Caught in the trash filter was a reply from our long lost pal Phantom about Sarah Hoyt’s weird wold-population figure denial. It was better than normal and raises some weak but interesting points. With very little to go on for what the arguments for World Population Denial might be, I’ll need to go with Phantom’s weaker position.
“Communist and other corrupt regimes continuously lie about everything, floppy. Whatever direction their monetary interest is, that is where their lies will point. We know this is true because the lies change as circumstances change.”
The lies that are told change as circumstances change which is what makes it very difficult to lie consistently about population figures. The 2015 lie has to work with the 2014 lie and the 2016 lie and any lies about economic output or levels of unemployment etc etc. That doesn’t mean every lie or distortion can be identified but it does put strong limits of the scale of any deception.
In addition, for Hoyt’s claims to be true and the world population be substantially less than 7 billion, multiple governments would have needed to lie in the same direction in a way consistent with all their other lies for decades and gone undetected despite multiple different kinds of agencies and demographers looking at them.
Uncertainty is not the same as knowing nothing. Any vaguely numerate person should be able to understand that estimates of a figure has an error range. The uncertainties you are pointing at help circumscribe that error range and it simply isn’t big enough for 7 billion to be substantially wrong without a huge systemic error on the magnitude of at least half a billion people. Show me an error of that magnitude with some better evidence than an anecdote and I’ll give the claim that its less than 7 billion more credence.
“I note that you have entirely ignored the influence of international aid on population figures. If East Bongoliastan can get another couple of million bucks from the UN by inflating their population numbers, and the UN -wants- them to inflate those numbers, then I do not find it unreasonable to suspect they are inflated.”
I didn’t rely on UN figures, I also used US figures which aren’t exactly the same but also point at 7 billion. So let’s check US foriegn aid. Is it based on population size?
On Wikipedia is a table that shows the top 25 recipients of US foreign aid. Here are the top 5:
Oh my gosh! Looks like foreign aid has got very, very little to do with population size. Your theory is based on a very faulty assumption that aid is doled out on a per-capita basis. Some aspects of aid may relate to particular sizes of groups (e.g. people in a refugee camp) but that’s different from census data — heck a lot of aid is for displaced people who don’t get captured in census data well (because the host country doesn’t count them as living there and the country they fled from prefers to claim they are a tiny number) and actually tend to be UNDERcounted in national population figures.
Does that mean nobody ever, ever lies for the purpose to inflate aid? No, but the assumption that lying about a national population size will get you more aid is nonsense. It is also another area where a cynical or pathologically lying government has contradictory pressures. You as dictator of Phantomland would need to exaggerate the number of people living in extreme poverty or the number of people without fresh water or without adequate medical care to get more aid — simply exaggerating the national population won’t get you anything. Yet that means basically exaggerating the number of people your government isn’t looking after properly. In reality, if you as a dictator are going to lie to get aid then you aren’t going to do it with census figures but with lies about infrastructure projects or lies about how your opponents are all communists funded by Iran.
Anyway, for kicks, I decided to find general data on aid totals which I got from here: https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/countries-with-the-most-foreign-aid-in-the-world.html and then plotted that against UN population figures from Wikipedia.
Look, honestly thinking that the amount of aid a country gets should have SOME connection with how many people live there is a reasonable and humane assumption about how the world should work. It isn’t remotely true though. Now I grant that the graph is somewhat distorted by India being in the data set but even with India removed, the connection just isn’t there.
I could keep slicing the data down until we got some group of nations where maybe population size made an observable difference but by that point, the bias (if it existed) wouldn’t be enough to have any serious impact on the 7 billion figure. Heck, if the top FIVE recipients of international aid actually had zero people living in each of them, the world population would STILL be greater than 7 billion!
“I mean, look at the US ground-station data for temperature. We know that’s been inflated for sure. Why else are there so many official NOAA thermometers in the middle of asphalt parking lots? Hundreds of them. Whole websites are dedicated to documenting it.”
And as you’ve read here before, you never rely on one data set. Don’t believe the ground station data? Then compare it with the satellite data. Don’t believe the UN data? Then compare it with the US data. The fallacy you are illustrating in both cases is one often used in FUD style arguments.
The fallacy of FUD: If there is some degree of doubt or uncertainty around a figure then we know nothing at all about the figure. (To be applied selectively to figures we don’t like.
It’s nonsense because no real world figure is ever measured to perfect accuracy or is immune to some degree of human error or foolproof to somebody lying about it. The reason we don’t all collapse into a fetal position of doubt is that we know that error has limits.
For example, we’ve never met, you certainly don’t trust me but if I say I’m 5 foot 9 inches tall (I’m not*) then it is still absurd to say that you have zero idea about how tall I am. You know I’m not 15 foot tall or 1 foot tall. You know it is reasonable (i.e. you are unlikely to be wrong) to assume I’m within a few inches of 5 foot 9 inches.
“So my point on Sarah’s post was that I do not know what the true population of China or India is, much less Venezuela, Cuba, Congo, North Korea or even South Africa. And neither do you. You’re saying we’re all crazy to question the UN numbers because it suits your rhetorical purpose, not because you have any evidence to support those numbers.”
The ‘true’ population? Sure! Likewise I don’t know my own true mass – it’s constantly changing by small amounts due to eating and pooing and sweating and breathing as meat robots do. I don’t know my ‘true’ height either as that literally fluctuates and my tape measure isn’t perfect. Your observation isn’t saying anything useful at all. The question is not can we know a true figure but how ACCURATE our ESTIMATES of the true figure is for all of these things.
Honestly, I’d have thought that was just common sense and while I could admire the bravery of a radical scepticism that says that the only true knowledge is perfect knowledge and hence we know nothing, I know for a fact that isn’t a position either you or Hoyt hold. Heck, you’ll believe all sorts of stuff based on limited information or even no information or worse yet when the information says the exact opposite.
For example, let’s take this specific claim from Sarah Hoyt in the original piece:
“Not to mention that it’s just a coincidence, I’m sure, that countries that are net recipients of international aid PER CAPITA have the highest population growth. I’m sure.”https://accordingtohoyt.com/2018/12/10/bad-bad-futures-which-didnt-happen/
Countries that are net recipients of international aid per capita versus population growth? OK, that’s something we can graph using the data sources I’ve already listed. “Growth” here is per cent change from 2016 to 2017.
I’m just a not sufficiently humble blogger but I’m not seeing much support for Hoyt’s claim there. I guess she means in a broad brush strokes sense in so far as wealthy European nations have low population growth and are net providers of aid and developing nations often (but far from always) often have high population growth and tend to be net receivers of aid. However, the data shows that aid isn’t driving population estimates among the major net receivers of aid.
“If a person lies about all kinds of things all the time, it does not mean that for sure they are lying -this- time. But it does mean one would be imprudent to assume they are not.”
Let’s generalise. If a person is verifiably wrong about all kinds of things much of the time, it does not mean that for SURE they are wrong -this- time but it does mean one would be imprudent to assume they are not. Heck, we can just go and check! Oh surprise, surprise! They were wrong, again…
*(Obviously Camestros Felapton is an abstract cognitive meme-complex to which spatial dimensions don’t apply. The meat robot is bigger than 6 foot and shorter than 2 metres.)