Dear America, please make it stop

Back in 1996, I was traveling around the world with a friend.

As a result of this, I was in the Great Britain, when the Dunblane school massacre happened in Scotland, and in Australia when the Port Arthur massacre happened in Tasmania.

Both of these massacres shook the world, and especially the nations they happened in, leading to a huge public demand for a change of the gun laws. In Great Britain, this pretty much led to the private ownership of handguns becoming illegal. In Australia, it led to a complete overhaul of the gun laws.

The changes to Australian gun laws are well known, and it is also well known that there has been no mass shootings in Australia since then. What is less well know, is that in the years up to the massacre, there has been several mass shooting, but none with the number of victims as the Port Arthur massacre. So it took some time before the Australian public had had enough, and demanded something changed.

Last night, in the US, a gun man attacked a LGBTQ night club in Orlando, Florida, resulting in at least 50 dead.

This is the worst fatality from a mass shooting in the US, eclipsing the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and the Virginia Tech shooting in deadliness.

America, please let this be your Port Arthur massacre moment.

Ignore for now the possible motive of the killer, and focus instead on the tools used to kill.

Massacres in the US are generally done using legally bought weapons, and it seems likely that this is also the case in the Orlando shooting. The ready availability of legal guns, and the high number of massacres in the US are connected. If you remove the availability of guns, the number of massacres will drop. So, work on reducing the availability of guns.

In Australia, they both changed the laws and bought guns from their owners. Making it harder to get hold of guns both legally and illegally.

The US should do the same.

The 2nd Amendment, and the screwed up way that it has been interpreted by the US courts puts a barrier to sane gun laws, but amendments can be changed – even discarded. I think it is time for Americans to take a long, hard look at the 2nd Amendment, and either change it, so it applies to people in properly state-run militias, or even get rid of it all-together.

America, please wake up. Please don’t continue down the path where you are now, where mass shootings has become a near daily occurrence and only makes the news if there are several fatalities. Please don’t let us wake up to more tragic news like the ones from Orlando.

A young voice silenced forever

I just learned the horrible news that Christina Grimmie, talented singer and YouTube performer, has been shot and killed.

‘Voice’ singer Christina Grimmie shot, killed at concert

I have followed Christina Grimmie on her YouTube channel for years, and have enjoyed the music she has posted there,

It seemed like she was getting her big breakthrough, but then her life was cut short by someone with a gun.

There are no news about the motive of the gunman, but given the shooting took place just after a concert, and she was clearly the target, it might be an obsessed fan.

No matter the motive, Christina Grimmie has become a victim of the gun culture in the USA, which allows people to get easy access to guns.

Since school shootings haven’t been enough to change the US gun culture, I doubt this latest episode will, and I think there will be many more young people who get their life cut short, before the US will change the gun laws – if that will ever happen.

 

The difference between percentage and percentage points

Note: This is a repost from my old blog. It appears as it originally did, except for the correction of an embarrassing math error and the addition of one note.It was originally written as part of the basic concept concept thought out by MarkCC at Good Math, Bad Math. The blog post is the single most visited blog post at my old blog, with daily visits ever since it came up.

Quite often I’ve come across situations where it’s unclear if someone knew the difference between percentage and percentage points, so I thought I’d write a post where I would try to explain the difference.

Simply put, percentage is relative, while percentage points are absolute.

For example, if we say that the number of female CEOs increase by 3%, we mean that the number increase with 3% of the current number of female CEOs.

If we say the number increases with 3 percentage points, we mean that the number of female CEOs increase with 3% of the total number of CEOs.

So if 5% of all CEOs are female (the current situation in Denmark, according to today’s newspapers [note: 2007 numbers]), a 3% increase would not be noticeable, since it increased the number of female CEOs to 5.15% of the total number of CEOs.

On the other hand, if we say that the number of female CEOs increases with 3 percentage points, it would mean that 8% of all CEOs would be female. Quite a difference.

Generally speaking, percentage points should be used to measure the difference between two percentages, since it gives a more clear view of the differences than when percentages are used.

Let me give an example of how it gives a clearer view.

Let’s say that a poll in year 1 shows that 10% of the population supports slavery (to take a, hopefully absurd example). In year 2 the poll shows a 20% decrease in the support compared to year 1. However, in year 3, the same number has gone up by 25% compared to year 2.

Many people would get the impression that the number of slavery supporters in year 3 is higher than in year 1, but that’s actually not the case.

In year one 10% supported slavery. The next year, the number fell by 20%. 20% of 10% is 2%, which means that 8% supports slavery. Then the number of supporters increased with 25%. 25% of 8% is 2%, so the total is back up to 10%.

If we have used percentage points, we could just say that in year 2, the number of supporters fell by 2 percentage points, and that the number of supporters increased by the same amount of percentage points in year 3. Thus making it much clearer that the amount of supporters was the same in year 1 and year 3.

The Why Women initiative

There is a new Danish initiative, Why Women, which officially launches next week, but which already has a website. The about page describes the initiative thus:

THE WHY has initiated the media initiative; WHY WOMEN? The project aims to raise awareness about the challenges faced by women and girls today. WHY WOMEN? consists of 10 short films, 2 documentary films, a reportage and various outreach activities.

WHY WOMEN? launches in May 2016, when New York-based NGO, Women Deliver hosts the world’s largest conference on the conditions of girls and women worldwide in Copenhagen, Denmark. THE WHY wants to make use of the momentum created by Women Deliver and initiate a public debate about the challenges of gender inequality.

The short films and documentary films are already online an can be viewed on the website (and elsewhere). I have embedded one of the videos, Striving for Utopias, which is written by Emma Holten and voiced by Dame Helen Mirren. Note that it is NSFW due to nudity in small parts of the short film.

An initiative like this is welcome in Denmark, where there anti-feminism is widespread in the media, and where prominent politicians frequently make verbal attacks on not just feminism, but often specific feminists. I am not naive to think that the initiative will stop that, but hopefully it will help change not only the tone, but also the focus of the debate.

The Australian Sex Party takes a stance for science

The Australian Sex Party is a fairly small progressive Australian party, which formed as a response to religious influence in Australian politics. It holds a number of sensible positions on issues like abortion, asylum seekers (see e.g. here and here), and marriage equality.

In other words, while the name makes it seem like the party is a gimmick, it is actually a serious party with progressive positions on a number of issues.

The party has apparently been contacted by Meryl Dorey, the notorious anti-vaccination front person in Australia, and asked about their positions on current policies relating to vaccinations.

It is worth including their answer in full:

The Australian Sex Party was contacted by notorious anti-vaccination campaigner and science-denier Meryl Dorey, asking for our position on “both No Jab, No Pay/No Play legislation and the right of Australian citizens to make free and informed health choices for their families without financial penalty or discrimination.” Here is our response:

Dear Ms Dorey,

I am pleased to respond on behalf of the Australian Sex Party, to your request for information on our position on vaccination issues. I’d like to request that my response be published in full, and unedited, on both your website and social media. Please do share it widely.

The Australian Sex Party believes in individual liberty, and the freedom to make choices regarding your own life. With this freedom, however, comes responsibility. As members of our community, and beneficiaries of the privileges provided by the community, we have an obligation to ensure that exercising our freedom does not put others at undue risk.

No Jab, No Pay. The Federal Government’s No Jab, No Pay measures aim to reduce the spread of preventable disease1. Knowingly and willingly putting one’s own child and others at risk of dangerous and preventable diseases is irresponsible, reckless, and antisocial. The Australian Sex Party does not believe that those who choose not to participate in our collective enterprise of disease prevention should be rewarded with tax benefits or rebates. In Australia, parents are not forced to vaccinate their children. Those who contribute to the broader community’s health by vaccinating their children (or have genuine medical exemptions), receive a contribution from the community in the form of the FTB-A end-of-year supplement, Child Care Benefit, and Child Care Rebate payments. The Australian Sex Party supports this public health measure.

No Jab, No Play. Victoria’s No Jab, No Play laws were introduced to protect public health2. The Australian Sex Party believes that if a parent wishes to use our community’s early childhood education and care services, they should be expected to play their part in protecting the community from preventable diseases. Those who choose to endanger the health of others by not vaccinating their children should not be welcome to do so in an early childhood care setting.

The right of Australian citizens to make free and informed health choices for their families without financial penalty or discrimination. The Australian Sex Party supports the right of Australian citizens (and others) to make free and informed health choices for their families. The Party does not, however, believe that going against the best scientific information available, represents an informed health choice. The anti-vaccination movement encourages parents to “do your own research”, however doing “research” by reading web-pages is not comparable to actual research done by scientists who work hard to protect us all from dangerous and debilitating disease. The Australian Sex Party rejects the insinuation that expecting all parents to participate in preventing diseases is a form of discrimination.

The safety and efficacy of vaccination is not an area of scientific controversy3. The claim that governments and scientists are all conspiring to mislead us for some nefarious purpose is absurd and irresponsible. The dangers of complications from vaccines are much lower than the dangers posed by childhood diseases such as measles4. The claims of the anti-vaccination movement have been thoroughly debunked5. Choosing not to vaccinate your children amounts to medical neglect; this is a serious ethical issue. Whilst it can be tempting to imagine that we parents have access to some special kind of knowledge that somehow eludes the scientific community, it’s just not so. We at the Australian Sex Party would like to encourage parents who are questioning what’s right for their children, to follow the advice of the scientific and medical communities, rather than charlatans and conspiracy theorists.

Regards,

Darren Austin
Senior Policy Advisor
Australian Sex Party
sexparty.org.au
References
1. http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubp/rp/BudgetReview201516/Vaccination

2. https://www2.health.vic.gov.au/public-health/immunisation/vaccine-safety-myths-facts

3. http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/no-jab-no-pay/

4. https://www2.health.vic.gov.au/public-health/immunisation/vaccination-children/no-jab-no-play/frequently-asked-questions

5. https://violentmetaphors.com/2014/03/25/parents-you-are-being-lied-to/

 

I don’t think I could ask for a better answer from a political party. If I lived in Victoria, the Capital Territory, or Northern Territory, I’d very much consider voting for the Australian Sex Party in the next local election.

 

Nothing in Medicine Makes Sense in the Light of Homeopathy

Note: This is a repost from my old blog. It appears at it originally appeared on my old blog.

I am not the first person to state this, but I think that it’s important that we all keep up saying this: Testing of homeopathic medicine should end.

Why do I say this? Well, for a very simple reason: There is no evidence that homeopathy works. And what’s more, the whole concept of homeopathy flies against everything we know about chemistry, physics, and physiology.

This blog post is triggered by a truly abysmal study where homeopathic medicine was compared to proper medicine used for treating moderate to severe depressions – there were numerous flaws in the study (which I plan to address in a later post), but the fundamental problem was that it was comparing medicine with remedies based on nonsense.

There is a famous essay by Theodosius Dobzhansky called “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution“, which goes on to explain how our knowledge of biology wouldn’t make sense except if evolution is true. One could write a similar essay, called say “Nothing in Medicine Makes Sense in the Light of Homeopathy”, in which one explains how all our knowledge of medicine and physiology doesn’t make sense if homeopathy is true.

I don’t think this can be stressed enough.

It’s not just a matter of science not understanding homeopathy. If homeopathy was true, it would mean that the basic building blocks upon which our knowledge is built would be wrong.

Given we know that this is not the case, homeopathy must be wrong. No, that’s too mild; homeopathy must be absolute nonsense.

The basic concepts of homeopathy are things like “like cures like”, miasms, and and the concept of “memory” in water, all of which is nonsense.

“Like cures like” (or law of similars) is the idea that medicine should be based upon things which gives the same symptoms as the original disease. This was perhaps plausible back when Hahnemann first proposed it two hundred years ago, but we now know that there is no truth to this idea. Sometimes the medicine will be based upon substances which gives similar symptoms, but mostly it won’t.

Miasms are an old concept, in which diseases are caused by pollution or bad air. This idea was replaced by the germ theory of diseases, and is not taken serious by anyone except for certain branches of alternative “medicine” such as homeopathy, where they have added their own twists to the concept, but still stay largely true to the old Medieval concept.

The “memory” of water (or sugar for that matter) is the explanation used to explain how homeopathic medicine can have any effect. Homeopathic remedies are based upon the concept of diluting, in which the remedies are diluted to a degree where none of the original molecules are left (see this rather poor Wikipedia article for the numbers).

Oh, and the homeopaths also claim that the more diluted a remedy is, the more potent it is. Yes, this is really what they claim. No, it doesn’t make any sense.

So, all in all, we know that homeopathy doesn’t work. So, why the hell are we continuing to test it against proper medicine?

There are a lot of alternative “medicines” which might work, even if the concepts they are based upon are nonsense (e.g. acupuncture), and it makes sense to test these (so far, the effect of acupuncture seems to be placebo), but this is most certainly not the case with homeopathy. There is no way in which that can work.

Homeopaths might claim otherwise, but then it’s up to them to explain how our basic understanding of chemistry, physics, physiology, and medicine is wrong in this matter, and yet works in every other case. In other words, it’s up to the homeopaths to propose new theories in which homeopathy works, and which still supports our current state of knowledge, and until then, they should be ignored.

Not shunned, but ignored. Like we ignore perpetual motion machine builders, flat-earthers, and other weirdos.

Conventional medicine is not perfect, and our knowledge is expanding all the time, but theories like the germ theory of diseases are well established through science. We understand the mechanisms at play, and this knowledge enables us to fight diseases more efficiently. Much like our understanding of vira has helped us fighting other diseases more efficiently.

Why does claims of memory in water and strength through dilution bring to the table? In what ways are they expanding our knowledge? What diseases are we able to cure because of them? Nothing, none, and none are the answers. So stop bringing them to the table. Instead focus on the many valid ideas, which don’t fly in the face of all the collective knowledge of the sciences.

Woos like to bring up Nobel Laureates Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, and their discovery that ulcers were caused by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori as an example of how outsiders can turn conventional knowledge on its head.

This is of course pure wishful thinking from their side. Marshall and Warren were very much part of the established scientific community, and while their proposal was received skeptically at first, it was not dismissed out of hand for some very simple reasons:

    • It was built upon evidence.
    • The mechanisms etc. all worked within conventional science and the mechanisms known at the time.
    • There seemed to be some problems with the prevalent hypothesis at the time.

In other words, not only did they work within the established science, they actually addressed some known issues and presented evidence for their claims.

Yes, it took some time (and a very drastic demonstration) to convince people, but the scientific and medical community was very willing to be convinced, and as soon as there were sufficient evidence, the new explanation was universally accepted in quite a short time.

This is how it is done.

So, in what way has proponents of homeopathy done any of this?

The truth is that most people with a basic understanding of science understands that homeopathy is nonsense of the worst order, yet money is still spent on testing this nonsense, demonstrating again and again that it doesn’t work. Why? We know that it doesn’t work, since we understand the fundamental flaws in the premises behind homeopathy, and we know that homeopathic remedies are nothing but water, alcohol, or sugar (depending on whether they are liquid or in pill form), so they cannot work any better than placebo – they ARE placebo.

Let’s put an end to this.

All it does is to lend credibility to homeopathy in the eyes of observers who don’t know any better. They think that since homeopathic remedies are continuously being tested, there must be something to them. Why do we let this misconception continue? Science wins nothing from these sham studies, and it only lends cranks an aura of respectability. Stop it.

Yes, I am very passionate about this – we are allowing a lie to continue perpetually. That’s wrong. Homeopathy has been around for 200 years, providing no value to society as a whole, and generally decreasing the general level of health, and it’s time to stand up and say so.

It goes without saying that I have only contempt for hospitals and doctors who provide homeopathic remedies to their patients. Homeopathic practitioners are usually acting in good faith, believing in their nonsense, but doctors and nurses should know better – they have an education behind them, which provides them with the knowledge necessary to understand what nonsense homeopathy is.

A note on the US election – vote for Clinton in November

Looking from the outside, there is no doubt that the US political system, with its winners-take-all elections, is deeply flawed, and unfortunately more or less guarantee a two-party system, at least on the national level. What’s more, it creates an environment, in which confrontational and non-cooperative behavior often is rewarded.

In countries, where there is a proportional distribution based upon votes, there will usually be numerous parties, and the political environment will have a great deal of focus on collaboration across political parties and compromises.

I think it would be healthy for the US political system to move towards that.

Then it would also be possible to get rid of the costly and destructive practice of primaries, and leave the election of candidates to the party members, as it is usually done outside the US.

However, until this happens (which I guess is some time after I have been elected US President, to be honest), it is important to operate within the political reality of the US. This reality is currently that the election is between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Hillary Clinton is a well known choice, and unlike the Republican smears (and smears from the left), she is fundamentally honest and progressive. She is more hawkish than a lot of Democrats want, but then, so is Sanders if people spent a little time studying his politics, and anyway, her hawkiness is exaggerated. On issues related to civil rights, Clinton is a true progressive, fighting for LGBT rights, women’s right to choose, and fighting discrimination and racism against non-whites – on these issues, Clinton has a long proven track-record, and is, in my opinion, often more progressive than Sanders, who tends to look at everything in the terms of class warfare, ignoring gender and race.

But even if Clinton was the a reincarnation of Ronald Reagan, it would be important to vote for her.

Why? Because in the political reality that is the US, the alternative is Donald Trump.

Many people are talking about voting 3rd party rather than “the lesser of two evils”. I have little patience with this argument – a 3rd party vote is wasted, as there is no chance a 3rd party candidate will get elected. However, any votes on a 3rd party candidate, instead of Clinton, could be a potential vote that Clinton is missing when the final ballots are counted. Yes, in some districts, they matter less, but are you really willing to risk that?

It might be that Clinton is the lesser of two evils, but the comparison of evilness is like comparing a mouse to a full grown elephant. They are both mammals, but I think we all know which one we would prefer stepping on our toes.

Here I am assuming that my readers tend to be progressive. If you are usually a Republican voters, I’d suggest that you either sit this election out, vote for Clinton or vote 3rd party. Why? Because the GOP candidate is Donald Trump! I think it would be a good idea to vote in a way which ensures that a similar candidate isn’t elected again – this is best done by ensuring that Clinton wins overwhelmingly.

For those who wish for a more left-leaning Democratic party, I’d suggest focusing on the down-vote candidates, ensuring that the most progressive of them get elected. The Senate and the House are both currently in GOP hands – any win for the Democrats would pull leftwards, especially if the victory is by a progressive candidate.

 

A lynching every week for 73 years

It has been long known that lynching was not the uncommon occurrences in the US post the Civil War, as some people try to paint it as, but now the Atlanta Blackstar has an article, that tells us that lynchings were even more widespread than we had realized.

New Report Compiles A Devastating Count of Nearly 4,000 Lynchings of Black People in the US, Showing This Form of White Terrorism Had Profound Impact on American History

There were 3,959 Black people lynched in the United States between 1877 and 1950—a number that is 700 more than previously known—and Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana had more lynchings than any other state in the country. These revelations are contained in an astounding new report by the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative that attempts to place this horrid form of American racial terrorism in its proper historical context as a tool of white supremacy that had a profound impact on the nation.

The report, called “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror,” ties lynching to a broader picture of white social control, showing how lynchings affected African-American migration patterns, effectively turning many Southern communities from predominantly Black to overwhelmingly white virtually overnight and sending millions of Black people to the cities of the North to escape this terrorism. It is a significantly more nuanced view of how whites used lynching to serve particular purposes—and how lynchings were a seldom-discussed driver of the Great Migration of Black people to the North.

A summary of the report can be found here (pdf).

So, after investigating lynchings, the report found that there had been 3,959 lynchings over 73 years. That is an average of more than 54 lynchings per year, or put differently, it means that there was, on average, one lynching per week for 73 years!

This is an horrifying thought.

After having posted about this on facebook, one of my facebook friends wrote:

When you hear about lynching now, it’s cast as some sort of anomaly, somehow separate from the main stream of US experience. But Kristjan’s average really puts it in perspective: anything that happens once a week for 70+ years is Normal with a capital N; it WAS the US experience. It barely rated news coverage, just as these days black deaths in the inner cities barely rate a mention on any but the local news.

That is a great way of putting it. When we are talking such numbers, we are not talking anomalies – we are talking routine. This was the daily life of people living back then.

Remember this, when people try to dismiss the concept of institutionalized racism or downplay how bad racism was in the past.

This is a repost from my old blog. The original post was posted December 2, 2015. It seemed appropriate to re-post it during Confederate Heritage Month in Mississippi.

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.