Sunday, September 1, 2019

Justice on Trial reviewed

I followed Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation process rather closely - closely enough that I could write a 2,500-word treatise explaining that the assault charges against him were almost certainly false, and that his opponents' refusal to engage with the evidence was alarming. Still, I learned a lot from Mollie Hemingway and Carrie Severino's new book, Justice on Trial: The Kavanaugh Confirmation and the Future of the Supreme Court. Hemingway is a journalist, and Severino helps lead the Judicial Crisis Network, which supports the confirmation of conservative judges. Their book supplements the familiar narrative of the confirmation fight with a lot of behind-the-scenes material from the Kavanaugh camp.

I'll just mention a couple of their revelations here. First, the yearbook from Holton-Arms (where Christine Ford went to school) was at least as embarrassing as Georgetown Prep's (where Kavanaugh went to school), with many references to sexuality and drunkenness. Classmates report that Ford was personally very much into both. Despite having this information, Kavanaugh's team declined to publicize it, fearing a backlash. That may have been a wise strategy, but the double standard is glaring. Both the media and the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee had no compunction about digging into Kavanaugh's drinking habits, his sexual habits, his friends' drinking and sexual habits, and the overall culture at Georgetown Prep. Their position was that if Kavanaugh was a heavy drinker who objectified girls, he may have blacked out or simply not remembered what he did to Ford. And yet a similar argument could be made about Ford. If she was a heavy drinker who fooled around with lots of boys, her memory could have been impaired, and unrelated incidents could blur together in her mind. Maybe these insinuations are unfair, but there is no reason that only the accuser -- and not the accused -- should be protected from them.

A second revelation is that Leland Keyser's testimony to the FBI went further in exonerating Kavanaugh than her testimony to the Judiciary Committee did. Keyser is Ford's longtime friend and the only girl whom Ford placed at the party. When Keyser told the committee that she could not remember any such party, and that in fact she did not know Kavanaugh at all, it was devastating to Ford's case. (Or at least it should have been.) A public and private pressure campaign began among Ford allies to convince Keyser to say something supportive. In a second statement to the committee, Keyser reiterated that she had no memory of Kavanaugh, but that she nevertheless believed Ford's accusation. According to Hemingway and Severino, Keyser had the opportunity to think through her activities in the summer of 1983 in more detail during the FBI investigation. She requested a second interview with the FBI, in which she stated that she no longer believed Ford's story, as it simply wasn't plausible that she (Keyser) attended such a party at that time.

Keyser's FBI testimony was supposed to be for senators' eyes only, so it's not clear how the authors know the details of it. One of my longstanding problems with journalism is that we're asked to trust the word of reporters, who are in turn probably trusting the word of anonymous sources. I've seen too many instances of mangled facts in order for me to take anything on faith, but this story about Keyser, if true, is even more devastating to Ford than the public evidence. It's also even more damning of the Democratic senators who still insist that Kavanaugh is guilty.

[Update 9/19/2019: Leland Keyser has now spoken on the record to a pair of New York Times reporters, confirming what Justice on Trial initially reported about her FBI testimony.]

Hemingway and Severino offer an inspiring message near the end of their book. They profile a liberal lawyer whose friends abandoned her because she vouched for Kavanaugh's character:
If she has lost friends, she views it as their loss....Imagine a world where fewer people were scared to stand up for what they believed. It could start a virtuous circle, in which every person who bucked the popular views would drive down the cost of standing up.
I offered similar sentiments after Kavanaugh's powerful testimony refuting Ford's allegation: "Bravery is not something that the Republican establishment is known for. With the force of his arguments, Brett Kavanaugh may have changed that. We should all follow his example."

In an otherwise great book, I did find one weak section. Citing two studies, the authors write, "A small but significant portion of sexual assault allegations -- between 2 and 10 percent, according to empirical studies -- are eventually deemed false." This empirical claim is misleading without more context. One might think the quoted numbers imply at least 90 percent of rape allegations are true, but that is emphatically not the case. Nearly half of the rape allegations in the first study they cite "did not proceed," meaning no truth determination was made either way. For more details, see this post I did for National Review.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

New piece in Quillette: Free speech is about more than the First Amendment

I'm pleased to appear in Quillette this week on a topic that I had been wanting to write about for a long time -- namely, the importance of recognizing free speech as a cultural value rather than simply a restraint on the government. The piece has received a decent amount of attention. From the conclusion:
When responding to speech we don’t like, a useful guideline is to ask ourselves, “Am I disagreeing, or am I retaliating? Am I trying to persuade, or am I trying to silence?” If retaliation or silencing is the goal, remember that such techniques will ultimately be used not just on “bad” speech, but on “good” speech, as well. And when people refrain from speaking because they fear personal retribution from corporations, the media, academia, or an unruly Twitter mob, the value of their speech is lost—lost in the same way it would be if the government threatened them with punishment.
Read the whole thing there.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The College Board’s “adversity score” perpetuates the myth of SAT bias

[I originally wrote this for NR, but I'm reposting here because this perspective has not received enough attention.]

[Update: I wrote another piece addressing similar misinformation about the SAT.]

A common defense of affirmative action in college admissions is that it simply adjusts for difficult childhood circumstances. Under this theory, students from underrepresented groups score below their true ability level on the SAT due to poverty or discrimination or a lack of fancy test prep, but they will thrive once brought to an enriching university environment. If true, affirmative action would not involve any lowering of admission standards, but rather a fairer appraisal of each applicant’s abilities.

It’s not true. Researchers have known for decades that SAT scores predict college performance for poor and minority students about as well as they do for everyone else. To the extent there is a difference, the SAT actually over-predicts their performance. Therefore, if the goal is to find the students who will be most academically successful, colleges should not bump up applicants’ SAT scores on the basis of poverty or race.

That’s one reason why the College Board’s new “adversity score” is so troubling. By providing schools with a secret quantification of each applicant’s childhood environment, the College Board furthers the myth that the SAT is predictively biased along socioeconomic lines. According to the New York Times:

Admissions officers have also tried for years to find ways to gauge the hardships that students have had to overcome, and to predict which students will do well in college despite lower test scores. The new adversity score is meant to be one such gauge.

If so, we already know it doesn’t work. The College Board’s own data (see page 42) show that test scores and high school grades predict college performance about equally across all adversity levels. An exception is for students at the highest levels of adversity where, once again, their college GPA is slightly below expectations, not above.

In reality, there is no merit-based case for affirmative action in college admissions. Proponents should acknowledge that their chief interest is not merit, but social justice. “Diversity is so important to our schools and to broader society that lowering standards is a worthy price to pay,” they should declare. That would be a reminder that affirmative action – like all hotly-debated issues –involves inherent trade-offs, and it’s up to the public to decide how to weigh them.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Sign the petition for Dr. Noah Carl

Free speech is about more than just the First Amendment's limitation on government power. It's a principle that should underlie all political discourse. When institutions that promote themselves as open platforms banish those with whom they disagree, it has the same kind of chilling effect as government censorship.

Academic freedom is an especially important subset of free speech. If universities place limitations on what academics can study, whole areas of knowledge could be closed off. That's why I signed the petition for Dr. Noah Carl, and it's why you should, too. 

Remember, when a mob demands censorship, it's easy to hope that capitulating "just this one time" will make the problem go away. It won't. It will only lead to more severe demands for censorship in the future. 

Monday, March 4, 2019

Video of event with Michelle Malkin

It went well. The transcript and all videos can be found here. I've embedded my section below. (If you read the transcript or watch the unedited video from Facebook, you'll note a few strange interjections. We were having a problem with the computer screen flickering.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Panel event with Michelle Malkin

On Friday, March 1, at 4:00 pm at the National Press Club, I'll be appearing on a panel with Michelle Malkin. We''ll be discussing high-skill immigration, and the starting point will be my new report discussed in the previous post. Admission is free, and there will be food provided, so please come.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (February 26, 2019) – The Center for Immigration Studies will host a panel discussion and reception Friday, March 1 focusing on the impact of immigration on skilled workers and the value of a foreign vs. domestic diploma. The starting point for conversation will be the recent report by independent policy analyst Jason Richwine which compared the skill levels of foreign-educated immigrants and native-born Americans. 
REPORT: Foreign-Educated Immigrants Are Less Skilled Than U.S. Degree Holders
WHAT: Panel discussion on the value of foreign college degrees and the reality behind "high-skill" immigration 
WHEN: Friday, March 1, 2019 at 4:00 p.m. 
WHERE: National Press Club, Murrow Room, 529 14th St NW, Washington, D.C. 
STREAM: Facebook Live 
Michelle Malkin is a nationally syndicated commentator and co-author of the 2015 book "Sold Out", which explores the effects of current immigration policies on American skilled workers. In the book, which she co-authored with CIS Fellow John Miano, she writes, "There is nothing special about the hundreds of thousands of H-1B visa holders flooding our workforce. Most are sponsored by companies that specialize in outsourcing of U.S. jobs." 
Jason Richwine is an independent public policy analyst based in Washington D.C. and the author of the recent report, "Foreign-Educated Immigrants Are Less Skilled Than U.S. Degree Holders." In it, Richwine demonstrates that supposedly "high-skill" foreign-educated immigrants drastically under-perform native-born Americans with comparable degrees in various standardized exams.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Highly-Educated Immigration ≠ Highly-Skilled Immigration

I have a new report out this week with a self-explanatory title, "Foreign-Educated Immigrants Are Less Skilled Than U.S. Degree Holders." Here's the summary chart:

Graph: Percentile Scores by Test-Takers with College or Advanced Degrees

And here's the conclusion:
Although skilled immigration may be desirable, policy-makers must be cautious in using foreign degrees as proof of those skills. This report has shown that immigrants with foreign degrees perform substantially worse than U.S. degree holders on tests of literacy, numeracy, and computer operations. In some cases, the gaps are so large that immigrants with foreign college degrees have skills that resemble those of natives who have only a high school diploma. Although poor English clearly plays a role in the disparity — and a command of English is essential for success in most high-skill occupations in the United States — the disparity persists even among immigrants who have had at least five years to learn English after arriving. 
In Congress, some proposed immigration reforms acknowledge the greater value of U.S. degrees. For example, the RAISE Act would establish a points system for high-skill immigrants that prioritizes U.S. degrees over foreign degrees. It would also go beyond educational credentials by giving extra points for English fluency, STEM specialties, and pre-arranged employment. Ultimately, policy-makers should consider making skill selection even more direct. Universities, the foreign service, and the military have been using standardized testing for decades to evaluate applicants. For example, people who want to do advanced study in important subjects such as biology, chemistry, and physics need to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) to demonstrate their knowledge and preparation. Perhaps Congress could integrate similar tests into a truly high-skill immigration system.
Please read the whole thing