Saturday, May 5, 2018

Aaronson discusses whether education is worthless

A new book by radical libertarian economist Bryan Caplan says that public education is a big waste of money, and complexity theorist Scott Aaronson reviews it:
When the US Congress was debating whether to cancel the Superconducting Supercollider, a few condensed-matter physicists famously testified against the project. They thought that $10-$20 billion for a single experiment was excessive, and that they could provide way more societal value with that kind of money were it reallocated to them. We all know what happened: the SSC was cancelled, and of the money that was freed up, 0% — absolutely none of it — went to any of the other research favored by the SSC’s opponents.

If Caplan were to get his way, I fear that the story would be similar. Caplan talks about all the other priorities — from feeding the world’s poor to curing diseases to fixing crumbling infrastructure — that could be funded using the trillions currently wasted on runaway credential signaling. But in any future I can plausibly imagine where the government actually axes education, the savings go to things like enriching the leaders’ cronies and launching vanity wars.

My preferences for American politics have two tiers. In the first tier, I simply want the Democrats to vanquish the Republicans, in every office from president down to dogcatcher, in order to prevent further spiraling into nihilistic quasi-fascism, and to restore the baseline non-horribleness that we know is possible for rich liberal democracies.
No, cost overruns killed the SSC. It was designed and budgeted for a 4cm tube, and they later decided that they needed 5cm, requiring billions of dollars more in superconducting magnets.

The SSC was oversold, but I doubt that Congress realized that. It was supposed to find lots of new physics. The Europeans then went and built the LHC, but all it did was to confirm the Standard Model and measure the Higgs mass.

I am mainly just trying to understand Aaronson's thinking here. He is obviously a typical Jewish leftist intellectual authoritarian here, as he pushes for one-party rule with ample funding for his favorite academic projects.

Does this explain his strange silence about quantum computing? He has been refusing to comment to the press. He has spent much of his life researching the potential for quantum computing, so you'd think that he would be excited by all the current research. Maybe he knows that it is an overhyped dud, but doesn't want to say so because he doesn't want the research money to be diverted into areas of less intellectual interest to him.


  1. It takes a 'special' kind of hypocrite to talk about vanquishing every single person who you disagree with from public office while blathering about 'further spiraling into nihilistic quasi-facism...etc.'

    Wow. Ok. The irony is strong with this one. Apparently the educated classes learn lots of big words they don't actually know the meaning of, and then decide to use them in statements where they utterly destroy their own position.

    It's impossible to engage in a conversation with someone who is losing their own argument and thinks they are clever.

  2. I e-mailed Bryan Caplan to point out that he could have made his case stronger with twin studies but he apparently didn't understand their scope in comparing schools and teachers. I also showed him a meta-study of memory, which completely debunked any meaningful impact of education. I also sent this to Raj Chetty. I can't see how Aaronson could be in favor of waste in the trillions. Just look at the proof.