Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board

Smart people, part 2:  Are you an elitist?

If we're judged by the company we choose to keep, then surely we (the members of this board) must admit that we are all terrible snobs:

Think of your twelve closest friends or colleagues.  For most readers of this book, a large majority will be college graduates.  Does it surprise you to learn that the odds of having even *half* of them be college graduates are only six in a thousand, if people were randomly paired off?  Many of you will not think it odd that half or more of the dozen have advanced degrees.  But the odds against finding such a result among a randomly chosen group of twelve Americans are actually more than a million to one.  Are any of the dozen a graduate of Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Princeton, Cal Tech, MIT, Duke, Dartmouth, Cornell, Columbia, University of Chicago, or Brown?  The chance that even one is a graduate of those twelve schools is one in a thousand.  The chance of finding two among that group is one in fifty thousand.  The chance of finding four or more is less than one in a billion.

Most readers of this book -- this may be said because we know a great deal about the statistical tendencies of people who read a book like this -- are in preposterously unlikely groups...

From, _The Bell Curve_:

Anonymous coward
Friday, August 09, 2002

That sounds rude to me, to assume someone is a snob because of whom they keep as friends. Most friends come from school or work, and it is reasonable to assume that a given type of work would have people of similar background.

It is, however, human nature to associate and exclude. I don't think it's accurate to say someone whose circle of friends consist mostly of college graduates is any more a snob than someone whose friends are mostly line workers or grocery clerks or what-have-you.

Troy King
Saturday, August 10, 2002

Note, too, that he only said we were part of preposterously unlikely groups, not that those groups were necessarily preposterously superior to the rest of society.

I bet you could also take a group of steelworkers, and analyse their close friends. Chances are, at least several of them are also steelworkers. What would be the odds of a randomly-chosen group of 12 people containing, say, 6 steelworkers?

You could do the same exercise with gay people, lithuanian people, priests, or any other arbitrary categorisation. All it really says is that we tend to associate with people we work with, went to school with, and share interests with, rather than randomly-chosen people. I thought that would be pretty obvious.

Darren Collins
Saturday, August 10, 2002

Dear lord, you shouldn't cite the Bell Curve for anything; it's been discredited for shoddy statistical work a dozen times over.

Jason McCullough
Monday, August 12, 2002

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home