Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Restless Genius: Repeat Repeat Repeat (Part VIII)

We're almost done.  Unlike Simkovic & McIntyre...

It's a cliche that academics, even brilliant ones, repeat themselves and merely do variations on a certain idea or theme.  Simkovic & McIntyre are no different.  Since publishing Economic Value, the dynamic duo has put out a joint review of Tamanaha's Failing Law Schools, an article called Timing Law School, a Simkovic-only screed on valuing higher education called A Value Added Perspective on Higher Education, and most recently (March 2016) a piece called Value of a Law Degree by College Major.

In their review of Tamanaha's work, they somehow make it to page six before discussing their own research, although the first few pages are not without merit (such as the brilliant straw-man that "Tamanaha hopes the government will prevent students from borrowing against their future earnings to pay for the cost of a legal education", the foot-note defense of regulatory capture, or that Tamahana's suggestion of legal residency programs ipso facto mean the taxpayer would fund them because medical school residences receive payments from Medicare).

The real brilliance is that discussion of their own work criticizes Tamahama  for the exact same things Economic Value does.  On page 11, for example, we have a criticism of mismatching terminal bachelor's holders with law degree holders followed by a criticism of "inconsistent definitions" from "different sources" with "different sampling and reporting biases."  As you'll recall from our previous entries, Economic Value is unclear about what a "law degree" is, uses a bogus control group, and smashes together two unrelated governmental surveys to whoop ding ca-ching million dollar degree... for some group of people who entered practice a while ago.

Timing Law School is the follow-up album to Economic Value where Simkovic & McIntyre regurgitate their data, run some simulations, and conclude that the timing of when one goes to law school is unlikely to make law school a poor investment, only determining, maybe, how good of an investment law school is.  Of course, once one concedes that there is variance in whatever law school earnings premium exists on a year-over-year basis and that large law firm employment is dynamic, one would also have to concede that the cumulative lifetime variance could be either negative or so extremely disproportional that it makes sense for some students (particularly at the high end) to hold on law school (or go immediately before a recession hits).  A lawyer who graduated into the early 1970s recession has about as much relevance to present law graduates as '73 Chevelle sales have to next year's Chevy models.

But again, Simkovic & McIntyre stick to their guns like tried and true academic polemicists. 

Simkovic's solo effort Value-Added is an essay that only drops Economic Value in a footnote but still manages to complement its legacy nicely by serving as an apologia for non-elite educational institutions.  For example, Simkovic opens with a weak analogy contrasting schools to hospitals ("If hospitals were evaluated based purely on outcomes...") which, one supposes, compares the dying infirm to third-tier law applicants.  The remainder of the essay proceeds by pretending to anticipate and knock down common sense arguments with brisk aplomb.  Underemployment?  Those folks just need degrees to correct for their disadvantages.  Shit schools?  Economic necessity.  Market and regulatory failures?  "Implausible."

Not implausible is that Simkovic & McIntyre will keep going, and indeed this past March put out Value of a Law Degree by College Major, a short article where they supplement the Economic Value data-set with information from the American Community Survey to gain some sort of post-2008 information, even though ACS does not identify who has a law degree (they even admit it's harder to tell who has a law degree than in SIPP, which we already noted was imperfect).  It essentially repeats the college major conclusions from Economic Value, claiming that a law degree is a great option, even for STEM majors (in their terminal form, at least) and that a law degree "erases the disproportionately lower expected earnings from a liberal arts degree."

Again, Simkovic & McIntyre generally don't address alternative graduate degrees (that's for "future research") and don't seem to address the idea that law school (or other graduate options) may be a reason that many students who could excel in STEM choose liberal arts instead, i.e., that the college major decision is itself polluted by post-graduate options and not strictly a sorting of ability.

It's all bullshit with a glossy sheen of academese.  If it looks like a duck, shoot it, baste it, and feast away.

At the end of the day, all good propagandists are bullshit artists who know that repeating something over and over again is the best way to get a message across, and with a big enough megaphone, truth or falsity become largely irrelevant.  This law governs everything from toothpaste sales to world leadership.  We have a major party presidential candidate who has bullshat his way to a Republican nomination.

The more Simkovic & McIntyre repeat their nonsense, the longer their track record becomes.  Flaws in their original research are swept under the rug.  Media outlets only read the conclusions, anyway.  Enough bullshit conclusions stacked on top of each other and you've got a textbook of complete bullshit masquerading as the truth.

Genius is not a one-hit wonder.  Genius never stops producing and never stops touring.  For Simkovic & McIntyre, I would bet the ingenious output is by no means concluded.  They won't stop until you're as convinced of their genius as I am.


  1. How does Simkovic sleep?

  2. I feel like this has been a useful series, but I suspect it's dissemination and forum hasn't been adequate to engage about this issue.