Lazy linking

A few links to interesting stuff that I have come across.

The evidence shows that chiropractors do more harm than good

Chiropractors rely heavily on manipulating their patients’ spines, and the benefits are not at all clear. Practitioners usually insist that their manipulations are effective for a bafflingly wide range of conditions. On the internet, for instance, it is hard to find an illness that chiropractors do not claim to cure. However, the published evidence generally reveals these claims to be little more than wishful thinking. Therefore, even relatively minor side-effects might tilt the risk/benefit balance into the negative.

There is now a lot of evidence showing that more than half of all patients suffer mild to moderate adverse effects after seeing a chiropractor. These are mostly local and referred pains that usually last for two to three days. Chiropractors often claim that these are necessary steps on the road to getting better. On a good day, we might even believe them.

But unfortunately there is more, much more. Several hundred cases have been documented in which patients were seriously and often permanently damaged after chiropractic manipulations.

The news is not surprising for anyone who has looked into the subject, but the numbers are truly alarming.

People are spreading dangerous lies about an invention that prevents millions of illness every year

Yet another post about the dangers of anti-vaccination. It is good, but I hate the fact that we have to keep writing this stuff.

David Neiwert has writte a great series of posts in “celebration” of Confederate Heritage Month, the latest is Confederate Heritage Month: The Strange Fruit That Fed Jim Crow.

If blacks’ slave status largely protected them from racial violence before the Civil War, then its abolition also left them remarkably vulnerable to such assaults upon the South’s defeat. Certainly, once emancipated, they became seen as a real threat to whites, and particularly to their dominant status; much of this perception, particularly regarding the violent nature of the newly freed blacks, as we shall see, was more an illusion produced by psychological projection than real in any meaningful way.

This became immediately manifest, during Reconstruction, when black freedmen were subjected to a litany of attacks at the hands of their former owners that went utterly unpunished. As documented by Philip Dray in his definitive study, At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America, these crimes turned up in hospital records and field reports from the federal Freedmen’s Bureau, all of which described a variety of clubbings, scalpings, mutilations, hangings and even immolations of former slaves, all within the first year after Appomattox.

Links to the older posts can be found at the end of the post.

Ads force German xenophobes to hear the plights of refugees

People searching for anti-immigrant YouTube videos in Germany are going to have an awkward time doing so thanks to a novel advertising campaign by Refugees Welcome. The organization has put together a series of 30-second spots featuring real refugees who discuss their situations using a potent mixture of perspective, fact and humor to counter the country’s rising xenophobic tide.

Finally a good use for those unskippable ads on YouTube.

How to Explain Mansplaining

It was on a recent trip to Indonesia that, as a male bureaucrat sounded forth on a vast span of subjects without being asked to do so, I realized that the English language was in need of a new addition: the manologue. This otherwise perfectly charming man droned on and on, issuing a steady stream of words as I sat cramped in a tiny room with a group of fellow journalists and squinted at the labels on the soda cans hospitably placed on a table in front of us.

No, Obama doesn’t hold a “grudge” over Britain torturing his Kenyan grandfather. But so what if he did?

[W]hen Obama is accused of bearing an “anti-colonial” grudge, it is typically framed as irrational, often implied to be racial, or made alongside an accusation that he secretly hates America. “Anti-colonial” has become a kind of dog-whistle, and at times a racist one.

Why? Why is this possibility — that Obama might mind that his grandfather was wrongly and unapologetically tortured — so taboo that it is raised only as part of an often-racist dog-whistle?

President Obama is not the first head of state to do business with countries that mistreated his ancestors. But, frequently, it is assumed that those heads of state will bring that history with them — and that doing so is acceptable, even appropriate.

Former Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his brother, former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, often spoke of their father’s role in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising against Nazi rule, which biographers tend to describe — always in positive terms — as formative for how they led Poland.

A good article on the double standard on whether one should remember past wrongs or not.

And in the more quirky department: China Illustrates the Dangers of Dating Foreigners (aka White Guys named David)

 

 

The importance of diversity

When diversity, or rather the lack of diversity, is brought up in an article, discussion, talk, or some other context, there always seem to be some people who react by questioning the importance of diversity, saying something along the lines of:

Why is diversity so important? We should hire/select people based on merits, not based on their gender/race/other grouping.

That’s not an actual quote, but I have heard variations of it hundreds, if not thousands, of times.

What this argument does, is attacking the whole premise of the problem we are trying to address. They don’t necessarily deny that there is a lack of diversity, but they will usually claim that the lack of diversity is by choice by the people left out, and that it isn’t a problem, since diversity isn’t important, merit is.

Given the number of times I have come across this argument, I thought it might be time to write an article that addresses why diversity is important.

There are a few major reasons, which I think can be summed up as:

  • Fairness
  • Reducing biases
  • Better performance

Let’s take them one by one.

Fairness

There is a fundamentally lack of fairness if a group of people are excluded from certain positions. There are certainly special cases where it can be argued that it makes sense to exclude certain groups of people (e.g. firefighters cannot be paraplegic), but at a general level, this doesn’t apply.

The counter argument against fairness is usually a claim of meritocracy, but the math simply doesn’t hold up for such claims. Eric Ries does a good job at addressing this at this 2011 Techcrunch article, which I definitely think is worth reading. It focuses on the startup environment, but the arguments are as valid in all other fields.

In the article, Eric Ries also links to a blogpost he wrote in 2010, Why diversity matters (the meritocracy business), where he pretty much sums up why the claim of meritocracy is directly disproven by the lack of diversity:

Diversity is the canary in the coal mine for meritocracy. As entrepreneurs, more than any other industry, we’re in the meritocracy business. The companies that make decisions based on merit, rather than title, politics, or hierarchy execute faster and learn faster than their competitors. For startups (and other innovators), that’s a decisive advantage.

So when a team lacks diversity, that’s a bad sign. What are the odds that the decisions that were made to create that team were really meritocratic?

I think that is a pretty good argument. A meritocracy would more or less reflect the diversity of the society it operates in.

This is, unless one believes that there is some kind of gender-specific or genetic component to merit. Such a belief is, of course, completely unproven, and flies against all research, that shows that e.g. gender-specific differences are minor, at best.

So, all in all, a lack of diversity, shows a lack of fairness, where people are evaluated on their merits, and not on some other, irrelevant factor.

Reducing biases

It is well documented that there are significant evaluation and hiring biases at play when a person is being considered for hiring or promoting.

E.g. it is well documented that men tend to have a bias towards evaluating men better than women, and that men are considered better for leadership positions (see e.g. Women “Take Care,” Men “Take Charge” (pdf)). That there is a bias against hiring homosexuals (pdf), and that perceived race has a major impact on whether you are taken into consideration for a job (USA study, Swedish study (pdf)).

While no one is entirely free from biases, and will be affected by general biases in society, there is a strong case to be made for that having a diverse group will reduce biases. Not only biases regarding hiring and promoting people, but also in daily interactions. Diversity also helps when it comes to problem solving, as different backgrounds bring different ideas to the table.

Better performance

Again, this follows somewhat naturally from the idea that diversity is symptom of a true meritocracy.

As I already said in the reducing biases section, diversity helps solve problems (there is even a paper out there proving this mathematically), and there is clear evidence that companies with a diverse leadership perform better financially. As McKinsey & Company writes in the introduction to their Diversity Matters paper

The analysis found a statistically significant relationship between a more diverse leadership and better financial
performance. The companies in the top quartile of gender diversity were 15 percent more likely to have financial
returns that were above their national industry median. Companies in the top quartile of racial/ethnic diversity
were 30 percent more likely to have financial returns above their national industry median. Companies in the
bottom quartile for both gender and ethnicity/race were statistically less likely to achieve above-average financial
returns than the average companies in the dataset (that is, they were not just not leading, they were lagging). The
results varied by country and industry. Companies with 10 percent higher gender and ethnic/racial diversity on
management teams and boards in the US, for instance, had EBIT that was 1.1 percent higher; in the UK, companies
with the same diversity level had EBIT that was 5.8 percent higher. Moreover, the unequal performance across
companies in the same industry and same country implies that diversity is a competitive differentiator that shifts
market share towards more diverse companies.
Diversity matters because we increasingly live in a global world that has become deeply interconnected. It should
come as no surprise that more diverse companies and institutions are achieving better performance. Most
organisations, including McKinsey, have work to do in taking full advantage of the opportunity that a more diverse
leadership team represents, and, in particular, more work to do on the talent pipeline: attracting, developing,
mentoring, sponsoring, and retaining the next generations of global leaders at all levels of the organisation. But
given the increasing returns that diversity is expected to bring, it is better to invest now, as winners will pull further
ahead and laggards will fall further behind.

In order to get a diverse leadership, the workforce as a whole needs to be diverse, otherwise you have no recruitment base.

In conclusion

When you are a white cis male heterosexual it is easy to ignore the lack of diversity in society, and claim that your advantage is based upon a meritocracy, but there are plenty of studies that demonstrates that there are a lot of biases against anyone not falling within that very narrow group, which clearly demolishes the idea of a meritocracy. There are also plenty of experiments that shows that attempts to counter the biases, will result in a greater diversity (see e.g. the famous idea of blind auditioning of orchestra members), which clearly demonstrates that diversity would be a much better measure of a true meritocracy.

A clear sign of this being the case, is the fact that companies with a diverse leadership do better financially.

 

Temporary banner up

As some might have noticed, I have had a banner in place on this blog. Since that makes it harder to know what blog you are currently reading, I’ve put up a temporary banner, which I will exchange with something better at some stage.

Denmark needs to change its rape laws

Content notice: The following blogpost will discuss a recent rape case in Denmark, where the perpetrators were found innocent.

There is something seriously wrong with Danish rape laws.

That is the only conclusion any rational person can reach after a Danish court found 3 young men innocent of rape of a young woman who said she was unconscious due to alcohol and insulin deficiency.

According to the newspapers, the defender managed to argue that the men thought that the women had consented to sex, and since she didn’t say no, they couldn’t know that she didn’t want to have sex with them.

It appears that the medical reports state that the insulin and levels were not enough to make her unconscious, and the judge didn’t think that her alcohol level were enough to make her unable to say no. Even if we ignore the fact that the judge isn’t really able to evaluate the combined effect of alcohol and insulin deficiency, it shows a very real problem, where a lack of no, is considered a yes by the courts.

That is unacceptable.

Denmark should change the laws, so it requires an explicit consent. or even better, a enthusiastic consent. For more on enthusiastic consent, see this post by Dr. Nerdlove or this post over at XOJane.

The court decision will probably get appealed, but even if the men get convicted at a higher court, the lower court’s decisions clearly shows that Denmark’s law have to be fundamentally changed, so they don’t focus on whether the perpetrators knew that the victim didn’t want to have sex, but instead changes to focus on whether there were consent or not.

Such a change would have several effects, among them changing the whole rhetoric around rape victims (“why didn’t she say no?”), teaching young men and women that they should get consent and not just avoid a “no”, and finally, getting more rape convictions.

 

 

Gender bias when evaluating people

This is a repost of a blogpost from February 18, 2016 at my old blog.

Wonkblog reports on a new study on gendered bias: The remarkably different answers men and women give when asked who’s the smartest in the class

Anthropologist Dan Grunspan was studying the habits of undergraduates when he noticed a persistent trend: Male students assumed their male classmates knew more about course material than female students — even if the young women earned better grades.

“The pattern just screamed at me,” he said.

So, Grunspan and his colleagues at the University of Washington and elsewhere decided to quantify the degree of this gender bias in the classroom.

After surveying roughly 1,700 students across three biology courses, they found young men consistently gave each other more credit than they awarded to their just-as-savvy female classmates.

Men over-ranked their peers by three-quarters of a GPA point, according to the study, published this month in the journal PLOS ONE. In other words, if Johnny and Susie both had A’s, they’d receive equal applause from female students — but Susie would register as a B student in the eyes of her male peers, and Johnny would look like a rock star.

It is a pretty good article, and well worth the read – as is the actual paper in PLOS One

Males Under-Estimate Academic Performance of Their Female Peers in Undergraduate Biology Classrooms

Women who start college in one of the natural or physical sciences leave in greater proportions than their male peers. The reasons for this difference are complex, and one possible contributing factor is the social environment women experience in the classroom. Using social network analysis, we explore how gender influences the confidence that college-level biology students have in each other’s mastery of biology. Results reveal that males are more likely than females to be named by peers as being knowledgeable about the course content. This effect increases as the term progresses, and persists even after controlling for class performance and outspokenness. The bias in nominations is specifically due to males over-nominating their male peers relative to their performance. The over-nomination of male peers is commensurate with an overestimation of male grades by 0.57 points on a 4 point grade scale, indicating a strong male bias among males when assessing their classmates. Females, in contrast, nominated equitably based on student performance rather than gender, suggesting they lacked gender biases in filling out these surveys. These trends persist across eleven surveys taken in three different iterations of the same Biology course. In every class, the most renowned students are always male. This favoring of males by peers could influence student self-confidence, and thus persistence in this STEM discipline.

The paper doesn’t really tell anything new – it is well documented that there is a gender-bias against women when evaluating performance and skills, especially in science – see e.g. Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students

Despite efforts to recruit and retain more women, a stark gender disparity persists within academic science. Abundant research has demonstrated gender bias in many demographic groups, but has yet to experimentally investigate whether science faculty exhibit a bias against female students that could contribute to the gender disparity in academic science. In a randomized double-blind study (n = 127), science faculty from research-intensive universities rated the application materials of a student—who was randomly assigned either a male or female name—for a laboratory manager position. Faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the (identical) female applicant. These participants also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant. The gender of the faculty participants did not affect responses, such that female and male faculty were equally likely to exhibit bias against the female student. Mediation analyses indicated that the female student was less likely to be hired because she was viewed as less competent. We also assessed faculty participants’ preexisting subtle bias against women using a standard instrument and found that preexisting subtle bias against women played a moderating role, such that subtle bias against women was associated with less support for the female student, but was unrelated to reactions to the male student. These results suggest that interventions addressing faculty gender bias might advance the goal of increasing the participation of women in science.

Or How stereotypes impair women’s careers in science

 Women outnumber men in undergraduate enrollments, but they are much less likely than men to major in mathematics or science or to choose a profession in these fields. This outcome often is attributed to the effects of negative sex-based stereotypes. We studied the effect of such stereotypes in an experimental market, where subjects were hired to perform an arithmetic task that, on average, both genders perform equally well. We find that without any information other than a candidate’s appearance (which makes sex clear), both male and female subjects are twice more likely to hire a man than a woman. The discrimination survives if performance on the arithmetic task is self-reported, because men tend to boast about their performance, whereas women generally underreport it. The discrimination is reduced, but not eliminated, by providing full information about previous performance on the task. By using the Implicit Association Test, we show that implicit stereotypes are responsible for the initial average bias in sex-related beliefs and for a bias in updating expectations when performance information is self-reported. That is, employers biased against women are less likely to take into account the fact that men, on average, boast more than women about their future performance, leading to suboptimal hiring choices that remain biased in favor of men.

What I find interesting with the newest study, however, is that it seems like it mostly affects men, while women tend to be better at giving a correct evaluation of the skills of their peers.

If this tendency continues after leaving the classroom (and other studies strongly indicate that this is so), this means that men are more likely to hire less qualified men than the more qualified women, while believing that they are hiring the most qualified person.

Women on the other hand, is more likely to hire the most qualified person, regardless of gender.

When people argue against quotas and other measures to create a level playing field on the job market, they usually argue that the most qualified person should be hired to a given job – well, this study clearly shows that in order for this to happen, there has to be more women involved in the hiring, since otherwise the less qualified men will get hired.

In other words, in order for people to really get hired on the basis of their merits, we have to break the cycle of hiring based on biases.

So, maybe quotas and other measures are the real way of ensuring people getting hired on the basis of their merit?

Away from keyboard

I am currently suffering from an inflammation in my left shoulder, and am reducing my typing to a minimum, and thus won’t be writing on this blog before I get better. I am on the mend, but this blog will probably be quiet for at least another week.

Impressions from Tokyo

Sorry for the quiet, but I have just returned from a week of vacation in Tokyo, Japan.

I was staying at a hotel just next to Shibuya Station, which is one of the busiest stations in Tokyo, and which is surrounded by the Shibuya District, which is a shopping district. I was lucky enough to get a room on the 22nd floor, so I had a great view of the area.

View from hotel room on 22nd floor

Visible skyline from hotel room

The picture of the skyline is taken from the hotel room, and is towards the North.

This was one thing that surprised me about Tokyo – the skyscrapers were spread all around the city, and not just located in the city center, as you see most other places.

Shibuya was an extremely busy area, especially next to the station, but also next to popular shops, such as 109 (which is fairly close to the station though). The amount of people going in and out of the station at peak hours was amazing, and it was a good place to people watch, if you could stand the crowds.

Apart from spending time in the area around the hotel, I also went out and saw the Harajuku District. This was a bit of an disappointment to me, as I had hoped to see some of the teens dressed up in the well known Harajuku style, but unfortunately, it was fairly limited what I saw of that.  Perhaps due to the fairly cold weather.

On the other hand, I was lucky enough to be in Tokyo at the same time as the cherry trees started to bloom. If you don’t know, that is a very big deal, and leads to people going to the part, and get drunk on beer and sake. I visited a park fairly early on the day (around noon) last Sunday, and people was only getting ready to celebrate, but I think my pictures show the scale of it.

Cherry trees 7 Cherry trees 5 Cherry trees 4 Cherry trees 3 Cherry trees 2 Cherry trees blossoming

It was interesting to note how the only place people were sitting was underneath the cherry trees – all the other spots were ignored.

And at the end, a few notes/comments from my visit.

First of all – Vendor machines were everywhere. It was incredible – even on back streets with no shops or anything, you’d be sure to come across a vendor machine selling cokes and/or ice coffee. Surprisingly, there weren’t snack vendor machines around, only machines selling drinks.

Vendor machine in side street
Row of vendor machines

Language barriers became a problem in unexpected ways. I knew that Japanese are not necessarily good at speaking English, and I was prepared for this. What I had thought of, but underestimated, was how hard it is to find your way when you don’t even read the letters. What I hadn’t thought of, and which came as a great surprise to me, was that it might making going to the toilet complicated – some Japanese toilets are rather advanced, and it was hard to figure out how to do simple tasks, such as flushing the toilet, when you can’t read the letters and haven’t ever seen a similar panel.

I found the lack of Asian models on billboards rather disturbing. If it was a Japanese product, the models were Japanese, but there were a lot of billboards with European products (especially clothes brands), and none of them used Asian models.

And finally – Shibuya at night looks like something taken out of Blade Runner.

Shibuya at night

The Ebla Tablets and proof of the Old Testament – pushing long-debunked ideas

I came across this link on Facebook

Bible Critics Silenced Once Again As Archaeological Discoveries Prove Old Testament To Be Accurate!

For many years, the critics of the Old Testament continued to argue that Moses invented the stories found in Genesis. The critics contended that the ancient people of the Old Testament times were too primitive to record documents with precise details.

In doing so, these critics basically claimed that there was no verification that the people and cities mentioned in the oldest of Biblical accounts ever really existed.

The discovery of the Ebla archive in northern Syria in the 1970′s confirmed that the Biblical records concerning the Patriarchs are spot on. It was during the excavations in northern Syria that the excavating found a large library inside a royal archive room. This library had tablets dating from 2400 -2300 BC.

The “article” at the end of the link is from February this year.

The Ebla Tablets were discovered in 1974-1975, and already from the start, some people tried to use them as evidence for the truth of the Old Testament.

Even back then, it was considered nonsense, and the Washington Post had an article about this back in December, 1979 – Ebla Tablets: No Biblical Claims

When 11,000 clay tablets dating from 23 centuries before Christ were unearthed in northern Syria three years ago, biblical scholars around the world rejoiced that ancient proof had been found for the Old Testament.

“The tablets were being hailed as a find equal in importance to the Dead Sea Scrolls,” said Dr. Robert Biggs, professor of Assyriology at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute. “The claims being made for these tablets created a sensation in biblical circles.”

But three years of intense study and debate among scholars changed all that. No longer are biblical claims made for the 11,000 clay tablets of Ebla, the ancient Sumerian city whose palace was destroyed by fire around 2300 B.C.

“In my opinion, parallels with the Bible are quite out of the question at this stage,” Biggs told a recent gathering of science writers sponsored by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. “People who are looking to the Ebla tablets for proof of the authenticity of the Bible are going to be sorely disappointed.”

The article goes into more detail about how the tablets are being misread and misrepresented.

It is not often I come across new articles pushing so-called new evidence, that has been debunked for nearly 40 years.

Lazy linking

I am fairly busy until some time after Easter, so don’t expect neither massive blogging nor a banner from me until then. In the meanwhile, here are some links to articles, blogposts etc. that I think are worth reading.

As Women Take Over a Male-Dominated Field, the Pay Drops

A new study from researchers at Cornell University found that the difference between the occupations and industries in which men and women work has recently become the single largest cause of the gender pay gap, accounting for more than half of it. In fact, another study shows, when women enter fields in greater numbers, pay declines — for the very same jobs that more men were doing before.

This is something which has been suspected for a long time (with earlier studies indicating the same), but it is good to have new studies demonstrating it. This means that men can’t just dismiss the pay-gap as a symptom of different career choices. I will probably blog more about this study at some stage.

Hillary Clinton is funding congressional races so she can enter White House with a majority

One of the most intriguing storylines of the 2016 election has turned out to be one of the most underreported. Every candidate for President hopes to not only enter the White House, but do so with a congressional majority in hand. Although Hillary Clinton is the clear frontrunner and is likely to win the election, republican gerrymandering means that her odds of having a democratic House and Senate are questionable. But she’s spent the past six months trying to rectify that by essentially funding the congressional races of 2016 democratic candidates herself.

This seems like a very smart move. If there is one thing that the GOP has shown us under the Obama presidency, it is that they are not going to work with a Democratic president. This means that it is important to get as many Democrats into the congress as possible. This is a sound tactic, no matter who wins the Democratic primary, and if the GOP should somehow win the presidential race, it is vital that the Democrats hold real power in congress (a note: comments about democratic candidates and the merits of the one or another are not welcome, and will be deleted – I am not interested in getting my blog involved in the internal politics of the democratic party).

One more time: Vaccine refusal endangers everyone, not just the unvaccinated

One of the more frequent claims of antivaccine activists often comes in the form of a disingenuous question. Well, maybe it’s not entirely disingenuous, given that many antivaccinationists seem to believe premise behind it. The question usually takes a form something like, “If your child is vaccinated, why are you worried about my children? They don’t pose any danger to you.” Of course, the premise behind that question is, ironically, one that conflicts with many of the beliefs behind antivaccinationism, in particular the belief that vaccines are ineffective. Yet, the premise behind this question is that vaccines are so effective that there’s no reason for the parents of a vaccinated child to be concerned if that child comes in contact with another child with a vaccine-preventable disease. Of course, no one ever accused antivaccine activists of being consistent in their beliefs.

Once again, Orac does great work taking on the anti-vaccination crowd and their claims.

Bahrain must immediately release Zainab Al-Khawaja

Index on Censorship calls for the immediate release of human rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja, who was arrested on Monday 14 March 2016 with her one-year-old son Abdulhadi.

“Zainab Al-Khawaja is facing retaliation for exercising her right to freedom of expression,” said Index’s senior advocacy officer Melody Patry. “Bahraini authorities have been harassing her and her family for years and this arrest — based on absurd charges — further shows Bahrain’s determination to silence its critics.”

I stand fully behind the call from Index on Censorship, and hope that the US, the EU and the rest of the democratic world will put pressure on the Bahraini authorities for the release of Zainab Al-Khawaja and other jailed critics.

Four words that might break my brain: “Black, gay Trump supporter”

I think most of us are with Tony on this one.

Change in suicide rates in Switzerland before and after firearm restriction resulting from the 2003 “Army XXI” reform

Abstract

OBJECTIVE:

Firearms are the most common method of suicide among young men in Switzerland. From March 2003 through February 2004, the number of Swiss soldiers was halved as a result of an army reform (Army XXI), leading to a decrease in the availability of guns nationwide. The authors investigated the patterns of the overall suicide rate and the firearm suicide rate before and after the reform.

METHOD:

Using a naturalistic study design, the authors compared suicide rates before (1995–2003) and after the intervention (2004–2008) in the affected population (men ages 18–43) and in two comparison groups (women ages 18–44 and men ages 44–53). Data were received from the Swiss Federal Statistical Office. Interrupted time series analysis was used to control for preexisting temporal trends. Alternative methods (Poisson regression, autocorrelation analysis, and surrogate data tests) were used to check validity.

RESULTS:

The authors found a reduction in both the overall suicide rate and the firearm suicide rate after the Army XXI reform. No significant increases were found for other suicide methods overall. An increase in railway suicides was observed. It was estimated that 22% of the reduction in firearm suicides was substituted by other suicide methods. The attenuation of the suicide rate was not compensated for during the follow-up years. Neither of the comparison groups showed statistically significant changes in firearm suicide rate and overall suicide rate.

CONCLUSIONS:

The restriction of firearm availability in Switzerland resulting from the Army XXI reform was followed by an enduring decrease in the general suicide rate.

I couldn’t really see a way to include it in my last post about Swiss gun laws, but it is an interesting study, which shows limiting access to guns will lead to a decrease in suicides.

The delusion of immortality

Imagine all the poor transhumanists who were born in the 19th century. They would have been fantasizing about all the rapid transformations in their society, and blithely extrapolating forward. Why, in a few years, we’ll all have steam boilers surgically implanted in our bellies, and our diet will include a daily lump of coal! Canals will be dug everywhere, and you’ll be able to commute to work in your very own personal battleship! There will be ubiquitous telegraphy, and we’ll have tin hats that you can plug into cords hanging from the ceiling in your local coffeeshop, and get Morse code tapped directly onto your skull!

Alas, they didn’t have a Ray Kurzweil or Aubrey deGray to con them with absurd exaggerations.

If it isn’t clear, PZ Myers is not the greatest fan of transhumanism and the ideas pushed by people like Kurzweil. I am completely in agreement with him on this.

Swiss gun laws

Switzerland meme - 1 in 2 citizens has guns. Lowest crime rate in the world

This meme is currently doing its rounds on facebook.

If you have been following the US gun debate over the years, you’ll know that gun advocates in the US loves to point to Switzerland as an example of why guns are not a problem. Of course, as often is the case with gun advocates in the US, they leave out a lot of facts, and even outright lie.

The meme seems to be fairly new, but the actual message has been pushed for several years, and has frequently been debunked. But since it is going around again, I guess we need to do a new debunking.

 

 
Before we start with anything else, let’s start with a short introduction to Swiss gun law (courtesy of Wikipedia):

Gun politics in Switzerland are unique in Europe. The vast majority of men between the ages of 20 and 34 are conscripted into the militia and undergo military training, including weapons training. The personal weapons of the militia are kept at home as part of the military obligations. However, it is generally not permitted to keep army-issued ammunition, but compatible ammunition purchased for privately owned guns is permitted. At the end of military service period the previously used gun can be converted to a privately owned gun after a weapon acquisition permit has been granted (fully automatic weapons will be rebuilt into semi-automatic ones). Switzerland thus has a relatively high gun ownership rate (31%-61% in 2005, declining).[1] Current research from 2014 estimates gun ownership rate around 25%.[2]

As the Wikipedia article shows, there is a lot of difference between the rate of gun possession and gun ownership, with the later being as low as 25&. The distinction is important, since only gun owners are allowed to have ammunition.  The rest have the gun as part of their militia duty/military training, but don’t have any ammunition.

This is obviously a major difference from the US.

Also, the people who own guns, generally only get them after they have finished their militia duty, essentially ensuring that only people who has trained with the weapon can get it. Again a major difference from the US.

Of course, it is possible to get a permit to buying a gun even before finishing the militia duty, as long as you are over the age of 18, and are not psychiatrically disqualified nor identified as posing security problems, and have a clean criminal record. This is, unless of course, you have one of the following citizenships: Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Algeria and Albania. If you hold any of those citizenships, you are out of luck, as you are barred from getting a permit to buy a gun, even if you live in Switzerland.

When buying guns or ammunition, information about the seller, the buyer and the actual purchase is registered at the cantonal weapon registration bureau, which keeps registration details about weapon owners. Again, this is nothing like the US.

There are strict rules about transporting guns and concealed carry permits, about storage of guns etc.

All these facts are left out by the NRA and other gun advocates in the US, who only mentions the prevalence of guns, but not the restrictions and registrations. Many of these restrictions and registrations are quite similar to measures that gun control advocates have tried to introduce in the US, but which the NRA and other gun advocates have fought against tooth-and-nails.

Now let us look at the idea of Switzerland having the lowest crime rate in the world.

Saying “the lowest crime rate in the world” isn’t a very precise statement, and it is hard to be sure what is included in that, so let us try to look at some relevant crime numbers in Switzerland.

When we look at firearms-related deaths, Switzerland is certainly not the one with the lowest rate. Switzerland had 0.23 firearms-related homicides per 100,000 people in 2013, which was more than at least 25 other countries. Switzerland’s number for unintentional killings are also higher than a number of other countries (as is the number for firearm-related deaths whose category is undetermined).

If we look at intentional homicides in general, Switzerland is doing better than when we only looked at firearms-related homicides. Switzerland had 0.6 homicides per 100,000 people in 2011, which put it fairly low on the list, but still with at least 7 countries below it, including Japan.

When looking at incarceration rate, there is also a indication that Switzerland is not the crime-free gun paradise as some people want to make it into. While incarceration rate doesn’t really tell anything about the level of crime, it still seems reasonable to expect that a country with nearly no crime would have a very low incarceration rate. Switzerland has one 0f 84 people per 100,000. This is pretty low, placing Switzerland solidly in the lower half, but there are quite a few countries lower on the list.

No matter at what numbers we look at, does Switzerland come out as the one with the lowest crime rate.

But it is worth noticing that Switzerland certainly comes out ahead of the US on those lists. The numbers in the US are consistently among the worst in the Western World (and frequently the worst).

So given that, I think the meme might actually be on to something. Maybe the US should try to introduce gun laws and militia training similar to Switzerland. This might reduce the firearms-related killings from their current horrifying levels.

For more on Swiss gun laws, see the legal report at the Library of Congress.