Funniest sentence I’ve read today

It’s early, but this is a good one:

It takes some chutzpah to argue that intelligence is not heritable, and variant–frankly, I don’t know why these people are arguing with me when they could be teaching their dog nuclear physics.

Megan McArdle

The comments are surprisingly good. My contribution:

“if you meet a woman who’s 6’4” (hi Megan!), you’re not going to immediately think “Well, she’s a woman so she’s probably *actually* short”.”


“But it is vastly more important to recognize that you can never judge an individual by the median person in their demographic group.”

The problem here is that the thing we’re trying to observe in a job applicant or academic paper (i.e. whether the person will be a good worker or whether the paper is good) isn’t as easy to measure as height. Height’s right there in your face. I assumed Megan was short because she’s a woman,then I saw her, and now I know better.

A person’s quality as a worker can’t be gauged nearly as well, especially not from a resume. Actually, economists often assume that you can *never* observe a worker’s quality completely. So you look for low-cost signals of quality. Because race is a category in our society and assuming there’s differences in worker quality by race, we look to race as a signal of quality. A resume with a black person’s name will, on average, represent a person with lower quality.

When I used to review resumes for entry level positions, I consciously used the college a person went to as a signal of their quality. Berkeley students were assumed to be better than Stanford students and so on. (Go Bears!) This is probably unobjectionable, Cal students are just better on average than Stanford students. (At least using using college as a signal is unobjectionable… my ranking might not be :-) My reasons for doing this are exactly the same reason one might use to garner quality from the blackness of a name. All else equal about the resumes, the one from the Cal student represents, on average, a better applicant.

Racism would be discriminating in this way if, in fact, there were no differences between racial groups.

Actually, I’m of the mind that race is a particularly arbitrary construction and we’d be better off without it. There could be no variation between groups, if those groupings didn’t exist.

4 thoughts on “Funniest sentence I’ve read today”

  1. “Actually, I’m of the mind that race is a particularly arbitrary construction and we’d be better off without it.”

    Are you saying that you want to wipe African Americans off the map? That’s racist, yo.

  2. Heh, I worried about that reaction when I wrote that… The flame baiter in me didn’t care, but most of the rest of me made sure to write “grouping” in the next sentence.

  3. Everyone knows that “race” = “ethnic” and “ethnic” = “non-whites.” Now go fetch me some M-Fing iced tea, you big racist.

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