Saturday, August 08, 2009

Weekend Demographic Link Dump

A recent article in Nature has been given a lot of media attention because it argues that at high levels of development, as measured by the Human Development Index, there is a positive correlation between HDI and fertility. I'm personally not convinced and Edward does a good job of pointing out some the many weaknesses of the study here.

Birth rates in the US are falling, largely because of the recession. This is of course not unsurprising and there are signs of the same thing happening in some countries in Eastern Europe. I suspect that in countries with extensive welfare states you might see the opposite effect, which means that French fertility may exceed US fertility this year, C'est peut-être le bon moment pour pratiquer son français, mes amis.

If anyone has had the misfortune of stumbling upon a Youtube movie called "Muslim demographics in Europe", the BBC has a good debunking of the "statistics" used in that clip.

Germany has the lowest birth rate in Europe despite recent efforts to boost fertility. In order to reverse the trend, the German family minister proposes part time parental leave with full-time pay (article in German), which seems like a good idea. Personally, I've always felt that subsidized or free day-care and after-school programs seems like the best natalist measure, but they're very expensive and take time to implement even in the best-case scenarios. In addition you need a child-friendly culture, which Germany seems to lack. At lest they've belatedly realized they have a problem.

8 comments:

Wolfgang G. said...

I wrote already in 1997:

"... For this reason, in some countries with low fertility, more educated groups with higher incomes should have higher fertility than less educated groups with lower incomes."

Maybe somebody is interested in understanding why it was so difficult for our ancestors to accept such obvious facts as the sphericity of the Earth, the Earth's movement around the sun, or the continuity from primitive organisms to humans. Such a person can simply read about the similarly obvious fact of demographic saturation and observe himself in not being able of accepting it.

Anonymous said...

> If anyone has had the misfortune of stumbling upon a Youtube movie called "Muslim demographics in Europe", the BBC has a good debunking of the "statistics" used in that clip.

I have nothing to say about the issue but it is disappointing that you consider the BBC as any kind of source in anything related to science.

http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000568.html

"I learned over a decade ago that they can't be trusted when it comes to scientific matters."

But then I am not surprised since you have Jay Olshansky listed in "Bio-Demographers"

http://www.consumerfreedom.net/news_detail.cfm/headline/2768

I quote some of that:

"This study is just half a step removed from science fiction," we told USA Today. "It uses discredited methodology, and it makes dire warnings that are not supported by its own data."

"The Olshansky piece is seriously flawed," Dr. James Vaupel, director of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany explained to us in an e-mail last week. "His perspective is that of an advocate making a case rather than a scientist evaluating the body of conflicting evidence."

Vaupel isn't alone in questioning Olshansky's prediction. Dr. Robert N. Anderson, the lead author of the CDC's National Vital Statistics Report on life expectancy, explained that he was extremely skeptical of Klish and Olshansky's claim about obesity's effect on life expectancy. He told us: "I really would be shocked if we got a generation down the road and life expectancy was lower than the previous generation. I really would be surprised ... We've never seen anything like that. Life expectancy has gone up pretty steadily."

Aslak said...

Anon:
I linked to the BBC article because I thought it was a good article which I agree with, not because I have any particular opinion on the authority or lack thereof of the BBC.

As for Olshansky, I'm not familiar with him as I'm not the one who put up the link, but I don't think you should regard having a link to the website of a demographer as some kind of sign of approval of every paper published by him.

Anonymous said...

I second the motion that the BBC can't be trusted, particularly as regards any issue related to favored left-wing political causes (minorities and immigration, in this case). That said, the article's author dosen't claim to know what will happen in the future, and even seems to leave open the possibility that the video may prove to be at least partly correct.

The Beeb can prattle on all it wants about Euro-Muslim demographics, but the fact is most Europeans hold a rather gloomy view. In France, prominent imams will tell you that Muslims already make up 15% of the total population, and account for up to 30% of births. Question is, are these Frenchmen or something far different?

Edward Hugh said...

Hello everyone,

Well sorry to butt-in here everyone, but I do know Jay Olshansky's work on life expectancy, and personally I have a lot of respect for him. On the other hand I also know Vaupel's work, and I have serious difficulties with his approach.

Basically, I think Vaupel's quote:

"His perspective is that of an advocate making a case rather than a scientist evaluating the body of conflicting evidence."

could easily be applied to Vaupel's own work. Which isn't to say anything very much I suppose, since here you can take the view you want, as long as everyone respects the opinion of everyone else.

Basically, the people who question what Olshansky is saying don't seem to understand what the "thrifty phenotype" hypothesis is all about.

And with that I will leave it till I have some more time. Unfortunately there is a serious economic crisis in Eastern and Southern Europe to attend to, and in the middle, I would like to make it down to the beach at least once this summer.

Anonymous said...

Buorre beaivvi Aslak and hello Edward Hugh!

> I linked to the BBC article because I thought it was a good article which I agree with, not because I have any particular opinion on the authority or lack thereof of the BBC.

This is a relief. Now you should at least be wary of the BBC and not just confidently link to anything they say if it is about scientific matters.

> As for Olshansky, I'm not familiar with him as I'm not the one who put up the link, but I don't think you should regard having a link to the website of a demographer as some kind of sign of approval of every paper published by him.

Sure. I have seen my share of absurd things published by otherwise superb researchers. I don't remember that these researchers would have ever returned to the absurd claims after being told they were wrong. On the other hand, I quote the aforementioned article once more:

"Olshansky himself tops the list of the nation's life-expectancy naysayers."

In my eyes his reputation is bust. I really don't see why you have ANY faith on him. Do you have any faith on Paul Ehrlich after his track record?

This is what Olshansky and others write in a _scientific_ article:

( see http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/mar2005/nia-16.htm )

“Forecasting life expectancy by extrapolating from the past is like forecasting the weather on the basis of its history,” Olshansky and his colleagues write. “Looking out the window, we see a threatening storm — obesity —that will, if unchecked, have a negative effect on life expectancy.”

Now, when I read that I immediately saw that that belongs to the realm of fiction, not fact (see especially the emotional tone and the wrong, and checkable!, factoid about life expectancy, just what Vaupel's quote was about).

I quote once more:

"I really would be shocked if we got a generation down the road and life expectancy was lower than the previous generation. I really would be surprised ... We've never seen anything like that. Life expectancy has gone up pretty steadily."

What is this obesity epidemic that leaves no traces? In fact the opposite of lowering life expectancy is true. BTW, while there is a case to be made there, on the whole the fringe cases of über obesity are not important.

> could easily be applied to Vaupel's own work. Which isn't to say anything very much I suppose, since here you can take the view you want, as long as everyone respects the opinion of everyone else.

But that is not a scientific approach. Some views are wrong on mere facts, Olshansky's for example. Life expectancy goes up and so does obesity. If there were any truth to the view of Olshansky there would be clear signs of reduced life expectancy since many americans are overweight and obese. I remember that americans were said to be overweight over 30 years ago when I was a little boy. You should see some effects of lowered life expectancy in 30 years, no...

> Basically, the people who question what Olshansky is saying don't seem to understand what the "thrifty phenotype" hypothesis is all about.

I admit I have no idea. On the other hand, he is clearly wrong on the lowered life expectancy. That is what matters more than his hypothesis whatever that is.

> and in the middle, I would like to make it down to the beach at least once this summer.

Have a nice time on the beach!

Edward Hugh said...

Hello again anonymous,

I really haven't the time to get much further into this, but you might like to take a look through David Barker's work:

http://www.thebarkertheory.org/index.php

Randy said...

"In France, prominent imams will tell you that Muslims already make up 15% of the total population, and account for up to 30% of births."

1. Which prominent imams?

2. Are these imams demonstrably correct?