2014-04-04

Friday Rapid Fire

It's more than just links - it's rapid fire!

1) School Is Boring
Bryan Caplan writes on boredom in American public schools as though it were a serious problem. David Friedman agrees, and says it's one of the main reasons he chose to home school his children. You can say it's silly, but the fact that Caplan and Friedman believe school boredom to be a major problem nudges me toward agreement. Like most people, my initial reaction is, "Yeah, so what? It's school. It's work. It's not supposed to be fun." But there is a difference between not fun and boring. Learning might not always be fun, but when should it ever be boring? Yes, it is a problem. Yes, changes should be made.

2) Should People With Controversial Opinions Be CEOs?
Tyler Cowen offers his thoughts. They consist of three main points:

  1. Producers of free products have to be more publicly palatable than producers of products that are purchased. The idea is that the company image is where the competition is happening, since it's not happening on price.
  2. "[A]mbitious young people just got more boring."
  3. People are trending toward "outbursts" that can be "recanted" later, as compared to a consistent, long-run pattern of beliefs or behavior.
Of Cowen's three points, the first seems pretty obvious and uncontroversial, but I think he has the mechanism running in the wrong direction. Mozilla doesn't fire controversial CEOs because they are bad for business, they fire them because signalling tolerance is good for businesses. His second point is, as far as I can see, groundless. Cowen doesn't really establish who he's talking about. Brendan Eich is in his 50s, so he's clearly not an "ambitious young person." His third point is true, but old news. This has been the trend in politics for the majority of my lifetime. It's the same as saying, "I take full responsibility" and then moving on as if nothing happened.

My view: The Chief Executive Officer is fast becoming the public persona of a corporation. It stands to reason that, so long as they remain CEOs, they will have to watch what they do. Eich could have easily passed his money through a 3rd party that could have made the controversial donations, but he did not. It is not unacceptable that people would object and hold him accountable for it.

3) Male Circumcision
Yesterday's post at The Reference Frame got me curious about male circumcision. Motl calls it a "cruel ancient ritual," which is consistent with the views of anti-circumcision activists. But the post was heavy on the opinions and light on the science, so I did a little digging of my own.

First let me tell you what I expected to find: I expected to find that the evidence definitely stacks up in favor of either circumcision or non-circumcision. I expected the matter to have been studied in-depth and the answer to be relatively clear cut.

What I actually found was a lot of idiocy on both sides of the issue, and relatively weak science. That is, the benefits of male circumcision are greatly overstated. While there is an unequivocal reduction in the risk of certain complications when a boy is circumcised, those complications aren't particularly common, and can often be eliminated by simple non-surgical self-care (like wearing condoms and keeping yourself clean).

This knowledge puts quite a different spin on the issue. Foreskin removal is non-invasive and does not reduce a person's quality of life in any appreciable way; even so, it's benefits are minimal. Despite all the chest-pounding on both sides of the issue, it really does appear to be mostly a choice, a preference. Calling it cruel and barbaric on the one hand, or akin to vaccination on the other is terribly misguided. It's a simple elective surgery. Choose what you prefer for your child, or perhaps leave it up to him to decide later on.