The Unz Review: An Alternative Media Selection
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
Email This Page to Someone

 Remember My Information

 TeasersGene Expression Blog

Bookmark Toggle AllToCAdd to LibraryRemove from Library • BShow CommentNext New CommentNext New ReplyRead More
ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
These buttons register your public Agreement, Disagreement, Thanks, LOL, or Troll with the selected comment. They are ONLY available to recent, frequent commenters who have saved their Name+Email using the 'Remember My Information' checkbox, and may also ONLY be used three times during any eight hour period.
Ignore Commenter Follow Commenter
🔊 Listen RSS

Screenshot 2016-11-09 21.41.13

51PboR9SpFL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ I do not spend much time thinking about politics at this point in my life. Therefore I have little to say that is very important or interesting, though I take a passing casual interest. The map above is very curious. Donald Trump did not simply ride on a wave of expected gains. He changed the map. Yes, he was solid in core Republican regions (except Mormon America), but he really gained in more “purple” areas of the Midwest and Middle Atlantic. Trump crushed it in West Virginia and lost Virginia. That would be very peculiar in the 1990s. More relevantly, the Driftless went for Trump, despite being the most prominent area of rural white America outside New England to support Obama in 2008 and 2012 (the area also favored Democrats in 2000 and 2004). In the near future, when I have more time, I will be looking at the county-level data.

Second, the exit polls are interesting. One has to be careful here with these sorts of results, but it does not look as if Trump lost with minorities and gained with whites nearly as much as the press would have you believe. Granted, disaggregation is important here. Trump lost among wealthier and more educated whites, but made up for it with the downscale. Anyone trying to sell a simple story is probably taking you for a ride.

There are many stories here. Though you can probably go elsewhere for most of them. I plan on focusing on science and history, which I find more fascinating than politics.

• Category: History • Tags: Politics, Trump 
🔊 Listen RSS

854270_w185 I had a long discussion yesterday with an individual who has been reading me since 2003. We talked about lots of things. One issue which perhaps I need to reiterate because it’s implicit is that I dissent to a great extent from the premises which underlay both American conservatism and liberalism. Like American liberals I think the life outcomes of many Americans are not due to their choices simply understood. Rather they are the outcome of chance events, whether it be through social background, or, simple happenstance. Years ago I recall Nassim Taleb complaining that people would read The Millionaire Next Door, and believe that by doing everything those individuals did they too could become millionaires, as if there was no random component to such outcomes. The reality is that some people are in the right place and right time. And, some people are born in the right social positions.

Where I dissent from American liberals is the idea that all of the outcomes in our society, in particular inequality, are due to chance or inherited social position (e.g., race or class privilege). In The Son Also Rises Greg Clark reports on intriguing results which indicate that social competence in heritable. To some extent this is common sense. Personal dispositions are heritable, and some dispositions are more congenial to remunerative activities than others. Though many on the Left (though not all) are willing to acknowledge the arguments in Steve Pinker’s The Blank Slate in the abstract, in the concrete they get very little weight when it comes to social policy. To give an example, for many on the Left we can talk about differences between groups (whether it be cultural or biological) only when all social inequality is abolished. The catch in this though is that any persistent differences may also result in persistent social inequality or difference in outcome.

The_Blank_Slate When it comes to the American Right there are two distinct strands. The first is the child of classical liberalism, to some extent in a more thorough fashion than the American Left. For this element the pidea that capitalism is efficient in allocating resources, and that people receive their just desserts due to hard work, becomes such an all-encompassing narrative that other variables are neglected. This was clearly evident in 2008 when some conservative libertarians kept harping on the “free market” mantra because they literally had no other playbook. I recall specifically someone from the American Enterprise Institute on the radio arguing that bankers should keep their bonuses because that’s how capitalism works, even after the bailouts. When confronted by this he really had no response. He was literally dumbfounded. It is as if the market was the ends of the American political system, and all wealth is the product of the market. Though not as constitutionally hostile to the idea of heritable differences this sort of free market conservatism is not comfortable with the idea that not everyone is born with the same opportunities. The reality is that the liberal Left critique of the nature of the outcomes of a free market is correct in some deep sense, even deeper than American liberals may wish to acknowledge. Some people are born with the genetic deck stacked against them, not just the social one (and of course, as noted above there is a lot of random noise). That undermines some of the moral case for the virtue of the market, since it is not blindly arbitrating the outcomes of our choices, as opposed as sifting based on the accumulated weight of inherited history, some of which is due to the genetic lottery.

51RtznSRTAL The second strand in American conservatism is that of the Religious Right. The problem that it has is most clearly illustrated by the issue of gay rights. Though logically toleration of homosexual behavior and its innate or non-innate nature are not related, the Religious Right prefers that homosexuality be a choice for the purposes of moral censure. That is because though these Christians believe in original sin, they seem to espouse a sort of moral perfectionism where all men are equally endowed with the same sentiments and preferences (those sentiments being debased by Satan or the Satanic influence of culture). As opposed to Homo economicus, these Christians believe in Homo christianus. Though I personally espouse the bourgeois virtues of the Religious Right, their neglect of human diversity in disposition and sentiment leads us down the path of great disappointment, as many will miss the mark. A Religious Right which focused more on social cohesion in a general and collective sense, rather than personal and individual moral perfectionism, probably could produce better results (yes, it does take a village!). But the American radical Protestant model is fundamentally individualistic, and treats each human as equal and similar before Christ. And there I believe is the folly with moral crusades which attempt to turn every American family into the same American family. Such a world never was, and such a world will never be.

The Left looks to the perfect future which could be. The Right looks to the perfect past which was, and could be.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: Politics 
🔊 Listen RSS

Jacques Derrida

Jacques Derrida

Jargon is important. But it must be used judiciously. The term “allopatric speciation” may seem daunting, but it’s basically a pointer to a clear, distinct, and coherent idea. Too often scientists, and scholars more generally, get lazy in using jargon when they needn’t. But the original intent and roots of jargon and technical terminology is to condense complex and subtle ideas into one term which can serve as shorthand for specialists.

But there is another use of jargon, and that is to impress, intimidate, and signal that you are one of the initiates. Ideally jargon should facilitate faster and more transparent communication among specialists in a given topic. But in some cases jargon becomes a tool for intra-group argument, posturing, and maneuvering. It’s a stylistic flourish which connotes, rather than a substantive pointer which denotes. For example, I’ve been a bystander to arguments among conservative Christians who debate whether a particular political position is “glorifying Christ.” I have no clear idea what “glorifying Christ” means, but all the principals to the argument agree that it is a good thing, so it seems to me that this sort of utilization of the term in is mostly tactical and stylistic.

Recently I’ve been noticing a similar phenomenon in online discussions to which I’m am observer. Many on the cultural Left have started to engage in a seepage of jargon from critical theory into political arguments. The problem here is that politics is a public discussion, not discourse among specialists, so falling back on jargon narrows the horizons of engagement. To me the proliferation of terms such as ‘cultural appropriation’, as if everyone knows what that means (and if you don’t, your opinion is irrelevant), signals that the discussants are attempting to score points in their own social and political circles. Similarly, when Neoreactionaries using terms like the Cathedral they’re closing off the conversation to outsiders, and creating a group with initiate-like dynamics. Often American conservatives will talk about “liberty” and “freedom” in a manner which is more symbolic than literal (most people who are not conservatives also think liberty and freedom are good things). And libertarians have their own internal group language which points to divisions which are perceived to be significant within their own circles, but are totally opaque to outsiders.

The proliferation of this tendency across the political spectrum argues that our society is fracturing in a deep manner, as shared public lexicon is less important than winning internal battles within each faction. To some extent I think it also correlates with the decline in arguments over material-economic concerns, and the rise of cultural politics. Yes, there are populist noises across the political spectrum, but the status quo is rarely altered when it comes our economic politics today. For the social elites the cultural battles is what concerns them.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: Politics 
🔊 Listen RSS
"A Safe Space"

“A Safe Space”

There’s been a lot of discussion over the past few days about “trigger warnings” because of a piece in The New York Times, Warning: The Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm. The basic idea is that texts might traumatize students who have been subject to abuse, etc., in the past. There are obviously cases where people who have been through difficulties may need to not be exposed to certain material, but many people suggest that this is infantilizing university students. I agree. But trigger is just a new word for something that’s been around a long time. Universities such as Brigham Young or Bob Jones exist to some extent to buffer their charges against a world which might assault them with uncomfortable questions, and reinforce a particular set of values. The right to not be “hurt” in an emotional sense is ancient. Ten years ago Sikhs rioted in England because of the production of a play that offended and hurt their religious sensibilities. In the Islamic world and South Asia there is an explicit public norm that religious feelings should not be offended. “Trigger warnings” as they are currently being envisaged in their broad and expansive sense just resurrect the idea of blaspheming norms.

From The New York Times piece:

“Be aware of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression,” the guide said. “Realize that all forms of violence are traumatic, and that your students have lives before and outside your classroom, experiences you may not expect or understand.” For example, it said, while “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe — a novel set in colonial-era Nigeria — is a “triumph of literature that everyone in the world should read,” it could “trigger readers who have experienced racism, colonialism, religious persecution, violence, suicide and more.”

The new is always old. Kevin Drum’s mild critique of triggering could be about Christian colleges.

• Category: Race/Ethnicity • Tags: Politics 
🔊 Listen RSS

To know is to not know

Over ten years ago I began writing on the internet about sundry things. Mostly science. But sometimes policy, politics, and history. I still do so on occasion veer away from science (see some of the books I’ve reviewed and read to get a sampling of my interests). A fter the travesty of Iraq I vowed that I would never take for granted that those who speak with authority truly have the grounds to speak with such authority. This is one reason I occasionally post factual corrections about presuppositions in pieces in The New York Times. Presumably most of the reporters at that journal are well educated, but for whatever reason they are often not broadly and deeply knowledgeable in the fields they cover, and rely on transparent and superficial “cliff notes.” For example, consider how frequently the mainstream media asserts that Iran is an Arab nation. The unintelligent or ignorant may feel that this is a trivial correction (this regularly crops up in comments when the correction is made!), but Persian antipathy and resentment of Arabs has long been a sublimated tension in regional geopolitics(for their part Arabs occasionally make veiled allusions to the Persian past by referring to modern Iranians as Zoroastrian “fire-worshippers,” terminology which Saddam Hussein used explicitly). Ignoring the details of reality is informational malpractice, but one which reporters regularly slip into for whatever reason.

Me, I’m a details person. I dislike making grand and confident claims in domains of knowledge where theory is weak to non-existent, and the diminishing marginal returns to information are not always clear. When it comes to Syria I feel deja vu. What occurred in 2002 and 2003 is repeating itself. The bluffers are coming out in full force. Most of them lie to themselves and lie to you. They don’t know anything. I know because I know more than most of them, but I don’t feel I know enough to say much with any confidence beyond what my irrational ego can support. All I can truly do is assert that others do not know. Modern Middle Eastern geopolitics is a complex phenomenon, a palimpsest of exotic past and prosaic present. To a first approximation there are simple rules of thumb (everyone against Israel in public, more complex dynamics under the surface). But there are also deep local and regional tensions which require “thick” knowledge informed by the broader historical context. Most people clearly lack that context from what I can tell.

Where do we go then? Unfortunately the only option left I feel is that we should man up and simply align ourselves with our norms, facts be damned! Neoconservatives and liberal internationalists can argue for interventionism on ethical grounds. Old school isolationists like myself can keep repeating “do no harm.” Let’s abandon appeals to specific details and facts, because the reality is that the final decision isn’t going to be grounded in the specific details. Rather, it will be the outcome of the social and political consensus of the elites, which is rooted in broad general principles and fashion.

• Category: Ideology, Science • Tags: Politics 
🔊 Listen RSS

Credit: Puma

There has been recent talk about GMOs and political orientation recently. Keith Kloor has pointers to the appropriate places. The general impression on all sides seems to be that elite voices against genetically modified organisms are on the Left. To my knowledge this is correct, especially in the United States. But is this true more broadly? We can use the General Social Survey to explore this further. It has a series of questions relating to genetically modified organisms. All except one were asked in 2006 (the exception was 2010).

For replication here are the variables:


Column: POLVIEWS(r:1-3″Liberal”;4″Moderate”;5-7″Conservative”)

There results are presented below (rows add up to 100% for each question).

Attitudes toward genetically modified foods by ideology in the general social survey
Lib Mod Conserv
Don’t care whether or not food GMO 15 16 17
Willing to eat but would prefer non-GMO 55 53 52
Will not eat genetically modified food 30 30 31
How much influence should group X have?
A great deal of influence 9 8 6
A fair amount of influence 30 32 33
A little influence 42 35 40
None at all 20 25 21
Business leaders
A great deal of influence 5 4 3
A fair amount of influence 17 17 17
A little influence 41 43 45
None at all 37 37 35
Medical researchers
A great deal of influence 48 41 44
A fair amount of influence 40 43 43
A little influence 10 12 10
None at all 2 4 3
Elected officials
A great deal of influence 8 12 9
A fair amount of influence 44 44 36
A little influence 38 34 41
None at all 11 11 14
Do group X agree on the risks of GMO?
Medical researchers
1 – Near complete agreement 13 6 11
2 26 19 22
3 40 55 45
4 13 11 14
5 – No agreement at all 8 9 8
How well does group X know risk of GMO?
Medical researchers
1 – Very well 33 34 34
2 36 28 38
3 16 22 17
4 8 10 6
5 – Not at all 6 5 5
Elected officials
1 – Very well 3 3 4
2 7 7 6
3 23 28 24
4 33 37 35
5 – Not at all 35 26 31
Business leaders
1 – Very well 3 3 6
2 13 5 7
3 27 27 24
4 27 37 35
5 – Not at all 30 29 28


What this tells us is that elite opinions matter a lot in public discourse. The gap between liberals and non-liberals is not really there on this issue at the grassroots. That could change, as people of various ideologies tend to follow elite cues. This is why the strong counter-attack from within the Left elite is probably going to be effective, as it signals that being against GMO is not the “liberal position.”

Addendum: Just so people who haven’t been reading me know, political moderates tend not to be very intelligent.

• Category: Ideology, Science • Tags: GMO, Politics 
🔊 Listen RSS

In a few days South Korea will have a new president, and this is very important because of how large North Korea looms in geopolitics. An interesting aspect of this race for Americans is that the candidate of the conservative party, Park Geun-Hye, may be an atheist, running against a Roman Catholic liberal. I say may be because there are some confusions over Park Geun-Hye’s religious identity. Her parents were Buddhist, she was baptized as a young woman as a Roman Catholic, and seems to have drawn without much discrimination from a variety of religious teachings to inform her world-view. It wouldn’t be shocking if Park Geun-Hye was an atheist. According to the World Values Survey ~25% of South Koreans are convinced atheists.

I was curious if atheists in South Korea leaned to the Left or the Right, and from what I can tell there’s no strong correlation. This may surprise Americans, but the historical experience of the two nations is very different. Until recently South Korea has had weak institutional religions, and a substantial portion of what we might term “progressives” were Christians, in particular Roman Catholics. Below are the results for the USA, Great Britain, Sweden, and South Korea for the World Values Survey using religious identification and political self positioning. Percentages and sample sizes are included.


N Religious person Not religious person Convinced atheist
Great Britain 854 49.90% 39.10% 11.10%
Left 30 40.00% 36.80% 23.20%
2 24 39.60% 36.40% 23.90%
3 70 40.30% 34.60% 25.10%
4 78 41.20% 48.70% 10.10%
5 340 50.20% 42.20% 7.60%
6 129 56.30% 38.30% 5.40%
7 80 48.40% 43.90% 7.60%
8 56 55.50% 28.40% 16.10%
9 23 59.70% 18.60% 21.70%
Right 24 70.80% 15.80% 13.30%
United States 1175 71.80% 24.70% 3.50%
Left 21 51.10% 33.70% 15.20%
2 18 67.90% 27.10% 5.00%
3 70 50.80% 41.00% 8.20%
4 96 62.80% 31.20% 6.00%
5 418 72.30% 26.60% 1.10%
6 233 71.10% 25.80% 3.10%
7 130 77.00% 16.90% 6.10%
8 104 82.90% 11.70% 5.40%
9 43 97.50% 2.50%
Right 43 69.00% 31.00%
Sweden 953 33.10% 49.70% 17.20%
Left 26 25.70% 49.20% 25.10%
2 36 26.80% 36.40% 36.70%
3 137 28.40% 54.10% 17.60%
4 132 27.30% 51.80% 20.90%
5 139 32.70% 51.20% 16.00%
6 109 42.50% 47.80% 9.60%
7 156 32.70% 49.00% 18.30%
8 149 32.50% 53.20% 14.30%
9 41 48.70% 39.50% 11.80%
Right 29 45.90% 37.50% 16.60%
South Korea 1195 30.10% 41.40% 28.60%
Left 18 17.00% 56.30% 26.70%
2 32 28.00% 31.70% 40.30%
3 148 41.70% 30.00% 28.30%
4 145 34.60% 37.20% 28.20%
5 245 22.10% 50.10% 27.90%
6 142 30.20% 40.20% 29.60%
7 169 26.00% 38.20% 35.80%
8 182 36.80% 39.80% 23.40%
9 62 27.20% 51.90% 20.90%
Right 54 20.40% 51.20% 28.30%
• Category: Ideology, Science • Tags: Politics, Religion, South Korea 
🔊 Listen RSS

A few weeks ago I reiterated that the most parsimonious explanation for why Asian Americans have been shifting to the Democratic party over the past generation (George H. W. Bush won Asian Americans according to the 1992 exit polls) is a matter of identity politics (reiterated, because I noticed this years ago in the survey data). In short, since the 1950s a normative expectation that America was defined by its historic white Protestant majority has receded. The proportion of “Others,” non-whites, non-Christians, etc., has grown to the point that for all practical purposes these groups have found a secure home in the Democratic party, and the Democratic party has been able to benefit electorally from this support (this would not be the case in 1950, because not enough Americans were non-white or non-Christian). Naturally then the Republican party has become the locus of organization for white Christians, and more specifically white Protestants.

My rough argument is that identity is multifaceted and complex. In relation to the Republican party an evangelical Protestant Korean American Christian sees part of “themselves” in the party. A secular white New York banker from the Midwest who went to Northwestern University may also see themselves in the Republican party. The problem is that a Indian American Hindu cardiologist may have a difficult time emotionally connecting to the party, despite the clear economic rationale for such an affinity. The political scientist Andrew Gelman has argued that in fact it is the economic elites who vote on cultural issues, so it is not surprising that non-Christian Asian American business and professional elites feel alienated from a Republican party whose appeal is purely material and economic.

There may be other more complex explanations, but the data seem sufficient to warrant this being a working hypothesis. I am now rather pleased to see that this viewpoint is gaining traction among some conservative movement types. Over at TownHall Jonah Golberg has a column up, The GOP — Not a Club For Christians. In the column he relates his own personal experience (as an identified Jew), and the opinions of two conservative Indian Americans (one a convert to Catholicism, and another now a well known Christian apologist and polemicist).

The aspect that needs to emphasized here is the matter of style. In my original posts I did not outline a prescription (contrary to what some who don’t bother to read posts that they characterize may think). Rather, I described the situation. As a matter of politics the broad outlines of the Republican and Democratic party seem inevitable, and it would be bizarre for the Republicans to try to reinvent themselves as something they are not. Rather, my suggestion is simply that the Republican party needs to soften the edges and be less sectarian. For better or worse the Republicans are not viewed as the white Christian party, but as the party of white evangelical Southern Protestants. Though this segment of the electorate is the core of the base, it is not sufficient for victory.

In the 1970s and 1980s the Democratic party for all practical purposes became defined by its McGovernite core; the secular liberals, ethnic minorities, and grab-bag of special interests. Bill Clinton and Al Gore, as white Southern Baptist males, were not sufficient to redefine the party, but they began a process of reinvention, and the perfection of a stylistic affect which manages to embrace just enough of the white suburban and moderate vote to produce a winning coalition. The irony here for the Republicans is that the party is notorious for giving the social conservative white evangelical wing nothing but rhetoric, all the while placating economic conservatives. But it is the symbolism of the former which is coming to define party, and narrow its base. A perhaps audacious ‘solution’ to this problem would be for the Republican party to actually follow through on the promises made to social conservatives, while shedding their explicit sectarian coloring.

Addendum: In response to the thesis above Steve Sailer has pointed out that the nominees were neither white Protestants in 2012. A quick response to that is that despite white male Southern Baptists being nominated in 1992 and 1996, everyone knew clearly who and what the Democratic party was. And it wasn’t the party of white Southern Protestants.

• Category: Ideology, Science • Tags: Politics 
🔊 Listen RSS

GeoCurrents on the political anomaly of the “Driftless” zone of the upper Mississippi (via GLPiggy). The anomaly has to do with the fact that this area is very white, very rural, and not in the orbit of a larger cosmopolitan urban area (e.g., “Greater Boston,” which extends into New Hampshire). The post goes into much greater detail, but concludes with a request for more information. This is the area where local knowledge might be helpful.

I went poking around old county level presidential election maps, and I can’t see the Driftless blue-zone being a shadow or ghost of any past pattern. But, I did stumble upon again the 1856 presidential election map by county…can there be a better illustration of the “Greater Yankeedom” (the red are Republican voting counties, the first year that the Republicans were a substantial national party):

Addendum: Obviously not the whole North was Yankee. So who were the others? The ancestors of what in the 20th century become “white ethnics,” disproportionately urban Catholics (in this case, mostly Irish and German) were already Democratic leaning by this period. There were also old groups, like the Hudson Valley Dutch, as well as the merchant class of New York City, which were long anti-Yankee in their politics and sentiments. Not only that, but New York City was economically integrated with the South’s cotton economy to a greater extent than other zones of the North. And in places like Pennsylvania there were deep reserves of populist Democrats. Finally, across the southern half of the Midwest states the settlers were actually often from the Upper South states. The “Butternuts.”


• Category: Ideology, Science • Tags: Politics 
🔊 Listen RSS

Arnold Kling took a break from blogging, but is coming back. But under an explicit set of personal guidelines. About This Blog:

I decided to go with my own blog, rather than return to EconLog, because I want to have total control over the blog content. I want to model a very particular style of discourse, as indicated by the tag line “taking the most charitable view of those who disagree.” In June, I wrote

Suppose we look at writing on issues where people tend to hold strong opinions that fit with their ideology. Such writing can

(a) attempt to open the minds of people on the opposite side as the author
(b) attempt to open minds of people on the same side as the author
(c) attempt to close minds of people on the same side as the author

So, think about it. Wouldn’t you classify most op-eds and blog posts as (c)? Isn’t that sort of pathetic?

My goal is to avoid (c). I will try to keep the posts here free of put-downs, snark, cheap shots, straw-man arguments, and taking the least charitable interpretation of what others say. So, if what you most enjoyed about my past blogging efforts were the put-downs, be prepared for disappointment with this incarnation.

I’ve been “around the block” for a long time in blog time. Around ~2002 and forward there was a naive initial moment when the fervor over the “War on Terror” resulted in some post-partisan good feeling, but that faded soon enough. Today the American Left and Right are rather insular when it comes to interaction and linking. Because most of the blogs I follow are science related, any political comments tend to be on the Left liberal end of the spectrum. To me the problem, if there is one, tends to be in the strawman/least charitable interpretation aspect that Kling mentions (aspects of raw and low style are easy to filter). As someone who is not liberal I find it curious when Left liberals fulminate against positions or motives which I don’t really even seen conservatives holding. It seems pointless over the long term, though it can result in greater in-group cohesion, and generate some psychic utils. A converse element are conservative bloggers who rage against ‘secular liberals,’ and routinely false positive me as liberal because I’m secular (the reality is outside of the internet most political liberals are not secular in their religious orientation in any case!).

An interesting issue here is that people who have a particular viewpoint don’t see their own viewpoints as viewpoints at all. Rather, their own viewpoints are positive descriptions of the world. So, for example, I once had an exchange with a reader who suggested that if I express any political viewpoints that would alienate readers, so I should avoid it. When I pointed out that most (though not all) science oriented weblogs seem to express conventional to radical Left liberal perspectives, he conceded the point. Because my own perspectives were at variance with the reader’s, the political posts were very salient, but on other science blogs they probably didn’t register as “political.”

In this vein I had dinner with a long time reader who told me that this weblog had helped shift his own political worldview over the past six years. It was interesting because my own political passions in the proximate sense (i.e., do I care if the president is a Republican or a Democrat?) are attenuated at best to a shadow of what they once were. I have opinions, but my interest in those opinions is rather marginal compared to science or historical topics. Nevertheless you can’t account for how you impact other people.

And that’s the sort of thing I suspect Arnold Kling is aiming for. Long term impact. The main skepticism I have is that are there even enough interlocutors in this domain? He’ll probably have to go solo and slowly accrue a following who shares his own philosophy.

• Category: Ideology, Science • Tags: Politics 
🔊 Listen RSS

Following up my request a reader crunched the numbers (here is his data table) to show the association between supporting supporting Proposition 37 and voting for Barack Obama by county in California:

From what I know this issue really polarized people in highly educated liberal enclaves in the state of California. Many of my Left non-scientist friends supported the measure because of an anti-corporate animus. But, another issue that sometimes came up was transparency and fair play, in a “teach the controversy” fashion. My own contention is on the scientific point there is no controversy.

• Category: Ideology, Science • Tags: Politics 
🔊 Listen RSS

A few weeks ago I alluded to the controversy around proposition 37. This was the GMO labeling law proposal. Many life scientists in California opposed this law. One aspect of this issue is that it is an area where the Left may be stated to be “anti-science.” This is why this was highlighted in Science Left Behind. But there’s a problem with this narrative: the survey data for it is weak. There are broad suggestive patterns…but the reality is that the strongest predictor of skepticism of genetically modified organisms is lower socioeconomic status. The GSS has a variable, EATGM. Here are the results by ideology:

Liberal Moderate Conservative
Don’t care whether or not food has been genetically modified 15 16 17
Willing to eat but would prefer unmodified foods 55 53 52
Will not eat genetically modified food 30 30 31


I would caution that the sample size is small. But, if you dig deeper into the survey data you can find evidence that conservatives are more unalloyed in their support of biotech.

And yet with all this said, today I noticed that the California proposition 37 results are rather stark in their geographic distribution. The measure failed statewide, but 2/3 of the people in San Francisco and Santa Cruz counties supported it, as did 60% of the people in Marin (interestingly, only a little over 50% supported it in San Mateo and Santa Clara). I couldn’t find a tabular list with the results by county, but there are interactive maps. If someone was industrious (and had more time than I do) they would go and collect the data from the maps, and do a loess of “support proposition 37” vs. “support Obama.”

The main problem is that from what I can tell a lot of Left-liberals who support anti-GMO policies, explicit or implicit, do so because they believe that that is anti-corporate. My argument is that whatever issues one might have with agribusiness, one should litigate the question of scale in agriculture directly and forthrightly, rather than focus on sidelights like GMO.

• Category: Ideology, Science • Tags: Agriculture, Politics 
🔊 Listen RSS

I am currently reading Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise. The review will go live concurrently with Jim Manzi’s Uncontrolled, which I finished weeks ago. The two works are qualitatively different, but fundamentally they’re both concerned with epistemology. I do have to admit that halfway through The Signal and the Noise I long for Manzi’s density and economy of prose. As someone on the margins of the LessWrong community I’m already familiar with many of the arguments that Silver forwards, so perhaps this evaluation is not fair.

But this post isn’t about The Signal and the Noise. Rather, I want to state that I’ve put some bets down on the upcoming election. Silver attempted to do the same, and got some blowback from The New York Times public editor. I’m not surprised, the idea of betting on ideas strikes many as transgressive. But what people have to understand is that this isn’t gambling, it’s putting your money where you mouth is. As Alex Tabarrok has stated it is a “tax on bullshit.” I really hate bullshit. I hate it from other people, and I hate it from myself. The more bullshit there is in this world, the less clarity we have about the world around us. Bullshit is the clarity killer. It is the enemy of objectivity.

Over the past few weeks I’ve tried to get people like Dwight E Howell to bet me on their skepticism on the polls. In fact, I’ve come close to harassing them in the comments, chasing them down on Twitter, etc. And yet I’ve received precious few wagers. Why? I think most of them are bullshitters. They might not even know they’re bullshitters consciously, but deep down they don’t have confidence in their views, else they’d be lining up to take my money.

Hank Campbell though stepped up to the plate. If Nate Silver calls 48 or more out of 50 states correctly, I get $50. If not, then he gets $50. Daniel Gonzalez Buitrago also proposed a $40 wager, and I accepted. These bets aren’t just about making money. They’re about sharpening my own sense of what’s true. Am I willing to lose money? My confidence in these wagers is modest, at best. Rather, my point is that if I make enough wagers, and I am confident in enough of them, then I should come out on top. This is how I view my attempts to understand the world. I’m not aiming to understand one fact perfectly; I want to understand many small facts to some approximation. You win some, you lose some.

Finally, if you haven’t read Colby Cosh’s take down of Nate Silver, you should. I like Silver because he’s presents himself as a humble Bayesian, but with great influence comes great expectations. Ultimately what Silver does that’s great is that he popularizes a method of inference and forecasting. But the problem may be that people are more enamored of the result of his current forecast.

• Category: Ideology, Science • Tags: Politics 
🔊 Listen RSS

I do pay for The New York Times, but as you may know I get frustrated with the lack of context for international stories. Most Americans are not particularly informed about world affairs, so fact without frame can confuse. For example today a story came into my feed, Uruguay Senate Approves First-Trimester Abortions. Naturally the article alludes to Latin America’s Roman Catholicism, but I also happen to know that aside from Cuba Uruguay has long been Latin America’s most secular nation. The chart from the left is from Uruguay’s household survey. I don’t know Spanish, but even to me it’s clear that 17.2 percent of Uruguay’s population identifies as atheist or agnostic, about three times the similar number in the United States (being generous). Fully 42 percent of the nation’s population is non-Christian, with 40 percent disavowing any religion.

This is all relevant because most readers of The New York Times are going to see Uruguay, a Latin American country where the Catholic religion is the dominant confession, and make some inferences of the weakening of the power of the church. But in Uruguay the church has been weak for 100 years! So why has Uruguay had strict abortion laws like its more religious neighbors? Because it is a small nation surrounded by influential neighbors, who no doubt effect its mores and norms. It reminds us of the power of cultural inertia and peer effects.

• Category: Ideology, Science • Tags: Politics 
🔊 Listen RSS

In response to a comment below, I thought this chart from Gallup is particularly informative:

• Category: Science • Tags: Culture, Politics 
🔊 Listen RSS

Last spring I made a bet with a friend that Mitt Romney would win. He gave me 5:1 odds, and I assumed a 40% chance that Romney would win. So I expected to lose, but if I won I’d win big. At this point I assume I’m out that money, because I’d put Romney’s chances at less than 40% (though I think people underweight uncertainty, so I believe there’s a lot of variation in this prediction). But now I’m hearing/reading that many Republicans are under the impression that the polls are skewed. If you believe that the polls are skewed would you be willing to bet money that the polls are skewed? Specifically, I want to wager that “unskewed polls” turn out to be further off the mark than the regular polls in reference to the final election results. I’m not 100% sure that the pollsters are correct, and I don’t know more than a superficial amount as to the weighting methodologies, but the track record of skew-skeptics is suspect enough that I think this is a way I can make money off people who I perceive to be suckers. Of course, the people who I perceive to be suckers think I’m the sucker, which is fair enough. Take my money! Please speak up in the comments if you want to make a bet. I’d want it to be public, and you have to put your real name out there. Also, I want to know if you’ll give me some odds, because I assume you are moderately confident in your assessment that the polls are skewed.

• Category: Science • Tags: Politics 
🔊 Listen RSS

In the comments below there was a question as to political party consistency over the decades in terms of voting by state. A quick correct impression is that the Democratic South shifted toward Republican, while New England went the opposite direction. In contrast much of the Midwest remained Republican over the whole period. How does this comport with the quantitative data?

I went about this in a relatively straightforward manner. First, I computed the national average Democratic vote in presidential years since 1912 (excluding Alaska, Hawaii, and D.C.) using the states as input values (so this would differ from the popular vote percentages, as low population states would have the same weight as high population states). Second, I then converted the state results into standard deviation units. Then, I computed the standard deviation of these values. So, for example, Mississippi tended to have larger positive values in the first half of the 20th century (voted more Democratic than the nation as a whole), but shifted toward negative in the later 20th century (less Democratic than the nation as a whole). Because of this shift Mississippi had a high standard deviation over the years, since its national position was highly dispersed over time. In contrast, New Mexico was much closer to the national mean over time.

Here’s the rank ordered list:

State Variation
Mississippi 2.12
South Carolina 1.76
Alabama 1.65
Georgia 1.41
Louisiana 1.28
Vermont 0.99
Massachusetts 0.98
Rhode Island 0.92
Texas 0.91
Utah 0.88
Arkansas 0.87
Maine 0.80
Oklahoma 0.71
Florida 0.71
Minnesota 0.70
New York 0.67
North Carolina 0.66
Michigan 0.64
Connecticut 0.61
Virginia 0.60
Iowa 0.60
Pennsylvania 0.59
Wisconsin 0.58
South Dakota 0.58
Idaho 0.58
Illinois 0.57
Washington 0.57
West Virginia 0.56
Tennessee 0.55
North Dakota 0.54
Nebraska 0.54
New Jersey 0.54
California 0.53
Wyoming 0.53
New Hampshire 0.52
Arizona 0.50
Delaware 0.50
Nevada 0.47
Kentucky 0.47
Maryland 0.46
Oregon 0.46
Montana 0.43
Kansas 0.41
Colorado 0.39
Missouri 0.36
Ohio 0.32
Indiana 0.27
New Mexico 0.27

And also a chart of the top nine most volatile states over the past 100 years.

To focus on the states which have been consistently Republican here’s mean Democrat vote vs. the deviation. As you notice, nothing’s the matter with Kansas!

Here’s a spreadsheet with the data and computations.


• Category: Ideology, Science • Tags: Politics 
🔊 Listen RSS

The two maps above show the Democratic and Republican counties in blue and red respectively. Carter in the 1976 presidential election, and Obama in 2008. A few days ago it was brought to my attention that Matt Yglesias was curious about how Maine become a Democratic leaning state in the past generation. How is a deep question I’ll leave to political scientists, but how about the patterns of voting Democratic over elections by state for the past 100 years? That’s not too hard to find, there’s state-level election data online. So I just calculated the correlations between past elections and Democratic results, and Obama’s performance in 2008. If you’re a junkie of political science I assume you’ve seen something like this….


There is county level data out there, but it is hard to find the older stuff online. If you have some, especially the 1856 election, please contact me! If not, and you want to enter the data in by hand (you can find it in most libraries), I am willing to pay (I tried doing this once, but found it too boring).

Sorry if political posts bother you! But my Twitter feed and Facebook are starting to get inundated with dozens of posts every day on the perfidy of the Republican party. It’s hard to not think about politics a little….

• Category: Ideology, Science • Tags: Politics 
🔊 Listen RSS

Long time readers know that I like to use analytics like Google Trends to put up short posts. Why? I was prompted by the fact that the mainstream often likes to write meandering “trend” pieces which are basically spiffed-up versions of the type of think-pieces essays you’d pen in 10th grade. Basically the modus operandi is to start with a novel or counter-intuitive proposition, and then assemble a number of individuals or data points supporting your theses. For example, It’s Hip to Be Round, which argued 3 summers ago that male New York New York hipsters were now sporting potbellies fashionably. The problem with these sorts of pieces is that it’s not 10th grade in the pre-internet era, where you have a fine number of resources and time. Using above system you can construct a trend piece around any thesis. Just dive through the Google stack, or ask enough people and just cull the ones willing to be quoted. The modern trend piece in fact is a perfect exemplar of the sort of non-fiction which someone with a deconstructive mindset might argue is actually form of fiction. Trend pieces which reflect genuine social truths are then rather like historical novels, narrative elaborations upon factual events or dynamics.

So I was pleased when it was pointed out to me this morning that respectable segments of the mainstream media were now looking at the Google Trend of searches for Bain Capital, rather than expending “shoe-leather,” in assessing the trend of a particular story. Intuitively journalists know that this is “blowing up,” but it is nice that instead of getting quotes from Larry Sabato they actually ascertain the curiosity of a substantial subset of the voting public. The method isn’t perfect, and one can imagine it being “gamed” in a political context in the near future, but the philosophy behind it, look for aggregate analytics which are freely available, which is heartening. There is a role for person to person reporting “on the street,” but in an age of finite journalistic resources those should be marshaled in specific cases. Also, in some cases using analytics like these might yield that conventional wisdom is wrong. That would be a major step up. The crowd is not always wise.

P.S. I stole the general idea of this sort of post from Agnostic.

For old times:

• Category: Ideology, Science • Tags: Politics 
🔊 Listen RSS

I often hear in the media that Hispanics are “socially conservative.” For that sort of thing you do need “quick & dirty” rules-of-thumb, and the assertion seems broadly plausible. On the other hand, the Hispanic attitude toward gay marriage isn’t really that different from non-Hispanic white (see GSS MARHOMO variable). So I decided to query non-Hispanic white and Hispanic attitudes to a range of “hot-button” social issues in the GSS. I also broke it down by college vs. non-college educated cohorts. All results are from the year 2000 and later.

White non-Hispanic Hispanic
No college College No college College
Abortion on demand, yes 38 53 28 47
Abortion if serious defect, yes 75 70 67 79
Make divorce easier 23 16 44 28
Keep divorce laws same 23 34 17 40
Make divorce more difficult 55 50 38 32
Premarital sex always wrong 26 19 21 16
Premarital sex almost always wrong 8 8 10 7
Premarital sex sometimes wrong 18 23 20 13
Premarital sex not wrong at all 47 50 49 64
Homosexual sex always wrong 58 35 61 33
Homosexual sex almost always wrong 4 5 5 4
Homosexual sex sometimes wrong 6 11 7 9
Homosexual sex not wrong at all 32 48 27 55
Porn should be illegal to all 40 30 36 25
Porn should be illegal to under 18 57 67 60 70
Porn should be legal to all 3 3 4 4
Strongly favor spanking children 28 17 25 19
Favor spanking children 47 44 44 43
Do not favor spanking children 19 28 22 20
Strongly do not favor spanking children 6 11 9 17
Allow incurable patients to die 72 72 58 76
Strongly agree better for man to work, woman to tend home 10 5 14 9
Agree better for man to work, woman to tend home 31 19 32 16
Disagree better for man to work, woman to tend home 43 49 43 48
Strongly disagree better for man to work, woman to tend home 16 28 11 27

These results can be used to support the proposition that Hispanics are socially conservative. But they are not of the magnitude or direction of difference that one finds when comparing evangelical white Protestants to other whites, or even blacks to whites. So though technically defensible, I think the assertion that Hispanics are socially conservative in their attitudes misleads the public somewhat.

(unless the divorce results are mis-coded, they do seem correct)

• Category: Science • Tags: Data Analysis, Politics 
Razib Khan
About Razib Khan

"I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. If you want to know more, see the links at"