I am to science what Albert Einstein was to trap music. All I can do is defer to the experts, and what the experts say is alarmingly different from what I'm hearing from friends and headlines. So here's a pile of commonly believed things which people smarter than me, using scientific methods, have said are probably bullshit.
What I love about science is its ability to quantify things that could otherwise remain the subject of lazy jokes and shitty pundit rants forever. For example, a study found that there's no measurable difference in work ethic among Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers, and Millennials.
I think the reason for the misconception, aside from people turning into dicks as they get old because their backs hurt, is that they cling to an outdated idea of what kind of work is "hard." There totally are Millennials who don't want to shovel coal all day, but there are also grizzled old miners who would have a stroke if they were forced to spend all day doing phone tech support for entitled, abusive morons.
Also, you know how there was that joke that Millennials don't buy homes because they spent all of their money on roasted avocados or whatever it was? And how the rebuttal from Millennials was that it's because they're too buried in debt and the American Dream is dead forever? Well, it turns out Millennials are in fact buying houses, and home ownership is growing faster among them than any other group. Hey kids, the next time your bathtub fills with poop, you won't have a landlord to call! Wait until you see the bill! The American dream is alive, but it's your plumber who's living it.
Let's try an experiment:
Nearly 3.7 billion birds a year are killed due to emissions from a certain type of offshore oil drilling (known as Bulk Uncapped Thermal Transfer), along with another 21 billion(!) mammals. At least one species of bird was rendered extinct by this. Knowing that, would you support banning this technique, or at least tightly regulating it?
OK, now what if I told you that those 3.7 billion birds and 21 billion mammals are actually killed by house cats, and when a few feral cats were introduced to an island off New Zealand, it took them all of two years to totally wipe out a local species of birds? And that, in fact, cats may be more destructive to wildlife than any other human-linked cause?
All of that is true. So did you just now think, "Well, I definitely need to see how they came up with those numbers!" and if so, why didn't you say the same when I blamed oil drilling for those deaths, especially considering that "Bulk Uncapped Thermal Transfer" is just a string of words I picked because they spelled BUTT?
See, it's not that we don't demand to see sources for claims; it's that we only demand to see them for things we don't agree with. And studies show that, yes, liberals and conservatives are equally prone to this. This is becoming worse in the information age -- avoiding information that upsets us is a really common stress management technique. Consuming information that reassures us is calming, it's like a gentle brain massage. Hell, I just watched an entire two-hour video confirming my belief that Breath Of The Wild sucked, and it's been six months since I played it. Your weapon breaks after every enemy!
Of course, that is an objectively terrible way to process information, and I need you to keep that in mind as you read this next one ...
Holy shit. We're ... just jumping right into this, aren't we?
All right. Here we go: Toxic ideas about gender roles, sex, and consent threaten everybody.
One study of college-age males found that half of them had been sexually victimized in some way since age 16, and half of those said the perpetrator was female. That same link points out that in prison, female inmates are three times more likely to be sexually assaulted by another woman than an inmate in a male prison is to be assaulted by another man. And if you're reading this, I hope I don't have to tell you that this is not a fucking contest. This is not a rebuttal to those raising awareness of male-on-female assault. This is an addition. The epidemic is more insidious than we think.
One study found that 21% of sexual harassers are women. Those aren't exactly rare, once-in-a-blue-moon occurrences. As this insightful writeup points out, it means that all of us probably have a friend who is a harasser, whether your friends are male or female. But as that author points out, nobody mentions Mariah Carey as part of the #MeToo movement, even though her male bodyguard publicly accused her of sexually harassing him.
The problem is that outdated gender role bullshit infects everybody, even those trying to fix it. We're still stuck with the idea that women can't be aggressive or have raw sexual urges. We fall back to the idea that physical strength is the only true form of power, when if anything, #MeToo has taught us that coercion involves all forms of power (money, job status, emotional manipulation), and that much of the trauma is psychological or emotional. And while women are discouraged from reporting sexual misconduct, men are even less likely to report. Again, it's not a contest. Gender roles screw everybody!
Now here's the good news: Sexual assault has dropped in half since 1993. Culturally, we're doing an incredible job of fighting this problem, even if there's lots more to do. As with the thing about Millennials earlier, issues sometimes get louder in the national conversation as they improve. The same factors that reduced assaults cause us to notice them more, which causes us to talk about them more, which causes them to seem more common.
That's good in the sense that it encourages people to keep doing something about it (assaults still happen with horrific frequency, I surely could have left that unsaid), but bad in the sense that it can create the impression that nothing has worked so far. It totally has. I'm telling you as a kid who grew up in the '80s, these conversations about consent did not used to happen. I watched comedies that played rape as a punchline. It was a whole genre.
It's true that only 24% of science, tech, engineering, and mathematics jobs are held by women, and everyone agrees this is a problem, partly because it's a self-sustaining cycle. Male-dominated workplaces would logically be a deterrent to women, as it sends a message that they don't belong and, let's face it, boys clubs aren't any fun if you're not a boy (and in many cases, even if you are). There are all sorts of initiatives to get more women into these fields right now, since those will be the only good jobs once everything is robots. This is good and should continue. Also, there is no evidence that the millions of women who aren't working in STEM wish they were.
Only 16% of teenage girls say they're "very interested" in computer science, even though 48% say they think they could do it if they wanted to. So it's true that only 18% of CS degrees go to women, but that's actually higher than the percentage who show lots of enthusiasm for it earlier in life.
Also, the data shows that in countries where women have more equal rights and greater ability to make choices, they're actually less likely to choose STEM careers than in countries where women have fewer rights (like Algeria, where 41% of STEM graduates are women). If something is still steering women away in these more progressive countries, it apparently starts early, way before they're even thinking about a career. The link in the paragraph above does show that boys get more encouragement in school (teachers suggesting they could grow up to be engineers or whatever), and in fact, boys tend to be more confident in their ability to do science even when they're worse at it than the girls.
It might also be that most women just don't want to work in STEM.
If so, we can surely agree that the goal is to A) make sure every workplace is welcoming, regardless of gender and B) make sure nobody is being made to feel weird about their choices, whether they want to be an engineer, housewife, soldier, or Instagram butt model. That goes for everyone -- another study found that when women are mistreated at work (insulted, berated, etc.), it's more often by other women. This happens, according to the subjects, when they act assertive or dominant -- meaning that when they broke traditional gender norms, it was usually other women who punished them. Does anybody sell a "Toxic Gender Beliefs Screw Everybody" T-shirt?
Let's see, what else is in the news these days ...
Well, you'll be happy to know that the rate of school shootings has been dropping for decades, and today kids are about ten times more likely to be killed walking or bicycling to school than they are to be fatally shot. Actually, most people are not happy to hear it, but we'll talk about that.
Now, you may have recently seen a stat claiming there have been 290 school shootings since Sandy Hook, but that's incredibly misleading. Half of those are accidents, nonfatal incidents, or suicides, mostly on college campuses -- which are a huge problem, but not what a single person imagines when they hear "school shooting." (Note: The real public health hazard of firearms is suicide, but apparently everybody thinks that's boring.)
Anyway, I know why people hate seeing stats like this. They're afraid positive news will rob the gun control movement of urgency. But I never want to be relying on weaponized ignorance as a strategy, and there's something extremely important to note here: A single huge news event shouldn't be treated like a statistical trend. These shootings should be treated like terror attacks, because that's what they are. And just as we shouldn't harass Muslims after every ISIS attack (since that's precisely what ISIS wants), we shouldn't target socially isolated kids as potential mass shooters.
(Related: Incidents of bullying at school have been dropping since 2005, when the government started keeping track. That's another supposedly unsolvable, inevitable part of life that turned out to be neither of those things.)
While we're on it, I guess we have to get this one out of the way ...
I became such an asshole after 9/11 that it retroactively made me become an asshole for my previous 25 years of life prior to the event. It took me a solid five years to figure out that terrorists are manipulating this particular flaw in the way information is spread: Humans tend to mistake the spectacular for the common.
The target isn't the victims, it's the viewers at home. They know that due to a glitch in the human brain, seeing 100 news stories about one terror attack equals 100 terror attacks. That's how a rare, statistical blip of an event can make 100 million people afraid to leave the house. Mass shooters, like all terrorists, know this.
The reality is that assault rifles account for about 2% of gun deaths in the USA, even with all of the mass shootings lumped in. Rifles of all types -- including hunting rifles and such -- only account for 3%. It's just not convenient to commit crimes with a rifle; it's only the most dedicated who'll take the trouble.
By the way, I don't care if you want to heavily regulate assault rifles or high-capacity magazines. Go right ahead. Make every gun owner pass six months of training and a Voight-Kampff Test. But if you're worried about gun deaths (including the two-thirds of those that are self-inflicted), handguns are literally 97% of the problem. You're statistically more likely to be killed by someone's bare fists than by an assault rifle, and you're more than 100 times more likely to die of any other cause than to be murdered by any method. Those numbers keep going down because what we've been doing the last couple of decades to fight these problems has been working.
Not that the average person realizes it. Experts can tell you that fear of crime isn't spread by crime -- it's spread by other people who are afraid of crime, even in low-crime communities. The whole reason mass killings occur in clusters is that (we think) the media attention triggers the next potential killer who's lying in wait. If they're living a power fantasy, their true power isn't in dealing death, it's in dealing fear. What psychopath can resist the prospect of a whole culture cowering before them?
You may say that the news should just stop covering those shootings, but that's again talking about using structured ignorance as a problem-solving strategy. What needs to change is how we choose to react to it.
So as I'm writing this, news broke that another young, unarmed black man was shot in his back yard, by officers who claim they mistook his cell phone for a gun. Click that link if you want to watch the body camera footage of the whole thing, from the cameras the officers knew were on when they pulled the trigger. Or you can check out this story of two cops beating the shit out of a black man for jaywalking, captured clearly on nine different body cam videos.
That brings us to the data none of us were hoping to hear: The largest study on the subject, done in Washington, D.C., found no change in citizen complaints or use of force by the officers after they started wearing body cameras. Prior studies had shown mixed results -- in at least one case, fatal shootings actually went up. Like most data, it can be interpreted in any number of awful ways. You can say that this proves the system is so corrupt that cops know they'll get off even with video, or that it proves cops always believed they were making the right decision in the moment, and that if anything, they were holding back before.
You know what did reduce citizen complaints and result in fewer suspects being killed, according to one study? Providing military gear to police.
"There must be something those studies missed!" you say, and so do I. I don't want my police to have tanks, because I prefer not to live in a motherfucking dystopia. But this is the data we've got to work with, and we don't get to just hand-wave it away if we claim to believe in science. Oh, and while you're arguing among yourselves about this, go ahead and talk about that other huge study that found no link between poverty and violent crime.
That "Mistaking the spectacular for the common" mechanism that makes Americans in quiet towns fear being gunned down by a mass shooter or beheaded by MS-13 is at play here, too. And everywhere, really.
Racists want you to believe they're taking over, but all that's growing is a fringe of highly visible, spectacular racism. The number of hate groups in the USA has gone up about 7% since 2015, and that's right in line with the FBI's data showing hate crimes rose by about 5% last year, though reporting is spotty. I guess you could say that a 5-7% increase in extremism isn't exactly an explosion, but I don't want to downplay it, and it really does feel like white nationalist YouTube channels have exploded by 5,000%. Nice algorithm you've got there, guys. I love seeing these in my recommendations:
But overall, racist attitudes continue their sharp decline, even in the Trump era. You're not seeing a turning of the tide in racism. You're seeing increasing polarization, the losing side getting louder and crazier. This includes intentionally staging appearances they know will draw protests so that they can play victim. The fact that the rest of us find them repulsive is what generates the noise.
We're seeing the same thing happen with religion. This is maybe the least religious generation in the history of America, but what remains is the hardcore Evangelical Christians, who are going to get louder and more strident as this trend continues. The fact that they're losing ground is the very thing that drives them.
Wait a second. It just occurred to me why the NRA has gotten so flamboyant and cultish in recent years. Let me do a quick check ... yep, gun ownership in the USA is at its lowest point in 40 years. Never forget: The losers get louder.
I bet you've never heard this stat before: Polls show low-income blacks are more optimistic about their futures than poor whites. The ones living in the South -- the worst place to be a poor black person, I'd assume -- are the most optimistic of all. More optimistic than rich people of the same race, even.
This isn't new. One reason Bernie Sanders couldn't get much traction among minorities in 2016 is that black Americans were much more likely to rate the economy as "good" in polls. Latinos, too -- they were much more likely than whites to say they expected their fortunes to improve in the next year. The most pessimistic group was the white people. In fact, the white suicide rate is surging, even though their prospects are statistically still much better.
But statistics don't matter. Perception matters. That's what this whole article is about. It matters so much that people will take this bleak, false depiction of reality to their fucking graves.
That same "No, this can't be right" reaction you've had to who knows how many of the points in this article is the exact same one white people have when they hear that they're still getting the best of everything. Related ...
Hey, did you know that for the last couple of years, wages for low-income workers have been growing faster than rich people's? Blue-collar jobs, service jobs, manufacturing -- their pay has been surging. Some industries are struggling to find workers. We've been in a booming economy for years now.
See? Do you feel yourself rejecting that news? Do you feel like it threatens you somehow, puts you in a weaker position? Like it's just ammunition for the bad guys? That's how it works! We have all sorts of reasons to believe or not believe things, and "What does the data say?" ranks way down on the list.
If you were able to swallow that one, how about ...
"What?" you say. "Implying that sweatshops are good is like saying Breath Of The Wild wasn't a tedious pile of shit." OK, but then why do 85% of the people in developing countries say it's a good thing when foreign companies build factories there?
It's complicated. Look, if you find out your favorite product is made by sweatshop labor in a third-world country, you have every right to demand they stop. But it's only good if it means improving conditions in that factory. If they just move the jobs elsewhere, that's a fucking disaster for those workers. Ignoring that doesn't make us noble.
Even the shitty factories improve their standard of living because those sweatshops didn't replace good jobs, they replaced abject poverty. More jobs means other employers have to offer more to compete for those workers. That's why wages in general go up and more jobs tend to also bring improved work conditions. Poor countries with liberalized trade see less absolute poverty, lower child mortality, and improved gender equality. The data is overwhelming.
That can seem confusing if you've heard that globalization brings with it inequality, but remember that inequality doesn't necessarily mean the poor are getting poorer -- they can both be rising, the rich just rising faster. If you want to do something, then tax those people, don't take the jobs away. And don't pat yourself on the back if you lobbied a company to stop using sweatshop labor, only to have them use robots instead.
One more ...
Wait. That ... no, that can't be right. I may know even less about politics than the creators of Breath Of The Wild knew about weapon durability mechanics, but I know this. We just saw Net Neutrality get repealed because big internet providers threw cash and lobbyists at the government. Right?
Well, this 2017 study found companies didn't benefit at all when the candidates they supported took office (meaning there were no return favors). This even larger study spanning 18 years of data found that corporate lobbying efforts made no difference, and that companies were basically wasting that money. There was an earlier study that found the opposite, but was roundly debunked by multiple experts.
This has to be a flawed study, or looking at the wrong thing, or ... something. Yeah, I'm just going to refuse to believe that one. You know what, just forget I said anything.
Wouldn't hurt you to pick up a copy of The Science of Positivity, maybe make some sense of things.
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