Can I have some diversity with that?

Like all publications on the right side of history, Scientific American can’t get enough of diversity. You wouldn’t know it from their recent spate of Trump-derangement hysteria — Donald Trump’s Lack of Respect for Science Is Alarming (September 1, 2016); What Trump’s Surprise Victory Could Mean for Science (November 9, 2016); Science and the Trump Presidency (November 27, 2016), etc.

I’m not for a moment suggesting any sort of intellectual diversity — certainly not, Heaven forbid, soliciting a pro-Trump scientist’s viewpoint. But how about some diversity in the headlines, folks?

Our beef is actually with an older piece, from the blissful pre-Trump era, titled “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter”. It starts with the usual slight-of-hand conflating diversity of expertise with the more vibrant kind:

It seems obvious that a group of people with diverse individual expertise would be better than a homogeneous group at solving complex, nonroutine problems. It is less obvious that social diversity should work in the same way—yet the science shows that it does.

Why yes, it does seem obvious. A team of scientists struggling to cure cancer would be wise to cast a wide net of knowledge: recruit physicists, chemists, maybe even mathematicians. They’ll at the very least do no harm and might just provide that missing link.

How this extends to racial, gender and all-the-other-kinds-of bean-counting is far less obvious. Scientific American is happy to educate us that in fact it does:

Racial diversity can deliver the same kinds of benefits. In a study conducted in 2003, Orlando Richard, a professor of management at the University of Texas at Dallas, and his colleagues surveyed executives at 177 national banks in the U.S., then put together a database comparing financial performance, racial diversity and the emphasis the bank presidents put on innovation. For innovation-focused banks, increases in racial diversity were clearly related to enhanced financial performance.

Who are we to argue with Science?! And yet this diversity-as-a-boon claim
fails the PTT diffusion gradient™ test. Look, if there’s one thing bankers understand, it’s how to make a profit. If racial diversity indeed provided a financial advantage — even a slight one — I am fully confident that the Wall Street sharks would have (1) discovered this decades ago (2) leveraged this knowledge like crazy in hiring. Anytime we need to be told (over and over again) how beneficial something is despite all evidence to the contrary, wethinks the lady doth protest too much.

And evidence to the contrary there is aplenty. You can read John Derbyshire’s fascinating account of social scientist Robert Putnam‘s reluctant  discoveries concerning the deleterious social effects of diversity. Not a word about any of that in Scientific American’s cheery article, of course. Science is swell, but trust me comrade, you do not want to end up on the wrong side of history.

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5 thoughts on “Can I have some diversity with that?

  1. What you call diffusion gradient test is a standard market test in economics. This is like asking, Do you believe that there are $50 bills to be picked up from the sidewalk? Also, given the strength of the diversity fad, I wonder why one has to go back to a single 2003 study. Where are its replications in other sectors, with different samples?

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      1. Dont think there is a standard term. Several ways to describe it. If actors are rational, and equilibria reached fast, then people who make banks more profitable will already be employed by banks, except for those who have better offers elsewhere. The rise of Indian immigrants to the top levels of business in the last few decades stands out as an example.

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