Secular Right | Reality & Reason

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Charles Murray ruminates on why Asian Americans are not Republicans. Many of his observations are broadly consonant with my supposition that Asian American disidentification with the Republican party has to do with cultural markers (i.e., Asian Americans have become less Christian, the Republican party has become more self-consciously Christian). But Charles finishes with a curious turn:

Republicans are seen by Asians—as they are by Latinos, blacks, and some large proportion of whites—as the party of Bible-thumping, anti-gay, anti-abortion creationists. Factually, that’s ludicrously inaccurate. In the public mind, except among Republicans, that image is taken for reality.

There are four factual assertions we can test. The one about Creationism is the easiest, because it’s clear and distinct. First, I went to the GSS and constrained the data set to Democrats, Republicans, and Independents from the year 2008-2010. Now let’s look at the EVOLVED variable, which asks people if “Human beings developed from animals.” The results by party:

TRUE FALSE
Democrat 60 40
Independent 55 45
Republican 42 58

The reality is that the Republican party is the party of Creationists. That shouldn’t be surprising, about half of Americans are CXreationists, and there are segments of the Democratic coalition, such as blacks, and lower income folk generally, who tend toward Creationism.

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Apr/12

29

Japan has always been secular

In an otherwise fascinating column on Japan’s peculiar demographics, Ross Douthat presents one misleading fact:

Japan is facing such swift demographic collapse, Eberstadt’s essay suggests, because its culture combines liberalism and traditionalism in particularly disastrous ways. On the one hand, the old sexual culture, oriented around arranged marriage and family obligation, has largely collapsed. Japan is one of the world’s least religious nations, the marriage rate has plunged and the divorce rate is higher than in Northern Europe.


These problems are still with us, and some of them are worse than ever. But they haven’t left us in anything like the plight the Japanese are facing. Our family structures are weakening, but high out-of-wedlock birthrates may be preferable to no births at all. We assimilate immigrants more slowly than we should, but at least we’re capable of assimilation. American religion can be shallow, narcissistic and divisive, but our religious institutions still supply solidarity and uplift as well. Our economy is weak and our deficits are large, but at least we aren’t asking the next generation to bear the kinds of burdens that today’s under-30 Japanese will someday have to shoulder.

From this piece you might infer that Japan has gone through a more radical secularization than the USA. But the World Values Survey has data from 1980 down to the mid-2000s. Below are the results for Japan, the USA, and Sweden (the last as a “control”).


  USA Japan Sweden
  2006 1982 2005 1981 2005 1982
Religious person 72 84 24 28 33 34
Not religious person 24 15 62 60 49 60
Convinced atheist 4 1 14 13 17 7
             

People tend to view other societies through their own experience. So, for example, one presumes a circumstance of modernization where societies become progressive more secular, and less coupled to institutional religion. That’s how it happened in the West. But this is not the case with East Asia. On the contrary, it is a defensible proposition that in East Asia modernization has been coupled with the rise of robust institutional religions! (e.g., South Korea) East Asia has long had weak traditions of organized religion, and the political orders have always managed to maintain the subordinate status of religious institutions.

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Mar/12

10

On the Economics of the Pill

Interesting report here in the New York Times:


The recent controversy over contraception and health insurance has focused on who should pay for the pill. But there is a wealth of economic evidence about the value of the pill – to taxpayers, as my colleague Motoko Rich writes, as well as to women in general.

Indeed, as the economist Betsey Stevenson has noted, a number of studies have shown that by allowing women to delay marriage and childbearing, the pill has also helped them invest in their skills and education, join the work force in greater numbers, move into higher-status and better-paying professions and make more money over all.

One of the most influential and frequently cited studies of the impact the pill has had on women’s lives comes from Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz. The two Harvard economists argue that the pill gave women “far greater certainty regarding the pregnancy consequences of sex.” That “lowered the costs of engaging in long-term career investments,” freeing women to finish high school or go to college, for instance, rather than settling down.

The pill also helped make the marriage market “thicker,” they write. By decoupling sex from marriage, young people were able to put off getting married and spend more time shopping around for a prospective partner.

Those changes have had enormous impacts on the economy, studies show: increasing the number of women in the labor force, raising the number of hours that women work and giving women access to traditionally male and highly lucrative professions in fields like law and medicine.

A study by Martha J. Bailey, Brad Hershbein and Amalia R. Miller helps assign a dollar value to those tectonic shifts. For instance, they show that young women who won access to the pill in the 1960s ended up earning an 8 percent premium on their hourly wages by age 50.

Such trends have helped narrow the earnings gap between men and women. Indeed, the paper suggests that the pill accounted for 30 percent – 30 percent! – of the convergence of men’s and women’s earnings from 1990 to 2000.

Interestingly, the study also found that the pill had the greatest economic benefits for women with average IQ scores. “Almost all of the wage gains accrued to women in the middle of the IQ distribution,” the paper said. For this group, it said, women with early access to the pill “enjoyed greater hourly wages throughout their twenties and the premium grew to a statistically significant 20 percent at ages 30 to 49.” Why? The pill helped “middle ability” women in “planning for and opting into paid work,” the researchers theorized.

The above article focuses on the economic value of the pill to women generally (and, I suppose, through increased earning power, to the taxpayer), but here’s the specific Brookings Institution paper (“Policy Solutions for Preventing Unplanned Pregnancy” by Adam Thomas, Georgetown University) on the direct value to the taxpayer of certain forms of government-subsidized pregnancy prevention programs.

Here are some extracts:

The research also shows that each dollar spent on these policies would produce taxpayer savings of between two and six dollars…Nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended, and the parents and children involved in these pregnancies tend to be disadvantaged in a number of ways. For example, Figure 1 shows that unintended pregnancies are disproportionately concentrated among women who are unmarried, teenaged, and poor. Some studies have used sophisticated statistical techniques in an attempt to determine the extent to which pregnancy intentions have a causal effect on maternal and child outcomes. These studies generally suggest that unintended pregnancy and childbearing depress levels of educational attainment and labor force participation among mothers and lead to higher crime rates and poorer academic, economic, and health outcomes among children.

In addition, unintended pregnancy has important implications for public sector balance sheets. For instance, Emily Monea and I estimate that taxpayer spending on Medicaid-subsidized medical care related to unintended pregnancy totals more than $12 billion annually. This figure is substantially more than the federal government spends on the Head Start and Early Head Start programs each year. Unintended pregnancies are also much more likely than intended pregnancies to be terminated. Unintended pregnancies account for more than 90 percent of all abortions—and a substantial majority of Americans of all political stripes support the goal of reducing abortions.

Just one paper, of course, and the Brookings Institution comes with its own institutional bias, but intuitively it makes quite a bit of sense, and, as a taxpayer, leaves me less than thrilled by the direction of some of the rhetoric coming from some sections of the GOP. Read it for yourself and see what you think.

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Mar/11

10

The double standard

A few years ago Markos Moulitas wrote a book, American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin, and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right. This is in a long tradition of demonization of American Christian conservatives by the Left. All’s fair in love and war, but I think this tendency to make an analogy between American religious conservatives and Islamic religious conservatives is one reason that the hypocrisy of white “enlightened” liberals is rather galling to many. The reality is that Muslim Americans have moderately conservative views, which if they were white Protestant Christians would get them labelled as slack-jawed inbred cretins. But, since they are generally “people of color” their beliefs get a pass, and on the contrary, many on the Left fear being termed “Islamophobic,” all the while defending the robust validity of critiques of Christian conservatives. This isn’t about principle, this is about power. Below are some data from the Religious Landscape Survey:

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Mar/11

5

Birth Control and the Prevention of Abortion

Wherever you stand on the abortion debate, the idea that access to contraception does not reduce the number of abortions ought to seem, to say the least, counter-intuitive, yet that’s what Kirsten Powers ends up arguing in this Daily Beast piece. Here’s an extract:

A January 2011 fact sheet by the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute listed all the reasons that women who have had an abortion give for their unexpected pregnancy, and not one of them is lack of access to contraception. In fact, 54 percent of women who had abortions had used a contraceptive method, if incorrectly, in the month they got pregnant. For the 46 percent who had not used contraception, 33 percent had perceived themselves to be at low risk for pregnancy; 32 percent had had concerns about contraceptive methods; 26 percent had had unexpected sex, and 1 percent had been forced to have sex. Not one fraction of 1 percent said they got pregnant because they lacked access to contraception. Some described having unexpected sex, but all that can be said about them is that they are irresponsible, not that they felt they lacked access to contraception.

Writing over at Big Think, Lindsay Beyerstein queries the “not one fraction of one percent” number (the original 2001 study gives a figure of 12 percent) and then stresses a bigger problem on using this data in the way that Ms. Powers is doing:

If you only look at women seeking abortions, you’re only going to see cases in which contraception failed, or wasn’t used. If you want to measure the power of prevention, you have to look at the millions of sexually active people who use birth control and don’t get pregnant.

Indeed you do.

If you want a rough analogy to this, take a look at the anti-Second Amendment crowd. In attacking the menace that guns supposedly pose to their owners, they tend to stress what happens after the gun is fired, a point when matters have by definition already turned very dangerous. The numerous occasions when the weapon has worked as a successful deterrent without ever being fired tend not to be mentioned…inconvenient truths and all that.

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Jan/11

15

Europe, the big five

The New York Times Magazine has a Europe-themed edition. I thought it would be interesting to look at the five big Western European nations in Google Data Explorer.

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Oct/10

19

Don’t be shocked by polls

You all know about the issues of weighting samples to achieve representativeness. In polling this is an art. But even if you get to representativeness, depending on the average sample sizes the polls themselves will exhibit a distribution of outcomes about a mean. Therefore with a large enough sample space of polls you can find one at a tail of the distribution of outcomes. Today with the proliferation of polling this is getting to be more and more of a problem. Look at this musing by Joshua Micah Marshall: A Feingold Comeback? He notes: “A new independent poll has Feingold down by only 2 points.” A thickly polled state will come back with a range of results. Even non-internal polls (which are often curated for maximum effect on the press, and so shouldn’t be trusted) will exhibit a normal distribution of results, so if you want to hinge an argument on one poll, it is fast becoming a trivial task to find that poll to satisfy your needs. In 2008 the less intelligent set of conservative bloggers expressed ideologically motivated skepticism of polls (grounded in the fact that they were too stupid to know any better). What excuse does the self-proclaimed “reality based” party of pointy-headed intellectuals have in 2010?

Whatever happens, 2012 will be even worse. The number of polls is going to up, and verbally oriented bloggers and reporters will cherry-pick outliers to produce whatever narrative they wish to roll out.

Oct/10

2

Knowing My Religion

An entertaining Pew survey showing that atheists and agnostics are better informed about religion than their theistic counterparts has raised a few eyebrows. I’m not convinced it’s such a big deal. As Daniel Larison records, there’s this detail:

Data from the survey indicate that educational attainment – how much schooling an individual has completed – is the single best predictor of religious knowledge. College graduates get nearly eight more questions right on average than do people with a high school education or less.

Fair enough, but then there’s also this:

…Atheists and agnostics also outperformed believers who had a similar level of education.

Most satisfactory.

With complete absence of modesty I can reveal that I scored 100% on this test.

Again, most satisfactory.

Superficially, my result may appear to be a triumph for the agnostic/completely indifferent/Church of England subset of the population but in reality it’s just a reflection of a very traditional (and, I suspect, largely vanished type of) English education. This involved a decade or so’s worth of daily (or twice daily) attendance at chapel and the inclusion of “scripture” as a regular part of the schoolroom syllabus. Spiritual speculation, the supernatural, “enthusiasm”, meaning-of-life chatter and all the other clutter were kept to a bearable minimum. The gap (such as it was) was filled by rousing Victorian hymns, amiably absurd (and reassuringly traditional) ritual and, of course, a study of religious texts–more Joe Friday than Good Friday–that has proved an invaluable historical and cultural resource ever since. That’s the way to go, I reckon.

After all, who can argue with 100%?

Sep/10

8

The priorities of Pakistan

OK. You know that there have been floods in Pakistan which have displaced ~20 million. No worries, there’s still time to for suicide bombings aimed at killing Pakistani Shia (the Shia believe that the the descendants of Ali are the rightful heirs to the leadership with Islam). Well, this is a long standing conflict. No excusing it, but evil people will take any opportunity to cause havoc. On a more trivial, but still creepy, note, Punjab govt goes after Hindu mythology cartoons:

Even though Indian TV channels are currently off-air in Pakistan, several cable operators are broadcasting Indian content to meet the demands of their clientele.

A meeting of the committee was held in Lahore, which discussed ways to get these cartoons banned in Pakistan.

Deeba, who attended the meeting, told The Express Tribune that participants had discussed “cartoons which glorified mythology characters such as Hanuman had a bad impact on the minds of the young children.

She said that “these cartoons were in contradiction with the teachings of Islam and young kids could not differentiate between what’s true and what’s not so these should be banned.”

This is a nuclear armed Islamic state.

Sep/10

7

Are conservative whites more racist?

I analyzed some GSS data over at Discover. The commenters were only cursorily engaging the data, and I don’t have much patience for long rhetorical back and forths which are already predetermined as to the nature of the conclusions of the principals (also, no one was offering any data themselves, and I get kind of exhausted at having to be the one who is expected to leg-work while others hold forth with their awesome analyses). But in all honesty my standards are lower for the comments here since I don’t vet/read them nearly as closely, so if you guys want to argue the results, go ahead.

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