Medley 262: Social Class, Digital World, Tools, Equality, Standardized Tests, Placebos...

This is the Monday Medley, a newsletter that goes out, you guessed it, every Monday. I republish it here for sharing and referencing, but if you'd like to sign up you can do so right here:

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Happy Monday!

Today I released the next set of videos for SEO for Solopreneurs, all about building authority (aka Link Building) for your website. The course is still discounted while new material is rolling out if you wanted to sign up.

Also, the next cohort of Ali Abdaal's "Part-Time YouTuber Academy" is open for enrollment. Ali was really helpful when I was learning YouTube, and I've heard nothing but great things about his course. He also has a self-paced option now!

And that's all for this week, on to the Medley.

​The World of Equality

🐻 California's whole-hearted effort to drive everyone await appears to be continuing in earnest.

πŸ“ First, the UCs are apparently stopping using the SAT & ACT for admissions, based on arguments that "the use of SAT and ACT scores discriminates against applicants based on race, income, disability."

🏫 They're also working to eliminate opportunities for advanced mathematics, including no accelerated math classes, no algebra for 8th graders, and no calculus for high schoolers.

πŸ‘Ž Handicapping in the name of equity is starting to get a little crazy, as if progressive activists read Harrison Bergeron as some sort of inspirational religious text. And despite what are certainly well-intention efforts, I don't think it's going to end well.

πŸ‘©β€πŸŽ“ Let's start with the standardized tests. Do people of different races, incomes, and abilities, score differently on them? That's pretty obviously true, but you'd be hard pressed to find any college admissions criteria that doesn't vary across those dimensions. The question is: how does it compare to other criteria?

🎻 The great thing about standardized tests is they're one of the best ways for poorer, disadvantaged students to compete with more advantaged ones. If you have to help your parents care for your siblings, you don't have time to row crew or learn violin or volunteer in Panama. What do you have? Test scores. Being rich and white isn't enough of an advantage to just get in anywhere you want, which is why the whole Varsity Blues college scandal happened in the first place.

🧠 For a poor family in America, one of the most powerful routes they have to more financial success is if their kid is smart, does well in school, and ends up going to a good college and getting a high paying job. Those kids can't afford New England boarding schools or equestrian lessons, so their grades and test scores are their biggest assets.

πŸ’² Taking that away means kids are competing on more subjective criteria. And that means it's going to be harder for many poorer kids to distinguish themselves on anything besides their grades and how disadvantaged of a social class they can present themselves.

πŸ“ˆ This also hints at a growing acceptance around changing the higher education game to punish Asian Americans. Many Ivy's have shown some degree of bias against letting in "too many" Asians, and it's worth remembering that many of these "softer" admissions criteria were invented to keep out Jews in the early 1900s. Asians dominate higher mathematics and tend to score higher on SATs, so getting rid of advanced math and standardized tests is a big handicap to Asian students. Especially in California which has a pretty high Asian population compared to other states.

❓ Why does this bug me so much? Well, for one, my kids will be half Asian and I'd rather they not be in a school system that's trying to hold them back. But what really bugs me is the shortsightedness. Anyone who can see beyond their current political term knows what happens next: people with means opt-out of their local school system, and this whole process ends up hurting the students it was meant to help.

πŸ‘¨β€πŸ‘©β€πŸ‘§β€πŸ‘¦ Families who have some financial flexibility are going to be more likely to keep their kids out of public school if public schools are being dumbed down to the slowest student. That takes away funding from those school systems, and ends up reducing the potential for positive peer influences in public schools by taking smart kids out.

✏️ Parents know that once their kid goes off to school, their influence is much lower than the influence of the kid's peers. For parents who have the option, they're going to want to make sure their kid is surrounded by the smartest influences possible. If those kids aren't going to public school anymore because the state government thinks smart kids are bad, that's not going to create the kind of positive intellectual environment kids without means need to thrive.

⏩ If we want to reduce wealth inequality and give everyone the opportunity to get ahead, kids need an environment that lets them move as fast as their brain can go. Not one that holds back the smartest kids in class to make sure Timmy's feelings aren't getting hurt, or that tells kids to compete on identity over test scores.

πŸ€·β€β™‚οΈ But hey, perhaps this is the world people want:

"George and Hazel couldn't think about it very hard. Hazel had a perfectly average intelligence, which meant she couldn't think about anything except in short bursts. And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains."

​The World of MDMA

πŸ‘ Last week I posed the question "how do they even do placebo controls in MDMA studies?" And Luke, a psychiatry resident at Harvard responded with some great resources!

πŸ’Š Placebo control in hallucinogenic studies are notoriously difficult, some early trials use niacin or midazolam as control groups. That way there's some subjective effects, but obviously it's still easy to differentiate MDMA/psilocybin. Other methods to tease out effects include trial design, oftentimes a crossover where one group gets a very low placebo dose of psilocybin, one group gets a high dose, then they switch several weeks later. A Hopkins study used a waiting list control (2nd treatment group followed the same protocol but after an 8 week delay) to account for any spontaneous symptom improvement. Just last month, the first trial directly comparing psilocybin to an SSRI (escitalopram/Lexapro), came out, taking more of a non-inferiority approach as opposed to placebo-controlled.

​The World of Tools

βš™οΈ A fascinating new study was published a few weeks ago showing how our brain interprets tools literally as an extension of our body.

"Instead, our results show that typicality representations for tool grasping are automatically evoked in visual regions specialised for representing the human hand, the brain’s primary tool for interacting with the world... Finding a specificity for typical tool grasping in hand-, rather than tool-, selective regions challenges the long-standing assumption that activation for viewing tool images reflects sensorimotor processing linked to tool manipulation."

​The World of Being Online

πŸ’» And here was a great piece on a topic I've touched on a number of times now: the dangers of being too online, and staking too much of your happiness and self worth on Internet points.

​End Note

As always, if you're enjoying the Medley, I'd love it if you shared it with a friend or two. You can send them here to sign up. I try to make it one of the best emails you get each week, and I hope you're enjoying it.

And should you come across anything interesting this week, send it my way! I love finding new things to read through members of this newsletter.

Have a great week,
Nat

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