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Friday, October 16, 2015

Sample Bias


A conundrum which once much puzzled the author is the following: Certain nationalities are, in the author’s experience, an absolutely marvelous lot, intelligent, inquisitive, open-minded, and disinclined to any major political pathologies. Yet, their large home countries are historically and often at-present in a state of repression and poverty which seems entirely incompatible with the nature of this sort of people. These countries ought to be Switzerland or Denmark, not the impoverished despotism they are. How can this possibly be?

The answer lies, of course, in the title of this post: sample bias.That it took the author so long to figure that out does not speak well of his power of reason. For example, almost all the Russians the author personally knows or considers friends are English-speaking residents of or visitors to the West.They are also almost all Jews. Surprisingly, that is not true of the population of Russia overall. Similarly, for Indians among the author’s friends and acquaintances.In that case, they are almost all Brahmins, thought it can take a surprising amount of prodding to get them to admit to this. And so also for the Chinese.What would be the demographic subcategory here? Mandarins?

All of these are tiny, unrepresentative minorities within their respective nationalities. Absolutely no intelligent conclusions about national character can be drawn from such incredibly biased samples.

For the larger populations the sad truth may be that the famous words of Jefferson’sYes, nobody.really, one does recall that Jefferson was a slave-holder, lending these words a particular piquancy. last letter are not true:

The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.

Yet it appears that a depressingly large fraction of mankind is with born saddles on their back and glories in their degradation when others take advantage of this fact to ride them.