The spirit level and statistics

Despite the promising title, this post is merely another link. But then, that’s what this watery place was for. Will, Rich and Katy, I’m hoping you’ll make clear for me what to think.

This is basically an article in www.spiked-online.com by a guy who’s written a hilariously-titled book called The Spirit Level Delusion.

He seeks to debunk pretty much everything it says. Obviously it’s abhorrent, but I need from you lot clear reasons why. Thanks.

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6 thoughts on “The spirit level and statistics

  1. Well, I can’t personally debunk everything he says, but I think Richard and Kate’s response is that most of the questions have been answered already – either here or here. Also they needed to use countries which had comparable data across all the measures they were looking at – that was the only selection criteria (other than being rich).

    I don’t think anyone would claim you could entirely remove underlying agendas even from academic study, but if there are flaws in the analysis I don’t think they’re anywhere near as bad, nor as cynically intentional as the Delusion guy suggests – after all, he’s not exactly agenda-free himself.

  2. Really good and very readable report out from policy exchange looking at just this issue:

    http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/assets/Beware_False_Prophets_Jul_10.pdf

    Unfortunately, not much survives intact. The original spirit level used data from 22 countries and a separate set from US states. Policy exchange used updated information and more countries’ data to check the conclusions.

    The PE critique claims that the SLs problem was that the sample size meant that a few more equal countries with high life expectancy and less social problems (Scandinavia, japan etc.) at one end, and worse social problems and higher inequality (the US) at the other meant that there appeared to be a trend, but without these outliers there was no statistically significant trend.

    Haven’t read through everything yet so maybe more later.

  3. So I had a look at the critique (by look I mean the summary) and a similarly close inspection of the rebuttal and I quickly realised how dull it all is.

    Ultimately SL served its purpose by mobilising ‘equality’ as a rhetoric into the political discourse of the Islington left. We now descend into what can only be an endless to-ing and fro-ing of methodology. Who cares? Bathhouse readers perhaps. Time (and money) rich wonks who enjoy this sort of thing.

    But what role does evidence-based promotion of issues even have? I can’t think of a single evidence-based issue the Tories won the last election on. Can you? What mobilises and inspires people is clearly something the IFS can’t produce on a graph.

    SL was meant to be the Left’s rallying cry, the final ‘proof’ of what we knew all along. But no amount of evidence or counter-evidence has managed to really penetrate the minds of people beyond the political class. So what now? We keep hearing the derth of ideas and the death of clear message from the Left. Progressive is dead as a word. Social justice sounds posh. Wellbeing?

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