07w46:5 Classic Academic Bullshit

by timothy. 1 Comment

Worth quoting in full (after all, it is a press release) with emph mine:

What’s in a name? Initials linked to success, study shows (Link)

Do you like your name and initials? Most people do and, as past research has shown, sometimes we like them enough to influence other important behaviors. For example, Jack is more likely to move to Jacksonville and marry Jackie than is Philip who is more likely to move to Philadelphia and marry Phyllis. Scientists call this phenomenon the “name-letter effect” and argue that it is influential enough to encourage the pursuit of name-resembling life outcomes and partners.

However, if you like your name too much, you might be in trouble. Leif Nelson at the University of California, San Diego and colleague Joseph Simmons from Yale University, found that liking your own name sabotages success for people whose initials match negative performance labels.

In their first study, Nelson and Simmons investigated the effect of name resemblance on batters’ strikeouts. In baseball, strikeouts are recorded using the letter ‘K.’ After analyzing Major League Baseball players’ performance spanning 93 years, the researchers found that batters whose names began with ‘K’ struck out at a higher rate than the remaining batters. “Even Karl ‘Koley’ Kolseth would find a strikeout aversive, but he might find it a little less aversive than players who do not share his initials, and therefore he might avoid striking out less enthusiastically,” write the authors.

In a second study, the researchers investigated the phenomenon in academia. Letter grades are commonly used to measure students’ performance, with the letters ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C’ and ‘D’ denoting different levels of performance. Nelson and Simmons reviewed 15 years of grade point averages (GPAs) for M.B.A. students graduating from a large private American university.

Students whose names began with ‘C’ or ‘D’ earned lower GPAs than students whose names began with ‘A’ or ‘B.’ Students with the initial ‘C’ or ‘D,’ presumably because of an unconscious fondness for these letters, were slightly less successful at achieving their conscious academic goals.

Interestingly, students with the initial ‘A’ or ‘B’ did not perform better than students whose initials were grade irrelevant. Therefore, having initials that match hard-to-achieve positive outcomes, like acing a test, may not necessarily cause an increase in performance. However, after analyzing law schools, the researchers found that as the quality of schools declined, so did the proportion of lawyers with name initials ‘A’ and ‘B.’

The researchers confirmed these findings in the laboratory with an anagram test. The result of the test confirmed that when people’s initials match negative performance outcomes, performance suffers. These results, appearing in the December issue of Psychological Science, provide striking evidence that unconscious wants can insidiously undermine conscious pursuits.


Author Contact: Leif Nelson ldnelson@ucsd.edu

Psychological Science is ranked among the top 10 general psychology journals for impact by the Institute for Scientific Information. For a copy of the article “Moniker Maladies: When Names Sabotage Success” and access to other Psychological Science research findings, please contact Catherine West at (202) 783-2077 or cwest@psychologicalscience.org.

The Rady School of Management at UC San Diego educates global leaders for innovation-driven organizations. A professional school within one of the top-ranked institutions in the U.S. for higher education and research, the Rady School offers a Full-Time MBA program, a FlexMBA program for working professionals, undergraduate and executive education courses. Our lineage includes 16 Nobel Laureates (former and current faculty) and eight MacArthur Foundation award recipients. The Rady School at UC San Diego transforms innovators into business leaders.

Comments: I’m thankful that the author of this press-release took the time to explain letter grades to me, and thought it was interesting that students with initials ‘a’ and ‘b’ did not perform better than students with grade-irrelevant initials, which is only the entire rest of the alphabet. This alone seems to make such a correlation absurd.

The only reason I’d understand having the scale explained is to account for the international audience, but then again, this is written in English, so it’s not like there are a ton of Chinese out there who suddenly know about how North American grading works. For the Europeans, I imagine they’ve watched enough American movies and television to already be familiar with the system.

Is the argument then that the increased ‘slightly less’ performance of the world’s Cynthia Donaldsons, Charles Davies’, Duncan Camerons is based partially on their names? So you’re saying that the reason Albert Burns got an 80, whereas David Connors got a 78 is because of their names?! Is this is why Cory Doctorow believes in ‘anti-copyright policies’!?

And this from a school that considers itself an educator of global leaders! No wonder the world is so fucked up. For one thing, such a study takes for granted a measurement of success which is itself a social construction dating back a century and out-of-step with the needs of present society. For example I imagine that to graduate with top marks from an MBA school you’d need to do rather poorly in the ethics department, especially environmental ethics. Failing the Humanities would also help, since at no point should you consider your employees as human beings desiring to live full lives. They must be refered to as ‘human resources’ (which would have served as a perfectly adequate term for slavery). Their natural desire to be as richly compensated as your gang at the top of the hierarchy must be kept in check and exploited for ‘superior job performance’.

The fact that they felt the need to explain to us the letter-grade system seems to be evidence of an inability to imagine another, from which the ethical disasters of capitalism naturally follow. Further, the awarding of the marks leading to grades is mostly arbitrary, and dependent on many factors, including the fact that teachers are as biased as any other human being. So Connor gets 77 while James gets 80 because the teacher likes James more and gave a slightly higher mark to his answers over Connor, who doesn’t say a lot in class.

This study is trying to suggest that Connor, Cory, Charles, Cynthia, Duncan, David, etc, have an ‘unconscious attachment’ to their initials and are thus sabotaging their ‘success’ in order to see it written on their tests as a reward counterbalancing the anguish of feeling like a failure. Not to mention the subsequent mockery from the class’ ‘successful’ students (a mockery which is ‘unconsciously’ endorsed by the teacher since schools are supposed to help establish the pecking order, so that the authors of this press-release and study get sorted by high grades into university; then onto Masters and PHD programs and are then able to conduct such stupid studies open to such easy mockery).

As for the quoted baseball example, it is equally absurd and subject to the same critique offered above.

In my arbitrary grading system, based on my measurements of success, this study gets an F. Or, no, no, I’ll make the system so that L and N are the lowest grades, and J isn’t much higher, to make it fit with Leif Nelson’s and Joseph Simmons’ thesis.

One Response to 07w46:5 Classic Academic Bullshit

  1. Bill says:

    You are far too kind, but it’s not academic. It’s lame inappropriate use of statistics. They clearly don’t teach real statistics in business school.

    The “effect” in grades was a 0.02 gpa difference, while the average GPA was around 3.4. We are talking perhaps one letter grade in 50. One per 10 or 12 semesters. If there is an effect, it is microscopic.

    Because the overall GPA was so high, a letter grade “c” should be infrequent, thus affording little opportunity for lowering to a “d” (which must be almost non-existent” considering the high GPA). In the paper, there was no difference between “c” and “d” GPAs. Seems odd. It’s also odd that “a” didn’t have a higher gpa than “b” isn’t it? Surely there were more “A”s to be lowered to “B” by Barry, Bob, and Barbara than “C”s to be lowered to “D” by Dave and Donna. But no difference between A and B.

    I checked out the ballplayers since 1955 and found that 1/3 of the difference from expected strikouts could be attributed to one man, Dave Kingman.

    What’s appalling is that this got by referees.

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