A Study in Fake News

A friend and former colleague sent me a link to the following brief article: A Strong Start to Sierra Snowpack. It purports to be a factual report of the water situation in California. Such stories are always interesting for the things they leave out: the dog that didn’t bark.

Start with the title. Since the snowpack is already above the normal peak, which is referenced to April (seasonal peak), it would be more accurate to say that the snowpack is already well above average for the whole season though it’s still only February. That’s more than a strong start. Furthermore, though the 2017-2018 year was below average, the prior year was well above average. Together, they were about average.It is in the nature of snowfall to fluctuate from year to year.

Next, the article states that “…most of the reservoirs are already more than half-full, and several have water levels that are above the historical average for the middle of February.” It would be more accurate to write that all the reservoirs but one are at or above the historical average for February. The exception is Oroville, which is low because of a major structural failure two years ago. Furthermore, all of the reservoirs are more than half full, which is also misleading because it’s not normal for them to ever be full. Should they ever be almost full, the headline would be “Reservoirs Nearly Full: Flooding Crisis Looms” since they would need to release large amounts of water, which could raise downstream rivers to flood stage.

This 300-word article manages to pack in a tremendous amount of misinformation, brought to you by NASA. This brings to mind the Gell-Mann amnesia effect, or in more modern parlance, fake news. Also relevant is Mencken’s observation  that

Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.

I would only change the last half to read “…the whole aim of practical media is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”

Snow is forecast for tomorrow and Thursday in the Sierra.

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Who are you?

How do you see yourself or how do you identify yourself?

Does your race matter to you? If so why? If not why?

Are you your job?

Or you your family?

Or you your religion?

Are you defined by your sexual orientation?

I live in a culture that makes me stick out. I am the foreigner or the American. I don’t think of that as prejudice as much as the easiest way to define me. That comes with stereotypes both good and bad. (We all have to deal with those who we get grouped with.)

I think groups that have an ax to grind focus more on their group identity than those who don’t. They are looking for solutions to problems and it is easy to see that problem as not accepting whatever group they are part of. How much of this is true is another thing? They say even paranoid people have enemies.

I think society is on a pendulum at times. It swings between two extremes. Or I think Luther said this, “A person falls off a horse on the right then gets on it to fall on the left.” That is to say in fixing problems people create new ones. Specifically, feeling good about your identity is good as long as it is not used to make others feel bad.

The question that plagues us is when does a behavior become an identity. Or when can we say a behavior is bad and needs to be changed? What has been happening is people change the definition to fit what they like. “I am a poached egg.” is looked at as “Good, follow who you are.” rather than “You need help.”

Just to have some fun, should we have a census form for Ratburg? What should be on the form?

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Richard Epstein on the Green New Deal

Richard A. Epstein is not usually very excitable, speaking, albeit quickly and at great length, in the form of a legal argument. Fair enough: he is one of the most cited legal scholars in the United States. In the most recent episode of his Hoover Institution podcast, “The Libertarian”, however, he goes into a full-on rant about the “Green New Deal”. The first part, where he discusses the bogus connection between carbon dioxide and climate, is especially valuable. It’s only twenty-six minutes and well worth your time.


Continue reading “Richard Epstein on the Green New Deal”

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The Border Bill

The “bipartisan conference” has laboured mightily and brought forth the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2019” [PDF], “Making further continuing appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security for fiscal year 2019, and for other purposes”.  It is—wait for it—one thousand, one hundred and fifty-nine pages long.  As Byron York notes,  congressreptiles will have only 40 hours to try to figure out what’s in it before voting on it.

“The wall”, such as it is, is on page 33 (Sec. 230), with a total of US$ $2,370,222,000, or which US$ “1,375,000,000 is for the construction of primary pedestrian fencing, including levee pedestrian fencing, in the Rio Grande Valley Sector”.  Sec. 231, immediately following, lists specific places in which no fencing will be built.

What’s in the other 1157 pages?  Who knows?  I just scrolled to a page (110) at random and came across “to study how mangroves, kelp forests, tidal marshes, and seagrass meadows could help deacidify the oceans”.  Then on page 112,

Sec. 771. Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Agriculture shall submit to Congress a report describing the ways in which conservation programs administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service may be better used for the conservation of ocelots (Leopardus pardalis) and any action taken by the Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service relating to the conservation of ocelots.

Dealing with the pressing problems of the nation!

Post any gems you find in the comments.

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Hoaxed

Mike Cernovich’s documentary Hoaxed was recently released on Vimeo, where you can view the trailer and rent the film for $5. It is a comprehensive review of the news media bias through the experiences of Jordan Peterson, Scott Adams, Stefan Molyneux, James O’Keefe, and Cernovich himself. These are likely familiar names to most of you but lest you think that only one side of the political divide is represented, filmaker Cassie Jaye, Vice journalist Tim Poole, and BLM activist Hawk Newsome are also featured. Sharyl Attkisson is quoted extensively, though she’s not credited as a cast member.

Among the key points made in the film are

  • The current business model of news departments requires them to be profit centers, whereas in the past they were loss leaders for newspapers or TV networks. This means that controversy is more important than accuracy.
  • Mainstream journalists rarely do much traditional reporting. Instead, they read each other’s tweets and articles. “A lot of people who claim they are journalists are just repeaters.” In the words of a historian at UT Austin, “they [journalists] seem to play a game of telephone.”
  • Independent news is a significant and growing challenge to the mainstream media. While the legacy media once had a monopoly on the tools of news gathering and reporting, independent journalists can use new technology (GoPros, smart phones) to cover events as well or better at a negligible cost in comparison.
  • Fake news is not new. The film describes New York Times reporter useful idiot Walter Duranty’s lies about the Soviet Union and, in particular, about the Holodomor. “The biggest headcount [bodycount] for fake news is Communism.” There’s a similar, more recent example from NBC News about North Korea.
  • The term “fake news” gained popularity in the immediate wake of the 2016 election, promoted by the MSM (see graph below), but immediately successfully turned against them by Trump.

The film is well made, with high production values. It is engaging, not a boring recitation of facts. As documentaries go, this is an exciting one. Highly recommended.

Google searches for fake news
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“Green New Deal”

Alexandria Occasional-CortexRepresentative Alexandria Occasional-Cortex has been prattling on for some time about a “Green New Deal”.  Today she, along with Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, introduced a bill [PDF] (not yet assigned a number), for a House Resolution “Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal”.  Accompanying the resolution is a Frequently Asked Questions [PDF] document.

These, particularly the FAQ, are hilarious.  The House Resolution is basically a statement of goals without any details about how they are to be achieved.  The FAQ goes a tiny bit deeper into the nitty gritty (or, more precisely, the fanatic fantasy) of what is intended.  At least you can’t fault it for not being ambitious.

Upgrade or replace every building in US for state-of-the-art energy efficiency.

Every.  Building.  In.  America.  In ten years.  Well, at least a sense of realism creeps in elsewhere.

We set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast, but we think we can ramp up renewable manufacturing and power production, retrofit every building in America, build the smart grid, overhaul transportation and agriculture, plant lots of trees and restore our ecosystem to get to net-zero.

So we won’t be able to entirely eliminate cows and airplanes in the First Glorious Ten Year Plan.  Perhaps, comrade, in the Second.

About those airplanes:

Totally overhaul transportation by massively expanding electric vehicle manufacturing, build charging stations everywhere, build out highspeed rail at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary, create affordable public transit available to all, with goal to replace every combustion-engine vehicle.

“Air travel stops becoming necessary.”  That’s for you, prole, not the ruling class.  And what about intercontinental travel?  A transatlantic tunnel, hurrah!

How is all of this going to be paid for?

The same way we paid for the New Deal, the 2008 bank bailout and extended quantitative easing programs. The same way we paid for World War II and all our current wars. The Federal Reserve can extend credit to power these projects and investments and new public banks can be created to extend credit. There is also space for the government to take an equity stake in projects to get a return on investment. At the end of the day, this is an investment in our economy that should grow our wealth as a nation, so the question isn’t how will we pay for it, but what will we do with our new shared prosperity.

So, printing money.  Hey, it worked for Venezuela, didn’t it?

But after all:

• Americans love a challenge. This is our moonshot.
o When JFK said we’d go to the by the end of the decade, people said impossible.

Darned if we didn’t go the by the end of the decade!

Read the whole thing.  It’s a laugh riot.

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Chaos in the Old Dominion

 

 

 

 

 

 

For those of you not living in the beautiful Old Dominion, Virginia, the Mother of Presidents, the whirlwind of activity might be a little confusing. For those of us from here, it’s been a hoot watching the Democrat party go full-on ouroboros.

First some Virginia jargon: we don’t refer to our “state”, but rather to our “Commonwealth”. We know it makes us sound highfalutin, but you wouldn’t have a nation without Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Patrick Henry, etc so we’re entitled. Our legislature is called the General Assembly, and it’s bicameral being comprised of the House of Delegates and the Senate of Virginia. The order of succession is Governor, Lt Governor, Attorney General, Speaker of the House of Delegates, whoever the House of Delegates appoints.

Let’s go through a timeline of the last week, but first a quick detour. A little over a year ago, I wrote a few posts here about a hotly contested House of Delegates election. That one race determined who was in charge in the House, and it was decided for the Republican by drawing a name out a bowl. Because of that, Kirk Cox (R), is Speaker of the House of Delegates. Keep this tucked away in your head because we’ll come back to it.

  • Last week, Kathy Tran put forward a bill in committee that would have allowed abortion up til the moment of birth. In the following days Governor Ralph Northam defended it, going so far as to describe scenarios where the child would actually be delivered, and then it would be decided whether to kill the baby or not.
  • Sickened by Northam’s pro-infanticide comments, one of his former classmates notified news outlets of Northam’s medical school yearbook which contained Northam’s personal page which included a photo of a man in blackface standing with a man in KKK garb. Considering all of the other photos on the page are of Northam, it is presumably him as one of the two in the photo. His VMI yearbook surfaced that evening listing his nickname as “Coonman”. It was then recalled that he had twice refused to shake EW Jackson’s hand (his black GOP opponent) during a televised debate six years ago when Northam ran for Lt Gov. He also excluded Justin Fairfax (his black Lt Gov running mate) from a campaign flier while including Mark Herring (his white Atty Gen running mate) at the request of a union sponsoring the flier.
  • Friday evening, Northam apologized for having been in the photo. Saturday he decided that he wasn’t in the photo. Inexplicably, his defense was not that he had never been in blackface. Rather, his defense was when he had been in blackface, it was at a different party. He claims he had dressed up as Michael Jackson (which if he had waited a few years wouldn’t have required blackface, ironically). He was asked by a reporter if he could moonwalk and nearly did so until his wife stepped in and prevented him from becoming the meme of the century.
  • As people begin to talk resignation, Lt Gov Justin Fairfax’ name begins to be discussed. Seeing him get national attention, a woman accuses him of sexual assault. It turns out this isn’t a new allegation, but it was buried before because he’s a black Democrat and only white Republicans get articles on them in the Washington Post based on accusations. Fairfax at first denies it, then the next day he changes his story and says it was consensual. Then he goes full paranoid and accuses Northam’s camp of leaking the story to prevent him from succeeding Northam. He backs off this claim and instead blames the mayor of Richmond who is seen as a rival to Fairfax for the 2021 Governor’s race. He has not yet blamed Trump or Russians.
  • With both top spots in jeopardy, Attorney General Mark Herring calls on Northam to resign…and then comes out today and admits he, too, dressed up as a black man while in college. Now, when I hear “blackface” I think specifically of minstrel show caricatures with literal black faces and painted on white/red lips. However, since the Left is calling the shots now, I’ll be generous and say Herring also wore blackface even though technically he dressed as a rapper and wore brown makeup, not the stereotypical blackface garb. Ironically, Shaun King (aka Talcum X) is mortified at all of the guys in blackface because they’ve put more effort into it than he’s put into the last few years pretending to be a black man without bothering with makeup.

Should the Governor, Lt Governor, and Atty General all resign, that would leave Speaker Cox as Governor. Personally, I think Northam may be stubborn enough to not resign, and there appears to be little that could be done to make him since he’s done nothing illegal or impeachable in office. If anything, I could see Herring resigning, Northam appointing a Democrat replacement, and then resigning to ensure a Democrat remains Governor. I don’t know how that would fly with the GOP controlling both Houses of the General Assembly. We’d probably be looking at even more chaos and politicking. But it’s conceivable that an election decided by drawing a name from a bowl coupled with Democrat hubris in pushing for unrestricted abortion and infanticide result in the Democrat leadership being wiped out and a Republican being installed as Governor. God moves in mysterious ways.

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SOTU: What Trump Should Say (but Won’t)

From Dan Calabrese at the Western Journal:

I don’t know why you’re applauding. Three-quarters of you hate me and half of you admit it.

Not that I came here to make you love me – I knew that wouldn’t happen – but you know it’s funny: You all get so upset with me for what I say on Twitter, but you talk the same way when you don’t think anyone is listening. I may be crude and I may be uncouth, but putting on a show that you’re any different stopped fooling people a long time ago. That’s why the voters didn’t listen to you when you told them Hillary was presidential and I wasn’t.

But no matter. I won, she lost, I’m here, she’s not, and you’re stuck with me.

Oh. Right. I’m stuck with you too. And I guess that’s why we’re here tonight. The Constitution says I have to report to you on the State of the Union. It doesn’t say you have to listen, which is probably why Justice Ginsburg is nodding off already, but there are some things you and the American people need to know. You’re going to run over to CNN when this is over and tell them my entire speech was “outrageous” or “fear mongering” or whatever, so I’m going to make sure now that they hear it directly from me.

Read the whole thing….

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Gov. Ralph Northam

I have to admit I enjoy when people who trash people get trashed. Ralph Northam was vicious against Ed Gillespie. Now he is reaping what he sowed.

The Left doesn’t quite get it. They are putting in rules that are more apt to destroy them than the Right. They have walk-in closets full of skeletons.

Personally, I could careless if someone for fun dresses up for a party. No big deal. It is a sight gag and not what is in their heart.

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Saturday Night Science: At Our Wits’ End

“At Our Wits' End” by Edward Dutton and Michael Woodley of MenieDuring the Great Depression, the Empire State Building was built, from the beginning of foundation excavation to official opening, in 410 days (less than 14 months). After the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001, design and construction of its replacement, the new One World Trade Center was completed on November 3, 2014, 4801 days (160 months) later.

In the 1960s, from U.S. president Kennedy’s proposal of a manned lunar mission to the landing of Apollo 11 on the Moon, 2978 days (almost 100 months) elapsed. In January, 2004, U.S. president Bush announced the “Vision for Space Exploration”, aimed at a human return to the lunar surface by 2020. After a comical series of studies, revisions, cancellations, de-scopings, redesigns, schedule slips, and cost overruns, its successor now plans to launch a lunar flyby mission (not even a lunar orbit like Apollo 8) in June 2022, 224 months later. A lunar landing is planned for no sooner than 2028, almost 300 months after the “vision”, and almost nobody believes that date (the landing craft design has not yet begun, and there is no funding for it in the budget).

Wherever you look: junk science, universities corrupted with bogus “studies” departments, politicians peddling discredited nostrums a moment’s critical thinking reveals to be folly, an economy built upon an ever-increasing tower of debt that nobody really believes is ever going to be paid off, and the dearth of major, genuine innovations (as opposed to incremental refinement of existing technologies, as has driven the computing, communications, and information technology industries) in every field: science, technology, public policy, and the arts, it often seems like the world is getting dumber. What if it really is?

That is the thesis explored by this insightful book, which is packed with enough “hate facts” to detonate the head of any bien pensant academic or politician. I define a “hate fact” as something which is indisputably true, well-documented by evidence in the literature, which has not been contradicted, but the citation of which is considered “hateful” and can unleash outrage mobs upon anyone so foolish as to utter the fact in public and be a career-limiting move for those employed in Social Justice Warrior-converged organisations. (An example of a hate fact, unrelated to the topic of this book, is the FBI violent crime statistics broken down by the race of the criminal and victim. Nobody disputes the accuracy of this information or the methodology by which it is collected, but woe betide anyone so foolish as to cite the data or draw the obvious conclusions from it.)

In April 2004 I made my own foray into the question of declining intelligence in “Global IQ: 1950–2050” in which I combined estimates of the mean IQ of countries with census data and forecasts of population growth to estimate global mean IQ for a century starting at 1950. Assuming the mean IQ of countries remains constant (which is optimistic, since part of the population growth in high IQ countries with low fertility rates is due to migration from countries with lower IQ), I found that global mean IQ, which was 91.64 for a population of 2.55 billion in 1950, declined to 89.20 for the 6.07 billion alive in 2000, and was expected to fall to 86.32 for the 9.06 billion population forecast for 2050. This is mostly due to the explosive population growth forecast for Sub-Saharan Africa, where many of the populations with low IQ reside.

World population by continent: 1950–2100

This is a particularly dismaying prospect, because there is no evidence for sustained consensual self-government in nations with a mean IQ less than 90.

But while I was examining global trends assuming national IQ remains constant, in the present book the authors explore the provocative question of whether the population of today’s developed nations is becoming dumber due to the inexorable action of natural selection on whatever genes determine intelligence. The argument is relatively simple, but based upon a number of pillars, each of which is a “hate fact”, although non-controversial among those who study these matters in detail.

  1. There is a factor, “general intelligence” or g, which measures the ability to solve a wide variety of mental problems, and this factor, measured by IQ tests, is largely stable across an individual’s life.
  2. Intelligence, as measured by IQ tests, is, like height, in part heritable. The heritability of IQ is estimated at around 80%, which means that 80% of children’s IQ can be estimated from that of their parents, and 20% is due to other factors.
  3. IQ correlates positively with factors contributing to success in society. The correlation with performance in education is 0.7, with highest educational level completed 0.5, and with salary 0.3.
  4. In Europe, between 1400 and around 1850, the wealthier half of the population had more children who survived to adulthood than the poorer half.
  5. Because IQ correlates with social success, that portion of the population which was more intelligent produced more offspring.
  6. Just as in selective breeding of animals by selecting those with a desired trait for mating, this resulted in a population whose average IQ increased (slowly) from generation to generation over this half-millennium.

The gradually rising IQ of the population resulted in a growing standard of living as knowledge and inventions accumulated due to the efforts of those with greater intelligence over time. In particular, even a relatively small increase in the mean IQ of a population makes an enormous difference in the tiny fraction of people with “genius level” IQ who are responsible for many of the significant breakthroughs in all forms of human intellectual endeavour. If we consider an IQ of 145 as genius level, in a population of a million with a mean IQ of 100, one in 741 people will have an IQ of 145 or above, so there will be around 1350 people with such an IQ. But if the population’s mean IQ is 95, just five points lower, only one in 2331 people will have a genius level IQ, and there will be just 429 potential geniuses in the population of a million. In a population of a million with a mean IQ of 90, there will be just 123 potential geniuses.

(Some technical details are in order. A high IQ [generally 125 or above] appears to be a necessary condition for genius-level achievement, but it is insufficient by itself. Those who produce feats of genius usually combine high intelligence with persistence, ambition, often a single-minded focus on a task, and usually require an environment which allows them to acquire the knowledge and intellectual tools required to apply their talent. But since a high IQ is a requirement, the mean IQ determines what fraction of the population are potential geniuses; other factors such as the society’s educational institutions, resources such as libraries, and wealth which allows some people to concentrate on intellectual endeavours instead of manual labour, contribute to how many actual works of genius will be produced. The mean IQ of most Western industrial nations is around 100, and the standard deviation of IQ is normalised to be 15. Using this information you can perform calculations such as those in the previous paragraph using Fourmilab’s z Score Calculator, as explained in my Introduction to Probability and Statistics.)

Of the pillars of the argument listed above, items 1 through 3 are noncontroversial except by those who deny the existence of general intelligence entirely or the ability of IQ tests to measure it. The authors present the large body of highly persuasive evidence in favour of those items in a form accessible to the non-specialist. If you reject that evidence, then you needn’t consider the rest of the argument.

Item 4, the assertion that wealthier families had more children survive to adulthood, is substantiated by a variety of research, much of it done in England, where recorded wills and church records of baptisms and deaths provide centuries of demographic data. One study, for example, examining wills filed between 1585 and 1638 in Suffolk and Essex found that the richer half of estates (determined by the bequests in the wills) had almost twice as many children named in wills compared to the poorer half. An investigation of records in Norfolk covering the years 1500 to 1630 found an average of four children for middle class families as opposed to two for the lower class. Another, covering Saxony in Germany between 1547 and 1671, found the middle class had an average of 3.4 children who survived to become married, while the working class had just 1.6. This differential fertility seems, in conjunction with item 5, the known correlation between intelligence and social success, to make plausible that a process of selection for intelligence was going on, and probably had been for centuries. (Records are sparse before the 17th century, so detailed research for that period is difficult.)

Another form of selection got underway as the middle ages gave way to the early modern period around the year 1500 in Europe. While in medieval times criminals were rarely executed due to opposition by the Church, by the early modern era almost all felonies received the death penalty. This had the effect of “culling the herd” of its most violent members who, being predominantly young, male, and of low intelligence, would often be removed from the breeding population before fathering any children. To the extent that the propensity to violent crime is heritable (which seems plausible, as almost all human characteristics are heritable to one degree or another), this would have “domesticated” the European human population and contributed to the well-documented dramatic drop in the murder rate in this period. It would have also selected out those of low intelligence, who are prone to violent crime. Further, in England, there was a provision called “Benefit of Clergy” where those who could demonstrate literacy could escape the hangman. This was another selection for intelligence.

If intelligence was gradually increasing in Europe from the middle ages through the time of the Industrial Revolution, can we find evidence of this in history? Obviously, we don’t have IQ tests from that period, but there are other suggestive indications. Intelligent people have lower time preference: they are willing to defer immediate gratification for a reward in the future. The rate of interest on borrowed money is a measure of a society’s overall time preference. Data covering the period from 1150 through 1950 found that interest rates had declined over the entire time, from over 10% in the year 1200 to around 5% in the 1800s. This is consistent with an increase in intelligence.

Literacy correlates with intelligence, and records from marriage registers and court documents show continually growing literacy from 1580 through 1920. In the latter part of this period, the introduction of government schools contributed to much of the increase, but in early years it may reflect growing intelligence.

A population with growing intelligence should produce more geniuses who make contributions which are recorded in history. In a 2005 study, American physicist Jonathan Huebner compiled a list of 8,583 significant events in the history of science and technology from the Stone Age through 2004. He found that, after adjusting for the total population of the time, the rate of innovation per capita had quadrupled between 1450 and 1870. Independently, Charles Murray’s 2003 book Human Accomplishment found that the rate of innovation and the appearance of the figures who created them increased from the Middle Ages through the 1870s.

The authors contend that a growing population with increasing mean intelligence eventually reached a critical mass which led to the industrial revolution, due to a sufficiently large number of genius intellects alive at the same time and an intelligent workforce who could perform the jobs needed to build and operate the new machines. This created unprecedented prosperity and dramatically increased the standard of living throughout the society.

And then an interesting thing happened. It’s called the “demographic transition”, and it’s been observed in country after country as it develops from a rural, agrarian economy to an urban, industrial society. Pre-industrial societies are characterised by a high birth rate, a high rate of infant and childhood mortality, and a stable or very slowly growing population. Families have many children in the hope of having a few survive to adulthood to care for them in old age and pass on their parents’ genes. It is in this phase that the intense selection pressure obtains: the better-off and presumably more intelligent parents will have more children survive to adulthood.

Once industrialisation begins, it is usually accompanied by public health measures, better sanitation, improved access to medical care, and the introduction of innovations such as vaccination, antiseptics, and surgery with anæsthesia. This results in a dramatic fall in the mortality rate for the young, larger families, and an immediate bulge in the population. As social welfare benefits are extended to reach the poor through benefits from employers, charity, or government services, this occurs more broadly across social classes, reducing the disparity in family sizes among the rich and poor.

Eventually, parents begin to see the advantage of smaller families now that they can be confident their offspring have a high probability of surviving to adulthood. This is particularly the case for the better-off, as they realise their progeny will gain an advantage by splitting their inheritance fewer ways and in receiving the better education a family can afford for fewer children. This results in a decline in the birth rate, which eventually reaches the replacement rate (or below), where it comes into line with the death rate.

But what does this do to the selection for intelligence from which humans have been benefitting for centuries? It ends it, and eventually puts it into reverse. In country after country, the better educated and well-off (both correlates of intelligence) have fewer children than the less intelligent. This is easy to understand: in the prime child-bearing years they tend to be occupied with their education and starting a career. They marry later, have children (if at all) at an older age, and due to the female biological clock, have fewer kids even if they desire more. They also use contraception to plan their families and tend to defer having children until the “right time”, which sometimes never comes.

Meanwhile, the less intelligent, who in the modern welfare state are often clients on the public dole, who have less impulse control, high time preference, and when they use contraception often do so improperly resulting in unplanned pregnancies, have more children. They start earlier, don’t bother with getting married (as the stigma of single motherhood has largely been eliminated), and rely upon the state to feed, house, educate, and eventually imprison their progeny. This sad reality was hilariously mocked in the introduction to the 2006 film Idiocracy.

While this makes for a funny movie, if the population is really getting dumber, it will have profound implications for the future. There will not just be a falling general level of intelligence but far fewer of the genius-level intellects who drive innovation in science, the arts, and the economy. Further, societies which reach the point where this decline sets in well before others that have industrialised more recently will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage across the board. (U.S. and Europe, I’m talking about China, Korea, and [to a lesser extent] Japan.)

If you’ve followed the intelligence issue, about now you probably have steam coming out your ears waiting to ask, “But what about the Flynn effect?” IQ tests are usually “normed” to preserve the same mean and standard deviation (100 and 15 in the U.S. and Britain) over the years. James Flynn discovered that, in fact, measured by standardised tests which were not re-normed, measured IQ had rapidly increased in the 20th century in many countries around the world. The increases were sometimes breathtaking: on the standardised Raven’s Progressive Matrices test (a nonverbal test considered to have little cultural bias), the scores of British schoolchildren increased by 14 IQ points—almost a full standard deviation—between 1942 and 2008. In the U.S., IQ scores seemed to be rising by around three points per decade, which would imply that people a hundred years ago were two standard deviations more stupid that those today, at the threshold of retardation. The slightest grasp of history (which, sadly many people today lack) will show how absurd such a supposition is.

What’s going on, then? The authors join James Flynn in concluding that what we’re seeing is an increase in the population’s proficiency in taking IQ tests, not an actual increase in general intelligence (g). Over time, children are exposed to more and more standardised tests and tasks which require the skills tested by IQ tests and, if practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes better, and with more exposure to media of all kinds, skills of memorisation, manipulation of symbols, and spatial perception will increase. These are correlates of g which IQ tests measure, but what we’re seeing may be specific skills which do not correlate with g itself. If this be the case, then eventually we should see the overall decline in general intelligence overtake the Flynn effect and result in a downturn in IQ scores. And this is precisely what appears to be happening.

Norway, Sweden, and Finland have almost universal male military service and give conscripts a standardised IQ test when they report for training. This provides a large database, starting in 1950, of men in these countries, updated yearly. What is seen is an increase in IQ as expected from the Flynn effect from the start of the records in 1950 through 1997, when the scores topped out and began to decline. In Norway, the decline since 1997 was 0.38 points per decade, while in Denmark it was 2.7 points per decade. Similar declines have been seen in Britain, France, the Netherlands, and Australia. (Note that this decline may be due to causes other than decreasing intelligence of the original population. Immigration from lower-IQ countries will also contribute to decreases in the mean score of the cohorts tested. But the consequences for countries with falling IQ may be the same regardless of the cause.)

There are other correlates of general intelligence which have little of the cultural bias of which some accuse IQ tests. They are largely based upon the assumption that g is something akin to the CPU clock speed of a computer: the ability of the brain to perform basic tasks. These include simple reaction time (how quickly can you push a button, for example, when a light comes on), the ability to discriminate among similar colours, the use of uncommon words, and the ability to repeat a sequence of digits in reverse order. All of these measures (albeit often from very sparse data sets) are consistent with increasing general intelligence in Europe up to some time in the 19th century and a decline ever since.

If this is true, what does it mean for our civilisation? The authors contend that there is an inevitable cycle in the rise and fall of civilisations which has been seen many times in history. A society starts out with a low standard of living, high birth and death rates, and strong selection for intelligence. This increases the mean general intelligence of the population and, much faster, the fraction of genius level intellects. These contribute to a growth in the standard of living in the society, better conditions for the poor, and eventually a degree of prosperity which reduces the infant and childhood death rate. Eventually, the birth rate falls, starting with the more intelligent and better off portion of the population. The birth rate falls to or below replacement, with a higher fraction of births now from less intelligent parents. Mean IQ and the fraction of geniuses falls, the society falls into stagnation and decline, and usually ends up being conquered or supplanted by a younger civilisation still on the rising part of the intelligence curve. They argue that this pattern can be seen in the histories of Rome, Islamic civilisation, and classical China.

And for the West—are we doomed to idiocracy? Well, there may be some possible escapes or technological fixes. We may discover the collection of genes responsible for the hereditary transmission of intelligence and develop interventions to select for them in the population. (Think this crosses the “ick factor”? What parent would look askance at a pill which gave their child an IQ boost of 15 points? What government wouldn’t make these pills available to all their citizens purely on the basis of international competitiveness?) We may send some tiny fraction of our population to Mars, space habitats, or other challenging environments where they will be re-subjected to intense selection for intelligence and breed a successor society (doubtless very different from our own) which will start again at the beginning of the eternal cycle. We may have a religious revival (they happen when you least expect them), which puts an end to the cult of pessimism, decline, and death and restores belief in large families and, with it, the selection for intelligence. (Some may look at Joseph Smith as a prototype of this, but so far the impact of his religion has been on the margins outside areas where believers congregate.) Perhaps some of our increasingly sparse population of geniuses will figure out artificial general intelligence and our mind children will slip the surly bonds of biology and its tedious eternal return to stupidity. We might embrace the decline but vow to preserve everything we’ve learned as a bequest to our successors: stored in multiple locations in ways the next Enlightenment centuries hence can build upon, just as scholars in the Renaissance rediscovered the works of the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Or, maybe we won’t. In which case, “Winter has come and it’s only going to get colder. Wrap up warm.”

Dutton, Edward and Michael A. Woodley of Menie. At Our Wits’ End. Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic, 2018. ISBN 978-1-84540-985-2.

Here is a James Delingpole interview of the authors and discussion of the book.

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It Isn’t the Cloud: It’s Somebody Else’s Computer

Google+ was launched in June 2011.  It was Google’s response to the rapid growth of Facebook and other social networks.  Just two weeks after its launch, 10 million users had joined.  By October 2013, 540 million users accessed one or more Google+ features.  People created text, images, uploaded images and media, and interacted on the network.  All of these data were stored on Google’s servers.

On October 8, 2018, Google announced that Google+ would be terminated in August 2019.   Subsequently, the shut-down date was moved up to April 2019.  This was due in part to a massive data breach discovered in the spring of 2018 which disclosed the personal data of 52.5 million users.  This was covered up by Google “due to fears of increased regulatory scrutiny”.  According to the October 2018 announcement, 90% of user sessions on Google+ lasted less than five seconds.

Here is the announcement of the shutdown sent to Google’s G Suite customers (which include mail for ratburger.org).  This will not affect ratburger.org’s mail, as we are a paying enterprise customer, not a user of the “consumer” product which is being terminated.

All data uploaded by users of Google+ will be deleted starting as early as April 2, 2019.  Users who do not export their data prior this deletion will permanently lose anything they’ve uploaded there.

There is no “cloud”.  When you hear “cloud”, think “somebody else’s computer”.  When “somebody else” decides storing your data is no longer worth doing, it’s gone.  It’s only your data if it’s in your own personal physical possession, ideally with multiple backup copies on archival media with long-term retention.

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