More on Population denial

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:

County$US Millions
West Bank/Gaza1007.73

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: 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.”

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.)

25 thoughts on “More on Population denial

  1. I am still trying to figure the who reason why there must be less than 7 billion people? Is this some “there aren’t so many people as we think, therefore we need do nothing about global warming?” I get the feeling that these folks believe the government and world works something like the dysfunctional dystopic US in FALLEN ANGELS.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As a general rule, nationalists will deny any inconvenient fact that suggests there are any problems that require a global response. Climate change is one. Overpopulation is another.


      1. What’s also interesting here is that the inconvenient fact is not really all that inconvenient – we know Hoyt may hate foreign aid, but since foreign aid isn’t distributed based on population, the world population figures are irrelevant. We know Hoyt may hate Communists, but there aren’t really any communists left – maybe North Korea and Cuba, but these are insignificant countries in population and don’t create the 7 billion figure.

        It’s almost as if Hoyt continuously lies about everything. Whatever direction her monetary interest is, that is where her lies will point.*

        *Ok, I’m actually being facetious here.I don’t actually think Hoyt has a monetary interest in population numbers. I do think she has an interest in continuing to feed nonsense to her readers, that speaks to their sense of being victimized by massive conspiracies, she could lie about anything that hit those notes – therefore it doesn’t matter what she lies about, and the plausibility of her lies to even the casual observer is irrelevant since it only needs to feed her reader population and the casual observer is not really going to be her reader population.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I’ll note that foreign aid to China has dropped dramatically over the last few years, and China is the most populous country in the world according to nearly everybody. What is their motive now to overestimate their population?


    1. Exactly. We already buy all our stuff from them, we already know what giant organized, well-equipped armed forces they have, and what their government is capable of and willing to do. Even their Olympics are expensive, big, scarily organized, and a bit terrifying.

      A million more or less Chinese makes absolutely no difference to anything. (Same with India, just less scary.)

      And this whole argument is just stupid, since it’s so mathematically ignorant.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Per wikipedia, the population of North Korea, by both World Bank estimates and and the states own census figures, has been growing but the rate of growth has fallen significantly. It has, in fact closely tracked growth rates of South Korea, which makes sense given the cultural similarities. (State policies aside, North and South Koreans will insist on their cultural similarities.) I will admit they might be inflating their figures, but it really couldn’t be by too much without us noticing. A lot of what we know about the country comes from refugees who DESPISE the regime and give us all the ugly truth that they can. So, yeah, a ten percent fib would stretch all credibility and still not move the needle on 7 billion.

    I studied Korean language and read North Korean propaganda — I have formally studied HOW the North Korean state lies. So I am not swallowing Hoyt/Phantom’s crap until they give more than vague claims of non-white people being liars.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. 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.
    That’s a very good description of a common rethorical device among various denialists.

    On a slightly tangential note, if I were to assign someone motive and means to inflate population numbers, I’d rather look at how local/provincial authorities report to the national level than at how nations reports to UN. State money to local governments are almost certainly more important than international aid is for developing countries, and more likely to be based heavily on population numbers. In particular in a large and somewhat dysfunctional country, (for example the old USSR,) it’s possible for local governments to also have enough control of their own census to be able to cheat.(*) A well-run state will most likely crack down on that, but it’s plausible that everyone starts cheating in a kind of arms race, and the national census that’s based on collating regional censuses becomes unreliable.

    Of course this still doesn’t make it likely that current international estimates are wildly wrong. Accurate census data are too important for the country itself for that – and the number of people living in sufficiently failed states to have completely erratic data is not high enough.

    (*) This ability to cheat is important here. For example Norwegian municipalities have the kind of motive described above, as they get money from the state depending on population. But since the census is kept by a government agency municipalities don’t have the means to cheat. The main thing they do is argue with each other about where students should be registered – university towns wants students to change their official address so they’re counted there, while rural municipalities wants young people who are off to college to stay registered at their parents’ address. The country as a whole doesn’t end up with inflated population numbers from that.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. After the last German census, several towns and cities were highly upset, when it turned out that they had lost population since the last census and would therefore loose government funding. Also, (West) German census figures are not wholly reliable due to a noisy minority having a freakout about the 1987 census, “because computers will be processing our data and the government wants to store information about us”. IMO there was no real information at the time about why a census is important and that everybody’s data is perfectly safe, which caused a lot of people to freak out. At any rate, I had no idea what a census was good for until I took a statistics class at university several years later.

      German densus information about religion is not reliable going back to 1976, because someone figured out that the Nazis used census data to locate Jews and started a movement calling for people not to reply to the religion questions Statisticians are aware of these issues BTW and take the relevant data with a grain of salt. You can still get an overview about how many people belongs to which religion by using data from churches and other religious organisations. Not unsurprisingly, one area where the figures are off is the number of Jews living in Germany. There is an official figure given by the Jewish Central Council, but there are probably up to one hundred thousand additional Jewish people who are not members of the syngogues affiliated with the Council and who declare themselves religiously unaffiliated on census forms for understandable reasons.

      So you don’t even need active malice for population data to be not quite accurate. Also see how the Jedi Order became one of the UK’s fastest growing religions due to people declaring themselves Jedi on the census forms.

      However, even combined, such data errors and inaccurate information don’t lose a billion people or more, though it might get you a couple of thousand extra Jedi.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. As for why statisticians can tell that the number of Jewish people living in Germany may be off by as much as 100000, German immigration law allows Holocaust survivors and their descendants to claim permanent residency and citizenship in Germany. Therefore, we have figures about how many people immigrated on the basis of that law (mostly from the former Soviet Union, but also a couple of Israelis and recently Brits trying to get an EU passport to avoid the negative consequences of Brexit). When you compare those figures to the official census figures and the figures given by the Jewish Central Council, you find that there is a discrepancy of up to 100000 people. Though these 100000 people still show up in official population figures, but listed as “religiously unaffiliated” or “other”.


      2. If the last UK census is anything to go by, census designers don’t provide any way to say that you are a nonbeliever but also ethnically Jewish. I tried, but the only way I could have fitted it in would have been to choose “white (other)” instead of “white (British)” for the race question, which would have been a lie because I *am* British.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Elsewhere in the crazy puppies conspiracy theory world: Brad Torgersen believes that teens are identifying as transgender because “[i]t’s hip, it’s cool, and it’s gonna piss parents off and/or make parents uncomfortable.” This is the same guy who repeatedly compares “transsexuals” (his descriptor) to mythological beasts.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Cuz sure, being disowned by your parents and entire family/church/support system and then facing yoooge amounts of societal and legal discrimination is soooo cooool. Throw in making less money, possibly spending more on medical stuff, and the probability of not marrying, not having or adopting children, and getting beat up when you’re just trying to pee. What could be more jolly fun?

        He’s inadvertently correct in his last sentence, though as usual he’s got the barb pointed the exact wrong way. RW politics can’t accept reality, so they punish the realists who know people vary, and the people who don’t fit into his little blinkered categories.

        Plus he mentioned evolution! Gasp! He’ll never make the big leagues of punditry that way.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. And one thing that irritates me with the study. It implies that gender dysphoria is contagious and as an argument states that many of those coming out had friends who had done the same.

      And here is my answer to that.

      People of alternative sexuality or gender tend to cluster together. Since I started with BDSM, I my group of friends have changed enormously. Almost all of them I meet at a regular basis are kinksters of some kind. Because we know that we can be open about everything and expect to meet people who understand us instead of – at best – confusion and a slight discomfort.

      So yes, the study seems to be clearly flawed.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Brad’s got a ton of Mormon friends and family. They cluster together and reinforce their ideas too. Is that contagious?

        Is Puppyism contagious?


  6. “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,” — This is kind of interesting — why would the U.N. want the countries to inflate their population numbers? This implies that the U.N. is part of the scam? Which of course makes the U.N., a global organization, an evil conspirator and we’re back to the black helicopters again. (Meanwhile, the U.N. is trying with not much success to get countries to actually pay the money they committed to giving to aid programs, as well as environmental agreement targets. Not exactly a highly powerful entity.)

    The first part of the sentence is silly because you don’t get more humanitarian and developmental aid from the U.N. joint funded programs by having higher population numbers, as already shown. (And much of that aid does not go to the government of countries but instead to organizations — scientific, engineering, medical, refugee assistance, etc.) It seems, from what you all are saying, to have been extrapolated by their knowing that some European countries base some sorts of internal aid on the amount of population in regions. Places with more people need more resources, infrastructure, government services, etc., than others in the same country, but also have a much bigger tax base than less populous regions to fund all those things from their government. That’s how domestic aid often works. But it doesn’t entirely work that way domestically because sparsely populated, more rural regions also greatly lack resources and infrastructure and very importantly, medical care. So quite often, certainly in the U.S., sparsely populated regions will get much more of certain kinds of aid. In the U.S., less populated, more rural states get more aid from the government overall. The biggest users of food vouchers there are rural white people.

    But the factors of domestic aid are completely different from how international aid works, because international aid is giving money to and in countries where the people are not the citizens of your country and are not paying taxes to your country to fund that aid. It is outside aid and it always has a benefit purpose for the countries giving aid, not simply charity. Giving international aid can keep a country politically stable in a region where that’s of use to the donor country, and make a country of use as a base of operations and stationed military for the giver country, reduce epidemic disease so that the donor country has fewer global medical threats to worry about and fewer refugees fleeing disease or disastrous conditions and becoming a problem for the donor country. International aid in development, environmentally or business wise, helps the businesses of the donor country, opens up new markets and sometimes monopolies for the donor country, and provides opportunities to exploit new goods, medicines and services from the country getting the aid for the donor country. It’s never just free money. And you can’t get more of it by claiming to have more babies. You have to have stuff the donor countries want or at least offer the chance to not create problems they don’t want if you get the aid.

    And large human populations are looked at as a real problem by most countries. They don’t want people having more kids and populations growing that much beyond basic replacement levels, and not even those often. They certainly wouldn’t use a country’s growing population as the basis for giving that country more aid so that it can get even bigger — and more of a rival in the global marketplace. They do vaccinations and medical aid, disaster aid, etc. — they aren’t trying to kill people off, most of the time. But they aren’t seeking to reward countries for having high populations, especially if those countries are under-developed and the donor aid countries are not.

    So in short, the inflated figures for more aid theory seems to be based on the false idea that running a government financially is just like one personal family’s finances — a basic lack of understanding about what governments do and how economic systems work.

    As for Torgersen, he’s just licking up the latest feint of the right to delegitimize queer people’s existence and equal rights. It’s the same feint they used and still use about LGBQ folk as gay rights activism advanced — that they only said they were such to be trendy and outrageous and why are there so many of them now, etc. There are “more of them” because the culture changes to be slightly less repressive if they come out, with more support from government, schools, family and friends in the society for not being straight and cis. They find each other and support each other in being open about who they are. Trans people are like .6 percent of the population, but that’s still a lot of people, especially in large countries like the U.S. And when it’s relatively safe for them to come out, they do it together for support and safety in clusters. The right looks at those clusters, at how open they’re being, and declares it simply teen and young people rebellion against their authority — a fake so they can pretend being trans is fake and just a strategy to undermine the right’s authoritarianism.

    Any change in the culture that supports people to be open and have equal rights and less persecution from that is met with suspicion on the right because it means they’re losing control and power in the society and the law. They’ve repeatedly failed in attempts to stop the gay push for equality in many western countries, so they are going after trans people and trans teens. It raises money for the right and extreme right religious sects, and can help them keep entrenched in power in governments. Right now, the campaign against trans people and trans teens is quite organized and part of the Christian Dominionist playbook for taking over governments. They are pretty open about it. But the religious argument for that persecution goes over much more weakly now in our society, so they’re trying to use “science” as a rationale. It’s about as convincing as them trying to use eugenics pseudo-science to prove that the sociological concept of race actually exists biologically and makes some “races” superior to others.

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