Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Is Trump keeping out the best and the brightest?


One of the strange things among several about the legal challenge to Trump's executive order on refugees and immigration is the  claim in an amicus brief by dozens of companies, many of them at the cutting edge of the high tech economy,  that the order makes it hard to "recruit hire and retain some of the world's best employees." The proposed, now frozen, restrictions would, moreover, be a "barrier to innovation" and prevent companies from attracting "great talent." They point out that many Nobel prize winners are immigrants.

Note that these are "tech giants", not meat packers or farmers and that they are talking about the great and the best employees, not the good or adequate or possibly employable after a decade of ESL classes and community college.

So let us take a look at the seven countries included in the proposed restrictions. Are they likely to be the source of large numbers of future hi tech entrepreneurs, Nobel laureates and innovators?

The answer is almost certainly no. None of the Nobel prize winners (not counting Peace and Literature) so far have been born in Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Libya or Syria although there has been an Iranian born winner of the Fields medal for mathematics.

The general level of the higher educational system in these countries does not inspire confidence that they are bursting with great talent. Of the seven only Iran has any universities in the Shanghai rankings, the University of Tehran and Amirkabir University of Technology.

The Shanghai rankings are famously selectively so take a look at the rank of the top universities in the Webometrics rankings which are the most inclusive, ranking more than 12,000 institutions this year.

The position of the top universities from the seven countries is as follows:

University of Babylon, Iraq 2,654
University of Benghazi, Libya  3,638
Kismayo University, Somalia 5,725
University of Khartoum, Sudan   1,972
Yemeni University of Science and Technology 3,681
Tehran University of Medical Science, Iran 478
Damascus Higher Institute of Applied Science and Technology, Syria 3,757.

It looks as though the only country remotely capable of producing innovators, entrepreneurs and scientists is Iran.

Finally, let's look at the scores of students from these countries n the GRE verbal and quantitative tests 2011-12.

For verbal reasoning, Iran has a score of  141.3, Sudan 140.6, Syria 142.7, Yemen 141, Iraq 139.2, and Libya 137.1. The mean score is 150.8 with a standard deviation of 8.4.

For quantitative reasoning,  Iran has a score of 157.5, equal to France, Sudan 148.5, Syria 152.7, Yemen 148.6, Iraq 146.4, Libya 145.5. The mean score is 151.4 with a standard deviation of 8.7.

It seems that of the seven countries only Iran is likely to produce any significant numbers of workers capable of contributing to a modern economy.

No doubt there are other reasons why Apple, Microsoft and Twitter should be concerned about Trump's executive order. Perhaps they are worried about Russia, China, Korea or Poland being added to the restricted list. Perhaps they are thinking about farmers whose crops will rot in the fields, ESL teachers with nothing to do or social workers and immigration lawyers rotting at their desks. But if they really do believe that Silicon Valley will suffer irreparable harm from the proposed restrictions then they are surely mistaken.


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