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

Standard
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.

Standard
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.

Standard
Liberty, Politics and Economics

Brexit – The Movie. A critique.

or stream the video here:  Brexit – the movie

Critique:

This movie revealed an EU that is relatively undemocratic, frustratingly opaque, often unaccountable and hopelessly bureaucratic. The EU’s accounts have not been transparent enough to be signed off by an independent auditor for years, which means it could also be corrupt. I was appalled to discover that democratically elected MEPs cannot suggest or initiate legislation (that can only be done by unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats) and neither can they repeal legislation once it is on the statute books.

On the business side it covered the enemies of a successful economy: lack of competition, restriction of free trade, excessive regulation and (again) bureaucracy. All areas in which the EU excels.  The EU has restrictions on trade with countries outside the EU and this stifles competition.   It is also damaging the economic growth of poor African countries by preventing access to the EU markets for their farming produce.  The examples of it gave of free trade and lack of Government control and regulation unleashing an economic miracle in post-war Germany, whilst the UK economy drowned in Government regulation and bureaucracy (i.e. socialism) was compelling.  As was the example of the huge economic success of Switzerland, which is outside the EU and free of its regulation, bureaucracy and general centrally controlled interference and incompetence.  Switzerland also has some of the lowest levels of social inequality in Europe.

The film also made the excellent point that we don’t need trade agreements with other countries to trade with them. In fact the UK  trades with many countries without a trade agreement. In the same way my company doesn’t need a contract to sell products to our customers. They just buy according to our standard terms and conditions.

However, I thought their emphasis on Tate and Lyle and the decline of the British fishing industry was weak, as these are relatively old and small industries.  Examples of biotechnology and technology industries would have been more compelling.  The huge success of the Swiss pharmaceutical industry, despite being outside the EU, was briefly mentioned and should have got more prominence.  There should also have been some debate on the effect of EU membership on quality and quantity of scientific research in Europe.  And everything said by the editor of The Sun newspaper lowered the tone of the debate.

Mervyn King, the former Governor of the Bank of England thinks the economic impact of Brexit or remaining in the EU will be broadly similar:

All in all, I’m not convinced there will be an economic disaster if the UK left the EU. The CBI, IMF and other so-called economic experts have all been wrong before.  Very recently the IMF and EU said George Osborne’s economic plan for Britain would cause a major recession and mass unemployment. They were wrong.  UK has the strongest growth in the developed world and low unemployment.  The EU economy is a disaster, particularly in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy.  Unemployment levels are high and their youth unemployment levels are scandalous.  High European unemployment is predominantly caused by restrictive labour laws i.e. bureaucratic, Government intervention in the employment market.  Perhaps the UK’s economy is doing reasonably well despite, and not because of, EU membership.  Maybe we would do even better without the EU.

In any case there is also the future possibility of rejoining the EU, perhaps even negotiating better terms.

Even if it is proven that the EU gives specific economic benefit it would have to be huge to compensate us for not having a democratic and accountable Government making our laws.

If the Brexit debate is just about the economy why don’t we just sell our freedom and sovereignty to the highest bidder?  China may be prepared to pay us a lot more than the EU for the rights to make British laws.

The one opinion I really value is The Economist newspaper, which I have read religiously for over 25 years. I generally find their views agree with my own.  They are very much in favour of staying in the EU, which is why I am still wavering.

Standard
Liberty, Politics and Economics

Should Muirfield Golf Club be allowed to ban female members?

Muirfield-Open-Championship

Muirfield Golf Club will not stage another Open Championship after maintaining its ban on women members.  The Scottish club said voting in favour of allowing female members had fallen just short of the required two thirds majority required to change its rules.

There are a very small number of single sex golf clubs in the UK and roughly half of them are women’s clubs.

A private club is a place where like-minded people can meet and socialise.  Effectively a private club is free to exclude anyone based upon any criteria, regardless of how bigoted those criteria may be.

Should The State have the right to dictate to its citizens how they socialise and with whom they socialise?  For example, by passing laws banning private clubs or dictating their membership criteria.   i.e. restricting the right of free association.  Certainly not in a free country.

There are many, many people (particularly on the left of politics) who would like nothing more than to restrict the social activities of the rich and privileged. In fact, they would like to control how society behaves and thinks in general.  They justify the consequent legislation, prosecution and bullying of citizens whose views are different to their own by claiming they are eradicating racism, sexism and inequality. This leads to social engineering and the terrifying concept of “The Thought Police” as portrayed in George Orwell’s  1949 novel Nineteen Eighty- Four and Stalin’s real-life Soviet Communist State.

It was in the communist Soviet Union that the phrase “politically correct” was born. i.e. something could be demonstrably true or scientifically correct but politically incorrect because it didn’t support their particular political philosophy.

To maintain a free society we are in the unfortunate position of having to support Muirfield’s right to have a private club and choose their own membership, even if we disagree with their decisions. In the same way we must support a person’s right to free speech even if they use this right to express bigoted views.

If we go too far in criticising the likes of Muirfield there is the danger of populist but well meaning politicians empowering State intervention through legislation, which would be much worse.  And when political correctness goes too far we have the additional danger of a potential counter-movement, which could be even more worrying – i.e. Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen.

So, a free society means giving our citizens the freedom to make bad choices and actively supporting that right.

Further Reading:

Discrimination by private members clubs and associations – overview

Why is it legal for some golf clubs to still be single sex?

How does the Equality Act 2010 affect private clubs and associations?

Standard
Politics and Economics

Is recent extreme populism a reaction to extreme political correctness?

20151212_LDD001_0

Mexicans, Muslims, African-Americans and Chinese have all been insulted by Donald Trump. In August, he accused a popular news presenter of asking questions about his serial misogyny because she was menstruating — and his poll numbers rose.

He enraged much of the British establishment this week by suggesting that Muslim-dominated parts of Britain had become no-go areas for police. Yet the latest poll suggests that 35 per cent of Republican voters, the highest figure yet, want him as their presidential nominee.

There is a misguided campaign to have Mr. Trump banned from the UK because of his populist views. I don’t support his views either, but he has the right to express his opinions and voters have the right to listen to him, make an informed choice and vote for him. And his populism is not alone.   In Europe populists are in power in Poland and Hungary, and in the governing coalition in Switzerland and Finland. In the first round of the French regional elections on 6th December, the far-right National Front (FN) gained the largest share of the national vote. The FN’s leader, Marine Le Pen, and her niece each polled over 40%. 

This far-right populism is perhaps a natural reaction to the con of political correctness gone berserk.  The con is the flawed belief that a human being is born as a malleable lump of clay that can be manipulated and moulded by society into anything that we want.  i.e. social policy can liberate people from their own limitations, flaws, personal inadequacies and insecurities through legislation and indoctrination.

The problem with political correctness  (if there is one) is that it has a strong vision of how the world ought to be.  Inconvenient truths are met with denial followed by shrill personal attacks and screams of “racism” and “sexism”.  Like all idealists (including socialists) there is little debate about how the world actually is and little effort to find pragmatic solutions and compromises.  This can lead to very poor and expensive decision-making, as many real-world facts are not considered before choosing a chain of action. We now experience constant change regarding gender identity, roles in society and social, sexual, racial and religious equality.  We are moving beyond laudable intentions around equality of opportunity to the dangerous premise of equality of outcome – irrespective of possible average natural differences between the classes, races and sexes.

But for the vast majority human happiness is based on security, familiarity, predictability and conformity.  i.e. understanding your place in the world and knowing how to navigate it.  Fundamentally most people don’t like change.  Change management is an enormous industry in the world of work for this reason.  Trade unions desperately try to stop the world of their members changing because it is considered harmful and stressful.

Small groups of people with a “cause” are highly motivated to change the world to suit their own agenda.   They have energy and intelligence to seize power through the media and government and then change the world to suit their own personal grievances.  But they are often a minority and their constant moving of once-taken-for-granted certainty in our societies causes stress, anxiety, confusion and unhappiness for the majority.

Perhaps Mr. Trump and Ms. Le Pen are speaking for a significant number of voters who believe that political correctness has gone too far.  It is possible to have too much of a good thing.  Political correctness must be reigned back and infused with real world truths or we risk voters supporting these populist extreme counter-measures, which would be much worse.

Standard
Liberty, Politics and Economics

Liberty, Employee Rights and Mental Health

We now live in a world where employee rights trump good business decisions.  Companies are increasingly forced to accept employees based on our social engineers idea of “equality” and “fairness”.  These misconceived philosophies are based on an assumption that we are all equally capable and any difference in ability is down to racism, sexism or some other type of bigoted discrimination.

Pregnant women must be given equal rights, allowed to leave work for extended periods and demand equal pay when returning to the workplace despite missing out on vital experience in the meantime.  This creates a strain on all businesses but particularly small businesses when competing in world markets.  We are now being asked to relieve the work and make allowances for menopausal women who may have problems concentrating or coping with their symptoms.

There are effectively quotas for gender, and disability and race are increasingly mentioned in order to socially engineer a society with equality of outcome.

Fair enough many would say.  Our businesses are at a disadvantage when competing with China, South East Asia, etc. etc., but the social benefits outweigh the economic cost.

However there has recently been a push to extend the concept of disability to mental health.  We understand that a work place must accommodate a person in a wheelchair for example and we should not fire somebody or discriminate against them because of a physical disability.  But we are now asked to do the same for people with mental health issues.  People with physical disabilities can do almost any job so long as there is some physical help.  This is not true with mental illnesses, whose sufferers often cannot even face going to work. They may have problems processing information, communicating effectively with colleagues and they can be unpredictable and occasionally dangerous.

The idea that a person must be able to do the job they have been hired to do seems no longer applicable.  Nowadays the workplace is not about building a successful and efficient business but about creating secure employment for everybody in society.

However, this politically correct policy carries considerable risks.  The driver of a bin lorry that crashed in Glasgow killing six people and injuring 15 others had deliberately misled doctors over his history of mental blackouts that caused the fatal accident.   The pilot of a Germanwings A320  who deliberately crashed his aircraft, killing all 144 people on board, had previously been treated for suicidal tendencies.  We now understand that half of all fatal air accidents involve some sort of pilot error.   This should strengthen the case for closer monitoring of employees and their mental health — and eventually for removing them from jobs where they may kill or injure others.  We already understand that political correctness in employing people with mental health issues creates a huge economic cost but now we find that it also creates a huge human cost.

Companies should not be legally forced or morally pressured to employ anybody or retain them unless they believe they can effectively and safely do the job for which they are hired.

Standard