I have a love-hate relationship with statistics. On one hand I was never particularly good at math. But I was always fascinated by statistics and all the easily accessible truth they provide. I always loved Googling some figures and making people shut up.
Of course then I grew up (which is a great thing, highly recommended to everyone out there), and I realized that statistics are more truthful than just making shit up, as people are always prone to, but they're not the whole truth. Actually statistics is what you do when you don't know the whole truth, and you need to take the long way to infer something about the situation. The point is that as useful as statistics can be, the whole truth is obtained by actually understanding the background and the mechanism of some phenomenon. Compared to that, stats is just cheating. Reading some figures is of course much easier than taking the trouble to understand the whole picture, and so stats are prone to produce hubris in the reader.
One effect of that hubris is the pervasive belief in trends. Somebody makes a graph with a line that goes up or down more or less linearly during a given period of time, and next thing you know there are tons of ink spilled writing about it, and trillions on government budgets assigned to deal with that inevitable trend. The best example of course is Global Warming. Somebody made a graph that said that From 1920 to 1980 temperatures globally were rising. Next thing you know the British Government is actually unable to deal with menial problems common to Egyptian and Chinese Civilization 4000 years ago, like floods, unless they can officially link it to global warming. No I'm not making this up.
Of course the truth is that the temperature trends do not continue forever.
I am not interested in entering this debate about which I know little about, but I do happen to read things that may apply. On the Cambridge History of Ancient China, they point out how North China since the beginning of the Holocene well into historical time (the Han Dynasty, 200BC), North China was much warmer, full of subtropical flora and fauna, and tons of bones have been found of animals that are only found today well into the south. The point out that that's why North China was able to sustain such dense and wealthy neolithic cultures. Unlike today, in which North China is very cold.
This blind belief on climate trends comes from the fact that we just don't understand how climate actually works and what affects it. So we get some data, cherry pick some to make a graph, and then think we know something that we don't.
Another good example of blind belief on statistical trends is Moore's Law. Computing power is increasing like crazy. So we make a graph with transistor count or FLOPs or whatever. Yup, going up. Which means that given enough time, we'll have computer which are smarter than people, which means that a point will be reached where this smarter-than-humans will make ever better computers themselves, accelerating progress and unleashing the great Singularity where a god-like AI will rule over all humans!! And that AI will know about us in the past and punish according to our present deeds, so you better give away all your money to Shlomo so he can run a swingers club and screw your girlfriend!
No I'm not making that up either.
Of course all this crap comes from not understanding what actually drives Moore's Law. Transistors don't make themselves after all. They are developed through a quite complex process, which I don't presume to understand. Jim appears to understand it though, and he says Moore's Law is dying.
Rather than believing in Moore's Law, I prefer Stein's law. That which cannot go on forever, will stop.
Perhaps the most important trend for reactionaries of every sort is demographic trends. All people started as babies, so who is making the babies and how many of them is very important. I've written often on this blog about fertility and what drives it. I think I have a good hunch about it, but the fact is we don't know for sure. That doesn't stop people form looking at the fertility rates, drawing a graph and writing a whole book about it.
That's what David Goldman, with his stereotypical evil scholar face, did on writing about Islamic birth rates. Islam is collapsing!! He wrote. Birth rates are falling and will soon converge with those decadent white goyim and disappear! Then he looked at the sky and felt Yahveh's spirit comforting him.
Now while I am not driven by Jewish chauvinism like Mr. Goldman, the idea of the arab demographic pressure disappearing did appeal me as a European. The idea of Arabs overrunning Europe has made me lose more than one night's sleep. I thank Mr. Goldman for curing that ail from me.
What I don't appreciate is his misleading. One good thing about the internet is that you don't have to take people's word on things, you can actually go and look for the data yourself. And Wikipedia is full of very good demographic data on every country on earth.
Back on my last post on fertility there was a discussion on muslim birth rates, and the example of Iran came up. Iran is famous for its precipitous fertility decline, going from 6.5 in the 80s to below 2 in 2000. Check it out here. The discussion went on about the evil Cathedralist-satanic influence that made Iran women stop making babies for their husbands. At that moment I received an email by some Joshua Stern that linked to this article pointing out how it wasn't a spontaneous influx of evil leftism that cut Iran's fertility rate. It was a covert government operation of thousands of make-shift abortion wagons going around the country to make women stop having babies because the country was running out of water and food. Take a look at Google Maps satellite view and you'll find it hard to find some cultivated land in that desolate desert landscape we call Iran.
So yet again, understanding the actual mechanism beat handily a superficial look at statistical trends. By the way this courteous reader, Mr. Stern proceeded to delete his email address and disappear forever. Which is a pity as I was looking forward on more fruitful correspondence. Oh well.
Anyway this counter-climatic explanation about Iran's fertility rates made me think about the rest of the Arab world. What's driving their decreasing birthrate? And so I took a look at all the Wikipedia pages on fertility. And what I saw didn't look pretty.
Egypt has been declining steadily from 5 in the 1980s to 2.86 today. They've been unable to feed themselves for decades though.
I don't know you guys, but what I'm seeing here is not collapse. What I'm seeing is a fertility correction given the massive pressures that overpopulation is having on what is very arid and unproductive land, but the populations are not declining, and if anything fertility is stabilizing above replacement rate. Given that none of these countries is seeing much economic growth or increased Westernization, further culture-induced fertility drops are unlikely, and if anything the next Islamic Revival movement might compel them to start a new Arab baby boom.
Meanwhile Germany has been losing native population for 42 years straight, at an increasing pace.
The Rothschild's paper, The Economist, never the pessimist, nevertheless have started to raise the alarm about global demographic trends. It turns out that black Africans are still pumping out as much babies as they can, not using all those condoms sent by the Melinda Gates Foundation nuggets. Cell phones and internet access are also having no effect.
What cannot go on forever must stop, and so African demographic expansion must stop. There's no food in the world for 2 billion Africans, let alone 3 or 4 billion as they would hypothetically produce at this rate by the end of the century. And so they will starve, one way or another. The glass-full backside of overpopulation, the "demographic dividend", produced a lot of wealth when it happened in Western Europe back in the days, or in China in the 1990s. But of course the demographic dividend is a statistical concept. Figures on a graph wasn't what made Europeans or Asians productive, it was the particular product of their own culture, their biology, the technology of the day, and only then, the economics of having a lot of young people around.
But of course nobody is interested on what's actually driving Africans to have 7 babies per women. As nobody is interested in what's actually driving Arabs to have on average less than 5, but never less than 2 children. As nobody really wants to know what's the deal with the climate. All we want is data to write a book, an article, or a government memo so I can sound smart, get a promotion or make some money.