Saturday, July 16, 2016

Experts say anyone can be a genius

NPR Radio reported, a couple of weeks ago:
VEDANTAM: Well, we’ve known for a very long time that family income really matters. This could be because schools in richer neighborhoods are better schools. But it could also be that rich parents are able to give their children more learning opportunities outside of school. ...

The researchers find there’s a very strong correlation between family income and these non-cognitive skills. ...

VEDANTAM: Yes. And the question of course is why is this happening? Why are children from richer families demonstrating more of these skills? The most obvious explanation, David, is that poverty creates stresses in people’s lives. If you have Mom or Dad working two jobs to make ends meet, it’s going to be harder for Mom and Dad to be spending time helping children develop these kinds of non-cognitive skills.
No, that is not the most obvious explanation. It would not even be in my top ten.

Many richer families have Dad and Mom both working full time jobs, and often high-stress jobs. I would expect stressed kids to have better non-cognitive skills, all other things being equal.

The most obvious explanation is that the non-cognitive skills are heritable.

Maybe the NY Times is similarly misguided, as a recent essay started:
Talent is equally distributed.
Facebook and Google are investing in Africa because:
"We live in a world where talent is evenly distributed, but opportunity is not. Andela's mission is to close that gap," Zuckerberg said in a statement.
A new book, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, by some authors who should know better, argues that everyone has the talents to excel at anything. For proof, he says that some top football players were not drafted in the first round, and some top scientists had low IQ. As examples, he gives R.P. Feynman (of quantum electrodynamics fame) and Jim Watson (of DNA fame).

No, they did not have low IQ. Successful scientists do not brag about their IQ, just as successful NBA basketball players do not brag about their height. They want to be credited with their superior performance, and not with their innate talents.

The NFL teams are actually quite good at picking the college players with the best potential. Sometimes they get it wrong when a very good player becomes a drug addict and drops out, as what happens in the book's biggest example. The man probably would have been a fine player, if the team could have kept him away from drugs.

The book furthermore claims that studies show that IQ has no relation to success in science. They say that scientists tend to have high IQ, because they have to pass exams to get into the field and those exams are correlated with IQ, but once someone passes the exams, his IQ is of no help at all.

Malcolm Gladwell has also written best-selling books with related themes.

I don't know how these guys could write such nonsense. Do you really think that you could have been Tom Brady or RP Feynman if only you had the right training? Nope. So why do they say this stuff? Because it sells books, I guess.


Anonymous said...

You bring up Tom Brady and how good teams are at picking players in the draft. 198 players were chosen before Brady was chosen in the sixth round of the 2000 draft. Six quarterbacks who you've probably never even heard of aside from Chad Pennington were chosen before Brady. Most of the quarterbacks who were chosen before Brady never even started a game. One of them never even appeared in a pro game. Teams are good at picking players in the draft ?

Roger said...

So of the 1000 or so quarterbacks available, the NFL thought that Brady was the 7th best pro prospect. As it turned out, he improved to where he was one of the 5 best pro quarterbacks.

Is this really proof that talent is irrelevant?

If drafting were really so bad, there would be examples of undrafted players becoming stars. In fact, the draft is very highly correlated with NFL success.

Anonymous said...

No one said that talent was irrelevant. You were discussing how good teams were at drafting. Asking if it's proof that talent is irrelevant is just another strawman argument used to support a weak assertion.

They picked a bunch of flops before Brady. Of those 7 quarterbacks 2 had any sort of careers in the NFL, and about 72% were complete flops. How many potential stars did they not even bother drafting ? A lot

There's plenty of examples of undrafted players becoming stars. With about 40% of the NFL players being undrafted, how could there not be ?

There's plenty of undrafted players in the NFL because the teams aren't very good at figuring out who will be good in the NFL. In 2014, 746 or 37% of the NFL players were undrafted, and the percentage has been climbing each year. It's not because teams are good at spotting the talented college players. It seems that the teams are finally starting to concede that they're not very good at drafting and going with undrafted players more and more.

Roger said...

If the NFL did not know how to draft players, then the smart ones would trade away all their draft choices. Let me know if any team does well by doing that.

Anonymous said...

The Saints traded away all of their draft picks one year in exchange for just one draft pick. It didn't work out well fo the Saints. But not too long afterward, they won the Superbowl because draft picks aren't that important. You can trade them all away.

Roger said...

I looked up Drew Brees. He was the first pick in the second round. I don't know how many quarterbacks were ahead of him.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, sometimes teams get it right when drafting. They got it right with John Elway, too. Just keep in mind that over 37% of the league is made up of undrafted players and that number is climbing.

Joe Montana was the 82nd pick and Dwight Clark was the 27th pick. Teams just aren't that good at predicting who will do well as a pro.

Anonymous said...

Warren Moon, who if not for playing in the CFL, would hold all of the major passing records was undrafted.

Roger said...

The NFL went thru a phase when quarterbacks were thought to be not so important. Now they are back to being a top priority. That partially explains some of the examples of quarterbacks not being drafted highly.

Anonymous said...

You're right, teams are making Q.B.'s a top priority but the teams have done as poorly as ever, too.

In eleven out of the last 16 drafts, a quarterback has gone first overall. These QBs are a combined 445-475-4 as NFL starters in the regular season and 15-17 in the playoffs. Eight of the 15 playoff wins, however, are by Eli Manning.

Before then, as examples, no one drafted Q.B.'s Kurt Warner, Tony Romo David Kreig, Jim Zorn, Jeff Garcia, or Warren Moon. So, it's really hit and miss and more often a miss regardless of the emphasis teams place on a particular position.

I'm not saying that it's easy or the people on the teams choosing the college players are stupid, I'm just saying that it's not much more than a crap shoot and the results support it. This is why you're seeing more and more undrafted players on the rosters every year and almost 40% of the players in the league were undrafted. That type of percentage represents a lot more than a few exceptions slipping through the cracks.