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 The PNAS paper that has been retracted is one out of several produced by Cesario and collaborators.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)

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)

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)


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)

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!

Monday, June 15, 2020

Support Freedom of Ideas and Inquiry at MSU

These are letters of support sent on my behalf to the MSU President: presidentstanley@msu.edu

Several are deep, detailed scholarly documents. They firmly rebut the false accusations of the Twitter mob.

Corey Washington's individual letter is over 5000 words long. James Lee's is over 3000 words. The authors have graciously allowed them to be made public.

Corey says:
I have known Steve for 30 years and can attest that he is not a racist or a sexist. Steve is one of the most scrupulously fair people I have ever met and I have seen no evidence that he has ever discriminated against anyone on the basis of their race, sex, or any other status.

... Hsu participated in a 2018 debate at MSU’s Institute for Quantitative Health, Science, and Engineering, at the invitation of Director Chris Contag. The topic was human genetic engineering, and Hsu’s counterpart was MSU bioethicist Len Fleck. A number of people who attended tell me that they found Steve’s view thoughtful and balanced. None that I know of came away from the debate thinking he is a eugenicist in the way that the rest of us are not. It is unclear to me why MSU GEU came to a different conclusion.

Sign the support petition. Email the president: presidentstanley@msu.edu

A (not necessarily up to date) list of signatories, which includes hundreds of professors from MSU and around the world, total ~1500 as of early June 19.


Letter from
Corey Washington, Director of Analytics and Strategic Projects, OSVPRI
Joseph Cesario, Associate Professor, Psychology
Wei Liao, Professor and Director, MSU Anaerobic Digestion Research and Education Center, Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering
John (Xuefeng) Jiang, Professor and Plante Moran Faculty Fellow, Accounting and Information Systems

Letter from Corey Washington, Director of Analytics and Strategic Projects, MSU

Letter from Matt McGue, Regents Professor of Psychology, University of Minnesota

Letter from Russell Warne, Associate Professor of Psychology, Utah Valley University

Letter from Mark Dykman, Professor of Physics, MSU

Letter from Zach Hambrick, Professor of Psychology, MSU

Letter from James Lee, Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Minnesota

Letter from Richard Haier, Emeritus Professor, UC Irvine, author of The Neuroscience of Intelligence (Cambridge)

Letter from Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology, Harvard University

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Manifold Episode Zero



The Twitter mob has a petition up, with fake signatures including one from Corey Washington, my Manifold co-host and friend of 30 years!

These horrible people will stop at nothing...

To cheer us all up, I bring you the first Manifold (Episode #0), where Corey and I introduce each other to the audience.

Transcript

Friday, June 12, 2020

Twitter Attacks, and a Defense of Scientific Inquiry

I have not responded to these nasty Twitter attacks, but unfortunately they have gotten enough traction that I feel I need to respond now. [ Note: I have been informed that some of the signatures on their petition are fake, including one purported to be from my colleague Corey Washington! See counter petition and support letters on my behalf. ]

The attacks attempt to depict me as a racist and sexist, using short video clips out of context, and also by misrepresenting the content of some of my blog posts. A cursory inspection reveals bad faith in their presentation.

The accusations are entirely false -- I am neither racist nor sexist.

The Twitter mobs want to suppress scientific work that they find objectionable. What is really at stake: academic freedom, open discussion of important ideas, scientific inquiry. All are imperiled and all must be defended.


One of the video clips is taken from an interview I did with YouTuber Stefan Molyneux in 2017. Molyneux was not a controversial figure in 2017, although he has since become one. Prominent scientists working on human intelligence who were interviewed on his show around the same time include James Flynn and Eric Turkheimer. (Noam Chomsky was also a guest some time after I was.) Here is what I said to Molyneux about genetic group differences in intelligence:



Here is a similar interview I did with University of Cambridge PhD student Daphne Martschenko:



As you can see, contrary to the Twitter accusations (lies), I do not endorse claims of genetic group differences. In fact I urge great caution in this area.


The tweets also criticize two podcasts I recorded with my co-host Corey Washington: a discussion with a prominent MSU Psychology professor who studies police shootings (this discussion has elicited a strong response due to the tragic death of George Floyd), and with Claude Steele, a renowned African American researcher who discovered Stereotype Threat and has been Provost at Columbia and Berkeley. The conversation with Steele is a nuanced discussion of race, discrimination, and education in America.






The blog posts under attack, dating back over a decade, are almost all discussions of published scientific papers by leading scholars in Psychology, Neuroscience, Genomics, Machine Learning, and other fields. The papers are published in journals like Nature and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. However, a detailed reading is required to judge the research and related inferences. I maintain that all the work described is well-motivated and potentially important. Certainly worthy of a blog post. (I have written several thousand blog posts; apparently these are the most objectionable out of those thousands!)

In several of the blog posts I explicitly denounce racism and discrimination based on identity.


This paper, from 2008, discusses early capability to ascertain ancestry from gene sequence. The topic was highly controversial in 2008 (subject to political attack, because it suggested there could be a genetic basis for “race”), but the science is correct. It is now common for people to investigate their heritage using DNA samples (23andMe, Ancestry) using exactly these methods. This case provides a perfect example of science that faced suppression for political reasons, but has since been developed for many useful applications.

https://infoproc.blogspot.com/2008/01/no-scientific-basis-for-race.html


This 2016 paper is by the UCSD Pediatric Imaging, Neurocognition, and Genetics collaboration. They claim that fMRI features of brain morphology can be predicted by genetic ancestry via machine learning.

https://infoproc.blogspot.com/2016/03/genetic-ancestry-and-brain-morphology.html


These blog posts discuss the firing of software engineer James Damore by Google over a memo on diversity practices. The first post describes the legal situation and quotes a professor of labor law at Notre Dame. The second compares the claims made in Damore’s memo to an article in the Stanford Medical School magazine, which covers similar material and was (by coincidence) published around the same time.

https://infoproc.blogspot.com/2017/08/damore-vs-google-trial-of-century.html
https://infoproc.blogspot.com/2017/08/meanwhile-down-on-farm.html


These papers discuss evidence from large DNA datasets for recent natural selection in human evolution. This research has been attacked for political reasons, but should be defended since it addresses fundamental questions in deep human history and evolution.

https://infoproc.blogspot.com/2018/10/the-truth-shall-make-you-free.html


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 promotion and tenure or faculty recruitment. These are two activities at the heart of the modern research university, involving hundreds of individuals each year.

Academics and Scientists must not submit to mob rule.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Warren Hatch on Seeing the Future in the Era of COVID-19: Manifold Episode #50



Steve and Corey talk to Warren Hatch, President and CEO of Good Judgment Inc. Warren explains what makes someone a good forecaster and how the ability to integrate and assess information allows cognitively diverse teams to outperform prediction markets. The hosts express skepticism about whether the incentives at work in large organizations would encourage the adoption of approaches that might lead to better forecasts. Warren describes the increasing depth of human-computer collaboration in forecasting. Steve poses the long-standing problem of assessing alpha in finance and Warren suggests that the emerging alpha-brier metric, linking process and outcome, might shed light on the issue. The episode ends with Warren describing Good Judgment’s open invitation to self-identified experts to join a new COVID forecasting platform.

Transcript

Good Judgment Inc
.

Good Judgment Open

Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction

Noriel Roubini (Wikipedia)


man·i·fold /ˈmanəˌfōld/ many and various.

In mathematics, a manifold is a topological space that locally resembles Euclidean space near each point.

Steve Hsu and Corey Washington have been friends for almost 30 years, and between them hold PhDs in Neuroscience, Philosophy, and Theoretical Physics. Join them for wide ranging and unfiltered conversations with leading writers, scientists, technologists, academics, entrepreneurs, investors, and more.

Steve Hsu is VP for Research and Professor of Theoretical Physics at Michigan State University. He is also a researcher in computational genomics and founder of several Silicon Valley startups, ranging from information security to biotech. Educated at Caltech and Berkeley, he was a Harvard Junior Fellow and held faculty positions at Yale and the University of Oregon before joining MSU.

Corey Washington is Director of Analytics in the Office of Research and Innovation at Michigan State University. He was educated at Amherst College and MIT before receiving a PhD in Philosophy from Stanford and a PhD in a Neuroscience from Columbia. He held faculty positions at the University Washington and the University of Maryland. Prior to MSU, Corey worked as a biotech consultant and is founder of a medical diagnostics startup.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Leif Wenar on the Resource Curse and Impact Philosophy -- Manifold Episode #49



Corey and Steve interview Leif Wenar, Professor of Philosophy at Stanford University and author of Blood Oil. They begin with memories of Leif and Corey’s mutual friend David Foster Wallace and end with a discussion of John Rawls and Robert Nozick (Wenar's thesis advisor at Harvard, and a friend of Steve's). Corey asks whether Leif shares his view that analytic philosophy had become too divorced from wider intellectual life. Leif explains his effort to re-engage philosophy in the big issues of our day as Hobbes, Rousseau, Locke, Mill and Marx were in theirs. He details how a trip to Nigeria gave him insight into the real problems facing real people in oil-rich countries. Leif explains how the legal concept of “efficiency” led to the resource curse and argues that we should refuse to buy oil from countries that are not minimally accountable to their people. Steve notes that some may find this approach too idealistic and not in the US interest. Leif suggests that what philosophers can contribute is the ability to see the big synthetic picture in a complex world.

Transcript

Leif Wenar (Bio)

Blood Oil: Tyrants, Violence, and the Rules That Run the World

John Rawls - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Robert Nozick - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


man·i·fold /ˈmanəˌfōld/ many and various.

In mathematics, a manifold is a topological space that locally resembles Euclidean space near each point.

Steve Hsu and Corey Washington have been friends for almost 30 years, and between them hold PhDs in Neuroscience, Philosophy, and Theoretical Physics. Join them for wide ranging and unfiltered conversations with leading writers, scientists, technologists, academics, entrepreneurs, investors, and more.

Steve Hsu is VP for Research and Professor of Theoretical Physics at Michigan State University. He is also a researcher in computational genomics and founder of several Silicon Valley startups, ranging from information security to biotech. Educated at Caltech and Berkeley, he was a Harvard Junior Fellow and held faculty positions at Yale and the University of Oregon before joining MSU.

Corey Washington is Director of Analytics in the Office of Research and Innovation at Michigan State University. He was educated at Amherst College and MIT before receiving a PhD in Philosophy from Stanford and a PhD in a Neuroscience from Columbia. He held faculty positions at the University Washington and the University of Maryland. Prior to MSU, Corey worked as a biotech consultant and is founder of a medical diagnostics startup.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Re-Post: Joe Cesario on Police Decision Making and Racial Bias in Deadly Force Decisions (Manifold Episode #11)

Re-posting this because of its relevance to the terrible events in Minneapolis.

Manifold Episode #11: Joe Cesario on Police Decision Making and Racial Bias in Deadly Force Decisions




Manifold Show Page    YouTube Channel

Corey and Steve talk with Joe Cesario about his recent work which argues that, contrary to activist claims and media reports, there is no widespread racial bias in police shootings. Joe discusses his analysis of national criminal justice data and his experimental studies with police officers in a specially designed realistic simulator. He maintains that racial bias does exist in other uses of force such as tasering but that the decision to shoot is fundamentally different: it is driven by specific events and context, rather than race.

Cesario is associate professor of Psychology at Michigan State University. He studies social cognition and decision-making. His recent topics of study include police use of deadly force and computational modeling of fast decisions. Cesario is dedicated to reform in the practice, reporting, and publication of psychological science.

Is There Evidence of Racial Disparity in Police Use of Deadly Force? Analyses of Officer-Involved Fatal Shootings in 2015–2016
https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/...

Example of officer completing shooting simulator
https://youtu.be/Le8zoqk-UVo

Overview of Current Research on Officer-Involved Shootings
https://www.cesariolab.com/police

Joseph Cesario Lab
https://www.cesariolab.com/


man·i·fold /ˈmanəˌfōld/ many and various.

In mathematics, a manifold is a topological space that locally resembles Euclidean space near each point.

Steve Hsu and Corey Washington have been friends for almost 30 years, and between them hold PhDs in Neuroscience, Philosophy, and Theoretical Physics. Join them for wide ranging and unfiltered conversations with leading writers, scientists, technologists, academics, entrepreneurs, investors, and more.

Steve Hsu is VP for Research and Professor of Theoretical Physics at Michigan State University. He is also a researcher in computational genomics and founder of several Silicon Valley startups, ranging from information security to biotech. Educated at Caltech and Berkeley, he was a Harvard Junior Fellow and held faculty positions at Yale and the University of Oregon before joining MSU.

Corey Washington is Director of Analytics in the Office of Research and Innovation at Michigan State University. He was educated at Amherst College and MIT before receiving a PhD in Philosophy from Stanford and a PhD in a Neuroscience from Columbia. He held faculty positions at the University Washington and the University of Maryland. Prior to MSU, Corey worked as a biotech consultant and is founder of a medical diagnostics startup.


Thursday, May 28, 2020

Michael Kauffman: Cancer, Drug Development, and Market Capitalism (Manifold Podcast #48)



Note: the part of the conversation I found most interesting -- venture and capital markets aspects of drug discovery, complexity and scale of biotech ecosystems, role of IP and US healthcare spending to incentivize discovery -- begins at ~35m.

Steve and Corey speak with Dr. Michael Kauffman, co-founder and CEO of Karyopharm Therapeutics, about cancer and biotech innovation. Michael explains how he and Dr. Sharon Schacham tested her idea regarding cellular nuclear-transport using simulation software on a home laptop, and went on to beat 1000:1 odds to create a billion dollar company. They discuss the relationship between high proprietary drug costs and economic incentives for drug discovery. They also discuss the unique US biotech ecosystem, and why innovation is easier in small (vs. large) companies. Michael explains how Karyopharm is targeting its drug at COVID-induced inflammation to treat people with severe forms of the disease.

Transcript

Michael Kauffman (Bio)

Karyopharm's Publications and Presentations

The Great American Drug Deal: A New Prescription for Innovative and Affordable Medicines by Peter Kolchinsky


man·i·fold /ˈmanəˌfōld/ many and various.

In mathematics, a manifold is a topological space that locally resembles Euclidean space near each point.

Steve Hsu and Corey Washington have been friends for almost 30 years, and between them hold PhDs in Neuroscience, Philosophy, and Theoretical Physics. Join them for wide ranging and unfiltered conversations with leading writers, scientists, technologists, academics, entrepreneurs, investors, and more.

Steve Hsu is VP for Research and Professor of Theoretical Physics at Michigan State University. He is also a researcher in computational genomics and founder of several Silicon Valley startups, ranging from information security to biotech. Educated at Caltech and Berkeley, he was a Harvard Junior Fellow and held faculty positions at Yale and the University of Oregon before joining MSU.

Corey Washington is Director of Analytics in the Office of Research and Innovation at Michigan State University. He was educated at Amherst College and MIT before receiving a PhD in Philosophy from Stanford and a PhD in a Neuroscience from Columbia. He held faculty positions at the University Washington and the University of Maryland. Prior to MSU, Corey worked as a biotech consultant and is founder of a medical diagnostics startup.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

David Silver on AlphaGo and AlphaZero (AI podcast)



I particularly liked this interview with David Silver on AlphaGo and AlphaZero. I suggest starting around ~35m in if you have some familiarity with the subject. (I listened to this while running hill sprints and found at the end I had it set to 1.4x speed -- YMMV.)

At ~40m Silver discusses the misleading low-dimensional intuition that led many to fear (circa 1980s-1990s) that neural net optimization would be stymied by local minima. (See related discussion: Yann LeCun on Unsupervised Learning.)

At one point Silver notes that the expressiveness of deep nets was never in question (i.e., whether they could encode sufficiently complex high-dimensional functions). The main empirical question was really about efficiency of training -- once the local minima question is resolved what remains is more of an engineering issue than a theoretical one.

Silver gives some details of the match with Lee Sedol. He describes the "holes" in AlphGo's gameplay that would manifest in roughly 1 in 5 games. Silver had predicted before the match, correctly, that AlphaGo might lose one game this way! AlphaZero was partially invented as a way to eliminate these holes, although it was also motivated by the principled goal of de novo learning, without expert examples.

I've commented many times that even with complete access to the internals of AlphaGo, we (humans) still don't know how it plays Go. There is an irreducible complexity to a deep neural net (and to our brain) that resists comprehension even when all the specific details are known. In this case, the computer program (neural net) which plays Go can be written out explicitly, but it has millions of parameters.

Silver says he worked on AI Go for a decade before it finally reached superhuman performance. He notes that Go was of special interest to AI researchers because there was general agreement that a superhuman Go program would truly understand the game, would develop intuition for it. But now that the dust has settled we see that notions like understand and intuition are still hidden in (spread throughout?) the high dimensional space of the network... and perhaps always will be. (From a philosophical perspective this is related to Searle's Chinese Room and other confusions...)

As to whether AlphaGo has deep intuition for Go, whether it can play with creativity, Silver gives examples from the Lee Sedol match in which AlphaGo 1. upended textbook Go theory previously embraced by human experts (perhaps for centuries?), and 2. surprised the human champion by making an aggressive territorial incursion late in the game. In fact, human understanding of both Chess and Go strategy have been advanced considerably via AlphaZero (which performs at a superhuman level in both games).

See also this Manifold interview with John Schulman of OpenAI.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Will Trump Pardon Obama?



I get that I'm supposed to hate this lady and her boss, but can someone do me a favor by answering the questions she posed?
1) Why did the Obama administration spy on members of the Trump campaign, during and after the campaign?

2) Why was General Michael Flynn unmasked by Obama's chief of staff, Joe Biden, Susan Rice, and others?

3) Why was Flynn's identity leaked to the press (a felony)?

4) Why did AG Sally Yates (DOJ) first learn about the FBI investigation of Flynn's communication with the Russian Ambassador from a conversation with Obama in the Oval Office?

5) Why did James Clapper, John Brennan, Samantha Power, and Susan Rice privately admit under oath (Congressional testimony, only declassified recently) that they had no evidence of collusion, while saying the opposite in public? (2017-2019)
If you have any pretensions to rationalism (or even to being moderately well-informed), please score your understanding, over time, of this scandal which has unfolded since 2016. My observations are well documented since the beginning.

In addition to items #4 and #5 above, which only became public through recent declassification, the other new fact is: On January 4 (day before the White House meeting which included Obama, Biden, Comey, Yates, and Rice, and which was memorialized by Rice in the infamous CYA email to herself weeks later), FBI field agents working on the Flynn investigation, who had access to the Dec 29 call with Kislyak, recommended closing the case on Flynn due to what they referred to as absence of derogatory information. Of course, as a result of the January 5 White House meeting, the case was NOT closed and the rest is history (like Watergate, only worse).

None of this information is disputed, but you won't hear much about it from NYT, WaPo, CNN, etc. But see WSJ: here and here.

Added: I wrote the post Lies and Admissions: Spygate in light of the IG FISA report in December 2019, after the DOJ Inspector General's report on FISA abuse became public. Media coverage of its content was extremely misleading (details at the link). The 3+ year timeline I described (reproduced below) has now reached its endpoint due to the recent (May 2020) declassifications.

Almost three years of hard work to bring the truth to light.
There was no spying [ WE STARTED HERE 2016 ]

Okay, there was spying, but it was all legal

Some illegal things happened, but by mistake

A few bad apples did the illegal things [ WE ARE HERE 12/2019 ]

Illegal spying was politically motivated and ordered from the top

Obama knew ???  [ BEYOND DOUBT NOW 5/2020 ]
No telling how far down the above list we will get, but:
Lisa Page (text to Peter Strzok 9/2/2016): POTUS wants to know everything we’re doing.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

How Pompeo's CIA and Sheldon Adelson spied on Julian Assange



An amazing story. I met Assange's attorney at an event in London last summer...

The mysterious death of the Chinese ambassador to Israel happened just a few days after Pompeo's visit with Bibi. A coincidence, I am sure... we have it on good authority from the media and other experts that these conspiracy theories are merely fever dreams.

University of California to end use of SAT and ACT

University of California Will End Use of SAT and ACT in Admissions (NYT)

This decision by the UC Regents (most of whom are political appointees) is counter to the recommendation of the faculty task force recently assigned to study standardized testing in admissions. It is obvious to anyone who looks at the graphs below that SAT/ACT have significant validity (technical term used in psychometrics) in predicting college performance for all ethnic groups.


See Report of the University of California Academic Council Standardized Testing Task Force for more.
... SAT and HSGPA are stronger predictors than family income or race. Within each of the family income or ethnicity categories there is substantial variation in SAT and HSGPA, with corresponding differences in student success. See bottom figure and combined model R^2 in second figure below; R^2 varies very little across family income and ethnic categories. ...

Test Preparation and SAT scores: "...combined effect of coaching on the SAT I is between 21 and 34 points. Similarly, extensive meta-analyses conducted by Betsy Jane Becker in 1990 and by Nan Laird in 1983 found that the typical effect of commercial preparatory courses on the SAT was in the range of 9-25 points on the verbal section, and 15-25 points on the math section."

Scott Adams on Trump, and his book Loserthink – Manifold Podcast #47



Corey and Steve talk to Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert and author of Loserthink. Steve reviews some of Scott's predictions, including of Trump’s 2016 victory. Scott (who once semi-humorously described himself as “left of Bernie”) describes what he describes as Trump's unique "skill stack". Scott highlights Trump's grasp of the role of psychology in economics, and maintains that honesty requires admitting that we do not know whether many of Trump’s policies are good or bad. Scott explains why he thinks it is mistaken to assume leaders are irrational.

Transcript

Scott Adams (Blog and Podcast)

Loserthink: How Untrained Brains Are Ruining America

Kihlstrom J. F. (1997). Hypnosis, memory and amnesia. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences, 352(1362), 1727–1732. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.1997.0155

Hypnosis and Memory (Blog Post)


man·i·fold /ˈmanəˌfōld/ many and various.

In mathematics, a manifold is a topological space that locally resembles Euclidean space near each point.

Steve Hsu and Corey Washington have been friends for almost 30 years, and between them hold PhDs in Neuroscience, Philosophy, and Theoretical Physics. Join them for wide ranging and unfiltered conversations with leading writers, scientists, technologists, academics, entrepreneurs, investors, and more.

Steve Hsu is VP for Research and Professor of Theoretical Physics at Michigan State University. He is also a researcher in computational genomics and founder of several Silicon Valley startups, ranging from information security to biotech. Educated at Caltech and Berkeley, he was a Harvard Junior Fellow and held faculty positions at Yale and the University of Oregon before joining MSU.

Corey Washington is Director of Analytics in the Office of Research and Innovation at Michigan State University. He was educated at Amherst College and MIT before receiving a PhD in Philosophy from Stanford and a PhD in a Neuroscience from Columbia. He held faculty positions at the University Washington and the University of Maryland. Prior to MSU, Corey worked as a biotech consultant and is founder of a medical diagnostics startup.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

COVID-19: Open Thread


I haven't followed the latest scientific progress very carefully for the last week or two. It seems that things have slowed down a bit. Previous posts on COVID-19.

I still think the evidence is reasonably strong for IFR ~ 1% (meaning could be 0.5% under good conditions, higher if medical systems are overwhelmed; there seems to be some evidence for dosage dependence of severity as well).

I suspect that from a purely utilitarian perspective we might be overpaying per QALY.

Tests seem to be improving (e.g., Roche), and there seems to be positive early news about vaccines.

Does anyone know what the status of contact tracing apps is? Are there any that have been tested at scale outside of E. Asia?

Where and When were the earliest cases? Is there any evidence for functional (rather than simply genomic) differences between strains?

Please add any useful updates in the comments below.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

James Oakes on What’s Wrong with The 1619 Project - Manifold Podcast #46



Steve and Corey talk to James Oakes, Distinguished Professor of History and Graduate School Humanities Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, about "The 1619 Project" developed by The New York Times Magazine. The project argues that slavery was the defining event of US history. Jim argues that slavery was actually the least exceptional feature of the US and that what makes the US exceptional is that it is where abolition first begins. Steve wonders about the views of Thomas Jefferson who wrote that “all men are created equal” but still held slaves. Jim maintains many founders were hypocrites, but Jefferson believed what he wrote.

Topics: Northern power, Industrialization, Capitalism, Lincoln, Inequality, Cotton, Labor, Civil War, Racism/Antiracism, Black Ownership.

Transcript

James Oakes (Bio)

Oakes and Colleagues Letter to the NYT and the Editor’s Response

The Fight Over the 1619 Project Is Not About the Facts

The World Socialist Web Site interview with James Oakes


man·i·fold /ˈmanəˌfōld/ many and various.

In mathematics, a manifold is a topological space that locally resembles Euclidean space near each point.

Steve Hsu and Corey Washington have been friends for almost 30 years, and between them hold PhDs in Neuroscience, Philosophy, and Theoretical Physics. Join them for wide ranging and unfiltered conversations with leading writers, scientists, technologists, academics, entrepreneurs, investors, and more.

Steve Hsu is VP for Research and Professor of Theoretical Physics at Michigan State University. He is also a researcher in computational genomics and founder of several Silicon Valley startups, ranging from information security to biotech. Educated at Caltech and Berkeley, he was a Harvard Junior Fellow and held faculty positions at Yale and the University of Oregon before joining MSU.

Corey Washington is Director of Analytics in the Office of Research and Innovation at Michigan State University. He was educated at Amherst College and MIT before receiving a PhD in Philosophy from Stanford and a PhD in a Neuroscience from Columbia. He held faculty positions at the University Washington and the University of Maryland. Prior to MSU, Corey worked as a biotech consultant and is founder of a medical diagnostics startup.

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Pure State Quantum Thermalization: from von Neumann to the Lab


Perhaps the most fundamental question in thermodynamics and statistical mechanics is: Why do systems tend to evolve toward thermal equilibrium? Equivalently, why does entropy tend to increase? Because Nature is quantum mechanical, a satisfactory answer to this question has to arise within quantum mechanics itself. The answer was given already in a 1929 paper by von Neumann. However, the ideas were not absorbed (even, were misunderstood) by the physics community and only rediscovered in the 21st century! General awareness of these results is still rather limited.

See this 2011 post: Classics on the arxiv: von Neumann and the foundations of quantum statistical mechanics.

In modern language, we would say something to the effect that "typical" quantum pure states are highly entangled, and the density matrix describing any small sub-system (obtained by tracing over the rest of the pure state) is very close to micro-canonical (i.e., thermal). Under dynamical (Schrodinger) evolution, all systems (even those that are initially far from typical) spend nearly all of their time in a typical state (modulo some weak conditions on the Hamiltonian). Typicality of states is related to concentration of measure in high dimensional Hilbert spaces. One could even claim that the origin of thermodynamics lies in the geometry of Hilbert space itself.

[ It's worth noting that vN's paper does more than just demonstrate these results. It also gives an explicit construction of macroscopic classical (commuting) observables arising in a large Hilbert space. This construction would be a nice thing to include in textbooks for students trying to connect the classical and quantum worlds. ]

Recently I came across an experimental realization of these theoretical results, using cold atoms in an optical lattice (Greiner lab at Harvard):
Quantum thermalization through entanglement in an isolated many-body system

Science 353, 794-800 (2016)    arXiv:1603.04409v3

The concept of entropy is fundamental to thermalization, yet appears at odds with basic principles in quantum mechanics. Statistical mechanics relies on the maximization of entropy for a system at thermal equilibrium. However, an isolated many-body system initialized in a pure state will remain pure during Schrodinger evolution, and in this sense has static, zero entropy. The underlying role of quantum mechanics in many-body physics is then seemingly antithetical to the success of statistical mechanics in a large variety of systems. Here we experimentally study the emergence of statistical mechanics in a quantum state, and observe the fundamental role of quantum entanglement in facilitating this emergence. We perform microscopy on an evolving quantum system, and we see thermalization occur on a local scale, while we measure that the full quantum state remains pure. We directly measure entanglement entropy and observe how it assumes the role of the thermal entropy in thermalization. Although the full state remains measurably pure, entanglement creates local entropy that validates the use of statistical physics for local observables. In combination with number-resolved, single-site imaging, we demonstrate how our measurements of a pure quantum state agree with the Eigenstate Thermalization Hypothesis and thermal ensembles in the presence of a near-volume law in the entanglement entropy.
Note, given the original vN results I think the Eigenstate Thermalization Hypothesis is only of limited interest. [ But see comments for more discussion... ] The point is that this is a laboratory demonstration of pure state thermalization, anticipated in 1929 by vN.

Another aspect of quantum thermalization that is still not very well appreciated is that approach to equilibrium can have a very different character than what students are taught in statistical mechanics. The physical picture behind the Boltzmann equation is semi-classical: collisions between atoms happen in serial as two gases equilibrate. But Schrodinger evolution of the pure state (all the degrees of freedom together) toward typicality can take advantage of quantum parallelism: all possible collisions take place on different parts of the quantum superposition state. Consequently, the timescale for quantum thermalization can be much shorter than in the semi-classical Boltzmann description.

In 2015 my postdoc C.M. Ho (now director of an AI lab in Silicon Valley) and I pointed out that quantum thermalization was likely already realized in heavy ion collisions at RHIC and CERN, and that the quantum nature of the process was responsible for the surprisingly short time required to approach equilibrium (equivalently, to generate large amounts of entanglement entropy).

Entanglement and fast thermalization in heavy ion collisions (see also slides here).


Entanglement and Fast Quantum Thermalization in Heavy Ion Collisions (arXiv:1506.03696)

Chiu Man Ho, Stephen D. H. Hsu

Let A be subsystem of a larger system A∪B, and ψ be a typical state from the subspace of the Hilbert space H_AB satisfying an energy constraint. Then ρ_A(ψ)=Tr_B |ψ⟩⟨ψ| is nearly thermal. We discuss how this observation is related to fast thermalization of the central region (≈A) in heavy ion collisions, where B represents other degrees of freedom (soft modes, hard jets, co-linear particles) outside of A. Entanglement between the modes in A and B plays a central role; the entanglement entropy S_A increases rapidly in the collision. In gauge-gravity duality, S_A is related to the area of extremal surfaces in the bulk, which can be studied using gravitational duals.



An earlier blog post Ulam on physical intuition and visualization mentioned the difference between intuition for familiar semiclassical (incoherent) particle phenomena, versus for intrinsically quantum mechanical (coherent) phenomena such as the spread of entanglement and its relation to thermalization.
[Ulam:] ... Most of the physics at Los Alamos could be reduced to the study of assemblies of particles interacting with each other, hitting each other, scattering, sometimes giving rise to new particles. Strangely enough, the actual working problems did not involve much of the mathematical apparatus of quantum theory although it lay at the base of the phenomena, but rather dynamics of a more classical kind—kinematics, statistical mechanics, large-scale motion problems, hydrodynamics, behavior of radiation, and the like. In fact, compared to quantum theory the project work was like applied mathematics as compared with abstract mathematics. If one is good at solving differential equations or using asymptotic series, one need not necessarily know the foundations of function space language. It is needed for a more fundamental understanding, of course. In the same way, quantum theory is necessary in many instances to explain the data and to explain the values of cross sections. But it was not crucial, once one understood the ideas and then the facts of events involving neutrons reacting with other nuclei.
This "dynamics of a more classical kind" did not require intuition for entanglement or high dimensional Hilbert spaces. But see von Neumann and the foundations of quantum statistical mechanics for examples of the latter.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Robert Atkinson on US-China Competition and Industrial Policy - Manifold Episode #45



Steve and Corey talk with Robert Atkinson, President of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation about his philosophy of National Developmentalism. They discuss the history of industrial policy and mercantilism in the US and China. Why did the US lose 1/3 of its manufacturing jobs in the 2000s? How much was due to automation and how much to Chinese competition? Atkinson discusses US R&D and recommends policies that will help the US compete with China.

Other topics: Forced technology transfer, IP theft, semiconductors and Micron technologies (DRAM), why the WTO cannot handle misbehavior by China.

Transcript

Robert Atkinson (Bio)

Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF)

Big is Beautiful: Debunking the Mythology of Small Business (MIT Press, 2018)

Innovation Economics: The Race for Global Advantage (Yale, 2012)


man·i·fold /ˈmanəˌfōld/ many and various.

In mathematics, a manifold is a topological space that locally resembles Euclidean space near each point.

Steve Hsu and Corey Washington have been friends for almost 30 years, and between them hold PhDs in Neuroscience, Philosophy, and Theoretical Physics. Join them for wide ranging and unfiltered conversations with leading writers, scientists, technologists, academics, entrepreneurs, investors, and more.

Steve Hsu is VP for Research and Professor of Theoretical Physics at Michigan State University. He is also a researcher in computational genomics and founder of several Silicon Valley startups, ranging from information security to biotech. Educated at Caltech and Berkeley, he was a Harvard Junior Fellow and held faculty positions at Yale and the University of Oregon before joining MSU.

Corey Washington is Director of Analytics in the Office of Research and Innovation at Michigan State University. He was educated at Amherst College and MIT before receiving a PhD in Philosophy from Stanford and a PhD in a Neuroscience from Columbia. He held faculty positions at the University Washington and the University of Maryland. Prior to MSU, Corey worked as a biotech consultant and is founder of a medical diagnostics startup.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

QED and QCD theta angles, asymptotic boundary conditions in gauge theory

Warning: this post is for specialists.

I had reason to look back at the paper below recently, and thought I would write a longer post on the subject as I regularly see searches on "QED theta angle" and similar in my traffic logs. These readers may be unsatisfied with the standard textbook treatment of this topic.

The conventional thinking is that because FF-dual in QED is a total derivative, doesn't affect the classical equations of motion, and isn't related to any topological vacuum structure, it can't have physical consequences.


In the paper below I constructed gauge configurations in (3+1) dimensions that connect an initial configuration (e.g., vacuum state A=0) to two different final configurations A1 and A2 (e.g., in the far future). A1 and A2 differ by a gauge transformation (i.e., represent the same physical electric and magnetic fields), but the two (3+1) interpolating configurations are not gauge equivalent. By construction, the value of \int FF-dual is not the same when evaluated on the two (3+1) configurations. Thus the two trajectories have a relative phase weighting in the path integral which depends on the value of theta. This suggests that theta can have physical (though perhaps small and non-perturbative) effects, so it is indeed a fundamental physical parameter of QED and of the Standard Model of particle physics.
http://arxiv.org/abs/1107.0756

Theta terms and asymptotic behavior of gauge potentials in (3+1) dimensions

We describe paths in the configuration space of (3+1) dimensional QED whose relative quantum phase (or relative phase in the functional integral) depends on the value of the theta angle. The final configurations on the two paths are related by a gauge transformation but differ in magnetic helicity or Chern-Simons number. Such configurations must exhibit gauge potentials that fall off no faster than 1/r in some region of finite solid angle, although they need not have net magnetic charge (i.e., are not magnetic monopoles). The relative phase is proportional to theta times the difference in Chern-Simons number. We briefly discuss some possible implications for QCD and the strong CP problem.
The question of whether physical observables can depend on the value of theta QED is somewhat esoteric. However, the analysis raises the issue of asymptotic boundary conditions in gauge theory. One typically expects that local properties of a quantum field theory are independent of the choice of boundary conditions when the size of the system is taken to infinity. But topological or total derivative terms such as FF-dual seem to defy this expectation.

The gauge potentials required for the construction described above must have  A ~ 1/r  behavior for some region of solid angle. In d=4 Euclidean space, the assumption is often made to allow only potentials with faster than 1/r falloff. In this way one obtains a topological classification of gauge configurations (i.e., in terms of instanton number). However, in Minkowski space (d=3+1) there exist classical solutions of non-Abelian gauge theory (e.g., SU(2); discovered by Luscher and Schecter) that exhibit 1/r falloff and are the analog of the U(1) configurations I described above. These L-S solutions have fractional topological charge.

In the presence of fractional topological charges the gauge theory partition function no longer appears periodic in theta. This may have consequences for the Strong CP problem in QCD, which are briefly discussed in the paper above.

Note Added: Writing this blog post was beneficial -- thinking through the topic again allowed me to formulate the conclusions more clearly than in the original paper. I've replaced it on arXiv with a new version containing the additional material below. The observation at the end is related to Elitzur's Theorem -- gauge-variant operators must have zero average in the path integral.

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