Creative Destruction

August 28, 2007

The Ratchet Effect at Work in Law Schools

Filed under: Blogosphere,Race and Racism,Science — Robert @ 12:14 am

A while ago we had an interesting set-to at Alas about the ratchet effect, with me saying it was real and pretty much everyone in the universe disagreeing with me. Scroll down to around comment 70 if you’re not interested in the post’s original topic. It drifted.😉

Universe 0, Robert 1!  Wish I’d known about this guy’s work when we had the original argument.

13 Comments »

  1. fact-based study

    Sorry, I got to this line in the WSJ article and my brain was stunned by the idea that the WSJ thought it necessary to qualify that a study was fact based. As opposed to what? I’ll read the rest of the article and see if I have anything useful to say about it once I’ve recovered from the vapors.

    Comment by Dianne — August 28, 2007 @ 4:54 am | Reply

  2. “Yale instead of Oberlin; Oberlin instead of Cornell; Cornell instead of UT-Austin; UT-Austin instead of University of Wherever; University of Wherever instead of Franktown Community College.”

    As an Obie, I thank you for the example. I’m not sure Oberlin is obviously higher in the pecking order than Cornell, but we’re glad you think so.

    Comment by ohwilleke — August 29, 2007 @ 12:16 pm | Reply

  3. as an undergraduate institution, oberlin is more nurturing than cornell.

    Comment by greywhitie — August 29, 2007 @ 6:08 pm | Reply

  4. Wow, the Universe agrees with Robert! How does Robert know this? Because the op-ed section of the Wall Street Journal says so! Well, that certainly proves… absolutely nothing.

    Comment by Ampersand — August 29, 2007 @ 10:15 pm | Reply

  5. You’re just jealous because I can link to stories that actually exist on the Web.

    Comment by Robert — August 29, 2007 @ 10:34 pm | Reply

  6. (sob!) It’s true, it’s true!

    [Amp retreats, weeping, to a corner.]

    Comment by Ampersand — August 30, 2007 @ 1:07 am | Reply

  7. As an Obie, I thank you for the example. I’m not sure Oberlin is obviously higher in the pecking order than Cornell, but we’re glad you think so.

    As a vaguely associated, non-tenure track, soft money employee of Cornell I say humph!

    Comment by Dianne — August 30, 2007 @ 5:15 am | Reply

  8. Wow, the Universe agrees with Robert!

    That’s not what Robert said. He said that he won against the universe. Which brings to my mind an image of Robert (not that I have any idea what Robert looks like) floating in front of a black hole, battling it with dark energy and cackling “all your matter are belonging to ME!”. But perhaps I’m overinterpreting.

    Comment by Dianne — August 30, 2007 @ 5:17 am | Reply

  9. He said that he won against the universe.

    He ripped it a new wormhole.

    Comment by Brandon Berg — August 30, 2007 @ 11:26 am | Reply

  10. By the way, I’m curious: Do those of you who find the ratchet effect implausible at the interscholastic level also believe that intrascholastic affirmative action would be a good idea? That is, if minorities benefit from lower admissions standards at elite colleges and law schools, would they also benefit from lower admissions standards for honors-level courses in high school and college?

    Comment by Brandon Berg — August 30, 2007 @ 12:01 pm | Reply

  11. FWIW, the ratchet effect is IMHO manifestly established, although the loudest opponents of affirmative action have a very dim understanding of how marginal an impact this has on those who are displaced by affirmative action. Typically, beneficiaries go to far more prestigious schools than they would otherwise have been admitted to, while those displaced end up at only slightly less prestigious schools than they would have been admitted to.

    The far more controversial claim is that the ratchet effect is bad for its beneficiaries. At least for those who graduate and pass the bar exam, I would suggest that the ratchet effect has very positive effects for its beneficiaries. The number of beneficiaries who would have graduated and passed the bar, but for achieving successful admission at a more prestigious school than they otherwise would have been admitted to, appears very small and quite possible is outweighed by the benefits to those who make it for the class of beneficaries as a whole.

    Also, to the extent that beneficiaries of the ratchet effect are harmed by affirmative action, it is also very plausible that those displaced by that effect may be helped by affirmative action. Those displaced by affirmative action are, by definition, the most marginal candidates in the applicant pool at the school where they are denied admission. But, at a less prestigious school that they end up attending, they are less marginal and hence, on the same theory, more likely to prosper academically (although the effect per individual is smaller because the prestige difference is very likely smaller).

    In short, while the effects of affirmative action are real, significant and quantifiable in terms of where people get admitted, the effects in terms of harming or hurting an individual are nebulous, at best. What is more important? The prestige of the institution or modest differences in your law school GPA? How do you quantify that?

    Comment by ohwilleke — August 30, 2007 @ 1:29 pm | Reply

  12. Which brings to my mind an image of Robert (not that I have any idea what Robert looks like) floating in front of a black hole, battling it with dark energy and cackling “all your matter are belonging to ME!”. But perhaps I’m overinterpreting.

    I m n ur wormholez, fytin the quantum electrodynamics.

    Comment by Robert — August 30, 2007 @ 2:52 pm | Reply

  13. ohwilleke, your argument assumes that being marginal for getting into a school means that you are marginal for excelling in the school, which I doubt is true.

    A school that lets in only the op 5% might well gind that the top 10% could do fairly well in the school – the problem with affirmative action is that you get kids who are not even in the top 20 or 30%, that is, the black kids who get in would not be marginal cases if they were white, they would be “no chance in Hell cases.”

    Comment by Glaivester — September 1, 2007 @ 2:47 pm | Reply


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