About those Letters of Recommendation

This study was from 2014 and titled, “What Aspects of Letters of Recommendation Predict Performance in Medical School? Findings From One Institution.”

Do you have a guess?

Being rated as “the best” among peers and having an employer or supervisor as the LOR author were associated with induction into AOA, whereas having nonpositive comments was associated with bottom of the class students.

Best = good
Nonpositive comments = nice way of saying you don’t really know someone or think they were lame = bad

Now, this was in reference to medical student performance based on college LORs, but some parallels exist in any situation where the current evaluation and the future task are not substantially similar, and—most importantly—bias knows no bounds.

Almost all LORs are positive, even if most people will, by definition, end up somewhere closer to average.

And because most LORs are based on classroom performance, they’re useless. We have more objective measures of classroom performance. They’re called grades (and—blech—the MCAT), and even those aren’t very good at predicting outcomes. At least your boss, whether in the lab or at a paying job, actually knows if you can show up to work and get stuff done.

I’d almost completely forgotten about the LOR process in applying to medical school. I remember I had one from my lab PI/thesis advisor. And then…I honestly have no clue.

When Danger is Only Online

Jonathan Haidt, author of The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, in an interview for Next Big Ideal Club:

Back in the 1990s, the Cold War was over, the fear of nuclear war was gone, the [United States] ran a surplus, the crime rate plummeted—and the music was pretty good, too. The risks kids were at from diseases, car accidents, and crime were all plummeting. It was the safest time ever.

But because of changes in the media environment, we were divorced from reality—we got a steady diet of stories about childhood abductions. Almost nobody gets abducted in the United States—there are about 100 true kidnappings a year in a country of 350 million people. It almost never happens, but each time it happens, especially if it happens to a middle-class white kid, there’s constant coverage.

Throughout history, there have been innovations that link us closer together, and whenever that happens, there are all kinds of unforeseen effects. Take the automobile—people can move around, so it changes sex life, and dating, and marriage. The automobile, the telephone, the airplane—all of these things have effects on society, and it takes decades for that to work out. But with social media, we’ve never had something come in so fast that was so transformative in changing social relationships.

And the problem is not the internet, and it’s not screen time. Research that I’m collecting shows that it’s not time spent watching Netflix, and it’s not even time on the computer. It’s specifically social media that has pushed us over the edge, and I think it is a major cause of the rise of depression and anxiety, [especially] for girls.

Had Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter never been invented, I do not think our politics would have blown up. I do not think Donald Trump would be president. I do not think Brexit would have happened. I do not think that our democracy would be as imperiled as it is. Of course, Facebook and Twitter do a lot of good things, too, but the downside is so severe that I’m beginning to worry that social media is incompatible with a functioning democracy.

I wonder.

Social media is seductive even though it’s most effective as a way to literally waste time. But I’m older than the generation Haidt is worried about. And even to me–as someone who has written exclusively on their own platform for over a decade and grew up with just AOL instant messenger–it’s amazing how easy is it to fall prey to the endless feed.

The Rise of the Consultancy

Management consultants insist that meritocracy required the restructuring that they encouraged—that, as Kiechel put it dryly, “we are not all in this together; some pigs are smarter than other pigs and deserve more money.” Consultants seek, in this way, to legitimate both the job cuts and the explosion of elite pay. Properly understood, the corporate reorganizations were, then, not merely technocratic but ideological. Rather than simply improving management, to make American corporations lean and fit, they fostered hierarchy, making management, in David Gordon’s memorable phrase, “fat and mean.”

From “How McKinsey Destroyed the Middle Class” by Daniel Markovits, subtitled “Technocratic management, no matter how brilliant, cannot unwind structural inequalities.”

I do enjoy his inclusion of Kiechel’s apt Animal Farm reference.

On the WCI Podcast

I had a lot of fun talking to Dr. Jim Dahle on this week’s episode of the White Coat Investor Podcast about student loans:



I honestly think we may have talked more about my journey on this episode than I have with my actual writing on this site for the past eleven years, but I hope listeners found the contribution of another writer/blogger to be interesting  (also, don’t turn up the volume or you may hear my sniffles; kids…).

As Jim mentions, he actually started The White Coat Investor a couple of years after I started writing here. But he’s since built an impressive empire, steadily produced a ton of content, basically singlehandedly changed the level of discourse for physician finance, and taught/inspired a generation of young doctors to think critically about money. It’s just an incredible achievement.

I’m really looking forward to speaking at WCICON20 this March and meeting some of you there!



Student Loans: In Print and Online

I published the first edition of Medical Student Loans: A Comprehensive Guide in 2017. Waiting almost three years to put out a print version is what happens in the perfect storm of total DIY, extreme retentiveness, and being a generally lazy procrastinator. Oops!

But I’m happy to say I finally put the finishing touches on the print editions for both of my loan books this month, so those of you hankering for the perfect beach read need wait no further:


Even better?

But in what is surely a terrible business move, I’ve also put the entire text up online at benwhite.com/studentloans/.

So yes, you too can join the ranks of folks still exchanging money for that hard-fought knowledge (thanks!).

And yes, you definitely still download a nice ebook file in the format of your choice in temporary exchange for your email address so I’ll have a nice big audience for that infrequent newsletter I’ll probably never actually start. (PS I even put the unsubscribe link in the first sentence of the download email; did you know it actually costs a bunch of money to have an email list? Crazy.)

But if you just want to scroll through 45k words in a web browser, now you can do that too.

Student loans are crippling a generation of Americans and have a chilling effect on personal+financial wellbeing. I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help you get the information you need to make thoughtful decisions about managing your debt.