Occam’s Butterknife

Occam’s Razor is the principle that we should prefer the simplest explanation for a given set of facts. Steve Sailer has coined the term “Occam’s Butterknife” to refer to the principle apparently motivating earnest liberals who seem compelled to discuss certain social issues and yet constantly overlook simple but politically incorrect explanations in favor of complicated ones. As one might expect, the New York Times is particularly expert at wielding Occam’s Butterknife:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/09/education/09gap.html

Proficiency of Black Students Is Found to Be Far Lower Than Expected
by Trip Gabriel

An achievement gap separating black from white students has long been documented — a social divide extremely vexing to policy makers and the target of one blast of school reform after another.

But a new report focusing on black males suggests that the picture is even bleaker than generally known.

Only 12 percent of black fourth-grade boys are proficient in reading, compared with 38 percent of white boys, and only 12 percent of black eighth-grade boys are proficient in math, compared with 44 percent of white boys.

Note that the percentiles given correspond to 13-point and 15-point IQ differences, respectively. So this is not “lower than expected”, it is EXACTLY what would be expected based on hundreds of previous studies over many decades comparing black students and white students in America.

The article begins to look intriguing a little later when it hints at a politically unpalatable explanation:

“There’s accumulating evidence that there are racial differences in what kids experience before the first day of kindergarten…In order to address those, we have to be able to have conversations that people are unwilling to have.”

but what are the uncomfortable conversations?

Those include “conversations about early childhood parenting practices,” Dr. Ferguson said. “The activities that parents conduct with their 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds. How much we talk to them, the ways we talk to them, the ways we enforce discipline, the ways we encourage them to think and develop a sense of autonomy.”

It gets even more clueless:

The report urges convening a White House conference, encouraging Congress to appropriate more money for schools and establishing networks of black mentors.

What it does not discuss are policy responses identified with a robust school reform movement that emphasizes closing failing schools, offering charter schools as alternatives and raising the quality of teachers.

The report did not go down this road because “there’s not a lot of research to indicate that many of those strategies produce better results,” Mr. Casserly said.

(Ed: as opposed to all the research showing that throwing money at the school districts produces better results?)

Other have a different response. The key to narrowing the achievement gap, said Dr. Ferguson, is “really good teaching.”

Well, really good teaching will help, but it will help white kids too. It may be that “networks of black mentors” and other interventions to reduce dropping out etc. will raise the achievement of black kids relative to white kids and thus “narrow the gap”, but how come the writer doesn’t even feel that it is necessary to point to the research disproving the most obvious explanation for the gap or assert that such research exists? It is because the most obvious explanation is literally unthinkable to good liberals like Mr. Gabriel. Therefore they use the butterknife and imagine that the “gap” can be eliminated.

I suspect that most of the people making the policy, unlike this stupid reporter, are perfectly aware that the “gap” cannot be eliminated because some people are just plain smarter than others, but that is a good thing because it means they will always be able to point to the gap in order to keep our tax dollars redirected to them and their cronies, just as long as they can keep everyone from thinking the unthinkable. Useful idiots like Mr. Gabriel are necessary to accomplish this but unfortunately there are plenty of them.

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About Polymath

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4 Responses to Occam’s Butterknife

  1. Polymath says:

    An even more extreme example of Occam’s butter knife (in this case also searching for farfetched ways to blame minority problems on racism by whites) relates to crime instead of school achievement:

    A justice’s blind eye to the truth

  2. rebelliousvanilla says:

    I always crack up when liberals mind the death penalty, while they are abortion lovers. And the death penalty should be used more – I’m a fan of the 19th century criminal codes.

  3. Pingback: Yahoo are Racist too!? | The Pillars of Hercules

  4. Pingback: PTT Sailer watch | posttenuretourettes

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