supporters of free and open discussion are in fact those that provide strongest sustenance to its abolition. Unfortunately historical parallels are available.

    I did find Abbot’s modelling results for tidally locked planets orbiting M type stars interesting.

  62. Scott Says:

    OhMyGoodness #61: I have not the slightest doubt that many more would sign if they weren’t worried about the professional repercussions. It doesn’t excuse but it does explain. Many others, yes, think that MIT deserves to be commended for its wonderful decision and pitied because people are being mean to it.

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