The Atlantic's Biggest Ideas of the Year
June 26, 2012 12:36 AM   Subscribe

The Atlantic have published what they feel to be the 23.5 Biggest Ideas of the Year (You can click each idea in the box on the right for an article. Alternatively, you can start on the first one, The Right to Be Forgotten and click Next through each idea. I wish they were all on one huge page, but I couldn't find that).
posted by surenoproblem (66 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Proposals, yes. Modest, not even ironically.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:00 AM on June 26, 2012


I laughed at some of these -- "Make Cars Super Light"? What do you think they've been trying to do for the past decade? It's really tricky making a light car that also meets tightening safety standards. We currently have the lowest auto fatalities we've ever had (admittedly partly because we're driving less due to economic factors, but also because of beefier frames).

Also "Lotteries for College Admissions" -- again, this is pretty much already being done. Someone I met who read applications for UCLA said they sometimes "cut the deck" of applications, discarding one of the halves simply because they don't have the resources to read them.

The last one was amusing, though.
posted by spiderskull at 1:07 AM on June 26, 2012


How can you choose the biggest ideas of the year in June?
posted by londonmark at 1:13 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Last year they only had 14 ideas, so I guess that's a sign of progress.
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:15 AM on June 26, 2012


Interesting that they call for government intervention to replace checks as an example of market failure. In most of the world, the banking industry set up electronic payment systems off their own bat to save the costs of check processing.
Why is America different?
posted by bystander at 1:19 AM on June 26, 2012


Some days I have 23.44 ideas, but I round it up to 23.5
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:25 AM on June 26, 2012


12. Charge for Your Ideas ....with nobody paying for them, they’d be terrible. Only people who do lousy work do it for free.

Pretty well sums up this list of free ideas to me. Half banal truisms, half pie-in-the-sky idiocy, half total bullshit. And yes, that's three halves. Mix and match as you want.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 1:37 AM on June 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


In most of the world, the banking industry set up electronic payment systems off their own bat to save the costs of check processing.
Why is America different?


Don't you pay for check processing in the USA? We got check processing free in the UK - no need to pay to get a book of checks, no handling fee for using them (as consumers). All free.

I notice that we've now lost checks in the UK - the whole system of checks is being shut down. They're just an expense for the banks. By contrast, you keep them in the USA, because you pay for them?

Be careful for what you wish for (to be free!)
posted by alasdair at 1:54 AM on June 26, 2012


We should control what companies like Facebook and Google directly connect with our identities, but the right to be forgotten should not extend to search results broadly speaking. In other words, the right to be forgotten should not give "people the right to demand the removal of embarrassing information that others post about them.", that's England's fucked up libel laws, not a consumer protection law.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:54 AM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


the right to be forgotten

We hold these truths to be self-evident, or, if you would prefer, evident only when you click that Agreement button.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:08 AM on June 26, 2012


I can't see any way to square the right to be forgotten with any meaningful concept of free speech. It's privileging an individual's right to control their online history over everyone else's right to store and distribute publicly available information. I also think it's a profoundly dangerous idea, particularly if it starts to be extended to public figures or god forbid, businesses and other legal persons.

As for "charge for your ideas":

At a time when Barbary pirates still concerned them, the Framers penned an intellectual-property clause—the world’s first constitutional protection for copyrights and patents. In so doing, they spawned Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Motown, and so on.

I have never seen a leap so breathtaking, vaulting over so much inconvenient history and contradictory fact in so few words. I can only suspect that the author was not paid for this idea and was seeking to demonstrate her thesis.
posted by Grimgrin at 2:29 AM on June 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


that's England's fucked up libel laws, not a consumer protection law.

On one hand, I sympathise. On the other hand, when I search my cousin's name, the first page of hits relate to news about his arrest for public disorder five years ago. You can imagine what sort of problem that may be for him.
posted by Skeptic at 2:35 AM on June 26, 2012


In the US, there are many situations where as an individual checks are free, but sometimes there are situations where there's a per-check cost, particularly for businesses. Even as a consumer checkbooks beyond the first few cost you, though it's a reasonable fee.

Since moving to Japan I've met exactly one person who used a check here - and he only did it once - and while electronic transfer is often more convenient, it requires more coordination - it's kind of weird to know what branch your landlord uses and keep it on file. Also the per-transaction charge is silly, but that's probably only because CitiBank has ridiculous rates for everything.
posted by 23 at 2:36 AM on June 26, 2012


It appears the better ones are mostly publicity for individual books : Susan Cain's hire introverts piece is plugging Quiet. Steven Pinker is plugging The Better Angels of Our Nature. Don Peck is Pinched. etc. The profesional journalists produced only a mixed bag here, mostly observations or opinion, not ideas per se. Also, that pro-intelectual property screed was written by a corporate lawyer stooge who apparently just likes to hear herself talk.  Meh, edge.org does these discussions better.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:50 AM on June 26, 2012


Can you get the morning-after pill over the counter in the US? You can here (though it costs an eye-watering £25 - other contraceptives, bar condoms if you don't get them from a family planning clinic, are free) and the Pill is usually prescribed by your GP.
posted by mippy at 2:51 AM on June 26, 2012


Charge for Your Ideas

"Of the Founders’ genius ideas, few trump intellectual-property rights. At a time when Barbary pirates still concerned them, the Framers penned an intellectual-property clause—the world’s first constitutional protection for copyrights and patents. In so doing, they spawned Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Motown, and so on. Today, we foolishly flirt with undoing that. In a future where all art is free (the future as pined for by Internet pirates and Creative Commons zealots), books, songs, and films would still get made. But with nobody paying for them, they’d be terrible. Only people who do lousy work do it for free."

Yadda, yadda, yadda. This is oversimplifying the discussion of IP to the point of uselessness. How is this anyway a new, big idea? Or is the Atlantic's keen sense of irony giving us a glimpse of what we can expect to find in their pages as they cease to pay writers for producing quality content?
posted by three blind mice at 2:51 AM on June 26, 2012


I notice that we've now lost checks in the UK - the whole system of checks is being shut down.

I opened a new bank account two weeks ago and they sent me a chequebook. I (very occasionally) use them for mail-order as I don't feel comfortable writing down all my debit card details on a form.
posted by mippy at 2:52 AM on June 26, 2012


i dont like big ideas, i like little ideas

i think thats half an idea, the other half would be to put all little ideas on one html page, ad revenue be damned.....
posted by dongolier at 2:53 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


My friend’s daughter deserved to get into Swarthmore. But she didn’t; she was wait-listed. And this is the fate of thousands of deserving teenagers applying to dozens of selective institutions.

Then maybe we should increase the number of selective institutions?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 2:55 AM on June 26, 2012


Elizabeth Wurtzel: "Only people who do lousy work do it for free."

GNU/Linux ? (predictably she gives zero examples of "lousy, free work")
posted by dongolier at 3:00 AM on June 26, 2012


Only people who do lousy work do it for free.

Says the website running on Linux and nginx.
posted by vanar sena at 3:21 AM on June 26, 2012 [14 favorites]


with right-to-be-forgotten, we work in darkness and ignorance of our fellows and abusers run free

without it, the internet becomes an incredibly powerful mechanism for enforcing norms, as in gays no-joke literally stay in the closet out of fear and everything is squeezed downward in the direction of homogeneity and blandness

the right to anonymity would seem to be essential for making this system function in any humane way
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 3:46 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know, a better right would be the right to not have nude photos or even sex videos be anything other than a mild eyebrow-raiser. IE, be nice not to be hung up about sex.
posted by maxwelton at 3:47 AM on June 26, 2012


@maxwelton

the whole giving-out-nude-business-cards thing sure is a thing and maybe tangentially related but it isn't just sex, it is anything over which someone may be judged, be it drinking or toking or whatever
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 3:55 AM on June 26, 2012


Replacing gas would take a few decades, but it is doable. If outright elimination seems a stretch, remember: stepwise reductions would also help. Indeed, for the United States simply to make the offer of a gasoline treaty would, at a stroke, focus the energy-security debate where it belongs.

Well, even if we can replace gasoline, what about other products of oil refining? Do we have viable replacements for all of them? Because if we don't, then we're still going to need to keep digging oil. Anyone here know something about this?
posted by vidur at 4:33 AM on June 26, 2012


notice that we've now lost checks in the UK

Good riddance. I've written about three in the last ten years and have no desire for them to return.
posted by Segundus at 4:34 AM on June 26, 2012


Only people who do lousy work do it for free.

Only people who do lousy work never do it for love or fun.
posted by DU at 4:35 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was excited by the title but ran down the list waiting to click and open a few articles and learn some surprising and intriguing new ideas, and it seems sort of a measure of my underwhelmitude that I clicked none.
posted by Miko at 5:23 AM on June 26, 2012


I'm down with taking the Speaker of the House (and implicitly the Senate President Pro Tem) out of the Presidential line of succession, but I'm also wondering why that page and that page alone links to the print version.

Also, I like getting rid of the extra point in football, but I'd rather make it 7 points for a TD or 6 plus a chance for 2 on the ground."

As for "Not every high-achieving high-school senior can get into Harvard, Princeton, or Swarthmore" -- no, but every high-achieving high-school senior can get into Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, Cal Tech, MIT, Stanford, Chicago, Penn, Duke, Dartmouth, Northwestern, Johns Hopkins, Washington, Brown, Cornell, Rice, Vanderbilt, Notre Dame or Emory (to just pick U.S. News's top 20 national universities). There's a huge gap between "Harvard" and "failure."

Abolishing the secret ballot isn't what it says on the tin, but is a good idea -- mandatory voting is a public good.

Also, P.J. O'Rourke is amusing in the rotation on Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, but that's about it. His contrarian schtick is not only irrelevant but redundant these days.
posted by Etrigan at 5:43 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I liked their ideas about college, and how the best way to make it fair is to remove even the concept of fairness from it and replace it with random chance. Sure, the best thing to do is just chuck out half of the submissions because the people who are employed for the purpose of reading them don't have it in them to do it right. The lottery for college admissions, I mean, that's a great idea.

You can't just wait around for your gruesome dystopic future. Sometimes you've got to give things a proper push.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:54 AM on June 26, 2012


This blue screen clashes terribly with my hotpink ASUS
posted by infini at 6:13 AM on June 26, 2012


P.J. O'Rourke: wrong about the helium reserve, wrong for America
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:18 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


the right to be forgotten....that's England's fucked up libel laws, not a consumer protection law.

I may be misreading you, but the right to be forgotten is a proposed EU privacy law - it's not English and it doesn't particularly relate to libel. (Though I don't think anyone, even English lawmakers, would disagree that English libel laws are fucked up, and they've actually just announced that they're reforming them).
posted by Infinite Jest at 6:25 AM on June 26, 2012


I do agree with the idea of boot camp for (public school) teachers. Too many teachers have no idea how to deal with unruly classrooms.

The idea of a lottery for colleges is ridiculous, however. Why shouldn't selective schools have the best and the brightest - not just "good enough"? Also, to force selective schools to take anyone who's "good enough" will severely erode the value of selective schools in the first place.

This dude's daughter didn't "deserve" to get into Swarthmore. No one "deserves" to get into any elite institution. They can have good shots, but beyond that, nothing.

The old "less work" trope is hardly a new idea, or a good one. It means that either two people rather than one are both reduced to benefit-less hours, or that companies are being inefficient by lowering two people's wages rather than just firing one. Also, it has not garnered bipartisan support. It has very little support, in fact.
posted by corb at 6:38 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


The idea of a lottery for colleges is ridiculous, however. Why shouldn't selective schools have the best and the brightest - not just "good enough"?

I think the idea is that the process is already a lottery, under another name. Yeah, there are a few obvious admits, academic superstars and recruited linebackers and etc and etc. But then you have thousands of kids, all of whom would very likely thrive at Swarthmore, and no way to meaningfully say "these five hundred are better than those five hundred." In other words, proponents of the lottery system would say that under a lottery system schools would have "the best and the brightest" to just the same extent they do now.

This dude's daughter didn't "deserve" to get into Swarthmore. No one "deserves" to get into any elite institution. They can have good shots, but beyond that, nothing.

This is precisely what lottery proponents say.
posted by escabeche at 6:49 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


More of the best and brightest can be garnered without the lottery element. It becomes a sixth sense after a while but one does need to speak with or meet the "so so"applicants.
posted by infini at 7:02 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


The idea of a lottery for highly selective schools makes sense to me.

It's more honest to pick a set of indistinguishably good students - each clearly over the bar for admission - then admit the number your institution can effectively teach on a random basis. In the letters to applicants, you can tell people whether or not they met the standards and then whether or not they won the lottery.

Of course, for the system to come across as fair, you also need to deal with nepotism. People who have an inappropriate leg up would seem even more objectionable if everyone else had to face a lottery.
posted by sindark at 7:03 AM on June 26, 2012


My friend’s daughter deserved to get into Swarthmore. But she didn’t; she was wait-listed.

Well, clearly someone at Swarthmore disagreed. And while UCLA may not have the resources to read all the applications and prioritize them, I suspect that Swarthmore (and other small, selective colleges) actually do, and there really was a qualitative judgement made there. Sucks, but that's how life works. Cheer up, emo kid helicopter parents! There are other schools!

Interesting that they call for government intervention to replace checks as an example of market failure. In most of the world, the banking industry set up electronic payment systems off their own bat to save the costs of check processing. Why is America different?

There are a few things that I think are worth mentioning.

First, there's already government intervention going on and private sector activity; the Federal Reserve runs the biggest check-clearing operation in the US. However, it's not a government monopoly -- there are private check-clearing firms which actually underprice the Fed and some banks choose to use them for check processing. (The Fed, I believe, breaks even on its clearinghouse services.) The presence of the Fed keeps the other clearinghouses from rent-seeking, though, which is nice.

The push-based "giro" system, on which most of the modern electronic-payment schemes (outside the US) are based, wasn't really a private-sector invention. In many countries, the Post Office acted as a payment processor / clearinghouse. It does not look to me exactly like a shining example of the Private Sector In Action, nor is it clear that you'd end up with anything so nice if you just left the banking industry on its own.

Rather, what you have in the US is basically the results of a hands-off approach by government, and is characterized by a number of payment networks each of which provide some level of convenience to a different set of actors in the market. There are the credit card networks, ATM card networks, the Automated Clearing House system, the check processing system (which is now mostly electronic*), and even wire transfer stuff hanging around. All together, they may not work well, but they work well enough, which is really what counts.

* If you have a bank that lets you do smartphone check deposits, it's easily the lowest-cost and most frictionless way of transferring money between two accounts held at different banks. Beats the shit out of Paypal, anyway.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:09 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are many things that need to be fixed about (NFL) football, but the extra point is very far down the list. How about we deal with the ridiculous sudden-death overtime situation first?
posted by rocket88 at 7:21 AM on June 26, 2012


mandatory voting

"Attention citizens! You are required to report to your local WalMart within the next 24 hours to cast your ballot for YOUR representative to the Gatorade brand Board of Refreshment. Thank you for your participation, and happy shopping!"
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:22 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Don't blame me, I voted for 4 Loko.
posted by Think_Long at 7:32 AM on June 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


I started to ask where "Fire Megan McArdle" was on The Atlantic's list of big ideas, but apparently she's already wandered off the grounds and made her way to Newsweek. (Which seems, shall we say, a very lateral career move, at best.)
posted by octobersurprise at 7:40 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


The solution to this problem is a lottery: every applicant who is good enough gets his or her name put in a hat, and then “winners” are chosen at random.

What? How does this change anything?
I graduated from one of these schools. Sure, for students like me, the whole admissions process was pretty much a crapshoot, and if this system were implemented I don't think my chances would have changed significantly - I would have been "good enough" for the lottery, and then acceptance to my school would have been a literal crapshoot.
But many of the kids I went to college with were in a completely different stratum of intelligence/accomplishment, and surely deserved to be there more than I did. In this "good enough" lottery system, their chances would be equal to mine. That seems really unfair to the subset of kids that really do deserve it more than everyone else.
And how could we fix that? By weighting the lottery according to the same criteria used to deem people "good enough"? What about the edge cases - people that are on the border of "good enough"? Won't they have complaints about a hard cutoff being unfair?
I think that once you address all these issues, you end up with a lottery system that would be functionally close to indistinguishable from the messed up system in place now.
posted by hot soup at 7:45 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the idea is that the process is already a lottery, under another name.

Except it's not a lottery. Those who envision an admissions process as one-dimensional - a "bar" above which you soar or below which you fall - are not familiar with the admissions process at selective schools. There are certainly markers which, if you fall below them, will take you out of the pool - low grades, bad recommendations, unexplainable low standardized-test scores, unremarkable personal histories. But beyond that first easy cut, there are many talented people in the remaining pool - but still, far more than any school has places. What happens next is a complicated stew of processes. Legacies, celebrities, might in some cases be obvious yes-es. So might high-achieving success-story full scholarship winners or candidates. Unless the process is needs-blind, committees also look at the balance of aid-needers versus full-payers. Then other important criteria come in. Diversity - racial, national/international, and geographic diversity are important to many schools. Leadership. Unique fields of interest and endeavor. Arty people, sporty people, service-oriented people. Once you are down to taking one or two out of every twenty people, "highly selective" means something, and it means you are making very individualized distinctions amongst applicants. It doesn't mean "all high-achieving students are the same," because they aren't the same. A brilliant musician, a brilliant poet, a gifted rhetorician, a charismatic leader, an insightful playwright, an incisive mathematician, an innovative artist - these people are not the same as one another. The kid with "just" straight A's and some community service is not especially competitive against these kinds of kids - unless, maybe, some points are in her favor because she lives in Nunavut or Bahrain, or contributes in some other way to the composition of the class. There are soooo many white, suburban kids with good grades and 'well-rounded' extracurriculars that Swarthmore doesn't need to compete with them. The teacher who said she "should" get in is not being honest; she's mollifying the parent (and doesn't sound like someone on the admissions team).

If you've ever sat on or observed one of these groups, you couldn't call it a lottery. Chance is a huge factor in who gets into elite schools; but it is far more important at the societal-structure level - who gets a good school, a well-supported childhood, extracurriculars, travel, healthcare - really, whose parents have some money and resources - than at the point of entry to a college. If you're concerned about inequality, let's look for causes about 18 years earlier, or a generation or two earlier than that, even. Because that's where this problem begins - not in a pile of applications on an admissions officer's desk.

This process is also what makes highly selective colleges different from one another. And they are. They all have their own moods, styles, specialties, emphases. One isn't the same as another, even if they have a great deal in common. Kids who get into Harvard may not get into Brown or Stanford; happens all the time. And the experience at those schools isn't the same, and those experiences produce different types of professionals with different strengths. That variety is a plus, I think. Destroying it by building classes at random would take away some of the diversity of perspectives that school variety and some degree of school and student choice represents.

I don't worry much about what elite colleges are doing. I'm glad we have elite colleges, but I worry more about what options are available to those who don't make it past the selection criteria that favored some people in any given year. I worry about students who don't get to go at all, who go and get a painfully substandard education, or who go and drop out because they have a lack of meaningful support, financial or otherwise.
posted by Miko at 7:57 AM on June 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


A lottery like this won’t correct the injustice that is inherent in a pyramidal system in which not everyone can rise to the top. But it will reveal the injustice by highlighting the role of contingency and luck.

The more I read this, the more repulsive I find it. This kid has already been lucky. She's got a great education, has parents (and friends of parents!) advocating for her, is going to go to college. Swarthmore is being fair by saying "you're not a first choice for us." What an incredibly first-world-problem rant this is - to think that this girl is experiencing an injustice because she might not get into Swarthmore. Maybe they all need a little more of that vaunted "community service" in order to understand what injustice in America looks like, to highlight the role of "contingency and luck" in their own blessed lives.
posted by Miko at 8:02 AM on June 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure what annoys me more about the NASCAR piece: the aggressive proclamations of knowing absolutely nothing about NASCAR (which I don't believe a whit; sportswriters watch ESPN and ESPN shows NASCAR highlights all the time); the slightly-more aggressive, farcical condemnation of hypothetical urban left-wingers who use "NASCAR fans" and "Wal-Mart shoppers" as sneering pejoratives; or the hysterical conflation of NASCAR with All That Is Wrong With The World because women have never won a race.
posted by downing street memo at 8:24 AM on June 26, 2012


This process is also what makes highly selective colleges different from one another. And they are. They all have their own moods, styles, specialties, emphases. One isn't the same as another, even if they have a great deal in common. Kids who get into Harvard may not get into Brown or Stanford; happens all the time.

Miko--I totally agree with you here, but I think it's worth pointing out, to people unfamiliar with his work, that the author of this piece, Barry Schwartz, is probably most well known for his argument that choice is in fact bad for us (I believe his most popular book is The Paradox of Choice). So, his rebuttal would probably be that we aren't better off for having this wide diversity of styles of college. I think his basic argument is wrong here and elsewhere, but that's likely how he's approaching the issue.
posted by dsfan at 8:40 AM on June 26, 2012


The extant lottery-like aspects of college admissions (like the "cutting the deck" one related above, which I don't believe is a particularly rare practice) sets up a really nasty self-reinforcing feedback loop. Because applicants know that they can be rejected for random, meaningless reasons, they'll tend to apply to more schools than they would have otherwise, which means schools get more applications, which means they're more likely to use lottery-like methods to select students... lather, rinse, repeat.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:49 AM on June 26, 2012


Good point.

It's interesting that he extends this to college choice. I wonder if he'd be just as happy working at any liberal arts college.
posted by Miko at 8:52 AM on June 26, 2012


> I opened a new bank account two weeks ago and they sent me a chequebook. I (very
> occasionally) use them for mail-order as I don't feel comfortable writing down all my debit
> card details on a form.

I doubt checks (cheques) will last much longer in the US. They had two big advantages, both of which are gone.

1. They provided a paper-trail proof of payment, because your paid and cancelled physical checks were returned to you with your monthly bank statement. Mortgage holder claims you didn't pay last month? Just whip out your cancelled check. This did not involve your having to beg the bank to help you contest the false claim, you already had the proof of payment in your possession.

It's been ages since I got my actual cancelled checks back. For a while the banks went to providing paper photocopies. Now if I write a check I can view a scan of it on the bank's website, If I'm lucky and the system is able to retrieve it. (It usually isn't. "Please try again later.")

2. They gave you two or three days of float. Write a check today, it won't be presented against your account until somewhat later.

Now when you write a check a large and growing number of businesses just use the magnetic account and routing numbers printed on the check as if it were a debit card, to do an electronic transfer while you're still standing there in the checkout line. No mo' float.

With these two gone, the usefulness of checks has been reduced to rare occasions like the one you described. Banks certainly would like to be rid of checks completely and I doubt the few people who care about them will be enough to keep them around.
posted by jfuller at 9:18 AM on June 26, 2012


Only people who do lousy work do it for free.

I didn't realize Nickelback worked for free. Or Michael Bay.

Suddenly, I like these guys a little more. Feel a little sorry for them anyway.
posted by philip-random at 9:51 AM on June 26, 2012


There are limits to how much admissions personnel can really distinguish kids though. In particular, I'd imagine that Swarthmore could randomize their bottom 20% accepted and top 20% wait list positions without any negative impacts.

As an experiment, you might ask a highly selective school's admissions department to predict the future performance of students they accept, better yet make them predict simply graduation for a good school that fails out many students, like VA or GA Tech, a European place, etc.

Also, you might mitigate some negative effects by making admissions openly random. I'd expect that simply printing "Your Final Admissions Decision Is Randomized" on application materials might save a few suicides every year, even if this were false.

There is way more equality amongst the universities in most continental European countries, often doing no intake selection amongst natives. Instead, faculty handle selection by actually failing out appropriate numbers. I believe German universities simply prohibit you from graduating with any degree in which you failed two required courses, although appeals for third tries are granted a limited number of times.

As an aside, I'm scandalized that Georgia Tech's 4 year graduation rate has risen from 26% to 41%, presumably they're doing more intake selection and taking even more international student. Yet, I'd expect systemic effects enter into the equations as well since most institutions rates have improved. Is say Swarthmore really more selective today than during the 80s?
posted by jeffburdges at 10:05 AM on June 26, 2012


I believe German universities simply prohibit you from graduating with any degree in which you failed two required courses, although appeals for third tries are granted a limited number of times.

As an alumnus of a German university, I can certify this is true. However, I can also certify that this was easily circumvented by having a diplomatic illness on the day of the exam and getting a helpful doctor to extend a medical certificate. Waiting rooms were never as full as during exam season. Quite a lot of people even "fell ill" mid-exam: I believe that in my Thermodynamics exam the attrition rate must have topped one third.
posted by Skeptic at 10:14 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is way more equality amongst the universities in most continental European countries, often doing no intake selection amongst natives. Instead, faculty handle selection by actually failing out appropriate numbers.

This is how it works at some of the larger state-run schools in the US as well, but that approach has its own drawbacks: it leads to very large class sizes, at least for introductory classes, and there are a lot of people (both students and professors) who don't like that atmosphere. I also think that there would be something depressing about being surrounded by people who weren't going to make it to graduation, seems like the academic equivalent of being lined up with the cannon fodder in the front rank of a Napoleonic army, but to each their own I suppose.

The "highly selective" schools are consciously setting a high admissions bar in order to avoid having large classes and a high flunk-out rate.

I can see the benefit of both systems, and optimally both should exist. Low-admissions-bar / high-flunk-out schools for people who perhaps didn't do well in highschool, didn't test well, or otherwise didn't have a great admissions packet; high-admissions-bar / low-flunk-out schools for people who know they need small class sizes.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:50 AM on June 26, 2012


GUYS HERE'S A BIG IDEA GEM: EAT THE POOR!

Fuck you, "the" Atlantic.
posted by basicchannel at 11:00 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Only people who do lousy work do it for free.

Cause passion doesn't exist, right?
posted by pcrsweetness at 12:08 PM on June 26, 2012


There is way more equality amongst the universities in most continental European countries, often doing no intake selection amongst natives. Instead, faculty handle selection by actually failing out appropriate numbers.

I've taught those courses, with the added bonus in Texas that all students were required by law to take them. On the one hand, it seems like a good thing that many students are given a chance at college. On the other hand, a lot of them are (mostly through no fault of their own) radically unprepared to do college-level work, and it doesn't do them much of a favor to waste their money and 6 months to a year of their lives. It's also almost suicidally depressing to have to be the asshole that tells them that they don't really get to go to college, and here have a kick in the teeth on your way out, every fucking semester.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:12 PM on June 26, 2012


Hate to double post, but "ABOLISH THE SECRET BALLOT"? Really?
posted by pcrsweetness at 12:13 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hate to double post, but "ABOLISH THE SECRET BALLOT"? Really?

I had the same reaction to the title, but really, the author is just advocating that we make the act of voting more public, rather than the actual vote you cast. Less voting by mail and more community getting together at the same time:
Other experiments have found gentler approaches that serve a similar function: merely reminding citizens that whether they cast a ballot is a matter of public record, or promising to print the names of those who do in a postelection newspaper ad, can boost turnout too.
posted by Etrigan at 12:24 PM on June 26, 2012


Less voting by mail and more community getting together at the same time

Spoken like a person with good transportation and no mobility problems.
posted by Miko at 12:49 PM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


If I had to stand in line with, shudder, other people to cast a ballot, I absolutely 100% would not vote. Instead, with Oregon's vote-by-mail, I've never missed so much as a local election. So yeah, screw that.
posted by darksasami at 1:13 PM on June 26, 2012


Less voting by mail

Yeah, no. Although I suspect that might be a popular move among the far right, since they typically do well under low-voter-turnout systems.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:18 PM on June 26, 2012


There isn't afaik any limit on the number of retakes for student in most American universities, Skeptic, meaning they can simply try the course repeatedly, provided they keep paying. Rutgers actually erased past failing grades once they finally pass the course, making Rutgers GPAs suspect.

University is effectively free in continental Europe, ROU_Xenophobe. I believe Germany charges students a few hundred euros per year. French schools are completely free afaik. In fact, ENS students are actually paid a salary, although they were heavily selected by classe préparatoire, not sure about other grandes écoles.

I believe university faculty exert considerably more control over high school education in France conspired with the U.S., presumably the same holds for Germany as well. In other words, the worst university students are less likely to receive the school diploma level required for access to university. And obviously these countries support high schools with income taxes rather than straight property taxes.

Conversely, there is some minimal weed out during senior level courses in continental Europe. I was expected to fail some meaningful fraction when I taught a senior level math course as a visiting professor in Germany, although the class I taught was an elective.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:34 PM on June 26, 2012


Isn't election day a holiday in many modern democracies by now?
posted by jeffburdges at 1:40 PM on June 26, 2012


jeff, you're not referring to the USA as a modern democracy are you?
posted by Think_Long at 2:15 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


You'll have to pay if you want my thoughts on this.
posted by pdq at 5:23 AM on June 27, 2012


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