Americans separating children and parents at the border and within

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We hit the 50-comment limit quickly a few days ago with “How does our government deport children?” Can we infer from this that immigration is the great issue of our time?

This posting is to highlight some content that I added at the end of the original posting and to provide a renewed forum for discussion.

Related from Facebook:

  • From our Native American senator, Elizabeth Warren: “Cardinal O’Malley is right. Tearing children away from their families is cruel and unconscionable — and goes against everything our country stands for.” and “At our town hall in Newburyport yesterday, people wanted to know: how can we stop the horror of the Trump administration ripping children from their parents? #KeepFamiliesTogether” (Warren sued her own husband and successfully separated two children from the person who had been their father; she also advises other women to keep a divorce litigation fund at the ready)
  • “By now you’ve likely seen all the headlines about the children being separated from their parents at the border. It makes me sick, and sad, and I don’t know what to do. I’ll admit to writing this post in anger, but I know I’m not the only one with these emotions. When we hear that 2,000 children are being taken from their parents, what can we do?” from Mayim Bialik, an actress who sued her husband for divorce in 2012, thus separating her own children (age 4 and 7) from their two-parent family.
  • “There is no excuse for inflicting these abuses and trauma on children. The Administration must immediately reverse course. #KeepFamiliesTogether” and “I’m standing in solidarity with the activists and families standing up to our government’s human rights abuses along the southern border. Government should be in the business of keeping families together, not breaking them apart.” from California Senator Kamala Harris. Wikipedia says “The family lived in Berkeley, California, where both of Harris’ parents attended graduate school. Harris’ parents divorced when she was only 7 and her mother was granted custody of the children by court-ordered settlement. After the divorce, her mother moved with the children to Montreal, Québec, Canada…” (i.e., the government of California was in the business of separating what had been Kamala’s own family; see Promise of divorce ruined by children (Australia parental relocation study) for how this kind of complete separation of children from the loser parent is getting tougher)
  • “As a father, as a parent, I can not in good conscience abide this removal of children from their families. It is a cruel and inhumane action.” over “Here’s How You Can Help Fight Family Separation at the Border” (Slate). (Other than posting on Facebook, he is not personally doing anything to help. He lives in New York so if his wife decides that she wants to spend more time having sex with new friends, he will be separated from his own children except for every other weekend.)
  • The above Slate article was also linked-to by a divorce, custody, and child support litigator here in Massachusetts. As we are a winner-take-all state when it comes to family law, she will spend nearly every working day separating children from a loser parent.
  • direct post from Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse: “Catch-and-release – combined with inefficient deportation and other ineffective policies – created a magnet whereby lots of people came to the border who were not actually asylum-seekers. … Human trafficking organizations are not just evil; they’re also often smart. Many quickly learned the “magic words” they needed to say under catch-and-release to guarantee admission into the U.S. Because of this, some of the folks showing up at the border claiming to be families are not actually families. Some are a trafficker with one or more trafficked children. ” (posted by a passionate Hillary supporter with “One of the only actually informative statements I’ve seen on the family separation debacle.”)
  • “13 Facts the Media ‘Pros’ Don’t Want You to Know About ‘Family Border Separation’” (from a Deplorable via private message; he noted “And if you intended to seek refugee status, why break in, why not just go to the border guard and say you want to be a refugee? If you do that, there is no arrest and no child separation. That means that the people who are arrested only lie about being refugee after they are caught.” He added “at least the anti-gun kids are out of the news”)

How about this last comment? Is it correct that families are kept together if they show up at a standard border crossing and say “We are applying for asylum”? (But then we are back to the question of why these folks, if not Mexican, didn’t apply for asylum when they arrived in Mexico?)

Girls are better at reading than boys and just as good at math…

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… except for one subgroup, says “Why Are Rich, White Girls Struggling in Math?” (Atlantic):

In reading in particular, girls have consistently outperformed boys. Some studies have also found that in a typical U.S. school district, girls have all but caught up in math… a new study by a team of researchers led by the Stanford education professor Sean Reardon finds that girls’ dominance in school isn’t the case across demographics. Yes, the study confirms: Overall, in the average U.S. school district, girls and boys are performing about the same in math. But the study finds that in communities in which most families are affluent and white, and in which adult men far outearn women in income, girls continue to lag behind their male peers in math achievement. In some of these districts, boys on average outperformed girls in math by two-fifths of a grade level.

At the other end of the affluence spectrum, a near-opposite phenomenon is playing out: In poor communities of color, namely those where families are predominantly black or Latino, girls on average outperformed boys in math by one-fifth of a grade level, in addition to significantly outperforming them in reading.

(i.e., if a young man of color has difficulty getting an interview at a STEM employer, he can thank the do-gooders at Atlantic for broadcasting that he is statistically likely to be unqualified for the job)

Here’s the most bizarre part of the article:

Fahle cited a study that analyzed the conversations of a sample of families as they observed a science exhibit at a museum. While parents were equally likely to talk to their sons and daughters about the exhibit, they were three times more likely to explain the science to the boys.

How would parents in the world’s least scientifically literate developed nation be able to “explain the science” to anyone? Admittedly the folks who go to a science museum are a selected subgroup, but do readers remember hearing a lot of cogent and correct scientific explanations flowing from parents to children at museums?

Readers: Assuming that the results are not an example of “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False,” what do you think accounts for the data? Could it be “The More Gender Equality, the Fewer Women in STEM” (also Atlantic), which suggests that STEM is a last-resort career for anyone and “rich, white girls” have a lot of options other than nerdism?

 

Make wooden cars to appeal to sanctimonious environmentalists?

8

I’m wondering if sanctimonious environmentalists will eventually figure out that it takes so much energy to make the materials that go into an electric car that they could have saved the planet more effectively by keeping their old car. Alternatively, so many people will buy electric cars that ownership of an electric car will no longer be a sufficient signal of virtue.

What about a wooden car?

There is a wood-framed car on the market today: the Morgan. The 1936 design, however, might not suit every family’s needs.

What if it were possible to make wood as strong as steel? Some researchers at University of Maryland seem to be on track:

The team’s process begins by removing the wood’s lignin, the part of the wood that makes it both rigid and brown in color. Then it is compressed under mild heat, at about 150 F. This causes the cellulose fibers to become very tightly packed. Any defects like holes or knots are crushed together. The treatment process was extended a little further with a coat of paint.

The scientists found that the wood’s fibers are pressed together so tightly that they can form strong hydrogen bonds, like a crowd of people who can’t budge – who are also holding hands. The compression makes the wood five times thinner than its original size.

“The paper provides a highly promising route to the design of light weight high performance structural materials, with tremendous potential for a broad range of applications where high strength, large toughness and superior ballistic resistance are desired, “ said Dr. Huajian Gao, a professor at Brown University, who was not involved in the study. “It is particularly exciting to note that the method is versatile for various species of wood and fairly easy to implement.”

“This kind of wood could be used in cars, airplanes, buildings – any application where steel is used,” Hu said.

“The two-step process reported in this paper achieves exceptionally high strength, much beyond what [is] reported in the literature,” said Dr. Zhigang Suo, a professor of mechanics and materials at Harvard University, also not involved with the study. “Given the abundance of wood, as well as other cellulose-rich plants, this paper inspires imagination.”

“The most outstanding observation, in my view, is the existence of a limiting concentration of lignin, the glue between wood cells, to maximize the mechanical performance of the densified wood. Too little or too much removal lower the strength compared to a maximum value achieved at intermediate or partial lignin removal. This reveals the subtle balance between hydrogen bonding and the adhesion imparted by such polyphenolic compound. Moreover, of outstanding interest, is the fact that that wood densification leads to both, increased strength and toughness, two properties that usually offset each other,” said Orlando J. Rojas, a professor at Aalto University in Finland.

If everyone in your neighborhood already has an electric car, what would be a better way to show off one’s virtue than by parking a wooden electric car in one’s driveway?

 

Tesla: example of crazy bad user interface?

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I was a front-seat passenger the other day in a Tesla X. I wanted to adjust the radio volume. This turns out to be an obscure couple of touch areas at the bottom right of the central touch screen (photo). As with the Honda Clarity whose interface proved intolerable, there is no volume knob, though there are buttons on the steering wheel for the driver.

I know that Tesla true believers may love everything about the car, but I wonder if this design is an example of crazy bad user interface. The volume control, which one might use 10 or 15 times during a trip (e.g., to tone down commercials or hear a question from a child in the back), is actually smaller than the set-and-forget temperature control. It gets roughly equal prominence to the seat heater/cooler control, which one might adjust 1-2 times per trip.

I would question the safety and utility of this whole approach. It is a lot easier to feel a button and requires less diversion of attention from the road than it is to find a portion of a touch screen by sight. Honda and Toyota are able to make a profit selling cars full of physical buttons for about 1/6th the cost of a Tesla. So we can’t say that it is impractical to engineer a $100,000+ vehicle with dedicated buttons for frequently used controls.

Readers: What do you think? A monster touch screen that does everything is obviously great if the designers change their minds years after the car ships, but is it a bad idea compared to what most car companies are doing? (dedicated buttons for commonly used controls; a touch screen to get down into the weeds)

The less a society values fathers, the more maudlin will be the sentiments expressed on Father’s Day?

13

Facebook today is a collection of maudlin postings about fathers.

One links to “Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Boy, did you matter.” (Washington Post):

I could bring up his heroic willingness to waken me, a teenage morning monster, at 6 o’clock every day. Or the fact that he came to all of my high school basketball games even though that wasn’t a common thing for dads to do in that era — and even though neither I nor my team was any good. In the end all of my memories would testify to the same simple fact, the single most important thing that a father can give his child: his presence.

Family breakdown seems to affect child well-being even in Scandinavian countries with lavish welfare states. In the United States, research consistently shows that children without fathers in the home do worse on a variety of measures, including poverty and behavior problems. The effect is so powerful that it spills over to nearby houses; in economist Raj Chetty’s landmark work on how location affects income mobility, one of the strongest predictors of low-mobility areas was the percentage of single-parent households, even for kids who are themselves raised with two parents.

Here’s one from the mother of two college students:

Happy Father’s Day to this fine man and father of our fabulous boys!

(She previously sued this “fine man” for divorce so that she could continue to spend his income while simultaneously having sex with a guy 15 years younger.)

From a college student…

Happy Father’s Day, Dad! I love you!

(Her mom sued said father so that she could have sex with some new friends.)

From the mom/plaintiff:

Happy birthday Dear [Jane]!!! And happy Father’s Day to [husband of “Jane”]. Double celebrations for you guys!!!

From a (white) tenured literature professor who spends 20 hours/week denouncing Trump and the rest of what she refers to as “the white patriarchy” on Facebook:

HAPPY FATHERS DAY TO MY AWESOME DAD

(it is the other 100 million white males who are the problem?)

From a childless academic:

Almost any male can be a father… but a man who is empathetic, caring, (non-malignant narcissist), and puts his children first, is a dad… To all dads, past or present, Happy Father’s Day.

(So there will be a test, administered by childless academics like himself, before a biological father can be celebrated as a “dad” on Father’s Day?)

From a friend of a friend:

Shout out to all the Single Moms on Father’s Day.

(It is not enough to celebrate the heroic acts of single mothers only 364 days per year?)

It seems safe to assume that the Romans, with their pater familias concept, did not have a Father’s Day. Can we infer from our own Father’s Day and the accompanying outpouring of treacly sentiment for 1/365th of the year, that fathers are actually not valued in the U.S.?

More evidence: the one segment of our society where emotions are never faked is among Canine-Americans. For dogs that do have a human “father”, every day is Father’s Day!

Readers: What have you seen this year? Has Facebook turned a Hallmark holiday into something even more maudlin?

How does our government deport children?

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My Facebook feed is alight with hysterical headlines regarding the Federal government’s treatment of undocumented immigrants who are younger than age 18. The worst horror described in the headlines is separation from parents, but also there are some articles about abuses suffered in what are essentially government-run short-term orphanages.

My stupid question for today is How does our government deport any person young enough to credibly claim to be under age 18?

Suppose that a young-looking person shows up in the U.S. and says the following:

  • “I am 14 years old”
  • “I grew up in a small village, but I don’t know what country we were part of.”
  • “My name is Santiago, but I never was told about a last name.”
  • “Adults brought me here against my will.”

How would our government go about deporting such a person? By definition this undocumented immigrant has no documents. It wouldn’t make sense to deport him to a specific country and there would be no reason for any specific country to take him.

Minor children are entitled to food, shelter, health care, and education, right? So Santiago would have to be provided with all of that for $50,000(?) per year in a government-run facility or maybe put into foster care (table of rates by state). He would have to be given education through age 18, perhaps at about $25,000 per year including the capital cost of building a school.

He can’t be imprisoned for the crime of breaking U.S. immigration laws, can he? He says that it was an adult who brought him here.

What actually happens in the above case?

[Separately, what is happening with the separation of children from parents that the headlines are screaming about? One article that I saw was about a father who came here from Central America as an asylum-seeker. He brought one child with him and left the wife and two or three additional kids back home to face whatever violence and oppression qualified him and the apparently favored child for asylum. He and the child (10 years old?) were separated for four days and then reunited to spend a few years in the U.S. waiting for the asylum request to be resolved.

My Facebook feed is on fire regarding this, but nobody mentions that separating children from parents is a common commercial activity in the U.S. We have boarding schools. We have summer camps. We spend hundreds of billions of dollars on a family law system whose primary function is separating children from one parent (see the “Children, Mothers, and Fathers” chapter for statistics on how 2/3rds of children report not having seen the loser parent within the preceding year). Obviously the govenrment-run orphanage is not an elite boarding school or a lakeside summer camp, but of all of the bad things that the Federal government does, why are people obsessed with this one?]

Related from Facebook:

  • From our Native American senator, Elizabeth Warren: “Cardinal O’Malley is right. Tearing children away from their families is cruel and unconscionable — and goes against everything our country stands for.” and “At our town hall in Newburyport yesterday, people wanted to know: how can we stop the horror of the Trump administration ripping children from their parents? #KeepFamiliesTogether” (Warren sued her own husband and successfully separated two children from the person who had been their father; she also advises other women to keep a divorce litigation fund at the ready)
  • “By now you’ve likely seen all the headlines about the children being separated from their parents at the border. It makes me sick, and sad, and I don’t know what to do. I’ll admit to writing this post in anger, but I know I’m not the only one with these emotions. When we hear that 2,000 children are being taken from their parents, what can we do?” from Mayim Bialik, an actress who sued her husband for divorce in 2012, thus separating her own children (age 4 and 7) from their two-parent family.
  • “There is no excuse for inflicting these abuses and trauma on children. The Administration must immediately reverse course. #KeepFamiliesTogether” and “I’m standing in solidarity with the activists and families standing up to our government’s human rights abuses along the southern border. Government should be in the business of keeping families together, not breaking them apart.” from California Senator Kamala Harris. Wikipedia says “The family lived in Berkeley, California, where both of Harris’ parents attended graduate school. Harris’ parents divorced when she was only 7 and her mother was granted custody of the children by court-ordered settlement. After the divorce, her mother moved with the children to Montreal, Québec, Canada…” (i.e., the government of California was in the business of separating what had been Kamala’s own family; see Promise of divorce ruined by children (Australia parental relocation study) for how this kind of complete separation of children from the loser parent is getting tougher)
  • “As a father, as a parent, I can not in good conscience abide this removal of children from their families. It is a cruel and inhumane action.” over “Here’s How You Can Help Fight Family Separation at the Border” (Slate). (Other than posting on Facebook, he is not personally doing anything to help. He lives in New York so if his wife decides that she wants to spend more time having sex with new friends, he will be separated from his own children except for every other weekend.)
  • The above Slate article was also linked-to by a divorce, custody, and child support litigator here in Massachusetts. As we are a winner-take-all state when it comes to family law, she will spend nearly every working day separating children from a loser parent.
  • direct post from Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse: “Catch-and-release – combined with inefficient deportation and other ineffective policies – created a magnet whereby lots of people came to the border who were not actually asylum-seekers. … Human trafficking organizations are not just evil; they’re also often smart. Many quickly learned the “magic words” they needed to say under catch-and-release to guarantee admission into the U.S. Because of this, some of the folks showing up at the border claiming to be families are not actually families. Some are a trafficker with one or more trafficked children. ” (posted by a passionate Hillary supporter with “One of the only actually informative statements I’ve seen on the family separation debacle.”)
  • “13 Facts the Media ‘Pros’ Don’t Want You to Know About ‘Family Border Separation’” (from a Deplorable via private message; he noted “And if you intended to seek refugee status, why break in, why not just go to the border guard and say you want to be a refugee? If you do that, there is no arrest and no child separation. That means that the people who are arrested only lie about being refugee after they are caught.” He added “at least the anti-gun kids are out of the news”)

METCO has turned into a way for middle class taxpayers to subsidize rich taxpayers?

5

Our town in suburban Boston voted down an official recommendation to spend $30 million on a new school back in 2012 (a state agency, the MSBA, was going to pay for another $21 million or so). The official committees are at it again, but this time the MSBA is saying “You guys don’t actually need a new school so we’re not kicking in.” The volunteer experts in our town don’t want to use modular construction, which enabled a high school for 400 students to be built in Hyannis in 9 months for $8.5 million (MSBA presentation). Their idea is to use 1930s techniques at 2025 prices (e.g., $110/hour for labor) and therefore it will cost $100 million to build a school for 440 town-resident children, 84 students who come via bus from Boston (see “Low-effort parenting in Massachusetts via METCO“), and roughly 20 kids who are the children of employees, such as teachers.
Here’s my email to the town discussion list:
I haven’t heard anything about Boston kicking in for the portion of the school that is used by their residents. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/METCO says that the busing program was set up in 1966. At the time the suburbs were rich and the cities were poor. So it would have made sense for Lincoln taxpayers to subsidize the comparatively poor taxpayers of Boston by paying capital costs.
Today the situation is reversed. A high-end parking space in Boston is worth more than a low-end residence in Lincoln (see https://www.forbes.com/sites/ellenparis/2017/11/29/garage-condominium-sales-remain-strong-on-bostons-beacon-hill/#302ad30f1532 ). That’s a big switch compared to 1966 when METCO was established (the Forbes article says that parking spaces that sold for $7,500 in 1979 were up to $400,000 by 2017).
https://boston.curbed.com/maps/boston-most-expensive-homes-for-sale-winter-2018 shows condos and townhouses in Boston from $6.3 million (2,517 square feet) to $16 million (5,703 square feet). So Boston has a lot more rich people than Lincoln and the rich taxpayers of Boston are much richer than anyone in Lincoln. But maybe the METCO funding concept hasn’t kept up with this change since 1966? Or middle-class people in Lincoln enjoy paying higher taxes so that people who own $16 million condos can pay lower taxes?
[How do the $16 million condo owners run their own schools’ physical plant? Boston Latin School, the #1 high school in the state (see US News), operates within a structure built in 1922. It was renovated in 2001 and, apparently, a lot of the funds were raised through private donations.]
A heretic responded that
METCO students come from families with higher income levels than the Boston
population at large
My follow-up:

I wonder if the income of METCO families is relevant, though. If Lincoln taxpayers did not subsidize each student’s education with roughly $18,000 per year (the difference between our per-pupil spending and what METCO reimburses), it wouldn’t be the METCO family that paid tuition elsewhere. It would be the Boston taxpayers who would pay for the student to be educated within Boston, including any costs for school renovation or construction.

Since it is the richest people who pay the most in property tax, wouldn’t it make sense to look at Lincoln’s spending on METCO as a subsidy to Boston’s richest residents? Essentially each METCO student that we pay to educate enables a wealthy Bostonian to enjoy a vacation with first class tickets to Paris and a stay at the Hôtel de Crillon. [Boston has a substantially lower property tax rate, both per resident and per dollar of property value, than Lincoln.]

Is this a good example of a general rule that every do-gooding program in the U.S. that is designed for rich people to subsidize poor people ends up becoming middle class people subsidizing rich people? The biggest property tax payors in Boston are the owners of downtown skyscrapers. Those folks could be billionaires in China or Manhattan, right? Why is there popular support for paying more in tax so that these billionaires can pay less?

Related:

Trump-haters in Massachusetts support immigration…

3

… to Florida and Texas. “How Much Can Democrats Count on Suburban Liberals?” (nytimes) reports on an interesting study done in the wealthy and virtuous suburbs of Boston.

(Why is “Trump” relevant to this story? The NYT URL starts with “trump-racism”. The study was actually done in 2012 and published in 2014, but anti-immigrant sentiment apparently wasn’t newsworthy at the time.)

Putting two Mexicans speaking Spanish on a commuter train was sufficient to get virtuous supporters of Obama and Hillary to advocate for a reduction in immigration.

(I’ve done my own anecdotal experiments in this area. Whenever I have child passengers in the minivan and know that we’re heading into a traffic jam I ask for their feelings on immigration and policies, such as paid parental leave and tax subsidies, to encourage population growth. The kids always start out virtuous and welcoming to documented and undocumented immigrants. After 45 minutes of being parked on an Interstate highway, the same children will generally be turned into Zero Population Growth zealots and express hostility to sharing their infrastructure with tens of millions of new arrivals.)

 

Great day for hotels in Boston: AirBnB effectively shut down

2

“Boston City Council approves rules limiting short-term rentals like Airbnb” (WCVB) describes a new regulatory regime that adds jobs for bureaucrats (to register AirBnB hosts and monitor them) and, mostly, shuts down competition for hotels. It seems that stays of more than 10 days are exempt so in some ways it is less restrictive than in the adjacent paradise for hotel owners of Cambridge, where rentals for less than 30 days are more or less shut down.

Losing the Nobel Prize: on careers in science

19

Losing the Nobel Prize by Brian Keating, a cosmology professor at UCSD, contains a tell-it-like-it-is description of the life of a scientist (see the previous posting regarding this book). Examples:

Battle is an apt metaphor for what we scientists do. There is a fierce competition that begins the day you declare yourself a physics major. First, among your fellow undergraduates, you spar for top ranking in your class. This leads to the next battle: becoming a graduate student at a top school. Then, you toil for six to eight years to earn a postdoc job at another top school. And finally, you hope, comes a coveted faculty job, which can become permanent if you are privileged enough to get tenure. Along the way, the number of peers in your group diminishes by a factor of ten at each stage, from hundreds of undergraduates to just one faculty job becoming available every few years in your field. Then the competition really begins, for you compete against fellow gladiators honed in battle just as you are. You compete for the scarcest resource in science: money. Surprisingly, not by brains alone does science progress; funding is its true lifeblood. Cosmology’s primary funding agency is the National Science Foundation. But the NSF proposal success rate is currently only about 20%, across all fields of physics and math: the lowest it has been in over a decade.

If you pick science as a career at age 18, how long before you can know whether or not you’ll be successful?

A recent article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences written by Ronald Daniels, the president of Johns Hopkins University, found that the average age of a first-time recipient of a nationally funded grant has increased from under thirty-eight in 1980 to over forty-five as of 2013.20 More disturbingly, the fraction of first-time recipients aged thirty-six or younger has plummeted from 18% in 1983 to 3% in 2010. The awful conclusion of the study is this: “Without their own funding, young researchers are prevented from starting their own laboratories, pursuing their own research, and advancing their own careers in academic science.” With the success rate so low, the study continues, “it is not surprising that many of our youngest minds are choosing to leave their positions in academic research for careers in industry, other countries, or outside of science altogether.”

So you just have to give it at least 27 years! (from 18-45, assuming that the trend hasn’t continued since 2013) Make sure that your ideas aren’t too novel. Professor Keating cites a study that “once projects go beyond a modest level of novelty, the probability they’ll be funded decreases as their perceived novelty increases.”

The Nobel Prize makes a competitive situation more ruthless:

Yet Mother Nature herself, so red in tooth and claw, couldn’t have devised a more efficient means of incentivizing bitter competition than the Nobel Prize. Indeed, the competition in science is at least as ferocious as in any corporate boardroom; there are many billion-dollar corporations, but the Nobel Prize is science’s most closely held monopoly. Most nonscientists think science is conducted by altruistic boffins, happy to find gainful employment doing work that they uniquely are capable of. Yet competition and science go hand in hand, and have done so since the invention of the scientific method itself.

But there is an important distinction between artistic innovation and scientific discovery. As historian of science Derek de Solla Price opined, “If Michelangelo or Beethoven had not existed, their works would have been replaced by quite different contributions. If Copernicus or Fermi had never existed, essentially the same contributions would have had to come from other people. There is, in fact, only one world to discover, and as each morsel of perception is achieved, the discoverer must be honored or forgotten.” Honor comes to those who do not wait.

In keeping with the zeitgest, the book contains a section titled “Women and the Nobel Prize in Physics”. According to the book, only 2 out of 207 laureates in physics have been “women.” Does this analysis make sense given what we now know about the fluidity of gender ID?  How do we know that Marie Curie actually identified as a woman? Could it be that Werner Heisenberg identified as a woman, but was afraid that his Nazi Party colleagues would have been hostile to a gender reassignment?

Suppose that we were willing to make cisgender-normative assumptions and deny the fluidity of gender.

Currently, women make up an unfortunately small fraction, approximately 20%, of the physics faculties at major U.S. research institutions. But that fraction dwarfs the percentage of female physics laureates by a factor of twenty. All other fields—including economics, the newest comer on the Nobel circuit, with one female laureate compared to seventy-five male winners—have a higher percentage of female laureates. Physicists are now asking themselves how the lack of gender diversity is affecting the career choices of young women. And even Nobel Prize winners like Brian Schmidt are speaking up against the prize’s lack of gender diversity.

The lack of diversity in prizewinners gives the message to a young woman deciding on her choice of profession that in physics women are not equally valued. A vicious cycle results in which women fail to enter the field, denying younger women role models; it is the anti-Matthew effect. Women disproportionately miss out on the Nobelist’s noblesse-oblige phenomenon where “Scientists who as young men worked with a laureate received the award at an average age of forty-four, nine years earlier than men who had not.”

Professor Keating proposes awarding the prize to dead women and also patching up some previous prizes retroactively:

future committees can correct past instances of the “Matilda effect,” Margaret Rossiter’s term for the phenomenon wherein men get credit for discoveries that were made by women. The history of the Nobel Prize is replete with examples of this, from Rosalind Franklin’s lost credit for co-discovering DNA to Lise Meitner’s snubbing after she discovered the foundations of nuclear fission.

Awarding Vera Rubin the first posthumous prize would be immensely inspiring to young physicists, and specifically to women. But even if the committee is unwilling to restore posthumous eligibility, it should ensure justice for 1974 Nobel Prize Matilda effect victim Jocelyn Bell Burnell; the prize was awarded to her thesis advisor for the serendipitous discovery of pulsars which she made. Thankfully, Bell Burnell is still very much alive.

Assuming that women behave rationally, most of the book is consistent with “The More Gender Equality, the Fewer Women in STEM” (Atlantic). In a society where nearly every job is available to women, why would a woman take a 27-year chance on becoming successful as a physicist, with the risk that, if unsuccessful, she would be out on the street at age 45, her fertility exhausted? (see my “Women in Science” article on why the more interesting question is “Why are there men in science?”)

The author himself suffers a setback that would be almost inconceivable for a physician, for example (since doctors are scarce in the U.S. whereas there is a huge glut of physics PhDs compared to tenure-track jobs):

Then, one day, a mere six months after I defended my PhD, as I was lost in thought again, Sarah Church walked into the lab and told me she was unhappy with my performance, my attitude, and my work ethic. For the first time in my life, I was fired—my career ended before it even started. I couldn’t help but think this was yet another ironic parallel with my hero, Galileo: both of us had been on the wrong side of the Church. I couldn’t argue with Sarah. I had it coming. The months I’d spent fantasizing about new telescopes were months I should have been working on her projects.

He recovers from this, of course, and his ability and drive were eventually sufficient to earn tenure at the University of California. So the author himself could arguably inspire young people in the same way that Shah Rukh Khan or Michael Jordan might inspire young people to go into acting or professional sports. However, the survivorship bias here should be obvious. The physics postdocs who were fired and went into selling mortgages or teaching high school (starting at age 40 a career that others start at 22) do not write books.

My take-away from the careers aspect of the book is that if you (1) love competition, (2) have a huge appetite for risk, (3) don’t mind working long hours for a minimum of 27 years until getting that first grant, and (4) are mostly indifferent to money, pursuing a physics PhD and an academic job might be a reasonable plan. You’ll get to work with a lot of smart people, for sure, but, as the book notes, quite of few of them may be planning to stab you in the back when it comes time to assign credit for a Nobel-worthy discovery. It is not like most other fields of human endeavor where there is room for everyone to excel in his or her own way.

More: read Losing the Nobel Prize.

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