The Fallacy of the "Best and the Brightest"

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naseermk
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The Fallacy of the "Best and the Brightest"

Postby naseermk » Tue Jan 20, 2009 1:54 pm

An interesting blog by Rabbi Michael Lerner:

http://www.spiritualprogressives.org/ar ... 1013073927

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twistor
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Re: The Fallacy of the "Best and the Brightest"

Postby twistor » Tue Jan 20, 2009 3:12 pm

I actually tried to read it, but was put off by the misspelling of "fallacy" as "falacy" in the title and the fact that it's one loooooooong paragraph.

happymonkey
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Re: The Fallacy of the "Best and the Brightest"

Postby happymonkey » Tue Jan 20, 2009 7:03 pm

Ditto to twistor, minus trying to read it, except for the bottom 3 sentences or so. How am I supposed to take an essay written on one paragraph where one of the words in the title is misspelled seriously? It might have an incredibly interesting perspective but I'm not interested in deciphering its meaning.

The US is hopefully moving away from its devotion to anti-intellectualism with the move from Mr. Bush to a gentleman at least on the positive side of the norm in the IQ spectrum. Previous experiences do cloud my judgment. I'm tired of fools and those that act in similar manner being taken seriously. That is other than understanding that giving them credibility or power is a threat to the rest of us. Dr. Lerner has proven his incompetence to think critically numerous times. As such I'm not interested in giving him an umpteenth chance to waste more of my time.

robertson
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Re: The Fallacy of the "Best and the Brightest"

Postby robertson » Tue Jan 20, 2009 7:34 pm

Don't worry naseermk, I have enjoyed the reading. And I think that he has a point, when he talks about elitism. If big universities give points to the graduate applicants because they come from a better university and they recommenders are more famous (because they have access to teachers from a better university), the whole system is favouring the rich guys who can afford to pay 40k dollars per year to study at an Ivy uni.
If the system is similar to the Spanish one, I'm sure no one is teaching them to be a better person or to think critically, is all about specific knowledge or problem solving at most. So finally, if you assume that sons and daughters of rich people are less likely to be nice people (this is my opinion, hardships can make you better - some rich people live in a flower power world that does not exist), and hence the leaders of our society are getting worse. And this might be related to the huge economic crisis that we are suffering, just because some wall stree sharps played with our money like if they were in a casino.
On the other hand, Spain has only public universities and the problems are the same. Somehow powerful and rich people manage to put their breed in the same position, the apple does not fall far from the tree.
As I said, I believe (I hope!) physics is different. I would not like to share the next 6 years of my life with a bunch of stupids that reached their positions because his/her father funded the university.
Any other opinions?

cato88
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Re: The Fallacy of the "Best and the Brightest"

Postby cato88 » Tue Jan 20, 2009 7:54 pm

robertson wrote: If big universities give points to the graduate applicants because they come from a better university and they recommenders are more famous (because they have access to teachers from a better university), the whole system is favouring the rich guys who can afford to pay 40k dollars per year to study at an Ivy uni.


Not all rich people go to ivy league schools only their brighter offspring. There are sons/daughters of upperclass children in state schools too. If you have ever worked as a private tutor you would know that children of the upper income percentiles have an advantage in every single aspect of academia/admissions even if they go to state school. They can afford tutors to help their children with courses which increases their GPA, standardized tests which increases their test scores, and have pre-existing connections with faculty which will aid them in receiving recommendations/obtaining research opportunities and eventually having research proposals approved. However, children of members of academia or who have family members who hold a PhD have access to similar connections and can receive aid in letters of recommendations/research opportunities. The connections also allow them to know the admissions ropes down to which courses to take and know were to exert effort. Every bit of academic effort hits the target. Those connections don't hold only for ivy schools. You could imagine PhD students in state schools with that access who might not even have graduated with a bachelors without that leg up.

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naseermk
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Re: The Fallacy of the "Best and the Brightest"

Postby naseermk » Tue Jan 20, 2009 10:12 pm

You can see this absurd retreat into specialized, impenetrable verbal enclaves in every graduate department across the country


I personally believe that this phenomenon happens every so often. It seems scientists enjoy expressing knowledge in languages that scare off prospective students.

What I mean to say is that an average high school student cannot open a book on let's say QFT or GR and expect to understand what is being mathematically expressed (even at the upper undergrad level). I have often wondered why that should be. Especially if you believe that truth is simplicity there ought be a better way to express our knowledge - in a way that a common man has a chance of comprehending.

Times might be changing, but, it is well known that as early as 2 or 3 decades ago places at ivy league were guaranteed to elite 'prep' school kids. In essence, these elite prep schools served as feeding houses for the Ivy league. Therefore, the leaders of today (i.e. graduates of Ivy league) are products of this
the apple does not fall far from the tree
phenomenon.

YF17A
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Re: The Fallacy of the "Best and the Brightest"

Postby YF17A » Wed Jan 21, 2009 2:00 am

naseermk wrote:What I mean to say is that an average high school student cannot open a book on let's say QFT or GR and expect to understand what is being mathematically expressed (even at the upper undergrad level). I have often wondered why that should be. Especially if you believe that truth is simplicity there ought be a better way to express our knowledge - in a way that a common man has a chance of comprehending.


I would be very careful of this kind of thinking - the issue with too much jargon may be correct in the humanities, but it is certainly not true in physics. Can anyone honestly say that they understood the Pauli exclusion principle when they first saw it in high school chem? Sure, it's just "two electrons can't be in the same state", but then it's not - it's a deep consequence of symmetries in quantum mechanics, and in that simplistic form it certainly does not explain why the Pauli principle is mostly responsible for the stability of solid matter. If topics as profound as the origin of the universe and the fundamental properties of matter could really be expressed without mathematics, to a high school student, physics would be over. We can always simplify to aid understanding, but there is no reason to expect that the fundamental laws should be easy to understand and devoid of mathematics. That's what makes our field so interesting and challenging!

happymonkey
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Re: The Fallacy of the "Best and the Brightest"

Postby happymonkey » Wed Jan 21, 2009 9:46 pm

As a junior in high school I took calculus ab and did fine on the ap exam. I don't think of myself as exceptional, except that I feel that I am a little unwound, unbounded from normal social standards. I think with the right training I could have easily covered PDEs, and I know some of my European counterparts in fact do. I think it is possible to teach these topics with the amount of mathematical rigour required to fully grasp their inards in one's teens and I think it mostly ashame that this is not done. I understand people who don't get math until later in life, heck I didn't learn to read until age 8, but to stagnate on half considered physical as well as mathematical arguments in one's highschool career is really missing out on an education. I feel that I missed out on an education in highschool and I hope that in future other's do not have to - note to other's I'm not going into Physics Eduation although I don't think this is a bad route to take in the least.

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twistor
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Re: The Fallacy of the "Best and the Brightest"

Postby twistor » Sat Jan 24, 2009 1:47 pm

What I mean to say is that an average high school student cannot open a book on let's say QFT or GR and expect to understand what is being mathematically expressed


That is because textbook writers are terrible communicators. The current belief is that when you write a textbook you must not explain your ideas in simpler terms; that is beneath you. On the other hand, when you write a popular science book that does try to express complicated ideas in a way that is understandable, you must not use math. I don't see why there cannot be a compromise. Changing this attitude would greatly improve physics and mathematics education.

Velocitaneous
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Re: The Fallacy of the "Best and the Brightest"

Postby Velocitaneous » Sat Jan 24, 2009 2:28 pm

twistor wrote:
What I mean to say is that an average high school student cannot open a book on let's say QFT or GR and expect to understand what is being mathematically expressed


That is because textbook writers are terrible communicators. The current belief is that when you write a textbook you must not explain your ideas in simpler terms; that is beneath you. On the other hand, when you write a popular science book that does try to express complicated ideas in a way that is understandable, you must not use math. I don't see why there cannot be a compromise. Changing this attitude would greatly improve physics and mathematics education.


Nah, he's right. Most people haven't had any calculus, which makes general relativity almost impossible to understand, and QFT even more impossible to understand.

However, if you're talking about the *key* formulas which may not have calculus in them, then yeah, you may be right.

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twistor
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Re: The Fallacy of the "Best and the Brightest"

Postby twistor » Sat Jan 24, 2009 2:33 pm

Just because you can't understand it mathematically doesn't mean you can't understand at some level.

In any case, understanding how to compute an integral and understanding everything that goes into making that integral physically important are two separate issues. That's why you can't simply take calculus 2 and immediately understand two semesters of physics, even though you have all the mathematical tools.

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naseermk
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Re: The Fallacy of the "Best and the Brightest"

Postby naseermk » Sat Jan 24, 2009 5:00 pm

[/quote]
Changing this attitude would greatly improve physics and mathematics education.[/quote]

In Theoretical Physics, for example, the practical applications really come to the fore when knowledge becomes widely accessible.

If one really wants to impact society through research that should be one of the main goals i.e. to make knowledge accessible (since a theorist has little/no-time to sit and think about the practical applications of his idea - specialization of labor).

Considering this, a major change in attitude is necessary. I do not mean to say that rigorous Math is not essential in expressing theories, but, there should be a way to introduce such ideas to people in a step by step approach (i.e. intro. to QFT to students in high school for instance).

cato88
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Re: The Fallacy of the "Best and the Brightest"

Postby cato88 » Sat Jan 24, 2009 6:22 pm

All daydreaming aside the average state mandated curriculum has no room whatsoever to consider an intro to QFT and why would anyone ever need QFT specifically, why not intro to solid state physics? There are so many things you could possibly simplify and teach to HS students but if you tried to do so everyone would graduate at 42.




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