Politics and Economics

Healthcare professionals should not tackle obesity and other lifestyle conditions.

fat-man

In a paper published in The Lancet Researchers are calling for a national NHS slimming service after finding that patients could lose up to 21lb (9.5kg) if a family doctor took 30 seconds to book them into Weight Watchers or similar schemes, i.e. non-medical intervention.

When it comes to ensuring individuals make major lifestyle changes to combat conditions such as obesity, hypertension and smoking, it seems the “white coat” of the medical expert can be a hindrance to a successful outcome.

Psychologically the “patient” abdicates responsibility for their condition to the expert, whether it is a doctor, nurse or the healthcare system itself.  For a successful outcome individuals need to maintain responsibility for their own health.  If fact becoming a “patient” is part of this detrimental process.  “Patients” are seen as somebody that is broken and needs fixing.  Somebody who is passive, wounded, subservient and vulnerable. There is a stigma attached to being sick, which can be depressing and demoralising.  This leads to demotivation at a time when motivation is exactly what is required. The medical messages of doom and destruction, unless the “patient” mends their ways, are also counterproductive.  All in all, a downward spiral.

A better solution is to assign a “lifestyle coach” (who could be a medical expert by another name).  This reduces stigma and makes the “individual” (now not a patient) feel more positive.  Which is more palatable?  Having a nurse, with associations of decrepitude and bath chairs, or a coach?  Coaches should return power and authority to the individual and deliver positive lifestyle messages – i.e. do you want to have more energy?  Do you want to be more attractive?  Do you want a better sex life?  Do you want better and more refreshing sleep?

Psychometric testing can help to elucidate the individuals’ strengths and weaknesses and establish their attitudes towards food, exercise, stress, wellness, alcohol, drugs etc.  The coach can then tailor the lifestyle change programme and use an individual’s strengths to help overcome their weaknesses.

Lifestyle is not a medical condition, even if it may lead to one. Responsibility for weight loss, exercise, better diet, sleep and other lifestyle conditions should be taken out of the medical arena and returned to the individual. There will be better results and savings for the over stretched Healthcare budget.

Reference:

GP referral to weight loss program is effective, acceptable and takes 30 seconds

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Genetic Explanations, Politics and Economics

Why did David Cameron’s £1.3 billion Troubled Families Programme Fail?

The £1.3 billion Troubled Families programme was launched after the riots in 2011 to give intensive support to 120,000 of Britain’s most challenging families.  But it has had no measurable impact on cutting crime or changing their lives for the better, an official assessment reveals.

This scheme was also a failure of The Blank Slate Hypothesis.  This is an idea that optimistically believed that our personality and intelligence is solely the result of our interaction with our environment.  This is a comforting belief because Government policy can manipulate the environment (at a cost) and therefore change the outcome for its people.

The Blank Slate Hypothesis became fashionable after World War 2 because of its total rejection of the Nazi pseudo-science of Eugenics and the reassuring belief, for the ravaged post-war society, that everybody would be given equal opportunities to thrive.

The social restrictions in our society were removed through grammar schools, much improved state schools and greater access to universities and polytechnics.  Children with talent and motivation broke free across Britain.  Working class children shot up the social scale with talent in science, engineering, law, sports and the arts.  These talented people did well.  They earned a good living, achieved a higher social status and joined the affluent middle classes. This seemed to prove the Blank Slate Hypothesis worked.  Change the environment and the poor working classes do better.

Then recently this progress came to a screeching halt:

  1. The research highlighted in The Times on 17th June 2013 shows that the 24 largest research universities in the Russell Group admit a lower proportion of undergraduates from state schools and from poor families than ten years ago.
  1. Children from wealthier families were nearly twice as likely to leave school with five good GCSEs, including maths and English, as those from poorer families — 63% against 36%.
  1. It seems poor white children do worse than poor ethnic minorities despite having a similar “poor” upbringing and environment. i.e. poorer outcome, same nurture.
  1. Of the 20 top local authorities in terms of sending pupils to the prestigious Russell Group universities, 19 are in London and the south. Of the 20 worst-performing councils on the same league table, 18 are in the north.
  1. Social mobility is stuck.

So what happened?

We now know that intelligence and personality are largely inherited through our genes from our parents.  Combine this with one of the most passionate and time consuming aspects of human behaviour, i.e. finding a mate, and you have a very powerful natural force. Talented, motivated women generally seek and marry talented, motivated men.  They then generally have talented, motivated children. i.e. they cluster the genes responsible for these talented, motivated characteristics into certain sections of society. As these characteristics generally lead to higher earning potential they are more likely cluster in the affluent parts of society. Also these talented genes will move and cluster to where the best jobs are.  i.e. in London and the South East of England.

Or put another way, intelligent and motivated individuals tend to increase their social and economic status in a relatively socially mobile society. It’s not the posh getting cleverer, but the clever getting posher.

For new immigrants the social factors which have limited their progress until now are relatively recent, so we expect the genes for talent and motivation to be more numerous in poorer parts of their society as they haven’t had time to cluster in the more affluent parts of society.  This explains why poorer students from ethnic minorities out-perform their white peers. i.e. same nurture but better outcome.

We would predict that eventually there would be a more polarised genetic society as the genes for talent and motivation are slowly leached out of the working class areas and into the affluent middle classes.  Eventually social mobility will slow down and humanities educated journalists and politicians will conclude that more must be done to help the talented working class children who used to exist but have now mysteriously disappeared.

They then implement an expensive Troubled Families Programme and scratch their heads and wonder why it didn’t work.

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Genetic Explanations

What makes women happy? An evolutionary perspective.

Young women are suffering record levels of depression, post-traumatic stress and self-harm and are now three times more likely to have a mental health problem than men.

According to a recent NHS survey, conducted every seven years, 26% women aged aged 16 to 24 have a clinically recognised mental health condition. The compares to 9% of men.

So what will make women happy?

The last 3,500,000,000 of evolution is not about survival of a species but solely about the survival of our genes. Women have a much lower reproductive capacity than men and must carefully nurture the few children they can have to get their genes into future generations.

So we are reminded that all living things are effectively transient life support machines for our genes. A disposable container that passes our genes into future generations. Genes control the physical characteristics and inherent behaviours in all living things. There is overwhelming evidence that genes control human intelligence, personality and behaviour, much of which is hard wired.

Over the last 3,500,000,000 years our genes have finely tuned their life support machines to act in their best interest. When they need food they make us hungry, when they need water they make us thirsty. When they need to reproduce they make us impassioned. When they need to maintain copies of themselves in future generations they make us altruistic and nurturing for our children and grandchildren.

We are rewarded psychologically for good behaviour. The satisfaction of a good meal, the pleasure of slaking a fierce thirst, the warm afterglow of sex. The radiance of a young woman with a new baby.  The pleasure a mother gets seeing her children happy, fed, clean and healthy. All are incentives to help our genes survive.

We are also punished psychologically for bad behaviour.  The misery of following a life-course or career for which we are not suited or does not increase our reproductive capability.  The guilt of perceived poor parenting.  The desperation of a childless woman towards the end of her fertile years.  All are disincentives to act against the interests of our genes.

In the modern, gender neutral, politically correct world we sometimes forget what makes us happy.  And very often it is the simple things in life. The things the last 3,500,000,000 years has evolved us to do.

Perhaps in order to feel happy and fulfilled we should play the game.  We only get one shot at life.  Perhaps we should listen more to our bodies and less to politically correct ideology?

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Genetic Explanations

Why do women cry at the film “Me Before You”?

me-before-you-2

The central London screening for the new high-profile weepie Me Before You was mostly an all-women affair. There were free tights, hankies and low-calorie crisps on every seat. There were four men in the auditorium. The film was introduced by director Thea Sharrock, writer Jojo Moyes and star Emilia Clarke (from Game of Thrones).  The film is based on the book of the same title that spent weeks at the top of the best seller lists.

Me Before You told the story of an alluring, happy, working-class girl (Emilia Clarke) who is hired to care for a despondent, moody, upper-class, phenomenally rich, handsome, quadriplegic man (Sam Claflin). He is suicidal because he hates being paralysed.  Her job is to show him that being disabled is manageable and despite his severe disability his life can still be enjoyed.

Apparently this film had the entire female audience in tears, much to the confusion of the few men present, who thought the film was terrible.  One later asked what is wrong with these women that they cry at such a contrived and awful film?

There is nothing “wrong” with women, they are just different to men.  To say this however is deemed politically incorrect.

It was in the communist Soviet Union that the phrase “politically correct” was born. i.e. something could be demonstrably untrue or scientifically incorrect but politically correct because it supported their particular political philosophy.

It may shock us to our core but women and men are fundamentally different, on average. They are wired differently.

We may also ask ourselves why Mills and Boon novels are so popular.  J.K. Rowling sold 400 million Harry Potter books in an 11-year career.  Mills & Boon sell 200 million formulaic female romantic fiction novels worldwide every year.  And this is only one publisher of this popular genre.

50 shades of Grey is a book written by a woman and the film is directed by a woman.  The audience for both was predominantly women.

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice created the formula for most female fantasies written since 1813:  Young, inexperienced girl meets older, aloof, condescending but rich and very powerful man, who she initially dislikes but with whom she feels a strong physical attraction.   Her latent physical desire for him causes her body to “betray” her and she ends up dancing with him against her better judgment and conscious will (the modern version has her having passionate sex with him against her conscious will).  He does male things like hunting, fencing and shooting.  She is pretty, intelligent and gentle.  She manages to tame this rogue as her own through her personality, intelligence and common sense.  Eventually he is tortured by his love for her and has eyes for nobody else, despite having a whole world of women to choose from.  He proposes to her and she admits she loved him from the start but didn’t know it.

Neither books nor films are substitutes for real relationships and physical contact, but perhaps the popularity of this genre gives us a peek  into many women’s subconscious fantasies.  It seems this is what many women want.

A few evolution based scientific facts to back up this clever and much used formula:

  • Women are generally more attracted to men of a higher social status than themselves.
  • Women are generally more attracted to men of equal or higher intelligence than themselves.
  • Women are generally more attracted to men who are attractive to many other women (think One Direction and the rich and powerful)

This formula doesn’t work if the man is a lowly manual labourer or has learning difficulties.  The disabled addition in this particular film plays to womens’ naturally more nurturing hardwired behaviour.

Women will choose high social status men (a proxy for good genes) to ensure their own genes have a good chance of survival in future generations.  To prove high social status takes a bit longer so women tend to go for successful, older men (4 years older in the UK on average).  Men had different evolutionary pressures so evolved to behave differently, on average.

Much of this behaviour is hard wired, as is our sexuality and our urge to have sex with attractive members of the opposite sex.

This film is basically a formula designed by psychologists and evolutionary biologists to appeal to women.  Much the same concept as Teletubbies, which was designed by child psychologists to appeal to toddlers.  The purposes of both ventures was to make money.

Feminism is concerned with how the world ought to be.  Science is concerned with how the world is.  Unfortunately 100 years of feminism does not undo 3,500,000,000 years of evolution.

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Genetic Explanations

The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness

girl-depression

A recent UK Department for Education study into the mental wellbeing of 30,000 teenagers found that girls were more than twice as likely as boys to suffer symptoms of mental ill health.  The proportion of girls with anxiety or depression has risen by 10 per cent in a decade.

The study was one of the largest of its kind and involved in-depth interviews with thousands of teenagers aged 14 or 15. It was based on a similar study carried out in 2005, allowing researchers to compare trends over time.

37% of teenage girls had three or more symptoms of psychological distress, such as feeling unhappy, worthless, and unable to concentrate, compared with 15 per cent of boys. Instances of depression and anxiety in boys had fallen since 2005, but risen by about 10 per cent in girls.

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 14.32.33

Researchers said that some of the increase could be attributed to “pushy parents” and “peer pressure” but these factors were not wholly responsible.  Also, social media was blamed for putting pressure on girls to lose weight, look good, be popular and achieve academic success.

This decline in female happiness started in the 1970s and was noted in 2009 in a major academic study (The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness):

“By many measures the progress of women over recent decades has been extraordinary.  Given these shifts of rights and bargaining power from men to women over the past 35 years, holding all else equal, we might expect to see a concurrent shift in happiness toward women and away from men. Yet ….measures of subjective well-being indicate that women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men. The paradox of women’s declining relative well-being is found across various datasets, measures of subjective well-being, and is pervasive across demographic groups and industrialized countries. Relative declines in female happiness have eroded a gender gap in happiness in which women in the 1970s typically reported higher subjective well-being than did men. These declines have continued and a new gender gap is emerging — one with higher subjective well-being for men.”

It seems that this decline in happiness of young women has continued since 2009 and is now resulting in depression.

As this steady decline in happiness has been noted in women since the 1970s we cannot blame social media, modern technology or recent changes in parenting, although they may be contributory factors.  Perhaps we should look at more fundamental changes in the structure of our society since the 1970s instead?

We must remember that all living things are effectively transient life support machines for our genes. A disposable container that passes our genes into future generations.  Genes control the physical characteristics and inherent behaviours in all living things.  There is overwhelming evidence that genes control human intelligence, personality and behaviour.

Evolution has occurred at a glacial pace over the last 3,500,000,000 years. Each tick of the evolutionary clock is about 250,000 years, so we are very similar to our ancestors of 50,000 years ago.

Women have a much lower reproductive capacity than men and must carefully nurture the few children they can have to get their genes into future generations.  The evolutionary pressures on men are different.

Over the last 3,500,000,000 years of evolution our genes have finely tuned their life support machines to act in their best interest.  When they need food they make us hungry, when they need water they make us thirsty.  When they need to reproduce they make us impassioned.  When they need to maintain copies of themselves in future generations they make us altruistic and nurturing for our children and grandchildren.

We are rewarded psychologically for good behaviour.  The satisfaction of a good meal, the pleasure of slaking a fierce thirst, the warm afterglow of sex. The radiance of a young woman with a new baby.  The pleasure a mother gets seeing her children happy, fed, clean and healthy. All are incentives to help our genes survive.

We are also punished psychologically for bad behaviour. The misery of following a life-course or career for which we are not suited or does not increase our reproductive capability. The unbearable guilt of perceived poor parenting.  The desperation of a childless woman towards the end of her fertile years.  All are disincentives to act against the interests of our genes.

In the modern, gender neutral, politically correct world we sometime forget what makes us happy.  And very often it is the simple things in life. The things the last 3,500,000,000 years has evolved us to do.

Perhaps in order to feel happy and fulfilled we should play the game.  We only get one shot at life.  Perhaps we should listen more to our bodies and less to politically correct ideology?

So perhaps this unhappiness is caused by women trying to be something for which they had not evolved?  Perhaps the creep of feminism since the 1970s is a contributory factor?  Perhaps women are not getting the necessary psychological rewards in a modern, gender neutral, politically correct world?  Perhaps the “sexist” 1960s philosophy was right.  Many women just want to get married and have babies.

Genetics works on a population level and cannot be used to make predictions about individuals.  However, the decline in female happiness since the 1970s occurs on a population level.

Anybody seriously interested in the happiness of women must consider all possibilities.

References:

The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness (academic reference)

Further reading:

Feminism, childlessness and female unhappiness – an evolutionary explanation

Men and Women Evolved with Conflicting Interests – why we don’t always get along

 

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Education, Genetic Explanations

Gender based learning difficulties – why do many more boys struggle than girls?

Boys Learning Disabilities

Sian Griffiths, writing in The Times recommends that you should  “Give your son a leg-up: treat him like a girl.”

According to this article it is parents who are mostly to blame for the lack of educational attainment in their sons.  The rest is caused by a gender-biased society influencing academic achievement.

Ms. Griffiths and the authors of this study seem to be keen advocates of the flawed “blank slate hypothesis”.  This believes that who and what we are as individuals is solely dictated by our environment, education and upbringing.

This article notes two phenomena:

  1. There is a difference in the rate and level of educational attainment between the sexes, with many more boys struggling at school than girls.  This is not new.  We’ve known this for decades.
  1. Parents treat male and female children slightly differently.  Again not new.  We’ve known this for millennia.

However, in a startlingly unscientific and unsubstantiated way they have rammed these two phenomena together and assumed that they are causative.  Not only that, but they have assumed that the way parents treat boys affects their educational attainment.  There is no reason why they should not have chosen the equally unverified and unsubstantiated assumption that parents treat boys differently because their educational attainment is different.

Both assumptions are demonstrably untrue.  Identical twin, sibling twin and adoption studies have conclusively proven that the primary factor driving intelligence and academic achievement in a modern, progressive, relatively socially mobile environment (such as the UK) is genetic.

There is also a demonstrable genetic difference in the variance of intelligence between the sexes.  Not only do girls mature mentally and physically before boys but there is a difference in the variance of intelligence between the sexes.  There are many more males than females with learning difficulties and many more males of very high intelligence than females.  The average intelligence of both sexes is broadly similar.

The references cited below have separated out what is caused by inherited DNA sequence and what is caused by everything else.  So we know these differences are not cultural.  Additionally, this article deals with the extremes.  There is no controversy that there are more males than females with learning difficulties.  This article refers to a million boys over the last decade who have fallen behind.  This is the extreme “left tail” of the standard distribution curve of male intelligence.  These results are what we would expect to see.  We have known about this issue since at least 1932.

If Ms. Griffiths wants to be taken seriously as an educational journalist, she should refer to the proven differences in educational achievement caused by genetic inheritance to ensure balance in her writing.  After all, the “blank slate hypothesis” has been comprehensively discredited so she needs to find another explanation for these differences.

It seems that political correctness continues to overcome scientific fact.

References:

Further  Listening:

Intelligence: Born Smart, Born Equal, Born Different  (3 Podcasts from The BBC on the genetics of intelligence).

What makes some children smarter than others?  Professor Robert Plomin talks to Jim Al-Khalili about what makes some people smarter than others and why he’s fed up with the genetics of intelligence being ignored.

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Politics and Economics

Hierarchy of Argument

Graham's_Hierarchy_of_Disagreement.svg

 

The rise of social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter and this website) and the ability to respond to online newspaper articles has ensured that we are more able to debate and disagree with the author. Agreeing tends to motivate people less than disagreeing and there’s less to say.

So,  there’s a lot more disagreeing in the modern, connected world. Many debate anonymously using a pseudonym rather than their real identity, which allows people to be abusive and behave differently than they would if they were face-to-face with their opponent. Trolling is the modern equivalent of poison pen letters and easier to execute.

Consequently the quality of disagreement in online debates is poor.

I found this model, Grahams Hierarchy of Disagreement useful in holding people to account on the quality of their argument.

Name-calling.

This is the lowest form of disagreement. We’ve all seen comments such as “you’re stupid / racist / sexist / homophobic”.

But it’s important to realize that more articulate name-calling has just as little weight  e.g. “the author is a self-opinionated dilettante” or “America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilisation in between” (Oscar Wilde).

Ad Hominem.

Ad hominem is Latin for “to the man” or “to the person”.  It is short for argumentum ad hominem and is a logical fallacy in which an argument is rebutted by attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument (or persons associated with the argument) rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself.  An ad hominem attack is not quite as weak as mere name-calling. It might actually carry some weight. For example, if a doctor wrote an article saying Government health spending should be increased, one could respond: “Of course he would say that.  He’s a doctor.”

This wouldn’t refute the author’s argument, but it may be relevant to the case. But it’s still a very weak form of disagreement.  If there’s something wrong with the doctor’s argument, one should say what it is; and if there isn’t, what difference does it make that he’s a doctor?

Arguing that the author is unqualified or lacks authority on a topic is a variant of ad hominem and is also ineffective.  Good ideas often come from outsiders with a fresh view of the problem.

Responding to Tone.

The next level up we start to see responses to the style of writing, rather than the writer. The lowest form of these is to disagree with the author’s tone  e.g. “I can’t believe the author dismisses the theory of evolution in such a cavalier fashion”.

Though better than attacking the author, this is still a weak form of disagreement. It matters much more whether the author is wrong or right than what is his tone.  The tone is subjective and doesn’t tell us if the author is incorrect in their conclusions.

Contradiction.

In this stage we finally get responses to what was said, rather than how or by whom. The lowest form of response to an argument is simply to state the opposing case, with little or no supporting evidence.

e.g. “I can’t believe the author dismisses evolutionary theory in such a cavalier fashion. Evolution is a proven scientific theory.”

Contradiction can sometimes have some weight. Sometimes seeing the opposing case stated explicitly adds to the argument, but references and evidence carries more weight.

Counterargument.

Here we reach the first form of convincing disagreement. Forms up to this point can usually be ignored as proving nothing. Counterargument might prove something. But it’s hard to say exactly what.

Counterargument is contradiction plus reasoning and/or evidence. When aimed squarely at the original argument, it can be convincing. But unfortunately it’s common for counterarguments to be aimed at something slightly different. More often than not, two people arguing passionately about something are actually arguing about two different things. Sometimes they even agree with one another, but are so caught up in their squabble they don’t realise it.

There could be a legitimate reason for arguing against something slightly different from what the author said.  For example,  when one feels they missed the central point of the argument. But when one does that it should stated explicitly that is what you are doing.

Refutation.

The most convincing form of disagreement is refutation. It’s also the rarest, because it’s the most difficult.  This is why the disagreement hierarchy forms a pyramid – the higher one goes the fewer instances one finds.

To refute someone one should quote them and then explain why the argument is mistaken. If one can’t find an actual quote with which to disagree one can give the impression of refuting an opponent’s argument, while actually refuting an argument that was not advanced by that opponent  i.e. arguing with a straw man.

While refutation generally entails quoting, quoting doesn’t necessarily lead to refutation. Some writers quote parts of things they disagree with to give the appearance of legitimate refutation, then follow with a response from a lower form of argument, such as contradiction or counterargument.

Refuting the Central Point.

The force of a refutation depends on what is refuted. The most powerful form of disagreement is to refute the opponent’s central point.

Even as high as Refutation one can still see deliberate dishonesty, as when someone picks out minor points of an argument and refutes those. Sometimes the spirit in which this is done makes it more of a sophisticated form of ad hominem than actual refutation. For example, correcting minor mistakes in events and statistics. Unless the opposing argument actually depends on such things, the only purpose of correcting them is to discredit one’s opponent.

Truly refuting something requires one to refute its central point. And that means one has to commit explicitly to what is the central point. So a truly effective refutation would look like:

“The author’s main point seems to be <x> as he says <quotation> , but this is wrong for the following reasons….” Preferably with the addition of relevant evidence and authoritative references.

Even this formula can reveal deliberate dishonesty in a debate.  For example, the deliberate citing of poorly conducted or flawed research as evidence that the central point of the argument is wrong.  Examples of poor research are many, but even well conducted research can produce the occasional exceptional result.  It is mischievous to produce these as evidence when the author knows most other examples of well conducted research on the same topic proves a different conclusion.

So what?

So what good is all this? One thing the disagreement hierarchy doesn’t give us is a way of picking the winning argument in a debate. These levels merely describe the form of a statement, not whether it’s correct. A response that refutes the central point could still be completely wrong.

The most obvious advantage of classifying the forms of disagreement is that it will help people to evaluate the quality of what they read and if the responder is being intellectually dishonest.  An eloquent speaker or writer can give the impression of destroying an argument merely by using forceful words or getting amusing and memorable sound bites quoted repeatedly in the media.

But the greatest benefit of disagreeing well is that it will improve the quality of debate.  A debate should be about testing alternative solutions to a problem.  So, a better debate should lead to a better solution.  This benefits everybody.

Thanks to Paul Graham.

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