Mark Zuckerberg on psychology and social media

In response to Florida Governor Rick Scott attacking Florida universities for graduating too many psychology majors (among other disciplines), a group of department chairs put out a report explaining and defending the discipline. Toward the end they list some famous psychology majors, and among them is Mark Zuckerberg.

Here’s Zuckerberg in the Deseret News:

“All of these problems at the end of the day are human problems,” he said. “I think that that’s one of the core insights that we try to apply to developing Facebook. What [people are] really interested in is what’s going on with the people they care about. It’s all about giving people the tools and controls that they need to be comfortable sharing the information that they want. If you do that, you create a very valuable service. It’s as much psychology and sociology as it is technology.”

And it’s not just talk — he’s hiring psychology PhDs (including a University of Oregon graduate).

See also here (psych major stuff starts around 1:00; gets especially interesting around 2:50).


The measurable value of a humanities education

Cedar Riener discusses the importance of humanities and arts in higher education. His post is in response to a recent Stanley Fish column on a crisis in the humanities. I’m glad Cedar wrote this post, because when I read Fish’s piece, after I got through the part where he dismisses all of the usual arguments for the humanities, I reread it twice and couldn’t find him presenting any good arguments in favor.

Cedar reviews recent evidence showing benefits of bilingualism and study abroad (making the case for departments of French, Russian, etc.). But importantly, he also discusses the difficulty of measuring outcomes:

Finally, I think a take-home message we should all get from the science of why there is value in the humanities (and the liberal arts in general) is that we should be humble in our drive to tie education to specific and direct goals.  This approach is short-sighted, not just because bilingualism improves creativity and prevents cognitive aging, but because most of the effects of any sort of education are very very hard to measure.  We psychologists can assail education research for not providing clear answers on anything, but at some point we have to conclude that the kind of clear answers we want just don’t exist.

Outcome-oriented policies are only as good as somebody’s ability to list, define, and measure outcomes. A lot of the criticisms of standardized testing center around this issue. As a scientist who does a fair amount of psychometrics in my line of work, I’m pretty optimistic about our ability to construct assessments if we have a good and comprehensive definition of what we want to measure. But the having-a-good-and-comprehensive-definition part is hellaciously hard when it comes to things like the effects of education. If universities keep shifting to “accountability” policies before we can solve this problem, we are in for a rough time.

From the department of “things that could be said about almost anything”

If you want to change the behavior, you have to change the incentives. Moralistic huffing and puffing won’t cut it.

That sentence jumped out at me as being true of just about every domain of public policy.

(In this case it’s from Dean Dad’s blog post about public higher ed outsourcing growth to private higher ed. My own institution has essentially done this internally. Our finances are more like a public institution with regard to in-state students, and like a private with regard to out-of-state students. Since our state’s contribution to higher ed is dismal and dropping, the higher-ups have decided to balance the budget through growth — but that’s almost entirely by admitting more out-of-state students.)