The following is source material regarding our recent discussion of Jewish admission to Ivy League colleges. I’m posting it for the same reason that I earlier posted a message from Ron Unz, out of a goal to allow the data and arguments to be made as clearly as possible.
Janet Mertz writes:
I became involved in the discussion of Ron Unz’s Meritocracy article because I am a leading expert on the demographics of top-scoring participants in the high school International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) and the US/Canadian inter-collegiate Putnam Mathematics Competition. I have published three peer-reviewed articles that include data directly related to this topic . . . Had Unz read my 2008 Notices article, he would have known his claim that Jewish achievement in these two competitions had collapsed in the 21st century (which was cited by David Brooks in the New York Times) was simply not true. . . .
The primary questions addressed in this article are the following:
(i) Do the Ivy League colleges use ethnic/racial quotas that discriminate against some ethnic/racial groups (e.g., Asian-Americans; non-Jewish, non-Hispanic whites) in their decisions regarding whom to admit?
(ii) Does the academic performance of very high performing immigrant groups (e.g., Jews) collapse by the time they are 3rd or 4th generation Americans?
I, too, would like to know the answers to these questions. I readily appreciate that Unz has done a huge amount of work compiling and analyzing a large body of relevant data from a variety of sources. Unfortunately, I believe we cannot yet draw definitive conclusions from his study . . . Unz employed a mixture of methodological approaches with different sources of large errors that were additive, including at least one highly subjective one. . . .
Mertz’s full article is a 7-page pdf, “Janet Mertz on Ron Unz’s ‘Meritocracy’ Article.”. She goes into lots of details on the numbers. I won’t repeat the details here because she covers it well enough in her article, also in bits and pieces it was discussed on the blog and in blog comments.
For completeness, I again link to Unz’s original article, Unz’s note to me, and his latest remarks on the subject in which he characterizes this blog post of mine as “a mass of obfuscatory verbiage mostly disputing the accuracy of a couple of my scattered sentences here and there.”
I can’t speak for Mertz, but as for myself let me emphasize once more that I’m just trying to get the numbers right (and also, in some of my bursts of obfuscatory verbiage, trying to understand the process by which we come to our conclusions about the world). Earlier, Unz described Mertz’s reactions as “angry criticism” that “had been floating around the Internet for some time, and had been widely ignored or dismissed.” I think that, for Unz, a good starting point would be to neither ignore nor dismiss constructive criticism coming from well-informed people. Making mistakes is human; what’s important (if the goal is to get closer to the truth) is to recognize those mistakes and move forward.
P.S. Unz responds to Mertz here on his blog. On the plus side, he seems to acknowledge that Mertz knows what she’s talking about on the classification of ethnicities of members of the mathematical olympiad team. He does not dispute her statement that at least 13% of U.S. team members since 2000 are Jewish (that is, have Jewish ancestry, counting fractionally as appropriate) not her best guess that 25-30% of team members in the 1970s were Jewish. Thus, I think Unz is in agreement that his claims of 2.5% and 44% (which made their way into the New York Times as “In the 1970s, for example, 40 percent of top scorers in the Math Olympiad had Jewish names. Now 2.5 percent do”) were in error. He might want to contact David Brooks right away on this. I know that if I had made a mistake that got repeated in the Times, I’d be a bit embarrassed but I’d like to set the record straight.
Given that, in Unz’s words, his estimates were “based on perhaps five minutes of cursory surname analysis,” it should be no surprise that they were wrong. In retrospect, it’s too bad he hadn’t made it clearer that these eye-catching numbers (reporting a 17-fold decline rather than the actual factor of 2 or so) were actually based on nothing more than a cursory 5-minute effort. Then perhaps outsiders such as David Brooks and Steve Hsu wouldn’t have taken Unz’s impressive-looking numbers and graphs as facts.
Given that these high-profile numbers were based on a cursory five-minute effort, it seems more puzzling than ever that Unz had “ignored or dismissed” Mertz’s criticism when it first appeared. Better late than never, though.
The downside of Unz’s response is that he continues to simultaneously defend his name scale-up estimate and the Hillel reports of the percentage of Jews at Harvard, even though those two estimates are off by a factor of 2.5 when applied to the same dataset (the list of Harvard students). He does not actually seem to dispute this factual claim that the two estimates differ by a factor of 2.5 when applied to this dataset; rather, he just ignores it and defends each of the estimates separately. He still has a way to go before he is in full contact with his data. Again, if Unz’s claim is true that the various factual criticisms do not affect his main points, I think he’d be better off accepting them and moving forward.