Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Schrodinger's Cat and the Normaliens


Yesterday I had cause to look something up related to macroscopic superposition states ("Schrodinger cat states") in Serge Haroche's book Exploring the Quantum. Curiosity led me to Haroche's 2012 Nobel Lecture and autobiography, which I found fascinating. 

One wonders how long an elitist, highly meritocratic and undeniably productive system like the French Grandes Ecoles can continue to function in the current political climate. Quel dommage.
... I was fascinated by astronomy and by calculus, the notion of derivatives and simple differential equations which describe so directly and so well the laws of dynamics obeyed by moving bodies. This was the time of the first artificial satellites, the sputniks which orbited the earth and launched the American-Soviet race to the moon. 
I marveled at the fact that I was able, with the elementary calculus I knew, to compute the escape velocity of rockets, the periods of satellites on their orbits and the gravitational field at the surface of all the planets … I understood then that nature obeys mathematical laws, a fact that did not cease to astonish me. I knew, from that time on, that I wanted to be a scientist. For that, I embarked in the strenuous and demanding “classes préparatoires” of the famed Lycée Louis-Le-Grand, one of the preparatory schools which train the best French students for the contest examinations leading to the “Grandes Ecoles.” They are the engineering and academic schools, which since the French Revolution, have formed the scientific elite of France. These were two years of intensive study where I learned a lot of math and of classical physics. I eventually was admitted in 1963 to the Ecole Polytechnique (ranking first in the national examination, to the great pride of my parents) and at the Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS). I chose to enter the latter because, at that time, it offered a much better opportunity to embark in a scientist career. 
The years as a student at ENS (1963–1967) have left me wonderful memories, contrasting sharply with the strenuous training of the preparatory school. Here, in the middle of the Latin Quarter, I was free to organize my time as I wished, to meet and discuss with students working in all kinds of fields in science or humanities and to enjoy all the distractions and cultural activities Paris has to offer. And I was paid for that, since the “Normaliens” as the ENS students are called, are considered civil servants and receive a generous stipend! These were my formative years as a scientist. Coming so to speak from the physics of the 19th century which was taught in the classes préparatoires, I was immediately thrown into modern physics and the quantum world by the classes of exceptional teachers. Alfred Kastler gave us a lyrical description of the dance of atomic kinetic moments, and gave atoms and photons a near poetic existence. Jean Brossel brought us back to Earth by describing the great experiments thanks to which quantum concepts were established, instilling in us the austere passion for precision. And Claude Cohen-Tannoudji revealed the theory’s formalism to us with extraordinary depth and clarity. I still remember three books I read avidly at the time: Quantum Mechanics by Albert Messiah, where I truly understood the depth and beauty of the quantum theory; Principlesof Nuclear Magnetism by Anatole Abragam, who introduced me to the subtle world of atomic magnetic moments; and Feynman’s Lectures on Physics, which was a revelation.
See also 

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Orwell: 1944, 1984, and Today

George Orwell 1944 Letter foreshadows 1984, and today:
... Already history has in a sense ceased to exist, i.e. there is no such thing as a history of our own times which could be universally accepted, and the exact sciences are endangered as soon as military necessity ceases to keep people up to the mark. Hitler can say that the Jews started the war, and if he survives that will become official history. He can’t say that two and two are five, because for the purposes of, say, ballistics they have to make four. But if the sort of world that I am afraid of arrives, a world of two or three great superstates which are unable to conquer one another, two and two could become five if the fuhrer wished it. That, so far as I can see, is the direction in which we are actually moving ... 
... intellectuals are more totalitarian in outlook than the common people. On the whole the English intelligentsia have opposed Hitler, but only at the price of accepting Stalin. Most of them are perfectly ready for dictatorial methods, secret police, systematic falsification of history etc. so long as they feel that it is on ‘our’ side.
I am sure any reader can provide examples of the following from the "news" or academia or even from a national lab:
there is no such thing as a history of our own times which could be universally accepted  
the exact sciences are endangered  
two and two could become five
dictatorial methods ... systematic falsification of history etc. so long as they feel that it is on ‘our’ side.

Of course, there is nothing new under the sun. It takes only a generation for costly lessons to be entirely forgotten...


Wikipedia: Trofim Denisovich Lysenko ...Soviet agronomist and biologist. Lysenko was a strong proponent of soft inheritance and rejected Mendelian genetics in favor of pseudoscientific ideas termed Lysenkoism.[1][2] In 1940, Lysenko became director of the Institute of Genetics within the USSR's Academy of Sciences, and he used his political influence and power to suppress dissenting opinions and discredit, marginalize, and imprison his critics, elevating his anti-Mendelian theories to state-sanctioned doctrine. 
Soviet scientists who refused to renounce genetics were dismissed from their posts and left destitute. Hundreds if not thousands of others were imprisoned. Several were sentenced to death as enemies of the state, including the botanist Nikolai Vavilov. Scientific dissent from Lysenko's theories of environmentally acquired inheritance was formally outlawed in the Soviet Union in 1948. As a result of Lysenkoism and forced collectivization, 15-30 million Soviet and Chinese citizens starved to death in the Holodomor and the Great Chinese Famine. ...

 

In 1964, physicist Andrei Sakharov spoke out against Lysenko in the General Assembly of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR: "He is responsible for the shameful backwardness of Soviet biology and of genetics in particular, for the dissemination of pseudo-scientific views, for adventurism, for the degradation of learning, and for the defamation, firing, arrest, even death, of many genuine scientists."

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Adam Tooze: American Power in the Long 20th Century

  


London Review of Books (LRB) lecture:
The history of American power, as it is commonly written, is a weighty subject, a matter of military and economic heft, of ‘throw-weight’, of resource mobilisation and material culture, of ‘boots on the ground’. In his lecture, Adam Tooze examines an alternative, counterintuitive vision of America, as a power defying gravity. This image gives us a less materialistic, more fantastical and more unstable vision of America’s role in the world.
The Q&A at 1h03min is probably the best (at least most concise) part of the talk. I don't find the Geithner anecdote quite as important / symbolic as Tooze does. Geithner is expressing the point that financial markets and economies are heavily affected by animal spirits, investor confidence, etc. Geithner understands well how much the power of central banks depends on purely psychological multiplier effects.

From a YouTube comment, this outline:
1:10 - Tim Geithner; U.S. Treasury: America had been “defying gravity" 
5:50 - U.S. was the “gravity” of world 
11:07 - U.S. is now also subject to the “gravity” of world 
13:28 - 100 years of 9 historic U.S. events; Overview 
14:44 - Adam Tooze; Historian “Ordering rather than Order, and the Disordering effects of efforts at Ordering.” 
16:28 - Start at the beginning of 1800’s 
17:12 - 1898 U.S. Imperialist power 
17:50 - 1916 U.S. Globalist power 
18:47 - Woodrow Wilson; U.S. President 
22:46 - 1920s Republican domestic priority of Financial Austerity and Tax cuts. 
25:59 - Great American Financial shocks/panics; 1857, 1873, 1893, 1896, 1907, 1920, 1929 26:49 - 1920s Great Depression 
27:18 - 1930s U.S. Hyper militaristic power 
31:51 - World War 2; One World, One War (1942) 
33:48 - Post World War 2, Bretton Woods economic conference. 
36:24 - Marshall Plan not the same as Bretton Woods... 
41:10 - Cold War: Asia 
43:30 - U.S. President Nixon abandons the Gold peg in 1971. Which results in inflation in G7 countries and Switzerland. 
44:10 - Keynesian era 50s to 60s. Start of Neoliberalism or the Paul Volcker shock 1979. 
45:07 - Cold War: Europe 1980s, Reagan & Gorbachev 
47:13 - Concluding phase of the talk 
1:01:56 - Challenges in 2019 and going forward; China and Climate Change 
1:03:20 - Q&A
Also recommended: Tooze on US-China geopolitical competition (August 6 2020 Sinica podcast). This discussion focuses more on the present and future than the past and may be of more interest to readers.


This conversation with Tyler Cowen is excellent, with more focus on Europe.



This is part 3 of a discussion at the Paris School of Economics. Thomas Piketty is on the panel and his remarks are in part 2, following Tooze's presentation in part 1. I recommend part 3 as the most interesting. Topics covered include MMT, inequality, central banks, current sources of systemic risk. Note this discussion took place before the Covid19 pandemic. Tooze mentions individual hedge fund compensation in the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars. Typically in such cases a big chunk of this compensation is really returns from the individual's own net worth which is co-invested with the fund. So it's not directly comparable to other forms of compensation, such as salary or bonus.


Friday, August 28, 2020

PRC ASBM Test in South China Sea

 

This is an interesting discussion of PRC Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles (ASBM), including the DF21, DF26, and DF17 systems. You can set the captions to English if necessary. (Google realtime speech to text and translation have improved significantly in the last year or so.)

In response to US activity in the South China Sea and elsewhere, PRC recently conducted a test of DF21 and DF26 in the open ocean. Reportedly, a US "Cobra Ball" RC135S missile intelligence aircraft was present to monitor the activity. 



The YouTube video discusses PRC ASBM capabilities, including 

1. Infrared and radar final targeting
2. Maneuver capability
3. Capability of the missile to receive (ground based) over-the-horizon radar and satellite information while in flight. 

These are the frequent subject of speculation in Western sources: "There is a long kill chain and we are not sure whether it is operational..." etc.

Assuming that PRC ASBM have these capabilities, which seems quite plausible to me, this test was presumably a demonstration for the US, to make sure that our military appreciates the PLARF ability to hit a moving target (e.g., US aircraft carrier) at sea. Once this mutual understanding is in place, FONOPs in the South China Sea become mere theatrics for the dim witted.

See related posts

The Future of the U.S. Aircraft Carrier: Fearsome Warship or Expensive Target? (Heritage panel; video) 


Machine intelligence threatens overpriced aircraft carriers (first principles analysis of final targeting problem)

A2AD fait accompli? (Yaogan satellite surveillance of the western Pacific)

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Inheritors and The Grisly Folk: H.G. Wells and William Golding on Neanderthals

Some time ago I posted about The Grisly Folk by H.G. Wells, an essay on Neanderthals and their encounters with modern humans. See also The Neanderthal Problem, about the potential resurrection of early hominids via genomic technology, and the associated ethical problems. 

The Grisly Folk: ... Many and obstinate were the duels and battles these two sorts of men fought for this world in that bleak age of the windy steppes, thirty or forty thousand years ago. The two races were intolerable to each other. They both wanted the eaves and the banks by the rivers where the big flints were got. They fought over the dead mammoths that had been bogged in the marshes, and over the reindeer stags that had been killed in the rutting season. When a human tribe found signs of the grisly folk near their cave and squatting place, they had perforce to track them down and kill them; their own safety and the safety of their little ones was only to be secured by that killing. The Neandertalers thought the little children of men fair game and pleasant eating. ...

William Golding was inspired by Wells to write The Inheritors (his second book, after Lord of the Flies), which is rendered mostly (until the end, at which point the perspective is reversed) from the Neanderthal point of view. Both Wells and Golding assume that Neanderthals were not as cognitively capable as modern humans, but Golding's primitives are peaceful quasi-vegetarians, quite unlike the Grisly Folk of Wells.



The Inheritors 
Golding considered this his finest novel and it is a beautifully realised tale about the last days of the Neanderthal people and our fear of the ‘other’ and the unfamiliar. The action is revealed through the eyes of the Neanderthals whose peaceful world is threatened by the emergence of Homo sapiens. 
The struggle between the simple Neanderthals and the malevolent modern humans ends in helpless despair ... 
From the book jacket: "When the spring came the people - what was left of them - moved back by the old paths from the sea. But this year strange things were happening, terrifying things that had never happened before. Inexplicable sounds and smells; new, unimaginable creatures half glimpsed through the leaves. What the people didn't, and perhaps never would, know, was that the day of their people was already over."

See this episode of the podcast Backlisted for an excellent discussion of the book. 

I am particularly interested in how Golding captures the perspective of pre-humans with limited cognitive abilities. He conveys the strangeness and incomprehensibility of modern humans as perceived by Neanderthals. In this sense, the book is a type of Science Fiction: it describes a first encounter with Aliens of superior capability.

We are approaching the day when modern humans will encounter a new and quasi-alien intelligence: it may be AI, or it may be genetically enhanced versions of ourselves.




On a scientific note, can someone provide an update to this 2013 work: "... high quality genome sequence obtained from the toe of a female Neanderthal who lived in the Altai mountains in Siberia. Interestingly, copy number variation at 16p11.2 is one of the structural variants identified in a recent deCODE study as related to IQ depression"? Here is an interesting follow up paper: Nature 2016 Aug 11; 536(7615): 205–209.
   



Audiobook:

 

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Othram identifies murder victim from ~20 cells equivalent DNA sample


Othram, a DNA forensics company I co-founded, continues to solve cold cases around the world. 

Murder victim Rodney Peter Johnson was identified from a sample of only 0.2 nanograms of DNA (equivalent of 20 cells). Mr. Johnson had last been seen in 1987, when he was 25 years old. His body was discovered in 1994 by a fisherman in Lake Stickney, near Everett WA. It was badly decomposed and could not be identified.

The Johnson family has waited decades for closure. Press conference video.

See Othram: the future of DNA forensics

The existing FBI standard (CODIS) for DNA identification uses only 20 markers (STRs -- previously only 13 loci were used!). By contrast, genome wide sequencing can reliably call millions of genetic variants. 

For the first time, the cost curves for these two methods have crossed: modern sequencing costs no more than extracting CODIS markers using the now ~30 year old technology. 

What can you do with millions of genetic markers? 

1. Determine relatedness of two individuals with high precision. This allows detectives to immediately identify a relative (ranging from distant cousin to sibling or parent) of the source of the DNA sample, simply by scanning through large DNA databases. ...

If you have contacts in law enforcement, please alert them to the potential of this new technology.

Cheap Document Camera

I built this using a $35 1080p web camera and a $20 LED lamp I already had in my office. 

I've tested on Google Meet and Zoom, it allows me to display equations and quick sketches to collaborators and students. There are much fancier purpose-built document cameras with similar functionality, but these are mostly sold out on Amazon, due to the increase in remote work and online teaching. The particular web cam I am using (see link above) has a manual focus, in case the software auto-focus is unsatisfactory.


Both Google Meet and Zoom allow to switch from the default internal camera on my laptop to the external web cam (a simple toggle in Settings). The web cam is auto-detected on both Mac OS and Chrome -- I did not have to install any drivers.

The plastic clip I used to attach the web cam to the lamp is from the kitchen (Bed Bath and Beyond). Tape would also work as the web cam is very light.


Here is the rig in action, using Google Meet. I write on the pad and my colleague can see it very clearly.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

U.S.-China Decoupling: Separating Myth From Reality (Georgetown panel)

 

This is a good panel on US-China decoupling, from June 2020. I especially recommend the discussion between 1h and 1h30m.

Regarding semiconductors: How fast will SMIC close the gap with TSMC? It's now a huge priority. 

Chip design in China advanced much faster than most US observers expected in the past few years, and I think semiconductor fabrication will also advance quickly in the future. Fabs are huge, complex infrastructure investments, which they tend to do well. (According to Goodrich, 60 fabs under construction right now in China.) I also expect them to be good at fine-tuning the production process, pulling in engineering talent from Taiwan and S. Korea as necessary. The most difficult technology hurdle will be the advanced lithography machines that still depend on US and European intellectual property. 
Georgetown US-China Dialogue 2020 
Wang Tao is a managing director and head of Asia Economic Research at UBS investment bank in Hong Kong. She covers macroeconomic and policy issues in Asia and China. 
Jörg Wuttke is the chief representative in China of BASF, a large German chemical company. He is also the president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China. 
Dan Wang is a Beijing-based technology analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics, an economic research firm. His focus is on China's technology progress—especially on semiconductors—as well as the unfolding tech war related to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, export controls, and Huawei. 
Jimmy Goodrich is vice president for global policy at the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA). In this role, he leads SIA’s global policy team and its research and analysis of foreign semiconductor policies and capabilities. Jimmy is also the executive committee chair of the United States Information Technology Office (USITO) in Beijing, representing SIA in his capacity.


Related: China's eRMB, a blockchain based digital currency linked 1-1 to the yuan, seems to be flying under the radar. In my opinion this has huge possibilities -- in the future, anyone with the app (an eRMB account) can transact in RMB whether they are in Germany or Iran. This development is an inevitable consequence of the US weaponizing SWIFT...  

Ray Dalio Warns of U.S.-China ‘Capital War’ That Would Hit Dollar (Bloomberg)


 

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Sibling Validation of Polygenic Risk Scores and Complex Trait Prediction (Nature Scientific Reports)

This is the published version of our paper which uses tens of thousands of siblings to validate polygenic trait and risk prediction. We show that the predictors can differentiate between siblings (which one has heart disease? is taller?), despite similarity in childhood environments and genotype. The predictors work almost as well in pairwise sibling comparisons as in comparisons between randomly selected strangers. 

There are now many validations of polygenic prediction in the scientific literature, conducted using groups of people born on different continents and in different decades than the original populations used in training. With the new sibling results our confidence is extremely high that the predictors are capturing causal genetic effects, and that complex trait prediction from DNA alone is a reality.
Sibling Validation of Polygenic Risk Scores and Complex Trait Prediction 

Louis Lello, Timothy Raben, Stephen D. H. Hsu
I posted about the bioRxiv preprint version back in March:
We test a variety of polygenic predictors using tens of thousands of genetic siblings for whom we have SNP genotypes, health status, and phenotype information in late adulthood. Siblings have typically experienced similar environments during childhood, and exhibit negligible population stratification relative to each other. Therefore, the ability to predict differences in disease risk or complex trait values between siblings is a strong test of genomic prediction in humans. We compare validation results obtained using non-sibling subjects to those obtained among siblings and find that typically most of the predictive power persists in within-family designs. In the case of disease risk we test the extent to which higher polygenic risk score (PRS) identifies the affected sibling, and also compute Relative Risk Reduction as a function of risk score threshold. For quantitative traits we examine between-sibling differences in trait values as a function of predicted differences, and compare to performance in non-sibling pairs. Example results: Given 1 sibling with normal-range PRS score (less than 84th percentile) and 1 sibling with high PRS score (top few percentiles), the predictors identify the affected sibling about 70-90 percent of the time across a variety of disease conditions, including Breast Cancer, Heart Attack, Diabetes, etc. For height, the predictor correctly identifies the taller sibling roughly 80 percent of the time when the (male) height difference is 2 inches or more.







From the paper:
If a girl grows up to be taller than her sister, with whom she spent the first 18 years of her life, it seems likely at least some of the height difference is due to genetic differences. How much of phenotype difference can we predict from DNA alone? If one of the sisters develops breast cancer later in life, how much of the risk was due to genetic variants that she does not share with her asymptomatic sister? These are fundamental questions in human biology, which we address (at least to some extent) in this paper.

... We emphasize that predictors trained on even larger datasets will likely have significantly stronger performance than the ones analyzed here [13, 14]. As we elaborated in earlier work, where many of these predictors were first investigated, their main practical utility at the moment is in the identification of outliers who may be at exceptionally high (or low) risk for a specific disease condition. The results here confirm that high risk score outliers are indeed at elevated risk, even compared to their (normal range score) siblings.

The sibling results presented in this paper, together with the many out of sample validations of polygenic scores that continue to appear in the literature, suggest that genomic prediction in humans is a robust and important advance that will lead to improvements in translational medicine as well as deep insights into human genetics.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Discrete Hilbert Space, the Born Rule, and Quantum Gravity


This is a new paper which I only recently found the time to write up, although I have been thinking about the ideas off and on for some time.

It extends ideas first discussed in two papers with A. Zee and R. Buniy: Is Hilbert space discrete? and Discreteness and the origin of probability in quantum mechanics.

Slides from a related talk at Caltech IQIM.

The new paper connects discrete Hilbert space to specific models of quantum gravity, such as simplicial or lattice quantum gravity.
Discrete Hilbert Space, the Born Rule, and Quantum Gravity
https://arxiv.org/abs/2007.12938

Quantum gravitational effects suggest a minimal length, or spacetime interval, of order the Planck length. This in turn suggests that Hilbert space itself may be discrete rather than continuous. One implication is that quantum states with norm below some very small threshold do not exist. The exclusion of what Everett referred to as maverick branches is necessary for the emergence of the Born Rule in no collapse quantum mechanics. We discuss this in the context of quantum gravity, showing that discrete models (such as simplicial or lattice quantum gravity) indeed suggest a discrete Hilbert space with minimum norm. These considerations are related to the ultimate level of fine-graining found in decoherent histories (of spacetime geometry plus matter fields) produced by quantum gravity.
From the Discussion:
No collapse (or many worlds) versions of quantum mechanics are often characterized as extravagant, because of the many branches of the wavefunction. However it is also extravagant to postulate that spacetime or Hilbert space are infinitely continuous. Continuous Hilbert space requires that for any two choices of orientation of a qubit spin (see Figure 1), no matter how close together, there are an infinite number of physically distinct states between them, with intermediate orientation. Instead, there may only be a finite (but very large) number of distinct orientations allowed, suggesting a minimum norm in Hilbert space. No experiment can probe absolute continuity, and indeed there seem to be fundamental limits on such experiments, arising from quantum gravity itself.

We illustrated a direct connection between discrete spacetime (the simplex length a) and discrete Hilbert space (minimum non-zero distance in Hilbert space produced by time evolution), in a specific class of quantum gravity models based on Feynman path integrals. It may be the case that maximally fine-grained decoherent histories generated within quantum gravity have discrete geometries and exist in a discrete Hilbert space. Consequently histories with sufficiently small norm are never generated, thereby solving Everett's problem with maverick branches. In the remaining branches, deviations from Born Rule probabilities are almost entirely hidden from semi-classical observers. ...
See also

The Quantum Simulation Hypothesis: Do we live in a quantum multiverse simulation?

Feynman and Everett

Gork revisited

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education: "chilling academic freedom"

From the FOUNDATION FOR INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS IN EDUCATION: "FIRE’s mission is to defend and sustain the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience — the essential qualities of liberty."
Peter Bonilla (FIRE): ... it’s worth visiting the case of Stephen Hsu at Michigan State University. His case is more sobering, because the campaign succeeded in forcing his resignation as MSU’s Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies. (Hsu, a theoretical physicist, remains on MSU’s tenured faculty.) Hsu was brought down in significant part by the pressure on MSU generated by a Twitter thread and accompanying petition by MSU’s Graduate Employees Union, which cobbled together a string of decontextualized, condensed remarks on genetics and intelligence to brand Hsu “a vocal scientific racist and eugenicist.”

Hsu rebutted the claims in a post on his personal blog, accusing the petitioners of acting in bad faith. He had a point. Apart from the fact that Twitter is a woefully inadequate forum to debate intricate matters of science (or even to accurately characterize them), some of the claims against Hsu are dishonest on their face. To highlight one example, the GEU seized on the fact that a study supported in part through his office’s funding (Hsu oversaw research expenditures of roughly $700 million) suggested that there was no widespread racial bias in police shootings. GEU characterized this by saying that “Hsu’s office appears to have directed funding to research downplaying racism in bias in police shootings,” implying that this was his very goal. This is a striking charge to make against a scientist’s integrity without presenting any evidence; it’s also simply not how scientific inquiry works.

The claims against Hsu alleged no concrete misconduct or malfeasance in carrying out his administrative duties; rather, they amalgamated a disparate set of remarks, attributed the least charitable set of motives to his making them, and stated that someone holding those purported beliefs was per se unfit to hold his position. Unfortunately, MSU went for it. On June 19, MSU president Samuel Stanley demanded, and received, Hsu’s resignation as VP.

Spillover effects on academic freedom

The president of MSU’s Graduate Employees Union cheerfully expressed the opinion that the Hsu episode should have no chilling effect on academic freedom, because the GEU only sought to have Hsu removed from his administrative position and not from the tenured faculty. To be sure, there are significant differences between the two propositions, and administrators are generally considered at-will employees who can be fired any time. (Administrator cases are also outside the scope of FIRE’s mission of defending student and faculty rights.). But from someone who’d just helped mount a successful campaign that worked in part by declaring a range of opinions on certain issues effectively outside the bounds of legitimate academic inquiry, this assertion is laughable.

Faculty will most certainly take note of the actions colleges take against administrators, note the implications they may have for academic freedom, and adjust accordingly. Universities may not be so easily able to rid themselves of tenured faculty members, but several years of faculty cases suggest that universities can be quite willing to override faculty governance for the purposes of pursuing discipline (including termination and loss of tenure) against faculty for speech demonstrably protected by their academic freedom. ...

Media coverage:

A Twitter Mob Takes Down an Administrator at Michigan State (Wall Street Journal June 25)

Scholar forced to resign over study that found police shootings not biased against blacks (The College Fix)

On Steve Hsu and the Campaign to Thwart Free Inquiry (Quillette)

Michigan State University VP of Research Ousted (Reason Magazine, Eugene Volokh, UCLA)

Research isn’t advocacy (NY Post Editorial Board)

Podcast interview on Tom Woods show (July 2)

College professor forced to resign for citing study that found police shootings not biased against blacks (Law Enforcement Today, July 5)

"Racist" College Researcher Ousted After Sharing Study Showing No Racial Bias In Police Shootings (ZeroHedge, July 6)

Twitter mob: College researcher forced to resign after study finding no racial bias in police shootings (Reclaim the Net, July 8)

Horowitz: Asian-American researcher fired from Michigan State administration for advancing facts about police shootings (The Blaze, July 8)

I Cited Their Study, So They Disavowed It: If scientists retract research that challenges reigning orthodoxies, politics will drive scholarship (Wall Street Journal July 8)

Conservative author cites research on police shootings and race. Researchers ask for its retraction in response (The College Fix, July 8)

Academics Seek to Retract Study Disproving Racist Police Shootings After Conservative Cites It (Hans Bader, CNSNews, July 9)

The Ideological Corruption of Science (theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss in the Wall Street Journal, July 12)

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education: "chilling academic freedom" (Peter Bonilla, July 22)

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Genetic architecture of complex traits and disease risk predictors

The published version of the paper below is now available here:
www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-68881-8
Genetic architecture of complex traits and disease risk predictors

Soke Yuen Yong, Timothy G. Raben, Louis Lello & Stephen D. H. Hsu

Genomic prediction of complex human traits (e.g., height, cognitive ability, bone density) and disease risks (e.g., breast cancer, diabetes, heart disease, atrial fibrillation) has advanced considerably in recent years. Using data from the UK Biobank, predictors have been constructed using penalized algorithms that favor sparsity: i.e., which use as few genetic variants as possible. We analyze the specific genetic variants (SNPs) utilized in these predictors, which can vary from dozens to as many as thirty thousand. We find that the fraction of SNPs in or near genic regions varies widely by phenotype. For the majority of disease conditions studied, a large amount of the variance is accounted for by SNPs outside of coding regions. The state of these SNPs cannot be determined from exome-sequencing data. This suggests that exome data alone will miss much of the heritability for these traits—i.e., existing PRS cannot be computed from exome data alone. We also study the fraction of SNPs and of variance that is in common between pairs of predictors. The DNA regions used in disease risk predictors so far constructed seem to be largely disjoint (with a few interesting exceptions), suggesting that individual genetic disease risks are largely uncorrelated. It seems possible in theory for an individual to be a low-risk outlier in all conditions simultaneously.
There are a lot of detailed results in the paper, but two main points should be emphasized:

1. Much of the genetic risk identified in polygenic predictors is outside genic (protein coding) regions, and not accessible through exome sequencing.

2. The DNA regions used in disease risk predictors so far constructed seem to be largely disjoint, suggesting that most genetic disease risks are largely uncorrelated. It seems possible in theory for an individual to be a low-risk outlier in all conditions simultaneously.

The space of genetic variation is high dimensional, and extends far beyond individual (protein coding) genes. Intuitions about strong pleiotropy are likely wrong -- they were developed before we knew anything about real genetic architectures. There seem to be many causal variants that can be independently modified.


The bioRxiv (preprint) version of the paper was discussed in these earlier posts:

Live Long and Prosper: Genetic Architecture of Complex Traits and Disease Risk Predictors

Pleiotropy: Myths and Reality

From the Peiotropy post above:
1. Regions of DNA correlated to different disease risks are largely disjoint.

2. It is plausible that causal genetic variants lie in these regions. For example, the predictor SNPs themselves could be causal, or they could tag (be highly correlated in state with) nearby causal variants.

3. Hypothetically, one could edit these causal variants independently, making the beneficiary simultaneously low risk for many conditions. The number of standard deviations of effect size in the polygenic score for each disease that can be modified independently (i.e., without affecting other disease risks or traits) is large and can be directly estimated from our results.

As the figure below (source) makes clear, a few SD change (e.g., ~5 SD, from 99th percentile to 1st percentile) in polygenic score for a given disease risk can lead to a 10x or possibly 100x decrease in absolute probability in having the condition. Our results suggest that the amount of variance available for engineering is much greater than this.


Some orders of magnitude:

1E07 or ~10M common SNP differences between two individuals.

1E04 or ~10k SNPs (on average; could be much fewer) control most of the common variance for a typical complex trait.

So, in principle, there could be 1E03 or ~1k entirely independent complex traits with zero pleiotropy between them. These might include dozens of common disease risks, ~100 cosmetic traits, including facial and body morphology parameters, dozens of psychometric variables, including personality traits, etc. Clearly, individual differences are well accommodated by a ~1k dimensional phenotype space embedded in a ~10M dimensional space of genetic variants.

Of course, it is an unrealistic idealization for the traits to be entirely independent in genetic architecture. We expect that some genetic variants affect more than one trait. But our results suggest that a significant part of the genetic variance of each trait can be modified (e.g., via editing) independently of the other traits. This is simply a consequence of high dimensionality.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Ideological Corruption of Science (Lawrence Krauss in the Wall Street Journal)

Theoretical Physicist Lawrence Krauss writes in the Wall Street Journal.
WSJ: In the 1980s, when I was a young professor of physics and astronomy at Yale, deconstructionism was in vogue in the English Department. We in the science departments would scoff at the lack of objective intellectual standards in the humanities, epitomized by a movement that argued against the existence of objective truth itself, arguing that all such claims to knowledge were tainted by ideological biases due to race, sex or economic dominance.

It could never happen in the hard sciences, except perhaps under dictatorships, such as the Nazi condemnation of “Jewish” science, or the Stalinist campaign against genetics led by Trofim Lysenko, in which literally thousands of mainstream geneticists were dismissed in the effort to suppress any opposition to the prevailing political view of the state.

Or so we thought. In recent years, and especially since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, academic science leaders have adopted wholesale the language of dominance and oppression previously restricted to “cultural studies” journals to guide their disciplines, to censor dissenting views, to remove faculty from leadership positions if their research is claimed by opponents to support systemic oppression.

... At Michigan State University, one group used the strike to organize and coordinate a protest campaign against the vice president for research, physicist Stephen Hsu, whose crimes included doing research on computational genomics to study how human genetics might be related to cognitive ability—something that to the protesters smacked of eugenics. He was also accused of supporting psychology research at MSU on the statistics of police shootings that didn’t clearly support claims of racial bias. Within a week, the university president forced Mr. Hsu to resign.

... Shortly after Mr. Hsu resigned, the authors of the psychology study asked the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science to retract their paper—not because of flaws in their statistical analysis, but because of what they called the “misuse” of their article by journalists who argued that it countered the prevailing view that police forces are racist. They later amended the retraction request to claim, conveniently, that it “had nothing to do with political considerations, ‘mob’ pressure, threats to the authors, or distaste for the political views of people citing the work approvingly.” As a cosmologist, I can say that if we retracted all the papers in cosmology that we felt were misrepresented by journalists, there would hardly be any papers left.

Actual censorship is also occurring. A distinguished chemist in Canada argued in favor of merit-based science and against hiring practices that aim at equality of outcome if they result “in discrimination against the most meritorious candidates.” For that he was censured by his university provost, his published review article on research and education in organic synthesis was removed from the journal website, and two editors involved in accepting it were suspended.

An Italian scientist at the international laboratory CERN, home to the Large Hadron Collider, had his scheduled seminar on statistical imbalances between the sexes in physics canceled and his position at the laboratory revoked because he suggested that apparent inequities might not be directly due to sexism. A group of linguistics students initiated a public petition asking that the psychologist Steven Pinker be stripped of his position as a Linguistics Society of America Fellow for such offenses as tweeting a New York Times article they disapproved of.

Whenever science has been corrupted by falling prey to ideology, scientific progress suffers. This was the case in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union—and in the U.S. in the 19th century when racist views dominated biology, and during the McCarthy era, when prominent scientists like Robert Oppenheimer were ostracized for their political views. To stem the slide, scientific leaders, scientific societies and senior academic administrators must publicly stand up not only for free speech in science, but for quality, independent of political doctrine and divorced from the demands of political factions.

Mr. Krauss a theoretical physicist, is president of the Origins Project Foundation and author of “The Physics of Climate Change,” forthcoming in January.

Media coverage:

A Twitter Mob Takes Down an Administrator at Michigan State (Wall Street Journal June 25)

Scholar forced to resign over study that found police shootings not biased against blacks (The College Fix)

On Steve Hsu and the Campaign to Thwart Free Inquiry (Quillette)

Michigan State University VP of Research Ousted (Reason Magazine, Eugene Volokh, UCLA)

Research isn’t advocacy (NY Post Editorial Board)

Podcast interview on Tom Woods show (July 2)

College professor forced to resign for citing study that found police shootings not biased against blacks (Law Enforcement Today, July 5)

"Racist" College Researcher Ousted After Sharing Study Showing No Racial Bias In Police Shootings (ZeroHedge, July 6)

Twitter mob: College researcher forced to resign after study finding no racial bias in police shootings (Reclaim the Net, July 8)

Horowitz: Asian-American researcher fired from Michigan State administration for advancing facts about police shootings (The Blaze, July 8)

I Cited Their Study, So They Disavowed It: If scientists retract research that challenges reigning orthodoxies, politics will drive scholarship (Wall Street Journal July 8)

Conservative author cites research on police shootings and race. Researchers ask for its retraction in response (The College Fix, July 8)

Academics Seek to Retract Study Disproving Racist Police Shootings After Conservative Cites It (Hans Bader, CNSNews, July 9)

The Ideological Corruption of Science (theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss in the Wall Street Journal, July 12)

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education: "chilling academic freedom" (Peter Bonilla, July 22)

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Wall Street Journal: Moral Panic at MSU

Professor Cesario and co-authors have retracted their PNAS paper Officer characteristics and racial disparities in fatal officer-involved shootings. I know that they had a difficult time with this decision. See further below for WSJ coverage.

My understanding from communication with Cesario is that he and his co-authors stand by the data and statistical analysis used in their paper. He also stands by the remarks in this Manifold (podcast) interview: Joe Cesario on Police Decision Making and Racial Bias in Deadly Force Decisions.

See this statement about the retraction from Cesario and co-author:
... One problem with such benchmarking approaches is that debate arises about whether it is more informative to compare the number of civilians shot to overall population proportions or to proxies for violent crime proportions. Indeed, one will obtain different results depending on what one thinks is the relevant comparison group: calculating P(shot|race) for the entire population will likely show evidence of anti-Black disparity, whereas calculating P(shot|race) for the pool of civilians who have violent interactions with the police will likely show no evidence of anti-Black disparity.

It is in this context that Johnson et al. (2019) was produced. Rather than debating which pool of civilians is the correct comparison group, we tested a less broad question that could be answered with current data: Is there a relationship between the race of officers and the civilians they fatally shot? However, this does not address the larger question of how race impacts the probability of being shot by police.
Cesario et al. maintain that the results described in the second paragraph above still stand: i.e., race of officer does not affect race of civilians shot. The issue is whether the result can be used to infer something about the conditional probability P(shot|race) discussed in the first paragraph. Other papers by Cesario, and his own broad conclusions from years of research in this area, suggest that P(shot|race) does NOT show the level of bias sometimes claimed by activists or in the media.

Note:

1. The PNAS paper that has been retracted is one out of several produced by Cesario and collaborators. In the podcast show notes we linked to Is There Evidence of Racial Disparity in Police Use of Deadly Force? Analyses of Officer-Involved Fatal Shootings in 2015–2016, which appeared in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. Cesario tells me that the following language from that paper still stands -- it is unaffected by the PNAS retraction:
When adjusting for crime, we find no systematic evidence of anti-Black disparities in fatal shootings, fatal shootings of unarmed citizens, or fatal shootings involving misidentification of harmless objects. Multiverse analyses showed only one significant anti-Black disparity of 144 possible tests. Exposure to police given crime rate differences likely accounts for the higher per capita rate of fatal police shootings for Blacks, at least when analyzing all shootings.
2. Some of their work is based on statistical analysis of police incident data, but other work is based on simulator studies of actual police officers under stress.

The small amount of funding that Professor Cesario received from my office in 2016 was for simulator studies (specifically, to cover production costs for realistic video of police stops). The request for funding was strongly endorsed by the Associate Dean for Research in the College of Social Science at MSU, and the College of Social Science matched the contribution from my office. The project was interdisciplinary, in collaboration with researchers in our School of Criminal Justice. Professor Cesario has also received National Science Foundation grants to study this topic. This 2018 award, Understanding Race Bias in the Decision to Shoot with an Integrated Model of Decision Making, is for $620k.

Obviously this is very important research and should not be politicized.
WSJ: The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is a peer-reviewed journal that claims to publish “only the highest quality scientific research.” Now, the authors of a 2019 PNAS article are disowning their research simply because I cited it.

Psychologists Joseph Cesario of Michigan State and David Johnson of the University of Maryland analyzed 917 fatal police shootings of civilians from 2015 to test whether the race of the officer or the civilian predicted fatal police shootings. Neither did. Once “race specific rates of violent crime” are taken into account, the authors found, there are no disparities among those fatally shot by the police. These findings accord with decades of research showing that civilian behavior is the greatest influence on police behavior.

In September 2019, I cited the article’s finding in congressional testimony. I also referred to it in a City Journal article, in which I noted that two Princeton political scientists, Dean Knox and Jonathan Mummolo, had challenged the study design. Messrs. Cesario and Johnson stood by their findings. Even under the study design proposed by Messrs. Knox and Mummolo, they wrote, there is again “no significant evidence of anti-black disparity in the likelihood of being fatally shot by the police.”

My June 3 Journal op-ed quoted the PNAS article’s conclusion verbatim. It set off a firestorm at Michigan State. The university’s Graduate Employees Union pressured the MSU press office to apologize for the “harm it caused” by mentioning my article in a newsletter. The union targeted physicist Steve Hsu, who had approved funding for Mr. Cesario’s research. MSU sacked Mr. Hsu from his administrative position. PNAS editorialized that Messrs. Cesario and Johnson had “poorly framed” their article—the one that got through the journal’s three levels of editorial and peer review.

Mr. Cesario told this page that Mr. Hsu’s dismissal could narrow the “kinds of topics people can talk about, or what kinds of conclusions people can come to.” Now he and Mr. Johnson have themselves jeopardized the possibility of politically neutral scholarship. On Monday they retracted their paper. They say they stand behind its conclusion and statistical approach but complain about its “misuse,” specifically mentioning my op-eds.

The authors don’t say how I misused their work. Instead, they attribute to me a position I have never taken: that the “probability of being shot by police did not differ between Black and White Americans.” To the contrary, I have, like them, stressed that racial disparities in policing reflect differences in violent crime rates. The only thing wrong with their article, and my citation of it, is that its conclusion is unacceptable in our current political climate.

This retraction bodes ill for the development of knowledge. If scientists must disavow their findings because they challenge reigning orthodoxies, then those orthodoxies will prevail even when they are wrong. Political consensus will drive scholarship, and not the reverse. The consequences for the policing debate are particularly dire. Researchers will suppress any results that contravene the narrative about endemic police racism. That narrative is now producing a shocking rise in shootings in American cities. The victims, including toddlers, are almost exclusively black.

Ms. Mac Donald is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

Media coverage:

A Twitter Mob Takes Down an Administrator at Michigan State (Wall Street Journal June 25)

Scholar forced to resign over study that found police shootings not biased against blacks (The College Fix)

On Steve Hsu and the Campaign to Thwart Free Inquiry (Quillette)

Michigan State University VP of Research Ousted (Reason Magazine, Eugene Volokh, UCLA)

Research isn’t advocacy (NY Post Editorial Board)

Podcast interview on Tom Woods show (July 2)

College professor forced to resign for citing study that found police shootings not biased against blacks (Law Enforcement Today, July 5)

"Racist" College Researcher Ousted After Sharing Study Showing No Racial Bias In Police Shootings (ZeroHedge, July 6)

Twitter mob: College researcher forced to resign after study finding no racial bias in police shootings (Reclaim the Net, July 8)

Horowitz: Asian-American researcher fired from Michigan State administration for advancing facts about police shootings (The Blaze, July 8)

I Cited Their Study, So They Disavowed It: If scientists retract research that challenges reigning orthodoxies, politics will drive scholarship (Wall Street Journal July 8)

Conservative author cites research on police shootings and race. Researchers ask for its retraction in response (The College Fix, July 8)

Academics Seek to Retract Study Disproving Racist Police Shootings After Conservative Cites It (Hans Bader, CNSNews, July 9)

The Ideological Corruption of Science (theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss in the Wall Street Journal, July 12)

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education: "chilling academic freedom" (Peter Bonilla, July 22)

Sunday, July 05, 2020

"Preposterously Flimsy" -- podcast interview on Twitter Mob and MSU Moral Panic




"Steve Hsu is professor of theoretical physics at Michigan State University. Until recently, he was vice president for research and graduate studies. Despite over 1000 letters on his behalf including from top academics like Harvard's Steven Pinker, the administration caved to a Twitter mob and asked for Hsu's resignation. The reason is so preposterously flimsy that you just need to hear it for yourself."

Much more background here, including an article from the Wall Street Journal. (Note, there are ~2000 signatories to the letter of support, and many dozens of individual letters from scientists and professors that have been sent to the MSU President on my behalf.)

Here is one of the 150+ comments on the YouTube page:



Media coverage:

A Twitter Mob Takes Down an Administrator at Michigan State (Wall Street Journal June 25)

Scholar forced to resign over study that found police shootings not biased against blacks (The College Fix)

On Steve Hsu and the Campaign to Thwart Free Inquiry (Quillette)

Michigan State University VP of Research Ousted (Reason Magazine, Eugene Volokh, UCLA)

Research isn’t advocacy (NY Post Editorial Board)

Podcast interview on Tom Woods show (July 2)

College professor forced to resign for citing study that found police shootings not biased against blacks (Law Enforcement Today, July 5)

"Racist" College Researcher Ousted After Sharing Study Showing No Racial Bias In Police Shootings (ZeroHedge, July 6)

Twitter mob: College researcher forced to resign after study finding no racial bias in police shootings (Reclaim the Net, July 8)

Horowitz: Asian-American researcher fired from Michigan State administration for advancing facts about police shootings (The Blaze, July 8)

I Cited Their Study, So They Disavowed It: If scientists retract research that challenges reigning orthodoxies, politics will drive scholarship (Wall Street Journal July 8)

Conservative author cites research on police shootings and race. Researchers ask for its retraction in response (The College Fix, July 8)

Academics Seek to Retract Study Disproving Racist Police Shootings After Conservative Cites It (Hans Bader, CNSNews, July 9)

The Ideological Corruption of Science (theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss in the Wall Street Journal, July 12)

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education: "chilling academic freedom" (Peter Bonilla, July 22)

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Wall Street Journal on the Twitter Mob Attack and MSU Moral Panic


I've added some comments in [ ..brackets.. ] to the article excerpt below. More background.
WSJ: ‘We are scientists, seeking truth,” Michigan State University physicist Stephen Hsu wrote in a 2018 blog post. “We are not slaves to ideological conformity.” That might have been too optimistic. Last week MSU’s president, Samuel L. Stanley Jr., yielded to a pressure campaign, based in part on that post, and asked Mr. Hsu to resign as senior vice president for research and innovation.

The trouble began June 10, when MSU’s Graduate Employees Union composed a lengthy Twitter thread denouncing Mr. Hsu as, among other things, “a vocal scientific racist and eugenicist.” The union claimed Mr. Hsu believes “in innate biological differences between human populations, especially regarding intelligence.”

[ This is obviously a very serious accusation. It is contradicted by PUBLIC REMARKS I have made in multiple interviews over the years, as well as in blog posts. ]

Mr. Hsu says these accusations “were made in bad faith.” Take that 2018 blog post, which responded to New York Times articles that, in his words, linked “genetic science to racism and white supremacy.” In it, he wrote: “All good people abhor racism. I believe that each person should be treated as an individual, independent of ancestry or ethnic background. . . . However, this ethical position is not predicated on the absence of average differences between groups. I believe that basic human rights and human dignity derive from our shared humanity, not from uniformity in ability or genetic makeup.” Mr. Hsu doesn’t work in this field but rejects the idea that scientists should categorically exclude the possibility of average genetic differences among groups.

[ To be precise, in THAT BLOG POST I am defending researchers in genomics, at universities like Oxford, Harvard, and Columbia (see papers cited there), who study signals of recent natural selection from computational analysis of many human genomes. In 2018 the New York Times had attempted to create a moral panic, labeling them as "racists" ... Again, this is not my area of science -- I am defending the right of others to do their research. ]
In a 2011 post, Mr. Hsu argued that standardized tests are predictive of the quality of graduate-school candidates. The post mentioned nothing about race, but the union imputed to him a belief “that lack of Black & Hispanic representation in higher ed reflects lower ability, despite evidence these tests negatively impact diversity.”

[ The reporter is correct: RACE IS NEVER MENTIONED IN THAT BLOG POST. It merely reviews published results from very large studies, showing the predictive power of standardized tests in graduate and professional school outcomes. These results have nothing to do with race. For example, professors on admissions committees might be interested in whether undergraduate GPA or GRE score are better predictors of success. This kind of analysis is necessary to answer that question. 
However, this topic is heavily politicized and very few people, even professors, are familiar with the scientific results. But experts in psychometrics and personnel selection all know that these tests have real world utility. ]

The union also faulted him for having “directed funding to research downplaying racism in bias in police shootings.” The MSU professor who conducted that work, psychologist Joe Cesario, tells me that “we had no idea what the data was going to be, what the outcome was going to be, before we did this study.” Mr. Cesario has collected evidence from a simulator and from real-world interactions between police and citizens. He concluded that “the nature of the interaction really matters the most, and officers were not more likely to be ready to shoot upon encountering a black versus white citizen.”

[ Several years ago Cesario was granted a rare opportunity to study police shootings and officer behavior in simulators in a large city. My office provided him with a small amount of funding to create realistic simulator video of police stops and other situations. This is an important topic to study if we want to understand and improve policing. ]
A June 3 op-ed in these pages cited Mr. Cesario’s work, and the MSU communications team highlighted the mention in the June 9 edition of their email newsletter, InsideMSU. The next day, the Graduate Employees Union denounced Mr. Hsu. By June 11, editors of the newsletter had apologized “for including the item and for the harm it caused.” Hundreds of MSU students and employees signed petitions calling for Mr. Hsu to be fired from the administration.

[ NO, YOU ARE NOT MISTAKEN: THIS IS ORWELLIAN. YES THIS REALLY HAPPENED TO A PROMINENT RESEARCHER ON OUR CAMPUS WHO IS DOING VERY IMPORTANT WORK. YES, THEY APOLOGIZED FOR CALLING ATTENTION TO HIS WORK. YES, IT IS CHILLING. ]

Mr. Hsu says he felt compelled to step down because he served at the pleasure of the president. But he thinks Mr. Stanley handled the matter badly. “The first action of the university should be to investigate, find the truth, and defend the person if the claims are false.” Mr. Hsu says MSU undertook no such investigation.

[ I am among a shrinking subset of the faculty that believes the pursuit of truth should be the core value of a university.
Almost 2000 PEOPLE SIGNED THE PETITION supporting me, including hundreds of professors from MSU and around the world. Many letters from prominent scientists were sent to the president -- my guess is about 30, SOME OF WHICH ARE PUBLIC. MSU conducted no investigation of the facts. ]
...

... “I don’t personally believe that kind of enforcing a higher conduct to administrators will necessarily chill faculty,” Mr. Bird says.

Mr. Cesario disagrees. It’s “bad or worse that they are doing this to an administrator,” he says. “If anybody should be allowed to explore all topics, speak on all topics, and go where the data leads them, it’s administrators.” He expects the activists who won Mr. Hsu’s dismissal won’t stop “pushing for a narrowing of what kinds of topics people can talk about, or what kinds of conclusions people can come to.” The number of administrators willing to defend scientific inquiry, Mr. Cesario adds, is “now down by one.”

Media coverage:

A Twitter Mob Takes Down an Administrator at Michigan State (Wall Street Journal June 25)

Scholar forced to resign over study that found police shootings not biased against blacks (The College Fix)

On Steve Hsu and the Campaign to Thwart Free Inquiry (Quillette)

Michigan State University VP of Research Ousted (Reason Magazine, Eugene Volokh, UCLA)

Research isn’t advocacy (NY Post Editorial Board)

Podcast interview on Tom Woods show (July 2)

College professor forced to resign for citing study that found police shootings not biased against blacks (Law Enforcement Today, July 5)

"Racist" College Researcher Ousted After Sharing Study Showing No Racial Bias In Police Shootings (ZeroHedge, July 6)

Twitter mob: College researcher forced to resign after study finding no racial bias in police shootings (Reclaim the Net, July 8)

Horowitz: Asian-American researcher fired from Michigan State administration for advancing facts about police shootings (The Blaze, July 8)

I Cited Their Study, So They Disavowed It: If scientists retract research that challenges reigning orthodoxies, politics will drive scholarship (Wall Street Journal July 8)

Conservative author cites research on police shootings and race. Researchers ask for its retraction in response (The College Fix, July 8)

Academics Seek to Retract Study Disproving Racist Police Shootings After Conservative Cites It (Hans Bader, CNSNews, July 9)

The Ideological Corruption of Science (theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss in the Wall Street Journal, July 12)

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education: "chilling academic freedom" (Peter Bonilla, July 22)


Here is a Reddit comment that succinctly summarizes the story:
I'd recommend directly reading the Twitter accusations as well as the actual blog posts in question and Hsu's rebuttal. There's nothing like reading the primary sources for yourself. The most precise secondary source on this is probably WSJ.

You can see for yourself that none of the blog posts in question are studies done by Hsu himself. They are discussions of actual research papers published by other scientists in top-tier journals (Cell, Nature, Science, etc.). I've followed Hsu's blog for years, and he is always very careful to make clear that he doesn't think current research clearly supports genetic IQ differences. He is being targeted here just because he doesn't categorically rule out the possibility of genetic differences between populations and kowtow to the wokeness overlords. Some prominent psychologists and geneticists who signed his support letter include Steven Pinker, Robert Plomin, Robert Gordon, Linda Gottfredson, Jonathan Haidt, Lee Jussim... these are just a few I caught quickly scrolling through. Hsu is well within the mainstream and the controversy is pretty manufactured IMO.

The article and accusations makes it sound like Hsu's reactions to the George Floyd murder was to fund research that finds no racial disparities in police killing, which is incorrect. He was the Senior Vice President for Research and Innovation at MSU and one of his responsibilities is to allocate funding to different research projects. He allocated funding to this professor (Joe Cesario) before knowing what kind of conclusions his study would find later. This funding was decided a few years ago and the research concluded last year, well before the George Floyd incident. You can read a letter co-written by Joe Cesario here. The lab's research is actually really cool - they build a shooting simulator and subject an entire police department (few hundred officers at Milwaukee PD I believe) to different tests, and measure response times and decisions to shoot, etc. For more info you can read his papers or the NSF award abstract here.

I consider this a great loss, because he was one of the most highly positioned Asian-American academics and he was not shy about representing us and criticizing excessive affirmative action policies (although he favors having some mild preferences). A few years back, he and others made a very strong push for election to Harvard's alumni board of overseers on a slate for increasing admissions transparency. If he had succeeded, he would have done more for equality for Asians in this country than anyone else in recent memory. His efforts led to others taking up the mantle in the recent Harvard affirmative action case. It's perhaps because of this that he started to have a target on his back.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Resignation

President Stanley asked me this afternoon for my resignation. I do not agree with his decision, as serious issues of Academic Freedom and Freedom of Inquiry are at stake. I fear for the reputation of Michigan State University.

However, as I serve at the pleasure of the President, I have agreed to resign. I look forward to rejoining the ranks of the faculty here.

It has been a great honor working with colleagues in the administration at MSU through some rather tumultuous times.

To my team in SVPRI, we can be proud of what we accomplished for this university in the last 8 years. It is a much better university than the one I joined in 2012.

I want to thank all the individuals who signed our petition and who submitted letters of support. The fight to defend Academic Freedom on campus is only beginning.

Sincerely,
Stephen Hsu

##########################################

Update June 27: Wall Street Journal on the Twitter Mob Attack and MSU Moral Panic.

I wrote this quick summary for the many journalists that have contacted me over the weekend.

1. This started as a twitter mob attack, with very serious claims: that I am a Racist, Sexist, Eugenicist, etc.

2. These claims are false. Among the public letters, by professors at many different universities, there is extensive analysis of the GEU tweet thread showing that the claims are not only misleading, but false.

https://sites.google.com/view/petition-letter-stephen-hsu/home

3. The GEU alleged that I am a racist because I interviewed MSU Psychology professor Joe Cesario, who studies police shootings. But Cesario's work (along with similar work by others, such as Roland Fryer at Harvard) is essential to understanding deadly force and how to improve policing.

4. Over just a few days, 1700+ individuals from around the world signed the support petition, including noted figures such as: Steven Pinker (Harvard), Jeffrey Flier (former dean, Harvard Medical School), Sam Altman (OpenAI CEO), Robert Plomin (leading behavior geneticist, King's College London), J. Michael Bailey (leading behavior geneticist, Northwestern University), Scott Aaronson (leading theoretical computer scientist), Erik Brynjolfsson (MIT professor and AI expert). Among the signatories are hundreds of professors from MSU and around the world, and an even larger number of PhD degree holders.

5. Regarding my work as Vice President for Research, the numbers speak for themselves. MSU went from roughly $500M in annual research expenditures to about $700M during my tenure. We have often been ranked #1 in the Big Ten for research growth. I participated in the recruitment of numerous prominent female and minority professors, in fields like Precision Medicine, Genomics, Chemistry, and many others. Until this Twitter attack there has been not even a single allegation (over 8 years) of bias or discrimination on my part in faculty promotion and tenure or recruitment. The number of individual cases I have been involved in over 8 years is well over 1000.

6. Many professors and non-academics who supported me were afraid to sign our petition -- they did not want to be subject to mob attack. We received many communications expressing this sentiment.

7. The victory of the twitter mob will likely have a chilling effect on academic freedom on campus.


Media coverage:


A Twitter Mob Takes Down an Administrator at Michigan State
(Wall Street Journal June 25)

Scholar forced to resign over study that found police shootings not biased against blacks (The College Fix)

On Steve Hsu and the Campaign to Thwart Free Inquiry (Quillette)

Michigan State University VP of Research Ousted (Reason Magazine, Eugene Volokh, UCLA)

Research isn’t advocacy (NY Post Editorial Board)

Podcast interview on Tom Woods show (July 2)

College professor forced to resign for citing study that found police shootings not biased against blacks (Law Enforcement Today, July 5)

"Racist" College Researcher Ousted After Sharing Study Showing No Racial Bias In Police Shootings (ZeroHedge, July 6)

Twitter mob: College researcher forced to resign after study finding no racial bias in police shootings (Reclaim the Net, July 8)

Horowitz: Asian-American researcher fired from Michigan State administration for advancing facts about police shootings (The Blaze, July 8)

I Cited Their Study, So They Disavowed It: If scientists retract research that challenges reigning orthodoxies, politics will drive scholarship (Wall Street Journal July 8)

Conservative author cites research on police shootings and race. Researchers ask for its retraction in response (The College Fix, July 8)

Academics Seek to Retract Study Disproving Racist Police Shootings After Conservative Cites It (Hans Bader, CNSNews, July 9)

The Ideological Corruption of Science (theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss in the Wall Street Journal, July 12)

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education: "chilling academic freedom" (Peter Bonilla, July 22)

This Lansing State Journal article is probably the most balanced of the local media accounts, which all tended to be rather superficial.


##########################################


Background: 1 2

For inspiration, see the comments here.

Read the brilliant letters here.

I am receiving emails like this:
Subject: People support you!!!!!!

Just thought you should know there are many people including young University students in Michigan who agree with and support you! God bless you, never give up and never back down! If you need anything don’t hesitate to ask I would be happy to help!

Good evening Steve,

I'm so sorry to hear about your resignation. It seems like mob rule has won. Why not just replace a university president with a twitter poll? 
I'm glad to see you have had so much support on the petition.

I was very sorry to hear what happened. I hope you and yours are alright. Don't let the bastards get you down, keep up the good work.

And do let me know if ever in Singapore, we can grab a beer, I know a couple fans of yours here too.

I am deeply saddened to read that you're being forced to resign. I can't make sense of the injustice, capriciousness, and cowardice that forces you out. I hope you know from all the letters and signatures that a great many people support you, myself certainly included! I hope you and your family are keeping your spirits up. Perhaps there will be some silver lining to this -- freed from administrative work, more time and energy for physics and genomics? ...

I am really very sorry for what you have had to deal with, and you finding yourself having to resign. This is total bullshit. You are a great scientist and great guy. I hope this does not dull your inspiration and creativity and desire to discover. You have done much for MSU, and this move does not instill confidence in MSU's ability to be a scientific institution of longevity.

I am so sorry this happened. I can't believe we are stepping into a universe where a twitter mob decides who is the director of research at a major institution. Where is the US I immigrated to?!

I hope the mob ends here and you get some consolation from having extra time to focus on research or anything else.

Thanks again for standing up to it and for all your important contributions to human knowledge over the years, as well for the many insights that I've gotten from infoproc. I sure hope this episode doesn't mean less blogging.

It seems the mob has the mandate of heaven for now. I know from history this will ultimately prove unsustainable. But I know, too, we potentially have far further to fall...

...You have chosen an endeavor worthy of your gifts. You have achieved great things and will continue to do so. Your critics' sophisms will read to future people like the babblings of a dull child. They are not even worthy of your ire.

I don't need to tell you the amount of misery your work has the potential to help eliminate, the amount of productivity it will unlock, the beautiful science and literature that our extending grasp will reach - but perhaps you could use a cheerful reminder!

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