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Early Intervention: You *Might* Get What You Pay For

I find myself caught between the genetics community – which takes it as a given that childhood experiences and education have a very limited role in shaping life outcomes – and the psychiatric community, which takes it as a given that childhood experiences and education are crucial in shaping life outcomes. Both sides have their favorite studies to cite supporting their positions. I’ve already talked about the genetics studies, so I thought I’d bring up a recent particularly good study from the other side.

Dodge et al’s Impact Of Early Intervention On Psychopathology, Crime, And Well-Being At Age 25 is published in last month’s American Journal Of Psychiatry. Gratifyingly, it is a randomized controlled trial. Ten thousand kindergarteners in disadvantaged areas were screened for “conduct problems” until they found about 900 who looked like they were at high risk. 445 were randomly selected for the intervention. Another 446 stayed in the control group. The intervention was a bunch of extra classes and ‘enrichment programs’ from elementary school (age 5) all the way through high school (age 16). The study mentions “social skills friendship groups”, “guided parent child interaction sessions”, “tutoring in reading”, “parent-youth groups on topics of adolescent development, alcohol, tobacco, and drugs”, “youth forums on vocational opportunities”, and “Oysterman’s School-To-Job possible selves intervention aimed at examining emerging identity”.

All of these sound so pretentious that I would have loved to be able to report that they had no effect, but in fact the opposite was true. When they caught up with these kids at age 25, the intervention group was found to have an odds ratio of around 0.6 to 0.7 of having developed various psychiatric disorders the study was testing for, including antisocial personality disorder, ADHD, depression, or anxiety. They had odds ratios around 0.7 of developing drug and alcohol abuse problems by various measures. They reported less risky sexual behavior, less domestic abuse, and fewer violent crimes. All of this was significant at the p < 0.05 level, and some of it was significant at much higher levels like p = 0.001 or below. Subgroup analysis found the data were very similar when you restricted the analysis to various subgroups like boys, girls, whites, blacks, highest-risk, lowest-risk, and by study site (it was a multi-site study). As best I can tell there were not an equal number of anaylses they did that came up negative that they covered up.

The apparent conclusion is that intensive interventions can change children’s outcomes and personalities in important ways ten years down the road, even regarding things believed to be highly genetic like antisocial personality disorder.

A few weak attempts to rebut this. First, there were some things that study didn’t do that one might have expected it to. It didn’t change graduation rates or employment rates. The apparent decrease in domestic violence was mediated entirely by the intervention group being less likely to have relationships (!) – the rate of domestic violence among people in relationships was the same. There was no effect on health. There was no effect on self-reported satisfaction with their parents’ parenting. There were (nonsignificantly) higher death rates and incarceration rates in the intervention group than the control group.

So if I wanted to be maximally mean to the study, I could say that whatever it’s doing to violent crime and drug use has to be compatible with a (nonsignificantly) raised incarceration rate, and whatever it’s doing to drug use and risky sexual behavior and criminality has to be compatible with a (nonsignificantly) raised death rate. This suggests the possibility of an attack based on their endpoints being screwy, though I’m not sure what form such an attack could take. One could argue that since many of their outcomes were based on self-report surveys maybe the kids who had been through all of the enrichment programs had grown to like the study people and had a stronger demand effect to say that they were doing great. But a lot of the survey data was backed up by court records confirming fewer drug and violence convictions. So that doesn’t really work.

If you’re less interested in the pure science of individual differences and more interested in policy, one fact that I forgot to mention was that this program cost $60,000 per kid. The paper points out that this is the same cost as a year or two of incarceration, so if it really changes children’s life outcomes and makes tham less antisocial even that hefty price tag might be justified (although again, remember that it didn’t affect employment or incarceration when checked directly).

If you’re looking for an optimistic spin on that number, they freely admit they have no idea which part of their gigantic ten year intervention program produced the positive effects. It could be that all the youth forums and enrichment programs and friendship groups and so on had zero effect, and the entire benefit came from the “Oysterman’s School-To-Job possible selves intervention aimed at examining emerging identity”. And maybe that’s a piece of paper that can be copied on a copy machine for ten cents a sheet. All this suggests is that at least some part of the ten-year, $60,000 intervention did something.

If you’re looking for a pessimistic spin on that number, consider. Every so often I see things that claim to have completely shifted children from the most high-risk of high-risk groups to upstanding successful members of society by giving them a year or preschool, or a couple of after-school lessons, or something like that. And these studies always boast that they did it with only $1000 or $5000 or some number like that, so it’s nice and cost effective. So far, the studies I have seen like this have been wrong. And so far I have not been surprised, because we already spend between $100,000 to $200,000 per child on education and various social programs. If someone ever found a social program that really worked for $1,000, the first thing we would want to do is tar and feather everyone currently in our bureaucracy of social programs, for being so incompetent that changing their $200,000 in spending to $201,000 in spending (with the extra $1000 going to someone besides them) could completely revolutionize life outcomes.

This study seems more in line with everything else. By going from $200,000 to $260,000, we can slightly push a few things in a positive direction a little bit more, maybe. From a scientific view, it’s pretty interesting. From a policy view, it’s nothing to write home about.

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289 Responses to Early Intervention: You *Might* Get What You Pay For

  1. ” When they caught up with these kids at age 25, the intervention group was found to have an odds ratio of around 0.6 to 0.7 of having developed various psychiatric disorders the study was testing for, including antisocial personality disorder, ADHD, depression, or anxiety. They had odds ratios around 0.7 of developing drug and alcohol abuse problems by various measures. They reported less risky sexual behavior, less domestic abuse, and fewer violent crimes. All of this was significant at the p < 0.05 level, and some of it was significant at much higher levels like p = 0.001 or below."

    Is it plausible that, in addition to whatever good was done for the people on the intervention track, rather more than 60K was saved because of less damage to other people?

    • Mary says:

      Ah, but what about the money lost because that 60K was not spent on something else, which would have averted even more damage?

  2. WT says:

    Where are you getting the $200k figure from? Not that it’s wrong, just want to know.

    • RCF says:

      Well, the government pays for 13 years of school. A year of schooling is $10k to $20k, so that’s up to $260k right there. And that’s not including pre-school, or subsidized health care, or university, etc.

  3. lmm says:

    Does the relationship difference mask off the difference in overall violence convictions, or is there a significant difference in (nondomestic) violence even if you control for that?

    > a lot of the survey data was backed up by court records confirming fewer drug and violence convictions.

    So the court records confirm fewer convictions, but higher incarceration rates? How does that work? Is that kind of confusing difference normal for this kind of study?

    My best-guess cynical hypothesis is that the kids in the experimental group spent a lot more time interacting with “the system” and so became better at that (and maybe didn’t have as much time for relationships?). So they’re less likely to be diagnosed with psychiatric conditions, not because they’re less likely to have psychiatric issues but because they’re better at spotting what the psychologist is looking for and conforming to what they’re supposed to say/do in that setting. They’re less likely to be convicted for minor drug use/violence not because they’re less likely to actually break the law but because they’re more able to spot what judge/lawyers are after, behave the way they’re supposed to and so on. For minor offences that stuff can make the difference, whereas incarceration-level crimes are serious enough that how you behave in court isn’t going to change your sentencing.

    • suntzuanime says:

      That’s perhaps not fully cynical, since interacting with the system is an important life skill and the system works better when people are skilled at interacting with it. You could argue that we should be doing a better job of teaching people to interact with the system.

      A cynical rebuttal to your hypothesis is, we already give people a decade of mandatory schooling to teach them how to interact with the system, they shouldn’t really need extra youth forums on vocational opportunities to learn it.

      • lmm says:

        In school you see the same teachers repeatedly over a year or more, so I’d think it’s a very different interaction.

    • William O. B'Livion says:

      So the court records confirm fewer convictions, but higher incarceration rates? How does that work? Is that kind of confusing difference normal for this kind of study?

      The incarceration rate was “non-significantly” higher on fewer convictions.

      One can be convicted but not given jail or prison time (probation, diversion to a treatment program etc.). Also “non-significantly” can indicate that (to pull numbers out of thin air) that the intervention group had an incarceration rate of 23.60 while the non-intervention group had an incarceration rate of 24. .4 is not “significant” and might fall into the “random chance” bucket.

      • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

        That’s a good point. Without actually reading the study it is hard to tell if the incarceration rate is the rate among all participants or the rate among convicted participants.

        From the context Scott used it in I infered the former. Anyone care to enlighten?

    • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

      > So the court records confirm fewer convictions, but higher incarceration rates? How does that work? Is that kind of confusing difference normal for this kind of study?

      Drug and violence convictions =/= all reasons to be incarcerated.

      In a lot of places, unpaid child support is a great “you can actually go to jail for that??” example that I suspect most people don’t even consider to be criminal behavior. But in general “non-violent property crime” is the piece that is missing.

      I read it as that the intervention has no impact on the crime rate. We care less about property crime (politically) so it rarely gets mentioned in studies like this. I suspect that what is happening is that the drug crime (and the really strongly correlated violent crime) are basically only incidental or in addition to the property crime that is being committed anyway.

      In addition: If you are committing crimes your life probably sucks so your more likely to be doing drugs (and have illegal guns because getting the drugs is damn dangerous). When you get busted for a crime then drug/violent crimes are added to the rap sheet in addition to what you were doing anyway.

      Incidental: If you’re strealing stuff you want to take the most valuable stuff at hand. If it happens to be the drugs/guns then the crime is classified as a drug/violent crime. If it happens to be the plasma TV then it isn’t. What is getting stolen is only incidental to your intention of stealing stuff.

      But in particular! You are (almost certainly) going to steal from people you know. If you are part of a study trying to improve your life outcomes by introducing you to a bunch of people whose lives don’t suck as much as yours (and consequently are less likely to be doing drugs), you are less likely to be stealing from people that do drugs from pure probability. You are probably going to bias your target choice towards those non drug using people because they have more stuff to steal (and getting how much their life doesn’t sick flaunted at you probably pissed you off). Since you are less likely to be stealing drugs/guns as a consequence of the intervention, but you are still committing the theft, you now have statistically significant lower drug and violent crime conviction rate but are just as likely to end up incarcerated.

      Maybe the police cared ever so slightly more about the property crime happening to people whose lives don’t suck so they were ever so slightly more likely to catch you leading to a not statistically significant higher incarceration rate. Or maybe when the police did their investigation and ask your victim who could have done it, they say “well…. There is this one person we are supposed to be nice to as part of a study, buuuut… Their life sucks and it was probably them.” Either way works.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        No, the conviction rate for property crimes was unchanged.

      • Agronomous says:

        In a lot of places, unpaid child support is a great “you can actually go to jail for that??” example that I suspect most people don’t even consider to be criminal behavior.

        Yeah, not to sound like an MRA, but:

        Debtors’ prison is an unjust absurdity, so we’ve abolished it—except when the debt is to your ex-wife.

        • Winfried says:

          Technically, it’s owed to the child and not the parent and I think the charge that actually gets people jailed is closer to contempt of court than failure to pay.

          That being said, it’s ridiculous that since family court is a civil matter you do not have the right to an attorney (so if you can’t afford one you aren’t issued a public defender) and the power vested in it is enormous. I would highly recommend doing whatever it takes to hire your own lawyer for any family court proceeding. It’s worth it to have a good one.

          • FJ says:

            This is correct. Willful failure to comply with a court order is usually contemptuous and you can be jailed for it. This is true even if the court order was “pay child support” or “pay your credit card debt.”

            The operative term is “willful,” though, so being broke is not contempt of court. But “broke” has to mean genuinely broke — not “it would be very inconvenient to pay child support.” You generally aren’t constitutionally entitled to appointed counsel (in Turner v. Rogers, SCOTUS unanimously held that appointed counsel would make child support proceedings less fair) but the family court is required to offer certain safeguards to ensure that you don’t get totally screwed. In re: those safeguards: YMMV.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            FJ, you may be technically correct, but in reality, the law is different for child support and credit card debt.

      • Mary says:

        “If you are committing crimes your life probably sucks so your more likely to be doing drugs”

        Theodore Dalrymple observed that a large percentage of his criminal, drug-using patients began the drug use after they had already been to jail — which, in England, means being set on a life of crime, or even while in jail.

        • Harald K says:

          This is also true of injecting heroin users in Oslo. According to one survey, the majority of them had criminal records two years before or more before starting using heroin. Drug abuse may aggravate social problems, but it’s more of a feedback than a forcing.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            Heroin is not the only drug abuse. There’s also a pattern:

            Cheap gateway drugs lead to pilfering thus criminal record.
            Pilfering leads to prison.
            Prison leads to heroin.

            Even without the prison, it can take a couple of years to graduate from cheap drugs to heroin.

    • Deiseach says:

      My current job is working for the social housing department of local government in a south-eastern Irish county (“counties” are the equivalent of “states”, not American “counties”).

      My job before that was working for local government education body, in particular a school designated as disadvantaged under the criteria of this scheme.

      Of the four schools in the town, ours comes in last both academically and every other way. The top school turns out alumni with records like this (ironically, a former neighbour of mine, and my siblings and I went to school with him and his siblings up to a certain level):

      [redacted] is an Irish Fine Gael politician. He is a Teachta Dála (TD) for the [redacted] constituency since 2002. [He] studied at [redacted American university] on a golfing scholarship where he received a Bachelor of Arts in History and Communications. In 1990, [he] was employed as a legislative assistant in the United States Senate, handling trade and foreign affairs for Senator [redacted] …The following year he became manager of public affairs for a multinational waste company. [He] was also legislative assistant in the United States House of Representatives, handling trade, foreign affairs, energy, environment, banking, economic development, immigration and human rights for Representative [redacted]. He returned to the Ireland in [redacted] and studied at University [redacted], qualifying with a degree in law.

      The school where I worked, on the other hand, has students who either drop out early and may go on to this scheme, again someplace I worked, or they graduate to the court pages of the local newspapers such as:

      A teenager accused of alleged assault was sent forward for trial last week. The 16 year old County [redacted] youth, who cannot be named as he is underage, is accused of alleged assault causing harm at a location in the county on 11th July last year. He is also accused of alleged production of an article in the course of a dispute*. At last week’s juvenile sitting of [redacted] District Court, Inspector [redacted] confirmed that the Book of Evidence has been served on the accused and the Department of Public Prosecution consents to have the accused sent forward for trial.

      (*For those of you unfamiliar with newspaper circumlocutions to avoid prejudicing trials, this means he pulled a knife or similar sharpened item during a row and threatened the other person with it).

      Because I worked in the school/dropout centre and now in social housing, I’m seeing and dealing with these families. Indeed, a lot of the names are very familiar: they go on to leave school early, have kids of their own out of wedlock, turn up unemployed and possibly suffering mental health difficulties and/or addiction, needing social housing while their home lives are chaotic and the kids are taken into care, fostered out, go home, taken back into care, and the cycle goes on where you can see that in five, eight or ten years their kids will be turning up the exact same way.

      So my uninformed opinion is bugger genetics, early intervention IS vital if you’re going to make any dent in that circle. BUT:

      (1) It needs to be EARLY – ideally, as soon as the kid is in playschool, if not before (and here we insert the “Social workers? Don’t make me laugh!” mantra)
      (2) It needs to be LONG-LASTING – no point in six months/one year
      (3) It needs to involve the family, such as it may be – that’s why the school runs parenting courses, and believe me, you can pour resources into a kid at school but if they’re going home to uninvolved, neglectful or overwhelmed parenting/caregiving and unsettled, chaotic, ‘home life’, it’s not going to do much good
      (4) It WILL cost a bomb.
      (5) It WON’T turn out “and then little Johnny and little Mary went on to win a scholarship to a top university and now they have a Very Important Job with one of the multinationals the government is enticing in with the tax breaks”. But it very well may mean little Johnny or little Mary doesn’t die aged 14 from a solvent-abuse session and their siblings go on to be self-harming, drop out of school, and end up as regulars in the court pages on drugs/assault charges thereafter (names changed from real-life incident during my time at the school).

      That last point – the ongoing expense without big, obvious success stories, is why I distrust the “genetics are immutable and that’s what decides who’ll be a success or failure”, because it’s too tempting for governments everywhere to wash their hands of what is going to be a long-term drain on resources by going “Well, studies show intervention does feck-all, so save the taxpayers’ money by not wasting it on these initiatives, because these kids are doomed to be criminals, and we’ll build a few extra jails instead”.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        I might be misunderstanding you, but are you using the success of one school over another as evidence that early intervention works?

        In America whenever we get a situation like that it’s because the two schools draw their student body from very different populations.

        • Deiseach says:

          I was using the example of the representative students of both schools which are drawn from the pool of the local population. It’s self-reinforcing in a way since the more academically successful school gets the better students, while our reputation is “where you go when the other schools won’t take you” 🙂

          Our students are the ones who will often end up in court, and since the school is officially classified as ‘deprived’, we do get these kinds of intervention projects and supports.

          And they do make a difference. The one I’m raving about most is getting a proper library with a properly qualified librarian, because it sounds very small but it made and continues to make a huge difference when engaging with students with poor literacy skills or learning difficulties.

          It’s never likely to have a large proportion of the students go on to university (education is more vocationally oriented and successful school leavers go on to apprenticeships) but as I said, the difference can be between “living to be 18” and not.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            The one I’m raving about most is getting a proper library with a properly qualified librarian, because it sounds very small but it made and continues to make a huge difference when engaging with students with poor literacy skills or learning difficulties.

            Very good I’m sure. But what came to my mind was the sort of family/neighborhood situation where young kids would not be allowed by their family or peers to peacefully hang out in a library long or often. For some, keep at home laptops set up with easy access to remedial materials, might be helpful also.

            Also, some kids might be put off by in-person interaction with a librarian — shyness, feeling pressured, class or racial divide, discomfort with an authority figure who has limited time.

      • RCF says:

        “He is a Teachta Dála (TD) for the [redacted] constituency since 2002.”

        Simple present for an ongoing duration with a past starting point given? Rather odd English. BTW, Google gets to JD’s wikipedia page from that description quite easily, even with the redactions.

        • Agronomous says:

          I was just going to mention the ineffectiveness of the redactions. If you really want to keep something obscure, you’re going to have to paraphrase, and probably make some stuff up.

          Of course, then people will ding you for making it up: my high-school friend [redacted] writes non-fiction books (that you’ve seen the movies of) and tries to disguise identities; he gets a lot of that kind of nitpicking.

          On another note:

          He is also accused of alleged production of an article in the course of a dispute.

          I briefly feared for freedom of the press in Ireland before I read your footnote.

        • Deiseach says:

          Yeah, it was only afterwards it dawned on muggins here that the person in question was identifiable very easily 🙂

          Well, at least I made a nod in the direction of not directly naming names. And yes, the English prose is very poor – it should be “He has been a TD since 2002 for the constituency” or “He is currently a TD for the constituency”.

      • Tom Scharf says:

        Of course early intervention “works”.

        We can call the entire education process “intervention” and easily show that those who did not get any education had much poorer outcomes.

        We can also show that if we spent $1M on each child and had a reasonable use of this money that outcomes would improve from where they are today.

        So where is the point of diminishing returns and where do we draw the line? That is the really interesting question and it’s pretty hard to measure. I find this entire conversation of “if we only spent more money outcomes would improve” very tiring. If you can’t improve outcomes with more effort than that is incompetent.

        If we spent $1M per child, then surely $2M per child would be even better.

        Society will accept a reasonable number of poor outcomes, even if spending more might have improved the margins. So the real battle is to show that some interventions are more cost effective than others.

        The problem with this is that there is so much bad science out there from agenda driven activists that it is nearly impossible to tell what is actually more cost effective. I would suggest that 90% of the time that if an independent test attempted to reproduce “miracle” results the effect size would shrink or disappear entirely. When is the last time a replication test found a greater effect size?

        The social sciences has low credibility here I believe. That is why so many of the “miracle breakthroughs” get totally ignored and thrown into the circular file.

        We need to sharpen up the testing and oversight. We all want progress, but we need to trust the reporting.

      • Harald K says:

        The problem is that there is so much intervention that is worse than nothing.

        CPS in Norway have sharply reduced use of foster homes, because they came to the conclusion that kids taken from their parents do worse (since local CPS offices varied widely in how often they took kids away from their parents – itself problematic – they could get some data on this, despite not doing a controlled study). Parents need to be really, really awful for foster homes or orphanages to be any better.

        These days they’re only supposed to take people’s kids away in acute situations. Not to make things better for kids long term, because they can’t guarantee that – but sometimes they reckon it’s worth it to make the kids’ lives a little better right now, for it’s own sake.

    • JadeNekotenshi says:

      That was my zeroth-order guess for what was going on too – more learning to game the system, less experience with dealing with people outside that context.

      That said, do people have to deal with “the system” so extensively that this is a net benefit? If so, is that an actual, desirable outcome, or is this just Moloch at work again, fouling the air with the sulfurous pong of non-coordination flatulence?

  4. !!!!!!!! says:

    the bit about the otherwise more socially successful intervention group being less likely to be in a romantic relationship deserved more than one exclamation point.

    this seems in line with other studies i’ve seen here and elsewhere. higher dark triad scores seem to go along with greater sexual success (although the computation of a singular “dark triad-ness” factor is apparently not kosher) and one of the old criteria for diagnosing psychopathy was tendency towards promiscuous sex. iq and educational attainment seem to inversely correlate with fertility while criminality seems to positively correlate.

    the interesting difference here is that this seems to show a purely behavioral effect. assuming that the result isn’t confounded by something obvious like race or iq (which would destroy their results anyway) these are two more-or-less identical groups where the better socialized one had statistically significantly fewer lifetime sexual partners (p = 0.032) and less frequent unprotected sex (p = 0.000 due to sig figs).

    tl:dr: this study seems to make a fairly strong argument that conditioned social behavior reduces sexual and (potentially) reproductive success, which is a very interesting result

    • endoself says:

      This study doesn’t make a strong argument for anything, except maybe that it’s important to notice when you are confused. Yes, there are some powerful theories that are enlightening in many different domains, but this stuff about the dark triad isn’t such a theory. The intervention nonsignificantly raised incarceration! If you want to pick a favourite theory and make everything about that, please pick one with better predictive power.

      • Harald K says:

        The intervention nonsignificantly raised incarceration!

        Is that a problem? If you have two people already at very high risk for criminality, then I would expect that the one scoring higher machiavellian and narcissism traits would be less likely to be in jail. They can get others to do the dirty work for them, they can more easily gain the sympathy of juries, judges and parole officers, they can do better in non-criminal ways (like taking advantage of their sexual partners), leading to less need to take risks.

        True, psychopathy I would guess would be more likely to land you in jail. But that would also be the dark triad trait I’d expect to be hardest for intervention to change.

      • Nita says:

        The intervention nonsignificantly raised incarceration!

        This might be a minor nitpick, but the above sentence doesn’t make sense. If the difference was not statistically significant, we don’t have enough evidence to see whether the intervention raised incarceration or not.

    • Vulture says:

      Chicks dig jerks 😛

    • John Schilling says:

      The set of possible non-dysfunctional relationships is smaller than the set of all possible relationships, and even the larger set is insufficient for everyone to find a mate. If the study group refrains from entering dysfunctional relationships, there will be fewer relationships in total.

      As for reproductive success, Darwin doesn’t care until you have grandchildren. Producing lots of dysfunctional children isn’t necessarily a success.

      • Paul Torek says:

        In the real world, and using a purely Darwinian definition of success, producing lots of dysfunctional children is a smashing success, beating producing lots of rich and well educated children by a country mile.

    • Alternate, more positive interpretation:

      The experimental group learned the important life skill of being able to walk away from abusive people/relationships. Or they just gained enough self-esteem to be confident in doing so without any additional instruction.

    • Deiseach says:

      It could easily mean they have less of the car-crash relationships I see amongst the clients in my job. (I tell you, the true-life stories make soap opera plot-lines look like documentaries).

      Instead of, say, having five kids by three different fathers, Jane only has (or had) one boyfriend because she didn’t rely on the rush of an emotional fix to shore up poor self-esteem. Maybe Joey didn’t sleep with all the girls in the neighbourhood because he wanted to do better for himself.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        Is “car-crash” a typical Irish idiom? In America we say “train wreck” for much the same thing. Are we seeing that people prefer to talk about disasters on their less preferred means of transit? (I don’t know how Ireland is on trains vs. cars, just that America is reputed to be maximally car-focused).

        • Gerry Quinn says:

          I think car-crash would be the first choice here and in the UK. Why, I don’t know.

          Perhaps train crashes are uncommon enough (largely due to the countries being smaller) that they simply do not rise to the tongue when a metaphor is required.

          I imagine a couple of hundred years ago, the corresponding metaphor would have been shipwreck.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Yes, it is the very commonness of cars that makes America not use the metaphor. We have all seen car wrecks. We need a bigger metaphor, a train wreck.

          But the familiarity of cars leads to other metaphors, metaphors about seeing collisions and their aftermath. SS mentions “like watching a car crash in slow motion.” And when Americans talk about a “car wreck” they usually mean not the size of the disaster, but “rubbernecking,” a compulsion to keep looking at the aftermath.

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        I think I’ve heard car crash used that way in the US. Wasn’t there a TV show that had the line
        “its like watching a car crash in slow motion”
        “into puppies”

    • Anonymous says:

      The simplest explanation is that the intervention group simply have higher standards and better boundaries.
      I’m describing this as the simplest explanation because we already have evidence this is happening. The intervention reduces sexually risky behaviour (p=0.000, and that actually does seem worthy of a !!!!)

      Describing this outcome as “reduced sexual success” is indicative of some deeply weird presuppositions on your part.

    • !!!!!!!! says:

      now that some people have responded it seems like most of us here have decided to interpret this result as shifting the intervention group from the relationship rat-race associated with the underclass into healthier happier relationships typical of the middle class. as such it is a benefit to society which comes at no cost to the individual

      …and it’s not as if this panglossian interpretation is completely wrongheaded. we do know after all that one-night-stands tend to be less pleasurable (at least for women) and safe than those in intimate relationships as well as that married couples have more frequent and better sex than singles, so it does stand to reason that fewer more stable relationships could in fact be the better deal for the people in question. shifting kids from hook-up culture to serial monogamy might (making the rather large interpretive leap to fit the numbers to that hypothesis) in fact be a good result.

      but what if things are a little less convenient than that?

      what if both groups are still playing the same game by the same rules (as the similar rates of incarceration and domestic violence when in relationships suggest) but the intervention group is losing?

      it’s not exactly going out on a limb to say that the structure of sexual competition in our society might provide incentives for antisocial behavior. after all that is the prototype of both the ‘rape culture’ model used by feminists and the ‘sodom & gomorrah’ model used by conservative christians.

      even if we think the idea is unpleasant or unlikely isn’t it at least worth examining?

      • Anonymous says:

        But the groups are not playing by the same rules. The statistics on risky sexual behaviour demonstrate that.
        So speculating that they are seems… pointless.

        But ok. Let’s go with it. Our hypotheses are that the intervention results in higher standards therefore fewer incidences of bad sex and relationships, or that it’s doing whatever you think it’s doing. Inhibiting people so they can’t initiate relationships?

        How can we tell the difference between these scenarios?
        Well, people in the first scenario are likely to be happier than the control group; the reverse is true of people in the second scenario. If only the survey had measured happiness!

        Oh, hey. Look at that.

        The data doesn’t lend itself easily to your interpretation. It doesn’t rule it out completely of course, but your hypothesis is not a strong contender.

        • Cauê says:

          “The apparent decrease in domestic violence was mediated entirely by the intervention group being less likely to have relationships (!) – the rate of domestic violence among people in relationships was the same.”

          The number of relationships went down, but quality doesn’t seem to have gone up.

          • Anonymous says:

            So it seems likely that the intervention didn’t have a strong effect on the kind of person who’s predisposed to commit domestic violence.

            I don’t think the “number of incidents of domestic violence committed” variable is a great proxy for relationship quality. I won’t argue that it’s capturing something about relationship quality. But it’s unlikely to capture improvements at the margins.

            (And of course the fact that the intervention group are just as likely to beat up their partners, when they have them, as the non-intervention group is a bit inconvenient for the “chicks dig jerks” or Nice Guy vs Dark Triad etc etc interpretation of these results.)

          • Cauê says:

            >”So it seems likely that the intervention didn’t have a strong effect on the kind of person who’s predisposed to commit domestic violence.”

            This would mean that the intervention prevented the better relationships that would have happened, while not affecting the worse ones. But then the rate of violence among people in relationships in the intervention group would be *higher* than in the control group, not equal.

            No, apparently people who would have been violent in a relationship and those who wouldn’t were affected similarly.

          • Anonymous says:

            If the intervention’s having exactly the same effect on everyone, perhaps the domestic abusers are simply becoming more selective about who they abuse.

            (I was actually thinking of this in terms of a slightly more complex model, where some domestic violence is abuse, some is a response to abuse, and the abusers are not affected but the people who would have “hit back” end up not being in abusive relationships they would otherwise have had. But I didn’t want to write that out because oversimplified models like that just sound so offensive. Also it seemed like too many words. )

          • !!!!!!!! says:

            occam’s razor really ought to have kicked in before now.

            either:
            1. we have an effect which is simultaneously helping most intervention subjects get into safe stable relationships -and- encouraging a small fraction of ‘abusers’ to commit more domestic violence by exactly the right amount to compensate for it
            2. we have an effect which is reducing the intervention subjects’ total number of relationships and frequency of unprotected sex* without otherwise affecting how they behave while in relationships
            3. some other better explanation

            2 is obviously much simpler than 1 on its face. a hypothetical 3 would be preferable to both of them but since none has emerged it seems reasonable to give the point to 2 for now.

            now as to what exactly is causing 2… i have no clear idea beyond the general ‘social behavior = less sex?’ handwave. hence posing the question in the first place: this is an interesting and unexpected result which needs to be accounted for!

            *possibly. that figure isn’t adjusted for # of lifetime relationships either

          • Anonymous says:

            Except that no even semi-plausible mechanism has been proposed for 2 since the whole Dark Triad thing has been ruled out. It shouldn’t even be listed separately from 3.

            I’m certainly interested in someone expanding on 2/3.

            But until they do then “more selective sexual behaviour from everyone except a hard core of sociopaths” seems pretty good.

            (edit to correct myself: Someone did propose a plausible and Occam-friendly mechanism for 2; it was me. More selective sexual behaviour from everyone including abusers explains the facts fine. I have other reasons for preferring 1.)

            response to below comment:
            -“sociopath” isn’t being used as a slur here. it’s shorthand for the causal mechanism you claim doesn’t exist.
            -there is no implication of *increased* dv from sociopaths as a result of intervention. Read the thread again.
            -the Dark Triad stuff the way manosphere types talk about it; usually associated with abusive behaviour in relationships. The control group aren’t more abusive. That’s the argument I was ruling out.

            If you want to talk about Dark Triad types being less selective, then yeah. They are. But basically everyone except possibly you agrees the intervention group are more selective. I’m sure that’s connected with them being more socialised. I don’t think that is either controversial or interesting.

          • !!!!!!!! says:

            except a) it’s not “more selective behavior except by sociopaths*” but “more selective behavior and -correspondingly increased dv- by sociopaths” and b) that explanation has if anything even less of a causal mechanism than the other one

            further it’s hard to see how the ‘dark triad’ explanation has been ruled out. the intervention subjects do generally behave in a less antisocial way and have a correspondingly lower number of lifetime partners (but whose relationships seem just as dysfunctional). if those two facts aren’t connected i’ll eat my metaphorical hat!

            *i hate using sociopaths as a slur this way btw. it’s lazy and demonizes mentally ill people. afaik most dv seems to be by ordinary folks

      • Harald K says:

        what if both groups are still playing the same game by the same rules (as the similar rates of incarceration and domestic violence when in relationships suggest) but the intervention group is losing?

        That is always the danger with intervention to change “irrational” behavior. The would-be intervener sees it from the outside, sees only the problems, but quite possibly the behavior is quite rational from the inside, and the costs of “improving” are high for the target of intervention.

        For example, when intervening to reduce men’s sexual harassment, and being successful at that, you might shoot yourself in the foot by making those people lose out in the relationship game compared to people who weren’t influenced.

        Suppose you succeeded in turning one black inner city boy into a talented math nerd when he would otherwise get involved in drugs and crime – but now he finds he’s an utter misfit in the community he lives.

        Intervention must be structured so that what is a gain for society, isn’t a loss for the person whose behavior/outcomes we’re trying to change.

        This is why I’m pessimistic about individual interventions. They can work as emergency medicine, and like emergency medicine you may sometimes do it for humanitarian reasons even if it isn’t cost-effective in saving years of life. But they’re no substitute for changing the situation that created the emergency in the first place/the context where acting antisocially is a reasonable choice. The early childhood intervention I have most faith in is still the basic income.

        • suntzuanime says:

          I’m not sure what’s wrong with interventions that are ineffective for the person they’re practiced upon but beneficial for society at large. Just that people will eventually wise up and stop going to your stupid afterschool friendship clubs?

          • Harald K says:

            In a word, yes. Interventions that are counterproductive (not merely ineffective) for the person they’re directed at aren’t sustainable. They will eventually fail as people see that they don’t work, and whatever trust the targeted group had in outsiders coming in and improving them will have taken damage.

    • Nornagest says:

      I think you’ve got the causality wrong here. If it was mediated by reducing Dark Triad traits then I’d expect a lower murder rate, and while you could probably come up with an interpretation that gave equal rates of domestic violence within relationships it’d be a stretch.

      Instead, I think, though this is speculative, that it’s most likely something along the lines of teaching the kids to be superficially norm-compliant without actually resolving any of their underlying problems, and that that reduces sexual promiscuity directly. There is, after all, a norm against it.

    • cassiopeia says:

      (I’m making this comment in response to the chain beginning from this post. There doesn’t seem to be a good place for it lower in the chain so I’m posting it here.)

      Assuming the intervention increased self esteem and correspondingly decreased tolerance for abusive relationships, but failed to improve the subjects’ status enough to make better dating options available for them, this is exactly what we would see. And indeed, the intervention did not improve some of the most important outcomes that determine dating market value, such as education or employment.

      I believe people with healthy self esteem would agree that no relationship is better than an abusive relationship. If the relationships available to these people come with a high risk of abusiveness, then the rational choice and best outcome is fewer relationships.

      • Cauê says:

        This would cause a lower rate of violence in those relationships that do occur, because people would decline abusive relationships more often than non-abusive relationships, and a smaller proportion of existing relationships would be abusive. But the rate of violence didn’t change.

  5. just another fan says:

    Okay, great, now can you pleeeeeease help us out in /r/HPMOR like right now, pleeeeease?

    • zz says:

      Lrnu. Frevbhfyl. Gur orfg V’ir pbzr hc jvgu fb sne pbzovarf gur snpg Uneel vf anxrq jvgu cnegvny genafsvthengvba naq uvf novyvgl gb pbageby gur cebterffvba bs genafsvthengvba gb jva jvgu gragnpyr encr.

      Znlor jr fubhyq pbafhyg Jvyqobj (nhgube bs Jbez). Ur frrzf cerggl tbbq ng jevgvat cebgntbavfgf bhg bs frrzvatyl hajvaanoyr fvghngvbaf.

      • I have never read any part of HPMOR, but I am amused and somewhat delighted to find out that it’s taking a detour into Lovecraftian slashfic.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        what is this Worm I keep hearing about?

        [edit] – Seconding the call for aid, btw. It seems pretty likely that the discussion on Reddit has stampeded off after a red herring.

        • zz says:

          Worm is a web serial, which means it’s a story written by twice-weekly updates from 2011–2013. You’ve probably heard about it because EY recommended it a few times.

          It’s set in an alternate universe with a discontinuity point about 30 years ago, when people suddenly started getting super powers. The story centers around Taylor Hebert, who gets the power to control bugs. (If the ‘teenaged girl thing sounds like a turn off, I’ll just say that this story is the reason I no longer pay attention to feminists complaining about not having enough strong female protagonists.) She uses her powers for Good and then Stuff happens. One and a half million words of stuff.

          Frankly, the first arc and a half is kind of weak, and even after it’s sucked you in, the story improves noticeably as it progresses. Wildbow (the author) doesn’t hide the fact that he’s still learning to write, and Worm is, in large part, a greatly extended NaNoWriMo on which he hones is craft.

          Also, the comments are often worth skimming for things like this fanon Justin Bieber retcon. It takes a good deal of self control, however, because DAMMIT, I WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

          Since I’m writing to a rationalsphere audience, it’s worth mentioning that the characters are typically at least level-one intelligent. Some of them are aggressively stupid, yes, but they’re aggressively stupid for understandable reasons, and honestly, HPMOR without Ron is just unrealistic. (In a recent Reddit comment, EY mentioned that another commenter’s suggestion that he write some version of Dudley Dursley (Dudley Verres-Evans?) to prove he could write a normal 11-year-old was quite good and blindingly obvious in retrospect. Wormverse characters are stupid in this way, Thorin-stupid.)

          tl;dr Worm is good, on-par with MOR in terms of writing, Stuff happening, and smart characters being smart. MOR has an edge by containing rationality lessons and pointing to LW. Worm has an edge in worldbuilding (so much worldbuilding) and wordcount (I like my epic fiction epic and Worm passes the 1.5M word mark without getting boring). Recommended.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Second the motion. Worm is fantastic.

          • Deiseach says:

            Teenage girl can control insects sounds like Dario Argento’s Phenomena, or perhaps I’m just dating myself 🙂

          • Nita says:

            this story is the reason I no longer pay attention to feminists complaining about not having enough strong female protagonists

            I’m not sure how to interpret this. Do you feel that Worm would be a better story if the protagonist was male? I.e.:

            Feminists: We want MOAR strong female protagonists!
            zz: Well, I’ve seen it tried, and the results were terrible, so I’m going to ignore you from now on.

            Or did you mean something else?

          • I assumed the point was that the protagonist of Worm was such a satisfactory strong female protagonist that feminists should stop complaining about there not being enough strong female protagonists.

          • zz says:

            Uh, yeah, what Nancy said. Also, Tattletale, Bitch, Piggot, Flechette, Parian, etc.

            And if you want strong antagonists, there’s Bonesaw*, Bakuda, Noelle, Purity…

            *The freaky thing about Bonesaw is I can’t quite disagree with the utilitarian case she puts makes interlude 11h. Point is, Worm also has really, really cool female baddies who don’t result in the conclusion “female antagonist, therefore women are evil.”

          • Nita says:

            @ zz & Nancy

            I did consider that alternative, but it just left me confused.

            feminists: There are too few stories with female protagonists!
            zz: No, there is one! And it has lots of other cool female characters, too. I like it a lot.
            me: ????

          • zz says:

            @Nita: there are probably more male-protagonist stories, but Worm’s long enough to make up the gap!

            More seriously, I personally have trouble with that particular claim because of the fiction I’ve happened to be consuming for the past year. I’m a beta for In Fire Forged, a Sakura-centric Naruto fic. Aside from that, the only fanfics I’ve read are MoR and Worm. The last two TV shows I’ve watched are Bunheads and Gilmore Girls (Amy Sherman-Palladino is a very good writer!), the latter of which is the basis for a fanfiction should get written eventually, which has lead me to rewatch (parts) of all the episodes in which Liza Weil appears.

            So, it’s one part feeling like someone whose social circle consists primarily of economists and having trouble believing that most people oppose free trade, but it also feels like feminists are looking for media without enough strong female characters to criticize, instead of, say, promoting Worm. Like, the recent spate of superhero shows/films don’t have nearly enough strong female characters (except maybe Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D.), but criticizing them instead of just saying “Worm is really great, plus it has all these awesome female characters, which I expect is a feature for my typical reader” feels incongruous, much like feminist criticism of The Fappening probably had the sole effect of getting more people to look at the pictures they were saying nobody should look at.

            If feminists are interested in getting gender parity in fictional media, they’re not being terribly effective in achieving their goals. OTOH, if they’re trying to win oppression olympics…

            (I’ll repeat that my personal availability bias has all sorts of skewed my view. The feminist view that strong women are underrepresented in fiction is accurate, and I think how very good Worm is in comparison to, say, Harry Potter is weak evidence in favor of “gender parity among your strong characters enhances your work’s quality”, a hypothesis I find probable. Just as I’m weary of seeing feminist complaints about not enough strong female characters when everything I read/watch is inundated with strong female characters, on the meta level, I sympathize with feminists for whom everything they read/watch fails the Bechdel test horribly, although I’m going to continue to have trouble sympathizing with them on the object-level because of my availability bias, plus the only way they aren’t overrun with media featuring strong female characters is if they spend 0 effort looking for it.)

            tl;dr: I have trouble with “not enough strong female characters” and no hype for Worm. This is partly, but not entirely, because of an availability bias where I predominantly read/watch fiction where most of the characters (including strong ones) are female, the back-of-the-camel-breaking one being Worm. I’m friends with a lot of very smart people who identify as feminists and are into the superhero/sci-fi genre Worm is in, yet I found out about it via Eliezer. (And geeks are criticized for not being feminist enough when some of the fiction that smushifies the Bechdel test comes out of geekdom, grump grump grump).

      • zz says:

        I have another (slightly nsfw) solution that definitely won’t work! h/t to AVPM. Spoilery (no rot13 because I want to preserve italics.)

        —-

        You have ssixty ssecondss to begin telling me ssomething I wissh to know, and then your death beginss.

        Option one: defeat Voldemort and the Death Eaters. Inconceivable. Move on.

        Option to: flee. How to flee.

        Apparate. Impossible. I don’t know how.

        Portkey. Impossible. I don’t have one. Can I obtain one? What do I know about portkeys?

        —- Earlier that year —-

        “And remember, a portkey can be any sort of seemingly harmless object: a football, or a dolphin.”

        “Professor?” Lavender Brown asked. “Can, like, a person be a portkey?”

        “No, that’s absurd. Because then if a person were to touch themselves… they would constantly be transported into different places!”

        —-

        Dumbledore’s aware I’m prepubescent, and thus would have no reason to touch myself. Therefore, he could have made me a portkey, a factor that would only come into play if I found myself in a situation that I desperately needed to get out of but seemingly had no means to do so.

        Thirty ssecondss

        What is the probability that Dumbledore actually made you a portkey AND portkey magic works like that? Ravenclaw asked.

        This is the most cunning plan you could come up with? Slytherin asked.

        What is this I don’t even, was all Hufflepuff could manage.

        You’re planning on masturbating in front of 38 people? Griffindor asked?

        Not high and quite low—and next time (if any) don’t ask double questions—yes, I only had 60 freaking seconds! and apparently. Unless anyone else has any better ideas.

        For once, silence filled Harry’s head.

        Harry looked up at Voldemort. “Have you ever heard of ssex magic? Issn’t dangerous, but iss besst I show you.

        Sshow me. Sslowly.

        Leaving his wand where it was, Harry moved his other hand to the center of his body…

        …And hadn’t the slightest clue what to do with it. A short and sad ending was promptly suffered.

        The moral of the story: noncomprehensive sex ed is not without its consequences.

    • Evan Þ says:

      Um, would you mind not posting spoilers un-rot13’d? I’m somewhat behind there at the moment, but I’d like to catch up eventually…

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think the solution /r/hpmor is converging around is a good one. I also posted a (somewhat worse) one to FF.net just in the interest of having as many as possible as backup.

  6. Albatross says:

    I dunno… if kids at risk for conflict problems wait longer to form relationships, isn’t that a positive outcome? Perhaps a recognition that they had a difficult personality/background and should wait to find a suitable partner? Not saying I agree, but our society and system push waiting til finishing your education and getting an established job to start a family. Perhaps the kids absorbed the lesson?

    • stubydoo says:

      Yep, good point. One exclamation point is the correct number of exclamation points.

    • RCF says:

      If it’s 16 instead of 14, that’s one thing, but if it’s 20 instead of 18, that’s another thing. Just because you’re not ready to have a family doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be dating.

      • Deiseach says:

        Just because you’re not ready to have a family doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be dating

        (1) Well, thank you for making those of us who don’t date or never dated feel like human beings and not like pond scum with that imperative.

        (2) This hinges upon what is meant by “relationships”; perhaps they are dating, but not in a single, committed/long-term relationship? Let’s have a look at what the study said – and fret not, turns out these kids were normal even after intervention! Yes, they’re having sex frequently with partner or partners, so whew, no worries there that they’re 20 and not dating! What intervention seems to have done is that they had fewer (not no) partners than the control group, and engaged in less risky (if condom use alone is a measure of risk) behaviour than the control group over the year before the end interviews were carried out:

        Respondents completed the 37-item Overview of Sexual Experiences (41). The number of lifetime partners item captured risky sexual behavior over the respondent’s lifetime (categories ranged from 0 to 7 capturing 0, 1–2, 3–5, 6–10, 11–15, 16–20, 21–50, and 50 or more partners). For risky sexual behavior in the past 12 months, the number of partners in the last year was multiplied by the sum of two scales: new-partner condom nonuse and regular-partner condom nonuse. New partner condom nonuse ranged from 0 to 5 (no new partner, always use condom, most times use condom, about half the time, sometimes nonuse, and never use, respectively); condom nonuse with the respondent’s regular partner ranged from 1 to 5 (never nonuse, most times use condom, about half the time, sometimes nonuse, and never use, respectively).

        Sexual Experiences and Aggression in Romantic Relationships

        Assignment to intervention decreased the lifetime number of sexual partners (effect size=0.17) and risky sexual behavior in the past 12 months (effect size=0.24). Among participants who maintained a romantic relationship in the past year, the intervention effect on violent acts against romantic partners was not significant.

        Confusion may be arising from using both “lifetime sexual partners” and “number of partners/sexual behaviour in last year” here – if you broke up with your girlfriend/boyfriend last month and have no new partner since, that’s “0” for current sexual partner, but doesn’t mean you never had a partner over the ten years of the study.

        • RCF says:

          Just because you’re not ready to have a family doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be dating

          (1) Well, thank you for making those of us who don’t date or never dated feel like human beings and not like pond scum with that imperative.

          I said “not (should (not (be dating)))”, not “should (be dating))”. Nots and shoulds do not commute. It’s one thing to not understand basic modal logic, it is quite another thing to be verbally abusive on the basis of a premise arrived at through failing to understand basic modal logic.

          This hinges upon what is meant by “relationships”; perhaps they are dating, but not in a single, committed/long-term relationship

          Scott said that the lower rate of domestic violence was mediated entirely through lower rate of relationships. That strongly implies, if not outright requires, that they were not merely having fewer partners, but spending less time in a relationship.

    • Michael Watts says:

      It might be a positive outcome for us, but it’s not a positive outcome for them. Put me in the camp of “multiple exclamation points”.

      • PC says:

        Why is it not a positive outcome for them?

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          Why is it not a positive outcome for them [the kids]?

          Perhaps the ‘Relationship’ that should involve “waiting til finishing your education and getting an established job to start a family” has in this sub-thread lost its implied capital ‘R’ and become “dating” at age 18 while “not ready to have a family”.

          Paging General Semantics.

          ETA: Hi, Deiseach.

  7. ishaan says:

    60k/kid of prototypical interventions for the purpose of a study fine tuned and enlarged by economies of scale, probably costs a lot less than 60k/kid. (Even assuming every sub-part of the intervention is essential)

    If that wasn’t the case, we’d be better off giving them all the 60k rather than conducting a study and trying to do science and whatnot. Isn’t it unfair to look at the price tag of an experiment, and conclude that this will be the price tag of resulting policy? If we were having this conversation about solar cell prototypes or something, that sort of logic wouldn’t fly.

    (Also, Re: Tarring and feathering – given perverse incentives in institutions, irrationality, and stuff, I would guess that the limiting factor is less the “existence of low hanging fruit in effective interventions” part and more the “actually attempting to implement them once they are found” part.)

    • Douglas Knight says:

      What was the 200k at prototype time? Was it 2000k or 20k?

      • ishaan says:

        Sorry, bit confused – to what are you referring?

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Are you sure that there are economies of scale? Maybe there are diseconomies of scale. The state spends $200k per child. Where did this number come from? Did it turn out to be much cheaper or more expensive than people expected?

          • PC says:

            Than people expected when? At the dawn of the era of compulsory public education?

            It would be interesting to see those figures adjusted not only for inflation, but for the difference between “still largely agrarian society just beginning the process of industrializing” and the social/economic backdrop we have now, if that were possible.

          • ishaan says:

            Oh. Of course not, there could be diseconomies of scale, the whole program might be bs -I’m not making claims about the efficiency or cost. I’m obly asserting a general principle of not using projected expense as a critique against baby prototypes in lab which havent actually made claims about cost in the first place. To accept that as valid would force me to accept generalized practicality oriented criticism leveled at all manner of scientific endeavors.

      • Anthony says:

        Well, a moderately-experienced California teacher can be had for $50k/yr; so with benefits & taxes, that’s not more than $80k/yr. Multiply by 12 years, that’s a million dollars for one teacher:one kid. Though in the old model, you probably ran three or four kids through the one teacher, so your costs would be closer to $300k per kid for the prototype model.

    • RCF says:

      “Isn’t it unfair to look at the price tag of an experiment, and conclude that this will be the price tag of resulting policy?’

      Is anyone doing that? I think Scott quite clearly acknowledged that it might be possible to achieve this affect at lower cost. The price tag doesn’t show that it can’t be cost effective, it just shows that the proposition that it is cost effective requires further support.

      • ishaan says:

        This is true. I’m agreeing denotatively that there’s no evidence for cost effectiveness, and disagreeing connotatively to writing a post entirely about how an intervention-study which makes no particular claims on cost effectiveness in the first place is not cost effective (thereby reducing enthusiasm for what *is* being claimed – that there exist interventions that work, and possibly unjustifiably increasing pessimism concerning psychodynamic interventions)

        (http://lesswrong.com/lw/4h/when_truth_isnt_enough/)

        It’s vaguely unfair to attack something from an angle that it never claimed (even if you yourself play defense) because it gives the impression that somewhere there is a group of deluded people making that claim.

        I can’t articulate my objection better than that – it’s difficult to make purely connotative objections gracefully.

    • Airgap says:

      Not that I think this is a good idea, but: keep in mind that out of 10k kids in “disadvantaged areas” (the ghetto, presumably), they selected the worst 9% for special treatment. Presumably, the remaining 91% need the extra help less. In a sense, you can say this costs $5400 per ghetto kid. Outside the ghetto, the percentage of Probable Adult Fuck-Ups (PAFs) will probably be at least a bit lower to begin with, and a greater share of the non-ghetto PAFs will be able to to get the same extra intervention by means of their parents spending money. Let’s call it, say, $4k/kid, even before you apply economies of scale and no longer require highly-trained psychologists to operate the program, because their knowledge has been encoded in three-ring binders distributed to social workers.

      • Jon Gunnarsson says:

        But keep in mind the incentive structure that would be created by giving this programme only to the worst 9% of kids. This means you now get free stuff for your child iff your child is doing really poorly on some specific criteria.

        • Deiseach says:

          Yes, there are people who use their children in that way. I see them in my job. They not alone hold back their child or children, they actively make them worse so they can get “free stuff”. I would say the problem there is that they’re psychopaths, but since I’m not a qualified psychiatrist, I can’t give a diagnosis.

          On the other hand, there are parents who would benefit from help: not “may as well give them the money” or “free stuff” but help and support to learn the skills they lack.

          I also see parents who can’t parent because they weren’t parented themselves. Who don’t know how to cook a decent meal. Who can’t help with the homework because they were early school dropouts. Who don’t engage with the schools and services because their relationship with such institutions has been adversarial, and that it really makes a difference to give them a name and a face to interact with, someone they can talk to and about things and problems without it being “If Jack doesn’t come to school, we’re putting the courts on you”. People struggling with their own problems (desertion, unemployment, mental health issues, addiction issues, literacy problems) who can be helped by feeling part of a community, not isolated and trying to do things on their own. Giving them an opportunity to meet other parents in the same situation, helping them improve their own skills, letting them have the reassurance that their kids are in a safe and secure place where they can come in early in the morning to get breakfast before school starts and stay in the evenings to study.

          I see both sides: people I’d love to tie in a bag and drop off a cliff because they’re toxic, and other people who are genuinely struggling and it breaks your heart not to be able to help them because of The System.

      • Deiseach says:

        How do you define “ghetto”? Where the Black People live? 47% of the children in this study were NOT African-American.

        Where the Poor People live? Well, by that criterion, and if you also mean “area of high crime/anti-social behaviour”, we have ghettoes here. Only on this side of the water, we tend to call them sink estates.

        • Gbdub says:

          Well, since African Americans are only ~13% of the US population, 63% [EDIT oops, 53%] black is still pretty disproportionate.

          I always thought of a “ghetto” as being both poor AND urban – in the US, urban poor do skew heavily black / other minority. There are a lot of poor white people in the US, but poor white people live mostly in rural or small town areas. That’s why the stereotypical poor white guy lives in a trailer and the stereotypical poor black guy lives in a project.

          It would be interesting to repeat this study in a small town area – with only one or two schools, the poor kids are less segregated. Intervention + a larger cohort of middle class kids to get to know might have a larger effect.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            It’s not that ghetto residents skew black, but the meaning is black. The etymology is all about segregation.

            The study covers four regions: three cities and “rural Pennsylvania,” which I’m guessing is pretty white. The cities were Seattle (10% black), Nashville (30%), and Durham (40%).

          • Charlie says:

            (53%)

          • Gbdub says:

            @Douglas – not sure the “meaning” is black, since it was originally “Jewish” but point taken that there’s a decided racial component in the US use.

            Even then, I still submit that “ghetto” has the additional component of “urban” – there are certainly poor rural African Americans, particularly in the South, but I’ve never heard of a dispersed community of former sharecroppers being called a “ghetto”.

            The percentage of African Americans in the cities studied kind of proves the point though – every area studied is less black overall than the study participant pool, meaning the pool is disproportionately African American relative to the general population. So “ghetto” is politically incorrect but maybe fair, at least for the urban parts of the study?

        • Airgap says:

          How about this: you pick the most problematic interpretation possible, and I’ll agree that’s what I meant.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Those are good points, albeit somewhat contradictory – if implementation is hard, wouldn’t you expect that to raise the price tag of something that cost $60K as an experiment?

      Another issue – I wonder if part of the effect was in raising these kids’ status relative to their peers (they get more training in academics and social skills and so rise up the hierarchy a little) and doing it for everyone wouldn’t help.

  8. A few years ago I wrote a piece called Philip Dick, Preschool, and Schrodinger’s Cat and said:

    That’s the gold standard, the “good news” in preschool programs: the achievement gap moves barely a nudge, measured cognitive ability goes up a tad, and the jail gap isn’t quite as spectacularly awful. Pick your own personal favorite preschool research and you’ll still get the same results: not anything to complain about, but the subjects are still much more similar to the control group than to any middle-class norms.

    And you’ve just pretty much shown the same thing. Spend a fortune and get marginally better results–if that.

    In the Perry preschool case, the big improvement was that 1 in 3 of the treated kids had been arrested by 40, rather than 1 in 2.

    See, there’s that whole notion of “significant”. To an average person, this isn’t a “significant” difference. It’s wasting money. And of course (as you say), the intense treatment you describe isn’t “universal preschool”.

    And yet people pretend that these results have meaning, that we should take them seriously as a rebuke to the notion that “childhood experiences and education have a very limited role in shaping life outcomes”.

    • Protagoras says:

      Um, multiply by millions of kids, and 1 in 3 rather than 1 in 2 sounds like pretty spectacular success to me. But I suppose I’m not an average person.

      • Airgap says:

        You’re assuming it scales. It might not.

        There were 123 kids in the project. If you take 62 kids and push them away from criminality, the state of criminality doesn’t change much. If you push 62,000 kids away from criminality, all of a sudden there’s a lot more money in being a criminal, and a lot fewer other criminals who might try to kill you. Also, while you have made being a criminal much more attractive, you (probably) haven’t created 62,000 additional decent jobs for these kids to take. So they drift back into a life of crime. Or more likely, this all happens marginally, so your program becomes less and less effective as the number “treated” goes up, and you never get to the 62,000-successes-and-massive-crime-vacuum point.

        I’m simplifying the outcomes examined by the study, but I think you get the picture.

        In any case, my vague understanding is that these programs don’t scale in practice. This might mean that they don’t scale in theory.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          If you push 62,000 kids away from criminality, all of a sudden there’s a lot more money in being a criminal, and a lot fewer other criminals who might try to kill you.

          Throughout this comment, possibly you might qualify ‘crime’ as ‘property crime’.

        • On the other hand, having fewer criminals means that fewer people are in social networks where being criminal is normal behavior.

          If your argument were true, I don’t think low crime areas would be stable, but they’re pretty stable.

          • Airgap says:

            My theory is that the stability is due to a variety of factors beyond whether the kids have been nudged away from crime, like whether they have a future to lose by becoming criminals. Hence the point about the extra jobs.

        • Deiseach says:

          all of a sudden there’s a lot more money in being a criminal, and a lot fewer other criminals who might try to kill you

          I suppose it depends whether I’d prefer five different burglars trying to break into my house, each of them wanting to get enough money for their fix, or one more successful burglar?

          I’m only a poor ignorant non-mathematician, so I think I’d prefer one (1) burglar in a month rather than five (5) in a month, but sure what do I know?

          • Irrelevant says:

            The point was that if relatively low-risk crime starts paying significantly better than minimum wage, it becomes attractive to a larger pool of people, which makes anti-criminal interventions harder until equilibrium is restored.

            i.e. instead of going from 5 to 1, it goes from 5 to 3, then back to 4.

          • Mary says:

            But how do you know it will pay better? The fewer crimes, the more resources the police have to put on each one.

          • Irrelevant says:

            But how do you know it will pay better? The fewer crimes, the more resources the police have to put on each one.

            Hmm. There are a number of reasons, I’m not sure which aspect of why it would pay better you’re missing.

            The answer that speaks most directly to your second statement, though, is that property crime clear rates are so low (10-15%) that they are to first approximation purely a product of criminal ineptness, not police effort. Any delta reduction in base crime rate by increasing the morality of the populace would therefore be expected to have no effect on the clear rate, and could conceivably even slightly reduce it if the increased lucrativity pulls more capable individuals into burglary.

    • PGD says:

      A drop in crime rates from 50% to 33% in a disadvantaged population thanks to two years of part-day preschool? Sorry, but if true that’s freaking FANTASTIC.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        A drop in crime rates from 50% to 33% in a disadvantaged population thanks to two years of part-day preschool?

        This treatment was only given to the worst 9% of children in a bad area. Giving it, or similar intervention, to the national population would not reduce the national crime rate by that same percentage. It seems to be remedial, teaching things that the remaining 91% were already getting elsewhere. [Fuzzy scale rounded off for brevity]

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Something got lost in his comment here.

        Go read his link; it’s not “chances of being arrested by age 40 dropped from 55% to 36%;” it’s “changes of being arrested five or more times dropped from 55% to 36%.”

        It’s still something but it’s not like your intervention saved 19 percentage of the treatment population from a life of crime.

    • RCF says:

      Let’s see. Preschool is, what, 30 hrs/week? So that’s 20% of the child’s time spent in preschool. And for a 20-year-old, two years is 10% of their life. So that’s 2% of their entire life spent in preschool. A 13% decrease in arrest rate, due to a difference in how 2% of their life is spent? Yes, that is a massive rebuke to the notion that “childhood experiences and education have a very limited role in shaping life outcomes”.

    • ….and you all prove my point.

      Let me see if the point can be beaten into your heads. Suppose you had begun arguing for the billions needed for the Perry project, and said “At the end of the day, these kids will do a bit better in school and get arrested about 40% less.”

      You’d be laughed at. And you wouldn’t get your money.

      And almost certainly, it wouldn’t scale, because the Perry Project was considered massive intervention, of a scale that no one is even dreaming of coming close to approaching these days.

      • RCF says:

        “….and you all prove my point.”

        Ah, yes, the “Respond to your position being refuted by simply asserting that those refutations somehow actually support your position” stratagem.

        “Let me see if the point can be beaten into your heads.”

        That’s a rather rude thing to say.

        “Suppose you had begun arguing for the billions needed for the Perry project, and said “At the end of the day, these kids will do a bit better in school and get arrested about 40% less.” ”

        First of all, you’re doing a bait and switch here: first you argue that the effect size supports the proposition that “childhood experiences and education have a very limited role in shaping life outcomes”. And when that gets completely shot down, rather than admitting that you were wrong, you try to switch to pretending that your point all along was that it is impractical due to high cost.

        Second, how many billion? $3 billion works out to $10 per American. You seriously think people wouldn’t be willing to spend $10 to reduce crime by 40%? Seriously? We spend about $40B/year on prisons. Do prisons reduce crime by 40%? If prisons can get $40B/year without solving crime, why in the world would a program that reduces crime by 40% not be able to get a few billion?

        “And almost certainly, it wouldn’t scale, because the Perry Project was considered massive intervention, of a scale that no one is even dreaming of coming close to approaching these days.”

        The former doesn’t follow from the latter.

        • Well, when the point is “yet people pretend that these results have meaning, that we should take them seriously ” then yeah, a bunch of people pretending to take them seriously pretty much proves it!

          ” And when that gets completely shot down, rather than admitting that you were wrong”

          It wasn’t shot down, and I’m not wrong. I’m a math teacher and while it’s certainly not my strongest subject, I’m more than capable of figuring out the implications of 1 in 3 instead of 1 in 2. I realize you’re fondly imagining yourself explaining the facts to a drooling mouthbreather, but I am well aware of what the improvements mean, if they held over a large population. That’s precisely my point. They’re not enough.

          It’s like the idiot ed reformers who go bonkers about a 90% white group of TFAers getting .07 of a standard deviation improvement over a barely over 50% white group of “traditional” teachers. Yes, let’s get all worked up about 1-2 more questions right! All we’ll need to do is scrub the teaching work force of non-Asian minorities and scream to the kids daily about test scores. And for that, we’ll get barely improved test scores–maybe–that reformers will be screaming about failing schools again, because the new, “improved” test scores that they’re so excited about now are barely indistinguishable from the traditional teacher scores.

          In much the same way, the “improved” Perry results you pretend (as well as the ones under main discussion) are meaningful would be a total waste of time and money to the public.

          “you try to switch to pretending that your point all along was that it is impractical due to high cost”

          Don’t be absurd. I’m saying no one would think it worth the money. The “scaling” was in response to the post that brought it up and entirely besides my own point.

          “The former doesn’t follow from the latter.”

          It does if you’ve been paying attention to the debate about preschool.

          Incidentally, I’m not in the “genetics is all” camp, but I’m definitely in the “earnest schlubs who miss the point are unworthy” camp.

          “That’s a rather rude thing to say. ”

          I’m not sure I agree, but if so, I consider the outcome a feature, not a bug.

          • RCF says:

            “Well, when the point is “yet people pretend that these results have meaning, that we should take them seriously ” then yeah, a bunch of people pretending to take them seriously pretty much proves it!”

            We’re not “pretending” to take them seriously. We’re saying that spending less than 2% of a twenty-five-year-old’s life to achieve a 17% reduction in arrest rate is pretty fucking meaningful.

            “It wasn’t shot down, and I’m not wrong.”

            Yes, it was. I clearly presented a valid counterargument, and you have not presented any response to it. Instead, you’ve simply declared that you’re right.

            “I realize you’re fondly imagining yourself explaining the facts to a drooling mouthbreather”

            You are simply attacking bizarre strawmen that look an awful lot like projection. Reported for incivility.

            “but I am well aware of what the improvements mean, if they held over a large population.”

            You have presented no argument for why they wouldn’t. You’ve simply declared that they wouldn’t, for some unspecified reason, and then pulled the Emperor’s New Clothes gambit of saying that anyone who doesn’t know what this incredibly obvious reason is is ignorant and/or stupid.

            “It’s like the idiot ed reformers who go bonkers about a 90% white group of TFAers getting .07 of a standard deviation”

            Yes, a 17% percentage point improvement is totally the same as a .07 standard deviation improvement. You’re totally not make an inane comparison!

            “In much the same way, the “improved” Perry results you pretend (as well as the ones under main discussion) are meaningful would be a total waste of time and money to the public.”

            I have “pretended” nothing. Your assertion of bad faith on my part is an egregious violation of incivility.

            “I’m saying no one would think it worth the money.”

            You originally said “childhood experiences and education have a very limited role in shaping life outcomes” . That was what I was responding to. Pretending that I was responding to a cost effectiveness claim is dishonest. Here’s how it works, since you don’t seem to understand basic discussion protocol: if you make claims X and Y, and someone posts a response, and that response is CLEARLY addressed towards claim Y, you do not get to pretend that the fact that it doesn’t contradict claim X somehow proves you right.

            “The “scaling” was in response to the post that brought it up and entirely besides my own point.”

            No, it wasn’t. It was addressed to all of the responses. One of those responses mentioned scaling, but mine did not.

            ““The former doesn’t follow from the latter.”

            It does if you’ve been paying attention to the debate about preschool.”

            If something other than claim X is needed to arrive at claim Y, then Y doesn’t follow from X, Y follows from X plus that other stuff.

            “Incidentally, I’m not in the “genetics is all” camp, but I’m definitely in the “earnest schlubs who miss the point are unworthy” camp.”

            And I’m of the “People who go around calling people ‘unworthy’ for daring to point out the flaws in their arguments are assholes who should be drummed out of polite society” camp.

            “I’m not sure I agree, but if so, I consider the outcome a feature, not a bug.”

            Well, thanks for clearing up the fact that you being rude is not a momentary lapse in judgment, but an deeply seated character flaw.

          • Nicholas says:

            Us crime is estimated to cost approximately 73534300000000 USD per annum. (Source: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles/victcost.pdf) 50%->30% is a 40% reduction, as already stated. Therefore any program that reduced crime this dramatically would save 29413720000000 USD per annum. If the program cost less than that, it would be worth it, economically speaking.
            Also, I hope you lose social status. You’re a pompous, dismissive, ignoble bore of a meany meany.

          • Airgap says:

            I think you stuck the zeros after the decimal point in. The source says $735 bn (i.e. $ 451 bn in 1993), not $73 tn. Not that either figure seems even vaguely plausible. Remember, this was issued by DOJ. DOJ’s funding is determined by, among other things, what the responsible policymakers think the cost of crime is. They’re not exactly disinterested.

          • Agronomous says:

            Hi, refugee from every other comments section on the Internet here.

            The back-and-forth on this discussion branch has some interesting and important points, but they’re getting buried underneath the tone.

            You both know better, less irrationality-provoking ways to say what you mean. I’d appreciate it if you’d use them, and I doubt I’m alone.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        I mean, you might be right, but from a cost-benefit point of view you’re still proving a pretty substantial benefit. If people would laugh at that, that’s because they’re wrong.

        Also, if you called “get arrested 40% less” “cut crime approximately in half”, I say you’d get your money.

        • RCF says:

          Actually, according to my calculations, it’s a decrease of 18.5%

          • Anonymous says:

            It’s a 19 point decrease and a 35% decrease.
            (Note that ER rounded 35 to 40 and SA rounded that 40 to 50.)

          • RCF says:

            According to Edward Scizorhands, the figures given are actually for chances “of being arrested five or more times dropped from 55% to 36%.”

            If this in fact correct, then assuming a Poisson distribution, lambda originally was 4.95, but decreased to 3.94. That is a decrease of 20.3%. (I previously calculated using the rounded numbers of 50% and 33%, which is where 18.5% came from.)

          • RCF says:

            According to Edward Scizorhands,

            “it’s “changes of being arrested five or more times dropped from 55% to 36%.””

            If you have a Poisson distribution with a 55% chance to be greater than or equal to 5, then lambda is 4.9461. For a 36% chance, lambda is 3.942. That’s a decrease of 20%.

    • JK says:

      In the Perry study, it was “arrested 5+ times”, so you could say that one in three in the treatment group commonly engaged in crime versus one in two in the control group. In the study Scott discusses, the results were somewhat weaker: about 50-70 percent of the treatment participants engaged in any problem behaviors, while about ten percentage points more of the control participants did.

  9. Qiaochu Yuan says:

    Did the control group get a placebo intervention? If not, it’s not hard to hypothesize that the benefits of the intervention could have been due mostly to having more people paying attention to them and having more opportunities to talk to their peers in these extra classes.

    • William O. B'Livion says:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawthorne_effect

      Also we “know” that children with more involved parents tend to have less problematic children, and at least 3 of the interventions here involved the parents.

      • Neil in Chicago says:

        One of my first thoughts too.
        It might be nice to do something of this sort testing the effect of simply having an adult in the kid’s life WHO LISTENS TO THEM.

    • RCF says:

      Apart from the $60k price tag, does it matter? The only relevance the “it might just be placebo effect” response has is there may be a cheaper way of getting the “placebo” effect.

    • Airgap says:

      Alternatively, without being dragged to a lot of retarded psychotherapy experiments, the non-intervention group had more time to experiment with drugs and risky sex, and develop psychological scars as a result.

  10. Hari Seldon says:

    It doesn’t seem inconceivable that both sides are right.

    The geneticists are looking at broad swaths of humanity. Within those broad groupings, genes really do trump just about everything else.

    The psychiatrists / sociologists are looking solely at humanity on the margins. That is where all the interesting stuff tends to happen. The study specifically identified a group of children that were practically a cohort of feral primates. (exaggeration noted) It is no wonder that introducing some minimal structure to their lives made a difference.

    So, yes, I am having my cake and eating it too. As long as you are not venturing too far into the small tails of the bell curve, parenting and environment have minimal effect. On the margins, where we find the feral children, little things like basic socialization have some effect.

    • Caleb says:

      This seems very reasonable.

    • Paul Torek says:

      In support, note that the usual measure of genetic effects is heritability. Heritability is the fraction of actually occurring variance explained. The variance that occurs depends on the distribution of environmental factors. Take height, for example. In a society where every last person gets a rich nutritious diet, height will be very very heritable. In a society where most people get a good diet but a few are starving, interventions in the sub-group can make a lot of difference to the height to which those people grow, even if height is highly heritable in the society overall.

  11. Stezinech says:

    Looking at the main table, one possible explanation came to mind. We already know that psychotherapy works to some degree, so maybe something similar was happening in this program? Most of the significant effects seem to have been on the psychiatric side (internalizing/externalizing and substance abuse problems). Perhaps alleviating psychiatric problems is the active part that influences the other outcomes. Notably, I’m not surprised to see lower incidence of substance crimes when substance abuse is lower.

  12. Princess Stargirl says:

    They spent 27.3 million dollars! (455*60K)

    That is a pretty expensive study for social science!

    (though some fields spend a ton of money so maybe its fine)

    • RCF says:

      Maybe they should put $60k in an envelope for each member of the other group and burn it, just to make sure the experiment is properly controlled.

      • lmm says:

        I’d love to see just giving the kids the money (it’s what, $15-20/day) as a control, though there are probably ethical issues with that.

        • Gbdub says:

          Considering that $60k is $10k more than the median household income in the US, and probably double or even triple the income of a lot of households in this study, the impact would probably be huge.

          I mean, look at the list of interventions, and then think “tripling your income” and tell me which sounds like it would change a life more.

          Even 30k a year would probably be plenty to take most of these families from “constant financial crisis” to “reasonably secure”.

          • Anonymous says:

            I think the $60k is not per-year, but total over childhood. The comparable direct cash payment would be only about $3k/year.

          • Anthony says:

            That would still be a pretty big deal in most families’ lives. My wife and I are in the top 20% of household income for California (maybe top 10%), but an extra $60/week per kid would make a difference to us.

            (Of course, if we gave it directly to the kids, they’d spend it on sweets and My Little Pony.)

          • Anonymous says:

            You can achieve an extra $60/week just by never eating out…

          • suntzuanime says:

            That only works if you spend $60/week eating out…

          • Anonymous says:

            Going by 2009 stats from census.gov, top 10% is roughly $150k or higher. $60/week is roughly 3k/yr.
            I’m generalizing here, and I understand $3k is a large amount of money, but if your income is that high and $3k would make a noticeable difference in your quality of life, you should re-evaluate your spending.

          • meyerkev248 says:

            Or you live in California and $3K/year/kid in after-tax and mortgage spending is a pretty fair fraction of your discretionary income.

            Lose 35-40% off the top to taxes, spend $4-5K/month on the mortgage (which in the places where you’re most likely to be pulling in $150K/year is if anything low unless you have a 2 hour commute and most of a tank of gas a day), and hey, you’re down to $3K/month to do food, car payments, gas… and only THEN get to discretionary income.

            $3K/year * 2 kids is probably easily a 30-50% increase in their discretionary incomes.

            /Though obviously, the strength of this argument depend on both how good their accountants are and how much you reasonably expect a family with kids to be spending on housing at any income level in a particular region since we’re playing on the margins here, and a 5% tax cut would ALSO lead to a doubling of their discretionary.

  13. RCF says:

    “All of this was significant at the p < 0.05 level, and some of it was significant at much higher levels like p = 0.001 or below."

    I think you need to make up your mind whether 0.001 is higher or lower than 0.05.

  14. Douglas Knight says:

    This is a cluster-randomized experiment. N=55. I guess they didn’t want people in the intervention group to know people in the control group. I’m pretty skeptical of cluster-randomized experiments.

    Well, actually, it says: (1) N=55 is an even number; (2) N<24.

    Children were selected from each of three kindergarten cohorts (from 1991–1993) at each of four geographic sites: Durham, N.C.; Nashville, Tenn.; rural Pennsylvania; and Seattle. Elementary schools (N=55) in neighborhoods with high rates of crime and economic disadvantage were divided into paired sets (one to three sets per site) matched for demographic characteristics, and one set was randomly assigned to intervention and one to a control.

    Maybe different years within a school were randomized separately, and they’re counting them as different schools? (Randomizing between grade 1 school A + grade 2 school B vs grade 2 school A + grade 1 school B sounds to me like a good idea, if you have to cluster randomize.) Still doesn’t explain 55 being even.

  15. JayMan says:

    Needless to say, I don’t buy this for a second. If something sounds too good to be true (i.e., contradicts a wealth of other evidence), it usually is. I will look at it closely when I’m not so sick.

    • Alexander Stanislaw says:

      Have you written about the Perry Preschool Project? It was an early intervention program for poor black kids. The effect sizes seem pretty hard to dispute, 40% reduction in arrests, 71% graduation rates compared with 54% in the control group, and many other metrics.

      • I wrote about it (see link above). As I said, the general public would not buy those results as “successful”. I agree they are statistically meaningful, but if after all that intervention the treated group looks much more like the control group than the average, it’s hard to get worked up.

        • Alexander Stanislaw says:

          Yes this study is a strike against the idea that early education and environment are responsible for a large fraction of life outcomes such as criminality. But it is also a strike against he idea that early environmental exposures have no effect. The effect is there and it is large, or the study is wrong. It is not as large as genetics (probably), but it’s still there.

          • I agree with that.

            But from a practical standpoint, here’s what we’re saying:

            If we spend tons of money on interventions that go well beyond mimicking the advantages of the middle class, we’ll see slightly improved outcomes for those who got the interventions over those who didn’t, but we won’t get anywhere near the outcomes of those born poor with an average or high IQ, much less someone born middle class with an average or high IQ.

            At that point the public would say hey, let’s spend the money on better law & order instead.

          • Irrelevant says:

            I would prefer we channel it into the basic research budget, if we’re forced to spend it publicly. We appear to have hit diminishing returns on law and order.

          • Fnord says:

            If we spend tons of money on interventions that go well beyond mimicking the advantages of the middle class…

            Does this actually do that? $60,000 is a fair chunk of change, but parents spend A LOT of resources on their kids.

            The USDA’s Expenditures on Children by Families doesn’t give as fine grained income categories as I’d like, but:

            Depending on age of the child, annual expenses ranged from $9,130 to $10,400 for families with a before-tax income less than $61,530, from $12,800 to $14,970 for families with a before-tax income between $61,530 and $106,540, and from $21,330 to $25,700 for families with a before-tax income more than $106,540

            The difference between the lowest and the middle catagory is less than $6,000/year, but
            a) It covers ages 0-18, instead of 5-16. $3,600/year for 18 years is greater than $60,000
            b) It only includes the purely monetary differences, not any differences in direct parental involvement.
            c) Even in terms of monetary expenses, it’s not really all inclusive. Notably, when measuring housing costs, it only includes the “extra bedroom” cost, not the cost of moving to a more expensive neighborhood for (eg) better public schools.
            d) This program was specifically targeted at people (supposedly) most in need on intervention, even within the targeted demographic. I would suspect that children with specific “conduct problems” at higher income levels may also get additional interventions, just coming from private sources rather than government programs.

    • Anthony says:

      I dunno – I think I agree with Hari Seldon above. Big interventions may make a small difference at the margins. It’s not going to turn ghetto kids into middle-class office workers, but it might make them slightly less ghetto-acting than they would otherwise be.

      Also – the intervention is a large change in these kids’ environment. We know that large changes in environment can have large absolute changes in outcomes – look at crime rates in 1955, 1975, 1995, and 2015 among any demographic slice you want to. You know which demographic slices will have higher crime rates relative to other demographic slices, and that won’t likely change much over time, but the absolute rates did change, a lot, across that period, because of changing environment.

      • RCF says:

        Depending on what those demographic slices are, they could be changing size. To take an extreme example, if your demographic slice is “people in prison”, you could see crime rate staying steady despite overall crime going down.

  16. Bonsai says:

    I don’t understand why the study doesn’t look at income; if there’s one simple, quantitative proxy for life success, it would seem a strong candidate.

    • Marc Whipple says:

      Because it didn’t help that, so it wouldn’t be beneficial to the auth…

      Wait. I mean, because we aren’t trying to necessarily measure absolute improvement in life outcomes, we’re trying to determine if making these interventions makes society as a whole better off. If everyone in the intervention group experiences a small decrease in incomes, but gets arrested at a lower rate, etc, it’s in society’s interest to perform the intervention.

      Plus, then we can have more studies studying why these children of chaos still have lower incomes, and more programs designed to fix that. So really, there’s no downside, is there?

  17. Tarrou says:

    My political crystal ball can already see the attack ads: “Politician X wants your kids to die in the gutter without new Program Y! How can anyone be so heartless as to deny the SCIENCE! that if Program Y is implemented at a paltry cost of (some substantial fraction of GDP) all your children will be as happy and attractive as these paid models!”

    I can also foresee the day when government wet-nursing interventions are all the rage.

  18. On a related note: effective interventions in prison.

    “But that is all at the emotional level. At a more cognitive level, one major thing that we did in the jails of San Francisco when I worked there over a ten-year period was to focus on cognitive issues—namely what we call the Male Role Belief System, which we felt had underlain the violence these men had committed. And by that we meant all of the assumptions they had been taught as to how you define masculinity and what you need to do in order to be a man, what you are entitled to do, what you are obligated to do, how should women treat you, how should you treat them, and on and on—the whole set of assumptions that almost all men in our society are raised with. The assumption underlying this very skewed patriarchal, somewhat misogynistic view is that the social universe, that is, the whole population, is divided into the superior and the inferior. In that division, men are supposed to be in the superior part and women in the inferior part. And, in fact, the really superior man has also got to be superior to other men. So they are also inferior.This is a recipe for violence because most people don’t want to be cast into the role of the inferior.RA:And it is a roadmap for feeling disrespected.JG:Exactly. So we engaged in intensive group therapy with these jail inmates—all of them were in for a violent crime. I was amazed how quickly they grasped that point. And not only did they get the point, they began to say things like, “I’ve been brainwashed by the society I have grown up in.” They would want to then start educating the new inmates about what they had learned.So we said, “Great,” and we would train them to lead the groups themselves, kind of like Alcoholics Anonymous where the people suffering from the problem are sometimes the best therapists. So we trained them to lead these groups, and we found the level of violence in the prison dropped to zero, and the level of recidivism after they left the prison was down 83% compared with people who had been in an ordinary jail without these kinds of programs. We found the level of violence in the prison dropped to zero, and the level of recidivism after they left the prison was down 83%. ”

    He doesn’t mention costs, but if prisoners can therapise other inmates, it can presumably be done cheaply.

    http://www.psychotherapy.net/interview/gilligan-violence

    • Gbdub says:

      Probably a bit hyperbolic to label “most” men (and no women) that way, but the whole “respect” subculture (“I had to shoot him – he disrespected me!”) does seem to drive a lot of violence. Which is interesting since it used to be a prominent feature of the upper class (e.g. dueling) and now it’s confined mostly to the lower classes.

    • Charlie says:

      Wow, this is really neat. Now I feel like we’re falling down as a society for not implementing programs like this on a much larger scale (with variety, of course, to find what works).

    • Cauê says:

      “We found the level of violence in the prison dropped to zero, and the level of recidivism after they left the prison was down 83%. ”

      I… really don’t believe this. Is there more than the interview?

      • Anonymous says:

        I found this. http://www.sunnyschwartz.com/GilliganRSVPeval.pdf
        If this works, why isn’t everyone doing it? But I want to believe it works.

        • Cauê says:

          Ok, let’s see:

          First, the actual program was a combination of four types of intervention, and the three arms not mentioned in this interview look a *lot* more likely to work than this feminism-based one, to my eyes at least. (they were: 1- bringing victims of violence to talk to the inmates; 2- writing theater plays from events in their own lives, instructing them to write different decisions with different consequences, and 3- a post-release education program).

          The 83% lower rearrest rate was for the subset of inmates who were in the program for at least 16 weeks, with lower results for the others (I *think* dropping out was forbidden, but it doesn’t say this – which would affect results via selection effects)

          Participation was mandated by the Sheriff’s Department or the Probation Department, but it’s not clear what criteria were used for the selection of participants. I rather suspect some selection effects at this point as well…

          Looking at the other kinds of intervention used, I’m now less skeptical of the numbers, but not by a whole lot.

          • Anonymous says:

            Hmm. I was feeling lazy so I was looking for input from someone highly motivated to tear the study apart. I’m much more likely to believe the results now I’ve seen your efforts.

            I think critically examining the well-documented connection between masculinity, status and violence is a hell of a lot more likely to have a useful effect than writing a play; but of course that is me simply stating my bias as you have stated yours. However as far as I know the playwriting/creativity kind of intervention is very common and I’ve never heard of them being dramatically effective.

            Victim impact interventions are of course done everywhere, and are generally found to be effective, but not this effective.

            And of course the person who actually conducted the study thought that the examination of masculinity was the most important aspect of the intervention, to judge by his description of it.

            The duration of any inmate’s participation in the program depends on the length of time he remains in jail

            and participation is mandatory.

            They weren’t allowed to drop out even after leaving jail!

            Since they apparently couldn’t drop out, the fact that a longer time spent in the programme leads to much lower recidivism rates compared to control groups seems like a point in favour of the effectiveness of the intervention, not against it. As long as you were in this jail, you were in the programme. And the longer you were in the programme, the more effective it apparently was.

            However the results described in the paper are so extraordinary that maybe, as you hinted, there’s something missing in the description of the procedure that would have given room for a selection effect to occur.

            (edited because I had missed a line about control groups.)

          • Cauê says:

            >”I think critically examining the well-documented connection between masculinity, status and violence than writing a play”

            I’d like to see this done without the “masculinity” part – there’s a place for gender differences in this, but I bet “testosterone” would be a more productive angle of study than “indoctrination”.

            As for teaching people to recognize status challenges for what they are and respond differently, this does look promising, but not anywhere near this promising, and I’d be surprised if “don’t be afraid to be seen as feminine” turned out to be an effective way to go about it.

            I’m not familiar with success rates of “creativity” interventions, but the authors themselves give good reasons to expect some success from this specific approach: “For men who have gone through life
            up to that point almost like sleep-walkers, with astonishingly little self-reflection or
            self-awareness as to what they were actually doing to themselves and to others and why they were doing it, and who customarily substituted actions (or “acting out”) for both feelings and thoughts, this exercise enables them to observe and reflect on themselves and others with a degree of objectivity they had not had before. They literally write themselves into a play that they can see could have had a different ending, if only they had had enough awareness at the time that alternatives did exist.”

            >”And of course the person who actually conducted the study thought that the examination of masculinity was the most important aspect of the intervention, to judge by his description of it.”

            As long as we’re comparing biases, his look similar to yours. Despite that, the authors indicate that the inmates considered the victim visits as the most effective part.

            The selection effects I was thinking of would come from sheriffs and parole officers selecting the people they would expect to benefit more from the program. This would likely produce a population very unlike the control groups. Once more, it would be good to know things like offense type in both the intervention and control groups.

            (and I’m still not sure there were no other ways to get out of it)

            (edited to remove response to part that was edited out)

          • Anonymous says:

            I fucked up, actually, there were 3 control groups, divided up by length of sentence. So the “selection bias should be working in reverse” part isn’t true. I’m actually a bit relieved; it’s not quite as “too good to be true” as it seemed before I realised that. Sorry about that though. I was hoping I’d get to edit before anyone ended up quoting or responding!

            I do think the “biases” of the guy who actually designed what seems to have been a very effective intervention indeed should be accorded some weight. Or even a lot of weight. But we can agree to disagree on that.

            “Don’t be afraid to be seen as feminine” is not a very good interpretation of what he said though. I agree with you that that wouldn’t work.

            And yes, I agree that the kind of selection bias you’re mentioning could have occurred at the Sheriff’s office or wherever. In fact without explicit randomisation or blinding it almost certainly did occur. Still, though. I don’t think that could explain all of these results. Somebody should be trying to replicate this study.

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            These results are way too good to be true. I think the feministy stuff is basically dead on accurate; I also expect that trying to explain it to a typical prisoner is going to be exactly as effective as “Don’t hurt people, mmkay?”

            On the other hand, if selection effects are really responsible, the system’s ability to select reformable prisoners is actually pretty impressive. That might be worth leveraging more, though adding more discretion to the system also has its problems.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Authors: James Gilligan, MD, and Bandy Lee, MD, MDiv. I love interdisciplinary work.

    • I’m a bit cynical about wonderful results from prison education programs, because (1) prison inmates are an extremely difficult population, VERY resistant to change, (2) few professionals are interested in working with prisoners, and those that do get burned out quickly, (3) a brand-new exciting program tends to get hand-picked prisoners who are likely to succeed, (4) when the program expands into the more typical prisoner population, the effectiveness rate falls steeply, moreover (5) followup is difficult to do, and the statistics are often fraudulent, e.g., counting an ex-prisoner who died or disappeared as a success, because he wasn’t re-arrested.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      “the whole set of assumptions that almost all men in our society are raised with.”

      My guess is that, say, Steve Wozniak was probably raised with a different set of assumptions about what it means to be a man than most of the guys in San Quentin.

      • Outcomes are not assumptions. There are non macho men about, but if they see themselves as not archetypally male, they are still operating on the same assumption. Nerd self hate and all that.

        • Irrelevant says:

          I contend that “nerd self-hate” is a product of the Dunning-Kruger effect and a higher-than-typical tendency towards neuroticism, and will continue regardless of changes in the archetypes against which we are measuring ourselves.

          • What’s the DK effect got to do with it?

          • Irrelevant says:

            The “everything is easy so my strengths aren’t real” side of the Dunning-Kruger effect, not the “I have no grasp of how far behind I am” side, to be clear. Scott’s written about his own tendency to seize on whoever was at hand who was better at Name A Thing than him and beat himself up over it, and I’ve observed the same personally and in my family. So you’ve got a long walk to convince me that this is an externally rooted problem.

          • I didn’t grow that because I’m lacking it, along with scrupulosity and a few other things.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      “So we engaged in intensive group therapy with these jail inmates—all of them were in for a violent crime. I was amazed how quickly they grasped that point. And not only did they get the point, they began to say things like, “I’ve been brainwashed by the society I have grown up in.” They would want to then start educating the new inmates about what they had learned.”

      Cons tend to be pretty clever about picking up on naive outsiders preconceptions and parroting them back to them. See, for example, the prison scenes in Evelyn Waugh’s 1928 novel “Decline and Fall” in which a reforming sociologist is put in charge of a prison.

      • Nita says:

        See, for example, the prison scenes in Evelyn Waugh’s 1928 novel “Decline and Fall”

        Fictional evidence?

        Also, the idea is not implausible, but unproductive. As soon as you believe that “group X are manipulative liars”, you might as well kill them all or lock them up for life, because you can never trust them. Everything they do, everything they say might be a part of some evil scheme.

        • “Unproductive” != “false.” Anyone who has ever worked with prisoners in any capacity (and I have) will support Steve’s assertion.

          • Svejk says:

            Well, if TheAncientGreek’s description is accurate, we have the additional evidence that prisoner behaviour was modified in accordance with their utterances.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          you might as well kill them all or lock them up for life

          That’s a fun attempt at shutting up the other side, but when you are dealing with people in jail for violent crimes, it’s foolish to base social policy simply on their words. (Especially if it’s exactly what you want to hear about the world.)

          What they say is, of course, evidence, but it’s evidence that you should find a way of externally verifying.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          Fictional evidence?

          Depending on genre, treatment, etc, when a piece of fiction has become popular, that means a lot of people like it. Which indicates* that a lot of people find its setting, character types, etc** more or less realistic. Which is evidence for what its audience believed or expected. Which may mean, for what sort of thing really did exist.

          _Decline and Fall_ was a satirical comic novel, hard for us to know where its audience drew the line. But for example _Gaudy Night_’s Oxford was accepted as realistic by its readers (not its plot), so that’s evidence.

          * skipping steps and ignoring exceptions

          * not necessarily its plot

          • Nita says:

            As far as I know, in this case neither the author nor the majority of the readers had a lot of personal experience with prisons or people convicted for violent crimes.

            So, the popularity of the book can mean:
            – the book is funny
            – the characters behave according to the readers’ understanding of normal human behavior
            – the characters behave according to the readers’ stereotypes about convicts

            All in all, it’s poor evidence for any claims about convicts in particular, although somewhat better for claims about captive humans in general.

  19. Chris H says:

    So one thing I haven’t seen anyone bring up yet is what if the improved results are about gaining a relative advantage over people in your socio-economic class that if everyone received would have no effect? It’s sort of like the effect that when everyone receives college degrees, the result is not everyone getting great jobs but even crappy jobs begin requiring degrees. Perhaps the same could hold true for early interventions?

    • Steve Sailer says:

      That’s a possibility, but I’d guess that it more works the other way around: you’re better off if you and everybody around you improves X% than if you improve 2X% but nobody else improves.

  20. Fnord says:

    I feel like there’s important missing context. Namely, how the result compare to other social groups.
    Much is made of the intervention group having fewer relationships than the control. But it seems conceivable that that’s consistent with the control group having more relationships than “normal”, less well-adjusted groups, and the intervention group having relationships at a rate more consistent with better-adjusted people. As other people have mentioned, you see effects like high dark triad traits leading to more sex partners.
    Likewise with the mortality data. How does the mortality data compare to other groups?

  21. Tarrou says:

    Second cynical thought……..How many of these “intervention” programs are actually just the injection of some basic parenting into the lives of those who don’t have it? And isn’t it cheaper and more effective to simply sterilize those who don’t make good parents rather than spend twenty years and a quarter of a million dollars per child to try to rectify this basic mismatch?

    • !!!!!!!! says:

      it might be in an alternate universe where you could ‘simply’ sterilize anyone. on top of the ordinary costs and risks involved (it’s a surgical procedure after all) it’s politically radioactive.

      on a less pedantic note there are a lot of ways to depress fertility without going door to door snipping people’s tubes. emergency contraception and abortion are supposedly (haven’t checked myself) used more by at risk demographics so allowing TANF to be used to purchase either would probably decrease the total number of children they had. reducing tax incentives / aid for single parent households could make having kids unaffordable for a lot of women. it’s not like either suggestion would be uncontroversial but at least they’re at the two edges of the overton window rather than orbiting the dark side of the moon.

      if you’re going to advocate machiavellian eugenics programs in the first place it makes sense to focus on schemes which don’t trumpet your intentions quite so loudly.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        That alternate history is the 1970s. Surreptitious hospitalizations are pretty difficult, but women are routinely hospitalized at birth. They don’t usually give birth under general, but that’s a minor detail.

      • Tarrou says:

        Not advocating it, so I’m not all that invested in concealing something I’m putting out as a thought experiment.

        But your public displeasure has been noted. The proper tribespeople have seen and marked you as one of theirs. Enjoy the warm embrace of the clan, and death to the unbelievers!

        • !!!!!!!! says:

          conveying nuance online is difficult, especially when you’ve decided to forgo uppercase, so i’ll clarify a bit:

          i agree with you on every technical point regarding heritability of intelligence specifically and temperament generally. i also agree that current mores on the subject are stifling and counterproductive. finally i personally believe that our first duty is to improve the species and that that takes precedence over lesser concerns (since after all self improvement will solve most of them incidentally)

          but this kind of thought experiment is actively unhelpful on all of those fronts. it tars legitimate fields of science like psychometrics and genetics with the brush of supporting atrocities. it reinforces the popular view that noticing dysgenic pressures means you want to start up the t4 program again. and it draws people into ‘near mode’ politics which distracts them from thinking seriously about the future of humanity

          if you want to help don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good. a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down and genetic medicine is no different in this regard

    • suntzuanime says:

      First sentence: “hmm, injecting basic parenting into the lives of those who don’t have it does seem like a good idea, maybe the community should support struggling parents more”. Second sentence: *train derails, nuclear cargo explodes, millions are dead*

      • Tarrou says:

        Just tossing out ideas from my hollowed-out skull shaped volcano island lair here!

        If I were to make a real argument rather than an argument starter, I suppose I’d say perhaps we’d be better off (and certainly cheaper) to end all the costly programs that incentivize poor parenting and high birthrates among the lowest performing parentage demographics. At absolute worst, you get no effect and spend less money. At best you get better outcomes for substantially less money.

        “The community support struggling parents more” – Sure, how do you do that? I mean, it used to be done by the parents of the parents, and the extended family, but we’ve decided as a society to bin that for straight cash from the state. And if we decide to follow the science on childhood outcomes to governmental policy, our national program is going to be the wet dream of Dr. Dobson.

    • Anonymous says:

      if you have a time machine there are so many better solutions than “sterilize those who make bad parents”

      • Irrelevant says:

        Of course: if you have a time machine, you can find the ideal people and flood the world with their offspring instead!

        • Anonymous says:

          I was more poking fun at the idea of “sterilize those who don’t make good parents”.

          By the time you know who makes good parents, you’re 10-20 years too late.

      • Tarrou says:

        I don’t have a time machine, but I do have a staple gun!

    • Steve Sailer says:

      The Israeli medical establishment and government agencies have proven pretty effective at pressuring Ethiopian Jewish women into getting injections of Depo-Provera, a three month contraceptive, cutting their fertility in half over recent years:

      http://takimag.com/article/israels_fertility_policy_bears_fruit_steve_sailer/print#axzz3TCT3cXe2

      The U.S. government has had a policy of discouraging teen births and teen fertility is well down since a recent peak in 1991, the year before Depo-Provera was approved for use in the U.S.

      In general, establishments that aren’t hamstrung by guilt tend to be fairly effective at influencing without tyranny fertility rates in the direction they want them to move. Much can be learned from Israel, of course.

      • Tarrou says:

        I do wonder what the result would be if ever welfare check was issued with a long-term contraceptive injection. Unfortunately, we don’t yet have a perfected male drug of this sort, so you’re missing half the population…..although men are much less likely to qualify for various programs, the disproportionate impact might not be asbad as first thought.

        • Airgap says:

          They do. It’s being tested in India. They inject some shit into your vas deferens which kills sperm with electricity as they pass through (apparently it doesn’t take much electricity to kill sperm). Something like that anyway. Look up “RISUG.”

  22. 27chaos says:

    While we’re considering early intervention in general, does anyone know whether teaching babies sign language improves their future intelligence?

    • Emile says:

      (I posted an answer to this with a link to my own blog but it looks like it was eaten by the spam-eating monster)

      • Paul Torek says:

        The link at your name leads to LessWrong. I kinda figured it would lead to one’s own blog. (Mine does.) That would have made this easy!

  23. Anonymous says:

    My priors make me predisposed to like this study, but I can’t help wondering if some of the positive outcome comes from being singled out *relative to peers.*
    If it’s not just the attention and education but the *extra* attention and education impacting the participants’ sense of their own social status and thus their life outcomes.
    That seems hard to control for, and it would make an intervention like this very difficult to scale.

  24. onyomi says:

    Bit of a tangential rant, and this probably makes me a terrible person, but am I the only person who laughed to see Jeff Bridges on TV promoting free breakfast in California public schools? The premise was that children don’t get enough food at home and they need subsidized breakfast in addition to subsidized lunch at school.

    Has anyone in California recently encountered a starving child? Like literally starving, with the distended stomach or beriberi or something? Now how about a kid on his way to type ii diabetes? Maybe more importantly, are there any parents in 21st century California who can’t buy their child some toast, an egg, or a box of cereal? I’m sure all these people own TVs. And what does it do to the child’s idea of personal responsibility to send the message that parents are not even responsible for feeding their own children anymore?

    I grew up with parents who worked to provide for me, and I’m sure that that fact, more than genetics, instilled in me the idea that I need to work to provide for any children I may have.

    I feel like not trying to do everything for poor parents would do more to prevent the kids becoming criminals than any enrichment program. If the children are literally starving or neglected then take them away from the parents; otherwise, how about expecting people to take responsibility for their own kids?

    More to the point: for every dollar you spend on government programs to help underprivileged children, might you not be doing more than one dollar’s worth of long-term damage to the sense of mutual responsibility that holds families together and pushes people to work hard and not be criminals (though this probably applies more to provision of basic needs, like food, than to educational programs that actively involve the parents)?

    Alternatively, if you really want to spend money, it seems you’d get more bang for the buck on programs that, in effect, help parents be better parents (which it seems the above-described program may have done to some extent) than on helping kids be better kids.

    • Tom Scharf says:

      I still remember like it was yesterday watching a public access channel of a local school board meeting and a parent coming up to the microphone with 6 or 7 referrals her child had received that year and demanding the school board answer why this had happened to her child.

      And what made it even worse was the school board answered sheepishly that they would look into it, and it was obvious every one of them was thinking the same thing and was incapable of saying it out loud.

      I think the left tends to view bad outcomes as a problem with society and that everyone has skin in the game for bringing up all the tribe’s children. The right has a more rigid framework of assigning specific responsibility for outcomes and knowing who to blame when things go poorly.

      In my experience in engineering if you assigned a task to a person it was more likely to get done, if you assigned it to a group, it would more often be done poorly or not done at all, something I called “group irresponsibility”.

      • onyomi says:

        I think this is a very good point and applies to the efficacy (the lack thereof) of pretty much all social welfare programs, in my view.

        Related is the attempt to take all the shame out of accepting government welfare by making unemployment checks an easy online process, food stamps into what looks like a debit card, etc.

        This takes away much of the traditional mechanism for getting people out of slumps. If you have to rely on your parents or sleep on your friend’s couch because you lost your job, eventually your parents or your friends are probably going to start making you feel bad about that. Humans function at the level of Dunbar-sized groups, not huge, abstract collectives to and from which you are supposed to contribute according to your ability and take according to your need.

        The idea that society can function with all carrots and no sticks fails to take into account the fact that, given a comfortable choice, most people don’t like working. Heck, if I didn’t have fear of failure and need to support my family motivating me I’d get a whole lot less done. (There is also the positive motivation to contribute to my field, gain admiration, etc., but that alone would not be as strong a motivator).

        • Nita says:

          You seem to be modelling the situation like this: one jobless person is supported by fully functioning friends/family, feels bad, gets a job.

          But the reality in many of these cases is quite different: multiple struggling, dysfunctional people support each other to the best of their ability, with mixed results. So, the choice is between believing “using food stamps is OK if you need it” and “you and many people you know and love, people who have helped you in desperate times, are disgusting leeches who deserve to suffer”. Guess what the typical mentally healthy human will choose?

          Also, undernourishment is not the only form of malnutrition, and refusing to help children in situations they didn’t choose seems, uh, not very nice?

      • “I think the left tends to view bad outcomes as a problem with society and that everyone has skin in the game for bringing up all the tribe’s children. The right has a more rigid framework of assigning specific responsibility for outcomes and knowing who to blame when things go poorly.In my experience in engineering if you assigned a task to a person it was more likely to get done, if you assigned it to a group, it would more often be done poorly or not done at all, something I called “group irresponsibility”.

        So which individual was responsible for putting a man on the moon?

        To be more charitable, you may have a point about the inefficacy of unstructured, leaderless groups, but there is a third way: structured groups.

        Dennotationally, you are spot on about how the right emphasise blame and personal responsibility over aggregate problem-solving. (Its particularly clear in the gun debate). The problem is that if you don’t focus on aggregate problem solving, you don’t get it.

        The evidence is in on “knowing who to blame”: if you treat crime atomistically as lots of individual interactions, you and up with a high crime rate, and a high prison population.

        • Cauê says:

          Unfair. Clearly some things can’t be done individually, and in those cases his reasoning is not applicable, not wrong. And even then, if you look at the specific tasks that make up big projects, suddenly individual vs. collective responsibility is a factor again.

          What’s particularly clear in the gun debate is how marked framing differences can get between tribes. Also, how moralistic framing can drown out the empirical questions (I basically agree with Scott here: http://squid314.livejournal.com/347454.html).

          • I don’t see why his reasoning would be inapplicable.

            If groups can get things done because no one in them takes responsibility, why should that not also apply in cases where there is no alternative to a group?

          • Cauê says:

            Sure, if we were really talking about whether groups can ever get anything done at all. But if someone is talking about one way that [assigning responsibility to] individuals work better than groups, we’d have to test it by looking at tasks in which comparison is possible.

            Also, looking at a big project as one single group is the wrong level to test this. If he is right and good managers know this, then large projects that work can be organized in such a way that responsibility for individual tasks falls on individuals rather than groups.

        • Tom Scharf says:

          Kind of a funny aside, but I always bristle at the fact that man on the moon documentaries always highlight the astronauts when all they really did was sit on the top of the rocket, it is the 1000’s of engineers who really put a man on the moon. They receive little glory. So I do take your point.

          Conversely I believe that child upbringing is more of a one on one endeavor where parents can deliver the entire package without help in most cases. They don’t need a team of a 1000 to instill a value of education or make a child do his homework.

          My point was more that you cannot give a group vague responsibility for an outcome, you must assign a leader of the group both responsibility and the power to control that outcome.

          • Nita says:

            it is the 1000’s of engineers who really put a man on the moon

            Let’s not forget the millions of people who paid for it, too.

          • > They don’t need a team of a 1000 to instill a value of education or make a child do his homework.

            Homework given to them by teachers?

    • Anthony says:

      Relatedly, what’s with all the ads for “help a foster child”? Are most foster parents either that poor, or that awful, that children in the foster care system really are deprived?

      • gattsuru says:

        Because of certain collective action problems, the foster care system is a much harder problem than that of younger adoption, and children who age through the foster care system tend to have worse outcomes than those who are adopted out.

        ((It’s not clear if this is causative: the things that keep people in foster care, such as loss of family, highly toxic family relationships, or physical and/or mental disability, can cause bad outcomes even when the foster parents themselves are great. But there’s a number of high-profile bad foster parents, and a lot of mediocre foster parents, and the system as a whole tends to encourage shuffling children around often.))

    • Nita says:

      I’d like to see a debate between your camp (“we just need to expect better parenting!”) and the HBD camp (“these people are genetically inferior, so bad outcomes are completely natural!”). It might be more fun than the usual red/blue dust-ups.

      • !!!!!!!! says:

        true although the positions aren’t wholly incompatible.

        greyhounds are naturally much better runners than golden retrievers but you still need to train them first if you expect to win any races. just leaving it in the kennel with a big bag of doggy treats will waste whatever potential it had in either case.

        inferior ability + training > inferior ability: that’s a trivial mathematical fact. even if someone doesn’t have the potential to be a productive member of society that doesn’t mean they couldn’t be brought up to at least be less of a burden.

        • Nita says:

          Sure, the alternative proposal (training) is pretty non-controversial at the moment.

          I was more interested in the original proposal — cancelling school lunches / food stamps in order to reduce crime.

          • onyomi says:

            @Nita

            I do think that most government-run welfare programs are not just dubiously efficient and effective but actually long-run harmful, which is why I oppose them all the more: it’s not just that we could be doing better stuff with tax dollars, it’s that we’re using tax dollars to actively undermine society.

            I think things like food and shelter are so basic that almost anyone will struggle to provide them for themselves and their children. And in the US today, if you struggle, you can at least provide food and shelter, assuming you are reasonably able-bodied. I think that struggle itself is salutary, as is the need to rely on family, friends, and neighbors when things really get bad, not just for the economy, but for the people who are actually struggling AND their kids.

            Regardless of views of relative importance of heredity and upbringing, I think most people will agree with the idea that children do as their parents do, not as their parents (and teachers) say. In other words, to the extent parenting can help at all, modeling good behavior is more important than preaching good behavior.

            Therefore, I think if you teach kids “personal responsibility is important” in your enrichment class, but they go home to parents who rely wholly on the government (other people) to raise and support them, then you are sending the wrong message on the more important channel even as you send the right message on the much weaker channel.

            There are some people who will struggle to provide even if they don’t really have to, but I think there’s another big group who will struggle to provide ONLY if they have to. Modeling behavior that says the struggle is necessary and good ironically creates more of the former group of people, which is why welfare programs do well for a while in places (like Sweden) where people are very responsible to begin with, but gradually erode the very foundations of that responsibility.

          • Anthony says:

            onyomi –

            as is the need to rely on family, friends, and neighbors when things really get bad, not just for the economy, but for the people who are actually struggling AND their kids.

            There’s a problem with this. It becomes a poverty trap. If you get help from friends, family, neighbors, there’s an expectation that you in turn will help them when you’re doing better and one or more of them are not. That expectation will bleed you back to the margin of poverty, so that when another bad turn hits you, you don’t have the resources to ride it out on your own.

            I’m not sure what the answer is – the U.S.’s current welfare policies are an improvement over the pre-1994 ones, but they’re still counterproductive in important ways.

          • onyomi says:

            @Anthony,

            I think the “trap” you’re talking about would apply to groups with a very strong communal living ideal: for example, I’ve heard one explanation for persistent poverty in much of Africa as “as soon as you make any money you’re expected to share it with all your relatives and neighbors, so nobody ever accumulates enough capital for long-term investment.”

            I don’t think there’s danger of that happening in the United States. People here seem, if anything, too atomistic (except as it relates to giving money to an abstract government to help abstract poor people), not too communalistic. I’m talking about most families basically supporting themselves but relying on family and friends for a little help in times of unusual hardship, which is what I think would happen, at least in the US, if social welfare programs were eliminated.

            In a world without welfare programs, of course, you’d probably also see a resurgence of things like “friendly societies,” though I don’t think those were ever blamed for keeping people in poverty–and if they do, how much more so would government-mandated, impersonal aid do so?

            Do you have any concrete examples of this sort of poverty trap? I don’t think in most cases the social pressure to voluntarily help those down on their luck is strong enough to completely sap the productive resources of the more successful. And if it is, how much more so, indeed, would be the non-voluntary taxation we currently use to fund programs designed to obviate the need for this?

          • Anonymous says:

            how much more so, indeed, would be the non-voluntary taxation we currently use to fund programs designed to obviate the need for this?

            Isn’t this why tax rates are progressive?

          • onyomi says:

            Theoretically, yes, though they “progress” to a burdensome level right when you start making any significant amount of money you might invest.

            But I’m more cynical: we tax the rich more because that’s where the money is.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Nita

            Sure, the alternative proposal (training) is pretty non-controversial at the moment.
            I was more interested in the original proposal — cancelling school lunches / food stamps in order to reduce crime.

            Traditionally, this increases the rate of theft of loaves of bread.

          • “I’ve heard one explanation for persistent poverty in much of Africa as “as soon as you make any money you’re expected to share it with all your relatives and neighbors, so nobody ever accumulates enough capital for long-term investment.”

            At least its persistent poverty: such communities don’t wither away through starvation.

          • ” a world without welfare programs, of course, you’d probably also see a resurgence of things like “friendly societies,”

            And “baby farms”. Industrial societies without wlefare have been tried. That’s how we ended up here.

          • onyomi says:

            I find this sort of “been there, done that” argument very flippant and unhelpful.

            It’s only one step above the whole “you want to go back to the 19th century when we had slavery??” argument. There were a lot of good things about the 19th century. Some things were better than today. There were also some bad things (most of which were things that had existed during every century of human history prior).

            There is no reason to assume that any attempt to regain the good things (free immigration, unprecedented level of economic freedom, growth, and innovation, etc.) will necessarily bring back the bad things.

            As for the specific example of baby farms, I can think of a lot of alternatives now available and not then, including contraception, abortion, and the fact that people are just plain richer in general (today’s “poor” are rich by the standards of the 18th and 19th c.’s poor).

            Moreover, I’m not sure that it’s necessarily a bad thing. What would be bad about wealthy, probably educated, childless couples who really want children paying poor, probably less educated biological parents who don’t want children? It seems rather win-win-win for biological parents, adoptive parents, and child, with the fringe benefit that it would reduce abortion. I know there were terrible abuses in some cases, but most of them seem easy enough to prevent nowadays.

          • Anthony says:

            Onyomi –

            Do you have any concrete examples of this sort of poverty trap? I don’t think in most cases the social pressure to voluntarily help those down on their luck is strong enough to completely sap the productive resources of the more successful.

            I can’t name names, but a friend of mine has described exactly this sort of poverty trap in her family. If she hadn’t been sexually abused by them, and thus be willing to completely cut ties with them, she’d still be subject to this. Megan McArdle has described this happening in poor neighborhoods, though I can’t find the post she specifically talked about it. This post starts getting at the idea, but I recall reading another post of hers which digs into this in more detail. There’s also an easily-findable video she made about that, but I hate watching talking-head video, so I can’t vouch for it.

          • @omyomi

            I think there is definitely a burden on the proposers of Forward to the Past to explain why things will be different this time. You CANNOT assume same cause, different effect as a default. Pointing that out iis not glibness.

            My intuitions tell me that an extension of abortion is a bit less bad than baby farms, and also that welfare is a lot less bad than either. Youre not selling me on this.

            ” Moreover, I’m not sure that it’s necessarily a bad thing. What would be bad about wealthy, probably educated, childless couples who really want children paying poor, probably less educated biological parents who don’t want children?”

            Mismatch of supply and demand.

          • onyomi says:

            @TheAncientGeek, you make it sound like industrial society without welfare programs has universally proven hellish throughout history, which seems far from obvious to me. Sure, there was a lot of unpleasantness attendant on early industrialization, but in many cases it was still better than what came before. Part of the apparent unease may have simply been rich people, for the first time, actually seeing how poor people lived. Had they seen how feudal peasants lived they might have been equally horrified.

            You mention “same cause, different effect,” but I don’t think it’s at all established that industrialization per se was the true cause of the “hellish mills,” nor that it was welfare that alleviated them. After all, was life in 1950s US, before the great society “hellish”? By all relevant standards it was paradise–a paradise born by more than a century of industrialization. Even 1900 in the US, before social security or even workplace safety laws, was an amazing time to live by all historical standards. I see no reason things wouldn’t have continued on their upward trajectory (and faster) without welfare programs. Increased productivity makes safe and pleasant working conditions, as well as charity for the poor, possible. Government largely takes credit for positive developments that were already happening, sometimes slowing or even halting them.

            http://www.economicsjunkie.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/poverty-rate-historical1.png

          • Harald K says:

            onyomi: “you make it sound like industrial society without welfare programs has universally proven hellish throughout history, which seems far from obvious to me.”

            Well, Japan with industry minus welfare was also hellish, despite being a radically different society (yes, they had baby farms too). So where are the counterexamples?

          • onyomi says:

            I would hardly call Taisho or even Meiji Japan “hellish.” And if they were, then all of Japan’s prior history was the ninth circle.

            The idea that pre-industrial societies could be fine without state-run social welfare programs but industrial societies cannot would only seem to make sense if average incomes went down with industrialization, rather than the reverse.

            Industrial societies have state-run welfare programs because industrialization makes you rich, which makes state-run welfare possible.

            Unless the argument is not purely about money, but about loss of local support when people move from rural to urban areas. This sort of dislocation is bound to require difficult adjustments no matter what, but I see no reason why rural farmers can form voluntary support organizations but urban factory workers cannot.

          • @Onyomi

            “TheAncientGeek, you make it sound like industrial society without welfare programs has universally proven hellish throughout history, which seems far from obvious to me”

            I’m saying that it had certain problem in many cases, which led to the kinds of society we have now.

            “Sure, there was a lot of unpleasantness attendant on early industrialization, but in many cases it was still better than what came before.”

            The question is how it compares to what came after.

            “Part of the apparent unease may have simply been rich people, for the first time, actually seeing how poor people lived.”

            Maybe. Or there might be a solid factual basis.

            ” .In [The Condition of the Working Classes in England] , Engels argues that the Industrial Revolution made workers worse off. He shows, for example, that in large industrial cities such as Manchester and Liverpool, mortality from disease (such as smallpox, measles, scarlet feverand whooping cough) was four times that in the surrounding countryside, and mortality from convulsions was ten times as high. The overall death-rate in Manchester and Liverpool was significantly higher than the national average (1 in 32.72, 1 in 31.90 and even 1 in 29.90, compared with 1 in 45 or 46). An interesting example shows the increase in the overall death-rates in the industrial town of Carlisle where before the introduction of mills (1779–1787), 4,408 out of 10,000 children died before reaching the age of five, and after their introduction the figure rose to 4,738. Before the introduction of mills, 1,006 out of 10,000 adults died before reaching 39 years old, and after their introduction the death rate rose to 1,261 out of 10,000.”

            “Had they seen how feudal peasants lived they might have been equally horrified.You mention “same cause, different effect,” but I don’t think it’s at all established that industrialization per se was the true cause of the “hellish mills,” nor that it was welfare that alleviated them. After all, was life in 1950s US, before the great society “hellish”?”

            I wish you wouldn’t put quotes around words I didn’t use.

            Life in industrial era US wasn’t as bad as Britain or Japan, and the difference was largely due to the much lower population density…and that not something you are going to get back by cutting welfare.

            “By all relevant standards it was paradise–a paradise born by more than a century of industrialization. Even 1900 in the US, before social security or even workplace safety laws, was an amazing time to live by all historical standards ”

            I’ve never heard of a standard of paradisality or amazingness….could you be clearer about where you are getting your figures from.

            “I see no reason things wouldn’t have continued on their upward trajectory (and faster) without welfare programs. ”

            Yeah. There was this thing called the Great Depression?

            “Increased productivity makes safe and pleasant working conditions,”

            We got from increased productivity to safe and pleasant working conditions VIA trade unions and government legislation. You need a way of showing it would have happened anyway.

          • “would hardly call Taisho or even Meiji Japan “hellish.” And if they were, then all of Japan’s prior history was the ninth circle.The idea that pre-industrial societies could be fine without state-run social welfare programs but industrial societies cannot would only seem to make sense if average incomes went down with industrialization,”

            You taking welfare to be synonymous with central government provision. But agricultural societies had their own forms of welfare., such as the right to use common land…which would have been no use to the urban poor, even without the enclosures. So its actually a case of implementing suitable new forms of welfare to replace what had been lost.

            ” rather than the reverse.Industrial societies have state-run welfare programs because industrialization makes you rich, which makes state-run welfare possible.Unless the argument is not purely about money, but about loss of local support when people move from rural to urban areas. This sort of dislocation is bound to require difficult adjustments no matter what, but I see no reason why rural farmers can form voluntary support organizations but urban factory workers cannot.”

            That would be your trade unions.

          • onyomi says:

            I have no problem with trade unions so long as they don’t use violence or coercion.

          • onyomi says:

            @TheAncientGeek, there is a simple economic explanation for why working conditions will improve in a growing economy even without any legislation.

            Take climate controlled workplace. Almost everyone prefers working in a climate controlled workplace, and, in developed countries, almost everyone, except those working outside, gets one. Why is this? Is AC mandated in all developed countries? No, it’s because the cost of adding climate control the to the workplace is less than the premium you’d have to pay to get workers to work in a hot or cold office.

            Ask your average first-world worker: “would you rather have climate control in the office or make 25 cents more per hour?” and they’ll nearly all take the climate control. Ask the same question of someone who makes two dollars a day and you’ll get a very different answer. This would apply equally to questions like “we can make the factory safer but we’d have to pay you a little less,” “we could give you sick leave, but we’d have to pay you a little less,” etc. etc.

            And the historical data in the US seems to back up the idea that poverty was getting better all on its own, and that, if anything the great society programs halted that positive trend. See the chart linked above.

          • onyomi says:

            “I wish you wouldn’t put quotes around words I didn’t use.”

            Sorry, I meant to say “Satanic Mills,” which is a standard phrase used by critics of the early industrial revolution since its appearance in a poem by William Blake. I think I have also heard “Hellish” frequently used to describe the industrial revolution, possibly originally in Robert Burns.

            By quoting “Hellish Mills” I meant to critique not your words in particular, but the line of argumentation associated with the phrase “Satanic Mills,” since you seemed to be making a similar sort of argument that industrial society without welfare is very unpleasant.

          • Harald K says:

            “there is a simple economic explanation for why working conditions will improve in a growing economy even without any legislation.”

            Onyomi, you should definitively read Steve Randy Waldman’s introduction to welfare economics (so should everyone who hasn’t, it’s really exceptional pedagogic writing). If a growing economy provides any guarantees at all, they’re certainly not simple.

            Also, yes, I think Meiji and Taisho Japan were pretty hellish. The sociologist and missionary Toyohiko Kagawa described baby farms of the outright murderous variety in the slums of Kobe at least as late as 1909.

        • onyomi says:

          My own mother and her brother pretty much say it all for me.

          My mother and her brother (genetically unrelated) were both adopted by the same financially successful parents with advanced degrees. My mother got an MA in architecture while her brother never went to college. My uncle became a long-haul truck driver and was still able to make a decent living, get married, raise a kid, etc.

          Try as he might, there was no way my uncle was going to become a physics major like my grandfather, yet I also feel there was no way he was going to become a criminal, being raised by my grandparents. My mother definitely has a higher IQ than my uncle, and I’m not sure how successful or delinquent she might have been had she been raised by less responsible parents, but I do feel strongly that it is extremely unlikely that anyone growing up in my grandparents house could become a criminal, or even a person who tries to game the system by doing as little as possible.

          To use the dog analogy, it might be impossible to create an “attack poodle” or a misanthropic golden retriever no matter how you abuse them, but even pit bulls and rottweilers will grow up to be very sweet and loving if they grow up in a sweet and loving environment.

          That is, there is a limit to how much good parenting can do, but it can usually prevent the worst outcomes.

        • Svejk says:

          onyomi and anthony –
          There’s a problem with this. It becomes a poverty trap. If you get help from friends, family, neighbors, there’s an expectation that you in turn will help them when you’re doing better and one or more of them are not. That expectation will bleed you back to the margin of poverty, so that when another bad turn hits you, you don’t have the resources to ride it out on your own.

          Do you have any concrete examples of this sort of poverty trap? I don’t think in most cases the social pressure to voluntarily help those down on their luck is strong enough to completely sap the productive resources of the more successful.

          There is a body of literature in anthropology and economics addressing the effects of network effects and expectations of reciprocity on capital formation in minority (and specifically African-American) communities. Roland Fryer is one economist I remember who did some work on this topic. The particular difficulties African Americans encounter in severing ties to unhelpful kin systems in order to accumulate and preserve capital (because they face barriers trying to ‘defect’ to other networks in the larger society) have been proposed as a reason that the rate of capital accumulation is so much slower in that subgroup.

          • Nita says:

            re: Fryer

            Do you mean something like this?

            Fryer R. A Model of Social Interactions and Endogenous Poverty Traps. Rationality and Society. 2007;19(3):335-366. [abstract] [PDF]

          • onyomi says:

            That study looks interesting, and I think is kind of what I’m talking about, though I haven’t had a chance to read it carefully yet.

            I wonder if there’s anything diachronic looking at whether such community effects strengthened or weakened before and after introduction of programs like in Great Society.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      Has anyone in California recently encountered a starving child? Like literally starving, with the distended stomach or beriberi or something?

      Is there a degree of malnutrition that you would find unacceptable for a US child?

      • onyomi says:

        Well, there are degrees of malnutrition and degrees of “acceptable.”

        I am a Libertarian of the flavor who thinks taxation is theft, therefore taxing people to pay for school nutrition programs is robbing the rich to feed the poor.

        Is theft to feed children justified? I think it depends. Is it a small amount of money to feed children who will literally die or suffer severe negative health consequences if they don’t receive better nutrition? Then I think it is justified. Is it a huge amount of money to ensure that even the poorest children can eat all organic produce and blue fin tuna, which, after all, would probably be marginally better for them? Then, I think it’s pretty clear it’s not.

        For me, personally, the point at which theft becomes justified is when it is urgently necessary to prevent severe health consequences, not when it might be a little better to eat x instead of y. Among children who are not being willfully neglected, I think almost none fall into this former category in the US. When was the last time you heard of a child in the US who went blind due to insufficient vitamin A, for example, or who suffered severely stunted growth? When I look around the US (especially after returning from somewhere like Asia), I see nothing but unusually tall fat people, i. e. people whose health is actually being negatively impacted by an excess of nutrition, not the reverse.

        The other thing that annoys me about all this is that when the American poor complain they can’t afford to eat and therefore need food stamps, etc., what they are actually saying, to my ears, is that they can’t afford to eat *the type of food they like* which, let’s be honest, is usually junk food. One can be perfectly healthy on a very simple diet of rice, beans, potatoes, etc. with a few fruits and vegetables thrown in–an extremely cheap diet that beats even instant ramen, much less McDonalds, most likely, for dollar-per-calorie ratio. Add a few spices and rice and beans taste pretty good. It’s just boring. Is theft to prevent poor people’s palates from boredom justified? I think not.

        The irony is that most people in the US today would become healthier by spending a few months living as a poor person in the third world.

        Now, between stealing to fund unjust wars and stealing to subsidize poor peoples’ food, I find the latter much less objectionable, but it’s still objectionable, and, imo deleterious for other reasons, as stated above.

        • Princess Stargirl says:

          We have the same moral framework on taxes. Its clearly stealing. (see The Problem of Political Authority).

          However I do in fact think “theft to prevent poor people’s palates from boredom” is often justified. Though the re-distirbution “(theft) has to be a sufficiently efficient transfer for me to be supportive.

          In a world of drastically varying ability I think we need to steal from the able and lucky and give to the less able and less lucky. Especially since the returns to ability are probably increasing.

          *rRght now I do not think the most important advantages are genetic (focus, intellgence, dilligence, health, etc) and luck (in the sense that one company may succeed for reasons beyond its founders control and some people randomly decided to be early employees at facebook). I do not think rich families passing down their money and connections is a particularly important force driving inequality. However Robin Hanson has written quite alot how capital may become dominant again the future (perhaps if em technology evolves).

  25. Tom Scharf says:

    “The apparent conclusion is that intensive interventions can change children’s outcomes”

    I suppose this is psych jargon for something us knuckle draggers call “effective parenting”.

    We all know effective parenting often fails for many reasons, but we also know that child neglect increases the odds of poor outcomes. It’s not hard to classify this study as inserting proxy parents and finding what you would expect.

    This is not necessarily a criticism, as I have always wondered if simply paying the parents to force their kids to do homework might yield cost effective results. Pay the parents to attend and pass parenting classes. If you want free health insurance….then you must attend and pass the following life skill classes…

    As it is now many feel that the school system is put under an undue burden to be proxy parents.

    • Tarrou says:

      And the parenting classes will be taught by………the same bureaucrats who made up the last three food pyramids? Sounds good until you follow it all the way down to the disinterested time card puncher who implements the policy.

      • Tom Scharf says:

        Well…..yes.

        Which is why the very basic instinct of a parent being directly rewarded (not penalized) might be cost effective, it would short circuit the myriad bureaucratic solutions that never reach the one on one interface that might produce results.

        I’m no expert here, I just suggest that if no one ever gets into the face of the child who doesn’t value his education a 1000 social programs that don’t get into his face won’t work.

        I suspect that every social program will have a hard time bursting the bubble of a dysfunctional culture. Until this is met with an open mind we can look forward to more of the same. Ineffective solutions.

  26. dlr says:

    Bottom line, I would say that the thing that really stands out in this report is that hard, independently verified numbers seem to be scarce to non existent- I read the report and it is hard to tell if ANY of the reported numbers were verified independently — even easy to verify ones like employment history, or graduation, death, conviction, jail time, time in psychiatric treatment, use of mental health facilities, etc. All data seems to be based on interview responses.

    They spend 60,000 per person on interventions, and don’t bother collecting easily obtainable independently verifiable information. This reeks of dishonest politicized crap ‘science’ to me.

    They COULD HAVE collected quality data, for instance, total number of hours employed since age 18, from social security records, etc, or number of arrests, number of convictions, length of sentences, mean time to parole, number of parole violations, and a dozen other metrics, from final GPA to number of school suspensions per child, and compared those. They didn’t. One has to presume the authors are either incompetent, or dishonest. I personally am assuming dishonest. Good hearted, good intentioned dishonest of course. But dishonest.

    It’s really time to quit cutting the social sciences any slack. A bad study is a bad study. If this is the best, and strongest study anyone has come up with showing an association between early intervention and life outcomes, then one has to presume there is no association between early intervention and life outcomes. At least for the range of environments available in America today.

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  28. JayMan says:

    OK, so having gotten a chance to look at the study, my concerns were warranted.

    As usual, there was attrition. That screws up any longitudinal study or RCT. They retained less than 80% of their original sample, which biases the result in unknown ways.

    Second, it appears that the intervention group differed from the control group initially, being slightly higher IQ and higher in “social competence” and “warmth.” This could explain away all their findings.

    Third, with the perhaps the exception of the crime reports, it sounds like a case of significance fishing for the results. Sure, all showed lower odds ratios (but see point 2), but only a few were significant. I don’t like that. I’m going to go with replication needed in a much larger (factor 10) sample. Of course, owing to the enormous cost, this is not likely to happen.

    • Jos says:

      I was wondering about that – if the study measured a whole bunch of things and found a couple significant, then . . .

      http://xkcd.com/882/

    • Douglas Knight says:

      IQ d=0.04. Come on!
      [Added: that’s for Wechsler. But letter and word recognition has the third highest d=0.16.]

      Warmth d=0.19, social competence d=0.17. meh. Of all the 22 scores, do ones that differ happen to be the ones that matter? They should have done some simple check, like a multiple regression to say what warmth scores say inside the sample, and then extrapolated to the missing data.

      I can’t do that, but I can combine the 22 tests to check if the two samples were systematically different. If all the differences point in the same direction, I think that would be more meaningful than two with d=0.2. So I computed d for each of the 22 scores, signed them based on whether the name of the test sounded good or bad, and added them up. What total d score would you consider significant? Hover over this sentence to find out the total score. Here is my spreadsheet. Is there a better setting on pastebin for CSV?

      (What are negative IQ scores? Some sources say μ=10, σ=3, but (1) I don’t believe that these kids are -3σ; (2) would they really report negative scores?)

      • RCF says:

        What are the d’s measured in? Z-score?

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Yes, Cohen’s d is the number of standard deviations between the means. Where the standard deviation is that of the individual populations, not the total population. In particular, under the assumption that the two populations have the same standard deviations. And we only have the standard deviation of these restricted populations, which probably much smaller than that of the general population.

    • RCF says:

      Are you saying that there was a flaw in the attempt at randomization that resulted in higher IQ for one group, or are you saying that the random variation resulted in a higher IQ? If the latter, I don’t see it as being particularly persuasive. If p = .05, that means that there is a 5% that there is a completely random cause for the difference. Presenting a specific hypothesis for that cause doesn’t change anything.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Cluster randomization is a reason to be skeptical of randomization. There is only 8-22.5 bits of randomization.

        But I think Jay is talking about the completely different issue of biased attrition. The drop-outs had been d=0.02 warmer at age 5 than those who stayed. If warm controls and cold interventions left, that would be bad. After attrition, the intervention group had been d=0.2 warmer than the controls. We don’t know what the difference was before attrition.

  29. weareastrangemonkey says:

    You should also look at Heckman et al. on the effect of early childhood interventions. A lot of the high economic returns in these studies are due to a reduction in crime rates.

    e.g.

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0047272709001418

    • JayMan says:

      A potential problem with the Perry study is that after random assignment, treatment and controls were reassigned, compromising the original random assignment and making simple interpretation of the evidence problematic. In addition, there was some imbalance in the baseline variables between treatment and control groups.

      From said paper.

      • weareastrangemonkey says:

        And that quote is immediately followed by

        “Heckman et al. (2009b) discuss the Perry selection and randomization protocols in detail. They correct for the imbalance in pre-program variables and the compromise in randomization using matching. We use their procedures in this analysis.”

        The three studies (2009a, 2009b and 2010) need to be read quite carefully and require a bit of leg work for all but the most statistically minded people. However, I think that the results stand up if you are willing to put in the effort to understanding the methodology used. Also, they are fantastic papers for learning about policy analysis in the presence of imperfect experimental design.

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  31. Steve Sailer says:

    My perennial prejudice is that in most nature-nurture questions that seem pretty interesting and arguable over the decades, the influence of nature and nurture will be roughly comparable in magnitude.

  32. Dishwasher says:

    445 were randomly selected for the intervention. Another 446 stayed in the control group

    Isn’t too small a group to be much evidence?

  33. Dishwasher says:

    BTW if this does hold up with much larger numbers we can get the result with no more spending by reducing spending on school administration and since academics seem intractable perhaps we can move some money and effort from there to what might work.

  34. Dishwasher says:

    Although I think that nature is most of the cause within our society that these at risk folks might do well in a very different society.

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