Fooling Enough of the People Enough of the Time

You know the famous Abraham Lincoln quotation,

You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

But our modern AI-equipped, cognitive science-savvy PR experts seem to operate on an updated version, in which it is sufficient to just fool enough people.

For the last 20+ years, the tech industry PR experts have inundated the press and Congress with propaganda of a tech labor shortage, creating such a “Yes, of course the emperor is wearing clothes” mentality in the targeted populations that the most transparently fallacious arguments work just fine, no questions asked.

Each year, for instance, the allotment of new H-1B work visas is exhausted within a few days of the opening of the application filing period. The industry PR people cite this as showing that there is a labor shortage, when even a 10-year-old might ask whether the situation is more like crowds rushing to stores on Black Friday for the cut-rate prices.

The latest is a report by the American Immigration Council, finding that

As of 2015, the foreign-born comprised one-fifth to one-quarter of the STEM workforce, depending on what occupations are included within the definition of STEM. Notably, the total number of foreign-born STEM workers in the U.S. workforce has increased dramatically since 1990, both in absolute numbers and as a share of the total workforce.

The message, of course, is that the H-1B work visa, the F-1 student visa and related programs need to be retained and expanded in scope, to remedy STEM labor shortages.

Lisa Krieger. a longtime writer for the San Jose Mercury News, has an article about the report, in which she makes no mention of the possible “Black Friday” interpretation of the findings. Nor does she mention that the American Immigration Council is an arm of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Either she is one of the “enough” people who can easily be fooled, or if not, she knows there are “enough” such people among her readers.

So much for the obvious. Here is something a bit more subtle — that 1990 date for the report’s baseline. For the non-cognoscenti, let me explain: 1990 is the year that the H-1B program was enacted (and in which employer-sponsored green card caps were expanded). So to say that immigrant numbers increased sharply after 1990 is like saying that liquor sales skyrocketed after Prohibition was repealed. And for a study on increased numbers of STEM immigrants to be conducted by an organization with a keen vested interest in immigration is akin to a study on increased liquor sales being conducted by booze companies.

Here is another subtlety — the focus on “foreign-born.” The industry PR people and their allies use of the term foreign-born in a very calculated way. As I wrote in a blog post titled, “When Did Foreign Students Become ‘International’?,

Look for instance at the paper by two academics, sponsored by an industry lobbying group, titled Talent, Immigration and U.S. Competitiveness. The term foreign-born is used 27 times, often in such close proximity that it reads quite awkwardly. All this effort, just to avoid using the word foreign at all costs! And it’s also inaccurate; lots of my American students are foreign-born but became U.S. citizens or permanent residents long before entering college. To lump these students in with the foreign students is very misleading (as is much else in that lobbyist-funded study cited above).

In other words, the PR people use the term as a two-fer. They avoid the negative term foreign (related to the dreaded word alien), and even better, it allows them to greatly inflate their numbers by including family immigrants who have nothing to do with H-1B, F-1 and so on.

Needless to say, this report then goes on to cite a number of other industry-sponsored studies as supporting its findings, while of course presenting them as independent work. That level of indirection makes it all the more difficult for journalists like Ms. Krieger to evaluate the quality of the research, even were the journalists to have the interest to do so.

The report also is quite selective in its citing of studies not sponsored by the industry. Take for instance the work by Bound et al, Reference 18. AIC writes,

…since the mid-2000s, immigrants have accounted for the majority of workers in STEM with doctoral degrees. Many of these foreign-born advanced degree holders obtained their degrees in the United States.18

AIC fails to mention that the Bound team found that those foreign grad students tend to be of lower quality, concentrated in lower-ranking U.S. schools. Bound et al write,

In physics, biochemistry, and chemistry much of the expansion [from the mid-1980s to mid-90s] in doctorate receipt to foreign students occurs at unranked programs or those ranked outside the top 50; the growth in foreign students in engineering is distributed more evenly among programs. Among students from China, Taiwan, and South Korea growth has been particularly concentrated outside the most highly ranked institutions.

My EPI study shows similar results for later years, again showing that the Americans with grad degrees attended more selective institutions than did their foreign peers.

And most important, an NSF internal memo written in 1989, at a time the NSF was lobbying Congress to establish the H-1B program, called for bringing in large numbers of foreign students to suppress PhD salaries, and noted that that would drive away Americans from pursuing grad study:

A growing influx of foreign Ph.D.s into U.S. labor markets will hold down the level of Ph.D. salaries. …[The Americans] will select alternative career paths…by choosing to acquire a “professional” degree in business or law, or by switching into management as rapidly as possible after gaining employment in private industry…[as] the effective premium for acquiring a Ph.D. may actually be negative.

This is quite a contrast to the AIC spin, which claims that we need H-1Bs because not enough Americans go to grad school. In actuality, H-1B is the cause of that situation, not the remedy.

In other words, speaking of studies, this AIC report could be used as a case study on how to deceive the press, Congress and the American people. It’s sad that a major newspaper such as the Mercury can be duped in the process, or worse, be complicit in it.

24 thoughts on “Fooling Enough of the People Enough of the Time

  1. Hello Norm and other readers,

    I found this interesting tool from reading a cis article by David North.
    You can register and then search by employer, sort by salary range, etc. Very useful. You can play around with it and find all the lowest salary H1-b applications that debunk the highly paid H1-b narrative.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Norm. Very interesting data disclosure by the administration.

        Other readers: Do visit the link Norm has posted and there are some very nice reports straight from the administration under the “Reports and Data: Transparency for U.S. Workers” section.

        Liked by 1 person

      • There is a link in the referenced web page to a USCIS report entitled “Approved H-1B Petitions by Employer, 2016.” The report claims that Apple has an “average salary” for H-1B visa workers of $139,000, when the “average salary” of H-1B visas in the data released by the DOL is $104,000.

        The process of selecting H-1B visa workers from the pool of certified H-1B applications is called a lottery. If the process of selecting workers was a lottery, the success rate of employers, and wage level would be uniform across employers and wage levels. The success rate is NOT uniform. Google has a success rate of 82%; Apple has a success rate of 8.67%. The cause of this discrepancy is likely due to the fact that all LCAs completed by Google has the ‘Total Workers’ field set with a value of 1. Dozens of Apple’s LCA applications has the “Total Workers’ field set to the value of 150, especially those applications with a low salary. These are for jobs in Cupertino, the heart of Silicon Valley.

        The report claims that there were 1992 ‘Approved Petitions’ for Apple. The big question is how many workers from those ‘Approved Petitions’ are able to work for Apple under those ‘petitions?’ 1992 when dozens of the visas were for 150 workers? Here are four examples for 150 workers apiece to work in Cupertino, one application for Accountant and Auditor, one application for Operations Research Analyst, one application for Graphics Designers, one application for Computer Programmers:

        The USCIS needs to be clear how about their lottery works. It is not random. Their data does not add up. The only way that the average salary of Apple H-1B visa workers is $149000 is for the selection process to be biased and not a lottery.


          • I am especially interested in the details relating to LCA applications with the ‘Total Workers’ field set to a number like 150. If the ‘150 worker’ visa wins the lottery, does the employer get 150 workers for that one visa?

            Then the follow up question is, does the 85,000 limit apply to visas or workers. Does the USCIS have a limit of 85,000 visas or 85,000 workers? If the limit is 85,000 visas, many of those visas are like the visas for Apple with 150 workers.


  2. FYI, a South Bay firm wS just found guilty of H1B Visa fraud. She plead guilty to 3 or 4 of 34 charges? 34 alleged crimes … wow. Would love to see that list.

    But I’m sure this is rare (sarcasm).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. >> You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

    > But our modern AI-equipped, cognitive science-savvy PR experts seem to operate on an updated version, in which it is sufficient to just fool enough people.

    Yes, in following politics, I’ve long felt that a new version of Lincoln’s quote is: “You don’t have to fool a majority of the experts, you just have to fool a majority of the voters”. The only concern with the opinions of experts is if they can affect the opinions of the electorate at large. But, as we can see in the case of H-1B and other visas, there appears to be little interest in the media to investigate these issues. I’ve long noticed that those groups who publish and defend the pro-H-1B studies cited by Lisa Krieger never respond to specific critiques of those studies. For example, nobody has ever responded to the fact that an “additional 262 jobs for U.S.-born workers” cited by Lisa is dependent on the years studies (2000-2007) and becomes a 121 job loss if the span is moved forward two years, to 2002-2009. They know that they can say nothing and nobody in the media will ever press them on it. In any case, I did just address the following comment to Lisa regarding the supposed finding that “[m]ore than 40 percent of companies in the Fortune 500 in 2010 were founded by an immigrant or the child of an immigrant”:

    As annjohns states, the original source of the 40 percent number is . If you search for “40 percent” in the study, you’ll find something interesting. The second of three references is listed in a highlight of findings and states the following:

    “More than 40 percent of firms — or two in five companies in the Fortune 500 — had at least one founder who was either an immigrant or raised by someone who immigrated to the United States.”

    Hence, this is referring to founders AND co-founders. Strangely, the other two references don’t mention co-founding, stating “[m]ore than 40 percent of the 2010 Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children” and “[m]ore than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by one of these “New Americans,”…”. Hence, the original report is misleading in not mentioning that it is referring to founders AND co-founders in all but one of its references.

    Then, just a quick look at those companies in Appendix A of the report shows up at least two errors. For Intel, the appendix lists Andrew Grove as founder. Yet lists Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore as the founders. At is stated “[i]n 1968, Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore co-founded Intel, after they and Grove left Fairchild Semiconductor. Grove joined on the day of its incorporation, although was not a founder according to the company”.

    Another possible error is Herman Hollerith being listed for IBM. The wikipedia at states “[Hollerith] was the founder of the Tabulating Machine Company that was amalgamated (via stock acquisition) in 1911 with three other companies to form a fifth company, the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company later renamed IBM. states that the “amalgamation was engineered by noted financier Charles Flint”. In any event, this shows again that some of the “founders” were, at most, “co-founders”.

    Lisa, I would like to know if you recognize that the statement of “founders” (with no mention of co-founders) is misleading and that the couple of errors call the 40 percent number into question and calls for more fact-checking. Also, I would like to get your take on my prior comment about the problem with the 262 jobs created number as it becomes 121 jobs lost if the years are updated by two years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That 40% figure, in addition to the flaws you cite, is not saying much. In particular, it is not saying that the immigrants are more prone to be involved in starting a future Fortune 500 company. The “at least one” part covers an awful lot of ground, and makes the 40% number misleading.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I just came across another very interesting stat from Appendix A at from whence the 40% figure came. Following is the count that I get for the 8 countries with the largest number of founders (or co-founders):

        31 Germany
        24 England
        24 Ireland
        23 Russia
        19 Canada
        15 Scotland
        11 Poland
        9 Switzerland

        From Asia, there were two founders or co-founders from Taiwan, one each from China, India, and Korea and none from Japan. Is this powerful evidence that we should favor immigrants from Europe, Russia, and Canada over those from East Asia? Of course not! I suspect that it indicates that most of the companies were founded in the early 20th century or before. Hence, someone should likewise look at the distribution of when the Fortune 500 Companies were founded. It may well be that a much higher percentage of citizens were immigrants or their children when most were founded. Hence, the 40% number may tell us exactly nothing! However, all of the hundreds who have quoted that figure have been too lazy to go back and look carefully at the data.

        One other note is that the 40% counts children for whom one of their two parents are immigrants. For example, Stephen Jobs’ father was from Syria but his mother was born in Wisconsin. So, just as counting co-founders, this likewise inflates the number.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I have found the proliferation of half-truths is dependent on people doubling back to the original sources to discover that they are indeed half-truths, aka lies, because context matters.
      Thank you, for being one of the many who unearth full truth.

      Liked by 1 person

      • In a population so easily confused in dealing with percentages (calling a 60% gain a 160% rise or thinking that a 50% gain makes up for a 50% loss), it’s just too easy for the unscrupulous to con the general population — and I’ve been told that media people are generally among the least numerate and may bring the least knowledge to an interview.

        Consider the defective studies by Saxenian, Wadhwa et al. are still cited as proof that immigrants founded disproportionately many Silicon Valley firms or the absurd claim by our “favorite” lobbyist and parroted by H-1B beneficiaries that each H-1B hired creates 4 to 5 jobs for Americans based only on a contrived regression.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Perhaps the Merc is looking to publish “click bait” and we are the fools for reading it and making a big fuss over this nonsense.

    Below are some of the articles publish by the same author that showed up in a Google search. I included the number of comments.

    Why good people become bad online trolls 8 comments
    Cost of Dying: A shift in how we end our lives 0 comments
    California drought: In historic step, senior water rights curtailed 0 comments
    Stanford: Big Bang tremors may back physicist’s universe-birth theory 0 comments
    How slow breathing makes you relaxed 2 comments
    High Times magazine moves west to California 5 comments
    Bay Area March for Science: Revenge of the Nerds 0 comments
    Humans create a racket in America’s wilderness 2 comments
    What triggers rockfalls? Yosemite study shows it’s about the heat 2 comments
    Stanford manufactures gene-engineered cells to cure the incurable 8 comments
    Bald Eagle numbers fully restored in central California 5 comments
    UC takes first steps into online education 0 comments
    Kepler’s final survey reveals 50 “goldilocks” planets 2 comments
    Bay Area biologist’s gene-editing kit lets do-it-yourselfers play God at the kitchen table 0 comments

    Immigrants are 42 percent of California’s STEM workforce 283 comments

    Note that the last entry generated 283 comments. Of course, the Professor’s link to this article will generate more visits and more income for the Merc.


    • This is the most cynical thing I’ve heard all week. But it makes sense.

      I must say that those commenters who speak in terms of an Asian “invasion” are greatly harming their own cause.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t know about that Norm. Because when companies or cities claim to be pro “diversity”, and then hire the majority of their staff from one country, there’s nothing diverse about that.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. At better statement than Lincoln’s came from W.C. Fields: “You can fool half the people all of the time, and that’s good enough to make a good living.” (~1940)

    Liked by 2 people

    • True.

      Do parents that send their kids to college for a STEM degree being fooled into spending tens-of-thousands of dollars on their kid’s education? No. Many parents know that their investment in their kids’ education might not pay off due to the H-1B guest worker program. In many cases the parents themselves are being harmed by the H-1B program including being jobless.

      Members of congress are also not being fooled. “They’ve grown too large a group directly impacted” by companies and their lobbyists. Members of congress are pretending to be fooled. This is much better than telling their constituents that the H-1B program harms US workers and that they are personally profiting by supporting the H-1B program. It’s not hard to imagine a member of congress asking a lobbyist if he knows of a job opening for his son or other relative.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I disagree with both of your paragraphs.

        First, I believe that very few parents do a serious investigation of career prospects.

        Second, I believe that many members of Congress truly believe in Intels Good, Infosyses Bad.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I am convinced many members of Congress are clueless about the guest worker programs and act as they are directed by the lobbyists for their large donors. I am a cynic in my old age.

          Liked by 1 person

        • I agree, but this will not change until the government starts reporting the total number of STEM man-years authorized each year under the H-1B program, which shouldn’t be so difficult to determine given that CIS must authorize them and any extensions of them. It is the STEM man-years — not just the number of first-time H-1B visas given annually to non-research for-profit enterprises as currently reported, ignoring their durations, renewals, extensions, and those working for non-profit or governmental research organizations — that affect the number of Americans and permanent residents hired.

          I further argue that the “intels” and “infosyses” affect workers of US origin (legal STEM workers not first employed in the US on work visas) in different ways. The body shops certainly lower the market price by increasing supply and undercutting the price of the hire, but they rarely if ever sponsor H-1Bs for green cards. But the “intels” often seek long-term employees they can sponsor for permanent residence and keep almost as indentured workers; because their man-years of STEM work may extend far more than six years and their effect may eventually be hidden by departure from STEM or transitioning to other visa classes while still working in STEM until retirement, there is a compounding effect of the non-bodyshop- sponsored. Thus the man-years of STEM jobs taken by the 20,000 “intel”-sponsored H-1Bs may close off STEM employment prospects to workers of US origin far more than an equal number of bodyshop-sponsored H-1Bs.

          Liked by 1 person

          • In composing the last sentence, I unintentionally preceded “20,000” by “the”, which could confuse some readers as to my thinking.


      • >>> member of congress asking a lobbyist if he knows of a job opening for his son or other relative

        Thank you. Looks like you are NOT making a random statement. It’s “Facebooks good Cognizants bad” this time:

        Liked by 1 person

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