Lin-sanity is the new prism through which we must view all?

February 15, 2012

Jonah Lehrer has a post up which reviews the now commonly understood wisdom that one Jeremy Lin is a fantastic basketball talent that was overlooked by the system.

Jeremy Lin is a reminder that similar problems almost certainly apply to the NBA, which is why we shouldn’t be so surprised that a benchwarmer cut from multiple teams is quickly becoming a star. There is talent everywhere. We just don’t know how to find it.

As you know, I am of the opinion that our current focus on Glamour Magazine publication success in science is similarly leading us to miss a lot of talent that would perhaps do even better than many selected by the Glamour Gaze.



No Responses Yet to “Lin-sanity is the new prism through which we must view all?”

  1. anonymous postdoc Says:

    I’ve been pondering the CPPian point of view lately that science is akin to major league baseball.

    This post would certainly highlight one of the problems with treating our national scientific endeavor in the same way we treat our televised athletic showdowns. We aren’t even that great at recognizing excellence when there are apparently objective metrics, so we’re bound to be pretty shitty at it when things get less objective. GlamourMag publication as a metric reaches an n=1 level of ridiculousness, whereby based on this one paper that happened to make it into Important Journal, we conclude this young professional will stand the test of time. Compared to this, RBI, or hell, even passing yards is a gold-plated statistical measure.

    An additional problem I have been chewing on with this analogy is that major league [fill in your sport of choice] doesn’t benefit society diddly squat, so go ahead and cut everyone that isn’t the top 10% of that sport, because that will minimally impact society. On the other hand, science has, can, and will benefit society – so we would be better off if we could keep more than just the “top” 10-20% of people involved in science. Because we don’t even know if they really are the top people.


  2. becca Says:

    … or the focus on GREs…

    Alternatively, “talent” and “innate ability” are 90% BS myths used to prop up an inherently unfair system in which some people simply have better opportunities than others. Or else “talent” is so incredibly microcontextually specific as to be untestable, and therefore it’s simply *tests* that are BS.


  3. DM Says:

    My lack of basketball talent has nothing to do with opportunity, I am confident.

    otoh, GRE is a great predictor!


  4. becca Says:

    I’ll bet you 10,000 that GRE is inferior to the mattress test


  5. Soupy L Says:

    Hey, I went to high school with that guy! I didn’t realize he was such a big deal until this post, though.

    I guess he did single-handedly get us state championship.

    And, it still annoys me that the GRE is still necessary for grad school. I don’t want to have to study for that – I could definitely be doing better things with my time. People are always complaining about the SAT, but isn’t the GRE worse? At this point of time, what could a standardized test POSSIBLY tell you?


  6. I guess he did single-handedly get us state championship.

    And even having done that at a high-school in motherfucken Palo Alto, Stanford didn’t offer him a scholly.


  7. drugmonkey Says:

    PP, everyone knows you aren’t really serious about your career if you stay in the same town for the next training phase…..


  8. becca Says:

    Yeah, cause Stanford really needs an Asian American on scholly. /I am a terrible person


  9. Chebag Says:

    “scholly”? Wtf. Speak English Proffé


  10. rs Says:

    Right on spot!!! I am facing this discrimination continuously because my alma matter isn’t a big one or I didn’t work in the glamor-labs which produces 20+ articles in top journal. I worked in significant labs, and produced some quality work. All my work is different from each other, gave me lot of training as I tackled them independently and learned a lot. It was fun dealing with new problems every year or so. But on paper, it sucks.


  11. DrLizzyMoore Says:

    Letters of Rec are better predictors of quality than the scores provided by the GRE, but that’s besides the point.

    rs- I would argue that if your having troubles on the job market, it’s because your project has bounced around, not because of where your publishing (or not publishing). If there is a common theme in your work, then highlight that. If it truly is a mixed bag, explain well why that is. Typically, folks like to see that one can not only start a project, but foster it’s development.

    I’m at a smaller place, so of course, I’m going to say–Good science can be found in the most unexpected places!! But I would also be lying if I said that I wouldn’t give a hoot if some of our awesome science wasn’t published in an air-brushed glamour mag. BUT, that doesn’t mean that quality science can’t be found in society journals, etc….


  12. Pascale Says:

    Don’t diss the GREs so fast. There is usually some minimal level of performance on any exam, below which students just will not fare well. Above that standard, differences may not mean as much. The key is there is a minimal cut-point that can be used to compare students from different institutions (and even different countries).


  13. becca Says:

    Pascale- do you mean “usually” like “for most exams” or “usually” like “for most students”? The later may be true. But I think that for ALL exams, there will be SOME students who perform very low and are very capable students (full disclaimer: I may be biased by my friend, who was in labor during her GREs).


  14. Alex Says:

    No test is perfect. And obviously a test taken under sufficiently adverse conditions (e.g. going into labor during the test) is not as good a measure of one’s talent as a test taken under more relaxed conditions. Still, my guess is that if we looked at people who scored really, really poorly on a reasonably well-designed test, and restricted our analysis to those who don’t go into labor during the test and didn’t find out that their grandpa has cancer that morning, etc., that is probably telling us something important about their prospects for graduate study.

    It might be telling us about something that they can fix with the proper catch-up and mentoring (e.g. poor undergrad preparation can be fixed with more courses or some work experience in a lab), but it’s still telling us _something_ useful, with a high (not to be confused with perfect) degree of reliability. And yes, there will be exceptions, but in a world of imperfect information you either use pretty good (albeit imperfect) information or you don’t make any decisions at all.


  15. Dr. Dad, PhD Says:

    On a related note, how can I let people know that I am the next Lin? I could use the good press during my tt job search…


  16. DJMH Says:

    When on an admissions committee, I used GREs as Pascale did–would generally discard an application with scores under 500 on any part (verbal, quant, analytic, or biology). Other than that, I didn’t pay much attention, except if all the GREs were really stellar then that usually helped a candidate whose grades were lower. Obviously if a student had said something like “I was in labor during my GREs” I would behave differently.


  17. Yaakov Says:

    Where is the sudden emphasis on GREs? Not 100% sure, but as above, my impression was that it is used (in the lab sciences, at least) mostly as a measure of relative ability to read and understand an article, or break down a relatively simple math problem, and that above a certain threshold performance, it doesn’t really matter that much. Also, the GRE’s are fairly similar in content to the SAT’s–the skills required to take them should not really need that much extra work for serious students at the university level. (Clearly, if you went into labor during the GRE’s, it would be advisable to retake them. That said, if you went into labor taking the GRE’s, you probably had a kid 9 months before potentially starting graduate school, which may in and of itself be a good reason to take a break until you can redo the test and your application).

    More to the point, clearly Glamour Mags are partly responsible for hiding “real” talent! How many CNS papers should, by any reasonable measure, be significantly more fleshed-out and detail-oriented? My impression upon reading many of these papers is that they would convey much better science in a much more convincing way if the same data were spread across 4 or 5 papers, and not 5 figures plus up to 20 supplemental figures (

    Not to mention that this model of publication pushes labs to promote the one (or two) “chosen” author at the expense of an increasing number of contributors whose work is disserviced by being folded into a massive project that must be structured into 3 pages.

    Honestly, think about the last 10 CNS papers you read, and compare them to the last 10 papers you read in ANY other journal…aren’t the slightly less ambitious (Glamourwise) papers much more scientifically satisfying?


  18. Eli Rabett Says:

    FWIW, there are journals that Eli would not even try and get a paper into because the editors triage anything not from a place they know and love (and have attended). The only aggravating thing that remains is when said paper is cited multiple times in the glamor mag.

    Toujour Gai


  19. drugmonkey Says:

    It’s a moral victory Eli. 🙂


  20. anonyMOUSE Says:

    Moral vic


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