Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Most Football Managers Don't Make Much Difference, You Know!


I noticed some Liverpool fans in a sports forum eagerly anticipating next season under new manager Jurgen Klopp. They were hopeful that the Klopp-factor would bring success where other managers had failed. I’m afraid I was a Cassandra figure who pointed out to them that in all likelihood Klopp’s arrival won’t make much difference to Liverpool’s success, because managers generally don’t have much of a bearing on a team’s success (for more data on this, Google the studies done by the Dutch economist Dr Bas ter Weel). Notable exceptions in Premier League history are probably Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho, which is interesting given that one has retired, one is under constant pressure to be sacked and the other was actually sacked earlier in the season.

I'm sure anyone vaguely interested in football will recall times when a new manager comes in and apparently works his magic, supposedly turning things around for the better. It happened at Manchester City with the arrival of Roberto Mancini, and it's happening now at Chelsea with the arrival of Gus Hiddink. It's certainly true that some new managers have a honeymoon period on arrival, but I think they are rarer than you imagine. And even when they do occur, something else is actually happening - something more to do with probability than magic managers, as I'll explain.

In simple terms, if you're a team doing worse than expected, the chances are you are soon going to improve, irrespective of whether you sack the current manager or not. For the best example of this, take Chelsea, the club most notorious for sacking managers halfway through a season. A quick check on Chelsea’s results since the year 2000 shows that they average 1.7 points per game. As you’d expect, if you take Jose Mourinho’s bad string of results this season they fall a bit below the average, whereas if you take Gus Hiddink’s (the manager who replaced him), they rise a bit above the average.

Mourinho was sacked due to a poor run of results, but even if we overlook the most important fact – that Mourinho is a world class manager with a proven track record of success – had he not have been sacked and replaced by Hiddink one would have expected his next set of results to be better than the last. This is called the regression to the mean. If you a measure a series of results (say Mourninho’s) and they are lower than Chelsea’s average then it is expected that measuring the next series of results should see them tend closer to the average. In other words, Hiddink's relative success is about his being the beneficiary of regressing to the mean after Mourinho’s poor run of results – it is highly unlikely that his arrival had any major overall effect on performance, save for the inevitable short-term ‘work hard to impress the new manager’ phenomenon which lasts no more than about 3 games.

Given that most managers don’t have much of a bearing on a team’s performance, sacking them is obviously a costly exercise. Not only is there the expense of paying off the sacked manager, and the extra expense of employing a new one, there is also additional expense as new managers inevitably want to be given a spending pot in order to sign new players and build their new team with players they've bought.

If this is so costly, why then do football clubs sack their managers with such regularity? The obvious reason is that sacked managers are an ideal scapegoat, which gives everyone someone to blame for the failures, and it gives the fans renewed optimism (albeit false optimism) after a slump. The truth is, in most cases there is little to be optimistic about when a new manager comes in, as most won't make much of a difference to your team's results, and will, in fact, probably cost a lot more than the overall value they bring.  

Monday, 28 March 2016

The Big Question About Future Intelligence


Science fiction is largely about ideas, which means good science fiction is about good ideas. For this reason there aren't many really terrific science fiction films made, because there aren't that many real science fiction films. For every 2001: A Space Odyssey, there are countless sci-fi-flavoured yarns that serve as okay entertainment, but are not what one would call good expositions of ideas.
 
Given that it's such a compelling subject, both scientifically and philosophically, some of the best science fiction films I've seen have been about artificial intelligence (AI), and the relationship between humankind and machines. The first two Terminator films and Spike Jonze's Her are prime examples, as is Ex Machina, which I saw very recently and thoroughly enjoyed.
 
Ex Machina tells the story of a young programmer who is selected to lodge in the abode of AI designer Nathan, and participate in the evaluation of potential human qualities in one of his created androids to see if she passes the Turing test (that is, exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human). For fear of a movie spoiler, I won't say any more about the plot - but if you haven't seen it, I thoroughly recommend you do.
 
There is, though, one big question that I think the movie gets wrong. In one scene Nathan tells us how he sees human history as one tiny passage of time on a lengthy and complex evolution of mind, informing us that, in his view, artificial intelligence is the future intelligence that's going to live far beyond the human intelligence that created them:
 
"One day the AIs are going to look back on us the same way we look at fossil skeletons on the plains of Africa. An upright ape living in dust with crude language and tools, all set for extinction."
 
I doubt this very much. This view seems to be a projected future based on the reality of the past. It's easy to see why. Think back to a few hundred thousand years ago, and consider those primeval grunts from our ancestors as they began to make sense of their surroundings. They never could have imagined that those inceptive primate sounds would one day evolve into the entire world of languages, literature, poetry, philosophy, science and technology that we have today. And just as Lord Of The Rings, the Manhattan skyline, space travel and the Hadron Collider would have been far beyond the imaginative precipitations of our primeval ancestors, so too is much of humanity's future evolution beyond us today.
 
But whatever form the evolution of mind takes, it won't be 'us' as thinking beings that is all set for extinction, because the most important thing that survives is the cognita (and its representation) on which any future technology is based. The human mind is the most sophisticated aggregation of matter in the entire universe (that we know of), and as such, it seems to me that machines we create cannot be any more intellectually sophisticated than the minds that create them (just as machines cannot be more wicked than the wickedness of the minds that create them). That's obviously not to deny that we can create machines that are more sophisticated than us at tasks, and computers that can undertake tasks in execution time at far more advanced levels than us, because clearly we can.
 
We are picking up pace in this modern age as we reach new heights and new depths in shorter passages of time. My prediction is we'll one day evolve into creatures of pure thought, that require no monetary currency, no food or drink, probably even no heart, lungs, hands and feet. Our cognition probably will be sustained by software far beyond our present imagination. But I very much doubt it's ever going to be the case that the AI we create is going to assume dominion of its own to the extent that it becomes the supreme species at the expense of the sophistication of the human mind and its proposed extinction.
 
I believe that humans will always be implicitly involved in the evolution process of our own cognita, to enable us to retain a co-operative with any machines we create, however advanced, and however powerful. We are not going to create anything that, by comparison, turns us into the proverbial "upright apes living in dust with crude language and tools, all set for extinction", because all future innovation and advancement is itself going to be part of the evolutionary process of the human mind, not distinct from it in a way that we'd allow to threaten the existence of the minds that engendered it.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

The News You Lose Is The News You Don't Choose



The above image is a meme doing the rounds. Personally, the most obvious response I have is that for evolutionary reasons that served us well in our ancestry, we humans are primed to have a greater interest in certain groups over others, whether that's caring more about family and friends than strangers, caring more about whether burglaries are rife in your neighbourhood than a neighbourhood 250 miles away, or paying more attention to terrorist events relative to geographical proximity - there's no reason to be surprised that this is what happens. Strong and weak ties are in our DNA.


The other perhaps slightly less obvious factor is that whether we like it or not, the media is driven by human feeling and viewpoints far more than it drives them - it reflects the interests of the demographic to whom it is trying to sell its news stories. This means that, for good or for bad (and I personally think for bad a lot of the time), they are less likely to feature a news story on a terrorist attack in the Ivory Coast or Somalia if they can't in some way connect it to the perceived interests of their demographic. Instead they will too often opt for news stories that involve more local interests at the expense of what their readers deem to be less important or too distant news.

As much as I wish it weren't the case, the often toxic co-dependency between media provider and the public is not too dissimilar to the one between politicians and the electorate that votes them in - it is bound to lead to sub-standard results. We have so many misjudged members of the public that demand their wishes and views are represented by politicians. As Bastiat pre-empted in his great 'seen and unseen' essay, most people only have (or allow themselves) enough intellectual wherewithal to focus on how things affect an easily identifiable group, rather than how things affect all groups. 

Consequently, then, the selection pressure for politicians to be socially, politically and economically astute is diminished by their knowledge of the electorate's lack of astuteness in these areas. The same can be said for the media - the selection pressure on how they inform their consumers is largely driven by the consumers themselves. The antidote to any of the ethnocentrism and parochialism that exists as conveyed in the above image is to be discerning about where one gets one's news. There are plenty of media outlets that are more likely to ensure they cover a terrorist attack in the Ivory Coast or Somalia at the expense of news items about who won the Brit Awards and whose wife John Terry is currently shagging.

As this blog title alliteratively suggests: the news you lose is the news you don't choose, which is another way of saying that the quality of information you receive is roughly commensurate with the quality of the search, and the extent to which you care about other human beings irrespective of ethnicity, skin colour and geography.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Why We Don’t Get Many Decent Politicians



Considering that in the shape of the shadow Labour cabinet they have only an economic laughing stock as opposition at the moment, it's odd to see the Conservatives in such a shambles, what with the EU party divisions, Iain Duncan Smith's resignation over the disability cuts, and the fact that the chancellor George Osborne is really little more than a crypto-socialist awaiting his chance to be at the helm of the party in the public relations role of Prime Minister. When the opposition is so weak, it speaks poorly of the Tories that they appear so weak as well. Perhaps they think they can afford to be complacent.

But I wonder if the problem runs deeper. When it comes to listening to many of our politicians, I'm afraid often the primary thing the public has to consider is whether their rhetoric is the result of incompetence or dishonesty. I have to confess, sometimes I genuinely don't know. Take the minimum wage, which as I've shown before repeatedly in numerous past Blog posts lacks so much pull that it couldn't even shift the skin off a rice pudding. The number of politicians who call for its endorsement and incremental increase is astounding. Whether it's on Newsnight, Question Time, The Big Questions or Free Speech, you'll find they are all at it. And not just the minimum wage - price freezes, artificial protection of British industry through subsidies or bailouts - all of these things over which the State has far less control than the public realises. 

It's hard for anyone to believe that Oxbridge educated people don't know the erroneousness of their claims, so I must assume that they are simply telling lies that they know will make them popular. But they are rarely outright lies, of course - more akin to manipulative language that speaks a half-truth but is in actual fact half-empty too, making it frequently beyond the scope of the political influence that is being claimed.

Because politicians have to win votes they have to tell the public what they want to hear. They must also make claims they cannot justify - that they will create jobs (with additional value, that is), reduce unemployment, oversee growth in the economy, etc, - which means promising to do things over which they know full well they have much less influence than the public imagines.

But assumedly not all politicians are duplicitous opportunists; there are no doubt some that mean well and have genuinely good intentions. Yet most of the ones that mean well also come out with this same absurd rhetoric too - it's pretty contagious in Westminster. This leads me to think that the ones that mean well have actually been taken in by the rhetoric of those around them and those that preceded them, and the ones that don't mean well are just simply good actors who have simply perfected the art of deceiving. Given the foregoing, I think politicians can be divided roughly into two groups.

GROUP 1: Those that know much of their rhetoric is nonsense but are good at deceiving enough people to get away with it.

GROUP 2: Those that really do mean well and have noble intentions but are actually unwise enough to believe some of the things they say.

Let's call group 1 the Snakes and group 2 the Puppies.

What we long for are politicians who are well meaning with good intentions, but also smart enough to be able to see through the rhetoric and say a few candid things, bringing some refreshing wisdom as they do so. But consider what being in such surroundings would do to such a person - they would see clearly enough to all-but lose faith in the political circus, and perhaps lose a little bit of faith in humanity too. Even if we had a few rare gems, they would be the exception - and they would be swamped by the majority of Snakes and Puppies that outnumbered them.

These rarities sound like they'd be a breath of fresh air - but, alas, the truth is, the political system, coupled with the toxic relationship of co-dependency the politicians and the electorate have with each other, is not a system that is set up for truthful and candid expositions. Most of the electorate just aren't ready to digest the fact that economies, labour, house-prices, wages, supply and demand are largely beyond the control of the government (save for a few light and necessary regulations) - which means they also aren't ready to accept that a lot of the government involvement is not going to be well-informed or successful.


EDIT TO ADD: I briefly alluded to the toxic co-dependency between politicians and the electorate that votes them in - I think it's another factor as to why we have so many misjudged politicians; we have so many misjudged members of the public that demand their wishes and views are represented by politicians. Moreover, economics is about the most misunderstood subject around, largely because, as Bastiat pre-empted in his great seen and unseen essay, most people only have (or allow themselves) enough intellectual wherewithal to focus on how things affect an easily identifiable group, rather than how to affects all groups. Consequently, then, the selection pressure for politicians to be economically astute is diminished by their knowledge of the electorate's lack of astuteness.  
 
 

 
* Photo courtesy of The Guardian

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

A Strange Argument About Whether Prison Is A Deterrent


Some of you may be interested in my response to an IEA writer’s peculiar argument for why Prisons do not act as a deterrent to crime. Some of you may not. 

I have to take issue with the claim that “Prisons do not act as a deterrent to crime”. There is a small group for whom that is the case – and that group is the recidivists who, as you say, have a high re-offending rate, and are being sub-optimally helped by the prison system. But saying that prison isn't fit for purpose because of high re-offending rates is an absurd complaint, and a peculiar error of reasoning. It's a bit like complaining that sea defences aren't fit for purpose because occasionally there are extreme coastal conditions that break those barriers.

It would be good if the sea defences prevented all flooding, but their primary job is to protect the land from the ordinary thrust of the sea on a daily basis. Similarly, prison's primary function is to reduce offending (by deterrence and by keeping criminals out of society), not re-offending. If it reduces re-offending then all well and good, but that is not its primary function. It's preposterous to consider whether prison is fit for purpose by only considering the recidivism rates. It's as preposterous as considering how many men in the UK take steroids by only interviewing weight-trainers in gymnasiums.

Such a biased research method would drastically skew the overall figures, and this is what is happening with Vicky Pryce’s “Prisons do not act as a deterrent to crime” claim, as recidivists are people who've already been convicted of a crime, so they are people for whom the threat of prison was no real deterrent first time out. Consequently, they are the biased sample of the population for whom prison is the least likely to be a deterrent second time around. The only proper way to enquire whether prison is fit for purpose is to ask how much of a deterrent it is for the vast majority of people in the UK - those who haven't found themselves outside of the orbit of the law. As far as we can gather, the threat of prison, loss of liberty, loss of employment, and so forth has been a very successful deterrent for a majority of the population.

This is compounded by the fact that when it comes to the change in social status from being an ordinary citizen to a convicted criminal, the first cut really is the deepest. That is to say, the first time a recidivist became a criminal was the worst time for him (or her). It was on that first occasion that he became incarcerated, when up until then he had only been used to freedom, and it was then that he first experienced the change in status that would give him a social stigma and make him harder to employ. If that wasn't a sufficient deterrent, we shouldn't be too surprised that criminals are even less likely to be deterred second time around. I should finish by saying that it’s only on that point I have a quibble – I agree with the rest of the article.

Best 

James

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Er, No, Cannabis Legalisation Will Not Raise £1bn In Extra Taxes


There was a claim in the UK's Independent newspaper paper recently that Cannabis legalisation in UK would raise £1bn a year in taxes – and they are not even talking about gains to the economy in terms of reduced costs in law and enforcement – they only mean a projected view of the approximate value of the black market drugs trade and the extra tax they think the treasury would get by taxing those transactions. We are told that this conclusion is the result of getting together a so-called 'panel of experts' who apparently came up with 'the most detailed plans ever drawn up for the liberalisation of UK drug laws'.

Alas, if only they'd invited someone who understands economics to join their panel, they would have had a better chance of realising that the headline is, at best, misleading, and at worst, plain nonsense. What they mean when they tell us this is that the economy will be better off to the tune of about £1 billion once the government gets all the tax from what would be legalised drug sales. But the reality is very different. What they've done is simply over-inflate the figure by not understanding the economics of how tax and money are generated. Let me explain.

Of course the economy wouldn't be £1bn better off in taxes with the legalisation of cannabis. The tax generated from drugs involves a lot of tax that would have come in via some other route - it's not going to be a huge net gain. In other words, the tax the drug sellers paid through drug purchases when drug dealing became legalised is simply money that the participants would have paid through spending it by some other means when drug dealing was illegal.

Although there will be some gains to the economy in terms of reduced costs in law and enforcement, and in the reduced cost of production and sales (there will now be no costs in avoiding detection) which will as a result also increase consumer surplus, any money that is spent is tax revenue for the government, whether it is on drugs, food, car parts, or whatever.

What the article writer doesn't get is that legalising drugs will increase tax revenue as a proportion through drug sales, but it will be offset by a proportional reduction elsewhere, as people spending taxable money on drugs will be spending less elsewhere.

Perhaps an illustration will help. Tom is a drug dealer, and Dick buys currently illegal drugs from him at a cost of £100 per week. As things stand, when Dick gives Tom £100, there is no drug-buying tax, because the sale is a black market one. The government legalises drug-buying and slaps a 20% tax on drug sales. Now when Dick gives Tom £100, Tom has to give the government £20, meaning the Treasury is £20 better off, right? Not quite.

Prior to drug-buying becoming legal, it's true that when Dick gives Tom £100 the treasury doesn't collect its 20% tax from the drug deal. But it still collects its tax the next time Tom spends some of that £100. So Tom, having £100 instead of £80, uses the money to buy food, drink, petrol or clothes, at which point the treasury gets its tax. There is certainly no big net gain, it's just that the new law would mean the treasury gets its tax from Tom via the drugs sale, instead from Tom via the sale of food, drink, petrol or clothes. Or suppose, as may happen, Tom doesn't spend it yet, but hides it under the floorboards. Well, then, any 'black market money' that stays hidden under drug dealers' floorboards is money that keeps prices down, until that money is eventually spent, at which point it is taxed.

There is not going to be a £1 billion net gain, or anything like it. Increased tax revenues almost never amount to net gains for the economy - they are simply money transferred from some people’s pockets to other people’s pockets. To show how silly this is, imagine if everyone whose surname begins with A to M gave five pounds to everyone whose surname begins with N to Z. Sure Mr Zimbardo would be better off than Mr Adams in the transaction, but no one sensible would argue that the economy as a whole is better off. There is no net gain, only a transfer of resources.

When it comes to drugs and taxes, once you factor in that drug users will end up paying most of those taxes anyway when they spend the money outside of drug use, and the fact that the transfer almost certainly has administrative and deadweight costs to the economy, it's laughable how much of a mess of the argument the article writer makes.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Great Discovery: But Most People Seem To Miss What This Actually Says About Mathematics



If, like me, you're a bit of a numbers nerd, you'll have been excited by the recent news that a new largest ever prime number has been discovered - one that exceeds 22 million digits. The operative word here is 'discovered', and the article explains how:

"The search for new and bigger prime numbers is conducted using software developed by the GIMPS team, called prime95—it grinds away, day after day, until a new prime number is found."
 
It may be a subtle point that's so often missed, but the fact that mathematics has unknown properties that we need to discover empirically ought to tell us an awful lot about the primary nature of mathematics - a primacy, as I argued last July in this blog post, that indicates that even the entire physics of our universe is only a tiny representation of mathematics as a whole. Or to put it in terms your grandma would understand, not only is mathematics more than just a human invention, it actually gives every indication that its truths exist over and above anything that exists in the physical universe.
 
As well as being an exciting finding in the field of mathematics, the discovery of this new prime number also, to me, serves as a subtle reminder that mathematics is both a creation and a discovery, and that it's in David Hume that we can see the astounding way that this plays out philosophically (as I write about here in this blog post - Why We Never Have, & Never Will, Predict Anything New). Some of you may be inclined to read it later if you have time. Some of you may not. For the latter group, to illustrate the point in that blog, I said that if you find one day that a fundamental law of nature gets changed (such as we no longer can have a magnetic field through the application of electricity), the only way to discover this would be through experience.
 
The reason being, we are learning something new about nature by the process of discovery. As I will expound below, it is with prime numbers we can see how we are doing the same thing with numbers - a fact which enables us to understand just how complex and other-worldly mathematics actually is. It is here that we can see the important difference between physical discoveries and mathematical discoveries. With physical properties there comes a point when there is no longer anything new to discover about them. Suppose you have a plank of wood in front of you. Once you try to discover new things about the wood you find that it is made up of smaller constituents: atoms, electrons, protons, and perhaps even small elements as yet undiscovered. But there will come a point when there is nothing more we can discover about the wood - we will be left with the bare bones of mathematics.
 
Things are very different, though, with numbers - we never reach the point at which we have discovered everything about them - and prime numbers are a wonderful illustration of this. Given that almost every fact about numbers is not known by humans, it’s pretty obvious that they are far more than mere human inventions (think about it: by its very nature, mathematics is so infinitely complex that however much we know about numbers we will still only know a tiny fraction of all the possible things there is to know). How can anyone expect us to believe that we invented something that we don’t know most things about?  Prime numbers give us a great indication that our construction of integer symbols is the construction of a map that relates to a much wider territory of undiscovered mathematics.
 
In 1989 mathematicians discovered that between the 2 consecutive prime numbers 90874329411493 and 90874329412297 there is an astounding 803 composite numbers. We didn't know that fact back in 1889 or 1789, because in 1889 and in 1789 the fact “there exists 803 composite numbers between prime numbers 90874329411493 and 90874329412297” was a fact still awaiting discovery. There would have been a time when no one knew that wood was made up of atoms, electrons, protons, and so forth, but the difference between wood and prime numbers is that there is guaranteed to always be a time when no one knows about most prime numbers.
 
The reason being; we discover facts about numbers in the same way that we discover facts about nature – through experience (as per the Hume blog I linked earlier), and many numbers are just too vast to be experienced. Prime numbers is a perfect example of the consistency of mathematics combined with our having to deal with the subject probabilistically as we increase in complexity. 
 
One famous modelling of the primes is the Riemann map, which consists of the distribution of the primes in the shape of a staircase (showing the steps as each prime is higher than the last). Then running a Gaussian curve through it Riemann composed it into a sum of simple waves, which are graphed with positive and negative discrepancies. 
 
The complexity of the natural numbers lies not in generating the numbers per se, but in generating true statements about those numbers. The complexity of a set as a measure of how hard it would be to generate that set is a good indicator. On complexity alone, generating all the natural numbers isn't too difficult, although it is infinitely time consuming.  You could spend the rest of your life counting integers if you like …1..2..3..4..and so on, and not much will stand in your way. But generating all the prime numbers is harder to do because you need more than simple bit by bit addition - you need vast division. The checking of whether a very large natural number is actually a prime before including it in the set is a measure of complexity that increases as the task increases in size. If it wasn't then the discovery of a 22 million digit prime number wouldn't make the news at all.
 
Let’s look further at how this relates to knowledge and probability. We can plot the primes as a binary sequence; that is as 11101010001.  In this sequence I have plotted a "1" wherever a position in the sequence is a prime number (you'll notice that a '1' appears in positions 1, 2, 3, 5, 7 and 11 - denoting the primes). The Riemann hypothesis about primes states that an infinite number of frequencies is needed to define this sequence of primes in their entirety. In other words, he is telling us that it is not possible to use short-cutting compression to reduce the sequence of primes to a finite form. This translates as; an infinite amount of data is needed to specify the primes in terms of frequencies - but this is not to be confused with the term 'infinite' which necessitates that primes will go on and on infinitely just like the natural numbers will. In actual fact, just as we can specify all the natural numbers with a very short counting algorithm, we can also define all the primes using a very short prime number generation algorithm.
 
The infinite number of frequencies Riemann conjectures to be needed to specify the primes is not because they go on infinitely - it is because the only known prime number generation algorithm that generates primes with certainty involves the vast and lengthy task of factorising. Factorising is a very long winded task which means working through all the possible ways a number might be confirmed as a prime number - which basically means that after a very large prime number in a sequence one has to check each large number that follows it in the sequence and work out whether it can be divided by a number other than 1 and itself, and carry on doing that until another prime number is reached in the sequence. That is how a prime number is identified. If we are only interested in the length of the data string then the infinite prime number sequence can be defined with a finite amount of data. What it cannot be is specified with a finite amount of data because no periodicities exist in this sequence that we can exploit to help us calculate primes with certainty using any quicker method than factorising.
 
The way it relates to knowledge and probability is because of this need to factorise. To predict the next prime one has to keep factorising the numbers ahead until one strikes a number that won't factorise - but this comes at a huge computational cost because the numbers one is targeting are very unrepresentative compared with the numbers one has to compute and discard. Riemann tried to stumble upon a more succinct method of calculating (predicting) primes using the perceived organisation of their layout in the integer sequence. But he found that this couldn't be done because purely from the patterned layout point of view it is not possible to predict primes with certainly - one can only predict them probabilistically (which is better than chance predictions). 
 
As interesting as this is, more generally, I think this is interesting as a template for knowledge in general, as least by way of analogy. Just as prime number sequences in binary form (11101010001 ...etc) sit between the spectrum of being a maximally disordered sequence yet retaining enough order predictable with a range of outcomes, so too is knowledge much like that. In fact, if you can paint yourself a fairly clear picture of what factorising for primes is like, you’ll see that it is a beautiful illustration for knowledge of the complex world in more generalised terms. The main difference between numbers and information about the physical world is that with the latter we are discovering knowledge of what we can add to our map, whereas with the former we are discovering more about the territory to which those maps relate.
 
 

 

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

The Global Map Of Where It's Good & Bad To Be Gay


I was interested to stumble upon this page which speaks of a global map of homophobia. Unsurprisingly the two big findings were that sub-Saharan African and Muslim-majority countries are the least accepting of homosexuals, and Western and Latin American countries are the most accepting.

While, as you'd expect, you're better off being gay in a country in which Islam hasn't had very much political influence, you're also much better off being gay in a country that's wealthy and prosperous.

On first glance the article writer seems to be favouring the idea that wealthy nations are more open and accepting of homosexuality, and more willing to institutionalise it in marriage. In my view, that proposed causality is slightly adrift of the truth - it's more probably the case that many of the same things that helped the nations' prosperity just happen to be the same things that make them open to homosexuality - that is, respect for the rights of individuals, a stable society, and high value of freedom and tolerance - all of which are what helped those nations become prosperous.

It's also worth adding that the more a country is influenced by Islam* the less likely it is to be broadly tolerant and open to individual freedom, which means not only is it more likely to be unaccepting of homosexuality, it is also less likely to be wealthy and prosperous.

The upshot is, if you're going to be the sort of society in which gay couples can win the freedom and tolerance they require to foster acceptance of homosexuality, you're going to need to be the sort of society that values freedom and tolerance anyway. So my hunch is that it's not that economic prosperity has made homosexual acceptance possible, but rather that the same qualities that engender economic growth are also the qualities that engender the qualities required for acceptance of homosexuality.

* Sadly, I'm sorry to say, there are a few parts of the world (some African countries, for example), in which Christian homophobic intolerance is pretty rife.
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