Statistically Speaking

When I was born, I was one of
 three billion,
 seven hundred seventy-five million,
 seven hundred ninety thousand,
 nine hundred twenty-three

or thereabouts.

Today, I am one of
 seven billion,
 seven hundred fourteen million,
 five hundred seventy-six thousand,
 nine hundred twenty-three

or thereabouts.

At this rate, it would need a plague
or some great calamity,
a climatic holocaust perhaps,
for me to be
twice the man I was

or thereabouts.

Somehow I doubt the cliché
had statistics in mind when age
would strip my capacity
to less than half
the man I used to be

or thereabouts.

Not One of Us

I started watching a confused video at The Atlantic about a purported End of White Christian America, and then leapt through the computer and throttled the person at the other end for not using the words “white” and “Christian” consistently. It’s almost as if those were shorthand.

Because they are. He means WASPs.

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Robert P. Jones doesn’t seem to be intentionally fear-mongering–his other articles on the subject are, as is his book, more measured. Yet his book’s title and this video irresponsibly play right into the white replacement trope with over-simplification. His audience lumps themselves into his categories because they think that they are a) white, and b) Christian–even if they aren’t using the same definitions–and are thus tricked into thinking their group is threatened.

The population of the United States of America is, statistically speaking, primarily white and primarily Christian. The U. S. Census Bureau, a nominally reliable source, says that those self-identifying as white are 76.6% of the population, which is NOT a minority. The Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study records 70.6% overall, and 70% of white respondents, as Christian, which is NOT a minority.

His numbers are arrived at primarily by eliminating the “white and hispanic” population from the definition of “white,” though removing Catholics, Mormons, and others from the definition of Christian also helps. The confusion here and elsewhere may simply be a difference in how social scientists and the rest of us define membership in a group: the former considers to be members of a group those who consider themselves to be members; the latter considers members those whom the members of a group consider to be members. Or it may lie in the decision to conflate race and ethnicity–that is, using Hispanic origin as an alternative to white. Despite attempts by the Census Bureau to insist that race and Hispanic origin are distinguished from each other, we do tend to see checkboxes as radio buttons, and so they become practically identical.

In any event, the distinction is being made between British North America and the former Spanish and Portuguese colonies–a distinction where the French and Dutch colonies (and Canada) exist only as rounding errors. So despite an Iberian obsession with race as intense as America’s in places such as Mexico and Brazil, many Americans just consider them all not our kind of people.

One aspect of our national project is the continual attempt to define exactly who is really American. We do that with statistics. They aren’t neutral.

Words matter.

So do numbers.

Competitive Pricing of Substitutes in Transportation

Nate Silver has an interesting, if partial, analysis of statistics comparing modes of transportation based on the National Household Travel Survey. He wonders why Americans prefer to drive long distances than fly, and calculates the costs to be generally cheaper if one flies.

Today the Poughkeepsie Journal did the same thing for the costs of commuting by car or rail. (Unfortunately the website doesn’t include the charts.) Rail is cheaper, but the comparison leaves out the cost of time.

Both comparisons depend on a variety of factors, including, among other things, the number of passengers, the length of the trip, whether you’ll need a car to get around at your destination, the bulk and mass of your cargo, and so forth, none of which are really taken into account. For us, trips generally involve six passengers and gear. This rapidly decreases the value proposition of plane or train travel since we’re dividing the total cost by six, making our own personal mass transit more affordable.

It doesn’t help that Amtrak’s prices this year are the same as last year’s, while JetBlue’s have gone down.

Footprint per Capita

The newspaper had a map of each country’s carbon footprint per person. Something like this one from Wikipedia.

carbon dioxide emissions per capita per country

This is one of those graphics that misleads with statistics. The U.S. seems top of the charts here, but one has to recall that the ranking is per person. Compare, for example, China or India, which have many more people than the U.S. In the ranking of emissions per capita, the United States comes in 10th, behind Qatar and other well-known polluters such as Aruba. China is 91st, while India is 133rd. However, considering emissions alone, without dividing by the population, we’re #1, followed closely by China, with Russia and India lagging behind in 3rd and 4th place, respectively.

carbon dioxide emissions by country

Statistical Enquiry of the Devil’s Playground

Certain laws and regulations, and policies related to those, have a non-trivial impact on statistics which are not normally thought of in concert with those laws. For example, mandatory sentencing increases incarceration rates, which in turn will decrease the employable population. Child labor laws directly impact the employable population, but so do mandatory attendance requirements for high school.

How does the unemployment rate of the United States compare to other nations when differences in incarceration rates and school attendance are taken into account?

Or, where do these people find the time to riot?

The Impact of the Daylight Saving Time Change on Traffic Accidents

It seems to me that accidents would increase during the transitional period surrounding the switch between Standard Time and Daylight Saving Time. And apparently others have asked this question, and looked at the data to see if what effect the transition has. The paper Daylight Savings Time and Traffic Accidents, with related discussion of the results, is, unfortunately, behind the New England Journal of Medicine‘s paywall. Fortunately, Stanley Coren presented on the subject at INABIS 98, and so the work is available online at McMaster University.

Other studies argue that, overall, DST reduces traffic fatalities because more driving is done in daylight. No shit, Sherlock; the day is longer because of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, not because the clock changed. However, it just boggles the mind why the arguments proffered for DST are considered sufficient. Why not impose a curfew and forbid driving at night, then? Or remove headlamps from cars so that night driving becomes more hazardous and is thus avoided?

Worried about energy consumption and think it saves energy? Why not increase the price of candles, or kerosene, or whale oil, or electricity? Or, if you must compel the rest of us to do something, then forbid the use of electricity when it is dark. That will surely reduce consumption.

You want to use more of the daylight? Wake up when the sun rises, or leave the office earlier. Hell, work from home or live closer to your work location. But don’t move the clocks back and forth and pretend that you have more time. We may as well as call an inch a foot and pretend like penis enlargement pills work.

Navel Gazing

For one of her classes last year, D. wrote a paper which analyzes an effect of the self-absorption of the media, in response to one of the unfounded assertions in the class’s text, that the rise of the Internet and “thousands” of cable channels had fragmented society. She asked, “Do Our Unlimited Choices Limit Our Shared Experiences?” Her expectation was that the text would be correct. It wasn’t. We’ve been led to believe that everybody watched the popular shows, and really only a small fraction of the population did.

I find this topic fascinating, and eagerly assisted with research and editing. My experience of “pop culture” was somewhat isolated, by choice and by my parents, so I felt out of place in the Big World at college. I wonder how many people there were familiar with all of the things they’d said they were, and how many were poseurs.

(Meanwhile, I’m seriously considering stopping our DirecTV subscription and removing the television, but do not yet have the support of other members of the household. Maybe we can compromise and keep Netflix.)