Education Letter to the Editor

Economic Impact of Math and Science Achievement Is Real

January 09, 2007 1 min read

To the Editor:

I read with great interest your report on the study by Francisco O. Ramirez of Stanford University that challenges the common belief that academic success in mathematics and science contributes to economic productivity (“Study Questions Role Math, Science Scores Play in Nations’ GDPs,” Dec. 13, 2006). The study found that after the “Asian Tigers”—four East Asian nations that are both economic giants and academic superstars on international tests—are taken out of the equation, the link weakens or even disappears.

What worries me in this line of reasoning is that when these East Asian nations that are high scorers on both metrics are removed from the analysis, it creates a widely documented statistical artifact called “range restriction,” which has the effect of weakening the calculated correlation between the two phenomena under study. When such range restriction is suspected, which most notably exists in college-admissions research, where only applicants scoring above a certain standardized-test score get admitted, researchers scramble to find ways to statistically adjust the attenuated correlation.

What seems to be ironic in Mr. Ramirez’s study is that his team deliberately took those high scorers out of the equation to arrive at its shocking conclusion that the well-known link between academic success and economic growth is questionable. In fact, removing top players from the analysis only creates a distorted picture of that link.

While there is little doubt that academic success is only one of many factors that influence a nation’s economic productivity, the link between education and economics remains strong over a long-term trend. This trend has been well documented by economists such as Eric A. Hanushek of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. There is little evidence in Mr. Ramirez’s study that provides new light in a different direction.

Lihshing Leigh Wang

Assistant Professor

University of Cincinnati

Cincinnati, Ohio

The writer is the vice president of the Chinese American Educational Research and Development Association, located in Campbell, Calif.

A version of this article appeared in the January 10, 2007 edition of Education Week as Economic Impact of Math and Science Achievement Is Real