Sunday, September 20, 2015

Population predictions are crap

What I want to say here is mostly 4th grade stuff but vast numbers of people don't seem to get it.

What I want to talk about is the folly of straight line projections.  People who are used to graphs should know immediately what I am going to say but people with more  literary inclinations probably will not.

Perhaps the most hilarious example of the folly concerned is the repeated prediction that we are going to run out of oil soon.  People have been making that prediction ever since oil was discovered and they have always been wrong.  Up until fracking was implemented, Greenies used to make that prediction.  But fracking has mostly silenced them on that issue.  Now they say we will run out of food!

So why has that prediction always been wrong?  Because it assumes that all the influences on the thing concerned will stay the same. In the case of oil, it assumes there will be no more discoveries.  The reasoning goes like this:  "We have reserves of 10,000 barrels of oil and we are using 1,000 barrels each year so therefore we will run out in 10 years".

It's great arithmetic but totally ignorant of almost everything in nature.  Nature is complex.  Things are always changing.  And if there is any predictability at all in nature the trend will be in the form of an ogive or some other curvilinear trend.  In an ogive, things rise for a while and then flatten out.  In statisticians' terms, they "approach an asymptote".

So it should by now be clear why all the current  predictions of future population will be wrong.  I am in fact here and now going to issue a prophecy!  Bold, I know, but it's a pretty safe one. And neither the Book of Daniel nor the Book of Revelation is involved!  So: This is my prophecy:

"In 50 years time, all the current predictions of various national populations will be shown to have been wrong"

The birthrates in various nations at the moment are very low.  So low that the straight-line wise-heads are predicting that the populations of countries like Japan, Italy and Russia will be only half of what they are now.  Why is that prediction foolish?  Because it assumes that birthrates will remain the same.  Yet anybody who remembers the world before the 1960s should know how absurd that is.

Take Italy, one of the doomed populations according to the straight-line wiseheads. Italy was once the land of large families.  Lots of Italian families had an Ottorino (eighth child).  Now, of course, one child is the norm.  So does not a change as drastic as that tell you something?  Does it not tell you that all the influences on the given phenomenon (in this case the birthrate) will NOT remain the same?  It surely should.

Let us be a little more insightful about population than doing silly arithmetic.  What caused the Italian birthrate collapse?  The same thing that has caused a birthrate collapse in most of the developed world:  The contraceptive pill. Children are expensive but up until about 1960 people had no easy way of stopping them coming.  So they kept coming.

OK.  The pill was an unexpected factor that threw out all the straight line "population explosion" projections made in the early  20th century.  Paul Ehrlich take a bow.  So what other influences could come along and ditch all the present predictions?

There is an obvious one: An evolutionary one. All the non-maternal women are currently being removed from the gene pool by reason of the simple fact that they now rarely have children. Women like them will become rarer and rarer. So all the births of the not too distant future will come from maternally-inclined women. And how many children will those women have? As many as they can afford (and then some in some cases). Some wonderful stories about maternal women here and here and here and here and here.

So the birthrates in advanced nations will recover and the  population will start growing again -- albeit off a lower base.

And there are other influences that may have an effect -- even ones that I have not thought of!  France, for instance, has long had pro-natalist government policies and that has propped up the French birthrate.  Similar policies will probably be adopted by other nations.  Russia and Singapore have already stepped up to the plate with policies of that nature.

And here's a way-out one:  It seems to have become fashionable for celebrity women to have children, multiple children in most cases.  You would not think that women who live by their looks would risk  their figures by having children, but they are in fact doing it -- the Kardashians, for instance.  Children now seem to have become a sign of affluence.  They are the ultimate luxury -- even better than big yachts and Gulfstream jets.  And lots of people DO emulate celebrities.  Many women in the near future may start having children because it is fashionable or simply because they want to show off.  One can imagine the conversations:  "I've got three.  How many have you got?"

So who knows what the future holds?


Jonathan Haidt and friends are tackling the issue of the Leftist monoculture in academe

Haidt has been working on this for a while.  I thought he would get burnt by it and fall silent but he seems instead  to have made it a major focus of his work.  My take is that he is a moderate Leftist with a secret fascination for conservatism.  He may even be an old-fashioned liberal.  Anyway, he has enlisted quite a few creditable friends to his endeavour and below is the first slice of their most recent publication.

I took him at his word that he wanted more conservative input to the social sciences and offered my services as a referee for papers in the field of social psychology.  He responded favourably so it will be interesting to see if anything comes of that  -- JR

HeterodoxAcademy has its origins in a collaborative effort by five social psychologists and a sociologist to study a problem that has long been noted in psychology: nearly everyone in the field is on the left, politically. We have been working together since 2011 to write a paper explaining how this situation came about, how it reduces the quality of science published in social psychology, and what can be done to improve the science. (Note that none of us self-identifies as conservative.)  In the process we discovered the work of the other scholars in other fields who joined with us to create this site.

Our paper is finally published this week! A preprint of the manuscript was posted last year, but now we have the final typeset version, plus the 33 commentaries. Here is a link to the PDF of the final manuscript, on the website of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. (Thanks to Paul Bloom for his wise and patient editorship.) Here’s a link to a page linking to HTML versions of all the documents. But because our article is long (13 dense pages) and the 33 commentaries are longer (another 31 pages) — and then there’s our response (another 7 pages) — we recognize that few people will ever read the whole package. Plus, its behind a paywall (so you might just want to read the preprint that was posted last year.)

For all these reasons, we offer here a “CliffsNotes” version, giving the basics of our argument using excerpts copied directly from the paper.  [Occasional comments from me–Jonathan Haidt–are interspersed in brackets] Please also see this post by Lee Jussim, explaining why we think this problem is so serious. In a later post we’ll list the commentaries and summarize our response article.

CITATION: Duarte, J. L., Crawford, J. T., Stern, C., Haidt, J., Jussim, L., & Tetlock, P. E. (2015). Political diversity will improve social psychological science. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 38, 1-13.DOI:


Psychologists have demonstrated the value of diversity – particularly diversity of viewpoints – for enhancing creativity, discovery, and problem solving. But one key type of viewpoint diversity is lacking in academic psychology in general and social psychology in particular: political diversity. This article reviews the available evidence and finds support for four claims: (1) Academic psychology once had considerable political diversity, but has lost nearly all of it in the last 50 years. (2) This lack of political diversity can undermine the validity of social psychological science via mechanisms such as the embedding of liberal values into research questions and methods, steering researchers away from important but politically unpalatable research topics, and producing conclusions that mischaracterize liberals and conservatives alike. (3) Increased political diversity would improve social psychological science by reducing the impact of bias mechanisms such as confirmation bias, and by empowering dissenting minorities to improve the quality of the majority’s thinking. (4) The underrepresentation of non-liberals in social psychology is most likely due to a combination of self-selection, hostile climate, and discrimination. We close with recommendations for increasing political diversity in social psychology.

1. Introduction

In the last few years, social psychology has faced a series of challenges to the validity of its research, including a few high-profile replication failures, a handful of fraud cases, and several articles on questionable research practices and inflated effect sizes… In this article, we suggest that one largely overlooked cause of failure is a lack of political diversity. We review evidence suggesting that political diversity and dissent would improve the reliability and validity of social psychological science…

We focus on conservatives as an underrepresented group because the data on the prevalence in psychology of different ideological groups is best for the liberal-conservative contrast – and the departure from the proportion of liberals and conservatives in the U.S. population is so dramatic. However, we argue that the field needs more non-liberals however they specifically self-identify (e.g., libertarian, moderate)…

The lack of political diversity is not a threat to the validity of specific studies in many and perhaps most areas of research in social psychology. The lack of diversity causes problems for the scientific process primarily in areas related to the political concerns of the Left – areas such as race, gender, stereotyping, environmentalism, power, and inequality – as well as in areas where conservatives themselves are studied, such as in moral and political psychology.

2. Psychology is less politically diverse than ever

[In this section we review all available information on the political party identification of psychologists, as well as their liberal-conservative self descriptions. The graph below says it all. Whichever of those two measures you use, you find a big change after 1990. Before the 1990s, academic psychology only LEANED left. Liberals and Democrats outnumbered Conservatives and Republican by 4 to 1 or less. But as the “greatest generation” retired in the 1990s and was replaced by baby boomers, the ratio skyrocketed to something more like 12 to 1. In just 20 years. Few psychologists realize just how quickly or completely the field has become a political monoculture.

More HERE  (See the original for links).  There is also a good commentary here by William Reville, an emeritus professor of biochemistry in Ireland.


The British scene

In Britain, the Tories think all their Christmases have come at once.  Labour Party activists have overwhelmingly chosen as their new leader a Marxist, Jeremy Corbyn, who has the support of barely 10% of his own MPs.  He has in turn appointed a shadow cabinet comprising long-term comrades like new Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, John McDonnell, plus a smattering of faint-hearted fellow travellers from the Blair and Brown years.  He has given the agriculture portfolio to a vegan!

The Tories believe Labour under Corbyn is unelectable (some even paid £3 to register as Labour supporters so they could vote for Corbyn in the leadership ballot).

Economically, Corbyn's Labour will be 'anti-austerity'.  Rather than reducing the huge government deficit, Corbyn and McDonnell would force the Bank of England to buy billions of pounds of new debt by creating money ('People's Quantitative Easing') to fund more government spending.  They also want to increase taxes on high earners, scrap student fees, renationalise the railways and energy supply industries, control the banks and clobber private landlords.

Foreign policy would be vehemently anti-American and anti-Israel.  Corbyn wants Britain out of NATO and says he would scrap the Trident nuclear weapons system.  He would refuse to deploy any British forces to fight in the Middle East.  He and McDonnell claim they are long-term peacemakers, but theirs is a one-eyed pacifism: in Ireland they befriended Sinn Fein/IRA (McDonnell even called for IRA bombers to be "honoured") and in the Middle East their chums are Hamas and Hezbollah.

But are the Tories right that Labour is now unelectable?

Much of Corbyn's program will be popular.  There is already strong support among voters for renationalising the railways, taxing 'the rich', bashing the bankers and scrapping student fees.  Next year the government starts cutting tax credits (top-ups for low-paid workers) and this will fuel 'anti-austerity' sentiment.  There is also widespread weariness with foreign wars.

The assumption that parties can only win elections 'from the centre' is also suspect.  Corbyn's friend, Ken Livingstone, won the London Mayorality on a hard-left platform, and in May the anti-austerity SNP took 56 of Scotland's 59 seats at Westminster.  Emotive, populist leftism is surging across Europe; there is no reason to believe the UK is immune.

Worse, the Tories themselves could soon be in trouble.  The referendum on Britain's membership of the EU, due in 2017, is almost bound to rupture party unity (there have already been mutinous rumblings as Cameron has tried to gerrymander the voting rules).  And with China's growth flagging and Europe tanking, another slump in the world economy seems almost inevitable before 2020, when the next general election is due.

If that happens, Britain will suffer badly, for the asset bubble -- fuelled by public and private borrowing -- is bigger than ever.  If and when the economy crashes, the Tories will forfeit their reputation as competent economic managers, and with the centre party Lib Dems now almost wiped out, voters will turn to Corbyn.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on A WESTERN HEART.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Re. "But as the “greatest generation” retired in the 1990s and was replaced by baby boomers, the ratio skyrocketed to something more like 12 to 1. In just 20 years."

Perhaps it is 12 to 1 in the private sector. Currently in the gov funded sector I would put feminist-leftist psychs at close to 100% by my own informal observation. The few male conservatives that might be present dare not reveal themselves but must be seen to be active feminist-leftist if they are to avoid becoming targeted for abhorrent and shameless removal tactics by certain colleagues who see it as their role to keep the industry "clean". I imagine working undercover amongst Nazis would have been in some ways similar to a white male conservative working amongst gov funded feminist-leftist psychs today.