Archive for October 15, 2019

Prestige Bias and Luck

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on October 15, 2019 by telescoper

Quite a few times on this blog I have acknowledged the tremendous amount of luck I have had all the way through my career, not least that the opportunity which led to my current position in Maynooth came up when exactly when it did, but another thing that has played a role has been privilege, defined not only in terms of race and social class but also educational and institutional background. Those of us who have benefitted from this are often blind to its influence, preferring to think we achieve things purely on merit. I was reminded of this by an interesting paper on the arXiv by Brian Skinner, which has the abstract:

One of the major benefits of belonging to a prestigious group is that it affects the way you are viewed by others. Here I use a simple mathematical model to explore the implications of this “prestige bias” when candidates undergo repeated rounds of evaluation. In the model, candidates who are evaluated most highly are admitted to a “prestige class”, and their membership biases future rounds of evaluation in their favor. I use the language of Bayesian inference to describe this bias, and show that it can lead to a runaway effect in which the weight given to the prior expectation associated with a candidate’s class becomes stronger with each round. Most dramatically, the strength of the prestige bias after many rounds undergoes a first-order transition as a function of the precision of the examination on which the evaluation is based.

You can read the full paper here. The author acknowledges the role that blind luck played in his own career but also develops a simple mathematical model of prestige bias. It’s an interesting paper, well worth a read.

The Bush, by R.S. Thomas

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on October 15, 2019 by telescoper

I know that bush,
Moses; there are many of them
in Wales in the autumn, braziers
where the imagination
warms itself. I have put off
pride and, knowing the ground
holy, lingered to wonder
how it is that I do not burn
and yet am consumed.

And in this country
of failure, the rain
falling out of a black
cloud in gold pieces
there are none to gather,
I have thought often
of the fountain of my people
that played beautifully here
once in the sun’s light
like a tree undressing.

by R.S. Thomas (1913-2000)