Sunday, September 30, 2012


From The Lovable Misanthrope.
Dr. Google and I may have caught David Brooks with his pants down, or something like that—I'm not saying plagiarism, but an ethical breach in the plagiarism family, and I'm not kidding—in reference to his Friday column, on its surface a relatively dull specimen of his social science dishing mode, where he attempts to show you how hot new research proves that poverty has nothing to do with our social problems (and therefore, implicitly, government ought to leave it alone and focus on more effective measures like eliminating the budget deficit, because everybody knows the budget deficit is responsible for teenage pregnancy, segregated neighborhoods, and hunger).

This time Brooks is announcing a hip new trend that everybody is dancing to,
the psychologizing of domestic policy. In the past several decades, policy makers have focused on the material and bureaucratic things that correlate to school failure, like poor neighborhoods, bad nutrition, schools that are too big or too small. But, more recently, attention has shifted to the psychological reactions that impede learning — the ones that flow from insecure relationships, constant movement and economic anxiety.
But at the same time, they aren't, or it isn't, or they haven't noticed themselves:
The clown Joseph Grimaldi. From Nigeness.
When you look over the domestic policy landscape, you see all these different people in different policy silos with different budgets: in health care, education, crime, poverty, social mobility and labor force issues. But, in their disjointed ways, they are all dealing with the same problem.... Maybe it’s time for people in all these different fields to get together in a room and make a concerted push against the psychological barriers to success.
Yes! They needed Brooks to inform them that now that their attention has shifted, they ought to start shifting their attention. Obama or Romney—it hardly matters who—could institute a Department of Homeland Insecurity,  maybe with Bill Bennett as director, to focus all these efforts on the psychological issues: instead of the utopian socialist dream of reducing poverty, we'll reduce unsuccessfulness!

What interests me, as always, is the research he's reporting on, or trying to report on, and trying to find out if it's really as specious as the way he presents it, and how he found out about it, because I can't believe he's really following the literature; more like it's following him.

In this case, he seemed to be citing a rather wide range of different kinds of work, much in extremely academic publications that would be pretty hard to find if you didn't know what you were looking for; but it gradually became apparent that he was getting it all from two magazine articles by the fine education-beat journalist Paul Tough: "The poverty clinic", The New Yorker, March 21, 2011, and "What if the secret to success is failure?", New York Times Magazine, September 14, 2011; or more likely from Tough's new book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), which incorporates material from those articles into its first two chapters.
Advertisement for Zan, a 19th-century French cough drop brand. From PostersPlease.
I say "more likely" because the book came out just a few weeks ago, September 5, so you could imagine a copy from the publisher landing on Brooks's desk, without his lifting a finger to obtain it, and then being there when he was casting about for something to write about.

In the event, it was better than that: Brooks was invited to serve on a panel discussion with Tough, plus two scholars (Carol Dweck and Angela Duckworth) who play important parts in the book, moderated by Brian Williams for NBC's Education Nation conference, September 24. Brooks showed he had no idea what How Children Succeed is about, rather agreed with Williams that it must be getting rid of all that self-esteem shit where you give every kid a trophy just for showing up,  thought he was agreeing with somebody instead of just confused when he said that most of cognition is non-cognitive, and so on. Anyway, I figure it was around then that he got hold of the book; perhaps Tough gave him a signed copy as they chatted in the green room.

Here is an outline of the first 53 pages (not including the introduction) of How Children Succeed in relation to the first eight paragraphs of Brooks's September 27 column:

pp. 1-9. Introduces the Chicago school principal Elizabeth Dozier and the San Francisco pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris.

pp. 9-11. Introduces (from Burke Harris's point of view) the enormous longitudinal study on the medical consequences of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) on 17,000 Kaiser HMO patients conducted, beginning in 1995, by Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda:
patients... were mailed questionnaires asking them to relate their personal histories in ten different categories of adverse childhood experiences, including physical and sexual abuse, physical and emotional neglect, and various measures of household dysfunction, such as having divorced or separated parents or family members who were incarcerated or mentally ill or addicted.... [and] used the data to assign each patient an ACE score, giving them one point for each category of trauma... (Tough, 9-10)
They asked 17,000 mostly white, mostly upscale patients enrolled in a Kaiser H.M.O. to describe whether they had experienced any of 10 categories of childhood trauma. They asked them if they had been abused, if their parents had divorced, if family members had been incarcerated or declared mentally ill. Then they gave them what came to be known as ACE scores, depending on how many of the 10 experiences they had endured. (Brooks, para. 1)
The correlations between adverse childhood  experiences and negative adult outcomes were so powerful that they "stunned us," Anda later wrote.... the higher the ACE score, the worse the outcome, on almost every measure from addictive behavior to chronic disease.... Compared to people with no history of ACEs, people with ACE scores of 4 or higher were twice as likely to smoke, seven times more likely to be alcoholics, and seven times more likely to have had sex before age fifteen. They were twice as likely to have been diagnosed with cancer, twice as likely to have heart disease, twice as likely to have liver disease, four times as likely to suffer from emphysema or chronic bronchitis.... adults with an ACE score above 6 were thirty times as likely to have attempted suicide... (Tough, 9-10)
The link between childhood trauma and adult outcomes was striking. People with an ACE score of 4 were seven times more likely to be alcoholics as adults than people with an ACE score of 0. They were six [sic!] times more likely to have had sex before age 15, twice as likely to be diagnosed with cancer, four times as likely to suffer emphysema. People with an ACE score above 6 were 30 times more likely to have attempted suicide.  (Brooks, para. 2)
pp. 11-14. Follows Burke Harris beginning to identify the child's reaction to ACE with the physiology of human reactions to stress through the hypothelamic-pituitary-adrenal system.

pp. 14-15. Introduces one of Burke Harris's patients, Monisha Sullivan, who has had a lot of deeply adverse experiences, raised by a single father and ripped away from him into the foster care system when she was 10, as the father's drug habit went out of control.
Without any warning, she was pulled out of class by a social worker she had never met and driven to a strange new home. It was months before she was able to have any contact with her father. "I remember the first day like it was yesterday," she told me. "Every detail. I still have dreams about it. I feel like I'm going to be damaged forever." (Tough, 15)
Tough interviewed a young lady named Monisha, who was pulled out of class by a social worker, taken to a strange foster home and forbidden from seeing her father for months. “I remember the first day like it was yesterday. Every detail. I still have dreams about it. I feel like I’m going to be damaged forever.”  (Brooks, para. 5)
More than anything, she felt anxious: anxious about school, anxious about her young daughter, anxious about earthquakes. "I think about the weirdest things," she said. "I think about the world ending. If a plane flies over me, I think they’re going to drop a bomb. I think about my dad dying. If I lose him, I don't know what I'm going to do." She was even anxious about her anxiety. “When I get scared, I start shaking," she said. "My heart starts beating. I start sweating. You know how people say ‘I was scared to death’? I get scared that that’s really going to happen to me one day.” (Tough, 15)
Monisha’s anxiety sensors are still going full blast. “If a plane flies over me, I think they’re going to drop a bomb. I think about my dad dying,” she told Tough. “When I get scared, I start shaking. My heart starts beating. I start sweating. You know how people say ‘I was scared to death’? I get scared that that’s really going to happen to me one day.”  (Brooks, para. 6)

pp. 16-19. Burke Harris finds that ACEs have not only strictly physiological effects (Monisha's hands tremble, she loses hair, and feels pains for no observable reason) but are also implicated in cognitive and behavioral problems.
Among her patients with an ACE score of 0, just 3 percent had been identified as having learning or behavioral problems. Among patients with an ACE score of 4 or higher, the figure was 51 percent. Stress physiologists have found a biological explanation for this phenomenon as well.... (Tough, 17)
Later research suggested that only 3 percent of students with an ACE score of 0 had learning or behavioral problems in school. Among students with an ACE score of 4 or higher, 51 percent had those problems. In Paul Tough’s essential book, “How Children Succeed,” he describes what’s going on. Childhood stress can have long lasting neural effects, making it harder to exercise self-control, focus attention, delay gratification and do many of the other things that contribute to a happy life. (Brooks, paras. 3-4, in the end using what our teachers called "his own words")
pp. 19-48. All kinds of wonderful stuff.

pp. 49-52. Introduction of the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Academy in the South Bronx.
Almost every member of the [first cohort] class of 2003 did make it through high school, and most of them enrolled in college. But then the mountain grew steeper: Six years after their high-school graduations, just 21 percent of the cohort—eight students—had completed a four-year college degree. (Tough, 50)
in its first survey a few years ago, KIPP discovered that three-quarters [sic] of its graduates were not making it through college. (Brooks, from para. 8)
The students who persisted in college were not necessarily the ones who had excelled academically at KIPP. Instead, they seemed to be the ones who possessed other gifts, skills like optimism and resilience and social agility. (Tough, 52)
It wasn’t the students with the lower high school grades that were dropping out most. It was the ones with the weakest resilience and social skills. It was the pessimists.  (Brooks, from para. 8)
And then he does get on to some evidence not from Tough: references to Honey Boo Boo, "Alaska State Troopers", and the rapper Tyler, the Creator, evincing I guess Brooks's own research on social dysfunction.* So it seems that the reason he calls Tough's book "essential" is that it was essential to getting this column written.

So: he's copied, almost word for word and without marking it as quotations, a fairly small proportion of How Children Succeed, but a pretty large proportion of his column, three quarters of that without even indirect attribution, and you see that he's scrambled the order of the paragraphs to make it look as if Tough's research is his own.

He has slyly altered the purport to make it agree with his own views, as when he emphasizes that "mostly white, mostly upscale" character of the Felitti and Anda sample, as if to suggest that high ACE scores are evenly distributed across the population rather than being concentrated, as they are, among the poor. Similarly, in that last bit he inverts the focus from the successful KIPP students to the failures (after having exaggerated the number of failures).

He edits out Nadine Burke Harris's existence, Monisha's physical symptoms, the cases presented in contrast to Monisha and to the KIPP Academy, and the whole extremely interesting biological account of what the connection between ACEs and bad outcomes could be. He falsely generalizes statements about Burke Harris's students to the entire population.

I don't know that David Brooks should be busted for plagiarism here, even though he fails to credit Tough for three quarters of his material. But I don't think you can properly call what he's done "fair use" either; to use an author's words to point toward a conclusion that the author would not dream of drawing, as Brooks did with Tough's first book, Whatever it Takes, on Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children's Zone, in his column of May 7 2009: Robert Pondiscio and other bloggers wondered how he ended up believing that
”the Harlem Children’s Zone results suggest the reformers are right” in arguing that school-based approaches alone can close the achievement gap. It’s a conclusion that’s hard to support based on even a passing familiarity with Tough’s book..... to conclude, as Brooks did, that HCZ proves the “no excuses” case makes one wonder if he even read Tough’s book.
He clearly hasn't read this book either, though he has clearly thumbed through at least 13 of its pages. I haven't finished reading it myself, for that matter—yet—so I won't try to sketch out what Brooks ought to have written; but I can say confidently that his conservative-reformy views are very much at odds with the way Tough is thinking. So shame on you, Brooksie. You are being watched.
Joseph Grimaldi as the clown in Harlequin Padmanada; or, The Golden Fish, a Christmas pantomime produced at Covent Garden in 1811, print, 19th century; in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Encyclopaedia Britannica.

*Tyler, the Creator also shows what I would have thought impossible, that you can have a stage name with a comma in it.

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