31: "The Pressure to Conform is Enormous": Steve Hsu on Affirmative Action, Assimilation, and IQ Outliers | Steve Hsu & Richard Hanania
Plus Steve's cancelation story, more Russia-Ukraine, and what Jeff Bezos can teach us about generalist brainpower
Steve Hsu is a Professor of Theoretical Physics and Professor of Computational Mathematics, Science, and Engineering at Michigan State University. He returns to the CSPI Podcast this week for a wide-ranging discussion of various personal, political, and technical topics, including his attempted cancelation from Michigan State, thoughts on Russia-Ukraine, affirmative action, macroeconomics, and why top physics talents prefer theoretical over practical pursuits (If you haven’t seen Steve’s first appearance on the podcast, click here to watch or listen).
The conversation begins with Steve explaining what it was like growing up one of the few Asian kids in a predominantly white town and reflecting on the nature of assimilation. He and Richard continue their discussion of the Russia-Ukraine war and European geopolitics before moving on to affirmative action and civil rights law. They talk about the Harvard Asian case, the highly subjective nature of legal decisions, and whether employment markets are rational enough for the college degree to lose value if universities scrap standardized tests.
Next, Steve tells Richard about his attempted cancelation from Michigan State, where he was pressured to step down from his role as Vice President of Research after a leftist student group attacked him on Twitter over his blog posts and podcasts. They talk about the intrusion of activists into academia, and how this has negatively impacted the STEM fields and social sciences. This leads to a discussion of whether economics is a more valuable and rigorous social science than the others, and whether micro and macroeconomics are comparable or reconcilable.
In the last part of the podcast, Steve and Richard talk about what traits and dispositions lead some people to go against the crowd and resist conformity, and why the path to scientific and technological innovation is laden with disbelief and ridicule from peers. Using the examples of Jeff Bezos and Richard Feynman, Steve explains how those with exceptionally high IQs are often able to effortlessly solve problems and optimize systems with little to no background or technical knowledge. They conclude by considering the possibility that policy should be oriented towards recognizing and rewarding the few geniuses and innovators whose work leads to disproportionate social and material gains.
A full transcript of the podcast is available here.
Listen in podcast form or watch on YouTube:
Richard Hanania, “Lessons from Forecasting the Ukraine War.”
Adam Tooze, “Putin’s Challenge to Western Hegemony.”
Rob Lee. “Moscow’s Compellence Strategy.”
Anatoly Karlin. “Regathering of the Russian Lands.”
Alan Sokal, “Sokal Hoax.”
Wikipedia, “Grievance Studies Affair (Sokal Squared).”
Steve Hsu, “Bezos Quotes.”