comedy, statistical jokes

Statistical Jokes (44): Correlation Doesn’t Imply Causation, Ctd.

(source) This is a real study apparently, not a joke at all – at least not intended as one. And the “researcher” even goes out of his way to argue that correlation in this case does imply causation: There was a close, significant linear correlation (r=0.791, P<0.0001) between chocolate consumption per capita and the number […]

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education, lies and statistics, poverty, statistics, war

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics (17): The Correlation-Causation Problem and Omitted Variable Bias, aka “Jumping to Conclusions”

(source) Some more detailed information after my casual remark on the correlation-causation problem. Here’s a fictitious example of what is meant by “Omitted Variable Bias“, a type of statistical bias that illustrates this problem. Suppose we see from Department of Defense data that male U.S. soldiers are more likely to be killed in action than […]

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democracy, education, lies and statistics, statistics

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics (24): Mistakes in the Direction of Causation

Time for a more lighthearted post in this blog series. Suppose you find a correlation between two phenomena. And you’re tempted to conclude that there’s a causal relation as well. The problem is that this causal relation – if it exists at all – can go either way. It’s a common mistake – or a […]

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comedy, lies and statistics, statistics

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics (1): Correlation

You know I love graphs and statistics, so here’s one showing how importing lemons from Mexico reduces highway fatality rates in the U.S.: (source) And here‘s another one. Just so that you don’t automatically believe everything I write (as if you would), and a funny reminder that correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation. For some real […]

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Statistics on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) Correlations

Introduction On this page, we’ll have a look at the level and the growth rate of countries’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – or, better, their GDP per capita in order to compare like with like and to correct for increases or decreases in GDP that are caused by changes in the population numbers (which in turn may be caused by migration, fertility […]

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freedom, what is freedom

What is Freedom? (18): Freedom is a Happiness Pump

Take a look at this correlation: (source) Several other studies have shown the same result. How can we explain this relationship between freedom and happiness? If we assume that there is some form of causation going on here – and that, in other words, there isn’t a third element which causes similar evolutions of the levels of both […]

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causes of poverty, economics, poverty

A Primer on Poverty and Economic Growth

Both China and India have seen their economies grow at breakneck speeds over the last decades. At the same time, the number of poor people residing in these two countries has been reduced substantially, although somewhat less spectacularly in India compared to China: (source) Other indicators of wellbeing point in the same direction. Life expectancy in […]

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why do we need human rights

Murky Yet Suggestive Evidence That Democracy Promotes Economic Growth

Cross-country analysis often shows only a weakly positive correlation between democracy and economic growth: (source) The correlation is weak because there are some authoritarian countries that have strong growth figures. Most notably China of course. The impressive growth rates of a few oppressive regimes has successfully undermined the once popular theory about democracy’s positive effect on growth, and has […]

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causes of income inequality, economics, equality

The Causes of Wealth Inequality (28): Political Capture and Deregulation

(source) Does income inequality result from “political capture” by the rich? Political capture is the process by which wealth buys policies that are favorable to the wealthy, who in turn become more wealthy. Through campaign contributions, lobbying, the monopolization of discourse etc. the wealthy may be able to convince politicians to approve policies such as […]

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causes of poverty, economics, poverty

The Causes of Poverty (73): Low IQ?

This kind of reasoning is all too common: the poor are stupid and they are poor because they make stupid decisions. Unsurprisingly, it’s mostly the rich who indulge in this kind of pop-psychology, because if true it would also mean that they are wealthy because they are smart. They imagine a correlation somewhat like this: […]

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democracy, human rights violations, what is democracy?

What is Democracy? (67): The Form of Government That Offers the Best Protection Against Human Rights Violations

(source) There is a clear correlation between the presence and quality of democratic government in a country and the level of respect for human rights in that country. That may sound obvious but it’s good to have some measured results. This paper for instance offers some clear evidence: There is a substantial body of research […]

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data, democracy, economics, freedom, poverty, why do we need human rights

Why Do We Need Human Rights? (36): The Economic Case Against Democracy

(source) Democracy is a human right. But how do we justify this right? One common argument is that democracies tend to be wealthier than non-democracies. However, there’s some disagreement about this argument: not about the goodness of wealth and wealth-enhancing institutions, but about whether democracies are in fact such institutions. Impressive economic growth rates in […]

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Statistics on Capital Punishment in the U.S.

Content 1. Death penalty laws in the U.S. 2. Numbers of executions, trends 3. Public support 4. Death row numbers 5. Methods of execution 6. Deterrence? 7. Racial discrimination in the use of capital punishment 8. Numbers by age, gender and occupation of the executed 9. Numbers by type of crime 1. Death penalty laws […]

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causes of poverty, education, poverty

The Causes of Poverty (58): Low Average Intelligence in Poor Countries?

(source) The claim that poverty is caused by the stupidity of the poor has an international equivalent: some people look at the fact that most wealthy countries in the world are mainly populated by white people, combine this fact with the claim that non-Western countries have lower average IQ, and conclude that they have found the reason […]

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data, human rights maps

Human Rights Maps (157): Homicide in NYC is Primarily a Problem of and for Male African Americans

Apparently, it’s more dangerous to be a male black person in NYC than a person of any other race or gender: (source, where you can find an interactive version of these maps) African Americans represent only 25% of NYCs population, but 61% of murder victims. The racial distribution of the perpetrators is strikingly similar to […]

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democracy, economics, education, why do countries become/remain democracies

Why Do Countries Become/Remain Democracies? Or Don’t? (21): Education Again

(source) The claim that education leads to democracy has a lot of intuitive appeal. Educated people are probably more inclined to demand political participation, and those in power who hesitate about granting democratic rights will be less hesitant when they have to grant these rights to educated people. The claim is also supported by the […]

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causes of income inequality, equality

The Causes of Wealth Inequality (20): Weak or Declining Unionization, Ctd.

(source) Not all countries where income levels are very unequal are also countries where labor unions are weak or in decline; but some are, notably the U.S. For that reason, and because labor unions are generally regarded as forces advocating for a more equitable wage distribution, it’s tempting to see a causal link between declining […]

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human rights nonsense, international relations, terror, war

Human Rights Nonsense (29): The Link Between Porn and Terrorism

(source) Pornography is not a necessary cause of terrorism. The abolition of pornography would not lead to the cessation of terrorism in the world. Terrorism existed well before graphic pornography and its mass spread via the internet. Likewise, pornography is not a sufficient cause for terrorism. There are pornography users, even addicts, who do not […]

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democracy, education, freedom, why do countries become/remain democracies

Why Do Countries Become/Remain Democracies? Or Don’t? (20): Education Again

It’s a common assumption that democracy is driven by levels of education: Less educated people are – supposedly – easier to oppress and more willing to accept extreme and simplistic ideologies that authoritarian rulers can exploit. They are also said to be less tolerant, and therefore less willing to accept freedoms and rights that protect […]

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lies and statistics, statistics

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics (33): The Omitted Variable Bias, Ctd.

(source, click image to enlarge) I discussed the so-called Omitted Variable Bias before on this blog (here and here). So I suppose I can mention this other example: guess what is the correlation, on a country level, between per capita smoking rates and life expectancy rates? High smoking rates equal low life expectancy rates, right? […]

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citizenship, data, international relations, law

Migration and Human Rights (34): The “Criminal Immigrant” Stereotype, Ctd.

I presented some data debunking the criminal immigrant stereotype a few times already. It’s simply not true that immigration leads to an increase in crime rates. True, immigrants are often – but not always – relatively poor, undereducated and – initially at least – not well adjusted to their host community. But none of that […]

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economics, education, trade, why do we need human rights, work

Why Do We Need Human Rights? (18): The Economic Case Against Human Rights

Some more comments following two previous posts on the topic (see here and here). Do human rights promote or depress economic growth and prosperity? (I’ll focus on non-political rights for the moment because political rights – i.e. democracy – have very specific effects on the economy). The economic case against human rights could go something […]

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economics, equality, ethics of human rights, justice, philosophy, poverty, trade, work

The Ethics of Human Rights (29): Should Taxation Be a Tool For Economic Efficiency or For Social Justice?

(source, source) Taxation is a recurring theme in political discussions between people of the left and right. People of the left see taxation as a tool for social justice. They tend to prefer rather high taxation rates and a progressive taxation system: High taxation rates bring in revenues that are large enough to enable the […]

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comedy, health, statistical jokes, statistics

Statistical Jokes (12): Birthdays Are Healthy

Again, a funny mistake rather than a joke: “It is proven that the celebration of birthdays is healthy. Statistics show that those people who celebrate the most birthdays become the oldest”, S. den Hartog, Ph D. Thesis, Universtity of Groningen. The reason for this error is probably an insufficient grasp of the English language. It’s […]

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democracy, economics, freedom, international relations, intervention, why do countries become/remain democracies

Why Do Countries Become/Remain Democracies? Or Don’t? (11): The Relative Cost of Freedom and Dictatorship

When dictatorial governments come under international pressure to improve the human rights situation in their countries, they often react by stating that they govern developing countries and don’t have the resources that are necessary to make improvements. Such statements have some plausibility. A judiciary, a well-trained police force, a functioning system of political representation etc. […]

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health, lies and statistics, statistics

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics (27): Jumping to Conclusions, Ctd.

(source, cartoon by Eric Allie) In a previous post in this series, I already mentioned the temptation to see things in data that just aren’t there, or to make data say things they don’t really say. I focused on the correlation-causation problem, a typical case of “jumping to conclusions”. Elsewhere I gave the following example: there […]

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Statistics on Democracy and GDP (National Income)

Content 1. GDP and likelyhood of a country becoming a democracy 2. GDP and election outcomes 1. GDP and likelyhood of a country becoming a democracy There are at least two types of links between democracy and GDP. Is it true that the wealthier a country, the more likely it will be – or turn […]

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Statistics on Democracy and Education

It seems that democracies in general do a better job educating their children: (source) Or maybe educated populations are better at achieving and maintaining democracy. The claim that education leads to democracy has a lot of intuitive appeal. Educated people are probably more inclined to demand political participation, and those in power who hesitate about […]

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causes of poverty, culture, economics, education, health, philosophy, poverty, trade

The Causes of Poverty (29): Overview

In a previous post, I already mentioned some of the possible causes of poverty: bad governance, corruption, absence of the rule of law, lack of economic freedom, the resource curse, debt burdens, lack of education and healthcare, AIDS, war, poverty traps etc. In other posts, I mentioned obesity, genetics, hereditary poverty, the Matthew effect and […]

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lies and statistics, statistics

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics (23): The Omitted Variable Bias, Ctd.

I explained what I mean by “omitted variable bias” in a previous post in this series, so go there first if the following isn’t immediately clear. (In a few words: you see a correlation between two variables, for example clever people wear fancy clothes. Then you assume that one variable must cause the other, in […]

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discrimination and hate, equality, human rights nonsense, law

Human Rights Nonsense (8): Heightism or Height Discrimination

(Quick reminder about this blog series, so as to avoid misunderstandings: I don’t want to imply that human rights are nonsense; regular readers know that the purpose of this blog is quite the opposite. What I want to do with the posts in this series is to point to the ways in which the language […]

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capital punishment, law, statistics

Capital Punishment (20): The Truth About the Deterrent Effect

Proponents of the death penalty usually show the following famous graph in order to “prove” that capital punishment results in fewer homicides in the U.S., and is therefore a successful deterrent: First of all, there’s something wrong with this graph. It’s intentionally tweaked so as to highlight the recent rise in the number of executions, […]

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Human Rights, The Quantitative Approach

Here’s my statement about the quantitative approach to human rights: There’s also a pdf-version, and below is the html version. Content Introduction 1. Definitions 2. Advantages and disadvantages of either approach 3. Why should human rights violations be measured? 4. How should human rights violations be measured? 5. What should be measured? 6. What are the problems […]

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discrimination and hate, education, equality, gender discrimination, health, poverty, work

Gender Discrimination (10): Gender Equality, Declining Birth Rates and Overpopulation

(source) High birth rates or high fertility rates in many developing countries are one of the causes of gender inequality, mainly for the following reasons: Continuous child bearing and child rearing imposes a heavy burden on many third world women. These women are deprived of the opportunities to do other things. High birth rates don’t […]

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economic human rights, health, poverty

Economic Human Rights (20): Health and Wealth

(source) A few more words about the relationship between poverty and health (see this post for a more detailed discussion). First of all: both are human rights issues. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration states: Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his […]

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Statistics on Child Marriage

Content 1. Prevalence of child marriage 2. Geographical breakdown 3. Income breakdown 4. Legislation 5. Effects of child marriage 6. Rationalization of child marriage 1. Prevalence of child marriage (source) The practice of child marriage has gradually diminished over the years, but is still widespread in many parts of the world. In the developing world, 36 […]

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Statistics on Abortion

Content 1. Abortion legislation 2. Abortion rates and numbers 3. Link between abortion rates and abortion legislation 4. Abortion and health 5. Public opinion on abortion 1. Abortion legislation ^ back to top 2. Abortion rates and numbers There are about 1,000,000 abortions per year in the United States, that’s over 200 abortions per 1,000 […]

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Statistics on Capital Punishment

Content 1. Death penalty laws 2. Numbers of executions 3. Trends in capital punishment: numbers of executions, legal abolitionism, and public support 4. Death row numbers 5. Methods of execution 6. Deterrence? 7. Racial discrimination in the use of capital punishment 8. Capital punishment for non-lethal offenses 1. Death penalty laws In 2012, Latvia became […]

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Statistics on Religion and on Religious Liberty

Content 1. Religious liberty 1.1. Country rankings of religious liberty 1.2. Public opinion on restrictions of religious liberty 1.3. Legal restrictions of religious liberty 2. Religion and politics 3. Religion and legislation 4. Sharia law 5. Religion and poverty 6. Religion and crime 7. Religion and discrimination 1. Religious liberty 1.1. Country rankings of religious […]

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causes of poverty, equality, poverty

The Causes of Poverty (10): Lack of Economic Growth

(source) Economic growth is the increase in value of the goods and services produced by an economy or a country. It is the percent rate of increase from one year to the next in gross domestic product or GDP of an economy or a country. In order to correct for the population sizes of different […]

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democracy, globalization, governance, poverty, trade, why do countries become/remain democracies

Why Do Countries Become/Remain Democracies? Or Don’t? (3): The Resource Curse

(source) Why do countries with lots of natural resources tend to do worse than countries with less resource wealth, both in terms of economic growth and in political, social and human rights terms? We see that countries which own lots of natural resources such as diamonds, oil or other valuables that are found in the […]

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democracy, poverty, why do countries become/remain democracies

Why Do Countries Become/Remain Democracies? Or Don’t? (2): From Prosperity to Democracy

Prosperity creates time and leisure, which can be used for democratic participation, public life and other uses of human rights. We often see democratic aspirations and claims of rights arising almost automatically in states that do well economically (see for example Taiwan, Korea and many South-American countries in the 1980s). People do not live on […]

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