Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tiger Mothers and Steroids

Recently I read a follow-up to the Tiger Mother articles on Steve Sailer's excellent blog, referring to The Atlantic

I've a few thoughts on this myself. The whole Ivy League and top tier admissions thing is a lesser example of an 'only the obsessed need apply' dynamic which we see in full bloom in professional sports and the Olympics. Those of us who have a strong interest in the extremes of human capability recognize several things:
1) Even the person with the absolute most of quantity X usually only has a fairly modest amount more than their nearest competitor. You might be 5 sigma from the mean in your area of greatest focus, but that's only 1 in 3 or 4 million or so, there's probably at least 2000 people on the planet as good or better than you in terms of raw ability.
2) Performance enhancing drugs generally both work and frequently have adverse side effects
3) One sigma also frequently equates to 'working twice as hard'. Down at the more familiar levels of ability it's possible to significantly boost your relative position by being more driven, obsessive, or simply less lazy than your competition.
4) At the extreme levels, it's not feasible to work twice as hard as your nearest competitor, because there's just not enough hours in the day when only the obsessed need apply
So you predict from this to see a constant race between performance enhancing drug concealment, development, and detection---which accords precisely with reality.
We naturally prefer to ban such things from the highest competition because if they're allowed, they're basically mandatory. While I definitely appreciate the beta testing work on drugs that the competitors are doing unwittingly on my behalf, I understand their desire to not make the side effects of such a compulsory part of the competition. But there's a definite prisoner's dilemma going on here, and it's precisely the one that the Atlantic author is talking around.
Lots of mothers with Ivy League aspirations for their children---and, to be fair, if you're aspiring to be something like a Supreme Court justice or the like, it's pretty much a practical requirement--would prefer a competitive space wherein their children didn't have to compete with the products of extreme parenting. I can't say I'm unsympathetic to them.

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