Meter = Yard

(Funniest Comment I’ve Read Today)

First, you keep saying that “there are no human races. If you compare genetic variation within each of the so-called races with other populations, there is more vriation within group than between groups.”

I love this point. Such wisdom. But when I tried it out today on a fellow worker, I got confused. He happened to mention that men are on average a few inches taller than the average woman. What a know-nothing, I thought, and then I used your argument: “If you look at variation in height among men, you find some men who are 4 feet tall and others who are over 7 feet tall. Thus, there is more variation among men than there is between men and women.” Pretty good point, no? But my co-worker didn’t seem as shock-and-awed as I expected. He just said, “Sure, there’s lots of variation among men, but there’s still an overall average difference between male and female height, even if it’s comparatively small.”

I was stumped, and I have to ask for your assistance here. What do I say when some hack tries to suggest that there can be differences between groups even if each individual group has internal variation? I mean, clearly it’s a fact of anthropology that [variation within a group] = [no possible differences between that group and another group]. Just no way it can be. But I can’t seem to get that point across very effectively.

Maybe an analogy would help. Such as, “There’s more variation between inch 1 and inch 36 of a yardstick than there is between a yardstick and a meter. Therefore 1 yard = 1 meter.” Would a simple example like that help? Or maybe you can think of others.

— Commenter John Brown

You’ll have to read the post and the thread to get the full context, but its pretty funny. Also, look at the comment directly below the one linked to.

Funniest sentence I’ve read today

“I want to make it crystal clear that the “centrism” here is entirely about gesture, tone, and affect. It’s got nothing to do with substance.” — David Roberts at Gristmill

As if the whole “left”/”right” dichotomy isn’t predicated on gestures, tones and affects. Being on the “left” is being in a club. Being on the “right” is being in a club. Both clubs have secret handshakes, slogans and banners.

And knowledge of the truth isn’t an exclusive benefit of membership in either club.

Funniest sentence I’ve read today

“This sort of thing drives me crazy because it’s just so thoughtlessly arbitrary — intellectual empty calories.”
Economist blogger

Actually, the whole post is worth it. He (she? it?) riffs on the idea that negative externalities should be taxed (e.g. carbon emissions) but that some things are only externalities because of previous government intervention.

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.