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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Friday 20th October 2017

It is unfair to blame Oxford for the low number of black undergraduates

David Lammy has been making headlines today, accusing Oxford of ‘social apartheid’ because it offers so few places to black British students. This claim is based on an FOI request Lammy submitted to the university asking how many black British A-level students each college has offered places to in the last six years. The most eye-catching statistic is that 10 out of 32 Oxford colleges did not offer a place to a single black British pupil with A-levels in 2015 and Oriel College has only offered one place to a black British A-level student since 2010.

There is no doubt that Oxford does admit too few black British students, but it is worth pointing out that this data has been sliced and diced to paint the bleakest possible picture. Of the 10 ‘colleges’ that didn’t make any offers to black British applicants in 2015, four are Permanent Private Halls, not full colleges, and admit very few numbers of students, black or white. Another – Harris Manchester – is a former Private Hall and only admits students aged 21 or over. (To read more, click here.)

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Friday 20th October 2017

Sadly, no school can teach true grit

I am currently wrestling with a dilemma. I have agreed to contribute to a panel discussion on character education at University College London, and while I generally applaud schools that try to inculcate qualities like perseverance, resilience, the ability to defer gratification, etc, I am not entirely convinced that these virtues can be taught. Should I swallow my scepticism, or gently point out that it’s naive to expect schools to achieve much in this area?

The panel will be discussing an essay in a periodical called Impact in which philosophers write about education policy. This essay by Randall Curren, a professor of philosophy at the University of Rochester, New York, strikes some pleasingly conservative notes. Curren is in favour of teaching British values (democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect, tolerance) and believes they can be defended both morally and as the most appropriate set of norms for diverse members of a multicultural society to embrace if they want to live peacefully together. (To read more, click here.)

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Thursday 12th October 2017

Weinstein scandal threatens to engulf Hollywood

According to an ex-employee of Harvey Weinstein’s, the movie producer once whispered something to himself that she found so disturbing she wrote it down. After leaving his film company, where she claimed to have acted as a ‘honeypot’ to lure young models and actresses to meetings with her boss in hotel rooms, she signed a confidentiality agreement. But she has decided to speak out anyway. The words he muttered were: ‘There are things I’ve done that nobody knows.’

This is one of the less shocking details in a long New Yorker article published on Tuesday in which 13 women allege that Weinstein sexually harassed or assaulted them, including three who accuse him of rape. This followed a New York Times investigative piece last week in which the 65-year-old producer is accused of having reached legal settlements with eight women over a period dating back 30 years. The Weinstein Company initially said that he would be taking a leave of absence and his lawyer, Lisa Bloom, described the allegations as ‘patently false’. Then, a few days later, the company announced he had been fired and his lawyer decided she could no longer work for him. (To read more, click here.)

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Monday 9th October 2017

What is Boris up to?

I’m writing this from the Conservative party conference where I can report that Boris Johnson, who has just wowed the blue rinses with a barn-storming speech, isn’t preparing a leadership bid. At least, that’s the line from all those closest to him. Without exception, they say if he was planning something they’d know about it and they don’t. It’s a media concoction. He’s a man without a plan.

I know, I know. That’s exactly what Boris’s team would say if they had just press-ganged the last of 48 MPs to sign a letter to the chairman of the 1922 Committee, which is the magic number needed to trigger a leadership election in this Parliament. And there are plenty of reasons to be sceptical. If Boris waits until Britain has left the EU, which is less than 18 months away, his chances will be significantly lower because the party will want a ‘clean skin’ to succeed Theresa May, not one of the protagonists in the Brexit drama. Someone who can unite the party around their vision for the future, not remind them of their disagreements in the past. Needless to say, there is no lack of younger players waiting for the ball to come loose from the scrum. Boris may only have one more ‘try’ left in him — and the clock is ticking. (To read more, click here.)

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Monday 9th October 2017

Liberal Creationism

This is the 2017 Constance Holden Memorial Address I gave at the International Society For Intelligence Research in Montreal in July.

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Friday 29th September 2017

Do one in four girls aged 14 really suffer from depression? Probably not

Are British teenagers suffering from an epidemic of mental illness? Yes, according to a ‘government-funded study’ which found that 24 per cent of 14-year-old girls are suffering from depression. This has been seized upon by critics of Conservative education policies; they see it as ‘proof’ that the increased focus on teaching children knowledge, as well as more frequent testing and the GCSE reforms, have literally driven children mad. ‘One in four girls is clinically depressed by the time they turn 14,’ reported the Guardian.

I’m sceptical about this and I took a look at the research carried out by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, which is based at UCL Institute for Education. It involved asking 14-year-olds in the Millennium Cohort Study to fill out a questionnaire called Short Moods and Feelings. This is an American document that uses the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ criteria for depression. It lists 13 symptoms in the form of first-person statements like ‘I thought I could never be as good as other kids’ and asks respondents to indicate ‘Not true’, ‘Sometimes’ or ‘True’, depending on how often they’ve experienced these feeling in the past two weeks. A total of 11,394 children completed the survey, which is a respectable sample size. (To read more, click here.)

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Thursday 21st September 2017

Can evolutionary psychology solve the mystery of socialism's enduring appeal?

One of the mysteries of our age is why socialism continues to appeal to so many people. Whether in the Soviet Union, China, Eastern Europe, North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Cambodia or Venezuela, it has resulted in the suppression of free speech, the imprisonment of political dissidents and, more often than not, state-sanctioned mass murder. Socialist economics nearly always produce widespread starvation, something we were reminded of last week when the President of Venezuela urged people not to be squeamish about eating their rabbits. That perfectly captures the trajectory of nearly every socialist experiment: it begins with the dream of a more equal society and ends with people eating their pets. Has there ever been an ideology with a more miserable track record?

Why, then, did 40 per cent of the British electorate vote for a party led by Jeremy Corbyn last June? It wasn’t as if he acknowledged that all previous attempts to create a socialist utopia had failed and explained why it would be different under him. There was no fancy talk of ‘post-neoclassical endogenous growth theory’ or ‘pre-distribution’, as there had been by his two predecessors. No, he was selling exactly the same snake oil that every left-wing huckster has been peddling for the past 100 years, and in exactly the same bottle. He reminded me of a pharmacist trying to flog thalidomide to an expectant mother while making no attempt to hide the fact that it has caused the deaths of at least 2,000 children and serious birth defects in more than 10,000 others. And yet, nearly 13 million Britons voted for Corbyn. Could it be that they just don’t know about all the misery and suffering that socialism has unleashed?

That’s a popular theory on my side of the political divide and has prompted a good deal of head-scratching about how best to teach elementary history — such as that more people were killed by Stalin than by Hitler. (To read more, click here.)

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Friday 15th September 2017

Care about the poor? Then why not recommend the values that serve you and your friends so well?

Last month, two law professors named Amy Wax and Larry Alexander published a piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer praising ‘bourgeois’ values. They argued that many of the social problems afflicting the American working class, such as the opioid epidemic, are partly due to the decline of these values and that reviving them might go some way to help. They summarised them as follows: ‘Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighbourly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.’

That is a fairly uncontroversial set of precepts and it’s hard to deny that those who follow them are more likely to lead happy, productive lives. The authors pointed out that most successful Americans, including those academics, writers, artists, actors and journalists who preach the gospel of personal liberation, tend to live by these values themselves. They accused the chattering classes of hypocrisy: they espouse an anti–bourgeois, hedonistic philosophy in public, while practising fidelity, abstinence, hard work etc, in private. It’s do as I say, not as I do, which is odd because the liberal intelligentsia claim to care about the least well-off. If they want to help them, why not recommend the values that serve them and their middle-class friends so well? (To read more, click here.)

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Friday 15th September 2017

Today's Terrorist Attack

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Friday 8th September 2017

Farewell Graydon Carter, Vanity Fair magazine’s very own Becky Sharp

Graydon Carter will be delighted by the amount of coverage his departure from Vanity Fair has received. Having edited the magazine for 25 years, he is leaving at the age of 68. The New York Times has devoted the amount of space to the story it would normally give to a departing Secretary of State.

It would be inaccurate to describe Graydon as the last of his kind — Anna Wintour is still at the helm of Vogue — but there are unlikely to be many more magazine editors like him. He has homes in New York and Connecticut, part-owns two restaurants, hosts the most glamorous party in Los Angeles on the night of the Oscars and has succeeded in crossing the threshold from cynical chronicler of the world of celebrity excess to eager participant. (To read more, click here.)

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Twitter RT @lucykellaway: Leader in the Times today saying the more middle aged people should sign up to @NowTeachOrg and become teachers.  (38 minutes ago)


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