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How Not to Explain Success (nytimes.com)
186 points by rafaelc on May 30, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 133 comments

"In this case, our studies affirmed that a person’s intelligence and socioeconomic background were the most powerful factors in explaining his or her success"

If success is defined from an economic point of view in absolutes it makes sense. As the best predictor of your wealth is your parents wealth.

"Intelligence" is harder to add to the equation as it is more difficult to measure than parents wealth and there are known bias (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect) that makes people think that they are smarter/more competent that they really are. So it is even possible that a superiority complex or insecurity are relevant even when the participants in the survey don't think so. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Triple_Package)

This results show the consequence of a diminishing socio-economic mobility. The same traits and skills in a high mobility society are going to have a big weight in "success" achievement. In an stagnated society where the system is rigged to make poor stay poor and rich stay rich "success" becomes an inherited trait making "socioeconomic background" the only and best predictor.

> As the best predictor of your wealth is your parents wealth.

Coming from an Eastern European country, my parents were making less than $10000 a year combined in the '80s and '90s. Nowhere near "wealthy" by western standards. However, they gifted me with a strong STEM education, which translated in material affluence 25 years later on a different continent.

Might consider that the biggest transferable wealth across generations is a good education and a life long example of thrift and hard work.

>Coming from an Eastern European country, my parents were making less than $10000 a year combined in the '80s and '90s. Nowhere near "wealthy" by western standards. However, they gifted me with a strong STEM education, which translated in material affluence 25 years later on a different continent.

That's the very definition of anecdotal evidence and survivorship bias. Both things that a strong STEM education should help squash.

It's also based on a historical peculiarity. In the west, and in particular in the US, to get a good STEM education you statistically have to be middle class or wealthy in the first place. (It's not impossible to have one if you're not -- just more difficult and rare). That wasn't the case in Eastern Europe, where the state provided easier access to higher education.

Define "good STEM education".

I had cable internet very early in it's history, and I used to for things other than playing Half Life.

I did not end up going to Stanford, but I went to a decent state school and while I'm not rich, I'm certainly much better of than friends who had other majors.

I'm not sure I get what you're going for with this comment

A good STEM education is one that would (at the very least least) make one wary of committing such obvious mistakes when drawing up arguments.

I complete agree on that. I was NOT arguing against good education. Education (that gives you knowledge), love (that gives you mental well being) and good habits (that makes you more resilient) are going to have a huge impact in your physical, mental and economic well being.

> which translated in material affluence 25 years later on a different continent Yes. And that's why emigration has a big impact in improving world-wide socio-economic mobility.

But suppose that you have started your live in an already rich country. In that case that country socio-economic mobility, by definition, is what gives you how dependent is your wealth on your parents wealth.

World wide socio-economic mobility probably is quite good. As it is easier and cheaper to emigrate than ever and also because there has been a lot of growth in non-western countries. But the article was talking about North America. And in that case, as it is also true on all western countries, mobility is shrinking. In that scenario education, love, good habits are still important for your well being. But they are not strong indicators of your absolute wealth.

Randomness is a more relevant factor than "gurus" want you to acknowledge, just change "strong STEM education" by "strong Non-STEM education" and keep all the rest. Probably your story would be slightly different no matter the hard work..

I'm sure giving your kids a good and useful education is one way to transfer wealth between generations. However, it sometimes fails.

Direct ways of transferring wealth between generations never fail. And there's a lot of those going on too.

Transferring values is hard. Transferring cash is easy.

"Direct ways of transferring wealth between generations never fail."

Sure it does.

Plenty of heirs "lose the farm."

It's been said that the first generation builds the business, the second generation manages it, and the third generation loses it.

Maintaining and growing wealth are different than receiving and spending.

Plenty of heirs "lose the farm."

The transfer still worked. And people who get success more on their own sometimes lose the farm too (more often, I'd bet - I don't think there are any low risk strategies of getting richer than your parents).

Maintaining and growing wealth are different than receiving and spending.

It's much easier than getting it in the first place, though.

> It's been said that the first generation

Ah, but how diluted does it get with each increasing cohort of heirs?

> Transferring cash is easy.

Not always easy. There are disasters too - hyperinflation, nationalization, monetary/land reform, privatization.. any of them can cause you to lose large amount of wealth.

All of them hit work-acquired wealth just as hard as inherited wealth.

You are one case.

The epitome of anecdotal evidence.

I see your agenda: Reducing other people's arguments. The Godwin point applied to factual evidence. On the opposite: he's the proof that parent's wealth is not necessary, as opposed to the opinion of "disadvantage"-ers.

So many of my mid-to-highschool classmates mates had desite for, air quote, me "working all the time", end of air quote. Can't ignore that.

No one is arguing that family wealth is "necessary" for financial success, just that it's a strong predictor of it.

But there is one other factor more important than any and muddles everything..the desire to accumulate wealth.

If family socioeconomic status is the best predictor of your own wealth, it's hard to argue "wanting it" is the most important factor. Unless you genuinely believe most everyone living in poverty is perfectly happy to stay there.

Intelligence isn't very hard to measure. The methods to test it are quite mature.

They do not involve asking people how intelligent they think they are, which is the only way Dunning-Kruger would influence the results.

>Intelligence isn't very hard to measure. The methods to test it are quite mature.

On the contrary. A lot of the standard methods are crude and coarse measures of intelligence.


Good ones (consistent, calibrated) seems to exist but yes, I have read on HN about people being asked about American history under the guise of "IQ test".

That's a pretty bold statement, considering that it's currently unknown whether general "intelligence", or g, even exists.

It's reasonably consistently measurable and has demonstrated correlations with both causative factors and outcomes. You can legitimately question the nature of what is being measured, but it's obviously something real (even if it's a composite).


> ... whether general "intelligence", or g, even exists.

I'm talking about the one that is for example measured in standardized IQ tests.

That's a little bit circular, though: "Intelligence is what is measured by an intelligence test."

And he is saying the IQ test measures very little, though the test appears at least to be self-consistent.

> "Intelligence isn't very hard to measure. The methods to test it are quite mature."

Intelligence is a measure of aptitude, but aptitude applies to a broad range of activity, and not all aptitude is numerically quantifiable (in any meaningful sense, at least). For example, two broad categories of intelligence are academic intelligence and emotional intelligence. Excellence in one field does not necessarily transfer to all fields, otherwise socially gifted people would always make the best academic students, and from personal observation I can see this doesn't tie up with reality.

The methods to test intelligence is apparently all there is of it. We know we can make tests that curve-fit to a normal distribution but beyond that, we know nearly nothing of it.

>If success is defined from an economic point of view in absolutes it makes sense. As the best predictor of your wealth is your parents wealth.

It's not the wealth. It's all of the cultural things that correlate strongly with wealth. Case in point: Two million Cuban-Americans came to the US with nothing but the clothes on their backs, within the last 60 years. Today, they've found their way to the middle and upper classes in about the same proportions as non-hispanic white people.

A bit of self-selection here. Those two million Cuban-Americans were more likely to have been upper class Cubans (or descendants of upper class Cubans). Not only would upper class and upper middle class Cubans be the only ones to afford to flee Fidel Castro's dictatorship, but they would also be the ones most affected by Castro's communist policies and redistribution of wealth.

Exactly. There's no denying that especially at first, Cuban refugees were skewed toward the middle class. But no matter what they came from, they almost all came with nothing. Which is what my point is. It's not the money, it's all of the cultural things that correlate with it.

It seems to me that was precisely the point he tried to make.

It seems to me that if it was his point, he'd have mentioned it.

The "Mariel" people were not upper class Cubans. Many were petty criminals and mental health patients. So, just so people who might think they were all people who escaped back in '59, no, most were not those people.

The Mariel numbers were around 150,000 people, a small fraction of the 2 million or so Cubans who emigrated. In the upper middle class circles I traveled in in South Florida, my Cuban friends from the emigree generation and the generation that grew up in South Florida very much fit the mold of leaving comfort to start over with nothing.

I would agree it's not income. That's just correlation.

It's whether your parents taught you to read by age 5, cooked vegetables for dinner, encouraged you to play an instrument, drove you to tournaments on weekends, picked a neighbourhood with an IB program even if that means no yard, paid for braces, etc etc.

Patents with low income can choose to do formative things, with personal sacrifice.

Anecdotally, social mobility happens when your parents choose to prioritize you, and you also somehow get introduced to the good life and determine to 'make it' at whatever cost.

Do you have data for that? It's a statement that sounds like it makes sense, but so do a lot of statements in this sort of discussion.

(I'm not disagreeing. Intuitively I'd tend to agree with you that those things would have a measureable effect. I just don't trust intuition in this sort of thing. :) )

I don't have data, only personal experience. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concerted_cultivation

Malcolm Gladwell writes about this too, in Outliers [1] (chapters 3 and 4). His aim was to dispel the myth that success derives from intelligence.

[1]: https://www.amazon.ca/Outliers-Story-Success-Malcolm-Gladwel...

Why is this down voted? It is quite insightful. Is HN that much of an echo chamber for the self-made-person myth? A shame that our collective intelligence would harbour this blind spot.

I have no idea. I don't fit the mold - doing well, grew up poorer than many, so my success wasn't dictated by my parents, but that doesn't mean GP's post is wrong at all. I upvoted it.

Edit: while I'm sure I'm smart (who isn't sure the are?), luck has a lot to do with any success I've had.

> luck has a lot to do with any success I've had.

Does anyone expect that by sitting around doing nothing they'll get lucky and become successful? Do one's choices mean nothing?

I'm more successful than most people I know. I put this down mostly to phenotype, education, and and general social background. None of this is anything to feel proud about, I didn't choose any of this.

I know (and admire) many many less successful people who work a lot harder than me, who display most of the traits that are meant to make people successful, but the halo effect, being white and male, getting easily bored, and being brought up in an environment where suggesting I could be the Prime Minister one day was met not with derision but with book suggestions were surely the keys to my success, and also the basis for all my choices.

The key belief - in my experience - between the Left and the Right is that the Right doesn't believe in luck, good or bad.

There's plenty of hardworking people who never get lucky and hit jackpot, but who nonetheless build happy fulfilled lives and can give their children many opportunities.

> getting easily bored

Getting easily bored was helpful?

Many times I read about entrepreneurs they've made changes in their life because they're filled with a deep desire to blah blah blah. I quit my first job to work for myself because I bored out of my wits and couldn't face going in to work. Many of the big positive changes in my life have happened because I was too bored or lazy to cope with the status quo.

It's a useful parameter that if set right will enhance new exploration over retreading territory. If set too high, you spend too much time exploring shallowly, and if set too low, you get stuck in a rut.

The "luck" argument isn't about comparing an idle slob with a hard-working person. It's about different outcomes for equally hard-working people due to luck - such as the luck of birth. Which is not just about parents, but about ones entire environment. How many little Einsteins where born in Ghana and nobody ever noticed?

It is NOT about how hard you work. It is about how smart you work - i.e. your choices on what to work on.

Working hard on non-productive things is not going to get one anywhere. Everybody has choices on what to work on. Working hard waiting tables is not going to help create a hit album - working hard on guitar skills might.

To be successful, you have to have a plan that makes sense, then work that plan, not something else.

"Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done."

Does anyone expect that by sitting around doing nothing they'll get lucky and become successful? Do one's choices mean nothing?

Talk about a non sequitur. Grandparent said, essentially, that luck is necessary for success. You seem to be arguing against a strawman who you imagine claims that luck is sufficient for success.

You have accomplished much, Walter, and you deserve to feel proud. You also should feel lucky, however.

I've watched enough other people throw away opportunities, and seen enough opportunities I've thrown away to realize that most everyone gets lucky opportunities. Preparing for them, recognizing them, and taking advantage of them, is another matter entirely.

I know a number of successes and failures. The successes tend to be people who take responsibility for their lot in life, the bad as well as the good. The failures tend to be people who blame others or bad luck for their lot.

The empowering thing about taking responsibility is then you can do something about it.

I would say luck is necessary for fame and fortune, but not necessarily for success. Take for example someone who is an incredibly gifted musician, artist or writer. If that person doesn't put any work into self promotion they won't be rich or famous, but I would argue they would still be extremely successful. In fact, many of the people we today consider the greatest artists in history toiled in relative obscurity during their lifetimes.

If hard work made ou successful old women in 3rd world countries would be billionaires.

Hard work is one of several factors.

Also not being a billionaire!= not being successful.

I don't think most people on HN think "luck" happens by pure chance. "Luck" is most often used to describe why 5% of startups make it, and why the other 95% fail despite the same level of intelligence and effort of its team. Another hackneyed/common phrase is "luck is where preparation meets opportunity". In the scope of entrepreneurial efforts, there's sufficient amounts of chaos that one has to attribute success to some amount of chance or luck, in addition to the effort required in running/starting a business.

The details of success are pretty much luck. But the choices one makes to recognize opportunity when it flows your way, and being prepared to take advantage of that opportunity, that is not luck.

I.e. if you're not out there swinging, you are never ever going to hit the ball.

My mental conception of this looks like a bell curve - most successful entities require a good amount of (hard, smart, strategic) work and a good amount of (pure, random, chaotic) luck. A very few succeed with a vast amount of hard work and only a small amount of luck, and equally few succeed with a tiny amount of hard work and vast amounts of luck.

No. Working hard significantly increases your chances of getting lucky.

That's not what the comment you were replying to says or even suggests. You are twisting words to the extreme and I am not even sure why.

"Fortune favors the bold."

Fortune favours the fortunate - and sends out journalists to interview some of them.

Only the successful bold are remembered by history.

"But the world remembers only bold successes, aka history is written by the victors." --me

More like "misfortune filters the bold." As in "There are bold bikers, there are old bikers, but there are no old, bold bikers."

Facebook, Walmart, and Ford Motor Company were built through hard work and perseverance, not through their founders' socioeconomic background. Building a successful business is so difficult, that the founders' socioeconomic background is an infinitely smaller obstacle to overcome. The self-made person is real, but there's so few of them that they are lost in the noise of this study's data.


No one denies that Facebook was built through hard work and perseverance, but how many people have doctor parents, a software engineer for a private tutor in middle school, admittance to the richest private boarding school in the country, a (former) best friend whose father is a wealthy industrialist, and a number of other untold privileges?

Using Zuckerberg as an example of a self-made person really hurts your argument.


Where are all the multibillion unicorn startups created by people from working class backgrounds?


Elon Musk - engineer father, privately educated

Jeff Bezos - landowning grandfather who was also regional director of the Atomic Energy Commission, engineer father

Bill Gates - father lawyer, mother on the board of IBM, privately educated

Steve Jobs - working class adoptive parents (but a complicated and interesting genetic background), father not an engineer but encouraged tinkering

Larry Page - father had PhD in CS and encouraged tinkering on hardware around the house

Sergey Brin - father maths professor, mother NASA researcher

I'm not sure if this has been researched, but it looks as if success in tech correlates with high IQ parents and plenty of opportunities for experimentation and hands-on tinkering.

I'm sure there are people doing okay in tech who had no parental input at all, but I'd guess they're much rarer than those who had opportunities and encouragement.

Don't know enough about the latter two, but Facebook had the benefit of Zuckerberg being from an upper middle class family in a county famed for being filled with old money (& Wall Street money), Westchester County. Hard work obviously came into play as well, but these factors break the point for that example.

Its funny a lot of people discount this but Zucks father wrote him a $100k cheque that a lot of people miss.

I'm looking at my FB friends list, counts well over 600 people, the bulk are from well to-do families all privately educated, top unis, top careers. I don't think any, would have their parents allow them to drop out of Uni irrespective of whether it was the next FB they were building and write them a $100k cheque to get going.

This is an example of luck that many ignore in the narrative. However major kudos to Zuck his ad product has basically guaranteed me a career for the rest of my life. For that alone I'm grateful for FB being invented.

Always helps to be able to test out an idea on one of the most privileged set of class mates in the world.

>Facebook, Walmart, and Ford Motor Company were built through hard work and perseverance

Yes, that of their employees, who proceeded to get bread-crumbs compared to the "owners" (ie: mostly outside investors) who did a tiny fraction of the work.

I don't even understand the internal logic of "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother".

The reasoning seems to go like this: Asians-Americans make more money. Chinese-Americans are Asian-Americans. Raise your kids the way Chinese parents do. If you look at the stats, Chinese-Americans don't do especially well.

You'd be better off raising your child in the "Filipino style" if such a thing exists.

Indian American : $127,591[2]

Taiwanese American : $85,566[2]

Filipino American : $82,389[2]

Australian American : $76,095[3]

Latvian American : $76,040[3]

British American : $75,788[3]

European American : $75,341[3]

Russian American : $75,305[3]

Lithuanian American : $73,678[3]

Austrian American : $72,284[3]

Scandinavian American : $72,075[3]

Serbian American : $71,394[3]

Croatian American : $71,047[3]

Japanese American : $70,261[2]

Swiss American : $69,941[3]

Slovene American : $69,842[3]

Bulgarian American : $69,758[3]

Romanian American : $69,598[3]

Chinese American: $69,586[2] (including Taiwanese American)


Australian Americans are #4. Awesome.

I'm drafting 'The Bushwacking hymn of the Tasmanian Tiger mother' as we speak.

The secret to great kids is:

1) Call them Bruce. 2) Give them a proper knife 3) Plenty of prawns of the barby 4) Regular croc wrestling

Don't forget to tell them to go catch and cook mudcrabs bare handed:


The tiger mother thing isn't coming from the stereotype of what it's like to be a descendent of a southern Chinese immigrating in the 19th century. It's coming from the current wave of Chinese, which is not accurately captured from that wiki article.

There's a lot of not super wealthy older Chinese families in the US, who came over a long time ago. Contrast that with Taiwanese American families, they're coming more from the 60s & 70s of the 20th century (not all, but more).

There's also like an order of magnitude or two more (non-Taiwanese) Chinese American than there are Taiwanese American.

It would be more like if you cherry picked out the current class of very rich Chinese who send their kids to Uni in the US and buy up investment visas, and then were surprised when their descendants were richer.

In 1960s there were 237,292 Chinese-Americans. In 2010 there are 3,794,673. I suspect that increase is due to new wave immigration rather than natural population growth. So I don't think the poorer old time families are a factor.


>It would be more like if you cherry picked out the current class of very rich Chinese who send their kids to Uni in the US and buy up investment visas, and then were surprised when their descendants were richer.

Actually, I think if we included the super rich mainland Chinese who buy their way in we'd see even lower declared incomes.

Study reveals awfulness of Canadian investor immigration [most of whom are Chinese]; income tax averages C$1,400 per millionaire


Just a note: I wouldn't assume these stats say anything about the given ethnicities, as opposed to the demographic make-up of America.

For example, WE can cherry-pick some of the most successful Indians from India, and many are likely to want to move to America.

Many of the Europeans however, may just as easily find success in their respective countries, and their populations are smaller.

> WE can cherry-pick some of the most successful Indians from India

Indian here, I believe its combination of couple of factors. US gets the cream of India but Indian parents drill into their kids heads that you have to get good grades or else you will fail in life.

wrt India, there are also infrastructional issues. I note there is not so many of tech startups in India, outside recruiting/outsourcing, despite the huge number of tech workers there.

Tech startups is not a good metric. Wealthy Indians are risk averse and there is a lack of trust in India.

Considering all that few Indian cities do have a healthy startup culture and Indian angel investors who have worked in the US and American VCs have started funding big amounts.

DO recently opened a datacenter in Bangalore to capture all this new growth.


I'm surprised at the success of Indian Americans. What gives for their success?

One of the factors may be the fact that a lot of second generation Indian-Americans are mostly doctors, engineers etc. It is really in the culture to go for medicine, engineering and sciences as a career.

Within first generation, there is that segment of taxi drivers, gas stations, store owners as well but again, there is a huge entrepreneurial drive in those segments as well and many of them own their stores, gas stations etc instead of just working there. But then again, a lot of first generation Indians are also very well educated and they come for the STEM jobs as we all know.

anybody else noticed that 30k$+ difference b/n the first place and second?

I wish someone would similarly test Malcolm Gladwell's body of work. It's encouraging to see the scientific method re-injected into the popular press.

Gladwell is a wonderfully gifted writer who has a fantastic talent for weaving engaging narratives. Unfortunately, when it comes to science, this is NOT a good thing.

Scientific discoveries don't follow narratives: narratives are things we impose post-facto to make it easier to tell an engaging story. For example, the 10,000 hour rule makes for a nice story about effort, and Gladwell brings up a lot of examples: of course, if you look at the meta analysis, it turns out that it's completely wrong: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/10000-hour-rule-not...

The problem with having a nice narrative is that it's too tempting to fit facts into your story for the sake of having a clean, linear narrative. If you were to write an honest book about the latest findings in social psychology, it would spend several chapters discussing statistical power and meta analysis, it would be incredibly cautious, and it would be full of results which are contradictory.

The only thing worse than social psychology in this regard is business school books. The numbers are even smaller, the tendency to pursue narratives even bigger, and the professors get paid a lot more.

> Unfortunately, when it comes to science, this is NOT a good thing.

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson is an awesome book.

10,000 hour rule 'completely' wrong? Not even according to the quoted article which says the number is somewhat arbitrary, though deliberate practice correlates with expertise.

Gladwell's works Blink and Outliers both paraphrase important scientific works, in the simplified style the references are largely glossed over. In place of Blink, read Antonio Damasio's Descartes Error, the seminal book on emotional reasoning. Instead of Outliers read Anders Ericsson's The Road To Excellence. Both of these more formal books cite sources meticulously.

Malcolm Gladwell does not have a body of work. He is scientifically ignorant to such an extent that he had articles with "igon values".

I'm unfamiliar with the literature, real scientific literature Blink was based on. 10,000 Hours or whatever it's actually called is based on the study of expertise in psychology. The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance covers it in depth. K. Anders Ericsson founded the field.

Yes, please! He is famous for creating theories based on one or two very specific stories. Even when he is based on real academic studies, they are usually featuref by small and biased samples (e.g., 40 harvard students).

Would love to see the same for Blue Ocean Strategy!

I really wish his take on college admissions wasn't shared around this time every year...

The Sports Gene book spends some time on it, on the 10,000 rule in particular.

(I'm asking in all earnestness) Are online surveys now an accepted part of the social science repertoire? How do they compare to previous methods such as phone surveys, which I imagine had more uniform distribution to the population but had their own participation bias problems?

I'm not a social scientist, but online polls have been widely used and accepted for years. All forms of polling have bias and these can be adjusted for.

Internet-only polls fared well in 538's analysis of 2012 election polling: http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/10/which-po...

Internet polls are significantly different from Amazon turk; see my sibling post. Internet polling isn't nearly as problematic, especially for a study like this.

crowd-sourcing platforms need their own bias adjustments and I'm not even convinced that it's possible to adjust for the bias caused by using these platforms, unless you really are interested in putting a lower bound on human ability. Not a statement about the quality of people on Turk, just the amount of effort they often (rightfully!) put into below-developed-world-minimum-wage work...

Yes. Even and especially surveys where the participants are not only compensated for their time, but are also selected from a pool of people who are specifically seeking out such piece-male work (a la Amazon Turk).

There's a big difference b/w posting flyers/ads in target-rich environments and providing a low friction way for people to get involved in the study. But if you do something on Amazon Turk you're basically guaranteeing a very particular type of person, because random guy with a high paying job probably isn't going to have a turk account and won't have the patience to create one just for your survey.

In some cases you can make a good case that this doesn't totally invalidate any sort of generality in the results, but for the most part I throw out papers -- on face -- that proceed in this ways without extended, evidence-based discussion of why the hell I can expect any sort of conclusion except "our result generalizes to a population of people who really need an extra dollar or two (literally) and are looking for pretty much any way to get it."

Not an answer, but additional info: I was curious how they found participants and looked it up in the paper: they posted their surveys on Amazon Mechanical Turk and paid participants 75 cents to complete it.

So all the survey subject members were Mechanical Turk users? That sounds like a terrible representation.

Sadly it's still a thousand times better than the book it's disputing, which has little or no empirical backing.

Bad statistics aren't better than no statistics.

Looking at your comment I find this funny. All you make is an assertion.

If you take a group that's not representative of the population and you know nothing about the underlying distribution - that's not giving you better information it's just letting you be mislead into making statements which are erroneous.

"Social science" isn't a singular amorphous blob, and these methods aren't uniformly accepted.

Online surveys are certainly becoming more popular as they are significantly cheaper to conduct than the alternatives, and yield publishable results that garner media attention. There are peer reviewers that will be sympathetic to these issues, regardless of the method's robustness.

However, there are others that would say this reeks of dredging (p-hacking) in a very murky pool of data. Their "scepticism" rarely makes the New York Times (or a bestselling book), though.

I think the (IMHO valid) point here is that that survey is a whole of a lot better than the anecdotes in the book that prompted them to do the research. It isn't about providing definitive evidence - but about providing better one.

Has anyone here played The Binding of Isaac?

Awesome game. Hard as hell, though.

Every time you start the game all the levels are randomly generated. Each level has a treasure room which contains an item that may give a boost to your status or give you a special ability. Some items make the playthrough a lot easier, some can make it even harder. The items you get are basically down to luck.

The game is still hard anyway. There's no item that guarantees you'll win and, fortunately, there are strategies that help you make the most out of what you got. If you're good enough at the game the items may not even matter, you're just that good.

Unfortunately we don't have infinite tries at life like we do in a video game to learn how to get better. You have to learn while you play the only run you've got.

That's how I see the whole issue of luck vs. merit.

If you believe in a deterministic world and no cartesian duality, there's no "spirit/soul outside the game" to do better or worse. Your willpower and moral goodness and empathy and adaptability are all the result of genetics and environment in some form or another. It's all stats and items and situations, and the choices you make come from what you were born with and happened to you.

Studying the traits that successful people have is pointless without also studying the traits of unsuccessful people.

If you identify that 56% of successful people have Trait X you have no idea if Trait X is associated with success unless you also discover how many unsuccessful people have Trait X. Trait X can be "belonging to a given subculture".

Taking the entire population and subtracting the successful people does not leave you with the unsuccessful people. Unless you are prepared to define someone who is in the process of attempting something as unsuccessful. That's apart from the pointlessness of defining "success" for a large population of individuals (happiness? wealth? freedom? connectedness?).

A high degree of impulse control is not linked to success? I thought that was one of the oldest and most well proved success requirements, also sometimes called "delaying reward".

Also if you say "my group succeeded because we believe in our group" then you need to not analyse one generation but several generations together, because that statement is not about a single generation. E.g. the question is not why is the Jew John Doe successful, but why are Jews on average more successful now despite having faced a lot of trouble in the past?

While this article seems logical in itself, to me it actually gave the idea that the book may very well have a point, exactly because of common sense.

i think "success" is a stupid and superficial term, but most damning is that its vague as hell. its one of those things that everyone defines in a way most beneficial to themselves. seems like a bad thing to base a study on.

> We conducted two online surveys of a total of 1,258 adults in the United States.

Given the self-selection bias that's involved, that doesn't sound very reassuring, granted the paper probably has a better discussion of methodology. Still as it stands it's pretty much impossible to guess the significance of the result from the news article.

LPT: always study failures before defining what make people succeed!

This confirms all my anecdotal evidence about how lawyers think. They're professors and it never even occurred to them that their ideas could be verified, they thought their arguments were enough. Now if only someone would run a study confirming or denying that's how lawyers reason about the world.

Only if you measure success in money. Saying personal insecurity and good impulse control are traits of successful people, success defined by money, is like saying overeating is a trait of overweight people. Of course someone insecure/unsatisfied who does not overindulge themselves is likely to end up with more money. But if you were to measure success in, piece of mind, happiness, positivity, maybe the insecurity makes that more unlikely. We tend to only define success in having money however since it's so critical to have more stuff. If you're talking achievements or non monetary rewards, I'd expect insecurity. It fuels the person. Otherwise they would just live a common life it would be enough for them.

Please correct me: The Triple Package says successful individuals are in some sense drawn from populations that inculcate certain traits. The article discusses success as an individual trait, and not a group trait. Narrow reading, misreading...?

If you have a model that predicts success, then you can build a process that targets those metrics and reliably get success. We are not there yet.

Most of the time what I see is the Texas Sharpshooter fallacy. "The name comes from a joke about a Texan who fires some gunshots at the side of a barn, then paints a target centered on the tightest cluster of hits and claims to be a sharpshooter." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_sharpshooter_fallacy

Also the basic goal is not achievable. The moment you find method X creates success everybody is doing method X and "success" gets redefined.

I could write a book "How NOT to be successful" and maybe in some reverse way people could benefit what NOT to do. :)

That's kind of what Scott Adams (the Dilbert cartoonist) did in his book How to fail at almost anything and still win big.

My totally unscientific approach would be to build some sort of "curiosity index" and the higher that is for a child up to a certain age the more likely they are to be successful. For extra credit calculate a delta to see if the curiosity stays at the same level (or increases/decreases) with age.

> We found scant evidence for Professors Chua and Rubenfeld’s theory.

Cool to see some popular pseudo-science debunked. Things like this could bring us back to awareness and appreciation of science that actually follows the scientific method.

Researchers always go into finding what's common about who's successful. What about who's not successful?

That seems to me a very important part of the equation if you're to imply some sort of causation.


Edit: Did HN changed the points to start with zero or are people downvoting really fast today?


We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11799355 and marked it off-topic.

Well first its invalid to use 'assumed' IQ. Thats just nonsense metrics made up after the fact not based on science.

Moving on I am always confused by these extremely low average IQ's for nations. 70 is the cut off for what is considered mental retardation... It seems pretty unbelievable that 50% of a stable nations population could actually be of a level of intelligence that normally indicates the inability to acquire and feed oneself reliably without limited support. To me this argument seems clearly contradicted by reality.

Final point is, average IQ of Europe 100 years ago on a modern IQ test is 70... so the argument that a nation of IQ 70 people would not have produced an 'Einstein' since the formation of the earth... is contradicted by the fact that a people of with an average IQ of 70 (in 1916) did actually produce Einstein in 1879.

possible explanation: subgroups / differentiation. The average across a wide populace might be much lower than the average in a merchant or intellectual class.

Your reasoning is mathematically correct, but your assumptions man... just make me sad.

Quoting wikipedia:

> "The current scoring method for all IQ tests is the "deviation IQ". In this method, an IQ score of 100 means that the test-taker's performance on the test is at the median level of performance in the sample of test-takers of about the same age used to norm the test."

Now, you are comparing average IQ over a large population size (mean IQ in Ghana normalized over mean IQ in the entire world) against average IQ over an even larger population size (mean IQ over the "entire world"). You get 70 vs 100.

How can that difference be explained? Well, there are basically two ways:

1) People in Ghana is extremely dumber because of biological reasons. They are just very inferior in this regard.

2) IQ tests are rigged by education. Better education leads to better IQ scores, and Ghana's average education level is just worse than the world's average education level.

You chose to believe hyphotesis 1 is true. That is the part that makes me sad.

Lots of possible environmental causes

1. lack of very early childhood education/stimulation / abstract thought messing with brain development

2. epigenetic influence from parents' hard lifestyle, if you believe it is effectually hereditary in that manner (I don't think it's likely) (this is environmental in the sense it would only persist for a limited # generations)

3. parasite load

4. trauma from infectious diseases

5. severe nutritional deficiency (iodine, creatine, antioxidants, nutrients, whatever else we don't know about you can miss out on)

I can't prove what I think you're implying by #1 isn't the case, but I'm quite sure that 1 and 3-5 from my list do apply.

Why is hypothesis "1" sad?

The only sadness is the smashing of a glorious idol, of the equality of man.

People in Ghana are probably extremely dumber because of a mix of environmental and genetic reasons.

In my time homeless I saw the exemplification of stereotypes. Black people are on more average dumber, more prone to anger, and have poor impulse control. Over and over again I saw this shit until I got the dumb ideology of equality out of my head.

Expecting less intelligent people to properly execute a higher-level task is a hideous sacrifice. For the god of equality you've sacrificed 1. The ability of the less intelligent man to do lower-level but socially needed jobs. 2. The ability of more intelligent people to do jobs that they are capable of executing perfectly 3. Truthful telling of a state of affairs. 4. The ability of peers to recognize and provide the appropriate services.

Congrats, you fucked over the Ghana(ians?) that you were so afraid to call less intelligent. They get fucked because you want to hold the idol of equality over your head and show everyone how fucking holy you are with the priestly and social clique.

You can't munch on psychotic saintliness, spit on reality's face, and then whine when evil reality reveals a more complex world.

There is nothing in my soul against individual men of virtue. But you have to admit, most of any human population is fucking dumb. When dealing with populations that dreg the lower edge of human ability, I'm fucking wary.

I used to know a "Success". He owns a profitable company. He has a beautiful wife. He lives in a gated mansion and drives expensive cars. But he was also a cruel person, who liked to hang out with other cruel people. I decided if that's what being a success in life means, I'd rather be a failure.

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