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Musk actually did (very briefly) start a PhD in materials science at Stanford before dropping out to start his first start-up. So I'm not sure "he's not a physics doctorate" is a convincing argument that he's not smart. However, I do basically agree with you: Musk is not a genius, but he is probably still very smart and also has other unusual skills (Scott's book review refers to his high level of intensity, focus and work ethic). More generally, I suspect that many of the most successful people in business are not quite the very smartest people. Intelligence is correlated with other useful traits like conscientiousness, but not perfectly so, and to succeed at the very highest level in business, those other traits also matter a lot.
This reminds me a bit of these two blog posts from Data Colada, a blog focused on statistics and the behavioral sciences. In those two posts, the bloggers point out a problem with some studies of racial discrimination. There are several studies which attempt to measure racial discrimination in hiring by sending out identical resumes some of which are made to look like they are sent by black applicants and some of which are made to look like they are sent by white applicants. Sometimes, the way that resumes are made to look like they are sent by black applicants is by using stereotypically black names. The blog posts I linked to points out that since some stereotypically black names are often seen as indicative of low socioeconomic status, this is not necessarily a good test for racial discrimination.
Yeah, I wasn't trying to disagree with you. I agree it may be revealing about what Lance himself believes (perhaps I didn't indicate that clearly enough). I just wanted to comment that there are pretty good responses to this question, even for the most die-hard of abortion advocates.
This is a minor point but isn't the more obvious argument against pregnant mothers doing meth (from the perspective of an advocate for late-term abortion) is that there is a chance the baby will be born with severe disabilities and have a lot of trouble throughout their life because of that? It seems logically consistent to believe both that killing fetuses is basically fine and that doing things that will result in children who experience needless suffering is not fine. I realize Lance didn't reach for that justification and that perhaps reveals something about his moral intuitions, but the "what about meth" argument doesn't actually seem like much of a gotcha to me.
My guess is that they still wouldn't, though it would depend on exactly how mediocre the husband was. But if he really would be lucky to get a tenure-track position at a small, unheard-of state school (as you said) then I would be pretty surprised if Stanford would really be willing to hire him to a tenure-track research position.
I'm curious what you mean. Did you also find my post bizarre? If so, why?
How about the discovery of graphene or the development of quantum computing? Going back a little further, how about high temperature superconductors (not to be confused with room temperature superconductors)?
I think this is both an interesting and very complicated topic. I have actually wondered before if the changing demands of the job market (i.e. a shift from physical labor to more desk jobs which it is easier for women to be competitive at) partially drove the growth of feminism (rather than feminism causing the job market to accept more women).
I am aware that schools like Cornell are in relatively remote locations. However, doesn't this suggest for couples where one partner is an academic and the other partner is a non-academic with a high-powered career (e.g. lawyer or surgeon or something) the academic partner would have a lot of trouble accepting a job at Cornell? Perhaps the lesson is that in an era in which two-career households are common, top research universities in remote locations just don't make much sense.
In my experience, spousal hires are typically not for things like "DEI officer" (or at least I wouldn't call that a spousal hire) but for research or teaching roles.
I also think your example with law firms is a bit different because if a different organization is doing the spousal hiring then that organization still has incentive to make sure the person they hire meets their standards. Also there are typically far more jobs for lawyers in one city than for, say, theoretical physicists.
Interesting idea. Perhaps if academia had developed in a world where two-career households were common, this sort of thing would have become standard practice. In our world though, it's hard to imagine it happening any time in the near-to-mid-term future.
I imagine that in such a case they would offer the husband a teaching-focused non-tenure track role like lecturer (I realize that lecturer means something different in the UK).
That's a reasonable point. However, there are some cases of spousal hiring where the "leading" partner has already been at the university for a long time and wants a spousal hire because they started a new relationship with someone from another institution. In this case, it's less clear that there's no principle agent problem (for example, the "leading" partner might have personal ties to people involved with hiring at the university that induce them to make a spousal hire they wouldn't have otherwise).
Yes, I completely agree with that.
I don't totally disagree with you. As I said, I think academia produces a lot of things of zero, or even negative, value and a lot of humanities research doesn't impress me much. I'm also pretty open to arguments that as a society we invest too much in academia or that academia should be greatly reorganized to be more cost-effective. I could even understand someone who believes that the net benefits of academic research are not worth the cost (though I disagree). But the view you seemed to express above, that superstar researchers don't produce any deliverables and that academia produces nothing of value, seems clearly wrong to me. My experience has been that in science and engineering, superstar researchers generally do have impressive achievements (though this is not quite the same thing as claiming that their achievements are worth the amount of money spent on them; I believe that too, but it's a different claim).
As I said in my original post, I personally am ambivalent about spousal hiring.
I mostly agree with your explanation of how spousal hires came to be common and accepted, but I think feminism might play a somewhat smaller role than you ascribe to it. It had some influence, but in my opinion, its most important effect was simply increasing the number of couples where both partners are academics. As long as such couples are common, and as long as the academic job market works the way it does now, spousal hiring will be appealing.
What exactly is a superstar researcher? What kind of deliverable or output do they produce?
What exactly is a superstar researcher? What kind of deliverable or output do they produce?
To the university, their main value is prestige (but also occasionally lucrative patents). For society as a whole, it greatly depends on the field the researcher works in. In humanities, it is sometimes hard to quantify the worth of a researcher's output but in science and engineering, it is often more clear-cut. To take one recent example, Jennifer Doudna became a superstar researcher for her part in discovering CRISPR, which seems likely to have a lot of value to society.
In my opinion, you have a level of cynicism about academic research that does not seem warranted. I agree that a lot of research is not useful and some is also in service of a political agenda, but over time a lot of tremendously useful/important scientific discoveries and inventions have come out of academia. I heard that once, superstar researchers in physics even invented a new type of bomb.
What are the odds that their partner is sufficiently below average to drag the level of the university down?
What are the odds that their partner is sufficiently below average to drag the level of the university down?
Yes, for the university it is probably a net improvement (at least in terms of prestige). But for the field as a whole or for the broader society, it may not be.
This is an interesting point, but I disagree that my post was "utterly bizarre" and that my thought experiments "make no sense" because they (mostly) don't involve children. Let me respond in three different ways.
First, I did kind of mention children, but only briefly and indirectly. I said that the academic career path makes it harder to start a family.
Second, all of the spousal hires that I am personally familiar with did not involve children (although it is always possible that the couple in question will have children later and in one case this did indeed happen). I realize that your experience was different. I have also never seen the existence of children used to justify specific spousal hires, but of course I don't know what was said in hiring committees or private conversations. In any case, from my experience it's absolutely clear that spousal hiring often takes place with no kids involved and that many people support it for reasons besides those involving children. So I don't think my thought experiments are invalid at all.
Third, and most importantly, I am not sure if the presence of children should make a difference. From a university's perspective, spousal hiring is justified because giving extra benefits to prestigious researchers makes them more likely to accept your job offer. You point out that the convenience does not just have to be the convenience of being in the same place as your romantic partner, it can also include the convenience of having your entire family (including children) in the same place. Part of the point of my thought experiments is that there are other notions of "convenience" (such as being in the same place as your close friend) that may be valued by researchers and could, in theory, be addressed by something similar to spousal hiring.
There are also other tricky ethical questions involving spousal hiring and children. Why does a university owe it to its employees to make it easier to have kids? Does the fact that a practice makes it easier to take care of kids make it not nepotism? Should couples with children be treated better than couples without children? Moreover, it seems hard to build a coherent policy where spousal hiring is justified mainly by concerns about raising children. If spousal hires are extended only to people with children then what about people who don't have children yet, but plan to? Or if spousal hires are extended to couples who have or plan to have children, what happens if a couple claims to plan to have children but then doesn't?
I want to emphasize that I don't necessarily disagree with you. I said that one of the strongest arguments in favor of spousal hiring is that it is convenient and makes the lives of (some) people in academia better. One part of that is that it helps people in romantic relationships in general and another part, as you point out, is that it helps people with kids. Perhaps someone who is strongly pro-natalist could also support it on the grounds that it may increase the number of children. I am genuinely unsure if spousal hiring is on net a good thing and the fact that it makes things easier for couples with kids is certainly part of the argument for it.
There is another point I would like to address. You say that "you can easily have a ldr without kids" and that "you can't look after kids [in different locations]." I don't fully agree with either of these. Many people find it difficult to maintain a relationship long-distance, especially when the long-distance phase lasts for many years. I know of at least one academic couple who have lived in separate states for decades but I think they are very unusual. In any case, it is clear that many people prefer to live in the same place as their romantic partners. Also, I have known couples with kids who lived apart for several years (including couples where one partner was in academia). It surely sucks a lot and I would not want to do it, but it's not impossible.
Within the fields I'm familiar with, there is a clear and reasonably large difference in quality between the median researcher at a top university and the median researcher at a mid-tier university. So I'm not sure I agree with you.
Spousal Hiring in Academia
I'm curious what people here think about spousal hiring in academia. It's a topic that I have thought a lot about without reaching any firm conclusions so I thought it might be interesting to discuss it here. Since the practice might not be well known to people outside of academia, I'll explain how it works before sharing some of my own thoughts.
Spousal hiring is meant to address a common problem in academia: academics are often in romantic relationships with other academics and it can be hard for them to both find a job in the same city. The reason this is hard is that academic jobs are unusually spread out. Even the biggest cities have no more than about 10 major research universities—for mid-sized cities there's often only one—and even a large department at a major university may only hire a couple faculty members per year. Some people call this the "two-body problem" but I kind of hate that name. Regardless, this can be a major source of frustration for people in academia and some couples spend years living far apart from each other because of it.
To deal with this problem, it has become increasingly common for universities to offer spousal hires. When a university wants to hire a researcher whose romantic partner is also in academia, they will sometimes also make a job offer to the partner (note that I said partner not spouse; in spite of the name, there is almost never a marriage requirement). Sometimes, the partner is hired as a tenure-track professor. Other times, they are given some kind of less prestigious position, like lecturer (a teaching-only role with lower salary and no tenure). Often, they would not have considered hiring the partner if not for spousal hiring. There is a related situation that is sometimes also referred to as spousal hiring where a researcher at a university starts a new romantic relationship with a researcher at another university and asks their current university to offer a job to their new partner. See here for a much more detailed account of how spousal hiring works on a practical level.
You might wonder what's in it for the university. The answer is basically that this is a way for lower-ranked universities (or even just not-literally-Harvard universities) to recruit better researchers than they would be able to otherwise. So usually spousal hires are only made on behalf of researchers somewhat better than the typical researcher hired by that university. Some universities also view it as a way to guarantee that professors will stick around for longer. Not all universities are big on spousal hiring, and even when they are it makes the whole process more complicated. So if you are an academic couple who managed to get jobs at the same university due to a spousal hire, you might be less inclined to go through the whole job search process again just to move to a slightly more prestigious university.
My impression is that in the past, spousal hiring was frowned upon or even outright forbidden due to concerns aobut nepotism (see here for a reference to this). Nowadays, however, it is common, at least in the US and Canada. I personally know of several examples and have heard anecdotes about at least a dozen more.
I have mixed feelings about spousal hiring. On the one hand, it can be very frustrating to not be able to find a job in the same city as your romantic partner. On the other hand, there are some obvious negative aspects:
I think spousal hiring mostly continues (and remains reasonably popular) because it's so convenient for many of the people involved. Universities get to hire researchers who would normally be out of their league. Superstar researchers get to work in the same city as their romantic partner. Grad students, postdocs and other young academics who have partners in academia (which is extremely common) get to imagine that they too will not have to choose between a career in academia and living in the same city as their partner. I also think this very convenience is one of the strongest arguments in favor of spousal hiring. The thing that sucks the most about the academic career path is not having much control over where you live, which makes it harder to maintain relationships, start a family and so on. Is doing something that makes that a little better really so bad?
However, I think that because spousal hiring is so convenient for so many people, it is often a bit controversial to question it (also since traditionally spousal hiring was seen as benefiting women, questioning it can be seen as vaguely sexist). To gain better intuition for the topic, I think it is interesting to consider some thought experiments.
As I said, I really don't have a firm opinion about whether spousal hiring is good or not (or under what circumstances) and I'm curious what all of you think.
Did I say it was a bad thing? I was simply responding to someone upthread who seemed surprised that a movie like Idiocracy could be the product of liberal culture despite seeming conservative in some ways. It's not surprising since the creator has some conservative sympathies.
My view, in case you are curious, is that it's good to have people of a variety of political and cultural perspectives, including conservatives, making art and entertainment and also I enjoy King of the Hill.
As a number of people have pointed out over the years, Mike Judge (the director and co-writer of Idiocracy) seems to have some conservative sympathies. For example, Hank Hill in King of the Hill is a fairly sympathetic portrayal of a conservative suburban Texan and the liberal people in Beavis and Butthead are not exactly always portrayed as admirable.
The way that HBD is used around here seems to imply some amount of believing that racial differences in traits like intelligence (1) exist and (2) are significantly heritable. This is an idea that deBoer clearly rejects while still agreeing that on an individual level such differences exist and are significantly heritable. But perhaps I've misunderstood the term.