Friday, February 21, 2014

Income Inequality: Jared Taylor and Bad Analyses

American Renaissance is a publication of race realist information, founded by Jared Taylor, an
American journalist. Recently I happened upon a YouTube video uploaded by American Renaissance entitled "Income Inequality: The Debate Ignores Race," with Mr. Taylor as the speaker. The title
immediately struck me as being odd since I'm familiar with the debate over income inequality in America, and race has always been a considered factor. After beginning to watch the video, however, I immediately noticed what Mr. Taylor was attempting to do and, unfortunately for him, nearly all of his assertions were either wrong or misleading. In this post I will be examining some of the arguments he makes, although I will only address maybe the first half of the video. I don't consider this to be something that is completely worth my time, and the video itself is disgusting in nature, but I think it's important to point out where people should be skeptical. My posts serve purposes, and his definitely fits in that motif. So, let us begin.

Jared Taylor
The video begins by giving the warrant for its making: a speech by Obama stating that fighting income inequality and promoting upward mobility is the defining challenge of our time. To begin his argument, Mr. Taylor starts off with this:

"But this talk about fighting income inequality is mostly nonsense. First, inequality is natural; inevitable. People are unequal in every possible way. Not even the most ruthlessly egalitarian regimes run by Stalin, or Mao, or Pol Pot, could enforce across-the-board equality."

First of all, the argument that the fight against income inequality is for "across-the-board equality" is a strawman. It's actually a perfect example of a false dilemma, where Mr. Taylor seems to believe that one must either be supportive of complete and total equality (egalitarianism), or supportive of the natural tenets of inequality (them). Secondly, I don't even think I need to explain, at this point in time, why saying "inequality is natural" is a pointless statement. Of course people are unequal, although not in "every possible way." This is still thinking along the same lines of "you're either one of us, or you're an egalitarian." Let's continue, though.

"And how much equality do we want, anyway? Presumably we don't want everyone in America to get the same grade on the SAT. We want them to get the highest grades they can."

Well we can guess when someone suggests that income inequality is too high, the ultimate goal is to just decrease it by some statistically significant amount. Again, Mr. Taylor reinforces the false dilemma.

"The second obvious blind spot about income inequality is that practically no one points out that for the last twenty or thirty years we have been importing millions of poor people. They then go on to have millions of poor children. This, along with a large native population of blacks, guarantees increasing income inequality. It's scandalous that no one mentions something so obvious."

Actually, the reason nobody brings it up in the manner Mr. Taylor brings it up is because it is obvious, and the answer is almost just as obvious. Importing "millions of poor people" does not necessarily mean that income inequality is going to increase because the Gini coefficient, the statistic we use to measure income inequality, is intended not to scale with a growing population. At the same time, the coefficient also doesn't base inequality strictly off of negotiable funds, but instead also bases it off of any form of capital income -- for example, if a farmer grows his own food, then those crops are considered part of his income. Presumably, the "millions of poor people" coming in who are by and large seeking jobs in agriculture will not so drastically change the coefficient. Also, on the fact of having "millions of poor children," the calculation of income inequality is adjusted for household size. I will admit that adding "millions of poor people" would increase income inequality somewhat, but the coefficient is designed to not allow this type of demographic change to so drastically effect it.

This is upheld when we consider that the influx in immigration was only responsible for 5% of the increase in income inequality from 1980 - 2000. As far as the "large native population of blacks," Mr. Taylor seems only to have confirmed that there is also racial implications in terms of domestic income inequality -- unless, he's suggesting that blacks are somehow predisposed to have lower incomes. Kind of a ridiculous and even more detached assertion than his previous one, but otherwise, it simply upholds that income inequality is an issue. Let's continue.

The chart Mr. Taylor refers to.
For his next claim, Mr. Taylor highlights that the rich are, indeed, getting richer, and cites Figure 2 of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report on income inequality in America showing the income gains from 1980 to 2010. He makes note that while income has risen for the top 1% by 201%, nobody has seen a decrease in income, thus "the poor are not getting any poorer."

This is, once again, misleading because of what the CBO accounts for when calculating income inequality. The report makes note of the fact that the statistics also include things such as employer-sponsored health benefits; in other words, as I said, income inequality accounts for any type of capital gain. However, while leaving out such benefits would understate middle- and low-income gains, it gives a different perspective. Intuitively, one could guess that such benefits would make up a smaller percentage of income for the top 1%, but a much larger portion for middle- and low-income households.

In addition, a report from The Pew Charitable Trusts suggests that while the conclusions found by most economists are in concordance with the CBO, that the rich are getting much richer while the poor are still getting somewhat higher incomes (as a result of accounting for all capital), in terms of wealth, it is true that the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer.

So what does Mr. Taylor say next?

"Remember, however, that these numbers are for households. The rise in income inequality for individuals is considerably less. Well how can that be? It's because so many more people are living in separate households, and a lot of those new households are single mothers with very low incomes. In 1960 the average American household had 3.35 people in it. 10% of those households were headed by a single parent. By 2009 the average household had lost almost a whole person and was down to 2.63 people, and the percentage of single-parent households had tripled to 30%. A huge increase in poor single mothers certainly added a lot to income inequality by household."

Keep in mind that I fully acknowledge that Mr. Taylor doesn't even bother to cite where he's getting these statistics from. For the purposes of this refutation, we're just going to assume that his numbers and assertions are correct. Mr. Taylor still neglects to mention that the CBO in their report of income inequality adjusts for the size of a person's household, such that, for example, a single individual making $20,000 would be scored similarly to a household of four making $40,000.

"People may be envious of sports stars and CEOs with gigantic salaries, but those salaries don't make us poor. Bill Gates didn't get rich by making you poor. He got rich by making software you wanted to buy. Robinson Cano just signed a $240 million contract with the Seattle Mariners because a lot of people want to watch him play baseball. Should there be a law to cut his pay?"

Nobody has anything against Bill Gates. Well, some people do.
It seems Mr. Taylor doesn't understand that when people speak of income inequality, it is largely not concerned with the outliers that are Fortune 500 CEOs and sports stars, since that is a very small portion of what categories we tend to refer to. Literally, if we take the number of athletes and sports competitors and add 500, that accounts for 0.00005% of the United States population -- not even close to addressing the "top 1%" category. Mr. Taylor is very good at noting extremes, but this does not address the large variation that there is between income classes.

"Something that seriously skews incomes in America is the poverty of blacks and Hispanics. [...] The mere presence of blacks and Hispanics, therefore, increases America's income inequality. And this partly explains why the states with the greatest income inequality in 2009 were California and Texas, with their very mixed populations, and the ones with the least income inequality were overwhelmingly white states, such as Maine, Vermont, Montana and Wyoming. The next time someone complains about income inequality, point that out."

Once again, Mr. Taylor makes the same assumption that many others do in saying that because blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately represented in income inequality, that the presence of blacks and Hispanics increases income inequality. This serves only to divide racial lines as opposed to actually explaining the issue. But what of his claims that the more heterogeneous states have higher income inequality?

Let's consult a list of the United States by their Gini coefficients and match them with demographics of US states in the same year, 2010, and calculate a correlation coefficient. Including data from District of Columbia, the correlation is -0.5; in other words, there is a moderate negative correlation between income inequality and the number of white people -- the more white people, the less inequality. The correlation without the District of Columbia was -0.42. Does this hold as strongly if compared to other variables? I decided to do the same test using population density instead of percentage of non-Hispanic whites. Including the District of Columbia, the correlation between high population density per square mile and high income inequality was 0.59. If you remove the District of Columbia, you get -0.43. In both instances, a state's population density is more closely correlated to income inequality than is that state's racial demographics.

Of course, this shouldn't come as much of a surprise -- in a population dense state, job competition is more likely to occur; however, it's obvious that Mr. Taylor would like to neglect stronger correlations in favor of making a racial claim. Even still, I'm probably also ignoring other factors that may have an even stronger correlation.

Income inequality by country.
There is something to say about America's income inequality. If we look at data provided by the United Nations, the World Bank, the CIA and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, we see that the United States's income inequality is on par with countries we typically deem to be less-than-developed, such as Mexico, and is actually even higher than that of India. This is not an issue of population size, either, as income inequality metrics are independent of population increases, as stated earlier. Later on in the video, Mr. Taylor expresses his disapproval of welfare programs, yet we can see that countries in Scandinavia (known for their strong welfare states) and even Canada (with a public health care system) have lower income inequalities than the US. This is not to say, however, that strong welfare states correlate to lower income inequality, because we can see that China is pretty much in the same range as the United States.

What can we learn from this? It's fairly easy to tell that there are multiple factors that have just as strong, if not a stronger explanation for income inequality in individual states than those mentioned. Mr. Taylor, however, neglects this in the video. Recall what his opening statement was about his views on the debate, in saying: "But this talk about fighting income inequality is mostly nonsense."

Such a dismissive statement of one of something that has been in debate for centuries shows the thinking of a closed-minded, biased individual with no interest in solving problems, but merely pushing his own agenda. I hope that my readers take this as an example that simple solutions to complex problems are almost always biased and crude in nature.

Thank you for reading.

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Importance of a Friend - Revisited

This past August, when I first started my blog, I made an abstract post in which I described the type of relationship I have with my best friend and implicitly show why this is, without a doubt, one of the greatest things someone can have; and more specifically, how my best friend is probably the most important thing I have. However, in keeping with the recent change in how I express myself on this blog, I think the topic deserves revisiting: what is the importance of a friend?

This is the kind of social circle I'm used to.
Of course, the immediate psychological benefits are obvious -- friends offer social support and opportunity for self-disclosure, which is often an important component in the development of self-concept and is necessary for the healthy psychological development of any human being. I say these things from the perspective of a student studying psychology, but these benefits should be intuitively obvious to anyone who has had a good friend in their lives. There are other potential benefits, however, to having stable friendships.

In 2010, Holt-Lunstad, Smith and Layton conducted a meta-analysis of 148 studies, totaling 308,849 participants, to find the association between social relationships on mortality. The results show that on average, strong social relationships confer a 50% increased risk of livelihood, with the strongest association being with complex social integrations (OR = 1.91, or 91%) and the weakest being binary indicators of residential status (OR = 1.19, or 19%). In general, therefore, strong social relationships have a similar influence on mortality as do other established risk-factors for mortality.

Now, I don't know about the rest of you, but concerning situations that involve risk of mortality, I think the effect sizes of having strong social relationships to any degree are enough to start promoting sociability. Not that having a very close circle of a few friends isn't good for the psychological reasons I mentioned, but in terms of longevity, it just doesn't cut it.

Why do I say this? A study by Cable et al. in 2012 observed 3,169 men and 3,512 women born in Great Britain in 1958 and followed them through their life. They found that at age 45, having a smaller network of friends resulted in poorer psychological well-being by age 50. This same study also suggests that men psychologically benefited from larger kinship connections. Maybe there is something to the "mama's boy." I say that in jest, but these results are significant, as they suggest that the network size was an even better predictor of their psychological well-being at age 50 than their previous psychological state or their socio-demographic factors. These results did not differ significantly between men and women.

A similar study conducted by the Centre for Ageing Studies at Flinders University in Australia followed 1,477 people at the age of 70 and found that having a larger network of friends was associated with a 22% increase in longevity compared to those who did not have a large network. At the same time, close relationships with children/relatives did not seem to significantly increase longevity.

So what does this suggest? Get out there and be social!

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ResearchBlogging.orgHolt-Lunstad, Smith, & Layton (2010). Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLoS Med DOI: 10.4016/19911.01

Cable et al. (2012). Friends are equally important to men and women, but family matters more for men's well-being. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health DOI: 10.1136/jech-2012-201113  

Giles et al. (2004). Effect of social networks on 10 year survival in very old Australians: the Australian longitudinal study of aging. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health DOI: 10.1136/jech.2004.025429

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Gene Variant May Affect Intellectual Ability in Adolescents

It is time to return to specificity to address a recent study that was brought to my attention a few days ago.

4 days ago a study was released entitled "Single nucleotide polymorphism in the neuroplastin locus associates with cortical thickness and intellectual ability in adolescents." The study was conducted by Desrivières and a team of 36 other researches along with the IMAGEN Consortium, published in the Journal of Molecular Psychiatry.

The researchers conducted a large-scale association study in 1,583 adolescents to identify genes which affected cortical thickness. They identified the rs7171755 polymorphism, which acted in cis (oriented on the same side hemisphere) to the expression of the NPTN gene. The results suggest that there is a potential role for regional synaptic dysfunctions in forms of intellectual deficits.

NPTN expression from GeneCards.
Going beyond the abstract, the data was obtained from a sample of 1,583 healthy adolescents, all age 14, obtained from the IMAGEN project -- a project which endorses the study of association between genetics and neural function. Each adolescent was given a verbal and nonverbal IQ score using the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children - Fourth Edition (WISC-IV) and SNP genotyping was extracted from whole blood samples. The association between the identified SNP and cortical thickness, verbal IQ and nonverbal IQ were identified using linear regression analyses. Data on NPTN expression was collected from both mice and human brain samples.

The results showed that for the left hemisphere of the brain, the rs7171755 polymorphism on chromosome 15 passed the threshold for significance in affecting cortical thickness; however on the right hemisphere of the brain, while the largest association was found on chromosome 11, none passed the significance threshold, and neither handedness (prior led by the widely-known right/left brain phenomenon) nor ethnicity affected these results. On the left hemisphere, the number of minor alleles at rs7171755 was inversely correlated with mean cortical thickness. The correlation between mean cortical thickness and nonverbal IQ for the left hemisphere was 0.074, and 0.041 for the right hemisphere; also, there was a positive correlation (r = 0.033) between left cortical thickness and school performance. There were no statistically significant correlations between verbal IQ and cortical thickness.

These results suggest that rs7171755 may have a statistically significant influence on nonverbal IQ by affecting cortical thickness. The researchers tested this through mediation analyses and found that the minor A-allele at rs7171755 associated with lower nonverbal IQ scores (β = −1.239); the association was mediated by significant indirect effects on the SNP for nonverbal IQ (β = −0.1851) while direct effects were not significant. There was also a correlation between rs7171755 and verbal IQ scores (β = −1.5048), partially as a result of indirect effects on the SNP on left pars orbitalis thickness, the rest from other factors.

The overall implications of this study suggest that localized effects of rs7171755 on the RPTN gene in brain structure can explain a small amount of the variation in IQ scores (estimate at around 0.5% of the total variation), and this association is found mostly with nonverbal IQ, which leaves the door open for early intervention of adolescent education which would be more conducive to literacy. At the same time, the authors acknowledge the age specificity and low effect size of the study. While normally I am skeptical of such findings, the results of this study suggest to me a realistic potential for association between the rs7171755 polymorphism and IQ scores. It still remains, however, that I am skeptical of the usefulness of IQ scores in measuring intelligence.

In the end, despite some of its shortcomings and the small explanation it suggests, this should be taken as a decent pilot study for further testing of this gene and the associated risk alleles found to be of significance in this study; yet scientists and researchers alike should note that although there is a high heritability estimate for cortical thickness (as noted in the study), it is also greatly susceptible to environmental influences.

Thank you very much for reading.

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Desrivières et al. (2014). Single nucleotide polymorphism in the neuroplastin locus associates with cortical thickness and intellectual ability in adolescents. Molecular Psychiatry DOI: 10.1038/mp.2013.197


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Specificity versus Generality

The same person who asked me about "Lewontin's Fallacy" in the comment section of my post on Canadian Health Care also asked me a much more open ended question, followed by one that is kind of in the same field. They were as follows:

1) Why do your topics seem to address very specific issues as opposed to large groups of issues. For example, a refutation of a single race realist instead of refuting all of race realism?

2) What political party did you used to affiliate yourself with, and why do you not affiliate with it now?

As I said, these two questions are kind of intertwined, but I believe I can generally answer the second question by addressing the first one.

It seems generally to be true that my topics deal with very specific issues as opposed to general schools of thought. Instead of attacking any specific political party, I specifically address accusations made against Canadian Health Care. Instead of attacking all of radical skepticism, I specifically address topics like global warming (and, although I haven't made a post about it on my blog, water fluoridation). As the Anon pointed, instead of refuting all of race realism, I initially only addressed one race realist. These are all partially as a result of personal interaction -- that is, I made the posts because I had personally encountered the specific debate of those topics -- or a result of chronos. This being said, there are deeper reasons for why I only address specific topics on my blog as opposed to entire schools of thought.

When someone learns the scientific method, they begin to see that it can be applied as a general discipline to many practices. In every day life, it's possible to apply the scientific method in either simple decision making or even as a type of theory for actuary when going shopping for things like skin care products. When doing this, you learn that you can almost never make simple generalizations about groups.

I'm one of those people who believe that groups, in a social context, are illusions. They're mental barriers that associate some people with shared interests and values, but in the end, there are only individuals. This being said, if I were to make a sweeping statement that "the Tea Party (and its members) are ridiculous," I would be ignoring the fact that within that "group" exists a broad range of people with different thoughts and ideas. Individually, however, I can make proper assessments.

Political polarization in the US: The mammoth and the ass.
This isn't the only reason I don't dismiss entire "groups" of people. It's also due to the fact that, at least in my own eyes, I'm not so conceited and closed-minded so as to think that in all cases and at all times, one mindset is better than another, or that a mindset is, with 100% absolute assurance, dismissible and idiotic. If I were to call Democrats idiots, that's dismissing their existence and mindsets in all cases, probably based on only one or two incidents. This coincides with applying the scientific method, because when you use the scientific method, you can't just say "liberals are stupid." You have to look at a situation, examine the suggestions, and find, with all honesty, what is the best resolution to that particular situation. In America, a Democrat may be correct in one place of debate, but a Republican may be correct in another. Issues need to be observed individually, not by generalizations and stereotypes.

This is why I address specific issues. I like to observe different topics of debate, analyze them, collect data, and draw conclusions not from a partisan line, but from the perspective of somebody who actually wants to get things done the way they should be. This is why, in order to answer question #2, I dropped my affiliations with my previous political beliefs.

As I said in my comment, I used to be a minarchist, but for the sake of ease, just label my previous self as being libertarian. Of course, there is much confusion over the libertarian position, and where on the political spectrum they lie, but that only adds to the difficulty of things. While assuming a political position such as this, whenever I observed a situation, I would often find myself asking what the "libertarian solution" to that situation was, not the "best solution." If I skipped that question, I would often times find myself coming to conclusions that would violate, for example, the non-aggression principle. My views of free speech are a sterling example of this (I take an ancient Greek approach to it, such that freedom of speech is allowed but to the extent of public disturbances). The resulting cognitive dissonance was concerning.

So eventually I figured out that declaring partisanship will often just lead one to being intellectually dishonest. Yes, I know, there's nothing special about being an Independent or an Indeterminate, but I feel like all of this needed to be explained.

Of course, this doesn't make me unbiased. Every human being on the planet, I'm willing to bet, is affected by the values and principles they were raised on, and the decisions they make or positions they take are influenced by those things -- "where you stand is based on where you sit." This is inevitable, as it's a part of human nature. All I'm saying is, I'm not afraid to challenge my values if it means finding a better solution. As my dad would say, in this sense, it's very easy to be correct.

This is why I don't have partisan affiliations anymore. It dismisses the scientific method, leads to intellectual dishonesty, and is far too dismissive to be of any practical use.

It's also rather dangerous; in my post on "Lewontin's Fallacy," I came very close to "dismissing" all of race realism, and this resulted in high traffic to my blog from people who were foaming at the mouth, ready to defend their positions, even at the risk of completely ignoring the post they had a contention with. That post is now my most popular, exceeding my second most popular by several hundred views.

Similarly, if I made a post entitled "why anarchists are wrong about everything," I could expect high traffic as well.

I have a busy schedule. I have things I like to do, and life is too stressful to get caught up in these debates which are so polarized that nothing is ever accomplished. Besides the fact that it's dishonest, offensive, and impractical to be partisan, it's just not worth it based on the backlash you'll get from people who take labels as the be-all, end-all definition of a person's identity, personality and concept.

Thank you very much for reading.

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Debate? Why? (Dad's Work)

Just as a forerunner, I'm saddened to reflect on the fact that I've been caught up so much with my own studies and research for the past few weeks that I've neglected to share more of my father's work. This particular piece, in some ways, may have once a juxtaposition with my own values, but I definitely see the validity now. Debating isn't worth much.


I'm beginning to see a pattern in political debates, and I think it speaks to our own behavior as a once-nation. Nobody seems to think they're wrong.

I could cite specific examples, but that isn't what I want to do. All the time, people are arguing or debating about something, and no matter what the case is, it's very rare for me to see either person say "so it seems I was wrong." I don't get much caught up in politics anymore due to this very phenomenon. Candidates, and people in general, have too much pride to admit they're wrong about anything, or they're so firmly attached to their primordial values that to be wrong would to shake their very being.

I mean come on, seriously? Was there ever a point in time where people actually desired to be right?

"Well isn't that the issue?" Not really. What I mean to say is that I wonder if there was ever a point in time where a person didn't desire for their own being to be right, but instead sought the correct information. All people want to be right -- it makes you feel good to have known something over somebody else; but is it that difficult to see that all it takes to be right is to just let go of any potential biases and ask "what the hell is really going on?"

From this perspective, it seems, at least to me, that it's not very hard to be correct. You just need to know when to call it quits.

So when someone says the word "debate," I think to myself, "why bother? There's no point to debating."

"But what if I'm right?"

"Do you know that you are?"

If anybody answers "yes" to that question, then I think they need to work some things out with themselves.

[Of course, this only applies to debatable positions. I wouldn't criticize someone for saying they know they're right when they claim that two and two make four.]

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