Tag Archives: statistics

Democracy and the Bell Curve

This is the bell curve:

https://www.statisticshowto.datasciencecentral.com/bell-curve/

It’s a statistical concept that says information about everything will create the shape of a bell curve if you can sample all of the population. Here, population is defined as whatever it is that you’re looking at. [Click the link above to read a more precise definition of a bell curve].

Let me give you an example. This is a rough spread of colours. It’s not accurate but bear with me:

Now, if you could ask every single person on earth which was their favourite colour, you’d end up with a smallish number of people at either end of the bell curve choosing black or white. Most people, however, would choose one of the colours in between those two extremes.

These are the people in the middle of that bell curve.

These are the people commonly referred to as the ‘silent majority’. These are the people who ultimately make or break the system of government we call democracy.

Of course, present day democracy isn’t ‘real’ democracy. It’s representational democracy, meaning we elect a tiny elite to do all the voting for a set period of time. We-the-people are lucky if our single vote has any influence on who is elected to vote for us. I

n case it isn’t completely obvious, I loathe representational democracy, and that’s despite living in a country that does it better than most. In Australia’s version, everyone of voting age has to vote, whether they want to or not. In theory at least, our votes can be expressed as a bell curve because the whole population is included in the result – i.e. some rabid right wingers on one side, some rabid left wingers on the other, and everybody else somewhere in the middle.

The net effect of having all those middies voting is that the power of the two extremes is diluted.

In countries that don’t have compulsory voting, the silent majority largely don’t vote. That means the two extremes are the ones who care enough to vote. And that means the power of the extremes is not moderated by ordinary, everyday voters with ordinary, everyday wants and needs.

I have understood the power of the bell curve for over 40 years. It is the reason I believe that representational democracy will, one day, be superseded by a more direct, more democratic voting system. In this barely imaginable future, ordinary people will be allowed to influence the direction of politics in a more meaningful way. Instead of only getting a say once every 4 years, they’ll have the option of voting directly on issues that concern them. Think social media or #auspol but with teeth. No more electing ambitious, professional bastards politicians to do our voting for us!

That’s the upside of direct voting, but there’s a downside as well, two in fact. People who don’t think direct voting is a good idea usually point to ‘populism’ as an example of how real majority rule can go horribly wrong. And they do have a point. While only the extremes get to have their say, direct rule of any sort can only lead to disaster.

But…we’re now smart enough to factor the ‘extremes’ into any direct voting system we devise. For example, let’s say we have a direct voting referendum on something emotional, like say a new flag. We could set up a system whereby a referendum would only pass [and hence become law] if a majority of at least 95% of the total population actually voted, one way or the other. This would ensure that direct voting faithfully reflected the wants and needs of the real majority.

Ah, but what about security, you say.

At the moment, security is the single biggest issue holding us back from direct voting, but I believe that blockchain technology, or something like it, will eventually make direct voting a viable and secure possibility.

I am still playing through all the issues in my head, but I honestly believe that one day, we will be like those ancient Athenians who first came up with the concept of democracy. It does feel weird though to think that it’s already been well over 2,000 years since democracy was first attempted.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we were the first to finally get it right?

Meeks


Prof. Hans Rosling, teacher extraordinaire

The world has lost a giant intellect with the death of Professor Hans Rosling, the statistician who breathed life into data and gave humanity an enormous gift. His entertaining and optimistic approach to data analysis is inspirational. His teaching methods will live on in every person who had the good fortune to hear him speak, […]

via Life and Death: The Next Big Thing — Honie Briggs

Statistics and math are not the same beast. Math is about precise relationships, stats is about patterns, and Professor Rosling was about helping people recognize the patterns created by statistics.

Human beings are very good at pattern recognition, but usually that skill is restricted to the small scale – my house, my world, my life. Statistics gives us a tool with which to recognize patterns on a large scale – our country, our planet, humankind. And you don’t have to be a maths wiz to do it. All you need is basic math and logic.

If I could change one thing about education right now, it would be to teach each child about statistics. Maybe then, we would not have a world in which every fact is open to ‘interpretation’.

But don’t watch Professor Rosling’s videos just for his brilliant, visual ways of displaying stats, watch them for the content. However dissatisfied we may be with our world in 2017, I was gobsmacked to learn that the Industrial Revolution – a period in Western history that saw terrible disruptions to the life of the common man – was also the start of an incredible climb up out of poverty. It gives me hope that the Era of Automation will actually lead to an even better standard of living for all of us, not just a few.

 


Real stats about online harassment

We all know that statistics can be twisted to prove just about anything, so the first thing I do when I stumble across any research is to check its provenance [as much as possible]. In this case, the stats relating to online harassment come from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. They claim that they take “…no positions on policy issues related to the internet”. I’m not sure I’d accept that statement at face value from any organisation, but in this instance, I can’t see the point of any bias.

In terms of accuracy, I’d be more inclined to question the survey technique itself as it relies on ‘self assessment’ rather than some kind of objective observation. Nonetheless, with a large enough sample size, statistical trends about what we think we feel/know/experience tend to be more accurate.

Gah, enough caveats; on to the data itself. You can find the full report on the Pew Research Centre website :

http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/10/22/online-harassment/

For me, the points that made little bells go off in my head were these :

“Fully 92% of internet users agreed that the online environment allows people to be more critical of one another, compared with their offline experiences. But a substantial majority, 68%, also agreed that online environments allow them to be more supportive of one another. Some 63% thought online environments allow for more anonymity than in their offline lives.”

The researchers do not connect the dots, but I find it hard not to do so. Anonymity is the digital equivalent of wearing a mask, or a balaclava; it allows us to indulge the parts of ourselves we usually hide.

In the real world, we have to be diplomatic in order to get on with others in our families, friendship groups, work groups etc. Online, however, anonymity allows us to vent the thoughts and feelings we usually censor. Why? Because we can get away with it.

By the same token, people who do not hide behind anonymous identities online may feel the need to be ‘nicer’ than they might be in real life. Why? Because their online reputation filters back to real life, and no one wants to be seen as ‘nasty’ or ‘selfish’.

[Does that mean I’m nastier in real life than online? Gawd, I hope not, but I probably wouldn’t admit to it even if it were true…]

Whether your views on human nature are as cynical as mine, one thing does stand out from the data – there is an awful lot of nastiness going on. Have a look at this graph:

anonymity stats 2

 

Now I don’t want to flog a dead horse, but the scale of the problems caused by anonymity really is huge. And we have to do something about it.

Given how inventive we humans can be, I hope that we can bring civilisation to the internet whilst still protecting those who genuinely do need to remain anonymous, but long term, our behaviour must have consequences or we’ll destroy the very thing that makes the internet so wonderful.

My thanks to the Passive Guy for spreading the word about this research.

cheers

Meeks

 

 

 

 

 


%d bloggers like this: