On petunias and whales: part 2

Read Part 1 first.  A discussion of “A very surprised looking sperm whale and a bowl of petunias” by Dave Freer.

Previously I’d listed the various ways Dave’s argument could go wrong and I claimed (without support) that it had gone wrong in each of them.

Firstly I’ll pick on the easy one. If we assume Dave had shown statistically that the Hugo results show bias (he hadn’t but let’s go with it) then what he had not done is shown the source of the bias. Wikipedia has a page entitled “List of Jewish Nobel laureates“. The page notes that Jewish people have won a disproportionate number of awards when compared to the world’s population. Even accepting a European bias in the awards, the numbers are disproportionate compared with the historical size of the Jewish population in Europe. It takes only a moment’s reflection (assuming you aren’t a raving anti-Semite) to see that this statistical “bias” is not a bias in the judges of the Nobel prize or the mechanism by which the prize has been awarded. Indeed given the levels of antisemitism in 20th century Europe, we know that if anything Jewish people would have faced at least some degree of institutionalized prejudice when being considered for the award.

So how to explain the statistical bias if the institutional bias would have been in the exact opposite direction? Well a full discussion would be beyond this humble blog but multiple biases in 20th century society would have been in play – notably that with institutionalized prejudice against most middle-class well educated Jewish people restricting their ability to succeeded in other fields, it isn’t that surprising to find that talented people will find success in a field in which they found less prejudice (NOTE: not no prejudice but less prejudice).*

How is this relevant to Dave’s Hugo argument? Assuming he had demonstrated an ideological bias then he really needed to consider what sources of bias there could be. Those biases could be either external to the Hugos (e.g. perhaps conservatives were too busy doing more productive things and hence the pool of conservative authors was disproportionately small*) or internal (nefarious going on by cliques). You can’t simply just plump for one of those two without producing a second argument substantiating the source of the bias.

*[this example is not intended to suggest that Dave’s reasoning is anti-Semitic. I’d have used an example of leftists getting confused about statistical bias if I had a simple one to hand but also because I assume most readers will naturally agree with the proposition that antisemitism is bad without me having to explain why]
**[that isn’t meant to be a serious claim, just an off-the-wall example]

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