Sandel: “Summon Chance to Chasten Meritocratic Hubris”

Millions of YouTube viewers will be familiar with Michael Sandel of Harvard University’s lectures on Justice. He has been described as “a philosopher with the global profile of a rock star”, so it is greatly encouraging when in his book The Tyranny of Merit he emphatically endorses the use of lotteries for admission to elite universities.

His condemnation of actual existing Meritocracy is well worth a read, not least the societally damaging effects of hubris and self-worth among the elite ‘winners’; and the despondency and nihilistic voting for Brexit and Trump by the ‘losers’ and indeed all the non-credentialled.

In Chapter 6 makes a heartfelt and extended plea for the extensive use of lotteries for admission to not just Ivy League, but all selective colleges and universities. This Sandel says would “summon Chance to chasten Merit”.

I’m sure most readers are familiar with the American S.A.T. (Standardized Attainment Test), a sort of IQ test inflicted on 18-year-olds. This, Sandel suggests, could be used to establish a threshold for entry into the selection lottery and nothing else. This level of ‘Merit’ should be no more onerous than that imposed when the SAT was originated in the 1940s.

From this device Sandel argues that winners will be saved much  stress and avoid much of the (wasted?) effort of working towards the impressive list of activities that fills out their application form. Losers will gain too. No more rejections, and being made to feel  inadequate, despite losing narrowly. Much more psychologically healthy all round!

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34% of White Uni Applicants lie about their race, says study

A clear case for banning contentious category quizzing, and the use of randomised selection for ALL qualified applicants?

Read on

https://news.yahoo.com/survey-34-white-college-students-173329031.html

The best case ever that I’ve seen for awarding jobs, promotions and redundos by Lottery

A delightful short video, with academic backing.

Where is the quota for the short, the fat, the bald men, and all the other uglies?

Dominic Frisby adds:

It is based on some research I once read by American economist Daniel Hamermesh about the most discriminated against group in society. It doesn’t matter what race you are, what class, what sex or what age: beauty pays – attractive people are more successful. It features popular adult actress Zara du Rose, pictured above, as the Evil Queen and a host of others.

I included some of this in my own paper from 1997

http://www.conallboyle.com/lottery/Boyle1998RSSStatistician.pdf

The Irish Times: Colleges expect spike in random selection

The Irish Times reports:

Colleges expect spike in random selection: High-points courses in health, law, pharmacy and science most likely to be affected

A system of lottery entry for equal-scoring candidates has been in place in Ireland since 2009. It seems that this year’s exceptional circumstances (Covid) has led to a ‘spike’ in its use.

Perhaps the headline should have read:

For those scoring equally high points, despite (a Covid-related) spike in top scores, random selection (a lottery) will sort out who wins a place

The article continues:

Universities fear they will have to restrict entry to more high-points courses on the basis of “random selection” this year due to record-breaking Leaving Cert results.

Results this year climbed to a new high with a sharp increase in the number of students securing top H1 grades.

Senior university sources expect they will have to introduce more random cut-off points for entry into high-demand courses such as medicine, dentistry, law, pharmacy and science when CAO offers issue on Tuesday next.
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A hit-piece against Lottery admissions

Prof. Jonathan Turley is an American legal scholar. In an article on his blog, he sounds the alarm regarding proposals to admit students to U.S. universities at random.

“Just Blind Chance”: The Rising Call For “Random Selection” For College Admissions

Random selection is not generally an approach that most people opt for in the selection of doctors or even restaurants or a movie. However, it appears to be the new model for some in higher education. Former Barnard College mathematics professor Cathy O’Neil has written a column calling for “random selection” of all college graduates to guarantee racial diversity. It is ever so simple: “Never mind optional standardized tests. If you show interest, your name goes in a big hat.” She is not the only one arguing for blind or random admissions.

Blind selection is the final default position for many schools. Universities have spent decades working around court decisions limiting the reliance on race as an admissions criterion. Many still refuse to disclose the full data on scores and grades for admitted students. If faced with a new decision further limiting (or entirely eliminating) race as a criterion, blind selection would effectively eliminate any basis for judicial review.
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Comment from Northern Ireland on CJs

Can Citizens’ Assemblies help us? – Slugger O’Toole (sluggerotoole.com)

Lotteries instead of point-scores on exams: A great quote from Peter Stone

A story in the Irish Times (25th Feb 2021). This is a paywalled link. The full text of the article appears below.

The Leaving Cert is not fair. Why not just replace it with a lottery?
Joe Humphreys
Unthinkable: We can no longer plead ignorance of the inner workings of our State exams

‘I think recognizing the wider role luck plays in society is very important,’ says TCD political scientist Peter Stone.

The Leaving Cert has had an untouchable status in Irish life. It may be a brutal memory test but it is our brutal memory test – a rite of passage nearly as old as the State itself.

In the past 12 months, however, the bonnet has been lifted on this national treasure and we can no longer plead ignorance of its inner workings. The attempt to manufacture a distribution of grades under pandemic conditions equivalent to those produced by the annual exams has spotlighted long-running questions of fairness.

As a test of ability, the Leaving Cert is fair in the narrow sense that a bobsleigh race between Jamaica and Norway is fair. Contestants do not start with the same advantages, and the format – which lends itself to a parallel grinds industry – gives an extra edge to students from better-off families.

However, there’s a second matter of fairness surrounding the appropriateness of using the Leaving Cert to determine who gets what college places. This must be considered against the backdrop of stark figures showing that, on average, a third-level graduate earns much more over her or his lifetime than a worker who doesn’t have a degree – at least €100,000 more, according to one conservative estimate.
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Lottery for CV-19 Vaccination in Manatee, Florida

I suppose it had to happen!

“Currently, there are about 180,000 people [over 65] signed up in the county’s standby pool [database] with hopes of being vaccinated at the county’s drive-thru at Tom Bennett Park, 400 Cypress Creek Blvd, Bradenton. When COVID-19 vaccine doses become available, people are randomly pulled from that pool and given a shot. The county’s IT director said it’s entirely up to a computer to decide who will get a vaccine and when. “It is fully automated. There is no other information in there, whether race, ethnicity or address,” said Paul Alexander.”

Here’s how the randomisation system works

“The county’s IT director said it’s entirely up to a computer to decide who will get a vaccine and when. “It is fully automated. There is no other information in there, whether race, ethnicity or address,” said Paul Alexander.”…..”When doses become available — which is determined by the weekly allotment granted to the county by the Florida Department of Emergency Management — that database is used to randomly select from the pool who will get a shot.”

More on this at

Manatee County’s COVID-19 vaccine standby pool explained | Bradenton Herald

Covid Treatment Lottery

“For patients with similar prognosis, who cannot be separated in other ways, a random allocation, such as a lottery, may be used”, says the protocol.

So says a Report in the Daily Telegraph (UK) of 5th January by Paul Nuki titled “Covid ‘lottery’: Doctors draw up triage protocol in the event treatment has to be rationed” (Telegraph usually paywalled, but this seems open-access)

It refers to a paper in J Medical Ethics “Development of a structured process for fair allocation of critical care resources in the setting of insufficient capacity: a discussion paper” also accessible f.o.c.

This is circulating in NHS hospitals as a proposed protocol.

The protocol – drafted by medical, legal and palliative care specialists at the Royal United Hospital Bath NHS Trust – is the most sophisticated attempt yet to devise an ethical system for rationing care in the event that there are insufficient resources to treat everyone.

Now this is exciting! But it is not new. Right from the start of organ transplantation (1960s) such moralistic contentions were weighed up.

In Seattle the so-called ‘God committee’ was set up to make these difficult choices (reported in Calabresi & Bobbit (1978) Tragic Choices). The committee eventually found that it was too agonising to make these choices, and passed the task back to the medical practitioners. In the end it was felt that only medical  factors should be taken into account. Even if no overt rules on social merit were in place, we should not be surprised if the doctor, genuinely uncertain on medical grounds,  was to pick the ‘nicer’ of the two patients.

A secret lottery?

Elster (1989) in his masterly ‘Solomonic Choices’ gives the example of child custody cases, where the judge is frequently unable (in his own mind) to give a clear-cut decision. Yet decide he must, so he goes ahead, dressing up the verdict with trappings of rationality.

This, claims Elster, satisfies both parties, the winner praising the wisdom of the judge, the loser cursing his bias. No doubt a similar process might go on when a medical doctor decides, even if partly randomly and in secret, between her two patients: So long as both patients believe that their case is decided clinically by an expert, then both winner and loser may find it acceptable.

The doctor herself may even be a bit cognitively dissonant—convincing herself that she is doing the right thing for the right reason, exercising judgement based on intuition  rather than validated knowledge. This form of fudging may be acceptable all round, but it is fraught with dangers.

If fakery is suspected, patients rapidly lose their trust in their professionals. Unwitting discrimination seems inevitable. True expertise will fail to develop unless its limits are acknowledged.

Against a lottery is Greely (1977) who suggests that if recipients can argue about any allocation, they feel more satisfied. Anand was also interested in what is called ‘voice’—that one of the reasons a coin-toss was thought to be unfair is that it deprived customers of a say in the decision.

In favour of a visible act of coin-tossing Calabresi & Bobbit explain that it draws attention to the fact that resources are limited. Edgeworth (1888) suggested another benefit would be that the public, seeing a random drawing take place, would be alerted to the ‘aleatory nature’ of the decision. Bureaucrats might not like having such attention focussed on this shortage of resources and their uncertain knowledge.

[This was part of my 2006 thesis Who Gets The Prize. It can be viewed in full on my website www.conallboyle.com]

Using focal random selection to close the gender job- and pay-gaps

Those well funded Swiss researchers have just produced another Report on the benefits of using a lottery as part of the job-appointment process.

By ‘focal’ they mean a two stage process (focussed?) with all applicants undergoing an ability test and the top three being entered into a draw, so the winner is selected at random.

The alternatives were: to select entirely on ability, or else entirely at random (from a pool of well-qualified applicants).

Their conclusion

“Our findings suggest that the pool of high-performing women who apply for top jobs can be substantially enlarged by the introduction of focal random selection. Consequently, the pipeline for women to leadership positions can be made less leaky without lowering candidates’ performance. Moreover, focal random selection closes the gender pay gap among high performers. In addition, differences between men and women in entering competition caused by gender stereotypes are completely eliminated by randomness. Our findings, therefore, point to the relevance of gender stereotypes as an underlying mechanism of gender gap in competitiveness.”

Not bad! Fix the ‘glass ceiling’ and the gender pay gap with the judicious use of lotteries!

You can read the paper here (no paywall) https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/47/eabb2142