A Tale of Two WaPo articles

In the first article, Nathan Phillips was getting ready to leave and trying to remove himself from what seemed like an escalating situation, but the teens swarmed around him and wouldn’t allow him to retreat.

‘It was getting ugly’: Native American drummer speaks on his encounter with MAGA-hat-wearing teens

Phillips, 64, said he felt threatened by the teens and that they swarmed around him as he and other activists were wrapping up the march and preparing to leave.

Phillips, who was singing the American Indian Movement song that serves as a ceremony to send the spirits home, said he noticed tensions beginning to escalate when the teens and other apparent participants from the nearby March for Life rally began taunting the dispersing indigenous crowd.

A few people in the March for Life crowd began to chant, “Build that wall, build that wall,” he said.

“It was getting ugly, and I was thinking: ‘I’ve got to find myself an exit out of this situation and finish my song at the Lincoln Memorial,’ ” Phillips recalled. “I started going that way, and that guy in the hat stood in my way, and we were at an impasse. He just blocked my way and wouldn’t allow me to retreat.”

In the second article, Phillips was concerned about escalating tensions between the teens and the black Hebrew Israelites, so he decided to walk into the mass of teens while playing his drum and singing a song. The teenage boy he stood face-to-face with (now identified as Nick Sandmann) was not refusing to let him pass, but Phillips didn’t see why he should walk around Sandmann because he was thinking of what white people have done in this country over the last several centuries.

A tribal elder and a high school junior stood face to face, and the world reacted

Phillips played a prayer song on a drum as he walked toward the students.

Some of the students began doing a “Tomahawk chop” and dancing, the video shows. Phillips said he found it offensive, but kept walking and drumming.

Most of the students moved out of his way, the video shows. But Sandmann stayed still.

Asked why he felt the need to walk into the group of students, Phillips said he was trying to reach the top of the memorial, where friends were standing. But Phillips also said he saw more than a teenage boy in front of him. He saw a long history of white oppression of Native Americans.

“Why should I go around him?” he asked. “I’m just thinking of 500 years of genocide in this country, what your people have done. You don’t even see me as a human being.”

The lengthy videos show Phillips walked into the crowd and up to Sandmann, who never approached or moved to block Phillips, said anything to Phillips, or stopped him from going anywhere. And despite Phillips describing the teens as “beasts” going after their “prey” (the black Hebrew Israelites), the 1h46m video shows the BHIs making many racist, homophobic, and aggressive comments toward the teens and others, yet the video doesn’t appear to capture any instance of the teens chanting “build a wall” or other racist phrases. Note the second Washington Post article describes the BHIs’ terrible behavior “according to the video” and the teens terrible behavior “according to [BHI] Banyamyan and another Hebrew Israelite.”

But by far the best (most ironic) part of WaPo’s coverage is this paragraph:

The incident, and the finger-pointing that followed, seemed to capture the worst of America at a moment of extreme political polarization, as discourse once again gave way to division, and people drew conclusions on social media before all the facts were known.

You mean people drew conclusions based on media accounts published before all the facts were known? Could WaPo be less self-aware?

The first round of mainstream coverage (NYT, WaPo, HuffPo, etc.) all involved interviews or at least quotes and videos with Phillips but no discussion with any of the teens involved (and no mention of the BHIs at all). It took non-journalists no time to find and review the much longer videos for full context. Now the same outlets that uncritically published headlines such as “Native American man harassed by teens speaks out” are saying “A new video shows a different side of the encounter between a Native American elder and teens in MAGA hats.” All within about a day.

Pew Research recently released a new poll finding that Republicans in particular say the news media doesn’t understand people like them. I’d say that’s a generous interpretation.

Related links:

The Media Wildly Mischaracterized That Video of Covington Catholic Students Confronting a Native American Veteran – Reason, January 20, 2019

Statement of Nick Sandmann, Covington Catholic High School junior, regarding incident at the Lincoln Memorial – CNN, January 20, 2019

How much of gender is a social construct?

Check out this National Geographic article “How science is helping us understand gender.” Author Robin Henig outlines different intersex conditions that can be more complicated than the typical XX vs XY binary. But here’s the quote that really caught my eye:

Gender is an amalgamation of several elements: chromosomes (those X’s and Y’s), anatomy (internal sex organs and external genitals), hormones (relative levels of testosterone and estrogen), psychology (self-defined gender identity), and culture (socially defined gender behaviors).

This is a good summary of the factors that could contribute to a person’s understanding of gender, but it also helps demonstrate why conversations about gender get confusing fast. Two thoughts:

1. Intersex =/= Transgender

To my understanding (which I admit is limited), intersex issues are not the same as transgender issues, and in fact people with intersex conditions don’t necessarily appreciate being used as the wedge to push society to accept transgender issues.

Intersexuality is not the same as a transsexuality (gender dysphoria) and is not a transgender state. Neither of the latter terms is one that we recognise as belonging in any general discussion of intersex. We are not happy with the recent tendency of some trans groups/people to promote transgender as an umbrella term to encompass, for example, transsexuality, transvestitism and intersex. We object to other organisations/individuals putting us in categories without consulting us, especially categories that imply that interexed people, of necessity, have gender identity issues.

2. Gender cannot be just a social construct.

If gender were only a social construct, it would be hard to explain why a trans man could not more easily exist simply as a masculine cis woman, i.e. a tomboy or someone similar. If gender is unrelated to sexuality and genitalia, transitioning seems like an unnecessarily difficult undertaking (financially, emotionally, physically, and socially).

That’s not suggest that gender is wholly unrelated to culture. It seems intuitive to me that at least some aspect of gender, especially society’s understanding of gender, is based more on cultural norms than biology. The extreme and perhaps tired example is that girls like pink and boys like blue. Presumably if we birthed children in a society where the opposite was the norm, they’d just go with it. But here and now dressing a baby in pink is a way to signal to others “this baby is a girl,” and while of course you can dress your baby girl in blue, you will probably confuse strangers who think you’re signaling “this baby is a boy” instead of just “I like blue.” Maybe you don’t care about that (I don’t) but that’s the cultural norm and I expect it influences the relative proportion of boys and men willing to wear pink. I digress.

What does it mean, for example, for a person to have all the biological traits (chromosomes, sex organs, genitalia, and hormone levels) of a male but “feel” female? What is the difference between a biological male who identifies as female and a biological male who identifies as a male who is partial to activities and preferences culturally viewed as female? This distinction especially gets confusing when we add in the idea that your sexuality and sexual preferences are not related to your gender. So what drives the difference between a cis straight male who is comfortable with the color pink, being a stay-at-home parent, and [insert female stereotypes here] versus a homosexual trans woman who also likes all of those things?

I ask these questions sincerely. I recognize that people feel very differently about these topics and I don’t begrudge anyone that. And, in terms of policy, I don’t think it’s a good idea for the government to get very strict about what constitutes male and female, not only because intersex conditions complicate matters but also because it’s not hard to imagine situations that would put trans people in danger if they are narrowed to the options of traditional cis sexuality. As the New York Times explains:

Several agencies have withdrawn Obama-era policies that recognized gender identity in schools, prisons and homeless shelters.

I suspect that as we learn more about human physiology and particularly neurology, we’ll gain more insight into the phenomenon of transgenderism. But if that turns out to be the case, to my mind it would be further evidence that gender is biological, as long as we recognize that biology includes more than our genitalia. National Geographic hints at this possibility (same article linked above) when Henig explains:

At least a few brain characteristics, such as density of the gray matter or size of the hypothalamus, do tend to differ between genders. It turns out transgender people’s brains may more closely resemble brains of their self-identified gender than those of the gender assigned at birth. In one study, for example, Swaab and his colleagues found that in one region of the brain, transgender women, like other women, have fewer cells associated with the regulator hormone somatostatin than men. In another study scientists from Spain conducted brain scans on transgender men and found that their white matter was neither typically male nor typically female, but somewhere in between.

Maybe all of this musing is getting to a broader question: can psychology exist independent from biology? If someone is psychologically male can we assume, by definition, that some part of that person’s brain structures, neural connectivity, whatever, will look more similar to cis male brains? I’m interested to see what we learn as time goes on.

Most Americans don’t like political correctness.

According to Yascha Mounk in The Atlantic the following people dislike political correctness:

  • 97% of devoted conservatives
  • 88% of American Indians
  • 87% of those who have never attended college
  • 87% of Hispanics
  • 83% of those who make less than $50,000 per year
  • 82% of Asian people
  • 79% of people under age 24
  • 79% of white people
  • 75% of African Americans
  • 74% of people age 24-29
  • 70% of those who make more than $100,000 per year
  • 66% of those with a postgraduate degree
  • 61% of traditional liberals
  • 30% of progressive activists

In fact “progressive activists” were the only group that overall liked political correctness, a group which Mounk describes as “much more likely to be rich, highly educated–and white.” This description supports previous findings by Pew Research.

Mounk asked his Twitter followers to guess what percent of the country has a problem with political correctness, and they greatly underestimated the true numbers. Mounk theorizes this is because, as he puts it,

They are probably a decent approximation for a particular intellectual milieu to which I also belong: politically engaged, highly educated, left-leaning Americans—the kinds of people, in other words, who are in charge of universities, edit the nation’s most important newspapers and magazines, and advise Democratic political candidates on their campaigns.

In other words, the progressive view (the minority view) benefits from having a particularly large mouthpiece.

The study Mounk is reviewing found that most Americans, described as the “exhausted majority,” see political correctness as “the preening display of cultural superiority” and “an excuse to mock the values and ignorance of others.” Mounk concludes:

A publication whose editors think they represent the views of a majority of Americans when they actually speak to a small minority of the country may eventually see its influence wane and its readership decline. And a political candidate who believes she is speaking for half of the population when she is actually voicing the opinions of one-fifth is likely to lose the next election.

In a democracy, it is difficult to win fellow citizens over to your own side, or to build public support to remedy injustices that remain all too real, when you fundamentally misunderstand how they see the world.

Graphic from the report “Hidden Tribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape,” which Mounk summarizes in his article.

Post-Kavanaugh, Democrats’ November advantage fades

In his October 5 WSJ op-ed (Kavanaugh May be the Democrats’ Waterloo), Allen Guelzo asserts,

In the Missouri Senate race, Republican Josh Hawley has overtaken incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill, largely in reaction to the Kavanaugh hearings. In North Dakota, Republican Kevin Cramer has opened up a yawning lead over Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. The newest Quinnipiac and NPR/PBS NewsHour polls show that the Democratic generic-ballot advantage has halved and the party’s enthusiasm advantage has vanished.

I hadn’t heard any of this so I looked it up myself, and he’s right. According to the October 2 Quinnipiac poll:

Five weeks before the Midterm Elections, 49 percent of American voters back the Democratic candidate in their local race for the U.S. House of Representatives and 42 percent support the Republican candidate, according to a Quinnipiac University National Poll released today.

This compares to the results of a September 12 survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University National Poll, showing Democrats with a 52 – 38 percent lead.

And here’s NPR’s summary of the NPR/PBS NewsHour poll:

Just over a month away from critical elections across the country, the wide Democratic enthusiasm advantage that has defined the 2018 campaign up to this point has disappeared, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

In July, there was a 10-point gap between the number of Democrats and Republicans saying the November elections were “very important.” Now, that is down to 2 points, a statistical tie.

Keep in mind that historically the President’s party loses ground in the mid-terms, and this is especially so if the President has a lower approval rating. So I’m still expecting that result next month. However I feel uncertain about any predictions. Ever since Trump won in the first place, it seems like we’re in a new era, and it’s hard to pin predictions on his administration.

Ford & Kavanaugh: I’m not on a side, I’m just tired.

Random thoughts:

It is not at all strange to me that Ford would not go public with these accusations before now. Most women who have experienced sexual assault don’t tell anyone even privately about it, much less go public, much less go public in such a politically polarized context. If I were her I would want to avoid it all too, and I’d also feel conflicted if the person who assaulted me was about to be handed such incredible power. The fact that Ford didn’t speak up before now in no way invalidates her claims, to my mind.

I also think it’s significant that there’s evidence she was talking about this experience at least as far back as 2012, because that fact undermines the idea that this is all some ad hoc plot to stop Kavanaugh. I don’t think it’s weird that she didn’t use his specific name at the time. I could hardly stand to say the name of the dude from my past and he was in no way powerful or famous.

I also don’t think it’s strange that she’s hazy on a lot of details. I’ve seen so many posts—including a lot of posts from sexual assault victims—claiming a victim basically never forgets and if she were telling the truth she’d remember everything. That is just not accurate. Human memory is notoriously imprecise and fallible. We know from the work of the Innocence Project that many people have been imprisoned based largely on eyewitness testimony that was incorrect, and that’s not to say eyewitnesses were lying per se. In many cases they were probably entirely sincere, but there are many psychological biases that can make our memories false. Add to that decades since the event. It’s not weird that she doesn’t remember how she got there or left, in my opinion. I am much younger than she and I am very fuzzy on many high school memories and I was sober the entire time too.

That said, human memory is notoriously imprecise and fallible, so it’s a problem that there appears to be no corroborating evidence of Ford’s account. I think it’s pretty significant that none of the people she said were present have corroborated her. I doubt Ford is lying. I don’t think she’s acting out of partisan politics. But I am not as certain that she’s right.

And then there’s Kavanaugh. His opening statement was more passionate than I expected. He behaved the way a man falsely accused might be expected to behave. Then again I have known men who seemed quite likable, who you’d never believe would do something like that, and they totally have. Or, as a somewhat tangential example, it reminds me of Rod Dreher’s article about how his family very painfully left the Catholic church after discovering that a priest they specifically liked had a history of sexual assault allegations, and Dreher and his wife realized they couldn’t rely on their instincts: they would have had no idea and their parish warned no one. Predators can be very convincing. You can’t tell just based on apparent righteous indignation. I think both an innocent man and a guilty one would behave that way. I’ll admit there were moments when I felt a bit sorry for Kavanaugh but then I kept coming back to the fact that his emotional displays, in my opinion, don’t really tell us anything.

That’s not even getting into the fact that he may 100% believe he’d done nothing even when he had. It was decades ago, and, once again, human memory is very fallible, even more so if it’s true he was drinking a lot. In my personal experience and being familiar with the personal experiences of others, certain types of men can unequivocally cross a line and truly not view it that way at the time or remember it that way later. I have seen this. So just as Ford could be 100% sincere and also wrong, so could Kavanaugh.

That’s the really irritating thing about the hearing yesterday (9/26). At no point did I believe, for the politicians there, that this was about truth-finding. And it was quite clear listening to them go on. So much grandstanding, using their question time to make long-winded political statements, asking questions people have asked many times over, etc. It mostly seemed like attempts to paint Kavanaugh as either innocent or guilty (depending on who was talking) or an attempt to, through talking to Kavanaugh, paint the other side of the aisle as terrible. Very little of it seemed like a genuine attempt to dig into anything.

I will say I thought Lindsey Graham’s enraged outburst seemed sincere and that resonated with me. I also appreciated Amy Klobuchar and Chris Coons. They asked a lot of the same types of things their fellow Democrats asked, but they seemed like they actually wanted to know and weren’t just making power plays. I thought they handled themselves really well.

Other than those three, I could hardly stand listening to anyone, particularly Whitehouse and Harris, ugh. That’s all I have to say about that.

Also Kavanaugh was way too evasive. There were so many instances when he was so transparently not answering the question and it just seemed foolish to me because it didn’t even matter. Like when Whitehouse pressed Kavanaugh on some entry in his yearbook about ralphing. Just say yes! You drank in high school and at least once you puked from it. Too many beers. You already admitted repeatedly to drinking and sometimes to having too much. Stop dragging this out.

And the FBI investigation! Wow, was I tired of hearing about that. I really don’t understand why Kavanaugh couldn’t just say “An FBI investigation will repeat what we are already doing here, thus dragging out this hell for my family and me and providing no new or useful information. So no, if we can skip the FBI investigation, let’s do that.” The end. That would have been far less damning then so obviously refusing to answer the question.

I do think it’s ridiculous that people think Kavanaugh’s displays of emotion disqualify him from consideration for SCOTUS. I doubt there is a SCOTUS justice now or ever before that could remain dispassionate much less impartial under such terrible accusations and such a circus of a process. They’re judges, not robots. They are human. They don’t usually decide on cases that impact them immediately and directly so it seems unlikely the circumstances that pushed Kavanaugh to get upset would recur as a SCOTUS justice.

In the end I feel sorry for Ford, frustrated with Kavanaugh, but more than anything disgusted with politicians and this whole farce of a process. To my mind it is transparently political, and also unlikely to actually change any minds. Whatever happens I’ll be glad when the vote is over, but also whatever happens at least one side of the country is going to be absolutely livid, and I feel like this entire situation has made us even more partisan and angry at one another. I am exhausted even thinking about it.

Pro-choice states have just as many unintended pregnancies and far more abortions.

If you’re into a lot of graphs and number crunching, read on. If you’re not, here’s the bottom line: compared to pro-life states, pro-choice states have more insurance coverage of contraception yet have roughly the same rates of unintended pregnancies and much higher rates of abortion.

In early 2015 the Washington Post published the article “States that are more opposed to abortion rights have fewer abortions — but not fewer unintended pregnancies.” Author Aaron Blake notes:

In fact, some of the states that oppose abortion the most also have some of the highest rates of unintended pregnancies — particularly in the South. And on average, the states that favor abortion rights the most have slightly lower levels of unintended pregnancies.

Blake elaborates:

Mississippi, for instance, is the state that opposes abortion rights the most, according to Pew, with 64 percent generally opposing the procedure. It is also the state with the most unintended pregnancies, at 62 percent of all pregnancies, according to Guttmacher. After accounting for fetal loss, about two-thirds of those unintended pregnancies were brought to term.

By contrast, Massachusetts is one of the most pro-abortion-rights states, with just 28 percent of people opposing the procedure. But it’s also on the low end as far as the percentage of unintended pregnancies (44 percent). Far fewer — 43 percent — of those pregnancies were brought to term.

In both his article’s title and text Blake seems to imply a correlation between anti-abortion attitude and higher proportions of unintended pregnancies. This implication seems plausible because Blake focuses on only two data points among all 50 (51 if you count the District of Columbia). In fact if you plot the two states Blake highlights–Mississippi and Massachusetts–you get this graph:

So anti-abortion views mean more unintended pregnancies. The irony!

And yet the only time Blake addresses trends across the whole country, he admits:

On average in the 10 states that oppose abortion the most, 51 percent of pregnancies are unintended. In the top 10 states that most favor abortion rights, it’s 50 percent.

In other words, the two groups hardly differ at all. Out of curiosity I dug up the numbers used to measure unintended pregnancy (from Guttmacher) and abortion opposition (from Pew Research Center). Instead of comparing only the 10 most pro-life states to the 10 most pro-choice states, I looked at all 50 states (and DC). Here’s what it looks like when you don’t cherry pick:

I guess reality was too boring for this WaPo article.

So when you look at the whole data set (instead of only Mississippi compared to Massachussetts, or only the top 10 pro-life states compared to the top 10 pro-choice ones), there appears to be no relationship at all between views on abortion and unintended pregnancy.

I found this lack of correlation interesting. Pro-choicers often claim the best way to decrease abortion is not through outlawing abortion but through better access to contraception. If that theory is true, I would expect the states most open to abortion to also have lower unintended pregnancy rates, because (1) pro-choice states are more left-leaning, (2) left-leaning states are more likely to support better access to contraception, and (3) better access to contraception is supposed to decrease unintended pregnancies and thus abortion rates.

And yet the above graphic suggests that pro-choice states have no lower unintended pregnancy rates than pro-life states. Why is that? A few possibilities jump to mind:

  1. Pro-choice states don’t necessarily have better access to contraception than pro-life states.
  2. Pro-choice states do have better access to contraception, but that doesn’t actually decrease unintended pregnancy rates (and thus abortion rates).
  3. Pro-choice states have better access to contraception, and better access does decrease unintended pregancy rates, but some other factor in those states increases unintended pregnancy rates, thus cancelling the contraception effect.

I decided to dig a bit more. I used the same Guttmacher and Pew Research data linked above for unintended pregnancy info and state attitudes about abortion. To measure state access to contraception I used data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which outlines which states require coverage of prescription contraception, related outpatient services, and no cost contraception coverage. I also looked at data collected by the National Women’s Law Center regarding which states have contraceptive equity laws (i.e. laws that require insurance plans to cover a full range of contraceptives for women). I assigned each state a contraception score by giving 1 point for each law or coverage requirement, with a maximum of 4 points.

Pro-choice states have more contraception access.

States with zero contraception coverage requirements had an average of 49% of their populations say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. States with 2 or 3 contraception coverage requirements had 41% and 38% say abortion should generally be illegal. And states with all 4 contraception coverage requirements had only 32% of their populations say abortion should be illegal all or most of the time.

States with more contraception access don’t see lower unintended pregnancy rates.

I then averaged the unintended pregnancy rates for states based on their contraception score and it looked like this:

(There were no states with a score of 1. Every state that had contraception access requirements in place had two or more such requirements.)

The states with the most contraception coverage requirements had the lowest unintended pregnancy rate at 44 per 1,000 women age 15-44. The states with zero contraception coverage requirements had the next lowest rate at 45.95. The states in between–with 2 or 3 contraception coverage requirements–had higher unintended pregnancy rates at 50.25 and 49.08 respectively. In other words there’s no obvious relationship between states’ contraception coverage requirements and their unintended pregnancy rates.

States with less access to contraception have lower abortion rates.

Since I already had the data handy I also compared state contraception access to abortion rates:

The states with zero contraception coverage requirements had the lowest abortion rates at 9.68 abortions per 1,000 women age 15-44. States with 2, 3, and 4 contraception coverage requirements had rates of 14.58, 15.14, and 14.00, respectively.

This result could imply that contraception access actually increases abortion rates, and many pro-lifers try to make that claim. Their theory is that whenever you have a desirable but risky action (sex), the more you lower the risk the more often people will take that action. If people think the risk is lowered more than is actually the case (e.g. if the contraception they’re using or the way they’re using it isn’t as effective as they think), then they may be actually increasing their risk exposure by taking a risky action more often without proportionally decreasing the risk in each instance. This theory is plausible because states with more contraception access do not have lower unintended pregnancy rates. Perhaps these populations lower the risk of a given instance of sex by using contraception but increase their overall risk exposure by having sex more often without using contraception consistently or correctly.

Pro-choice states have higher abortion rates.

Alternatively, perhaps the high contraceptive states have higher abortion rates simply because they are more pro-choice states. Given roughly equal unintended pregnancy rates, we’d expect the populations that support abortion to have higher abortion rates, and the data bears that out.

This trend may be due to social influences. It’s possible that women experiencing unintended pregnancies in more pro-life states experience more pressure not to abort, more encouragement and support to carry their pregnancies, or both, and that women in more pro-choice states experience the opposite. It’s hard to measure how much social pressures influence these decisions.

Either way, though, there’s little doubt that legal restrictions also influence women’s choices. To measure state-by-state legal restrictions, I again turned to Guttmacher. I assigned each state points based on whether they had the following restrictions in place and, if so, to what degree. The potential restrictions include:

  1. Whether the abortion must be performed by a licensed physician
  2. Whether and when the abortion must be performed at a hospital
  3. Whether and when a second physician must be present
  4. Whether and when abortion is prohibited (except life or health of the mother)
  5. Whether partial birth abortion is banned
  6. Whether public funding can be used for most abortions or very few abortions
  7. Whether private insurance has to cover abortions
  8. Whether individuals can refuse to participate in abortions
  9. Whether and when institutions can refuse to participate in abortions
  10. Whether there is mandated counseling regarding either an abortion breast cancer link, fetal pain, negative psychological effects, or any combination of those factors
  11. Whether and how long mandatory waiting must be
  12. Whether parents have to be notified or have to consent to their kids’ abortions

States with more legal restrictions garnered more points with a maximum possible 12 points. Unsurprisingly, there was an inverse correlation between the number of abortion restrictions and the proportion of unintended pregnancies aborted.

Contraception is not a panacea for abortion.

Pro-choice people repeatedly claim that if we truly care about lowering abortion rates we should support pro-choice policies and politicians who promote contraception access. As I’ve written about previously, this theory isn’t backed by the evidence. There’s some research to suggest contraception access–especially access to long acting reversible contraception–can help, but so far the evidence I’ve found continues to show that the abortion rate decreases more when there are more abortion restrictions than it does when there is more access to contraception.

Divisions on the Right and Left according to Pew Research.

Pew Research published this report last fall, but it surfaced in my newsfeed yesterday when they asked followers to take the Political Typology quiz. Pew categorizes the Right and Left as follows:

Right:

  1. Core Conservatives: In many ways the most traditional group of Republicans. Overwhelmingly support smaller government and lower corporate taxes, and a majority think U.S. involvement in the global economy is a good thing.
  2. Country-First Conservatives: Older and less educated than other GOP-leaning typology groups. Unhappy with the nation’s course, highly critical of immigrants and wary of U.S. involvement abroad.
  3. Market Skeptic Republicans: Stand out from other Republican-oriented groups in their negative views of the economic system. Skeptical of banks and financial institutions, and support raising taxes on corporations.
  4. New Era Enterprisers: Optimistic about state of the nation and its future. Younger and somewhat less overwhelmingly white than other GOP typology groups. Most say U.S. involvement in the global economy is a good thing and that immigrants strengthen the nation.

Left:

  1. Solid Liberals: Largest group in the Democratic coalition. Highly educated and largely white. Express liberal attitudes on virtually every issue. Say the nation should be active in world affairs.
  2. Opportunity Democrats: Less affluent, less liberal and less politically engaged than Solid Liberals, though the two groups agree on many major issues. Believe most people can get ahead if they work hard.
  3. Disaffected Democrats: Majority-minority group and highly financially stressed. Have positive feelings about the Democratic Party and its leaders, but are highly cynical about politics, government and how things are going in U.S.
  4. Devout and Diverse: Majority nonwhite, highly financially stressed, religiously observant and older than other Democratic-leaning groups. The most politically mixed typology group, with about a quarter leaning Republican. Take somewhat more conservative views than other Democratic-leaning groups on a number of issues.

And then somewhere in the middle are the Bystanders: A relatively young, less educated group that pays little or no attention to politics.

Here Pew visually represents each groups’ demographics and views on specific issues.

A few notes, in no order:

  • Most of the Right is fine with homosexuality, but the County First Conservatives strongly disagree.
  • The Right is pretty divided on whether immigrants burden the US.
  • The Left is pretty divided on whether government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public.
  • The Left is also divided on whether it’s necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values.
  • Disaffected Democrats are confusing. They have “very positive feelings toward the Democratic Party and its leading figures” but are cynical about politics and government. They support “activist government and the social safety net” but also think government is “wasteful and inefficient.”
  • Solid Liberals are the whitest group on the Left, at 73%. That’s still less than most of the groups on the Right (85%, 83%, 77%, and 63%), but not by as much as I would have expected.
  • In fact in general the actual demographics of both sides are not as different as stereotypes suggest.
    • 35% of the Left and 25% of the Right are college grads. The biggest driver of that difference is Solid Liberals, with 57% having college degrees. The most educated group on the Right are Core Conservatives at 33%. Outside of those groups, 17% of the Left and 15% of the Right are college grads.
    • On average the Right is only 5.2 years older than the Left.
    • 37% of the Right and 32% of the Left make $75k or more per year. Those numbers include 49% of Core Conservatives and 48% of Solid Liberals.

There’s a whole lot more detail in Pew’s Report here if you want to check it out. (Scroll to the bottom to see there are least 14 pages of the report.)

The Dying Art of Disagreement, or how to disagree well.

Excellent NYTimes op-ed by Bret Stephens worth the full read, but here are some key passages.

To say the words, “I agree” — whether it’s agreeing to join an organization, or submit to a political authority, or subscribe to a religious faith — may be the basis of every community.

But to say, I disagree; I refuse; you’re wrong; etiam si omnes ego non — these are the words that define our individuality, give us our freedom, enjoin our tolerance, enlarge our perspectives, seize our attention, energize our progress, make our democracies real, and give hope and courage to oppressed people everywhere.

What a lovely way to think of it.

Socrates quarrels with Homer. Aristotle quarrels with Plato. Locke quarrels with Hobbes and Rousseau quarrels with them both. Nietzsche quarrels with everyone. Wittgenstein quarrels with himself.

These quarrels are never personal. Nor are they particularly political, at least in the ordinary sense of politics. Sometimes they take place over the distance of decades, even centuries.

Most importantly, they are never based on a misunderstanding. On the contrary, the disagreements arise from perfect comprehension; from having chewed over the ideas of your intellectual opponent so thoroughly that you can properly spit them out.

In other words, to disagree well you must first understand well. You have to read deeply, listen carefully, watch closely. You need to grant your adversary moral respect; give him the intellectual benefit of doubt; have sympathy for his motives and participate empathically with his line of reasoning. And you need to allow for the possibility that you might yet be persuaded of what he has to say.

[Emphasis mine.]

According to a new survey from the Brookings Institution, a plurality of college students today — fully 44 percent — do not believe the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects so-called “hate speech,” when of course it absolutely does. More shockingly, a narrow majority of students — 51 percent — think it is “acceptable” for a student group to shout down a speaker with whom they disagree. An astonishing 20 percent also agree that it’s acceptable to use violence to prevent a speaker from speaking.

Well that’s bitterly disappointing.

That’s because the case for same-sex marriage is too often advanced not by reason, but merely by branding every opponent of it as a “bigot” — just because they are sticking to an opinion that was shared across the entire political spectrum only a few years ago. Few people like outing themselves as someone’s idea of a bigot, so they keep their opinions to themselves even when speaking to pollsters. That’s just what happened last year in the Brexit vote and the U.S. presidential election, and look where we are now.

Shaming people doesn’t generally change their minds; it only makes them more difficult to identify, predict, or actually persuade.

One final point about identity politics: It’s a game at which two can play. In the United States, the so-called “alt-right” justifies its white-identity politics in terms that are coyly borrowed from the progressive left. One of the more dismaying features of last year’s election was the extent to which “white working class” became a catchall identity for people whose travails we were supposed to pity but whose habits or beliefs we were not supposed to criticize. The result was to give the Trump base a moral pass it did little to earn.

It’s a game two can play but it’d be great if no one did.

 

 

Which decreases abortion rates more? Contraception access or abortion restrictions?

Pro-choicers frequently claim that making abortion illegal won’t decrease the number of abortions; it will only decrease the number of safe, legal abortions. They suggest that there is no practical use to restricting abortion legally and that if pro-lifers really cared about decreasing abortion rates, they would focus on decreasing unplanned pregnancies (through better access to contraception, better sex education, etc.)

So pro-choicers claim.

But there’s a lot of research to show that abortion law affects abortion rates–and not just legal abortion rates, but total abortion rates. Studies often measure the changes in fertility in areas where abortion access recently changed. Secular Pro-Life has compiled a list of such studies if you’re interested.

I’ve now had a few conversations where I point out this reality, and the pro-choice person’s response is to claim that even if abortion restrictions have some nonzero effect on abortion rates, that effect is dwarfed by the decrease in abortions thanks to contraception access. It’s easy for me to believe that both more access to contraception and less access to abortion will decrease abortion rates, and personally I’m for taking both approaches. But the claim that the effect of contraception access trounces the effect of abortion access sounds like just a slightly watered down version of the false claim that abortion access doesn’t affect abortion rates at all. That is, it’s an ad hoc, ill-founded claim to justify our country’s incredibly liberal abortion laws, but the evidence (at least what I’ve seen so far) doesn’t bear it out.

For example, in late 2017 the Daily Mail published “Abortion rate plummets to an historic low, CDC figures reveal.” Specifically the article claims

While the drop mirrors the closure of abortion clinics nationwide, experts say the figure is likely down to more effective use of contraception and the falling pregnancy rate.

The article references this CDC report, which has found a net decrease in the abortion rate (number of abortions per 1,000 women age 15-44) of 22% (from 15.6 to 12.1). This is great news, but it’s not clear from the CDC report the extent to which different factors contributed to the decrease. The CDC authors explain

One factor that might have contributed to this decrease is the increase that occurred during the same period in the use of the most effective forms of reversible contraception, specifically intrauterine devices and hormonal implants, which are as effective as sterilization at preventing unintended pregnancy (102–105). Although use of intrauterine devices and implants has increased in recent years, use of these methods remains low in comparison with use of oral contraceptives and condoms, both of which are less effective at preventing pregnancy (102,104).

So contraception likely played a role, but the CDC can’t quantify it, and they still find that the most effective forms of contraception are not used much compared to the less effective forms. They certainly aren’t asserting that the entire 22% decrease is due solely to contraception access, and their report doesn’t attempt to compare the effects of contraception access to the effects of abortion access.

There are studies that looked at both factors. For example, this Guttmacher report found that between access to the Pill and access to abortion, abortion was associated with a birth rate decrease twice that for the pill.

Among white minors, having had access to the pill was associated with a 9% drop in the overall birthrate and an 8% drop in the rate of nonmarital first births. In this same group, access to an abortion was correlated with a 17% decline in the nonmarital birthrate and a 16% decline in the rate of nonmarital first births.

Another study found that, for women under age 19, “liberalized abortion policy predicts a 34 percent decline in motherhood” whereas “the results do not provide evidence that pill policies had a substantial effect.” The author explains

The birth control pill’s effects on family formation are theoretically ambiguous: The pill was a technological innovation in contraception, but with a failure rate of about 9 percent in the first year of typical use (Trussell, 2004), it still provides an imperfect means of preventing pregnancy. Trends in sexual behavior suggest that any reductions in unintended pregnancies among teens due to safer, pill-protected sex were offset by large increases in sexual activity. Difference-in-difference estimates also provide little evidence to support the view that pill policies had a substantial influence on age at first birth and marriage. Results in Goldin and Katz (2002) and Bailey (2006, 2009) that suggest otherwise are not robust to reasonable perturbations of the authors’ research designs including addressing discrepancies in the legal codings, choosing alternative data sets, and/or adjusting sample selection procedures. Rather, the results robustly point to policies governing abortion, a second, less lauded but more certain means of preventing unwanted births, as the driving force behind delayed family formation in the 1970s. [Emphasiss added]

This study is not a perfect comparison to claims about more modern contraception. The idea is that the most effective forms of contraception (e.g. IUDs instead of the Pill) do a better job of decreasing unintended pregnancy rates because even if users increase their sexual activity as a result, the increase in risk-taking behavior does not offset the decrease in risk these more effective contraceptive methods provide.

Note also that research suggests when abortion is legalized the abortion rate increases more than the birth rate decreases. See Footnote 8 of this report, p8 of the PDF, which explains in part:

Note, however, that the decline in births is far less than the number of abortions, suggesting that the number of conceptions increased substantially –and example of insurance leading to moral hazard. The insurance that abortion provides against unwanted pregnancy induces more sexual conduct or diminished protections against pregnancy in a way that substantially increases the number of pregnancies. [Emphasis added]

People are less cautious about avoiding pregnancy when they know they can get abortions as a back up option. This idea is further substantiated by a study published in the June 2015 edition Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health which concluded:

Women who lived in a state where abortion access was low were more likely than women living in a state with greater access to use highly effective contraceptives rather than no method (relative risk ratio, 1.4). Similarly, women in states characterized by high abortion hostility (i.e., states with four or more types of restrictive policies in place) were more likely to use highly effective methods than were women in states with less hostility (1.3).

This research also suggests that teasing out the effects of abortion access compared to contraception use may prove challenging, since the two appear to be inversely correlated.

So with that brief overview of just a few studies, so far these are the conclusions I’m drawing:

  1. Abortion restrictions decrease abortion rates (and likely also unintended pregnancy rates).
  2. Access to the most effective forms of contraception decrease abortion rates.
  3. Abortion restrictions probably decrease abortion rates more than access to less effective contraception (the pill) does, and
  4. It’s unclear whether abortion restrictions or access to the most effective forms of contraception decrease abortion rates more.

I’m open to other suggestions/studies if you have them.

Researchers claimed conservatives are more hostile and socially withdrawn; turns out they read the data exactly backwards.

In 2012 the American Journal of Political Science published a study that, in part, measured correlations between political attitutes and personality traits such as being “uncooperative, hostile, troublesome, and socially withdrawn.” The original article stated upfront that the authors expected such traits to correlate to conservative political attitudes, and that was the result the study found. I remember when the study came out and several of my friends reposted it as evidence of how backward and problematic conservatives can be.

But it turns out the article had interpreted the data incorrectly. In 2015 the journal published an erratum to correct the mistake, stating:

The interpretation of the coding of the political attitude items in the descriptive and preliminary analyses portion of the manuscript was exactly reversed. Thus, where we indicated that higher scores in Table 1 (page 40) reflect a more conservative response, they actually reflect a more liberal response. Specifically, in the original manuscript, the descriptive analyses report that those higher in Eysenck’s psychoticism are more conservative, but they are actually more liberal; and where the original manuscript reports those higher in neuroticism and social desirability are more liberal, they are, in fact, more conservative.

[Emphasis added.]

According to The Washington Times:

The error was first spotted by Dr. Steven Ludeke, a researcher at the University of Southern Denmark, who said it is significant, pointing to the frequency at which the study was cited.

“The erroneous results represented some of the larger correlations between personality and politics ever reported; they were reported and interpreted, repeatedly, in the wrong direction; and then cited at rates that are (for this field) extremely high,” Dr. Ludeke told Retraction Watch.

Given social science’s apparent pattern of pathologizing conservatives, this kind of mistake is unfortunate but not particularly surprising.