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Statistical Catfights and The Spirit Level Ben Baumberg (Kent) & Robert de Vries (Oxford)

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Presentation on theme: "Statistical Catfights and The Spirit Level Ben Baumberg (Kent) & Robert de Vries (Oxford)"— Presentation transcript:

1 Statistical Catfights and The Spirit Level Ben Baumberg (Kent) & Robert de Vries (Oxford)

2 - Sympathetic to the argument - Inspired by public engagement But...

3 1.Is The Spirit Levels argument true? 2.Has The Spirit Level politicised scientific debate?

4 I S THE S PIRIT LEVEL TRUE ? Part One

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8 Source: SWIID & WDI r=0.12

9 Source: SWIID & WDI r=-0.12

10 Source: SWIID & WDI r=0.36

11 Source: SWIID & WDI r=0.46

12 Source: SWIID & UNODC r=0.44

13 Source: SWIID & UNODC r=0.31

14 Source: SWIID & OECD programme for international student assessment r=-0.16

15 Source: SWIID & WHO r=-0.38

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17 1.Negative outcomes correlate with each other 2.Unequal countries tend to do worse 3.Relationship unlikely to be entirely due to a)Poverty b)Ethnic heterogeneity c)GDP d)Compositional effect of individual income 4.Feelings of inferiority are harmful 17

18 H AS T HE S PIRIT L EVEL POLITICISED SCIENTIFIC DEBATE ? Part Two

19 Truth vs. social critique Scientists seeking political victories through science may find this strategy expedient in the short term, but over the long run it may diminish the constructive role that scientific expertise can play in the policy process Roger Pielke Jr, 2004:407 19

20 Potential sources of politicisation 1.Uncertainty 2.Consensus 3.Assertion of scientific authority 4.Is vs. Ought 20

21 Potential sources of politicisation 1.Uncertainty 2.Consensus 3.Assertion of scientific authority 4.Is vs. Ought 21

22 Robs points – Priors vs. Data More research? Unlikely to ever have fully convincing evidence in either direction...

23 23 ? How can we enter public debate in areas where evidence is highly uncertain?

24 Potential sources of politicisation 1.Uncertainty 2.Consensus 3.Assertion of scientific authority 4.Is vs. Ought 24

25 25 Political disagreement

26 26 Academic disagreement Goldthorpe, Rowlingson, Lane Kenworthy, Deaton, Lynch, Daniel Little...

27 27 ? How can we enter public debate in the face of dissensus?

28 Potential sources of politicisation 1.Uncertainty 2.Consensus 3.Assertion of scientific authority 4.Is vs. Ought 28

29 All of these attacks are based on a complete misunderstanding of what we were about. We took relationships that had been largely established by other peoples work on other groups of countries or states, and we looked to see if they could be demonstrated …amongst this group Richard Wilkinson 29

30 30 In order to distinguish between well founded criticism and unsubstantiated claims made for political purposes, all future debate should take place in peer-reviewed publications Wilkinson & Pickett, Reply to Critics

31 31 ? How can we enter public debate while avoiding non-scientific mudslinging?

32 Potential sources of politicisation 1.Uncertainty 2.Consensus 3.Assertion of scientific authority 4.Is vs. Ought 32

33 From is to ought (cf. Hume) – Not value-free Spirit Level – No recommendations – Conservatives, Lib Dems, Labour But still perceived agenda... "The evidence shows that reducing inequality is the best way of improving the quality of life, for all of us (Spirit Level p29) 33

34 34 ? How can we enter public debate without conflating is and ought?

35 If everyone politicizes the science, maybe there is something about science that lends itself to being politicized? (Sarewitz 2004:388) Uncertainty/dissensus Need for certainty Facts matter 35

36 But closure differs... Balanced discussions in the media can be misleading...[even] where the accumulation of evidence leaves little legitimate room for doubt. E.g. if 98% of climate change scientists agree on an issue and 2% disagree, then inviting 1 person from each camp..can leave people with an impression that an issue is much more controversial than it is (p294) 36

37 F INAL T HOUGHTS Part Three

38 Critical case... – Richards work – Accessibility...of wider issue – Priors over data – Little guidance 38

39 39

40 40 http://inequalitiesblog.wordpress.com Join the debate!


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