Friday, July 23, 2010

Equality - the truth will out

Well, I went to Lunnon yesterday. Pleased to note that there are Keep Left signs on the stairs at Bristol Temple Meads and Paddington. The train was 45 mins late, thanks to the wrong kind of idiot on the line, so I only got 30 mins of the Spirit Level Debate at the RSA  on the thesis that social problems are less in less unequal societies.

I read up the free-market fundamentalist (FMF) critique of Wilkinson and Pickett's thesis on the train. Their methodology is interesting; they remove data that does not fit their case, that is, the data from the USA (extreme inequality, extreme social problems) and data from the most equal countries (Scandinavia and Japan). This mostly removes the significance of Wilkinson+Pickett's findings - though, interestingly, they cannot refute the case that infant mortality is worse in unequal countries.

The critics do provide a valuable service in testing the robustness (?robustiosity?) of W/P's statistics, and WP will present a full defence soon. It is interesting that the critique was not done at the time of peer-review, nor after publication, which just goes to show that the scientific process is not perfect.

My 2p worth at this stage is this: the critics are OK to pick up on the fact that the US is an "outlier" in the data set, but it is not on simply to remove the US data. It would make more sense to moderate the US data, bringing it within the boundaries of statistical probability.

The other thing is that it is outrageous to claim, as the FMFs do, that Scandinavians and Japanese are genetically and/or culturally different from Anglo-Saxons, and therefore can be removed. For them to do this, they need to present some pretty good genetic or sociological evidence. In fact, we share a lot of genes and cultural heritage with the Scandinavians.

So the debate will, rightly, go on apace, and I am confident that we will win. The position is that the advocates of Free Market Fundamentalism are waging war against science on two fronts - climate and now sociology. They are bound to lose, just as the religious fundamentalists lost the battle against evolutionary science in the 19th century. The problem is that while we have science on our side, they have loadsamoney on their side, and loadsamoney buys politicians and publc opinion, through the mass media.

In the end the truth will out.

Good review of the other evidence on equality here.

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